1. Book of Mor­mon Trans­lat­ed with a Peep Stone: Con­trary to gen­er­al Church teach­ings, Joseph Smith did not use the gold plates in trans­lat­ing the Book of Mor­mon. Rather, he used a rock in a hat to trans­late the plates into the Book of Mor­mon. The Church acknowl­edged this fact in its Decem­ber 2013 essay, enti­tled Book of Mor­mon Trans­la­tion, pub­lished on LDS​.org. There were numer­ous wit­ness­es to Joseph Smith’s trans­la­tion of the Book of Mor­mon. They all tell essen­tial­ly the same sto­ry: while Joseph and his broth­er were employed as a trea­sure seek­ers (com­mon­ly referred to as a “mon­ey dig­gers”), he found a peep stone or “seer stone” while dig­ging a well on Willard and Mason Chase’s prop­er­ty. Joseph lat­er used this same stone to trans­late the Book of Mor­mon. Specif­i­cal­ly, Joseph put the stone in a hat and then, bury­ing his face in the hat, pro­ceed­ed to dic­tate the Book of Mor­mon to his scribe. Joseph claimed to see the words he dic­tat­ed in the dark­ened hat. How­ev­er, dur­ing the entire­ty of the trans­la­tion process, the gold plates were either cov­ered in a cloth where no one, includ­ing Joseph, could see them or they were in a dif­fer­ent room or loca­tion dur­ing the trans­la­tion process.

  • Emma Hale Smith, Joseph’s wife, was the first per­son to serve as Joseph’s scribe. Here is her tes­ti­mo­ny as recount­ed to her son Joseph Smith III: “In writ­ing for your father I fre­quent­ly wrote day after day, often sit­ting at the table close by him, he sit­ting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dic­tat­ing hour after hour with noth­ing between us.” The Saints Her­ald, Vol. 26, No. 19, p.289
  • Robert N. Hullinger, in his book: Joseph Smith’s Response to Skep­ti­cism, cites a per­son­al inter­view Emma Smith (then Emma Smith-Bida­mon) gave in 1879 to a com­mit­tee of the Reor­ga­nized Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints. He notes on pages 9–10: “Smith’s wife Emma sup­port­ed Har­ris’s and Whit­mer’s ver­sions of the sto­ry in recall­ing that her hus­band buried his face in his hat while she was serv­ing as his scribe.”
  • David Whit­mer was one of the three wit­ness­es of the Book of Mor­mon. The major­i­ty of the trans­la­tion work took place in the Whit­mer home. Whit­mer stat­ed:

I will now give you a descrip­tion of the man­ner in which the Book of Mor­mon was trans­lat­ed. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, draw­ing it close­ly around his face to exclude the light; and in the dark­ness the spir­i­tu­al light would shine. A piece of some­thing resem­bling parch­ment would appear, and on that appeared the writ­ing. One char­ac­ter at a time would appear, and under it was the inter­pre­ta­tion in Eng­lish. Broth­er Joseph would read off the Eng­lish to Oliv­er Cow­dery, who was his prin­ci­pal scribe, and when it was writ­ten down and repeat­ed to Broth­er Joseph to see if it was cor­rect, then it would dis­ap­pear, and anoth­er char­ac­ter with the inter­pre­ta­tion would appear… He [Joseph Smith] did not use the plates in trans­la­tion.” REF: Page 11 of his book An Address to All Believ­ers in Christ, Part First, Chap­ter 1. Also, Inter­view giv­en to Kansas City Jour­nal, June 5, 1881, reprint­ed in the Reor­ga­nized Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints Jour­nal of His­to­ry, vol. 8, (1910), pp. 299–300.

  • Mar­tin Har­ris, who served as a scribe for the lost 116 pages as well as one of the wit­ness­es to the Book of Mor­mon, con­firmed that Joseph used a seer stone (as opposed to the Urim and Thum­mim) dur­ing the trans­la­tion process. In his Com­pre­hen­sive His­to­ry of the Church (“CHC”), LDS his­to­ri­an and Pres­i­dent of the First Quo­rum of the Sev­en­ty B.H. Roberts quotes Mar­tin Har­ris as say­ing that Joseph’s seer stone was a “choco­late-col­ored, some­what egg-shaped stone which the Prophet found while dig­ging a well in com­pa­ny with his broth­er Hyrum.” Har­ris went on to say it was by using this stone that “Joseph was able to trans­late the char­ac­ters engraven on the plates” (CHC 1:129).

In oth­er words, Joseph used the same meth­ods he used in his trea­sure-hunt­ing: he would put the rock – or a peep stone – in his hat and then put his face in the hat to tell his cus­tomers the loca­tion of buried trea­sure. He used the exact same method while the gold plates were cov­ered or put in anoth­er room or buried in the woods while trans­lat­ing the Book of Mor­mon. These facts are con­firmed in “Rough Stone Rolling” (p. 71–72), by FAIR here and here, by Neal Maxwell Insti­tute (FARMS), as well as in a 1992 talk giv­en by Rus­sell M. Nel­son of the Quo­rum of the Twelve Apos­tles.

2. Church Has Not Accu­rate­ly Taught the BOM Trans­la­tion Process: The trans­la­tion process described above (as well as in an Octo­ber 2015 Ensign arti­cle) is odd for a vari­ety of rea­sons. For the last cen­tu­ry, the Church has rarely dis­cussed the details of the trans­la­tion process and, when it has, it has not done so in an hon­est man­ner. Pri­or to the Octo­ber 2015, the Ensign only print­ed quotes dis­cussing Joseph’s rock-in-the-hat trans­la­tion on two occa­sions — in July 1993 and Sep­tem­ber 1977. Even now, church man­u­als pub­lish images depict­ing Joseph Smith trans­lat­ing the BOM with the gold plates direct­ly in front of him and usu­al­ly with­out any see­ing devices present. For exam­ple, the fol­low­ing are depic­tions of how the Church por­trays the trans­la­tion process: 

The fol­low­ing is a depic­tion of how the Book of Mor­mon was actu­al­ly trans­lat­ed:

Sim­ply stat­ed, the Church does not teach mem­bers how Joseph Smith actu­al­ly trans­lat­ed the Book of Mor­mon.

3. Urim and Thum­mim: The Church’s rep­re­sen­ta­tions regard­ing the Urim and Thum­mim are also mis­lead­ing. Specif­i­cal­ly, the Urim and Thum­mim, the very instru­ment pre­served by the Nephites in a stone box for thou­sands of years for the sole pur­pose of trans­lat­ing the plates, was not used to trans­late the Book of Mor­mon as the church claims. The Urim and Thum­mim, described as a set of stones set in a pair of spec­ta­cles fas­tened to a breast­plate, were tak­en away by the angel Moroni when Joseph lost the first 116 pages of the Book of Mor­mon and were nev­er returned.

In fact, the Urim and Thum­mim was nev­er men­tioned by Joseph with ref­er­ence to trans­lat­ing the Book of Mor­mon until after 1833, some three years after the Book of Mor­mon was pub­lished. In 1833, W.W. Phelps, spec­u­lat­ed that the ancient Nephite inter­preters men­tioned in the Book of Mor­mon might be the Urim and Thum­mim of the Old Tes­ta­ment. Phelps’ spec­u­la­tion quick­ly became pop­u­lar to the point where the Church re-wrote pas­sages in the Doc­trine and Covenants to make sure that the seer stones were always referred to as the Urim and Thum­mim. David Whit­mer, how­ev­er, in an 1885 inter­view with the RLDS Saints’ Her­ald, stat­ed that the entire Book of Mor­mon text came through Joseph’s seer stone and not through the Nephite inter­preters.

Regard­less, there is no evi­dence the Urim & Thum­mim men­tioned in the Old Tes­ta­ment was a trans­la­tion device. The object is men­tioned sev­en times in the Old Tes­ta­ment (Exo­dus 28:30; Leviti­cus 8:8; Ezra 2:63; Nehemi­ah 7:65; Deuteron­o­my 33:8; Num­bers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6; in the lat­ter two pas­sages “Urim” is used alone). The Urim & Thum­mim described in the Old Tes­ta­ment appears to more of a ‘Yes/No’ tool like a pair of dice rather than an actu­al trans­la­tion device. I have not found any evi­dence that the Bib­li­cal Urim and Thum­mim had any­thing to do with “trans­lat­ing lan­guages”, or that they resem­bled “giant spec­ta­cles” as Book of Mor­mon wit­ness­es claimed.

4. Gold Plates Not Used Dur­ing Trans­la­tion: The gold­en plates, which were care­ful­ly and painstak­ing­ly made and cared for over thou­sands of years, were nev­er used in the trans­la­tion process. Rather, accord­ing to the wit­ness­es, the plates were always cov­ered in a cloth or not even in the room when the trans­la­tion was tak­ing place. Regard­less, even if they were in the same room and uncov­ered, Joseph could­n’t see the plates when his face was buried in a hat.

Joseph Smith’s trans­la­tion process rais­es a num­ber of ques­tions. Most notably, why did ancient prophets painstak­ing­ly record their actions on gold­en plates for over a thou­sand years when the plates were not even used dur­ing the “trans­la­tion” process? If God sim­ply revealed the writ­ings from the plates to Joseph through a stone, why have the plates at all? God or Moroni could have sim­ply revealed the his­to­ry of the ear­li­est Amer­i­cans with­out the wor­ry of pro­tect­ing the gold­en plates that Joseph claimed to have unearthed in the Hill Cumorah.

5. Trans­la­tion Time­line Rais­es Addi­tion­al Con­cerns: In 1822, Joseph Smith found a peep stone while dig­ging a well and then began using it as part of a career to find lost trea­sure. In fact, Joseph used the stone as part of a trea­sure-seek­ing busi­ness in which clients paid him to look into the stone to find lost trea­sure (which, it should be added, he was nev­er able to find). Sev­er­al clients tes­ti­fied that Joseph looked into the stone and claimed that the trea­sure was close but, upon arriv­ing at its loca­tion, Joseph would claim that it slipped out of reach so that no one could obtain it, let alone see it.

In 1826, Joseph was arrest­ed and brought to court in Bain­bridge, New York, for tri­al for fraud. He was arrest­ed after Josi­ah Stowell’s nephew accused Joseph of being a “dis­or­der­ly per­son and an imposter.” Specif­i­cal­ly, Joseph was charged with seek­ing lost trea­sure under false pre­tens­es (i.e., that he was guid­ed through super­nat­ur­al pow­ers and a spe­cial peep stone). Joseph was con­vict­ed of the crime, which was a mis­de­meanor. A copy of the judg­ment, which is repro­duced and dis­cussed in the Book of Mor­mon Wit­ness­es sec­tion, referred to Joseph as “The Glass Look­er.”

In 1827, Joseph said he received the gold plates from Moroni and was told that no one was allowed to see them. By 1829, Joseph fin­ished “trans­lat­ing” the BOM and he then returned the plates to Moroni. Eleven wit­ness­es claim they saw the plates, but most of them (as dis­cussed in the Book of Mor­mon Wit­ness­es sec­tion) admit they did­n’t see them with their nat­ur­al eyes.

The fore­go­ing time­line casts doubt on Joseph’s motives and meth­ods for pro­duc­ing the Book of Mor­mon. In fact, it seems as if the gold plates and inter­preters were mere­ly an exten­sion of Joseph’s trea­sure-hunt­ing and peep stone activ­i­ties.

6. Trans­la­tion Process Rais­es Trou­bling Ques­tions: If Joseph Smith did receive the Book of Mor­mon text through his peep stone, then the text pre­sum­ably came direct­ly from God via rev­e­la­tion. (Plus, Joseph Smith called it the most cor­rect book on earth.) If this is the case, why were so many changes made to Book of Mor­mon text? (For a more com­plete analy­sis of the changes made to the BOM, see the Book of Mor­mon sec­tion of this out­line.) For exam­ple, ear­ly edi­tions of the Book of Mor­mon taught a Trini­tar­i­an view of the God­head before sub­se­quent revi­sions altered the text. Joseph Smith’s ear­ly the­ol­o­gy (even after the First Vision) also sub­scribed to the doc­trine of the Trin­i­ty. Includ­ing minor gram­mat­i­cal changes, the Book of Mor­mon has under­gone over 100,000 changes and at least 3,913 sub­stan­tive changes. How­ev­er, some of those changes were quite sig­nif­i­cant and made to reflect Joseph’s evolv­ing view of the God­head.

If the BOM text was received via rev­e­la­tion, why does it con­tain so many anachro­nisms and refer to so many objects and ani­mals that did not exist in the Amer­i­c­as dur­ing BOM times?

If the BOM was received through rev­e­la­tion, why does it con­tain numer­ous errors found in the 1769 KJV edi­tion of the Bible, which Joseph Smith owned but was pub­lished long after the BOM was alleged­ly writ­ten? These errors sug­gest that Joseph copied por­tions of the Bible and insert­ed them into the Book of Mor­mon. More­over, why does the BOM con­tain numer­ous oth­er errors?

Series Nav­i­ga­tion: Leav­ing the Church — Eric Nel­son« Leav­ing the Church, Part 3 — Kinder­hook PlatesLeav­ing the Church, Part 5 — Book of Mor­mon »
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