Question: How do Church members assume that Joseph would have "used the plates" during translation?

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Question: How do Church members assume that Joseph would have "used the plates" during translation?

The typical scenario is that Joseph employed the Nephite interpreters, the "spectacles," as if they were a pair of glasses

Let's suppose that Joseph "used the plates." How, exactly, does one think that Joseph used the plates in the translation? He couldn't read the characters. The typical scenario that is used is that he employed the Nephite interpreters, the "spectacles," as if they were a pair of glasses, and used them to look at the text on the plates as he dictated. For example, Orsamus Turner assumed that Joseph used the "spectacles" as if they were a pair of glasses capable of converting the characters:

Harris assumed, that himself and Cowdery were the chosen amanuenses, and that the Prophet Joseph, curtained from the world and them, with his spectacles, read from the gold plates what they committed to paper. [1]

In 1836, non-Mormon Truman Coe promoted the idea that Joseph looked through the spectacles at the characters:

The manner of translation was as wonderful as the discovery. By putting his finger on one of the characters and imploring divine aid, then looking through the Urim and Thummim, he would see the import written in plain English on a screen placed before him.[2]

What are these "spectacles" supposed to be doing during this process? Are they somehow converting characters on the plates into English text? What is the difference between this and deducing the English text from a seer stone?

The "spectacles" were, in reality, two seer stones mounted in a frame

In reality, the "spectacles" consisted of two seer stones—they were not lenses. In addition, there are accounts indicating that Joseph actually placed the Nephite interpreters into his hat as well, to shield them from the ambient light. This is the way that several newspapers reported it:

The Gem: A Semi-Monthly Literary and Miscellaneous Journal, 5 September 1829:

By placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it, Smith interprets the characters into the English language.[3]

Morning Star, March 7, 1833:

an angel gave him a pair of spectacles which he put in a hat and thus read and translated, while one of the witnesses wrote it down from his mouth.[4]

New York Weekly Messenger and Young Men’s Advocate, 29 April 1835:

Smith pretended that he had found some golden or brass plates, like the leaves of a book, hid in a box in the earth, to which he was directed by an Angel, in 1827,—that the writing on them was in the “Reformed Egyptian language,”—that he was inspired to interpret the writing, or engraving, by putting a plate in his hat, putting two smooth flat stones, which he found in the box, in the hat, and putting his face therein—that he could not write, but as he translated, one Oliver Cowdery wrote it down.[5]


Notes

  1. Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase and Morris’ Reserve (1852) 215.
  2. “Truman Coe Account, 1836,” in Early Mormon Documents, 1:47. Originally printed in Ohio Observer (Hudson, Ohio), 11 August 1836.
  3. “Golden Bible,” The Gem: A Semi-Monthly Literary and Miscellaneous Journal (Rochester, New York: 5 September 1829), 70.
  4. Morning Star VII/45, March 7, 1833.
  5. “Mormonism,” New York Weekly Messenger and Young Men’s Advocate (29 April 1835). Reprinted from The Pioneer (Rock Springs, IL), March 1835.