Book of Mormon/Translation/Method/Seer stone versus Nephite interpreters: which is more believable

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The seer stone and Nephite interpreters were "apparently interchangable"


Gospel Topics: "These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters. In ancient times, Israelite priests used the Urim and Thummim to assist in receiving divine communications. Although commentators differ on the nature of the instrument, several ancient sources state that the instrument involved stones that lit up or were divinely illumin[at]ed. Latter-day Saints later understood the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters. Joseph Smith and others, however, seem to have understood the term more as a descriptive category of instruments for obtaining divine revelations and less as the name of a specific instrument.[1]


Question: Which method of translation was more "believable": seer stone or Nephite interpreters?

One must choose which seer stone is more "believable"

Joseph Smith always claimed that the translation was performed by the "gift and power of God." So which translation method is more "believable"?

  1. Joseph used the Nephite interpreters, which consisted of two seer stones mounted in a frame that resembled a set of "spectacles." He looked into the stones and somehow deduced the English text of the characters written on the plates. The assumption that many make is that Joseph was using the "spectacles" like a pair of glasses that converted the characters into English, and thus required a direct view of the plates. There is, however, indication that Joseph may have placed the Nephite interpreter into his hat. Here is what the Church says about it: "According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument." [2]
  2. Joseph placed the seer stone in a hat to block out the light, and somehow deduced the English text of the characters written on the plates. The plates remained covered by a cloth on the table, as reported by many witnesses.

So both methods use seer stones, and both methods may have used the hat to block out light.

Which method is more "believable"? Ultimately, one must accept or reject the idea that the text of the Book of Mormon was revealed to Joseph Smith through revelation, by the "gift and power of God," regardless of the rather unbelievable details of the exact instruments and method used to achieve this.


Question: What does the Church teach investigators and members regarding the method by which the Book of Mormon was produced?

Criticism of what the Church teaches regarding the translation process

One critical website offers the following:

Why doesn't the church be honest when teaching the method to investigators or even its own members? The short answer of course is that it would make the whole story sound unbelievable. Very few people in the 21st Century would likely join the church if the missionaries plainly taught that Joseph put his face in a hat with a common stone in it and translated the Book of Mormon when the plates were either covered so no one, including Joseph could see them or that the plates were hidden in the woods when he translated them. But that doesn't make it right to deceive innocent truthseekers. [3]

The Church teaches that the Book of Mormon was translated by the "gift and power of God" using the "Urim and Thummim"

The Church teaches that the Book of Mormon was translated by the "gift and power of God" using the "Urim and Thummim." The term "Urim and Thummim" was applied to both the Nephite interpreters that were recovered with the plates, and Joseph Smith's own seer stone. Both instruments were used in the translation process.

The Church states that, "These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters. [4]


Question: What are the Nephite interpreters?

The Nephite interpreters are two seer stones set in a framework resembling a set of "spectacles"

The Lord provided a set of seer stones (which were formerly used by Nephite prophets) along with the plates. The term Nephite interpreters can alternatively refer to the stones themselves or the stones in conjunction with their associated paraphernalia (holding rim and breastplate). Some time after the translation, early saints noticed similarities with the seer stones and related paraphernalia used by High Priests in the Old Testament and began to use the term Urim and Thummim interchangeably with the Nephite interpreters and Joseph's other seer stones as well. The now popular use of the term Urim and Thummim has unfortunately obscured the fact that all such devices belong in the same class of consecrated revelatory aids and that more than one were used in the translation.

The manner in which the interpreters were used was never explained in detail

The Nephite interpreters were intended to assist Joseph in the initial translation process, yet the manner in which they were employed was never explained in detail. The fact that the Nephite interpreters were set in rims resembling a pair of spectacles has led some to believe that they may have been worn like a pair of glasses, with Joseph viewing the characters on the plates through them. This, however, is merely speculation that doesn't take into account that Joseph soon disassembled the fixture, the spacing between seer stones being too wide for his eyes. The accompanying breastplate also appeared to have been used by a larger man. Like its biblical counterpart (the High Priest's breastplate contained 12 gems that symbolized him acting as a mediator between God and Israel), the Nephite breastplate was apparently non-essential to the revelatory process.


Notes

  1. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013).
  2. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  3. "Translation of the Book of Mormon," MormonThink.com
  4. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org