Book of Mormon/Translation/Method/1841-1845

Table of Contents

Statements on the Book of Mormon Translation method: 1841-1845


This page is a chronology of statements from primary and secondary sources. Sources may be viewed by following the citation links.

Jump to statements in: 1829–1835| 1836–1840| 1841–1845| 1846–1900| 1900–2000

1841

Hostile press account Christian Advocate and Journal (17 Dec 1841)

Little enough did “Joseph Smith, jr., author and proprietor” of said book, imagine such events, and yet such have taken place! Gladly would he while engaged in “peeping;” sometimes into an old hat, and at others into the spectacles, “called Urim and Thummim,” through which he was enabled to read “the plates,” and dictate to Oliver Cowdery, his amanuensis; gladly, no doubt, would he then have swapped his whole interest in the concern for a fifty acre farm in Michigan.[1]

  • Scribe: Oliver Cowdery
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Varies: (a) peep stone in hat; or (b) spectacles ("Urim and Thummim")
  • Method: Stone in hat or looking into the spectacles

Charles Anthon, quoting Martin Harris (witness) Gleanings by the Way (letter of 3 April 1841, not published until 1842)

On my asking him by whom the copy was made, he gravely stated, that along with the golden book there had been dug up a very large pair of spectacles! So large in fact that if a man were to hold them in front of his face, his two eyes would merely look through one of the glasses, and the remaining part of the spectacles would project a considerable distance sideways! These spectacles possessed, it seems a very valuable property, of enabling any one who looked through them, (or rather through one of the lenses,) not only to decypher the characters on the plates, but also to comprehend their exact meaning, and be able to translate them!! My informant assured me that this curious property of the spectacles had been actually tested, and found to be true. A young man, it seems, had been placed in the garret of a farmhouse, with a curtain before him, and having fastened the spectacles to his head, had read several pages in the golden book, and communicated their contents in writing to certain persons stationed on the outside of the curtain. He had also copied off one page of the book in the original character, which he had in like manner handed over to those who were separated [234] from him by the curtain, and this copy was the paper which the countryman had brought with him.[2]

  • Scribe: Martin Harris
  • Curtain: present
  • Instrument: Nephite interpreters ("spectacles")
  • Method: "fastened the spectacles to his head"

1842

John A. Clark (non-eyewitness), Gleanings by the Way

The way that Smith made his transcripts and transcriptions for Harris was the following. Although in the same room, a thick curtain or blanket was suspended between them, and Smith concealed behind the blanket, pretended to look through his spectacles, or transparent stones, and would then write down or repeat what he saw, which, when repeated aloud, was written down by Harris, who sat on the other side of the suspended blanket. Harris was told that it would arouse the most terrible divine displeasure, if he should attempt to draw near the sacred chest, or look at Smith while engaged in the work of decyphering the mysterious characters. This was Harris's own account of the matter to me.[3]

  • Scribe: Martin Harris
  • Curtain: present
  • Instrument: Nephite interpreters ("spectacles"); Transparent stones
  • Method: "look through his spectacles"

Joseph Smith (translator) Times and Seasons [Wentworth letter] 1 Mar 1842

With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God.[4]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Nephite interpreters ("Urim and Thummim")
  • Method: "By the gift and power of God."

Joseph Smith (translator) Times and Seasons 15 April 1842

He also said that the fullness of the everlasting gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Saviour to the ancient inhabitants. Also that there were two stones in silver bows, and these stones fastened to a breastplate constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim, deposited with the plates, and the possession and use of these stones was what constituted seers in ancient or former times, and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.... Again he told me that when I got those plates of which he had spoken (for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled) I should not show them to any person, neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them, if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again, when I visited it.[5]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Nephite interpreters ("Urim and Thummim")
  • Method: Not specified

Joseph Smith (translator) Times and Seasons 16 May 1842

Mr. Harris having returned from this tour he left me and went home to Palmyra, arranged his affairs and returned again to my house about the twelfth of April, eighteen hundred and twenty eight, and commenced writing for me, while I translated from the plates, which we continued until the fourteenth of June following, by which time he had written one hundred and sixteen pages of manuscript on foolscap paper. Some time after Mr. Harris had begun to write for me he began to teaze me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and shew them, and desired of me that I would enquire of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim if he might not do so. I did enquire, and the answer was that he must not.... Notwithstanding however the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did shew them to others, and by stratagem they got them away from him, and they never have been recovered nor obtained back again unto this day. In the mean time while Martin Harris was gone with the writings, I went to visit my father’s family, at Manchester. I continued there for a short season and then returned to my place in Pennsylvania. Immediately after my return home I was walking out a little distance when behold the former heavenly messenger appeared and handed to me the Urim and Thummim again, (for it had been taken from me in consequence of my having wearied the Lord in asking for the privilege of letting Martin Harris take the writings which he lost by transgression,) and I enquired of the Lord through them and obtained the following revelation....[6]

  • Scribe: Martin Harris
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Nephite interpreters ("Urim and Thummim")
  • Method: Not specified

Joseph Smith (translator) Times and Seasons 1 June 1842

[continued directetly from previous issue] After I had obtained the above revelation, both the plates and the Urim and Thummim were taken from me again; but in a few days they were returned to me, when I enquired of the Lord, and the Lord said thus unto me....[7]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Nephite interpreters ("Urim and Thummim")
  • Method: Not specified

1843

Henry Caswall, hostile non-witness Prophet of the Nineteenth Century

Smith’s plans had now, viz. in the summer of 1828, assumed some definiteness, and he proceeded boldly with his new “revelation.” Seating himself in a private room, behind a curtain or blanket, he placed the wonder-working stone in his hat, and put the hat over his face. He declared himself to be thus enabled to see in plain English, the characters inscribed on the golden plates, which he averred to be at the same time hidden in the woods. He read aloud his fictitious translation, which was, doubtless, merely an altered coy of Spaulding’s work, or, perhaps, to some extent, the original manuscript itself. On the outside of the curtain, Martin Harris was stationed, who carefully wrote down the words, as they proceeded from the lips of the concealed interpreter.[8]

  • Scribe: Martin Harris
  • Curtain: Present
  • Instrument: Stone
  • Method: In the hat
  • Plates: Not present

Henry Caswall, quoting Lucy Mack Smith (witness) City of the Mormons, 2nd edition

He shewed him also the Urim and Thummim, by which he might understand the meaning of the inscriptions on the plates, and exhibited to him the golden breastplate of the high priesthood. My son received these precious gifts, he interpreted and published the holy record, and now the believers in that revelation are more than a hundred thousand in number. I have myself seen and handled the golden plates; they are about eight inches long, and six wide; some of them are sealed together and are not to be opened, and some of them are loose. They are all connected by a ring which passes through a hole at the end of each plate, and are covered with letters beautifully engraved. I have seen and felt also the Urim and Thummim. They resemble two large bright diamonds set in a bow like a pair of spectacles. My son puts these over his eyes when he reads unknown languages, and they enable him to interpret them in English. I have likewise carried in my hands the sacred breastplate. It is composed of pure gold, and is made to fit the breast very exactly.”[9]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Urim and Thummim with breastplate
  • Method: Not specified

1844

James Hunt, hostile author; citing Martin Harris (witness) Mormonism...

He [Martin Harris] says, he wrote a considerable part of the Book as the Prophet dictated, and at one time, he remembers distinctly, the presence of the Lord was so great, that a screen was hung up between him and the Prophet. At other times, when the presence was not so great, the Prophet would sit in a room or up stairs, while the Lord was communicating to him the contents of the plates.... The plates, in the meantime, were concealed from human review—hid up unto the Lord; the Prophet declaring that no man could look upon them and live. They at the same time gave out, that along with the plates was found a huge pair of silver spectacles, too large for the present race of men entirely, but which were, nevertheless, to be used in translating the plates. The translation at length commenced; and strange to tell, dear reader, they were found to contain a language not known on earth! (which they termed, “reformed Egyptian characters”); so the plates so much talked of were found to be of no manner of use whatever. Howbeit, after all, the Lord showed and communicated to Joe every word and letter of the book. Instead of looking at the “reformed Egyptian characters” upon the plates, the Prophet was forced to resort to the old “peep-stone,” which he previously used in money-digging: this he placed in a hat or box, as formerly, into which the Prophet put his face. Through the stone he then could discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would appear immediately, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book.[10]

  • Scribe: Martin Harris and others
  • Curtain: Present sometimes; other times not there
  • Instrument: Silver spectacles and stone
  • Method: With stone, placed in hat or box

Appleby (non-witness, friendly) A Dissertation...

...that the Record was wrote in the reformed Egyptian, and that they could not be translated by the wisdom of this generation, but if he was faithful he should be the honored instrument in bringing it forth, and translating the same by the “Urim and Thummim” that was deposited with the Records, and that this Record contained the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its purity; that the knowledge it contained should go to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and that the Indian and the Jew should be brought to a knowledge of Christ by believing and obeying the same, and when it comes forth persecution shall rage; your life shall be sought after, &c., after which the messenger left him.... [11]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Urim and Thummim
  • Method: Not specified

Robert Baird, hostile account Religion in the United States...

The annals of modern times furnish few more remarkable examples of cunning in the leaders, and delusion in their dupes, than is presented by what is called Mormonism. An ignorant but ambitious person of the name of Joseph Smith, jun., residing in the west of the State of New York, pretends that an angel appeared to him in 1827, and told him where he would find a stone box, containing certain golden plates, with a revelation from heaven inscribed on them. Four years after this, the plates having of course been found as described, the impostor set about the writing out of this revelation, and pretended, with the aid of a pair of stone spectacles found also in the box, to read it off to a man of the name of Harris, and afterwards to one called Cowdery, these acting as his amanuenses. The “prophet,” as he is now called, took care, of course, that neither of them, nor any one else, should see the plates, the part of the room he occupied having been partitioned off from where they sat by a blanket.[12]

  • Scribe: Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery
  • Curtain: Present
  • Instrument: Stone spectacles (Urim and Thummim)
  • Method: Not specified

Notes

  1. “Prevalence of Mormonism,” Christian Advocate and Journal (New York) 16, no. 17 (8 December 1841). off-site
  2. Rev. John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way, (Philadelphia: W.J. and J.K. Simon; New York: Robert Carter, 1842), 233–234 off-site (italics in original)
  3. Rev. John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way, (Philadelphia: W.J. and J.K. Simon; New York: Robert Carter, 1842), 224, 228, 230-31 off-site; part of this chapter on the Mormons appeared as a letter in the Episcopal Recorder 18 (1846): 94. This interview was also reprinted in "Modern Superstition.-The Mormonites.-No. I;' Visitor, or Monthly Instructor (1841): 62, 63-64.
  4. Joseph Smith, "Church History [Wentworth letter]," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 Mar 1842), 706–710. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  5. Joseph Smith, "History of Joseph Smith," Times and Seasons 3 no. 12 (15 April 1842), 753–754. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  6. Joseph Smith, "History of Joseph Smith," Times and Seasons 3 no. 14 (16 May 1842), 785–786. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  7. Joseph Smith, "History of Joseph Smith," Times and Seasons 3 no. 14 (1 June 1842), 801–804. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  8. Henry Caswall, The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century, or, the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints : To Which Is Appended an Analysis of the Book of Mormon (London: Printed for J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 40. off-site
  9. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged, (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 26. off-site
  10. James H. Hunt, Mormonism: Embracing the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Sect (St. Louis: Ustick and Davies, 1844), 7, 12. off-site
  11. W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. Full title
  12. Robert Baird, Religion in the United States of America (Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1844), 647–649. off-site Full title