Criticism of Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink/Translation of the Book of Mormon

Table of Contents

Response to MormonThink page "Translation of the Book of Mormon"

A FairMormon Analysis of: MormonThink, a work by author: Anonymous
Mormonthink.chart.translation.book.of.mormon.png

Response to claims made on MormonThink page "Translation of the Book of Mormon"

Jump to Subtopic:


Response to claim: "Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery at the same table with the plates in full view of both of them"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

This image below was in the Oct 2006 issue of the Ensign which shows both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery at the same table with the plates in full view of both of them, which is not what is generally taught in the Church.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct. Some of the Church artwork does not reflect what is generally taught in Church. This is not limited the Church. There is much artwork that does not reflect reality, but rather the thoughts of the artist.


Question: Does Church art always reflect reality?

All art, including Church art, simply reflects the views of the artist: It may not reflect reality

Samuel the Lamanite Prophecies from the City Wall by Arnold Friberg

It is claimed by some that the Church knowingly "lies" or distorts the historical record in its artwork in order to whitewash the past, or for propaganda purposes. [1] For example, some Church sanctioned artwork shows Joseph and Oliver sitting at a table while translating with the plate in the open between them. Daniel C. Peterson provides some examples of how Church art often does not reflect reality, and how this is not evidence of deliberate lying or distortion on the part of the Church:

Look at this famous picture....Now that’s Samuel the Lamanite on a Nephite wall. Are any walls like that described in the Book of Mormon? No. You have these simple things, and they’re considered quite a technical innovation at the time of Moroni, where he digs a trench, piles the mud up, puts a palisade of logs along the top. That’s it. They’re pretty low tech. There’s nothing like this. This is Cuzco or something. But this is hundreds of years after the Book of Mormon and probably nowhere near the Book of Mormon area, and, you know, and you’ve heard me say it before, after Samuel jumps off this Nephite wall you never hear about him again. The obvious reason is....he’s dead. He couldn’t survive that jump. But again, do you draw your understanding of the Book of Mormon from that image? Or, do you draw it from what the book actually says?[2]


Question: Why are people concerned about Church artwork?

As the critics point out, there are potential historical errors in some of these images

One of the strangest attacks on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an assault on the Church's art. Now and again, one hears criticism about the representational images which the Church uses in lesson manuals and magazines to illustrate some of the foundational events of Church history.[3]

A common complaint is that Church materials usually show Joseph translating the Book of Mormon by looking at the golden plates, such as in the photo shown here.

Artist's rendition of Joseph and Oliver translating the Book of Mormon.[4]

Here critics charge a clear case of duplicity—Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith are shown translating the Book of Mormon.

But as the critics point out, there are potential historical errors in this image:

  1. Oliver Cowdery did not see the plates as Joseph worked with them.
  2. For much of the translation of the extant Book of Mormon text, Joseph did not have the plates in front of him—they were often hidden outside the home during the translation.
  3. Joseph used a seer stone to translate the plates; he usually did this by placing the stone in his hat to exclude light, and dictating to his scribe.

The reality is that the translation process, for the most part, is represented by this image:

Joseph Smith prepares to translate using the seer stone placed within his hat while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat. (11 May 2015)


Question: Is the Church trying to hide something through its use of artwork?

The manner of the translation is described repeatedly in Church publications, despite the inaccurate artwork

The implication is that the Church's artistic department and/or artists are merely tools in a propaganda campaign meant to subtly and quietly obscure Church history. The suggestion is that the Church trying to "hide" how Joseph really translated the plates.

On the contrary, the manner of the translation is described repeatedly, for example, in the Church's official magazine for English-speaking adults, the Ensign. Richard Lloyd Anderson discussed the "stone in the hat" matter in 1977,[5] and Elder Russell M. Nelson quoted David Whitmer's account to new mission presidents in 1992.[6]

The details of the translation are not certain, and the witnesses do not all agree in every particular. However, Joseph's seer stone in the hat was also discussed by, among others: B.H. Roberts in his New Witnesses for God (1895)[7] and returns somewhat to the matter in Comprehensive History of the Church (1912).[8] Other Church sources to discuss this include The Improvement Era (1939),[9] BYU Studies (1984, 1990)[10] the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (1993),[11] and the FARMS Review (1994).[12] LDS authors Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler also mentioned the matter in 2000.[13]

Neal A. Maxwell: "To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark"

Elder Neal A. Maxwell went so far as to use Joseph's hat as a parable; this is hardly the act of someone trying to "hide the truth":

Jacob censured the "stiffnecked" Jews for "looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4:14). We are looking beyond the mark today, for example, if we are more interested in the physical dimensions of the cross than in what Jesus achieved thereon; or when we neglect Alma's words on faith because we are too fascinated by the light-shielding hat reportedly used by Joseph Smith during some of the translating of the Book of Mormon. To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark.[14]

Those who criticize the Church based on its artwork should perhaps take Elder Maxwell's caution to heart.


Question: Why doesn't the art match details which have been repeatedly spelled out in Church publications?

The simplest answer is that artists simply don't always get such matters right

Why, then, does the art not match details which have been repeatedly spelled out in LDS publications?

The simplest answer may be that artists simply don't always get such matters right. The critics' caricature to the contrary, not every aspect of such things is "correlated." Robert J. Matthews of BYU was interviewed by the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and described the difficulties in getting art "right":

JBMS: Do you think there are things that artists could do in portraying the Book of Mormon?

RJM: Possibly. To me it would be particularly helpful if they could illustrate what scholars have done. When I was on the Correlation Committee [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], there were groups producing scripture films. They would send to us for approval the text of the words that were to be spoken. We would read the text and decide whether we liked it or not. They would never send us the artwork for clearance. But when you see the artwork, that makes all the difference in the world. It was always too late then. I decided at that point that it is so difficult to create a motion picture, or any illustration, and not convey more than should be conveyed. If you paint a man or woman, they have to have clothes on. And the minute you paint that clothing, you have said something either right or wrong. It would be a marvelous help if there were artists who could illustrate things that researchers and archaeologists had discovered…

I think people get the main thrust. But sometimes there are things that shouldn't be in pictures because we don't know how to accurately depict them…I think that unwittingly we might make mistakes if we illustrate children's materials based only on the text of the Book of Mormon.[15]

Modern audiences—especially those looking to find fault—have, in a sense, been spoiled by photography. We are accustomed to having images describe how things "really" were. We would be outraged if someone doctored a photo to change its content. This largely unconscious tendency may lead us to expect too much of artists, whose gifts and talents may lie in areas unrelated to textual criticism and the fine details of Church history.

Even this does not tell the whole story. "Every artist," said Henry Ward Beecher, "dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures."[16] This is perhaps nowhere more true than in religious art, where the goal is not so much to convey facts or historical detail, as it is to convey a religious message and sentiment. A picture often is worth a thousand words, and artists often seek to have their audience identify personally with the subject. The goal of religious art is not to alienate the viewer, but to draw him or her in.


Question: How do non-Mormon artists treat the Nativity?

A look at how other religious artists portray the birth of Christ

The critics would benefit from even a cursory tour through religious art. Let us consider, for example, one of the most well-known stories in Christendom: the Nativity of Christ. How have religious artists portrayed this scene?

BRUEGEL Le dénombrement de Bethléem.png   A personal favorite of mine is Belgian painter Pierre Bruegel the Elder. In his Census of Bethlehem (1569, shown at left) he turns Bethlehem into a Renaissance Belgian village. The snow is the first tip-off that all is not historically accurate. But the skaters on the pond, the clothing, and the houses are also all wrong. However, it's unlikely that anyone would suggest Bruegel's tribute was an attempt to perpetuate a fraud.

An Italian work from the thirteenth century gives us The Nativity with Six Dominican Monks (1275, shown at right). There were surely no monks at the Nativity, and the Dominican order was not formed until the early thirteenth century. But any serious claim that this work is merely an attempt to "back date" the order's creation, giving them more prestige would certainly be dismissed by historians, Biblical scholars, and the artistic community.   Nativity with 6 Dominicans.png

Bellini Madonna 1.png  

Renaissance Italian Madonna

Even details of no religious consequence are fair game for artists to get "wrong." Giovanni Bellini's portrait of Mary might seem innocuous enough, until one spots the European castle on the portrait's right, and the thriving Renaissance town on the left.

Non-European cultures

Other cultures follow the same pattern. Korean and Indian artists portray the birth in Bethlehem in their own culture and dress. Certainly, no one would suspect that the artists (as with Bruegel the Elder) hope we will be tricked into believing that Jesus' birth took place in a snow-drenched Korean countryside, while shepherds in Indian costume greeted a sari-wearing Mary with no need for a stable at all under the warm Indian sky?
  Korean Nativity 1.png Indian Nativity 1.png

Jesus mafa 1.png  

African example

For a final example, consider an African rendition of the Nativity, which shows the figures in traditional African forms. If we were to turn the same critical eye on this work that has been turned on LDS art, we might be outraged and troubled by what we see here. But when we set aside that hyper-literal eye, the artistic license becomes acceptable. Clearly, there's a double standard at work when it comes to LDS art.


As the director of Catholic schools in Yaounde, Cameroon argues:

It is urgent and necessary for us to proclaim and to express the message, the life and the whole person of Jesus-Christ in an African artistic language…Many people of different cultures have done it before us and will do it in the future, without betraying the historical Christ, from whom all authentic Christianity arises. We must not restrict ourselves to the historical and cultural forms of a particular people or period.[17]

The goal of religious art is primarily to convey a message. It uses the historical reality of religious events as a means, not an end.

Religious art—in all traditions—is intended, above all, to draw the worshipper into a separate world, where mundane things and events become charged with eternal import. Some dictated words or a baby in a stable become more real, more vital when they are connected recognizably to one's own world, time, and place.

This cannot happen, however, if the image's novelty provides too much of a challenge to the viewer's culture or expectations. Thus, the presentation of a more accurate view of the translation using either the Nephite interpreters (sometimes referred to as "spectacles") or the stone and the hat, automatically raises feelings among people in 21st Century culture that the translation process was strange. This type of activity is viewed with much less approval in our modern culture.


Question: What message does the Book of Mormon translation painting convey?

The translation was carried out openly—Joseph had no opportunity to hide notes or books

What religious message(s) does the Del Parson translation picture convey?

Artist's rendition of Joseph and Oliver translating the Book of Mormon.
  1. The translation was carried out openly—Joseph had no opportunity to hide notes or books. This was confirmed by Elizabeth Ann Cowdery and Emma Smith.[18]
  2. The plates had a physical reality, and Oliver Cowdery was convinced of this reality. Unlike some of the other Three Witnesses, who spoke only of seeing the angel and the plates, Oliver Cowdery insisted that "I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters. That book is true…I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet."[19] Oliver is also quoted in one account as describing Joseph "as sitting at a table with the plates before him, translating them by means of the Urim and Thummim, while he (Oliver) sat beside him writing every word as Joseph spoke them to him. This was done by holding the "translators" over the hieroglyphics..."[20] This alternative technique was confirmed by John Whitmer, who said of Oliver that "[w]hen the work of translation was going on he sat at one table with his writing material and Joseph at another with the breast-plate and Urim and Thummim. The later were attached to the breast-plate and were two crystals or glasses, into which he looked and saw the words of the book."[21]
  3. The translation was not a weird, esoteric exercise.

The hat detail causes problems for the critical theory that Joseph cheated with notes while dictating. With a curtain in place, it is much easier to postulate that Joseph used notes or a Bible in the translation process. With the stone and the hat, however, witnesses were able to view the entire process, thus highlighting the total lack of notes or Bible in the translation process. Note also that in Parson's painting, with it's open setting, the cheat-notes theory can't get any traction.

One needs to consider the impressive witness testimonies of the plates' reality, and the fact that the use of a seer stone in a hat is not intrinsically less plausible than the use of two seer stones mounted in a set of "spectacles" attached to a breastplate. In fact, there are even accounts which effectively mix the two methods, with Joseph purportedly removing one of the stones from the "spectacles" and placing it in a hat.

Efforts to diminish the miracle of the translation effort by emphasizing the substitution of one seer stone for another seems to convey something to a modern audience that it never portrayed to the participants—that the Book of Mormon was uninspired and uninspiring.


Response to claim: "he only said that he did it by the 'gift and power of God'"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

When Joseph was asked how exactly he translated the Book of Mormon, he never gave any details, he only said that he did it by the "gift and power of God." In a general conference of the Church in October 1831, in Orange, Ohio, Hyrum Smith asked his brother, Joseph, to give details of the BOM translation method. Joseph replied that "it was not expedient for him to tell more than had already been told about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and it was not well that any greater details be provided."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct. Joseph never talked of the details of the translation process. We only have this information second-hand through witnesses to the translation process.


Question: How exactly did Joseph Smith translate the gold plates?

Joseph Smith only stated that he translated the Book of Mormon by the "gift and power of God"

All that we know for certain is that Joseph translated the record "by the gift and power of God." (D&C 135:3) We are given some insight into the spiritual aspect of the translation process, when the Lord says to Oliver Cowdery:

"But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right." (D&C 9:8)

Beyond this, the Church does not take any sort of official stand on the exact method by which the Book of Mormon translation occurred. Joseph Smith himself never recorded the precise physical details of the method of translation:

"Brother Joseph Smith, Jun., said that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; and also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things"[22]

It is important to remember that what we do know for certain is that the translation of the Book of Mormon was carried out "by the gift and power of God." These are the only words that Joseph Smith himself used to describe the translation process.


Gospel Topics: "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"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

[T]he scribes and others who observed the translation left numerous accounts that give insight into the process. Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates. Most of the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. 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. The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”[23]


Russell M. Nelson: "The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights"

Russell M. Nelson:

The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote: “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. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)[24]


Marcus B. Nash: "This was dictated, word by word, as he looked into instruments the Lord prepared for him, using a hat to shield his eyes from extraneous light"

Marcus B. Nash:

This was not a composition. This was dictated, word by word, as he looked into instruments the Lord prepared for him, using a hat to shield his eyes from extraneous light in order to plainly see the words as they appeared. Contrary to one who translates with the use of a dictionary, as it were, the translation was revelation flowing to him from heaven, and written by scribes (with the inevitable scrivener errors). [25]—(Click here to continue)


Nicholson: "This essay focuses primarily on the methods and instruments used in the translation process and how a faithful Latter-day Saint might view these as further evidence of truthfulness of the restored Gospel"

Roger Nicholson:

This essay seeks to examine the Book of Mormon translation method from the perspective of a regular, nonscholarly, believing member in the twenty-first century, by taking into account both what is learned in Church and what can be learned from historical records that are now easily available. What do we know? What should we know? How can a believing Latter-day Saint reconcile apparently conflicting accounts of the translation process? An examination of the historical sources is used to provide us with a fuller and more complete understanding of the complexity that exists in the early events of the Restoration. These accounts come from both believing and nonbelieving sources, and some skepticism ought to be employed in choosing to accept some of the interpretations offered by some of these sources as fact. However, an examination of these sources provides a larger picture, and the answers to these questions provide an enlightening look into Church history and the evolution of the translation story. This essay focuses primarily on the methods and instruments used in the translation process and how a faithful Latter-day Saint might view these as further evidence of truthfulness of the restored Gospel.[26]—(Click here to continue)


Gardner: "What we will be looking at is the idea that this whole concept of the seer stone working...it’s stone that becomes the trigger that allows the seer to do what the seer does"

Brant Gardner:

A seer stone is a rock. We have seer stones. The church still has them, I’ve seen them. At one point in time I remember going on the temple square and going through the museum there and I saw one and I looked at it and I saw a rock. I didn’t see the translation, I didn’t see anything else I saw a rock. I can pretty much guarantee you that the vast majority of us as we would look at that rock would see, a rock. That does not mean that something isn’t working because they were looking at the rock and that’s what we have to look at. What we will be looking at is the idea that this whole concept of the seer stone working “It’s the seer that’s working,” and it’s stone that becomes the trigger that allows the seer to do what the seer does. So that’s kind of step one and we will talk about how that happens.[27]—(Click here to continue)


Response to claim: "Was Joseph Smith not a money digger? Yes, but it was not a very profitable job for him"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Most LDS are somewhat aware that Joseph Smith did some treasure seeking in his younger days. A following statement is sometimes quoted in church. This comes from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.120: "Q: 'Was Joseph Smith not a money digger?' 'Yes, but it was not a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.'" This is usually the only thing said at church regarding his treasure-seeking past.
....
What is particularly noteworthy about this incident is the timing of the charges. These documents indicate that Joseph was involved in treasure seeking with a seer stone for profit after he received the First Vision but before he translated the Book of Mormon. How likely is it that the chosen prophet of the restoration would engage in such activities after conversing with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ as well as the Angel Moroni? Would he really be doing such activities a year before he dug up the golden plates, after he had met with the angel Moroni for each of the prior three years?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph did perform treasure seeking after receiving the First Vision. In fact, there is one account that indicates that the First Vision was the even during which Joseph Smith received the ability to "see" after Jesus Christ touched his eyes. However, the authors try to influence the reader after presenting this fact by asking "how likely" it was that one who had seen God would perform such an activity, implying that the activity was somehow performed fraudulently.


Question: Was Joseph Smith's participation in "money digging" as a youth a blot on his character?

Money digging was a popular, common and accepted practice in their frontier culture

Joseph Smith and some members of his family participated in "money digging" or looking for buried treasure as a youth. This was a common and accepted practice in their frontier culture, though the Smiths do not seem to have been involved to the extent claimed by some of the exaggerated attacks upon them by former neighbors.

In the young Joseph Smith's time and place, "money digging" was a popular, and sometimes respected activity. When Joseph was 16, the Palmyra Herald printed such remarks.

The local newspapers reported on "money digging" activities

  • "digging for money hid in the earth is a very common thing and in this state it is even considered as honorable and profitable employment"
  • "One gentleman...digging...ten to twelve years, found a sufficient quantity of money to build him a commodious house.
  • "another...dug up...fifty thousand dollars!" [28]

And, in 1825 the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra reported that buried treasure had been found "by the help of a mineral stone, (which becomes transparent when placed in a hat and the light excluded by the face of him who looks into it)." [29]

The Smith's attitude toward treasure digging was similar to a modern attitudes toward gambling, or buying a lottery ticket

Given the financial difficulties under which the Smith family labored, it would hardly be surprising that they might hope for such a reversal in their fortunes. Richard Bushman has compared the Smith's attitude toward treasure digging with a modern attitudes toward gambling, or buying a lottery ticket. Bushman points out that looking for treasure had little stigma attached to it among all classes in the 17th century, and continued to be respectable among the lower classes into the 18th and 19th. [30]

Despite the claims of critics, it is not clear that Joseph and his family saw their activities as "magical."

For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Occultism and magic


Joseph Smith (1838): "Was not Joseph Smith a money digger?"

Joseph's tongue-in-cheek response to one of a list of questions that were asked of him during a visit at Elder Cahoon's home:

Was not Joseph Smith a money digger? Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.[31]


Question: Did Joseph Smith "retrofit" his "treasure seeking" to have a religious explanation?

Critics claim that Moroni was originally conceived of as a treasure guardian by Joseph, and only later came to be seen as a divine messenger, an angel

The attitude of acceptance toward money-digging in general society changed later in the century, and certainly became a liability for Joseph among the educated and sophisticated, such as newspaper publishers and clergy. His use of a seer stone provided further ammunition for his critics. For example, it is now claimed by one critic of the Church that "As a youth and young adult Joseph Smith engaged in folk magic and treasure digging, promoting himself as one who could help others find buried treasure by placing a magic stone in a hat." [32]

The earliest documents strongly suggest that Joseph and those close to him always understood Moroni as an angelic messenger, with a divine role

Claims that Joseph "retrofitted" his visions with religious trappings after the fact often beg the question, and ignore crucial evidence. In fact, the earliest accounts treat the matter as religious; this is true even of skeptical newspaper reports, as well as a Smith family letter which shows that Joseph or his father considered Moroni "the Angel of the Lord" as early as 1828. [33]

Joseph and those around him may have also seen some aspects of Moroni in a "treasure guardian" role (and he certainly did guard something of both material and spiritual value—the gold plates) but this seems to have been a secondary conclusion, as they interpreted Joseph's experience through their own preconceptions and understanding.

However, Moroni's status as an angel and messenger from God, is well attested in the early sources. Interestingly, the "treasure guardian" motif becomes more common and distinct in later sources, especially those gathered by enemies of Joseph, who sought to discredit him through ridicule and association with the (increasingly disreputable) practice of "treasure digging." [34]

The Hofmann forgeries exaggerated "magic" and "occult" elements of treasure digging even further

The Hofmann forgeries gave great emphasis to the "money-digging" and "occult" aspects of Joseph's experience, and they unfortunately shaded a good deal of the initial scholarly discussion surrounding these issues. Hofmann's documents made the case "air-tight," so to speak, and so other clues along the way were given more weight. When the Hofmann documents collapsed, some authors were not willing to abandon the shaky interpretive edifice they had constructed. [35]


W.I. Appleby (1843): "If Mr. Smith dug for money he considered it was a more honorable way of getting it than taking it from the widow and orphan"

W.I. Appleby:

If Mr. Smith dug for money he considered it was a more honorable way of getting it than taking it from the widow and orphan; but few lazy, hireling priests of this age, would dig either for money or potatoes.[36]


Response to claim: "In March 1826, the twenty-year-old Joseph Smith was arrested and brought before South Bainbridge justice of the peace"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

In March 1826, the twenty-year-old Joseph Smith was arrested and brought before South Bainbridge justice of the peace Albert Neely under the charge of being a "disorderly person and an impostor." This event stemmed from his employment as a treasure seer (or scryer) for Josiah Stowell and others the previous five months. Joseph was employed by Josiah Stowel to find hidden treasures in the ground by gazing into a stone. He led his employer to believe that he could find buried treasure by looking into a stone placed in a hat. Joseph paid $2.68 for the offense. The judge may have let him go if he agreed to leave the state because of his age.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

It is a fact that relatives of Josiah Stowell had Joseph brought before a judge and accused him of being a disorderly person and an imposter. However, the authors stated that Joseph "paid $2.68 for the offense," implying that this was a fine imposed by the judge. It was not a fine, and Joseph was not convicted of anything during this hearing. The $2.68 bill from the judge was simply a fee for the work he performed. The authors then speculate that the judge "may have let him go if he agreed to leave the state because of his age," without acknowledging that the judge did not find reason to detain him and simply released him.


Question: What is Joseph Smith's 1826 South Bainbridge "trial" for "glasslooking"?

Joseph Smith appeared at a pre-trial court hearing in 1826 for "glasslooking"

In 1825 Josiah Stowel sought out the young Joseph Smith, who had a reputation for being able to use his seer stone to locate lost objects, to help him to locate an ancient silver mine. After a few weeks of work, Joseph persuaded Stowel to give up the effort. In 1826, some of Stowel's relatives brought Joseph to court and accused him of "glasslooking" and being a "disorderly person." Several witnesses testified at the hearing.

Joseph was released without being fined or otherwise punished - there was no verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty" because this was only a hearing rather than a trial

Joseph was ultimately released without being fined and had no punishment imposed upon him. Years later, a bill from the judge was discovered which billed for court services.

Gordon Madsen summarized:

"The evidence thus far available about the 1826 trial before Justice Neely leads to the inescapable conclusion that Joseph Smith was acquitted." [37]

A review of all the relevant documents demonstrates that:

  1. The court hearing of 1826 was not a trial, it was an examination
  2. The hearing was likely initiated from religious concerns; i.e. people objected to Joseph's religious claims.
  3. There were seven witnesses.
  4. The witnesses' testimonies have not all been transmitted faithfully.
  5. Most witnesses testified that Joseph did possess a gift of sight

The court hearing was likely initiated by Stowel's relatives as a concern that he was having too much influence on Stowel

It was likely that the court hearing was initiated not so much from a concern about Joseph being a money digger, as concern that Joseph was having an influence on Josiah Stowel. Josiah Stowel was one of the first believers in Joseph Smith. His nephew was probably very concerned about that and was anxious to disrupt their relationship if possible. He did not succeed. The court hearing failed in its purpose, and was only resurrected decades later to accuse Joseph Smith of different crimes to a different people and culture.

Understanding the context of the case removes any threat it may have posed to Joseph's prophetic integrity.


Question: What events resulted in Joseph Smith's 1826 court appearance in South Bainbridge?

Josiah Stowell requested Joseph Smith's help in locating an ancient silver mine

In the spring of 1825 Josiah Stowell visited with Joseph Smith "on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye." [38] Josiah Stowell wanted Joseph to help him in his quest to find treasure in an ancient silver mine. Joseph was reluctant, but Stowell persuaded Joseph to come by offering high wages. According to trial documents, Stowell says Joseph, using a seer stone, "Looked through stone and described Josiah Stowell's house and out houses, while at Palmyra at Sampson Stowell's correctly, that he had told about a painted tree with a man's hand painted upon it by means of said stone." [39]

Joseph ultimately persuaded Stowell to give up looking for the mine

Joseph and his father traveled to southern New York in November of 1825. This was after the crops were harvested and Joseph had finished his visit to the Hill Cumorah that year. They participated with Stowell and the company of workers in digging for the mine for less than a month. Finally Joseph persuaded him to stop. "After laboring for the old gentleman about a month, without success, Joseph prevailed upon him to cease his operations." [40]

Joseph continued to work in the area for Stowell and others. He boarded at the home of Isaac Hale and met Emma Hale, who was one "treasure" he got out of the enterprise.

The following year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely

In March of the next year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely. The supposed trial record came from Miss Pearsall. "The record of the examination was torn from Neely's docket book by his niece, Emily Persall, and taken to Utah when she went to serve as a missionary under Episcopalian bishop Daniel S. Tuttle." [41] This will be identified as the Pearsall account although Neely possessed it after her death. It is interesting that the first published version of this record didn't appear until after Miss Pearsall had died.

Stowell's relatives felt that Joseph was exercising "unlimited control" over their father or uncle

William D. Purple took notes at the trial and tells us, "In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, ...were greatly incensed against Smith, ...saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire... They caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood." [42]

Whereas the Pearsall account says: "Warrant issued upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman, [Josiah Stowell's nephew] who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter...brought before court March 20, 1826" [43]

So, we have what has been called "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith", even though the records show that this wasn't actually a trial. For many years LDS scholars Francis Kirkham, Hugh Nibley and others expressed serious doubts that such a trial had even taken place.


Ensign (June 1994): "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life 20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York

Ensign (June 1994):

Highlights in the Prophet’s Life 20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. New York law defined a disorderly person as, among other things, a vagrant or a seeker of “lost goods.” The Prophet had been accused of both: the first charge was false and was made simply to cause trouble; Joseph’s use of a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye brought the second charge. Those who brought the charges were apparently concerned that Joseph might bilk his employer, Josiah Stowell, out of some money. Mr. Stowell’s testimony clearly said this was not so and that he trusted Joseph Smith. [44]


Question: Didn't Hugh Nibley claim that a record of this trial would be "the most damning evidence in existence" against Joseph Smith?

Nibley felt that the "court record" didn't seem to be correct

Hugh Nibley had serious doubts as to whether or not Joseph Smith was actually brought to trial in 1826, and he felt that the only real trial was in 1830. For the most part, Nibley felt that the "court record" didn't seem to be correct. The following quote is taken from Nibley's book "The Myth Makers:"

"if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith."

Why are the 1971 discoveries important?

It was easy to cast doubt on the reality of the 1826 hearing until the bills from Judge Albert Neely and Constable Philip De Zeng were found in 1971. These documents were removed from their purported site of discovery by Dr. Wesley Walters, a well-known anti-Mormon author.

Walters wrote, "Because the two 1826 bills had not only suffered from dampness, but had severe water damage as well, Mr. Poffarl hand-carried the documents to the Yale University's Beinecke Library, which has one of the best document preservation centers in the country." [45] The problem with this action is, once you have removed a document from a historical setting and then try to restore it to the same setting, you can't prove that you have not altered the document.

The actions of Walters and Poffarl compromised the documents. By having the documents removed and only returned under threat of a lawsuit by the County, it opened the possibility that they could be forged documents. They are generally considered to be authentic.

Nibley's real point at issue is not whether or not there was a trial, but whether or not a record existed proving Joseph guilty of deceit

Since Wesley Walters has found some bills related to the trial, the critics now claim that the case is proven and that Nibley has proven their case for them. Nothing is further from the truth. First of all you need to look at the whole quote. Nibley was chastising Tuttle for not actually using the trial record that he had. He was questioning why he would do that if it was so important.

"You knew its immense value as a weapon against Joseph Smith if its authenticity could be established. And the only way to establish authenticity was to get hold of the record book from which the pages had been purportedly torn. After all, you had only Miss Pearsall's word for it that the book ever existed. Why didn't you immediately send he back to find the book or make every effort to get hold of I? Why didn't you "unearth" it, as they later said you did? . . . The authenticity of the record still rests entirely on the confidential testimony of Miss Pearsall to the Bishop. And who was Miss Pearsall? A zealous old maid, apparently: "a woman helper in our mission," who lived right in the Tuttle home and would do anything to assist her superior. The picture I get is that of a gossipy old housekeeper. If this court record is authentic, it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith. Why, then, [speaking to Tuttle] was it not republished in your article in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge after 1891? . . . in 1906 Bishop Tuttle published his Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop in which he blasts the Mormons as hotly as ever. . . yet in the final summary of his life's experiences he never mentions the story of the court record - his one claim to immortal fame and the gratitude of the human race if it were true!" (Nibley "The Myth Makers", 246)

The Pearsall account, which has never been produced, claims that the defendant was found guilty. The real point at issue is not whether or not there was a trial, but whether or not a record existed proving Joseph guilty of deceit. A document proving such guilt has not been found.


Question: Why was Joseph fined if he wasn't found guilty of anything?

Joseph was never fined - the bills from Judge Neely and Constable DeZeng were for court costs

The court did not assess a fine against Joseph. There were bills made out by Judge Neely and Constable DeZeng, but these were for costs. Those bills were directed to the County for payment of witnesses, etc., not to Joseph.


Response to claim: "Joseph never found any treasure for the men that hired him to find treasure using his seer stones"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Critic's Comment: Joseph never found any treasure for the men that hired him to find treasure using his seer stones. However, he was able to convince them he had the ability by describing things on Josiah Stowel's property such as his house, outhouses and a painted tree. Obviously, he could have found out about these things without having special abilities. Also, it's very easy to plant a tail feather to prove he could 'see' distant things in his stone. When it came to treasure, he would always seem to have an excuse as to why they couldn't find the treasure even though he saw it in his stone. Often Joseph would say that the treasure kept sinking further into the ground as they dug or that the spirits of dead Indians were guarding the treasure and wouldn't let anyone have it.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is speculation. If Joseph never found anything, then why did people keep wanting to hire him?


Question: How did Joseph Smith use his seer stones as a youth?

Joseph as the village seer: the use of the seer stone prior to the Restoration

Brant Gardner clarifies the role that Joseph and his stone played within the community of Palmyra,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society. He exhibited a talent parallel to others in similar communities. Even in Palmyra he was not unique. In D. Michael Quinn's words: "Until the Book of Mormon thrust young Smith into prominence, Palmyra's most notable seer was Sally Chase, who used a greenish-colored stone. William Stafford also had a seer stone, and Joshua Stafford had a 'peepstone which looked like white marble and had a hole through the center.'" [9] Richard Bushman adds Chauncy Hart, and an unnamed man in Susquehanna County, both of whom had stones with which they found lost objects. [10] [46]

During his tenure as a "village seer," Joseph acquired several seer stones. Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably that belonging to Palmyra seer Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[47]

The second seer stone was reportedly found while digging a well on the property of William Chase in 1822

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The second seer stone was reportedly found on the property of William Chase in 1822 as Chase described it:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.[48]

Joseph Smith locates a seer stone while digging a well. Image copyright (c) 2016 by Anthony Sweat.


Gardner: "Joseph Smith, long before golden plates complicated his position as a local seer, appears to have functioned just as Sally Chase did"

Brant Gardner:

Joseph Smith, long before golden plates complicated his position as a local seer, appears to have functioned just as Sally Chase did. Quinn reports that: “E. W. Vanderhoof [writing in 1905] remembered that his Dutch grandfather once paid Smith seventy-five cents to look into his ‘whitish, glossy, and opaque’ stone to locate a stolen mare. The grandfather soon ‘recovered his beast, which Joe said was somewhere on the lake shore and [was] about to be run over to Canada.’ Vanderhoof groused that ‘anybody could have told him that, as it was invariably the way a horse thief would take to dispose of a stolen animal in those days.'”13 While Vanderhoof reported a positive result of the consultation, it is interesting that his statement includes a qualifier that has the same intent as those added by the Saunders’ brothers. By the end of the century, one wouldn’t want to actually credit a village seer when describing their activities. Nevertheless, it isn’t the effectiveness that is important—it is the nature of the consultation. Sally Chase’s clients consulted her to find things which were lost, and Joseph Smith had at least one client who did the same.[49] —(Click here to continue)


Question: Did Joseph Smith place his seer stone in his hat while looking for lost objects?

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with one of his seer stones

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with the second, white stone:

I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph and Northrop Sweet also did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him--I said, "Take your stone." I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat--the old white hat--and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.[50]

Joseph's mother also indicated that Joseph was sought out by some, including Josiah Stoal, to use the stone to find hidden valuables. He

came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.[51]

Joseph referred to this incident in JS-H 1:55-56.

Stoal eventually joined the Church; some of his family, however, charged Joseph in court for events related to this treasure seeking. Stoal testified in Joseph's defense.

Joseph Knight also said that, at the command of the angel Moroni, Joseph looked into his seer stone to learn who he should marry. He "looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale."[52]

For a detailed response, see: Joseph's 1826 glasslooking trial


Response to claim: "there is evidence that he found the plates using a seer stone"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Although Moroni is commonly believed to have instructed young Joseph on where the plates were in Hill Cumorah, there is evidence that he found the plates using a seer stone that he had previously used for treasure-seeking

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

It is true that there is an account that states that after the angel Moroni told Joseph of the plates' location, that he looked into his seer stone and saw the location at the hill.


Response to claim: "It is troublesome that a common stone found some 24 feet beneath the ground on Mr. Chase's property had the exact same seering ability as the sacred Urim and Thummim"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Critic's comment: It is troublesome that a common stone found some 24 feet beneath the ground on Mr. Chase's property had the exact same seering ability as the sacred Urim and Thummim that was preserved in a stone box for 1,500 years. If the stones were so common, why the need to preserve the Urim and Thummim? Why punish Joseph with taking away the Urim and Thummim when he all along had a seer stone capable of the same function? Had the seer stone Joseph used been given to him by an angel, or had directed him to this stone, then this would make more sense. However, there is nothing to indicate why the stone found on Mr. Chase's property had the same ability as the sacred Urim and Thummim.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Why is this troubling? God could grant Joseph any ability or make any stone work for Joseph that He wanted. There is an account that indicates that Joseph received his ability to "see" during the First Vision after Jesus Christ touched his eyes.


Question: How were Joseph Smith's seer stones involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon?

Joseph may have used his seer stone to view the location of the plates after Moroni told him where they were

There is considerable evidence that the location of the plates and Nephite interpreters (Urim and Thummim) were revealed to Joseph via his second, white seer stone. In 1859, Martin Harris recalled that "Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase...It was by means of this stone he first discovered the plates."[53]

Some critics have sought to create a contradiction here, since Joseph's history reported that Moroni revealed the plates to him (JS-H 1:34-35,42). This is an example of a false dichotomy: Moroni could easily have told Joseph about the plates and interpreters. The vision to Joseph may well have then come through the seer stone, as some of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (e.g., Section X) would later be revealed. One account matches this theory well:

I had a conversation with [Joseph], and asked him where he found them [the plates] and how he come to know where they were. he said he had a revelation from God that told him they were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his [seer] stone and saw them in the place of deposit."[54]

Joseph was initially more excited about the Nephite interpreters than the gold plates

Joseph Knight recalled that Joseph was more excited about the Nephite interpreters than the gold plates:

After breakfast Joseph called me into the other room, set his foot on the bed, and leaned his head on his hand and said, "Well I am disappointed."

"Well, I said, "I am sorry."

"Well, he said, "I am greatly disappointed. It is ten times better than I expected."

Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But, he seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did of the plate for, said he, "I can see anything. They are marvelous."[55]

Martin Harris described the Nephite interpreters

Martin Harris later described the Nephite interpreters as "about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the centre.... They were joined by a round bar of silver, about three-eights of an inch in diameter, and about four inches long, which with the two stones, would make eight inches."[56]

Joseph often used the seer stone to translate

Despite having the Nephite interpreters, Joseph Smith often used the seer stone to translate. This led to an episode in which Martin tested the veracity of Joseph's claim to use the second, white stone to translate:[57]

Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[58]

Joseph used his white seer stone sometimes "for convenience" during the translation of the 116 pages with Martin Harris; later witnesses reported him using his brown seer stone.

Joseph sometimes used the Nephite interpreters in the same manner as his seer stones, even when he was not translating

Mark-Ashurst McGee notes that Joseph used the Nephite interpreters in the same manner as his seer stone, even when he was not translating the plates, and may have removed them from the frame which held them:

On one occasion, while Joseph was digging a well for a woman in Macedon, his wife Emma felt that the plates were in danger and came to tell Joseph. Lucy wrote that Joseph, "having just looked into them before Emma go there[,] he perceived her coming and cmae up out of the well and met her..." [59] It seems doubtful that Joseph would have the eight-inch long pair of glasses with him while at work in the well. It seems that Joseph eventually detached the lenses from their frame and carried them in a pouch as he had his brown seer stone.[60]

For a detailed response, see: Why would Joseph use the "rock in the hat" for the Book of Mormon translation that he previously used for "money digging?"


Response to claim: "Why doesn't the Church openly talk about this stone today?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Critic's Comment: Why doesn't the Church openly talk about this stone today? How many members know about it? This is the stone Joseph put in a hat and looked at to bring forth the Book of Mormon! In 2006, the LDS Church had a special display at their Church Museum of different Joseph Smith artifacts. They had a mock-up of the gold plates but they chose not to display any of Joseph Smith's seer stones. Since one of these stones was used to translate all of the published Book of Mormon, one wonders why it wasn't included in the display. There is no prohibition known to not show these stones. In fact, several authors and historians have seen the stones in the Church's vaults. Is there something embarrassing about having the Book of Mormon translated through the use of this stone?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors are implying that the Church is embarrassed about the use of the stone simply because it is not on display, but they have no evidence to support this in the face of its mention in multiple Church publications, and now in a Gospel Topics essay.


Question: Has the Church tried to hide Joseph's use of a seer stone?

The stone is mentioned occasionally in Church publications, but is rarely discussed in the 21st century in venues such as Sunday School

The stone is mentioned occasionally in Church publications, but is rarely (if ever) discussed in the 21st century in venues such as Sunday School, nor is it portrayed in any Church-related artwork. Part of the reason for this is the conflation of the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone under the name "Urim and Thummim." In church, we discuss the Urim and Thummim with the assumption that it is always the instrument that Joseph recovered with the plates. Only those familiar with the sources will realize that there was more than one translation instrument.

That said, the Church has been very frank about the seer stone's use, though the product of the translation of the Book of Mormon is usually given much more attention that the process. Note the mention of the stone in the official children's magazine, The Friend (available online at lds.org):

"To help him with the translation, Joseph found with the gold plates “a curious instrument which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in a rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.” Joseph also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating called a seer stone."
—“A Peaceful Heart,” Friend, Sep 1974, 7 off-site

Text translated with the Nephite interpreters was lost with the 116 pages given to Martin Harris—see DC 3:. The Church's Historical Record records Joseph's use of the seer stone to translate all of our current Book of Mormon text:

As a chastisement for this carelessness [loss of the 116 pages], the Urim and Thummim was taken from Smith. But by humbling himself, he again found favor with the Lord and was presented a strange oval-shaped, chocolate colored stone, about the size of an egg, but more flat which it was promised should answer the same purpose. With this stone all the present book was translated. [Note that the chronology of Joseph's acquisition of the stone is here somewhat confused. The use of the stone, however, is clearly indicated.][61]

References to the stone are not confined to the distant past. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Twelve Apostles described the process clearly in an Ensign article:

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. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.[62]

It would be strange to try to hide something by having an apostle talk about it, and then send the account to every LDS home in the official magazine!


Question: Did Joseph Smith use the Nephite interpreters to translate? Or did he use his own seer stone?

Joseph Smith used both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone, and both were called "Urim and Thummim"

Joseph Smith used both the Nephite Interpreters and his own seer stone during the translation process, yet we only hear of the "Urim and Thummim" being used for this purpose.

  1. He described the instrument as ‘spectacles’ and referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim.
  2. He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed, called ‘seer stones’ because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer. The Prophet received some early revelations through the use of these seer stones.
  3. Records indicate that soon after the founding of the Church in 1830, the Prophet stopped using the seer stones as a regular means of receiving revelations. Instead, he dictated the revelations after inquiring of the Lord without employing an external instrument.

Emma Smith confirmed that Joseph switched between the Nephite interpreters and his own seer stone during the translation

Emma Smith Bidamon described Joseph's use of several stones during translation to Emma Pilgrim on 27 March 1870 (original spelling retained):

Now the first that my <husband> translated, [the book] was translated by 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 was rather a dark color.”[63]

Joseph Smith's small, egg-shaped seer stone. Emma said that "he used a small stone, not exactly, black, but was rather a dark color." Photograph by Welden C. Andersen and Richard E. Turley Jr. Copyright © The Church Historian's Press.


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.


Question: Did Joseph Smith use his own seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon?

Many eyewitness accounts confirm that Joseph employed his seer stone during part of the translation process

Joseph Smith translates using the seer stone placed within his hat while Martin Harris acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)

Martin Harris states that Joseph used the Nephite interpreters and then later switched to using the seer stone "for convenience." [64] In fact, Elder Nelson refers to the use of the seer stone in his 1993 talk:

The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote:

“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. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.) [65]


Gospel Topics: "Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term 'Urim and Thummim' to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters"

"These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable"

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. [66]


Ensign (Jan. 2013): "He...referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim...He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed"

Gerrit Dirkmaat (Church History Department - January 2013 Ensign):

Those who believed that Joseph Smith’s revelations contained the voice of the Lord speaking to them also accepted the miraculous ways in which the revelations were received. Some of the Prophet Joseph’s earliest revelations came through the same means by which he translated the Book of Mormon from the gold plates. In the stone box containing the gold plates, Joseph found what Book of Mormon prophets referred to as “interpreters,” or a “stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light” (Alma 37:23–24). He described the instrument as “spectacles” and referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim (see Exodus 28:30).2

He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed, called “seer stones” because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer. The Prophet received some early revelations through the use of these seer stones. For example, shortly after Oliver Cowdery came to serve as a scribe for Joseph Smith as he translated the plates, Oliver and Joseph debated the meaning of a biblical passage and sought an answer through revelation. Joseph explained: “A difference of opinion arising between us about the account of John the Apostle … whether he died, or whether he continued; we mutually agreed to settle it by the Urim and Thummim.”3 In response, Joseph Smith received the revelation now known as section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which informed them that Jesus had told the Apostle John, “Thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory” (D&C 7:3).

Records indicate that soon after the founding of the Church in 1830, the Prophet stopped using the seer stones as a regular means of receiving revelations. Instead, he dictated the revelations after inquiring of the Lord without employing an external instrument. One of his scribes explained that process: “The scribe seats himself at a desk or table, with pen, ink, and paper. The subject of inquiry being understood, the Prophet and Revelator inquires of God. He spiritually sees, hears, and feels, and then speaks as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”[67]


W.W. Phelps (1833): "through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles—(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim)"

W.W. Phelps wrote the following in the January 1833 edition of The Evening and The Morning Star:

The book of Mormon, as a revelation from God, possesses some advantage over the old scripture: it has not been tinctured by the wisdom of man, with here and there an Italic word to supply deficiencies.-It was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles-(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim) and while it unfolds the history of the first inhabitants that settled this continent, it, at the same time, brings a oneness to scripture, like the days of the apostles; and opens and explains the prophecies, that a child may understand the meaning of many of them; and shows how the Lord will gather his saints, even the children of Israel, that have been scattered over the face of the earth, more than two thousand years, in these last days, to the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, the mount Zion. [68]

It appears that the seer stone was also referred to as the "Urim and Thummim" after 1833, indicating that the name could be assigned to any device that was used for the purpose of translation.[69]


Response to claim: "why did Joseph say they were only for beginners?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Many LDS defenders say that the Urim and Thummim, or seer stone, was used by Joseph Smith to primarily translate the Book of Mormon and for a few revelations, but that it was not needed later on.....The Urim and Thummim and seer stones weren't just temporary devices Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon, but rather something of eternal significance—so important that everyone who makes it to the Celestial Kingdom will receive one. Critic's comments: If seer stones, whether in the form of the Urim and Thummim or a peepstone, are so important that perfect, celestial beings would receive one, why did Joseph say they were only for beginners? Traditionally, do verses 10 and 11 mention two separate white stones, one that becomes a personal Urim and Thummim and one that has a new name written on it? Or is it just one stone? Why is something so important as personal Urim and Thummims and seer stones so rarely talked about openly at church when it's plainly in our modern-day scriptures?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph seemed to regard his own seer stone as a "stepping-stone" to greater knowledge and revelatory experience. This is exactly what D&C 130 says the "white stone" given to the exalted will do: "things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known."


Question: Why is the "white stone" that we are to receive upon entry to the Celestial kingdom not discussed extensively in Sunday School?

The "white stone" mentioned in D&C 130 ties into LDS temple practice and involves things which are held private and sacred

One critic of the Church asks regarding the "white stone" mentioned in D&C 130:

If seer stones, whether in the form of the Urim and Thummim or a peepstone, are so important that perfect, celestial beings would receive one, why did Joseph say they were only for beginners?[70]

The "white stone" mentioned here involves things which are held private and sacred: it ties into LDS temple practice, which FairMormon and other believing members will not discuss in a public forum. So, part of the reason this is not discussed in more detail is because it involves temple doctrines. Those who attend the temple can reflect upon these passages and realize that they play a large role in LDS temple worship.

  • Joseph seemed to regard his own seer stone as a "stepping-stone" to greater knowledge and revelatory experience. This is exactly what D&C 130 says the "white stone" given to the exalted will do: "things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known."
  • LDS doctrine teaches that we will continue to learn and progress after this life, until we receive "all that the Father hath." A urim and thummim will, according to Joseph, play a role in that process. But, one would also expect that it too will become unnecessary when we, like Joseph, master the spiritual discipline and principles which the urim and thummim aids in developing.

Orson Pratt, who watched the New Testament revision (JST) and wondered why the use of seer stones/interpreters (as with the Book of Mormon) was not continued reported:

While this thought passed through the speaker's mind, Joseph, as if he read his thoughts, looked up and explained that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument. [71]


Response to claim: "the 10th president of the Church thinks that using a stone to translate the Book of Mormon with 'hardly seems reasonable'"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The 10th president of the church, Joseph Fielding Smith, said the following:

While the statement has been made by some writers that the Prophet JS used a seerstone part of the time in his translating of the record, and information points to the fact that he did have in his possession such a stone, yet there is no authentic statement in the history of the church which states that the use of such a stone was made in that translation. The information is all hearsay, and personally, I do not believe that the stone was used for this purpose. It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the prophet would substitute something evidently inferior [to the U&T] under these circumstances. It may have been so, but it is so easy for a story of this kind to be circulated due to the fact that the prophet did possess a seerstone, which he may have used for some other purposes. Doctrines of Salvation vol.3 pg 225-226

So apparently even the 10th president of the Church thinks that using a stone to translate the Book of Mormon with "hardly seems reasonable."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The authors misrepresent their source. Joseph Fielding Smith said "It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the Prophet would substitute something evidently inferior under these circumstances"


Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith say that it was not reasonable for Joseph Smith to use a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon?

Joseph Fielding Smith said "It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the Prophet would substitute something evidently inferior under these circumstances"

Joseph Fielding Smith said the following:

While the statement has been made by some writers that the Prophet Joseph Smith used a seer stone part of the time in his translating of the record, and information points to the fact that he did have in his possession such a stone, yet there is no authentic statement in the history of the Church which states that the use of such a stone was made in that translation. The information is all hearsay, and personally, I do not believe that this stone was used for this purpose. The reason I give for this conclusion is found in the statement of the Lord to the Brother of Jared as recorded in Ether 3:22–24. These stones, the Urim and Thummim which were given to the Brother of Jared, were preserved for this very purpose of translating the record, both of the Jaredites and the Nephites. Then again the Prophet was impressed by Moroni with the fact that these stones were given for that very purpose. It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the Prophet would substitute something evidently inferior under these circumstances. It may have been so, but it is so easy for a story of this kind to be circulated due to the fact that the Prophet did possess a seer stone, which he may have used for some other purposes. [72]

One critical website makes the claim: "So apparently even the 10th president of the Church thinks that using a stone to translate the Book of Mormon with 'hardly seems reasonable.'" [73] This is incorrect.

Joseph Fielding Smith did not say that it was not reasonable to use a stone to translate the Book of Mormon. After all, the Nephite interpreters were themselves comprised of two seer stones. Joseph Fielding Smith had no issue with that. What Joseph Fielding Smith thought was unreasonable was that Joseph Smith would use his own "inferior" seer stone instead of the Nephite interpreters.

Joseph Smith considered the Nephite interpreters a more powerful version of his own seer stone

When Joseph Smith first obtained the Nephite interpreters, he considered them a more powerful version of the stone that he already possessed. Joseph Knight recalled that Joseph appeared to be more excited about receiving the "glasses" than the gold plates themselves.[74] After Joseph returned from retrieving the plates, Joseph Knight recalled,

After breakfast Joseph called me in to the other room and he set his foot on the bed and leaned his head on his hand and says, “Well, I am disappointed.” “Well,” say I, “I am sorry.” “Well,” says he, “I am greatly disappointed. It is ten times better than I expected.” Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates, and, said he, they appear to be gold. But he seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did of the plates for, says he, “I can see anything. They are marvelous. Now they are written in characters and I want them translated.” [75]

In the beginning, Joseph believed that the stone itself possessed some special quality

Joseph's belief that the stone or the Nephite interpreters possessed some quality that made them special was apparent:

The idea that the Nephite interpreters were a more powerful version of Joseph’s seer stone is interesting, since it implies that there was something special about the stones themselves. It is more likely, however, that it was Joseph’s own perception that the stones were superior because these stones had been consecrated by God for the purpose of seeing things.

Joseph Fielding Smith did not believe that Joseph Smith would substitute an inferior seer stone for the Nephite interpreters, which were themselves stones

However, the idea that the Nephite interpreters were superior to a common “seer stone” was accepted by twentieth-century apostle and Church historian Joseph Fielding Smith. In response to accounts that indicated that Joseph may have used his own seer stone during the translation of the Book of Mormon, Elder Smith flatly stated that he did not believe this to be true, since the stone was inferior to the Nephite interpreters.[74] </blockquote>

Joseph Fielding Smith was entitled to his opinion, and he clearly stated that it was his opinion. He based this on scripture from the Book of Ether which indicated that the interpreters had been preserved for the purpose of translation. This is certainly a reasonable conclusion. However, statements made by Joseph Smith's contemporaries clearly indicate that the seer stone was used in the translation, and that by 1833 the title "Urim and Thummim" was later applied to the seer stone in addition to the Nephite interpreters.


Response to claim: "it would make the whole story sound unbelievable"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

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.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author was perfectly fine as a 21st century Mormon when he believed that Joseph used two seer stones mounted in a frame shaped like a "figure eight" to convert "reformed Egyptian" characters into English, but translation by the stone and the hat is "unbelievable"?


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." [76]
  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.


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.[77]


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. [78]

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. [79]


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.


Response to claim: "That is Peterson's attempt to make it sound as if the stone was something that the Nephites had used"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Editor comment: On the PBS Special, LDS apologist Daniel Peterson says that the stone Joseph used to translate the Book of Mormon with is something we don't know much about except that it was found in the vicinity of Cumorah. That is Peterson's attempt to make it sound as if the stone was something that the Nephites had used or something anciently divine. In reality, Peterson is undoubtedly aware that the stone was found some 24 feet underground on Mason Chase's property when Joseph and his brother Hyrum were digging a well for Mr. Chase years before the gold plates were even given to Joseph. He also neglected to say that the church still has this stone in their possession.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The idea that Daniel C. Peterson was trying to "make it sound as if the stone was something that the Nephites used" is total nonsense.

This is what Daniel Peterson actually said in the interview:

There were a couple of means that were prepared for this. One was that he used an instrument that was found with the plates that was called the Urim and Thummim. This is kind of a divinatory device that goes back into Old Testament times. Actually, most of the translation was done using something called a seer stone. The seer stone is obviously something like the Urim and Thummim. It seems to be a stone that was found in the vicinity, and I can't say exactly how it would have worked. It may have been a kind of a concentrating device or a device to facilitate concentration. He would put the stone for most of the concentration period in the bottom of a hat, presumably to exclude surrounding light. Then he would put his face into the hat. It's kind of a strange image for us today, but it sort of makes sense if you think of a computer screen, I suppose: You don't want to be looking at [anything] against a bright background; it hurts your eyes. ... He would read off what he saw in the stone, apparently in passages of about 25 to 35 words. ...

If MormonThink wants to claim that Dan Peterson was attempting to "make it sound as if the stone was something that the Nephites had used or something anciently divine," they should at least be truthful in the sources they use as examples. Note that Dr. Peterson did not say that the stone "was found in the vicinity of Cumorah"—The critics said that, then they responded to their own misleading assertion by assigning a motive that this "is Peterson's attempt to make it sound as if the stone was something that the Nephites had used or something anciently divine." Dr. Peterson never mentioned any relationship between the stone and the Nephites, nor did he imply that the stone had an ancient origin or purpose.


Source and link analysis

Summary: A examination of the sources and links used on the critical webpage.

Source quotes without critical commentary

Summary: If you would like to read all of the source quotes without wading through all of the "Critic's comments," "Apologetic rebuttals" and "Our Thoughts" sections, we present the critical web page as it would appear if only the source quotes were provided without any additional commentary. We also try to provide accurate references and direct links to the original source text rather than simply linking to other websites where you have to search for them.

Notes

  1. Accusations of the Church lying because of inaccurate artwork are offered by the following critical sources: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 8. ( Index of claims ); MormonThink.com website (as of 8 May 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/moroniweb.htm; MormonThink.com website (as of 28 April 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/transbomweb.htm; Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 1. ( Index of claims )
  2. Daniel C. Peterson, "Some Reflections on That Letter to a CES Director," 2014 FairMormon Conference.
  3. Note: Most of the images used in this paper are centuries old, and so are in the public domain. I have tried to indicate the creator each of these works of art. No challenge to copyright is intended by their inclusion here for scholarly purposes and illustration. Click each photo for title and author information.
  4. Del Parson, "Translating the Book of Mormon," © Intellectual Reserve, 1997. off-site
  5. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign (September 1977), 83. off-site
  6. Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign (July 1993), 61. off-site
  7. Brigham H. Roberts, "NAME," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:131–136. ISBN 0962254541.
  8. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:130–131. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  9. Francis W. Kirkham, "The Manner of Translating The BOOK of MORMON," Improvement Era (1939), ?.
  10. Dean C. Jessee, "New Documents and Mormon Beginnings," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984), 397–428.; Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 1 (Winter 1990), 51–52.
  11. Stephen D. Ricks, "Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 201–206. wiki
  12. Matthew Roper, "A Black Hole That's Not So Black (Review of Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism of the Book, vol. 1 by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 156–203. off-site
  13. Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2000), commentary on D&C 9.
  14. Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 26.
  15. Anonymous, "A Conversation with Robert J. Matthews," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/2 (2003): 88–92. off-site wiki
  16. Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, 1887.
  17. P. Pondy, "Why an African Christ?" jesusmafa.com. off-site
  18. Cowdery: “Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe” [John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon: Basic Historical Information,” F.A.R.M.S. report WRR–86, 25.] Emma: Joseph translated "hour after hour with nothing between us." [Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (October 1879).]
  19. Reuben Miller Journal (21 Oct. 1848), LDS Church Historian's Office; Richard L. Anderson, "Reuben Miller, Recorder of Oliver Cowdery’s Reaffirmations," Brigham Young University Studies 8 no. 3 (Spring 1968), 278.
  20. Oliver Cowdery; as cited by Personal statement of Samuel W. Richards, 25 May 1907, in Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Special Collections, cited in Anderson, "By the Gift and Power of God," 85.
  21. John Whitmer, in S. Walker, "Synopsis of a Discourse Delivered at Lamoni, Iowa," 26 Saints' Herald 370 (15 December 1879).
  22. History of the Church, 1:220. Volume 1 link
  23. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013).
  24. Russell M. Nelson, “A Treasured Testament,” Ensign (July 1993).
  25. Marcus B. Nash, "‘Out of Weakness He Shall Be Made Strong’", 70th Annual Joseph Smith Memorial Devotional (history.lds.org) (3 June 2013).
  26. Roger Nicholson, "The Spectacles, the Stone, the Hat, and the Book: A Twenty-first Century Believer’s View of the Book of Mormon Translation," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5:121-190 (7 June 2013).
  27. Brant Gardner, "The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon," Proceedings of the 2011 FAIR Conference (August 2011).
  28. Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FairMormon link
  29. "Wonderful Discovery," Wayne Sentinel [Palmyra, New York] (27 December 1825), page 2, col. 4. Reprinted from the Orleans Advocate of Orleans, New York; cited by Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 170–171.
  30. Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference) FairMormon link
  31. Joseph Smith, Elders' Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Kirtland, Ohio] 2 no. 3 (July 1838), 43. Also reproduced in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 120; History of the Church 3:29; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 271.
  32. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  33. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 34–100. [{{{url}}} off-site] wiki  (Key source)
  34. Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site  (Key source)
  35. Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of D. Michael Quinn Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (1987)," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (Date?), 88. PDF link; see also John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]; Rhett S. James, "Writing History Must Not Be an Act of Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 395–414. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  36. W.I. Appleby, Mormonism Consistent! Truth Vindicated, and Falsehood Exposed and Refuted: Being A Reply to A. H. Wickersham (Wilmington DE: Porter & Nafe, 1843), 1–24.
  37. Gordon A. Madsen, "Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 2 (1990), 106.
  38. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  39. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:252–253.
  40. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  41. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (Salt Lake City, Utah: Smith Research Associates [distributed by Signature Books], 1994), 227.
  42. Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 1:479. ASIN B000HMY138.
  43. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:248–249..
  44. Anonymous, "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life," Ensign (Jun 1994), 24. off-site
  45. Wesley P. Walters, "Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y. Court Trials," The Westminster Theological Journal 36:2 (1974), 153.
  46. Brant A. Gardner, Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, 2009 FAIR Conference presentation. Gardner references [9] D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 38. and [10] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 70.
  47. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–215.
  48. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 2 (Summer 1982), 48–68.
  49. Brant A. Gardner, "Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?," Proceedings of the 2009 FAIR Conference (August 2009).
  50. Joel Tiffany, Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 164;cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 55.
  51. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853),91–92.
  52. Dean C. Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 1 (August 1976).; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 281. Buy online
  53. Mormonism—II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 163, see also 169; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 286.
  54. Henry Harris, statement in E.D. Howe Mormonism Unvailed (1833), 252; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 290.
  55. Joseph Knight, cited in Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Saints Without Halos: The Human Side of Mormon History (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1981), 6. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized. The original text reads: "After Brackfist Joseph Cald me in to the other Room and he sit his foot on the Bed and leaned his head on his hand and says, well I am Dissopented. Well, say I, I am sorrey. Well, says he, I am grateley Dissopnted. It is ten times Better then I expected. Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummim than he Did of the plates for says he, I can see anything. They are Marvelous."
  56. Joel Tiffany, "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 165–166; cited in VanWagoner and Walker, footnote 27.
  57. Tiffany, 163.
  58. Told in Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988), 6.
  59. Lucy Smith, "Preliminary Manuscript," 64, in Early Mormon Documents, 1:333-34. Cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 320–326.
  60. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 320–326.
  61. The Historical Record. Devoted Exclusively to Historical, Biographical, Chronological and Statistical Matters (LDS Church Archives), 632.
  62. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887), 12; cited in Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign (July 1993), 61.
  63. "Emma Smith Bidamon to Emma Pilgrim, 27 March 1870," Early Mormon Documents, 1:532.
  64. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:128–129. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) "[Martin Harris] said that the Prophet possessed a Seer Stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as with the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he sometimes used the Seer Stone."
  65. Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign (July 1993), 61. off-site
  66. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013).
  67. Gerrit Dirkmaat (Church History Department), "Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God," Ensign, January 2013. (emphasis added) off-site
  68. W.W. Phelps, "The Book of Mormon," The Evening and The Morning Star 1:58 .
  69. Stephen D. Ricks, The Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, Featured Papers, Maxwell Institute, Provo UT. off-site
  70. "Translation of the Book of Mormon," MormonThink.com.
  71. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman ; citing Orson Pratt, "Discourse at Brigham City," 27 June 1874, Ogden (Utah) Junction, cited in Orson Pratt, "Two Days´ Meeting at Brigham City," Millennial Star 36 (11 August 1874), 498–499.
  72. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:225–26.
  73. "Translation of the Book of Mormon," MormonThink.com.
  74. 74.0 74.1 Roger Nicholson, "The Spectacles, the Stone, the Hat and the Book: A Twenty-first Century Believer's View of the Book of Mormon Translation," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5 (2013) 121-190.
  75. “Joseph Knight Sr., Reminiscence, Circa 1835-1847,” in Early Mormon Documents, 4:15. Spelling has been modernized and formatted for readability. Original spelling and formatting is as follows: “After Brackfist Joseph Cald me in to the other Room and he set his foot on the Bed and leaned his head on his hand and says well I am Dissop[o]inted. well, say I[,] I am sorrey[.] Well, says he[,] I am grateley Dissop[o]inted, it is ten times Better then I expected. Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates[,] and[,] said he[,] they appear to be Gold But he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummem then [than] he Did of the Plates for[,] says he[,] I can see any thing[.] They are Marvelus[.] Now they are written in Caracters and I want them translated[.]" Cited in Note 40 of Nicholson, "The Spectacles, the Stone".
  76. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  77. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013).
  78. "Translation of the Book of Mormon," MormonThink.com
  79. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org