Well, Did Joseph Use a Hat During the Translation of the Book of Mormon or Didn’t He?

By May 28, 2008

One of the great things about blogging is the ability to bounce ideas off people much smarter than yourself. Therefore, I want to just throw one of my thoughts out and hope that an engaging discussion on the topic will follow.

For the record, I feel the evidence is fairly insurmountable that Joseph Smith used his seerstone in a hat while translating the Book of Mormon (I just wanted a catchy title to hopefully draw more readers). With very few exceptions, all scholarly historians seem to accept that as fact. Therefore, this post is not to try and prove or challenge that notion; rather, I want to explore why Joseph was not more forthright in explaining this remarkable process.

A well-rehearsed account is recorded from a conference held in Orange, Ohio, in late October 1831. Hyrum asked Joseph to explain the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon to a group of faithful elders present. While you can imagine those in attendance salivating at the chance to hear some juicy details, Joseph’s answer was pretty anti-climactic: “Br. Joseph Smith jr. said that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon, & also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things &c.”[1] My question probably echos those who were there, “Why?”

Richard Bushman in “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith” argued that Joseph did not make public his supernatural experiences in order to separate himself from the other visionaries of the day, and used this specific account concerning the Book of Mormon as an example.[2] While this definitely played a role in speaking of his visions, and probably to a degree relating to the BoM translation, I think that there is more to it. I don’t think his contemporary visionaries were the only people Joseph wanted to distance himself from.

Only one day before Joseph’s refusal to explain the translation process, Ezra Booth was not as hesitant in his third of a series of letters published by a newspaper. In this letter, Booth spoke of Joseph’s treasure-seeking past, and connected it to the Book of Mormon. He wrote that the Mormon prophet’s “[buried] treasures were discovered several years since, by means of the dark glass, the same with which Smith says he translated most of the Book of Mormon.”[3] Booth was definitely not the first to make this negative connection, neither was he the last.

The first years of the Church encountered a media onslaught against the new faith, and often the attacks mentioned a connection between Joseph Smith and the folklore culture of his day. As early as August, 1829, two newspapers published accounts of the forthcoming Book of Mormon, specifically mentioning the use of a seer stone and a hat.[4] In the summer of 1830, the Reflector (based in Palmyra) began publishinga parody of the Book of Mormon titled “The Book of Pukei,” that included a mantle being transferred to Joseph Smith from a magician named “Walters”.[5] It later depicts Joseph being told “thou art greater than all the ‘money-digging rabble,’ and art chosen to interpret the book, which Mormon has written, to with the Gold Bible.”[6] The Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate printed a letter in 1831 stating “the Book of Mormon was brought to light by the same magic power by which he pretended to tell fortunes, discover hidden treasures, &c.”[7] Later on, Issac Hale made the same negative connection: “The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods!”[8]

It seems to me that when Joseph was reluctant to discuss the particulars of how he translated from the plates, these were the accusations he was trying to distance himself from. Alva Hale, Joseph’s brother-in-law, appears to think Joseph tried to distance magic and translating at an even earlier date. Alva claimed that while Joseph still lived in Harmony, he heard the prophet say the “gift in seeing with a stone and hat was a gift from God, while “‘peeping’ was all d–d nonsense.”[9] This distancing was possibly the main reason the early Church’s first public statement in 1833 concerning the translation was so vague: it was done “through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles–(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or urim and Thummim).”[10]

So, my question is, did Joseph make a conscious decision to discuss the Book of Mormon translation in vague terms in order to distance himself as a money-digger? This narrow topic also leads to a much bigger question: What are the implications when you shade past events in order to present a desired image?

________________________________

[1] Minutes of a conference at Orange, Ohio, October 25, 1831, in Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 23.

[2] Richard Bushman, “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies 37, no. 1 (1997-98): 194-77.

[3] Ezra Booth, “Mormonism–No. III,” Ravenna Ohio Star, October 24, 1831 (reprinted from New York Courier and Enquirer).

[4] “Golden Bible,” Rochester Advertiser and Telegraph, August 31, 1829; cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:221-22. This article was apparently printed earlier in the month by the Palmyra Freeman, but no original copies are currently available. These claims became even more known the following years.  As far away as Worcester, Massachusetts, a newspaper was reporting that Joseph Smith “looks in a small stone he has” (Letter from “A Presbyterian,” Worcester (Mass.) Independent Messenger, May 27, 1831, 96, letter is dated February 22, 1831).

[5] “The Book of Pukei.–Chap. 1,” Reflector, June 12, 1830, 36.

[6] “The Book of Pukei.–Chap. 2,” Reflector, July 7, 1830, 60.

[7] Cited in John Phillip Walker, ed., Dale morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History (Salt lake City: Signature Books, 1986): 338.

[8] Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed: or, a Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time (Painesville, Ohio: By the Author, 1834), 264-265.

[9] Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 268.

[10] “The Book of Mormon,” Evening and the Morning Star, January 1833.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins


Comments

  1. Nice post, Ben. This is a good example of the truism that all memory is shaped by present (and political) concerns. It’s also an example of the politics of memory, as multiple narratives compete for primacy in the debate over the divine nature of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. We could easily expand this beyond just the BoM narratives to include all the sacred stories that JS told about what happened during the 1820s in New York, stories that are still greatly contested and defended today.

    Comment by David G. — May 28, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

  2. Interesting stuff Ben. You have touched on the issue of JS’s reluctance (which really borders on refusal) to discuss the BOM translation process at all. It is perhaps not unrelated to this discussion that he almost never preached from the Book of Mormon. This actually provides a helpful example of “fact” vs “interpretation” as it has surfaced on recent threads. There are two “facts” here: Smith rarely spoke about the translation process and did not use the Book of Mormon as the subject for sermons nearly as often as he used the Bible. The “whys” that attach to those “whats” are not self evident. I have heard it suggested, for example, that he might not have felt comfortable with the Book of Mormon. The idea isn’t that he was embarrassed by it, but that he did not know it very well because 1) he did not write it and 2) probably read it only rarely. Such an argument would, of course, make no sense to anyone who believes that JS produced the Book of Mormon entirely from his own imagination. They would naturally look elsewhere for an explanation.

    Comment by SC Taysom — May 28, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  3. If this is too far off topic, my apologies.

    My question is this: Why would he have read the BoM only rarely? He seems to have been able to make the points he wished to from the Bible. What, then, did he understand as the purpose of the BoM vis a vis his own mission? Is it possible that he rarely used the BoM because those to whom he spoke were far more familiar with the Bible?

    Comment by Boring Mogget — May 28, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

  4. That’s actually a good counterpoint. I’m not sure how a proponent of the argument I articulated above would respond because it actually isn’t an argument that I developed myself. I suppose one response would be that JS doesn’t make much mention of studying the Book of Mormon in his journals except when he is preparing a new edition (1837 and 1841 for example) but he notes time spent attempting to learn Biblical languages and then reading in the Bible. On a more practical level, very few early members of the church, including Joseph Smith, spent much time studying scripture in the sense that members of the church are supposed to do today. It is also entirely possible, as you suggest, that he tailored his public use of scripture to those listeners more familiar with the Bible.

    Comment by SC Taysom — May 28, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

  5. Yes, I see your point. It interests me greatly, that after he had the BoM he expended a great deal of time and energy working on improving his skills with the Bible. Perhaps he took seriously the idea that the BoM is something of a preparation for the Bible.

    In any case, we are far from the topic of this thread, so I’ll back out until it comes up more naturally. Thanks, Ben, for your post. It is thought-provoking.

    Comment by Boring Mogget — May 28, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

  6. David: I was hoping you would bring in elements of “memory”. I agree that the theories you mention are more than appropriate here.

    SC: I’m really glad you mentioned how this was an example of the fact vs. interpretation discussion. That was one of the unwritten points of the essay: it has taken a lot of historian’s effort to determine the method JS used when he translated (while, admittedly, there are many related points within the translation process that still needs to be ironed out), it is left to interpretation to determine what it means. As you point out, I think this topic is a great glimpse into Joseph’s thought.

    B. Mogget and SC Taysom: While I agree that Joseph didn’t teach from the BoM, I also think that the BoM did play a major role in the early church beyond as “tangible” evidence of the restoration (as Terryl Givens has pointed out in several places). The content within the book shaped the Church’s position towards the Indians, and the book also heavily reinforced the “House of Israel” theology.

    I just finished reading Steven Harper’s “Infallible Truths, both Human and Divine”, and he makes a convincing argument that the Book of Mormon played a very crucial role (both as physical evidence and what it taught inside its covers) to converts seeking both revelatory and rational conversions.

    Comment by Ben — May 28, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  7. Although Bushman suggests that Joseph’s general credulity about folk magic “prepared” him to accept the later supernatural events in his life, there seems to me to be some sense that Joseph was a bit embarrassed about his earlier “mystical” notions and hoped to distance himself from them. I’ve always wondered if these are the minor transgressions that he was alluding to in his official account of being visited by the angel Moroni.

    He also got a bit burned by his Pentecostal hopes when one of the early meetings literally “went to charismatic hell” with people convulsing on the floor, etc. After that, he seems to have toned down his supernatural hopes a bit as well.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 28, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  8. Ben,
    There is no question that the existence of the Book of Mormon functioned as an important sign and signal of new revelatory powers, etc.

    Seth,

    You make a great point here regarding the potential evolution of Joseph’s sensibilities. In addition to the personal development you cite, the changing nature in Joseph Smith’s environment of what was considered “rational” may have also played a part. A great book on that topic is The Village Enlightenment in America by Craig Hazen.

    Comment by SC Taysom — May 28, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

  9. While I think that Joseph was embarassed by the previous treasure hunting, I think that equating his self professed transgressions with the treasure seeking is without any evidence (I would say it controverts the evidence, in fact).

    Regarding enthusiasm, while Joseph did fight against extreme manifistations (fainting, barking, jerking), he was a huge proponent of what he viewed as valid charisma. Even glossolalia, which he vacillated on figures prominently.

    I do think, however, that Joseph did seek after a measure of respectability. His rhetoric in Nauvoo exemplifies this.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 28, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

  10. What interests me in the early Kirtland episodes of unchecked enthusiasm is the development of a schema of proper vs. improper (or “extreme” as Stapley phrased it) charisma. To even speak, as I did above, of “unchecked” charisma indicates the inculcation of a normative, perhaps arbitrary, standard. Is there something inherently and objectively less extreme about glossolalia or xenoglossy than ecstatic fits of howling and convulsing? If not, then who decides why one is extreme and another isn’t? These are obviously well established patterns that have been dealt with at least as far back as Weber and they are helpful in considering the tension between the impulse toward a democratized model of revelation and the organizational demands of a maturing religious system.

    Comment by SC Taysom — May 28, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

  11. J & SC: I agree that the proper vs. improper expressions of charisma is super intriguing. Sam MB gave an excellent presentation at MHA related to this, specifically focusing on the Angelic test in D&C 129 as an enlightened way to determine good and evil spirits, etc. Kinda like a rational supernaturalism. Fascinating.

    Comment by Ben — May 28, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

  12. I think that the idea of “rational supernaturalism” is waiting for a fuller treatment. As well, there needs to be a study of Mormon enthusiasm – probably a book though, as there is so much to go over.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 28, 2008 @ 7:28 pm

  13. Interesting. I first studied this, thoroughly, on my mission. One of the articles that really opened my mind, but also very inspiring, was Van Wagoner & Walker’s “The Gift of Seeing.”

    There are too many accounts by faithful latter-day Saints that confirm this method of translation. I even find Alma 37:23-25 passage very intriguing:

    I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.

    JS=Gazelem, if you read any Church History book, ie his pseudonym in D&C. How else shall the stone shine in darkness, unless it is placed in something to make it dark, and therefore, easier to read the words which ‘appear.’

    When I was an AP, my Mission President gave me an assignment to research the translation of the Book of Mormon, and give a powerpoint presentation to all the missionaries at our various zone conferences. I was thrilled and excited about what I had found. I found it inspiring and uplifting, and the missionaries really enjoyed it. I said that Joseph Smith used the seer stone in a hat, very plainly, as it were fact. I believe it to be fact. My Mission President had no worries about my presentation, and said it was very appropriate.

    For those interested: my powerpoint presentation and its accompanying notes.

    Comment by se7en — May 28, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

  14. I really wish I could have been there for Sam’s paper.

    Comment by SC Taysom — May 28, 2008 @ 7:54 pm

  15. As I mentioned to you at work yesterday, Ben, I guess I had always taken it as a given that Joseph deemphasized the means of translation to put distance between him and the money digging. I hadn’t remembered Bushman’s interpretation that it was to distance himself from visionaries of the day. Is that really the only explanation Bushman gives or does he make it a possibility also that he distanced himself from money diggers?

    Alan Taylor back in Dialogue 19:4, p. 26 has a nice summary about this reticence,

    … he [Joseph] recognized that a reputation for treasure-seeking was a handicap in communicating his message to an audience increasingly committed to rationality and a more abstract understanding of religion. To further his proselyting mission, he and his followers deemphasized his early supernatural explorations as a treasure seer, a deemphasis that has since led some Mormons to doubt that he was ever so involved and anti-Mormons to charge that he was insincere.

    Comment by Jared T — May 29, 2008 @ 11:34 am

  16. It’s interesting how sensative the issue of how JS actually translated the BOM still is. I was looking at the cover of Matthew Brown’s book, Plates Of Gold, which shows how most envision the translation taking place, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. It reminds me of the 3rd grade “find all of the things wrong with this picture”, where kids circle flying fish, etc.

    Two weeks ago the priesthood/relief society lesson on gifts of the spirit quoted from Emma Smith’s interview with JSIII on how the prophet translated the BOM, but (of course) completely left out the the stone in the hat part.

    To me, that is the most fascinating part of the translation. How, in the presence of witnesses, does a man put his face in a hat – thus excluding all possibility of using source material – for hours at a time, and come up with the Book of Mormon?

    Comment by larryco_ — May 29, 2008 @ 11:50 am

  17. Great find, Jared. I figured it had been discussed somewhere before, and i am sure it is even in a more obvious source, like a major monograph or something. However, the topic is always good to discuss :).

    The broader question still has some powerful implications: what does it mean if JS felt the need to present his history in a certain way? It seems he wanted a very specific type of history told; what does that tell us about his thought? Was he nervous about the treasure-digging connection because he was embarassed by it, or did he fear it would hinder missionary work? Even in his 1832 journal he makes no mention of it, and (for all we know) that was not meant for the general public. Lucy Mack Smith was also weary of what people would think about the magic culture when she wrote her reminiscences.

    Did JS feel that the treasure-digging stuff did not match the definition of what a prophet should be? The idea of identity construction is very intruiging to me.

    Comment by Ben — May 29, 2008 @ 11:52 am

  18. Ben, I think you meant
    Infallible Proofs, Both Human and Divine: The Persuasiveness of Mormonism for Early Converts

    Interesting post; I likes.

    Comment by BHodges — May 29, 2008 @ 12:06 pm

  19. BHodges: You da man.

    Comment by Ben — May 29, 2008 @ 12:10 pm

  20. Also, interesting stuff abounds in the slightly “oops” BYU Studies 24:4 (1984).

    Comment by BHodges — May 29, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  21. Sorry to get off topic, but it’s funny you should mention “oops”, BH, because in this Allen article I read, he bases part of his article on two Hoffman letters and at the end of the article he writes, “without the unusually rich documents describing Joseph Smith’s magical practices, historians studying early American folk magic would be left with little but stray commentary from folklorists…” I wrote by that paragraph, “oops”.

    Comment by Jared T — May 29, 2008 @ 1:48 pm

  22. Jared T: “oops” is right. Very funny.

    Comment by Ben — May 29, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  23. I actually have trouble using the word “translation”. According to everything I’ve read, Joseph shielded his eyes from the light with the hat, and the words appeared on the seerstone in the hat. He apparently would read what he saw….which opens another interesting problem. If he saw what he dictated, why was it changed?

    Any answers?

    Comment by Cynthia — May 29, 2008 @ 3:22 pm

  24. Cynthia: At face value I believe there may have been more to it than simply reading. Compare Oliver’s attempt to Joseph’s success.

    Comment by BHodges — May 29, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

  25. Ben, as you know I’m fascinated by this topic.
    I argue that a few things were happening, not least Smith’s heartfelt need to articulate the differences between what he believed he was doing (having perfectly normal, commonsensical conversations with physical, resurrected beings, making the vastness of supernature a part of the “perspicuous” Truth that governed the universe. Shaking the hand, the custom high-faluting Europeans mocked as too earthy and egalitarian, is simply brilliant–think about the duble entendre of common sense here, the tactile and the “sensical”) and what the people who accused him of necromancy thought he was doing (go back to his uncle’s comments about his religion-making if you want a version both contemporary and close to home).

    I’m revising the Seerhood chapter right now, so this topic is on my mind. The fascinating question here, I think, is why Smith and his followers persisted in using that title to refer to him. Seer was muddied by folk magical associations, one step back from “scryer,” but even as he sought to divorce himself from folk magical associations he strongly persisted in using that title to refer to his work.

    I personally believe that he maintained those gentle associations because, as with Masonry a few years later, he believed that he had found the truth lurking within folk magic, but he recognized that outsiders would not respect the sharp distinctions he drew, lumping him with the necromancers.

    Incidentally, this issue still plays out. I was once having an odd conversation with Sandra Tanner at her bookstore (enjoying the move to SLC and the easy access to historical anti-Mormon reproductions at a very economical price). She seemed a little stymied that I could believe fervently that God wanted me to be, believe, and practice Mormonism but that I was willing to bracket the hot-ticket items of evangelical anti-Mormonism. As I explained my work on death culture, particularly my fascination with the particularization of the dead manifest in early Mormon angelology, her eyes lit up, as she exulted that Smith was really just seeing ghosts, he was a necromancer. In that respect Mrs. Tanner (whom I rather liked on that encounter) seemed as obtuse as the early anti-Mormons penning the Book of Pukei. Little wonder that Smith chose to keep things relatively secret.

    Incidentally, I wrote a post about some possible modern interpretive modes for the translation a few months ago.

    Comment by smb — May 29, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

  26. As for BoM, I think there are a few issues.
    1. He used it frequently as an artifact or relic, and that use must not be downplayed.
    2. he used it as a mode of constructing his relationships with the Indians and as a security for his prophetic calling, a merged internal and external evidence (the prophecy that Joseph ben-Joseph would translate the plates)
    3. i think he saw it as one of many scriptures he was revealing, as important as scripture as the Book of Enoch or Abraham, or the lost texts of the New Testament.

    Comment by smb — May 29, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

  27. Finally, on Common Sense and the gifts, Steve Fleming is starting to get at it with his work on British folk religion, Janet Ellington wrote a useful but not particularly interpretively sophisticated dissertation that includes some treatment of it, and Steve Harper is working on it with his above-mentioned paper. I’m a little amazed at how little work has been done on this over the years given how much ink, gall, and vitriol has been spilt or otherwise disseminated on the issue of the “reasonability” of Mormonism.

    I’ve started sketching an outline of a book to begin AFTER I get the death book off to publishers, with a highly tentative (and playfully charged) subtitle: “The Early Mormon Assault on Common Sense.”

    I think mb and I have decided to send the MHA Buck paper to a non-Mormon journal, probably submitting it this summer. We’ll see what comes of it.

    Comment by smb — May 29, 2008 @ 4:19 pm

  28. smb,
    Do you think that the connection between seership and the Hebrew scriptures, and Joseph’s fascination with Old Testament practices and ideas, may have influenced Joseph’s affinity for the term in spite of the contemporary attachments to magic?

    Comment by SC Taysom — May 29, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

  29. absolutely, particularly in the blueprint for the Restoration found in Isaiah 29. In fact, the OT gave him grounds for distinguishing necromancy from seerhood in 1 Sam. In a sense the BoM includes a meditation on those two key elements of OT seerhood, and it’s in the BoM meditation that JSJ’s seerhood is most proximately grounded.

    Comment by smb — May 29, 2008 @ 8:09 pm

  30. I heard this verse a week ago, and noticed something not noticed before: “Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.” (Mosiah 8:13) This indicates that Mosiah didn’t have to read the book, but just look in the interpreters to see the translation. This ties in with Joseph Smith looking in his hat to translate the Book Of Mormon. Did the record just have to be nearby in order for him to be able to look into the interpreters to get its translation?

    “…lest he should look for that he ought not…” So, in the wrong hands then other things could be seen there?

    I’ve also heard that Joseph Smith saw the original writing (characters) with the English translation beneath it. I wonder if the original were written in Hebrew (or another language), which is read right to left, then what he saw in the stone must’ve been in shorter phrases so that the translation would have more of a relation to the original, even though it was seen backwards compared to the original. If that were the case, how long was it before he realized that?

    Comment by Dan Knudsen — May 29, 2008 @ 10:54 pm

  31. Looks like I missed this discussion on one of my hobby topics.

    This is a good question.

    [D]id Joseph make a conscious decision to discuss the Book of Mormon translation in vague terms in order to distance himself as a money-digger

    I think the approach to not detail the mechanics behind the translation mechanism was dictated to him by Moroni. The evidence for this is David Whitmer’s statment in the 1885 Chicago Tribune to the effect that Joseph was punished more severely for divulging such secrets than he was for the lost 116 pages.

    About this time [Martin] Harris, inspired by curiosity and elation, took sixteen of the golden tablets home to show his wife, who is alleged to have stolen them from a bureau drawer and peddled them among her friends. For this offense Harris was severely reprimanded by the Lord, through [Joseph] Smith, [Jr.], but the angel afterwards recovered the plates and restored them. Smith’s offense of tattling the secrets of the works among his neighbors was less readily condoned, and for a long time the work was suspended, the angel being in possession of the plates and spectacles. Finally when Smith had fully repented of his rash conduct, he was forgiven. The plates, however, were not returned, but instead Smith was given by the angel, a Urim and Thummim of another pattern, it being shaped in oval or kidney form. This seer’s stone [seerstone] he was instructed to place in his hat, and on covering his face with the hat the character and translation would appear on the stone.

    If this account is accepted as reliable, it tends to kick the problem of image management upstairs.

    Comment by Keller — May 31, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  32. #24 I don’t think that D&C 9 says much about translation mechanics. Rather it details a method that Oliver should have followed in order to determine whether he should attempt to translate. The “stupor of thought” negative answer was manifest in Oliver’s failure to receive the Book of Mormon English text via translation. If he had followed the procedure right he should have waited for a confirmation to translate before making an attempt.

    Comment by Keller — May 31, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

  33. correction: “via translation” should be “via revelation.”

    Note that I favor the translation model that Joseph Smith simply dictated text he saw through revelation.

    Comment by Keller — May 31, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

  34. Keller: Thanks for joining the discussion. I haven’t ever connected the David Whitmer statement to this idea, but it definitely deserves attention.

    And, even though I don’t agree with the “transcription” theory (Joseph actually seeing the words and merely repeating them), you make a good case.

    Comment by Ben — May 31, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  35. Ben,

    I agree the transcription theory has a lot of problems, especially in trying to account for errors and anachronisms. My point in providing an alternative reading for section 9 is that the passage, in and of itself, doesn’t rule out a transcription model.

    Comment by Keller — May 31, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  36. Ben: Regarding your article reference in note 10, “The Book of Mormon,” Evening and the Morning Star, January 1833: I’ve seen this elsewhere attributed to W. W. Phelps, if I remember correctly, and cited as the first known reference to the Nephite interpreters as Urim and Thummim. (There is an example of a revelation ms or copy of a revelation with the term Urim in it, but I don’t know that date on that or which revelation it was–was quite awhile ago I was researching that.) You know anything about that? And if it is, do you think this was part of a conscious (or subconscious) effort to distance the process further away from treasure lore, by couching the instruments in biblical terminology? (not sure that interpreters would have been a treasure lore term either, but U&T would have carried more dignity in a bible-soaked culture, I’d imagine.)

    Comment by stan — June 2, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

  37. Stan, I was aware that Phelps’ article in Evening and Morning Star was the first mention of the Urim and Thummim. However, I never connected the use of that term as a possible attempt to attach to the bible rather than treasure lore (I guess I never wondered why they used that term…I’m pretty slow as a historian). That sounds very reasonable.

    Comment by Ben — June 2, 2008 @ 3:43 pm

  38. Hard to know how deliberate the decision was, but there’s no particular reason to doubt that the U&T is the Biblical framing of seerstones.

    Buck on U&T:

    Oracle
    “the oracle of the Urim and Thummim, which was accompanied with the ephod, or the pectoral worn by the high priest, and which God had endued with the gift of foretelling things to come, Numb xii 6, Joel ii 28. This manner of inquiring of the Lord was often made use of, from Joshua’s time to the erection of the temple at Jerusalem.”

    Urim and Thummim: “(light and perfection,) among the ancient Hebrews, a certain oracular manner of consulting God, which was done by the high-priest, dressed in his robes, and having on his pectoral, or breast-plate. There have been a variety of opinions respecting the Urim and Thummim, and after all, we cannot determine what they were. The use made of them was, to consult God in difficult cases relating to the whole state of Israel, and sometimes in cases relating to the king, the Sanhedrin, the general of the army, or some other great personage.”

    Comment by smb — June 2, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  39. […] found this account fascinating in light of our recent conversation about how Joseph Smith represented his earlier career as a treasure seeker. The month before the […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From The Archives: James C. Brewster to “The Mormon Money Diggers” — June 4, 2008 @ 12:21 am

  40. […] discussed before (see esp. comments 9-12, 25-29), the argument over what was rational and what was absurd was a hot […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From the Archives: Is Mormonism Utterly Absurd or Completely Rational? — July 14, 2008 @ 2:24 am


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