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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