Michael R. Ash, “Some Mormons may not understand Josephs translation process” mormontimes.com, Nov. 30, 2009

Michael R. Ash

Michael R. Ash

As we continue our discussion about the Book of Mormon translation, some members may be troubled that the process doesn’t match their conceptions of how they thought the process worked. For members who were unaware of the seer stone in the hat, at least two questions or concerns may arise: 1) Is it strange that Joseph used a stone in a hat? 2) Why have we have always been told that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim?

To answer the first question we might also ask: Is it strange that a man could rise from the dead, walk on water, heal the lame, create the heavens, and answer the prayers of billions of people? There are basically two kinds of non-Mormons who reject LDS beliefs: A) those who believe that there is no God (or that if such a being exists he doesn’t interact with humans), and B) those who believe that a supreme being exists and has communicated with mankind.

For those who don’t believe in a God, all supernatural and miraculous events are automatically brushed aside as imaginary, impossible, etc. All spiritual experiences are seen as “strange,” superstitious, and possibly the result of the evolutionary process of the mind. Joseph’s translation process is just as strange as any other supernatural claim. 

For those who believe that God can and has communicated with mankind, it seems hypocritical to summarily dismiss Joseph’s method of translation because it doesn’t fit with pre-conceived views of how God communicates. As with all spiritual claims, the only way to know if they come from God is to ask God for a witness.

For Mormons who think the seer stone in the hat is strange compared to a translation through the Nephite Interpreters, one might ask: Why is a translation through a stone outside of a hat (the Nephite Interpreters) acceptable, while a translation through a stone inside of a hat (the seer stone) is unusual? It should be obvious that if someone finds the one normal and the other odd, that such a perspective is based on nothing more than pre-conceived assumptions.

Number 2: Why have we have always been told that Joseph translated the book with the Urim and Thummim? The answer is simple: The early Saints referred to both the Interpreters and the seer stone as the “Urim and Thummim.” The real problem is not that the seer stone is called the Urim and Thummim, but rather that when most modern members hear the phrase they typically envision the Interpreters. Why is this? The critics claim that most members don’t know about the stone and the hat because the church hides the information. This claim, however, is false.

That Joseph used a seer stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon has been mentioned in several official church publications such as the Improvement Era, the Ensign, and even the Friend by such people as B.H. Roberts, Richard Lloyd Anderson, Neal A. Maxwell and Russell M. Nelson. It stretches the imagination to believe that the church would hide this information if it has been included in official church magazines.

So why are some members unfamiliar with the translation process? The answer is a bit more complex. This topic and the frequent but false claim that the church “hides its history from members” will be discussed in greater depth in a future issue.

Number 3: Why isn’t the seer stone used today? In Joseph’s world, he and many of his contemporaries believed that God could reveal things through a seer stone. Joseph’s mind was already open and prepared for revelation and a translation process through the Urim and Thummin. The Lord utilized Joseph’s worldview to help restore the gospel. If Joseph had been skeptical of seer stones, he may not have been receptive to translating the Book of Mormon.

As Joseph continued to receive more revelations, he discovered that the seer stone was merely an elementary tool for teaching him how to focus his thoughts on the things of God. By the time he was working on the Inspired Version of the New Testament, he no longer needed the seer stone. Joseph apparently told Orson Pratt that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim “when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument,” (Richard L. Anderson, BYU Studies 24:4, 489-560).