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

FairMormon Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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,[1] and Elder Russell M. Nelson quoted David Whitmer's account to new mission presidents in 1992.[2]

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)[3] and returns somewhat to the matter in Comprehensive History of the Church (1912).[4] Other Church sources to discuss this include The Improvement Era (1939),[5] BYU Studies (1984, 1990)[6] the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (1993),[7] and the FARMS Review (1994).[8] LDS authors Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler also mentioned the matter in 2000.[9]

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.[10]

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

Artists have been approached by the Church in the past to paint a more accurate scene, yet denied the request for artistic vision.

From Anthony Sweat’s Essay “The Gift and Power of Art”:

When I asked Walter Rane about creating an image of the translation with Joseph looking into a hat, he surprised me by telling me that the Church had actually talked to him a few times in the past about producing an image like that but that the projects fell by the wayside as other matters became more pressing. Note how Walter refers to the language of art as to why he never created the image:


At least twice I have been approached by the Church to do that scene [Joseph translating using the hat]. I get into it. When I do the draw- ings I think, “This is going to look really strange to people.” Culturally from our vantage point 200 years later it just looks odd. It probably won’t communicate what the Church wants to communicate. Instead of a person being inspired to translate ancient records it will just be,

“What’s going on there?” It will divert people’s attention. In both of those cases I remember being interested and intrigued when the commission was changed (often they [the Church] will just throw out ideas that disappear, not deliberately) but I thought just maybe I should still do it [the image of Joseph translating using the hat]. But some things just don’t work visually. It’s true of a lot of stories in the scriptures. That’s why we see some of the same things being done over and over and not others; some just don’t work visually.[11]

Notes

  1. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign 7 (September 1977): 83.
  2. Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign 23 (July 1993): 61.
  3. Brigham H. Roberts, "NAME," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:131–136.
  4. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:130–131. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  5. Francis W. Kirkham, "The Manner of Translating The BOOK of MORMON," Improvement Era (1939), ?.
  6. Dean C. Jessee, "New Documents and Mormon Beginnings," BYU Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984): 397–428.; Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 30 no. 1 (Winter 1990): 51–52.;
  7. Stephen D. Ricks, "Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 201–206. wiki
  8. 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
  9. Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2000), commentary on D&C 9.
  10. Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 26.
  11. Anthony Sweat, “The Gift and Power of Art," in From Darkness into Light eds. Gerrit Dirkmaat and Matt Grow (Provo and Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2015) Appendix.