What if Joseph Smith had been born a couple decades ago and had just received the golden plates of the Book of Mormon? What if, instead of a Urim and Thummim or seerstone, he had to rely on modern gadgets, except for a quick divine upgrade to his automated translation software to include the reformed Egyptian used by Mormon in the 4th century A.D.? What would the translation process look like?
Well, on day one, Joseph might spend his time digitizing a portion of the text. Using his iPhone or other electronic device with a camera, he might take photos of several pages of the text. Then, on day two, between mob assaults from local vigilantes seeking to preserve biblical truth, he might launch his character recognition and translation software to begin wading through the text. He would want to check the machine generated text one sentence at a time to ensure that it is readable, and when offered two or more alternate translations for ambiguous passages, might select the most reasonable choice or otherwise assist in the final wording. If he wanted to be old-fashioned at this point (perhaps because the last mob stole his printer and ripped out his cable modem in searching for the plates, safely hidden in a bucket of wheat in his food storage), he could dictate his final text to an assistant, line by line. To make it easier to see the screen on his electronic device, he might even stick it in a hat and look at it in a darkened environment to reduce eye strain (and to increase battery life by using the lowest brightness setting, since he only had a few days of battery life left after another mob smashed his recharger – the translation must move ahead quickly now!). And then he might later digitize some more and then translate some more, until he was done.
An observer, unaware of how Joseph’s gadgets worked, might wonder how he could translate the gold plates when he wasn’t even touching them or looking at them as he dictated the text. Was he just making things up on the fly? And if he could translate by looking into a device in a hat, were the plates even needed at all? Later Church paintings and drawings might miss some of the technical details in the translation process and naturally depict the translation process with Joseph staring at the plates, scanning a line with a translator pen or iPhone in hand, overlooking the fact that the scanning may have started or even been finished before assistants were brought in.
Modern translation gadgets make it possible to dictate a scanned and translated text to others without having to physically touch and see the original physical document for each page dictated, though it begins with and relies on the original document. If that is possible with modern man-made (but highly inspired!!) gadgets, then it certainly could be possible with more advanced or more inspired technology.
I say this because I’ve seen some people become upset about the accounts from some witnesses that Joseph did much of the translation of the Book of Mormon by looking into a seerstone in a hat. Some members have been highly offended by the suggestions that popular paintings and drawings showing Joseph translating the gold plates might not be technically accurate. Some critics of the Church have spent a great deal of energy in mocking the Church and accusing us of some kind of dark “cover up” about the details translation process.
This “cover-up” about the details of the translation process (for which we know precious little) is akin to the even more blatant cover-up regarding Nephi, who, based on the latest scientific data about the DNA of ancient Jewish men and nutrition and lifestyle in the ancient Middle East, probably did not have the muscle-bound physique of the Arnold Friberg paintings that our deceptive Church has been foisting upon us for years, published right there in the official Book of Mormon itself. Through these officially endorsed, doctrinal and scriptural paintings published with the full endorsement of the prophets and apostles, the Church has been teaching a terrible lie and deceiving members for years, while contributing to the lessened self-esteem of many of us men who, lacking the biceps of Nephi, Moroni, and even young Jacob, felt unworthy, excluded, and far away from the Church’s expectation that we be physically perfect.
Since some of you have a hard time recognizing when I’m not completely serious, let me point out that the previous paragraph is meant to be facetious. The paintings added in some printings of the Book of Mormon are artistic depictions to add a little color and interest, but in no way are meant to be official doctrine, nor are they expected to be technically accurate. Ditto for paintings of the translation process, of the crossing of the Red Sea, or of the Saints crossing the planes. Most Latter-day Saints have images in their mind of how the translation process worked, perhaps influenced by various paintings and natural assumptions, but we really have very little information, and if the accounts of David Whitmer or others challenge our assumptions, don’t get bent out of shape about it. We don’t have all the answers, in spite of having many precious restored truths and the divine scriptures, including the Book of Mormon. Tiny technical details — what did Joseph see when he translated, how did the translation process work, was both a Urim and Thummim and a separate seer stone involve in various phases of the translation, was a hat really used, and exactly what size and thickness were the plates? — might differ from what we assume, and from what leaders of the Church have assumed, without detracting from their role as (human) servants of God, and without detracting from the value and truthfulness of the translated Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ.
41 thoughts on “If Joseph Were Translating the Plates Today, with Secular Gadgets”
The question for me and none of the antis are willing to answer is why did God use physical objects in the past to help his prophets? Why then but not now?
Do current day LDS prophets use physical objects for their ‘prophetic’ declarations and ‘messages from God’ ?
I recently had some similar thoughts on the how the Urim and Thummim or the seer stone might work. With the progress of modern technology, it is becoming easier to see how such a “device” might have worked. God, who knows all, probably has a lot better technology than we do – something that might even seem miraculous to us. But maybe we aren’t ready to allow God to be technologically advanced as we are still stuck thinking of him as represented by His Old Testament prophets – beard and staff and robe and sandals but no PDA or iPod.
Please, someone tell me why the seer stone was used to translate the BOM when Joseph had the Urim and Thummim? Why did he need a magic stone to translate the plates when he was already given an instrument to use?
Who said it was magic? Why not consider it technology? The Mormon tradition is full of appeals to the use of technology to assist in the work of God. The Liahona, with its curious workmanship, is another great example.
>>Please, someone tell me why the seer stone was used to translate the BOM when Joseph had the Urim and Thummim? Why did he need a magic stone to translate the plates when he was already given an instrument to use?
Because sometimes different devices perform different functions, all related to the same task. That’s exactly what the article described in the first paragraphs.
For example, the U&T might have been more useful when the plates were directly in hand, and the seer stone might have allowed some work to continue when they weren’t directly accessible. I think the comparison to modern PDAs, with the brightness factor causing him to stick his face in a hat to see it better, was brilliant and quite likely accurate.
As to the first commenter wondering whether current LDS prophets use physical objects for their prophetic declarations… I would say no, but neither did Joseph Smith when receiving his prophetic declarations (D&C, etc.). He used them specifically for translating that particular and peculiar work, the BoM. None of our current prophets are in the midst of translating anything like that, as far as I know, so they wouldn’t need to use those devices currently, at least not for that purpose.
Well done, Jeff!
Do any of the ‘current day prophets’ actually prophecy any future event accurately?
In response to Tom’s question, I was at one time convinced that Joseph did use the seer stone in translation. There are seemingly credible statements from so-called witnesses which state as much. But having read possible evidence to the contrary, I am inclined to say that I’m not so sure about that. Much of what we “know” about the translation process comes either directly or indirectly from David Whitmer, who never had any part in the translation process itself, and who became disaffected with the prophet and the church, giving him ample reason to try and cast doubt on the work of the prophet. He has given conflicting information and sources which trace back to him have also given conflicting information. I know that there are other sources which we may not have reason to doubt, particularly the account of Martin Harris who secretly switched stones on the prophet once, which I’ve been unable to rectify, but much of what has been said by “witnesses” is in conflict with what we know from the prophet himself, the D&C, and some of Joseph’s family members.
My point is that while it is possible that Joseph used a seer stone in place of the Urim and Thummim, we must not assume that it must be the case because of what others may have said. I just don’t think we can safely rely on it.
On a slightly different note, many of you are probably familiar with the idea which has also been put forth by some such as David Whitmer, indicating that the translation would appear word for word on the stone, and that the Book of Mormon was translated exactly as the Lord would dictate. I found this quote from Brigham Young, which I found highly instructive: Should the Lord Almightly send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it is now. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. In my opinion, this explains a great deal when it comes to some of the perceived imperfections of the Book of Mormon as well as some of the apparent conflicts which occur in the JST of parts of the Bible which also show up in the Book of Mormon worded differently.
I don’t care if he used a hat, an iPod, or the lolrus’ bukkit.
Most of what we know about the technicalities are assumptions. It’s the end result and the as always, the witness of the Holy Ghost that tells me the BofM is of God.
And I have truly gotten closer to my Father in heaven and His son Jesus Christ by reading it. And it causes me to love the Bible more than ever as well.
Anon the first of 5:45 – They don’t understand because they’ve been brainwashed for too many years not to understand. But these facts will prick at them until one day they will realize they need to investigate with open minds, which will lead them to pray, and then convert when they receive the testimony of the Holy Ghost. 🙂
Regarding the Brigham Young statement – why would it be different? Any speculation? Perhaps changes in language, or more likely changes in understanding…
Maybe somebody can back me up on this, but I recall reading somewhere that the U&T was really a crutch to teach Joseph Smith how to receive revelation, and once he had mastered that he no longer needed it. T or F?
Anon of 9:42 – Yes, they have. One significant prophesy of Joseph Smith was recorded in D&C 87. In 1932 he prophesied of the Civil War and concerning slavery and the ramifications. The war didn’t begin until 1861. You can read it here: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/87
That’s just one thing of many.
I always find it interesting that Anti-Mormons use the hat/magic rock example to discredit the Book of Mormon.
Whatever Joseph Smith used to produce the Book of Mormon, the bottom line is that he did it somehow, and we can hold the book in our hands to prove that he did. Not a single critic has come up with a good enough explanation to determine how he did it.
Some say the Spalding manuscript helped, or he copied from the KJV Bible, or Oliver Cowdery wrote it, etc. Yes, they have a point, BUT those only account for a VERY small portion of the book. What about Jacob 5, Alma 11’s ingenious monetary system, Chiasmus, Nahom/Bountiful, Last-ditch mayan warfare, unique hebrew words (Jershon = Land of Inheritance), etc, etc, etc.
In reality, nobody at Joseph Smith’s time/place knew these things to even a small degree. So silly assertions that Joseph Smith using a seer stone and a hat make it false. You simply can’t deny the mounting evidence of it’s veracity.
Do current day LDS prophets use physical objects for their ‘prophetic’ declarations and ‘messages from God’?
There hasn’t been a prophetic declaration (in the sense that you seem to mean) in quite some time. What that bodes for us, I’ll leave to others.
I personally don’t believe that there would be a change in meaning, but perhaps a change in wording or even sentence structure. That’s just my opinion–I’m no expert.
But something else related which I found interesting that may help in understanding why there might be differences or what they might be, is from the book, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations by Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, which comes by way of testimony from Lorenzo Brown who quoted the prophet Joseph Smith as saying, “After I got through translating the Book of Mormon, I took up the Bible to read with the Urim and Thummim. I read the first chapter of Genesis and I saw the things as they were done. I turned over the next and the next, and the whole passed before me like a grand panorama; and so on chapter after chapter until I read the whole of it. I saw it all!” (Quoting from the book) The kind of knowledge thus suggested seems to have been requisite to the labor of translation. For Joseph to properly render the sense of the characters recorded on the plates entrusted to him, he had to both know and feel what stood behind them. Perhaps the point is best illustrated with the Bible, for there seems to be no end of Bible translations. Why, we would ask, is the labor of Bible translation never done? Because, we are told, that as our knowledge of ancient civilizations–their laws, governments, cultures, and languages–increases so does our ability to give meaningful and accurate translations to that which they wrote. As it is with the manuscripts from which the Bible comes, so it is with the characters recorded on the plates of gold from which Joseph Smith translated. (end quote)
There is also a quote by Lucy Mack Smith in which she says, “In the course of our evening conversations, Joseph gave us some of the most amusing recitals which could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, their manner of traveling, the animals which they rode, the cities that they built, and the structure of their buildings with every particular, their mode of warfare, and their religious worship as specifically as though he had spent his life with them.”
Having always imagined that the translation was limited pretty much to lots of characters and a fairly rigid translation given by inspiration through the Urim and Thummim, I’ve come to see that the process was probably so much more complex.
The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project at BYU led by Professor Royal Skousen has come to some conclusions from its effort to determine what Joseph dictated to Oliver. One of these is that the vocabulary of the original dictated text is English of the 16th Century, the time of William Tyndale and the first English Bibles, NOT of 1829 or the King James Bible.
Second, they have concluded that Joseph was reading an English text as he dictated, including spelling out proper names letter for letter. Anyone who has actually doen translation between two disparate languages (e.g. Japanese and English) knows that you have to know what the origin language means in its own context before you can create an English (target language) sentence that means even approximately the same thing, especially for abstract concepts like “Savior” and “charity.” There is no evidence that Joseph learned to understand the actual language of the Nephites or the probably quite different language of the writings on the plates (e.g. Hebrew translated into reformed Egyptian). The Book of Mormon has verbatim internal quotes of itself widely separated that would be unlikely, on Brigham Young’s principle quoted above if Joseph was encountering the same hebrew phrase and doig a separate act of translation each time. Rather, poart of the elaborate preparation God made for giving us the record was to have someone who had learned 16th Century English as a second language, but knew Nephite in its original, to prepare the actual translation, which was transcribed and transmitted to the Prophet. This accounts for the preservation of the odd Hebraic grammar in many passages in the manuscript, some of them still in our BoM, which a native English speaker would never permit because it sounds wrong to his ear. The benefit of this awkwardness in the translation is to provide evidence of its provenance as a Hebrew-based original, which Joseph could not have created if he wanted to. The actual translator clearly had a better knowledge of forms like chiasmus, since they come through more clearly than do most examples in the KJV.
Looking at modern communications devices like the Apple iPhone, it is a self-powered device that has a screen that transmits data from far distances, as well as a tremendous internal memory. It is made of silicon, germanium, and other minerals, with a lithium battery, sophisticatedly assembled, but essentially all of its components are kinds of rock. If we believe God created the earth, the heavens, and the complex data storage and production control device that is DNA, making an iPhone with a really slam bang battery and a security system that only responds to a designated person is not beyond him. Heck, we can conceive of it right now as a device we could own within a decade. In Joseph’s day, it was total fantasy, but he has described what amounts to a prophecy about the development of information technology.
One of the near death experiences recorded by an LDS person back in the 1950s related that they saw in the spirit world rooms in which people sat typing in front of what looked like television screens. There was no such thing as a computer with that kind of interface then. I know Catholics think heaven is all the Beatific Vision where we just sit around contemplating God, but the reality is more likely real work with state-of-the-art instruments. Thus, D&C 130 talks abut the white stone each of us will receive, in Revelation, being a urim and thummim that will reveal to us knowledge needed to progress, i.e. a slam bang multimedia PDA and internet device. If Joseph had come up with this in 2008, people would say “How mundane and ordinary,” but it was clearly not only visionary but also prophetic.
As to modern prophecies: IN 1967, Hugh B. Brown, an apostle and member of the First Presidency, told a congregation in Osaka, Japan, that some of them would serve as missionaries in Russia. This was at the height of the Cold War, but he foresaw the end of the Soviet Union and the entry of missionaries, whch happened circa 1990, 23 years later. A precursor to that was the opening of the Freibuyrg temple in East Germany in 1986. In 1974, in a seminar for Regional Representatives, the newly sustained President Kimball told them that if we prepared ourselves with more missionaries and capabilities, he would open the doors of the nations to us. Besides the 1978 revelation on priesthood, which opened much of Africa, the collapse of Soviet Communism, and the liberalization of other regimes led to a many fold multiplication in the number of countries we could go to. The reversion of Hong Kong to China has placed large numbers of LDS and a temple inside that nation of a billion. Those are very specific prophecies with very specific near-term fulfillment.
I understand the white stone in the Millennium will only work for AT&T subscribers.
“Do current day LDS prophets use physical objects for their ‘prophetic’ declarations and ‘messages from God’ ?”
Yes. The Mexican hat dance, computers, science, tea leaves and some luck. Sorry I am not sure how to answer such a question.
I am not familiar with the process of translation from one language to another, so I am curious to know, if Joseph did indeed see the events of the Book of Mormon unfold during the translation process as I indicated previously, do you think that would perhaps be a reasonable explaintion for how he was able to come up with the ideas and even abstract concepts he would need to translate? I know that it still leaves the question of how he came up with the 16th century English, but then wouldn’t it be possible that the Holy Ghost could be key in helping in that process?
We know so very little about the process from Joseph himself, and even Oliver, but in the D&C, when Oliver attempted and failed to translate, he is told that he needed to study it out in his mind. Now if studying it out in one’s mind was necessary to the translation process, then the question I have is if indeed the words appeared on the stone itself in the form of an English text, then what would be the need for studying it out? I just don’t understand how studying it out would result in 16th century English text appearing in the Urim and Thummim, since studying it out would seem to indicate that Joseph had some responsibility for coming up with the words which would be used for the translation.
I hope I’ve been clear and haven’t confused you. This subject interests me and I’ve heard different theories, most of which are very convincing in many aspects, but none which seem entirely complete.
Jeff at 2:52 with the grey head – That’s simply not possible since AT&T is clearly the Anti-Christ and won’t be present during the Millenium.
Raymond Takashi Swenson,
Great imput! I think the use of or nonuse of objects by God is for the persons growth. As we have seen God could use any number of methods to get across His message. Why make Joseph Smith mess with the plates? In my experiences God has put me to many trials then after sent His spirit with confort and teaching.
“There is also a quote by Lucy Mack Smith in which she says…”
Was this information given to Joseph by Urim and Thummim, or his meeting with the angel Moroni or the work on the plates?
“Much of what we “know” about the translation process comes either directly or indirectly from David Whitmer…”
So much of what we have is second hand information and taking in the factor that people all around Joseph Smith might make up stories to make themselves look more important or because they were up set with Joseph or the Church.
I would call it a magic stone as it was thought to be magic. No technology involved in its creation. It was a stone Joesph found in the bottom of a well. He used it to find hidden treasures unseen to the eye that were buried.
According to Church historians, Joseph used it in the translation process. My question is why?
“…between mob assaults from local vigilantes…”
As I was reading this I noticed that I could never recall any anti disputing any of the claims to the perscutions that Joseph Smith had. It is that they dispute all most every other part of his history but I don’t recall them ever disputing this because it is almost like they think he had it coming. Some Christians!
“My question is why?”
My understanding it was used to give him revelation more than just translation such as when enemies were around ect.
It would be smaller more portable. blackberry vs. desk top vs. lap top computer.
“I don’t recall them ever disputing this because it is almost like they think he had it coming. Some Christians!”
Wow, what an incredible leap in logic.
“Wow, what an incredible leap in logic.”
Then where have they called into question all the times people tryed to kill or hurt him from the time he was 14 yr.s on. If he was a fruad and a liar would they not also call into question these stories. Why else would they not add this to the list of complants.
EX. mormon convert.
Someone tryed to shoot Joseph at 14 when he was standing in the door way of his house just before or after his first vision.
I think if you are looking for answers about church history, a reading of D Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View would be helpful. He describes the use of seer stones and the thinking at the time of their use as well as the use of a dowsing rod by Oliver Cowdry to receive revelation.
You might want to read this before reading D Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View.
“two stones in silver bows, called the Urim and Thummim”
Sounds to me like a virtual reality helmet. Just project the picture on two screens. Why could not the seer stones in the Urim and Thummim that Joseph Smith had have been taken out of the silver bows then placed in a hat or dark confined space and this was the seer stone everyone talks about him using? At this point he lets them think what they want. Also the seer stone that Joseph was said to have found in the well, how do we know that this story was not told to the public and maybe to Martin Harris that this was the stone he used so if Martin or others would try to steal it they would have stolen the fake? How long did Joseph have the Urim and Thummim? Six months? This was then taken back by the angel but he still had the other so called seer stone? A fake, so if stolen they would just get a rock. Once the plates were gone they stopped trying to kill him for the plates but found other reasons to keep trying. They tried to kill him to get the plates for the gold why not the seer stone? For those that believed in the power of such things would not the stones have been worth a lot? The whole thing does not make sense unless Joseph was trying to trick those that would do him harm or steal the stones or the plates from him. Joseph used many ways to test his friends and deceive his enemies. Joseph saw and was given much more spiritual knowledge than he was allowed to give to us. I think Christ and he are having a good laugh at us about the stone and the hat.
I have not read Quinn in years, but we used to talk about some of his books in my study groups. Great stuff. Of course, this was while he was still a member.
Try the wiki on him to see what he is about.
tatabug wrote: I know that there are other sources which we may not have reason to doubt, particularly the account of Martin Harris who secretly switched stones on the prophet once, which I’ve been unable to rectify…
In the account I’m familiar with, Harris reported that when he switched the stones, Joseph couldn’t translate, declaring the hat to be as “dark as Egypt”.
“(tatabug wrote: I know that there are other sources which we may not have reason to doubt, particularly the account of Martin Harris who secretly switched stones on the prophet once, which I’ve been unable to rectify…
In the account I’m familiar with, Harris reported that when he switched the stones, Joseph couldn’t translate, declaring the hat to be as “dark as Egypt”.)”
Like I said there was something funny going on with the real seer stone and the fake ones and so we may never know the true story about them.
Anonymous @ 3:32,
There is an account by Joseph in the Wentworth letter which describes the information which Moroni gave him about the inhabitants of this country as a “sketch.” I don’t think a sketch would be sufficient information for the amount of detail with which Lucy describes Joseph used as he told the stories. It seems that in order for Joseph to be able to describe the inhabitants and such in the amount of detail he used, he would need to have actually seen it, perhaps in a vision. Lucy mentions that Joseph would teach and recite these stories each night over the course of a year. Although, this occurred sometime before Joseph actually receieved the plates, so we would have to rule out the idea that Joseph may have gotten the information through the Urim and Thummim.
However, there is no reason to assume that the ability to “see” the story of the Bible during the retranslation of it, wouldn’t also apply to the process of translating the Book of Mormon, even with a prior understanding of it.
My main point is to illustrate that we should be careful about assumptions we make when it comes to the process of translation. I just think it is safer to trust what has been said by Joseph and what is recorded in scripture, and all other accounts, no matter how credible, must be viewed with scrutiny, particularly if it conflicts with what we have by way of Joseph himself.
Anonymous @ 8:06 and 9:12,
Yes, that is the same Martin Harris story that I am referring to. That is one story that doesn’t fit with the “Urim and Thummim only” version. So I just don’t know. I also don’t know enough about the origin and context of the story either, so it could end up not being a factor after all.
Anonymous @ 3:14,
Those are very interesting thoughts to consider.
TO ALL YOU ANONYMOUS POSTERS:
You are all confusing me, because I don’t know who is who. It is very frustrating and annoying, and virtually impossible to follow you because of this. But my guess is that you don’t really care. Please take up a name, even if it is a fake one. I, and many others, would really appreciate it.
What a cool way to think about it. Thanks!
There was no fake seer stone that Joseph used. He had at least one of his peep stones with him until he was killed. It was the same stone he used to translate the plates.
Some of you imagine things the way you want them to be and then act like they are true. Rather than investigate and accept the history, you conjure up some scenario to explain away what you perceive to be something unflattering.
Anon at 3:14 AM
The only laughing that is going on is at you.
There was no fake seer stone that Joseph used. He had at least one of his peep stones with him until he was killed. It was the same stone he used to translate the plates.
“Some of you imagine things the way you want them to be and then act like they are true. Rather than investigate and accept the history, you conjure up some scenario to explain away what you perceive to be something unflattering.
Anon at 3:14 AM
The only laughing that is going on is at you.”
Where did you come to an understanding that Joseph Smith had the seer stone until he died? As a 40 year convert you mormons don’t need me to show some of the thing in mormon history as well as to day as unflattering.
“My main point is to illustrate that we should be careful about assumptions…”
That is all we have after we have read all the pros. and cons. I still think Joseph use some fake seer stone at time to keep everone off track. If you read much of church history Joseph was always using all kinds of methods to test the faithful and tick those that would do him or the cause harm.
TO ALL YOU ANONYMOUS POSTERS:
You are all confusing me, because I don’t know who is who. It is very frustrating and annoying, and virtually impossible to follow you because of this.
tatabug you are so cute.