If Joseph Smith used a rock (seer stone or peep stone) in his hat as the main translation process, as the church is slowly teaching today, how do we call it a translation? If he didn’t use the gold plates to produce the Book of Mormon, why did he even have them? Why were they even created?
Despite comparisons from Uchtdorf, Nelson and Brad Wilcox, and the Church History Department, a peep stone is not a cell phone. Nor is this the definition of translation, because to translate you take writings in one language and convert it into another language. Joseph didn’t use the alleged “caractors” on the gold plates in his translation process, so it isn’t a translation. Joseph Smith literally pulled the Book of Mormon stories out of his hat, like a magician would a rabbit.
Joseph didn’t use the golden plates in the translation. After so much work from ancient prophets to create the gold plates, and Joseph’s work to obtain them, it seems short-sighted and wasteful if he put the plates away along with the Urim and Thummim and just looked in his personal peep stone for convenience. Not using the famed Gold Plates, makes them useless. He may as well have melted them for the gold.
Gold Plates Were Not Used
Emma the first scribe for the Book of Mormon recalled that Joseph didn’t use the gold plates, since they were covered while he dictated with his “face buried in his hat”.
In writing for J[oseph]. S[mith]. I frequently wrote for day after day, often he sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it and dictating hour after hour, with nothing between us. He had neither mss [manuscript] nor book to read from. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen cloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I have felt of the plates, as they lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book. O[liver] Cowdery and J[oseph] S[mith] wrote in the room where I was at work. J[oseph] S[mith] could not neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of M[ormon].Emma Smith Bidamon Interview with Joseph Smith III, February 1879
Early Mormon Documents, Volume 1 by Dan Vogel
The gold plates often were not in the room where it happened. They were not used. Despite the church artwork and lessons all saying that Joseph translated the plates, this is not the case.
The plates were not before Joseph while he translated, but seem to have been removed by the custodian angel.David Whitmer, Chicago Times, August 7, 1875
With Joseph looking into the hat at the seer stones, what need was there for Joseph to even have the plates in his possession? … His mission was to “translate the engravings which are on the plates” (D&C 10:41), and he spent some time scrutinizing and transcribing some of the characters on them. Yet the translation usually occurred while the plates lay covered on the table (although some accounts suggest that the plates were sometimes kept in a nearby box under the bed or even hidden in the Whitmers’ barn during translation).Firsthand Witness Accounts of the Translation Process, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat and Michael Hubbard MacKay
I told them, that I considered the whole of it a delusion, and advised them to abandon it. 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!
After this, Martin Harris went away, and Oliver Cowdery came and wrote for Smith, while he interpreted as above described. This is the same Oliver Cowdery, whose name may be found in the Book of Mormon. Cowdery continued a scribe for Smith until the Book of Mormon was completed as I supposed and understood.
Joseph Smith Jr. resided near me for some time after this, and I had a good opportunity of becoming acquainted with him, and somewhat acquainted with his associates, and I conscientiously believe from the facts I have detailed, and from many other circumstances, which I do not deem it necessary to relate, that the whole “Book of Mormon” (so called) is a silly fabrication of falsehood and wickedness, got up for speculation, and with a design to dupe the credulous and unwary — and in order that its fabricators may live upon the spoils of those who swallow the deception.Isaac Hale (Father of Emma Smith and Father-in-law to Joseph Smith), 1834
“Affidavit of Isaac Hale”, in Howe, Eber Dudley, Mormonism Unvailed
David Whitmer confirmed that Joseph “did not use the plates in the translation” and that “the plates were not before Joseph, while he translated, but seem to have been removed by the custodian angel.” Isaac Hale said that while Joseph was translating, the plates were “hid in the woods.” Martin Harris and Joseph Smith Sr., respectively, added that the plates were covered “in the box” and hid “in the mountains” while they were being translated…
Thus the testimony from Joseph’s closest associates, relatives, and scribes was that the golden plates were not directly used in the translation. No primary witness reported that Joseph used them in any way, as we otherwise might assume he would need to in “translating” them.An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer
Blair Hodges: You mentioned the seer stone, and that’s something that’s also kind of unusual to church members today we tend to have a mental picture of him translating with the gold plates sitting on the table, the scribe sitting across from him, and him concentrating and studying it out in his mind. And then we have these accounts where he’s putting his face in a hat. Can you talk about the translation process?
I will begin by saying that we still have pictures on our ward bulletin boards of Joseph Smith with the Gold Plates in front of him. That has become an irksome point and I think it is something the church should pay attention to. Because anyone who studies the history knows that is not what happened. There is no church historian who says that is what happened and yet it is being propagated by the church and it feeds into the notion that the church is trying to cover up embarrassing episodes and is sort of prettifying its own history.
So, I think we ought to just stop that immediately. I am not sure we need a lot of pictures in our chapels of Joseph looking into his hat, but we certainly should tell our children that is how it worked.
Blair Hodges: Do you think that’s really unusual? I mean, that’s a strange…
It’s weird. It’s a weird picture. It implies it’s like darkening a room when we show slides. It implies that there is an image appearing in that stone and the light would make it more difficult to see that image. So, that implies a translation that’s a reading and so gives us a little clue about the whole translation process.
But it also raises the strange question, ‘What in the world are the plates for? Why do we need them on the table if they are just wrapped up into a cloth while he looks into a seer stone?’Richard L. Bushman
Rough Stone Rolling- Interview with Richard Bushman– Fair Mormon Podcast part 1
Writing the Gold Plates in Reformed Egyptian
If the plates were not even used in the translation process, why were they even needed? The ancient Nephite prophets painstakingly had to write in this unfamiliar “Reformed Egyptian” language. They made the record via chisel on plates of precious metal. Mormon and Moroni then abridged many of these records onto plates and include commentary acting as historians and archivists for years.
They had to be sure to include Lehi’s story too, even though the book of Lehi would be the dress rehearsal for the translation since it would be lost as the first 116 pages. This section of the plates was only used as an object lesson in teaching the young prophet that he couldn’t trust anyone.
The alleged authors of the Book of Mormon would also end up directly quoting and copying complete chapters of Isaiah, knowing full well they were redundant because Joseph already had the Bible. If the writing was so tedious, and they could see our day, couldn’t they just reference Isaiah and save their time and effort? They also could have simply visited Joseph and told him the whole story in person as angels! It seems that he conversed with them enough to know the stories anyways according to his mother.
Joseph didn’t read the Reformed Egyptian on the gold plates or use the Urim and Thummim he found with the plates to translate said plates. He simply looked at his seer stone, the one he found in the ground during his treasure-digging days. He needed to put this peep stone in the bottom of his hat and bury his face into the hat to block out the light so he could see the word of God. Couldn’t God provide a stone that was bright enough that Joseph wouldn’t have to block the light in his already dark room? The scriptures talk of such things– the stones of the Jaredites shined bright when the Lord touched them and according to the legend in the scriptures became the very Urim and Thumim that Joseph chose not to use!
Why did he have the plates at all if they weren’t even used for translating!? He had to stress about keeping them secret and hidden from everyone. Some suggest they were used as inspiration only. Perhaps they were merely a holdover from Joseph’s treasure-hunting days. These gold plates are a treasure from the ground, a familiar story to the treasure hunter. The treasure had a spirit guardian as was the custom. Joseph was required to return on a special night each year, following the guardian’s instructions, similar to other folklore and folk magic of the day too. He even used his peep stone to find the gold plates. The story of the Gold Plates seems more like a story that was around to make his whole story all that more grand, glorious, and miraculous. He’s a master storyteller. He embellished every story to make them each fantastic and connected.
From this time forth, Joseph continued to receive instructions from the Lord; and we, to get the children together every evening for the purpose of listening while he imparted the same to the family. I presume we presented an aspect as singular, as any family that ever lived upon the face of the Earth: all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons, and daughters, and giving the most profound attention to a boy,
nineteen<eighteen> years of age, who had never read the Bible through in his life; for he was much less inclined to the perusals of books then any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study…
During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined: he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent; their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, and their buildings, with every particular; he would describe their <mode of> warfare, as also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them.Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith’s Mother
So, we have accounts from those close to Joseph Smith and the translation process that he used his favorite peep stone in his hat to “translate” the Book of Mormon. He did not use Gold Plates in the translation process and they were always either covered or not even present in the room for translation. The Gold Plates, if they authentically existed at all, served no purpose in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, and even before receiving the plates, Joseph could recite Native American stories which, much like the Book of Mormon he later dictated, describe their dress, mode of travel, animals they rode, wars and religious life with ease. “As if he had spent his whole life with them”.
The most likely narrative is: there were no Nephite of Laminate people, or battles, no gold plates, no Urim and Thummim, no translation, no first vision, no angels with flaming swords, no bestowal of the priesthood, Aaronic or Melchizedek. These were all stories from a master storyteller. Stories spun to increase his status and claim of authority from God. Stories to help the storyteller get what he wanted. A way to live without the back-breaking work of farming. A way to be elevated and respected for his gifts. He could even have easily placed notes in his hat to help him recite his story in fantastical terms. He could show witnesses the plates with their spiritual eyes. He could start a church and publish a book of ancient scripture for accreditation and to build hype. He could “go viral” with his new religion and send stalwarts faithful believers to proselytize his credentials and build his pyramid. Seeing it like this really puts the composition into context of a well practiced narrative fiction emerging out of the sermon and schooling practices, folk magic traditions and available materials and ideas of the time.
People bought the story: hook, line, and sinker. They took the bait, followed him, gave him the stage, and gave him honor and respect. Many even gave him their daughters and/or wives! His stories live on today in the many churches of the restoration. The main Mormon church still follows the storyteller’s tales. Slowly they attempt to work through the stories and make sense of them from generation to generation as the narrative shifts to the understanding of the leaders of the day.
Being raised in a culture that reveres the man and learning the whitewashed stories makes it hard to see through the faith-promoting propaganda. I bought the story for over 30 years! I was duped for decades of my adult life! Were you duped too? Share your story! How Mormon were you? What information or experiences overloaded your shelf until it broke and you deconstructed your faith in what the church wants to call a personal crisis of faith? Tell your story and find healing and community.