Book of Mormon Translation: Part 2

Gospel Topics Essay: Book of Mormon Translation

This is part 2 of my perspective of the topic of the Book of Mormon translation: part of my Response to The LDS Gospel Topics Essays: A Scholarly Engagement

Objective

My purpose in reviewing the Gospel Topics Essays:

I want to look over them to see what (if anything) is different from what I was taught growing up in the church. If anything is different I want to explore why it might be different. Finally I want to address if these differences might constitute church leaders hiding the truth from the membership, and if so if there might have been nefarious motives for doing so. I guess I would also address whether or not those nefarious motives (if any) would constitute reason for doubting the divinity of the restoration of the church.

Spoiler alert, in the case of presenting the narrative of the how the Book of Mormon was translated, I find it highly improbable that any nefarious or questionable motives were present at all in the past. There may be unanswered questions, but I intend to show that it is reasonable for a person to believe that the Seer Stone narrative came forth, not as the church started loosing control of the narrative, but rather as a paradigm shift took place in the methodology of church history that lent more credence to accounts that previously were overlooked or disregarded[1].

In fact, I believe that, if anyone was responsible for misrepresenting how the Book of Mormon was translated, it is not the modern church and their alleged hiding of facts, rather I find the historical data would pin the source of the confusion (if any) on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery[2] [3]. With that being said I also think they have the least motive[4] for doing so. And the only way you can read misguidance or lack of transparency on the accounts from Joseph and Oliver is if the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) narrative is accurate[5]. If the SITH narrative is inaccurate then the only confusion comes from critics of the church trying to cast an accusatory fog on the restoration and unfortunately current mainstream historians are caught up in that fog and regardless of how well intentioned, they are mistaken and Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and modern church leaders were all telling the truth. Current church leaders would then be mistaken for believing the mainstream historians, which I find unfortunate but far from nefarious and even further from confirming the inauthenticity of the church.

This essay is not about the Seer Stone/Nephite Interpreters debate. I still believe that the Nephite Interpreters were exclusively used in the translation of the Book of Mormon, but I will concede that there is room for debate. Recently I have found a couple historical documents that I don't know how they fit into my understating of the historical events and they seem to support the SITH narrative[6] [7] [8]. Some of them I was able to explain away[9], but there are still some that I don't know how to make fit. However there are a lot of questions I have about the translation process that are much better answered (IMHO) with the Nephite Interpreters exclusive model and so that's the one I currently subscribe to. I am enthralled by the debate and inevitably I will write more about it. But today is not that day![10]

Any talk about the debate is mostly to demonstrate that there is a debate, that the answer is not as cut and dry as most would like, and that it ought to be completely reasonable for anyone to make a mistake one way or another, in fact I would go as far as to say that until more information comes to light on the subject the best thing to do is to acknowledge that there is debate and refrain from coming down on any one hard answer.[11]

I also recognize that it is a big and uncomfortable request to ask anyone to live with historical ambiguities, especially for members of ours or any church. Because we pride ourselves on having the Truth, and having access to modern day prophets that should be able to clear up a lot of these answers. I would say it's probably time for more of us (myself included) to acknowledge that while we have the only priesthood authority, and we may have more full truth on many or even most subjects, we don't have a monopoly on truth, and as the ninth article of faith points out we believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things. I don't know everything, you don't know everything, and maybe if we were better about admitting that, we wouldn't put our selfs in a spot where there seems to be so much contradiction. [12]

What is in the Gospel Topics Essay that contradicts what I learned growing up?

Not much.

There are some additional details that I hadn't heard before, like when translating there would be a little bit of a back and forth with Joseph and the scribe where the scribe would say "Written" and then they wouldn't proceed until Joseph made sure they had written it down correctly. But I think we can agree that details like that seem to only add to the story, not contradict it, so I'm happy to leave those alone for right now.

Technically, them referring to the Hill Cumorah as just "the hill" is a revision but it's a fairly benign (albeit one that was likely agenda driven) decision and addressing that is beyond the scope of this essay. [13]

So that just leaves the SITH claims. [14]

The SITH claims are not what I grew up with. I think I first heard about it around the time that the church published the Gospel Topics Essays. So I guess this could potentially qualify as history that the church leaders don't want to you hear.

I think to figure out if it is or not we just need to answer these questions:

  • Can the church be true if the Seer Stone claims are true?
  • Why haven't we heard about the Seer Stone claims until just now?
    • Are the Seer Stone claims true?
    • Were church leaders lying about the Seer Stone claims
      • Can the church be true if church leaders where lying about the Seer Stone claims?
  • What about the shifting narrative around the Seer Stone?
    • Can the church be true if the Seer Stone claims are false and they are adopting the Seer Stone claims?
    • Can the church be true if the church leaders have changed their story about the Seer Stone claims?

Can the church be true if the Seer Stone claims are true?

Yes, of course. I have no idea, but I have to imagine the bulk of the problem revolves around the fact that the predominant narrative has changed in recent years, and not actually that the use of a Seer Stone is a deal breaker. Granted it's a little weird that the Seer Stone is a folk magic thing but there seems to be a lot of evidence of God working in ways that people will understand[15] even if looks like superstition or folk magic to us.

Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

D&C 1:24

If God felt like Joseph Smith would understand revelations best if they were given through a Seer Stone then who am I to say that the Seer Stone lessens the divinity of the church? It's weird, it's different than what most of us were taught, but I would say it's not without precedence.

Why haven't we heard about the SITH claims until now

Are the SITH claims true?

Maybe not. [16]

But if they are true why haven't we heard about it

Saints Unscripted recently publish a video[17] detailing when ideas about the Seer Stone where popular and when they were overlooked. It's really great; I highly recommend checking it out.

They do a better job of explaining this than me, but the gist is that the sources that talk about the Seer Stone generally fall into one of two camps. Sources that are:

  1. Relatively contemporary to the translation but come from antagonistic authors or
  2. Dated decades[18] after the church moved to Utah and were from people that at the time had complicated relationships to the Salt Lake based branch of the church. [19] [20] [21]

The result is that some early church leaders, like Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, or BH Roberts talked about the possible use of the Seer Stone in the translation (and I get the impression that they were citing the sources from camp two), but by the time the 1950s rolled around there wasn't much more being produced on the subject.

Meanwhile, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery never talked about using the Seer Stone to translate the Book of Mormon; they only talked about using the Urim and Thummim[22], which seems to give good reason to support a Nephite Interpreters exclusive model.

So it seems understandable that the Seer Stone was not in the church's lexicon or tradition, because it started out that way, and perhaps wasn't introduced until the 1870's, so maybe it never caught on.

It's a little more complicated that this, again check out the Saint Unscripted video[17:1] for better coverage, but basically the tradition of using the Urim and Thummim verbiage stuck, for various reasons the friendly sources weren't considered, until recently there has been a bit of a paradigm shift in how historical documents are assessed. As a result the sources that talk about the Seer Stone were given new life and bingo bango bongo, the SITH narrative was born again in our time!

Were church leaders lying about the Seer Stone?

I think it makes a lot more sense that there was, and still is, a lot of confusion regarding the issue. So I would firmly say no. Unless the current church leaders are still hiding a bunch of documents where Joseph Smith talks about using the Seer Stone in the Book of Mormon translation[23], then I think we can firmly peg any lying on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery about the Seer Stone.

So lets look at that a bit more.

Were Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery lying about the Seer Stone?

An easy yes or no question

  • No
    • They only used the Nephite Interpreters so there was no reason to talk about the Seer Stone
    • Urim and Thummim refers to both the Nephite Interpreters and the Seer Stone
  • Yes
    • They just didn't feel like it was worth talking about the Seer Stone
      • It was a given
      • It played a trivial role (maybe just for convenience) or
    • They were embarrassed by it

But in all of those cases the church could still be true.

The Gospel Topics Essay proposes that the answer is No, because Urim and Thummim refers to both the Nephite Interpreters and the Seer Stone, so I will be focusing on that.[24] [25] [26]

Urim and Thummim Refers to both the Nephite Interpreters and the Seer Stone

This theory states that, unless they specify, whenever Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery talk about the Urim and Thummim they may be referring to either the Nephite Interpreters or the Seer Stone; the term Urim and Thummim supposedly was used to mean any sort of stone based instrument used to receive revelation. So when they say Urim and Thummim they could be referring to lots of different things and the detail of which stone was used when was lost to the fog of history.

Does that make sense?

Yeah kind of.

The only sources I have heard to support that the Seer Stone was referred to as the Urim and Thummim are two events both of which involve Wilford Woodruff.

One is sited in the Gospel Topics Essay as the source proving the term Urim and Thummim was used to refer to the Seer Stone. The context is Joseph is showing the Quorum of the twelve something and Wilford Woodruff goes home and records in his journal something to the effect of "Today I have seen the Urim and Thummim." I believe at this point Joseph had given the Nephite Interpreters back to Moroni for safe keeping. So whatever Wilford Woodruff saw it probably wasn't the Nephite Interpreters that are commonly referred to by us as the Urim and Thummim, so presumably it was Joseph's Seer Stone[27].

The other I found in Doctrines of Salvation volume III. In this case Joseph Fielding Smith is telling the story about when Wilford Woodruff was dedicating the Manti Temple and had the Seer Stone put out on the alter of the temple. Apparently it was recorded that the Urim and Thummim was at the temple dedication. Fast forward to Joseph Fielding Smith's time, and there were enough people, who thought that Urim and Thummim only referred to the Nephite Interpreters and that thought that the Nephite Interpreters were at the Manti temple dedication, that Joseph Fielding Smith had to debunk it and say that it was the Seer Stone that was present[28].

It feels reasonable to conclude that at least Wilford Woodruff used the term Urim and Thummim to refer to both the Nephite Interpreters and the Seer Stone so it seems plausible that other early church leaders would have as well.

Also consider the Urim and Thummim referred to in the bible[29] that the Israelite high priest wore as part of the breastplate of judgment[30]. That is clearly a different device than the Nephite Interpreters. That's at least two sets of stones that the early church leaders would have referred to as Urim and Thummim.

In Doctrine and Covenants 130 we get three more references to things that are not the Nephite Interpreters but are referred as a Urim and Thummim[31], namely "the place where God resides", "this earth, in its sanctified and immortal stated" and a "white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17"

I feel pretty confident in saying that for early church leaders the Nephite Interpreters were not the only thing that the term Urim and Thummim could be applied to[32]. Does that mean that some of the references to Urim and Thummim in Joseph Smith's and Oliver Cowdery's accounts might refer to the Seer Stone. I don't think so, I find it a little difficult to read it that way[33], but it's conceivable.

Critics of the "they used the term Urim and Thummim and Seer Stone interchangeably" theory will point out that the Book of Mormon affirming sources David Whitmer, Joseph Smith III, Emma Smith in a letter to Emma Pilgrim, and Edward Stevenson (reporting what Martin Harris had told him) as well as the critical ones (such as Mormonism Unveiled) all distinguish the Nephite Interpreters and Seer Stone by calling them the Urim and Thummim and the Seer Stone which possibly contradicts the idea that the term was used interchangeably [34].

But it could be that it was only very early church leaders that used the term Urim and Thummim to to mean both Nephite Interpreters and Seer Stone. Maybe by the time the 1870's and 1880's rolled around maybe it was more common to distinguish them by Urim and Thummim and Seer Stone. (except for at the Manti Temple dedication in 1888 (or maybe Utah kept using one style and the eastern branches changed to another style (or maybe the eastern branches had developed some verbiage to distinguish themselves from the Salt Lake church or visa versa)))

While I feel like the "Urim and Thummim refers to both the Nephite Interpreters and the Seer Stone" theory feels like a cop out I don't think it's completely meritless. And after all, just because it feels like a cop out doesn't mean it's not true.

Assuming that Urim and Thummim = Seer Stone and Urim and Thummim = Nephite Interpreters it's pretty easy to imagine a situation were confusion ensues. That is especially easy to imagine if you have the story being filtered through the lense of someone who feels a little more uncomfortable with folk magic.[35]

Why would Joseph and Oliver use the term Urim and Thummim for both the Nephite Interpreters and the Seer Stone?

Gerrit J Dirkmaat and Michael Hubbard Mackay suggest in "Let's Talk About the Translation of The Book of Mormon" that the Urim and Thummim phraseology developed as a short hand to circumvent jeering taunts from critics. They point out that critics would make fun of the Nephite Interpreters by calling them something to the effect of Jo's magic spectacles and of course the Seer Stone would be mocked for it's relation to treasure seeking. So the early church leaders started referring to these stones as Urim and Thummim perhaps out of embarrassment but mostly out of a "let's not get caught up in that, we'll bypass the taunting with some biblical terminology with more gravitas so we can move on to the more important message of the Book of Mormon." [36]

Okay, that was a lot, so to recap, Did we answer the question at the top?

If the Seer Stone was used in translation, why did Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery only talk about using the Urim and Thummim in the translation?

According to the Gospel Topics Essay it's because Urim and Thummim can refer to both the Nephite Interpreters and the Seer Stone.

The implication is that everyone from the 1950 until today were confused, and understandably so, but now that we have a better understanding of history it's all cleared up. [37]

What about the shifting narratives?

What about them?

Can the church be true if the church leaders have changed their story?

Sure. It's not exactly a doctrine of salvation that we are talking about here. And even if it was, don't we believe that the Lord teaches us line upon line? Joseph didn't learn everything overnight and he didn't teach it to the early church overnight. We like learning and as we learn more we have to put away things that we learn are wrong or incomplete and embrace what we have learned to be true.

Can the church be true if the Seer Stone claims are false and they are adopting the Seer Stone claims?

Of course. You remember back when Mark Hoffman made all of those forgeries, right? And when the church made their official statement on them Gordon B. Hinckley said,

At this point we accept the judgment of the examiner that there is no indication that it is a forgery. This does not preclude the possibility that it may have been forged at a time when the Church had many enemies. [38]

He was holding out hope for more information to come, but it seemed like he was ready to accept the result of a trusted examiner when it came to this matter. I think that's okay. Trust the best information you have until more information comes to light. That examiner ended up being wrong, not because of anything malicious on his end, but because Mark Hoffman was a skilled conman and forger. And ultimately God worked though his mysterious ways to bring to light Mark Hoffman's dark deeds and now we all know the truth.

I am holding out hope for the day that we find some new evidence that proves that it was just the Nephite Interpreters. But I don't fault the church leaders for following the advice of trusted historians that say that the Seer Stone was likely used in translation. And since it's not a doctrine of salvation, I don't expect the prophet to receive any revelation on the matter anytime soon. My opinion is that any church leader or historian that is not Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery[2:1] is simply expressing an opinion on the matter. And I would hope that that opinion is well researched and based off sources they trust. And I accept that, because of different criteria or biases, they have chosen different conclusions than I have. That's fine. The matter of the Seer Stone vs the Nephite Interpreters feels very trivial (in the sense of trivia) to me. Not a matter of doctrinal importance.

So yeah, the church can be true even if they hold a none doctrinally significant view point that is possibly incorrect. And anyways by the law of line upon line, they could even hold a incorrect doctrinally significant view point and as long as they are striving to accept the guidance of the Lord as he is trying to teach them the next line, I have no problem with the church changing it's official stance on anything as long as it is in a effort to better align the church with the will of God.

Can we trust the church leaders if they are prone to such mistakes?

Yeah, I think as far as mortal men go, you could do a lot worse. Part of the mortal experience is dealing with imperfect people. And church leaders are some of those people. I don't think the Lord will permit the leaders to lead the church too far astray on important issues. So I feel like on the topics that matter, the church leaders will be less prone to mistakes and better at receiving revelation than at least the average person. I believe that they are better than most people.

Conclusion

I find no compelling evidence to suggest that there is a nefarious plot to hide the possible reality of the use of the Seer Stone in the translation of the Book of Mormon. It just doesn't make any sense. On the one hand it is clear that the historical accounts make it unclear (Those closest said and reaffirmed Urim and Thummim/Nephite Interpreters, while many observers declared that it was the Urim and Thummim and the Seer Stone). On the other hand, those with opportunity to lie had no motive and those with motive had no opportunity. And on a third hand this is the church that believes that Kolob is the governing star, that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri, and has members that even now are trying to convince themselves the tapir could be translated as horse and that cureloms are wooly mammoths, so I think we could manage incorporating the use of Seer Stones in our church, as made evident by the existence of the theory that early church history downplayed the folk magic past by christening the Seer Stones as a Urim and Thummim. I am convinced that if we needed to incorporate Seer Stones but really had a hard time swallowing the folk magic bit, that's exactly the kind of story we would come up with to help it go down easier.

Are church leaders hiding an uncomfortable past? Not on this one.

Next up I'll be responding to the scholarly approach to this Gospel Topics Essay, The "Book of Mormon Translation" Essay in Historical Context by John-Charles Duffy. I liked his essay a lot, he hardly touches on the Seer Stone at all and instead mostly focuses on what is essentially Royal Skousen's translation paradigm of loose/tight/iron-clad control of the translation. It's very fascinating and I'm excited to review it!


  1. Whether or not this paradigm shift was the historically accurate move is the principal source of the debate. Depending on where you land on the debate will affect if you see the move as enlightening or as a regression. ↩︎

  2. I throw Oliver Cowdery in here, and not Emma Smith or Martin Harris because not only was Oliver a scribe, but because, according to D&C 8 and 9, Oliver was an attempted translator, so hat or not; screen or not; or Nephite Interpreters or Seer Stone or not, Oliver had first hand experience with whatever Joseph Smith was experiencing. At least the physical parts of it. It appears that he was not successful in actually translating anything, but he, because of this attempt, became the only other undeniable first hand eye witness to the tools of the translation even if he never became a first hand witness of the full mechanics of the translation. Everyone else may not have been first hand witnesses depending on the method used to conceal the Urim and Thummim from the scribes. If there was a curtain or screen separating the scribes from Joseph then their accounts are necessarily hearsay; they wouldn't not have seen anything. If whatever the translation instrument was was at the bottom of a hat the whole time, then, even then, they still might not be first hand eye witnesses. ↩︎ ↩︎

  3. They are the ones that failed to leave any indication that they used the Seer Stone in the Book of Mormon translation. In all of the accounts from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery they talk about using the Urim and Thummim; anytime they clarify it's to specify that it was the Nephite Interpreters. As I will show, it's not completely unreasonable to think that Urim and Thummim could also refer to the Seer Stone; I find it an unconvincing argument to then presume that the Seer Stone was used in the translation, but that is beside the point. Between Joseph and Oliver's accounts, and the repeated prophecies in the Book of Mormon about how the Nephite Interpreters would be used in the interpretation of the Book of Mormon, I find it very easy to believe that anyone (myself included) that believes the Nephite Interpreters were exclusively used in the translation are (if the Seer Stone narrative is correct) understandably mistaken rather than deceptive. The current church leadership has no motive to continue to hide any records that they are allegedly hiding where Joseph Smith talks about using the Seer Stone to translate. Not to mention, by the time the Seer Stone left the church's collective consciousness (cerca 1950), the church leaders would have had a heck of time rounding up all copies of said documents. To me it makes more sense that Joseph and Oliver, for whatever reason, just didn't leave behind any solid, conclusive evidence of the Seer Stone being used in the translation. ↩︎

  4. Why would they do that? Supposing the church was true. Supposing that both the Nephite Interpreters and the Seer Stone were available for them to use. If they were ashamed enough of using the Seer Stone to feel like the needed to lie about it, why use it in the first place? If the Seer Stone worked as a tool for translation, why be ashamed of it? If Moroni took away the Urim and Thummim after the 116 pages debacle, never gave it back, and only the Seer Stone was available why not say that the Lord had prepared a way to translate even through the loss of the Nephite Interpreters. After all that's essentially the story behind the small plates. If the church isn't true, then everything they said about it was a lie, so whether they were lying about using the Urim and Thummim or lying about using the Seer Stone what difference does that make? ↩︎

  5. Or I guess if the whole church is false and everything thing they said was a lie, but that's a lame option to explore. ↩︎

  6. Emma Smith wrote a letter to Emma Pilgrim talking about how the Urim and Thummim was used at first to translate, and then implies that the Seer Stone was used to translate the rest. James Lucas and Jonathan Neville point out that it's only an implication and we can only assume that's what she's talking about, but I would have to say it seems like a fair assumption. Here, you read it and tell me what you think. "Now the first that my husband translated, was translated by the use of the Urim and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost, after that he used a small stone, not exactly, black, but rather a dark color. I can not tell whether that account in the Times and Seasons is correct or not because some one stole all my books and I have none to refer to at present, if I can find one that has the account I will tell you what is true and what is not." That's it. That's all we get. My understanding is that there is no more context available on either side of that quote. It's just that quote. ↩︎

  7. Gerrit Dirkmaat and Micheal Mackay put forth in Let's Talk About the Translation of the Book of Mormon that the Seer Stone was also prophesied about in the Book of Mormon and is even given a name Gazelem. The evidence for this comes from a story that someone allegedly heard from Wilford Woodruff and he allegedly heard it from Joseph Smith and it tells the story of Joseph Smith finding his Seer Stone and calling it Gazelem. Gazelem is ambiguously referred to the book of Alma related in some form to the translation of the Jaradite record. Above all else the thing that convinces me the most of the Nephite Interpreters exclusive model is that, as far as I interpret the scriptures, it seems like the Nephite Interpreters were the instrument that was prepared specifically for the translation of the Book of Mormon so it doesn't make sense that if Joseph had that specifically prepared instrument why he would use something else. But if there was a prophecy about the Seer Stone, then I could get behind it. I have a hard time interpreting the scripture in Alma in a way to fit Dirkmaat and Mackay's theory, but it's worth looking into more. ↩︎

  8. The story from Martin Harris I don't feel like I have a great answer to. Is it a bit odd that he stuck to Urim and Thummim in all his accounts except this one? Yes. Is it a bit odd that it was published after his death? Yes. Is it possible that Edward Stevenson (who was the one that recorded the story and was on a mission to form connections with the remaining of the Three Witnesses, including David Whitmer) conflated something that Martin Harris said with something that David Whitmer said? Yes. But I don't know that I find all of those completely convincing answers. ↩︎

  9. The abridged version: Assuming that the Nephite Interpreters where exclusively used (I'll conceded that that's not a good place to start, what with confirmation bias and all that, but bear with me), then by necessity there would have to be some sort of way to conceal the Nephite Interpreters from the scribe, so Emma and Martin would only be able to assume what going on there. Zenas Gurley Jr stated that Joseph "frequently exhibited [the Seer Stone]" to help "assuage their [any of Joseph followers'] awful curiosity; but the Urim and Thummim never, unless possibly to Oliver Cowdery." Jonathan Neville's theory is that Joseph, especially in light of the harsh reprimand from the Lord about the 116 pages, was very determined to strictly follow the command to "not show them [the plates] to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom [he] should be commanded to show them; if [he] did [he] should be destroyed." Many people in the Whitmer home where, according to the theory, filled with the awful curiosity, and Joseph in an effort to get them off his back, so to say, gave a demonstration of essentially how the translation took place. It is from this event that Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, David Whitmer, Emma Smith and maybe even Martin Harris, draw in their accounts. The accounts were embellished as many stories are with the passage of time to include larger and larger portions of the translation until David felt like he could say that he was "an eye-witness to the translation of the greater part of the Book of Mormon" (which can't possibly be true, even if he sat in on every session that Joseph and Oliver had in the Whitmer home, that would only account for, according to my understanding, 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon), or Elizabeth Cowdery saying that she "often sat by and saw and heard them translate." The perceived need to embellish might have also been increased by the perceived threat of the then popular Spalding theory which was hard to refute if they admitted there was a curtain, but easy to refute if they relied on their extrapolated memory of the demonstration. Do I completely buy the demonstration model, I don't know... it answers a lot of the questions and puts a lot of people in a far more favorable light, then just saying that they were lying. On the other hand, I feel like it's based on only few historical accounts that are a little ambiguous but hey so are the other theories I am addressing in this essay... ↩︎

  10. That being said there is a good possibility that I will slip up and still throw some jabs at my opponents on the SITH side of the debate. The term SITH (which I got from A Man Who Can Translate) is itself a little jab that I find too humorous to not throw in there. And when I say opponents I mean that in the most charitable sense of the word. I hold no malice towards anyone that espouses that view point, I see a lot of the appeal behind it and it does answer a handful of questions. But it doesn't speak to me, so until more evidence comes out that can convince me, I hope we are okay to agree to disagree. ↩︎

  11. Either that or accept my version of it. I do have to say that Jonathan Neville and James Lucas have much stronger feelings on the subject. In By Means of the Urim And Thummim they address the idea that SITH proponents espouse that we ought to talk about the Seer Stone to inoculate inquisitive minds against the accusations that critics of the church try to raise. They were as bold as to say that the SITH narrative is not an inoculation but is itself the poison. Not that we shouldn't talk about the Seer Stone at all, but rather if we are going to do so it ought not be at the expense of omitting the statements from Joseph and Oliver that seem to contradict the SITH narrative ( i.e. any time that they specify that the Urim and Thummim they are referring to was the Nephite Interpreters). ↩︎

  12. But also as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3, milk before meat. I have heard people complain that a lot of this stuff isn't in the missionary lessons. That's ridiculous. There is no need for any investigator, or indeed anyone to become experts in the translation of the Book of Mormon. The most important point is that Joseph translated the Nephite record by the power of God and not of man. It's a divine work that if true, points to the divine gifts of the prophet who translated it, and by extension the church he helped restore. This isn't anywhere close to Xenu levels of bait and switch that another church does (and even that feels understandable in the context of their religion (and frankly there are other more compelling reasons to not be a member of that church)). So I think we're fine. ↩︎

  13. If they had said "Well it wasn't really the Hill Cumorah, it's the hill called Cumorah by the people of Joseph Smith's time, but Moroni never called it Cumorah," Then I would say we would need to talk about it in this essay. But for now we will leave it for a geography discussions. I am anticipating that there is going to be A LOT of discussion of geography on this blog! Get pumped! ↩︎

  14. Jonathan Neville complains a lot about how the Gospel Topics Essay lacks quotes from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that support the Nephite Interpreters exclusive model. I didn't notice that without him pointing it out. I saw the essay more as a answer to SITH claims so it made sense that it would mostly address SITH claims. So I don't see it as big a deal as Neville does, I will concede that there could be a risk of a SITH exclusive narrative being adopted, which I think would be truly tragic. I could live with a compromise theory where the Seer Stone was used for convenience, whatever that means, but frankly even going as far as saying the Urim and Thummim was used for the lost 116 pages and Seer Stone was used for the rest makes me feel uncomfortable. If we got to the point (without having additional compelling evidence) where the pendulum has swung the other way and we only talk about the Seer Stone I would see that as a major problem. ↩︎

  15. Numbers 22, God speaks to Balak though his donkey. 1 Samuel 28 The spirit of Samuel appears to Saul while Saul is talking to the Witch of Endor. 1 Nephi 3:11, Joshua 18:6-10, Acts 1:23-26 and more where they cast lots, Just to name a few. ↩︎

  16. See part one of this series: https://www.bendemann.com/2023/07/book-of-mormon-translation.html ↩︎

  17. Saint Unscripted: Did the Church hide the truth about Joseph Smith’s seer stone? | Ep. 201 https://youtu.be/JAMv7z6ubXk ↩︎ ↩︎

  18. They are dated from the 1870's and 1880's so it's only two or three decades after the first pioneers hit Utah in 1847, but still, it's technically decades. ↩︎

  19. The main sources for the SITH narrative are: Just about everything that David Whitmer ever said about the translation process, two sources from Emma, and one from Martin Harris. At the time the sources were given David Whitmer had left the church and he never did come back, Emma had joined the Reorganized church with her son Joseph Smith III, and Martin Harris has left the church and was on his way to Utah to reunite with the church at the time that his account was recorded. ↩︎

  20. Which by itself may not be reason to dismiss them, rather, I see it as reason to be understandable if the Salt Lake based church didn't wholeheartedly accept their stories and change up what was already 40+ years of tradition saying that the Book of Mormon was translated by means of the Urim and Thummim. That is to say it may cause people to dismiss it (and I sympathize a lot with those feelings), even if it is not the "appropriate" response in the current historical paradigm. ↩︎

  21. For better grounds to dismiss them, if you are interested, I would refer you to By Means of the Urim & Thummim, or this Gospel Tangents interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMSHsNs0IeQ or A Man Who Can Translate. Long story short, if you accept the Nephite Interpreters exclusive model, then because of God's commandment to not show the plates or the Nephite Interpreters to anyone there are only two first hand witnesses to the translation: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Everyone else, regardless of how well intentioned they are, or how knowledgeable they are, are second hand accounts at best and are prone to mistakes, inferences, and assumptions that might affect how they interpret and describe the events. ↩︎

  22. One small fly in the ointment is that they occasionally talked about the spectacles or Nephite Interpreters or the Urim and Thummim that was found with the plates, but never the Seer Stone... but lets just disregard that for right now. ↩︎

  23. But why would they? The SITH narrative seems to be the mainstream narrative, at least among the church scholars. And it's in the Gospel Topics Essay. I would understand hiding if they were still trying to say the Seer Stone was not used, but now they are saying that it was. More documents citing that claim would help them establish the SITH narrative. It doesn't make sense to me that they would do that. ↩︎

  24. Maybe it wasn't worth mentioning because it was a given? Joseph loved his Seer Stone so much that to assume he didn't use it to translate would be like assuming that he didn't need to breath while they were translating. ↩︎

  25. Or imagine if the Urim and Thummim was the chief instrument, but for convenience he would occasionally use the the Seer Stone. Maybe the Seer Stone was just not worth mentioning because it was used only infrequently. This kind of flies in the face of David and Emma's statements that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim for the lost 116 pages and the Seer Stone for the text of the Book of Mormon as we have it now, but it would match up with Martin's statement made about the Seer Stone being used for convenience. ↩︎

  26. But like why? There are a lot of things that Joseph Smith wasn't embarrassed by. Why this one? ↩︎

  27. Though my understanding was that at that point he had given his chocolate colored seer stone to Oliver. Maybe he had another one? Maybe Moroni gave Joseph the Nephite Interpreters to show the twelve during the presentation. Maybe Joseph borrowed the Seer Stone from Oliver? Maybe I have my facts mixed up? Long story short I don't know that story is evidence enough to prove that Wilford Woodruff called the Seer Stone a Urim and Thummim much less evidence that other early church leaders did as well, but it's interesting ↩︎

  28. I found it interesting to note that Joseph Fielding Smith cites BH Robert's Comprehensive History of the Church for that story, and you may recognize that name as one of the few early church leaders that talked about the Seer Stone. I don't know if that is significant. Maybe just that he was a prolific early historian? But maybe his pro Seer Stone slant might affect how he interprets the Manti Temple story? ↩︎

  29. Exodus 28:30, Leviticus 8:8, Numbers 27:21, Deuteronomy 33:8 ↩︎

  30. It stands to reason that Lehi and his family knew about the Israelite Urim and Thummim, if not from tradition then surly from the brass plates which contained the Books of Moses and therefore a reference to the Israelite Urim and Thummim. So it's interesting to note that the Nephites may have decided to go with the term "interpreters" not because they didn't know about the phrase Urim and Thummim but for some other reason. Maybe they saw an important distinction between the interpreters and the Urim and Thummim. Perhaps as good law of Moses followers, and as part of building a temple after the manner of Solomon, they had their own Urim and Thummim to go with their own breastplate of judgment and they wouldn't have thought to conflate the two. After all one marks the position of High Priest while the other constitutes the higher calling of Seer. ↩︎

  31. I didn't count this one in the list of sources because it doesn't refer to the Seer Stone as a Urim and Thummim and because it says a Urim and Thummim instead of the Urim and Thummim. In Joseph and Oliver's account of the translation we see the Urim and Thummim and in Wilford Woodruffs account we see the Urim and Thummim. My thought is if we were talking about something else, suns for example, I would expect that if were talking about different planets and their stars we might refer to how that planet has a sun. If we were in a conversation specifically about that planet, I could see us using the term the sun to refer to that planet's sun. But if there is no additional context then I am going to assume that anytime we are talking about the sun it is referring to our sun. By that logic I would expect any reference to the Urim and Thummim to refer to the most commonly used stone or set of stones. So if the most common Urim and Thummim used in the Book of Mormon translation is the Nephite Interpreters (which seems like a fair assumption to me based on the number of times Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery specify that it was the Urim and Thummim found with the plates, or the spectacles, or the Nephite Interpreters etc) then I would expect the Urim and Thummim to refer to the Nephite Interpreters. I guess what I am looking for in these sources it evidence that the primacy of the article the was also afforded to other stones and not just the Nephite Interpreters. D&C 130 doesn't do that. ↩︎

  32. Also note that even if we can firmly establish that early church leaders referred to multiple different things as Urim and Thummim, that does not mean, necessarily, that the Seer Stone was ever referred to as a Urim and Thummim. ↩︎

  33. I just think that there are too many clarification that point to the Nephite Interpreters and not a single clarification that point to the Seer Stone. It could be true that Joseph Smith referred to his Seer Stone as a Urim and Thummim (a point I am still on the fence about), but that doesn't mean that it was used in the translation of Book of Mormon. In deed that might be the reason why anytime they specified which Urim and Thummim it was because the term Urim and Thummim could refer to his Seer Stone and they wanted to be clear that they were not talking about that Urim and Thummim but rather the Urim and Thummim that was found with the plates. On the other hand just because it's hard for me to read it that way doesn't mean it's impossible. ↩︎

  34. A source for this claim would be good. But the point is that it's because of these references drawing a distinction between the two that we have the idea that the Seer Stone was used at all. In their recent Gospel Tangents interview Jonathan Neville and James Lucas even point out that one of these people made a big deal about not referring to the Seer Stone as the Urim and Thummim. https://youtu.be/Kl4iVSX8EJA?si=5IoMXZ16Y9NfoFA3 That's the first part of the interview and it stretches from episode 798 to 802. I don't recall what part it was in. But the whole interview is great, check it out! ↩︎

  35. Which I throw out there not because I believe that, but as a way of compromising. I could see a world where someone who feels embarrassed by the Joseph Smith's folk magic background, might be more willing to cling to the Nephite Interpreters exclusive model. If it's an understandable mistake to make because the evidence isn't so cut and dry then why not promote the theory you like? I would also like to point out that just because someone favors the theory because they would rather not acknowledge the folk magic association Joseph Smith has, does not mean the theory is wrong. It's just that that person would not have the best motives for adopting that theory. But there are reasons for accepting the Nephite Interpreters exclusive model, I'll remind you that I think that theory is correct, and I have no problem with Joseph Smith's folk magic background. ↩︎

  36. Keep in mind that that could be the true origin of why they called the Nephite Interpreters the Urim and Thummim and it could still not apply to the Seer Stone. ↩︎

  37. On the other hand, if the Nephite Interpreters exclusive model is correct then modern historians have actually made a relatively straight forward issue more confusing by introducing this idea that we have no idea what Urim and Thummim might actually refer to... ↩︎

  38. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salamander_letter It's just wikipedia... but that's good enough for the purposes of the quote ↩︎

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