By Kerry Muhlestein
For most people, the idea of translating is fairly straightforward. Conventionally, when someone translates, he reads a document in one language he understands and renders it into another language he understands. The difficulty in assessing the Book of Abraham is that while Joseph Smith says he translated the Book of Abraham from papyrus, he never uses that word in the conventional way. It will be helpful to first look at the other ways Joseph Smith used the word “translate.”
Joseph Smith’s first translation project was the Book of Mormon. It was written in a language he clearly did not know. He never claimed to understand the language it was written in. Instead, he said he was given the ability to translate by the gift and power of God. We don’t know a lot about the Book of Mormon translation process. We know that the Prophet used the seer stones we call the Urim and Thummim, as well as another seer stone he often used. While we cannot nail down the exact details, it seems he often was not looking at the gold plates at all during much of this process. What we can be sure of is that Joseph Smith provided us with a translation of a language he did not know, frequently without referring to the physical text he had. His translation came from God.
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