Teaching the Stone in the Hat

As I prepared for today’s GD lesson on Mosiah 7-11, it dawned on me that Mosiah 8 might be a good occasion to teach the class the stone-in-the-hat methodology Joseph used in his translation of the BoM. As you’ll recall, King Limhi asks Ammon if he can translate languages, and he replies that he cannot. He then asks if he knows anyone that can, because he possesses the 24 Jaredite gold plates and he wants to learn the reasons for their destruction. Ammon tells him that the King of Zarahemla (IE Mosiah [2]) is a seer who possesses interpreters by which he can interpret languages. After further explanation, in v. 18 Ammon says “Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.”

I suggested that there is a parallel between this expressed manner of translation by “seeing” (for a seer is a see-er, “one who sees”) and the way that Joseph himself translated the BoM.

I wrote the following on the board and asked if anyone knew what it was:

Inserito scidulam quaeso ut faciundam cognoscas rationem

Several knew it was Latin, but no one knew what it was. I then explained that on Facebook this past week a bunch of my friends had posted links to the ATM at the Vatican that uses Latin instructions. The article gives this as an example without a translation, so I took a crack at it myself and came up with “Please insert [your] card so that you may peruse the account to be accessed.” (I also mentioned that the word for “card” is interesting; a scida is a piece of papyrus bark; scidulam is the diminutive form [in the accusative case], and thus means “a little piece of papyrus bark,” which is how they chose to represent the modern ATM banking “card.”) So then I asked how I was able to figure this out, and people correctly stated that I had studied Latin academically in college and had applied that skill set to the problem.

I asked how many knew a language other than English, and about half the hands went up. I suggested that we think of translation as an academic process, because that is how we do it and therefore what we know. Our artists are no different; that one painting that has Joseph translating by carefully tracing his finger over the characters on the plates is the same process one’s daughter follows when translating from Spanish in her high school Spanish class.

But, I suggested, Joseph did not spend 12 years studying Reformed Egyptian at Cambridge University. He did not translate by an academic process, but by the “gift and power of God.”

I then talked about the implements Joseph used in this seeric process; first, the interpreters for the 116 pages, and second the seerstone for the rest of the BoM. I explained that Joseph used the seerstone by placing it in his hat and lowering his face to the brim to exclude light. I suggested that there has been confusion about this because of W.W. Phelps applying the term “urim and thummim” to these implements, which historically have been used without distinction for both the interpreters and the seerstone. I talked briefly about the witness statements, which paint a very consistent picture of how the seerstone was used in practice. (This morning I had reviewed the Dialogue article “Joseph Smith: The Gift of Seeing,” which is the seminal article on this subject, to refresh my recollection on the witness statements, since I had a feeling this might come up in class.)

From there the class moved on to a discussion of seers and prophets, whether they are exactly the same things and, if not, what the distinctions are. And then we moved on with the lesson.

The upshot? No one had any problem whatsoever with the stone in the hat methodology. I had set it up with adequate contextual background. Just as importantly, I taught it absolutely matter-of-factly, not as some great mystery. There is no debate among Mormon scholars on this point, so why not express it as a given rather than making a huge deal out of it?

(I admit to having second thoughts about trying it today, as we had a visitor in class I knew to be extremely conservative. But we had another visitor in class today who is a knowledgeable scholar of the Church, so I felt as though I had enough back up should I need it. But it wasn’t a problem at all.)

I wasn’t originally thinking of going there with this lesson. But I spent much of yesterday watching the UVU Mormonism and the Internet conference sessions, and I was inspired. I had this vision of one of our young people seeing the South Park “All About Mormons” episode, which portrays the stone-in-the-hat methodology, asking his parents about it, and the parents saying “That’s absurd, of course it didn’t happen that way.” And then they look into it and feel blindsided over the issue.

This is why I continue to be a believer that inoculation can work. I’ve done this sort of thing with various ostensibly touchy issues on a number of occasions, and it has always worked out well.

Now, I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Just because I have been able to do inoculation and do it well doesn’t mean that the tens of thousands of GD teachers in the Church would necessarily have similar success. Handled ham-handedly, it has the potential to be a disaster. Sensitively prepared curriculum materials that broached issues like this would be a good start, and I believe they will come eventually, but that is something that is going to take [a long] time.

In the meantime, I will continue to pick my spots and do a little inoculation here, a little there, one class at a time.

Comments

  1. Oh how I wish I had had a teacher do that at some point in 27 years of sunday school, 4 years in seminary and 4 years at BYU. It would have been much easier than reading about it on wikipedia. Cause really, is a hat THAT much weirder than the urim and thummim story?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point, Jenn. Our impulse to want to obfuscate the hat is misplaced, I think.

  3. Brian F. says:

    I really like this approach. I don’t remember when I first heard about the hat, but it probably came at BYU, while reading a Richard Bushman book. It didn’t bother me, I think because I already had a good grounding in the Gospel, Church History, etc.

  4. This is such a good example of how inoculation could be done. Thank you.

  5. Miss Otis Regrets says:

    ” I’ve done this sort of thing with various ostensibly touchy issues on a number of occasions, and it has always worked out well.”

    Which ones?

    I’d love to reconsider several touchy issues I’ve been taught over my lifetime. And wish you could have been my teacher!

  6. The stone in the hat is actually much less weird than the urim and thummim. The only thing that makes you wonder is why? Why use the stone in the hat if Joseph had the interpreters and they were working before?

  7. Mommie Dearest says:

    I don’t remember from what source I first heard about Joseph translating using the stone in the hat, but I do remember hearing Elder Holland refer to it in a conference talk, which both startled and pleased me by it’s boldness. It was about 2005-ish, and when I’ve since looked for it in the conference reports, it’s not there. I’ve always assumed that it was quietly scrubbed from the written record, as sometimes happens with uncorrelated stuff like that. I also recall a great Gospel Doctrine teacher speaking at length about it and the U&T in a church history lesson. According to the teacher, Joseph used the hat/stone method during the time that the interpreters were confiscated by Moroni after the messy business of the lost 116 pages of manuscript, which was like traveling by horse and buggy after having the Maserati keys taken away. If this is not right, I welcome correction.

  8. Great work, Kevin. I have mentioned this in passing to people but never in a Sunday School lesson yet.

  9. cayblood says:

    I don’t know why this is a big deal. Seerstone in hat vs. interpreters is pretty much the same thing. In either case, these magical relics are weird to our modern sensibilities.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 5, some that come readily to mind are the salamander letter, blacks and the priesthood, aspects of polygamy, evolution, limited flood.

  11. Left Field says:

    Given a translation with two stones in a silver bow vs one stone it a hat, it’s always baffled me why one should be considered faith-promoting while the other is supposed to be an embarrassment. I think it’s just because we’ve allowed the critics to spin it that way. The hat is irrelevant in any case–no more pertinent to the process than whatever chair he might have been sitting in, and its purpose no different than a photographer’s focusing cloth. He could have just as well closed the blinds or thrown a jacket over his head.

  12. prbeer says:

    I especially appreciated the context that Joseph did not translate in an academic way as those who actually learn a language might. Excellent observation.

    I would have enjoyed being in your lesson.

  13. Mark Brown says:

    7, Mommie Dearest,

    I think you are misremembering an important detail. It was Elder Nelson, not Elder Holland.

    It has also been addressed in The Friend and The Ensign, over the years.

  14. #11″ Left Field,
    Does not saying the Hat is ‘irrelevant’ also mean the Golden Plates are irrelevant?

  15. I think the hat is slightly weirder because the “Urim and Thummim” at least has some sort of Old Testament context. I once taught some Messianic Jews on my mission and when I started describing the translation process, they both looked astonished, and one of them said, “Joseph Smith had a URIM AND THUMMIM?”

  16. Reblogged this on My Life in Zion and commented:
    I think this is a very insightful look at how we should be teaching doctrine and Church History in an age filled with doubt and unbelief. – Kudos to Kevin Barney over at By Common Consent for this terrific post.

  17. Seldom says:

    The reason the stone in the hat translation is embarassing is its folk magic origin. Joseph Smith was using the same method, and maybe even the same peep stone, to unsuccessfully search for hidden treasure only a few years before. Then the treasure finding stone suddenly becomes a seer stone used for a divine purpose. That’s a big change from translating with a urim and thummin of biblical origin. When the stone in a hat translation is presented in the context of treasure hunting and folk magic, it challenges our present concepts of how a prophet receives revelation.

  18. Left Field says:

    Perhaps the plates *are* irrelevant, but what is it about the fact that he excluded light with a hat instead of with a blanket or a box, that would make you connect the use of a hat with the relevance of the plates?

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    True, Seldom. I could also deal with the folk magic background, but that would take an entire class (at least).

  20. Seldom says:

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating teaching this with the folk magic background. I think your approach was straight forward and enlightening. I just wanted to point out that the class discussion could go an entirely different way with provocative question or two. The rascal in me would want to ask those questions, although my wife’s elbow in my ribs would probably prevent it.

  21. Mommie Dearest says:

    13, That would explain why I couldn’t find it. Thank you, I’ll look for it again.

  22. Ammon’s statements about the interpreters actually make me uncomfortable because to me they read like Joseph Smith inserting a statement about the importance of his ability to translate, which if he’s able to insert, means he isn’t translating at all.

    Here’s a question that this raises in my mind. Did Joseph use the interpreters (do we still have them or where they returned) or the seer stone in the translation of the Book of Abraham at all? It seems to me that the B of A was a more academic model of translation. Why this different method? What is the reason for using one method to translate reformed egyptian and a second method to translate egyptian?

  23. I would be really interested in the reference on the “horse and buggy after the Maserati keys were taken away” – that’s awesome. We didn’t go there with the true history of the translation – I’m hoping the opportunity will present itself again, and I’m sure it will. We spent the time unraveling the historical and geographical confusion in a concept map because that’s where I felt to go with our group. This was an inspired place to use the stone in the hat – I wish I had also discovered that earlier (and I didn’t until I read Bushman’s bio). I agree wholeheartedly that we do people a great disservice when we are afraid we will offend and don’t teach the facts, and that in an environment of preparation minus the creepy overtones people can wrap their minds around new truths more easily. WTG and thanks for sharing.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    John, I don’t believe he used the seerstone in the BoA (and he no longer possessed the interpreters). I think this is a function of his growing ease with the revelatory process. Over time he found that he no longer needed the seerstone at all. So you’ll notice that perhaps a dozen or so of the early revelations in the D&C were received throught the seerstone, but then he decided he didn’t need it any longer and put it away.

  25. Nice work, Kevin!

    Also, “Obfuscate the Hat” would be a good name for a band.

  26. Kevin,

    I agree that Joseph became more comfortable with the revelatory process over time. But still, was the process for translating the B of A more in line with your academic model? Joseph constructed a grammar and had all sorts of notes. That indicates a process that is fundamentally different from the Book of Mormon translation. If the ability of a seer is to translate ancient documents then was Joseph working as a seer in the B of A translation or in some other model?

    I realize this can appear to be some sort of attack, but I really don’t understand where the processes are alike and where they are different.

    Also it seems from the B of M that both Mosiah I and Mosiah II (and possibly Benjamin in the original edition) acted as seers, translating ancient texts. Why is this gift exclusive to Joseph Smith in our dispensation?

  27. Mark Brown says:

    Mommie Dearest,

    See A Treasured Testament, Ensign, July 1993, by Russell M. Nelson.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    Well, “grammar” is a misnomer for the EAG. It was a project of some sort, yes, but it’s not even entirely clear yet what the object of it was. Strides are being made toward figuring it out, but we still don’t even have an editio princeps of the documents.

  29. btw, kudos for teaching about the stone in the hat. I think that is an important discussion to have, and that is a great opportunity to discuss it. I think it is very unfortunate that we’ve adopted the “urim and thummin” terminology for the interpreters as it contributes to the concept that these objects with a biblical name were the primary means of translation. Everybody should be familiar with the seer stone in a hat as that is what happened.

  30. Jonathan says:

    I was able to attend your SS class yesterday, Kevin. An absolutely masterful job of contextualizing and introducing the idea of the seerstone. It’s all in the approach, and you’ve got it down!

    Incidently, I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to substitute teach the 15-18 y.o. SS class in my ward. The lesson was on the structure and translation (my addition) of the Book of Mormon. I had the students take a little quiz to see what they knew about both. I worked in a question on seerstones which led to a good, brief discussion of translation methods. None of the youth batted an eye, and several asked good, clarifying questions. In fact, the quiz question had to do with whether a “seerstone” was used during the translation process and exactly half of the class indicated that, yes, a seerstone was used. Most of them who indicated “yes” probably didn’t really know whether it was a fact or not, but I took it as a sign that at least they weren’t freaked out by the idea.

    I think too often we underestimate church members’ capacity to accept more historically informed narratives.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Jonathan. (Jonathan was the knowledgeable Church scholar I mentioned in the OP whose presence gave me an added comfort level in tackling this.)

    And I totally agree with you about the youth. We are really missing the boat by not teaching them more when they are young; they can handle an awful lot, and usually more easily than the adults can.

  32. Greg D. says:

    What if Joseph had stuck his head up a horses ass in order to translate? What difference would that make to the fundamental reality that the translation process went forward aided by the gift and power of God?

  33. holdenmorrisseycaulfield says:

    “What if Joseph had stuck his head up a horses ass in order to translate? What difference would that make…”

    As a non-believer, I really need to quit reading posts here. In deference to your faith, I resist commenting. Some times are harder than others. Today is really hard.

  34. Howard says:

    Well done Kevin, I love seeing this subject coming out of the closet, it is not something to be ashamed of and as Bonnie said; …we do people a great disservice when we are afraid we will offend and don’t teach the facts! Left Field wrote:…its purpose no different than a photographer’s focusing cloth Yes, exactly! And I agree with Kevin; Over time he found that he no longer needed the seerstone at all..

  35. #32:Greg D.,
    A translation of the BoM by JS is not a “fundamental reality”. It is a question inside and outside of the Church. The Hat story is a challenge to the Golden Plates story. I do not see the Church teaching the Hat story in Primary soon(?)

  36. spiderlady says:

    Kevin Barney #10: wasn’t the White Salamander letter a Mark Hoffman forgery?

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    spiderlady, yes, you are correct. I taught a lesson on it back before it was known to be a forgery. The lesson was basically on folk magic.

  38. #35 – Bob, see Mark Brown’s comment #13. It’s been addressed in the Friend, which is as close to being taught in Primary as it gets – and much more appropriate.

  39. #33 – Would it be any less believable than the talking ass in the Old Testament (or lots of other examples in the Old Testament) – or pretty much any of the miracles recorded in the Gospels? I’m not arguing that the alternative put out there in #32 is as believable as the seerstone in the hat, but for a Christian (if you are one) to say the translation process described is more absurd than what’s accepted commonly throughout Christianity just makes me smile and shake my head.

  40. #38: Ray,
    The Hat: Why is it much more appropriate to have it “addressed in the Friend” and than taught in Primary?

  41. #40 – Why would it be approriate to teach it in Primary?

    There are elements of higher-level Bloom’s Taxonomy invovled that just wouldn’t work for many children, so they often would walk away from such a lesson with serious misconceptions. I just don’t see how it would be done properly as a lesson – although that might not be what you meant.

  42. Again- is the stone in the hat THAT much harder to understand, especially for a child, than the Urim and Thummim story?
    And having been mentioned once in the Friend doesn’t exactly shout to me that the church is trying to give children an appropriate resource to learn the true story.

  43. “Again- is the stone in the hat THAT much harder to understand, especially for a child, than the Urim and Thummim story?”

    For many children, yes, it is. Many children can relate very easily to using “glasses” to see better; it’s much harder to understand turning off the lights to see better.

  44. Well, the stone glowed (apparently), which is why he used the hat to remove other light. The brother of Jared’s stones glowed, too. So does Rudolph’s nose. Kids are pretty good at taking what adults give to them as fact, especially if started from a young age. Probably better to teach it to kids than teenagers- or worse, leave young adults to find it out on their own.
    Honestly, I don’t mind the hat story, though it does confuse me that poor Moroni would go out of his way to put the plates where Joseph would find them, and Joseph didn’t even need them. But more than the hat story, I mind the fact I believed a completely different story for so long. It’s totally just my pride that is hurt, I get that- but I thought I knew our history so much better; unfortunately I knew it only from very correlated, white-washed sources.

  45. Fwiw, I would teach it in Sunday School and Seminary – as part of the normal lessons where it fits naturally.

    In general, I believe in teaching things where they fit natually – not creating reasons to teach isolated things just to teach them as early as possible. We don’t do that very well right now with regard to lots of things, but I don’t want to swing the pendulum to one extreme just to avoid the other extreme.

  46. #45: Ray,
    Come on Ray, The Church didn’t teach the Hat and Stone to ANY members for a 150 Years. This is about BYU students and missionaries not knowing because they were not told the truth in Primary.

  47. Lay off the “come on” approach, Bob. It’s not appreciated with an opinion that isn’t obvious to everyone.

    This is about people not knowing about the seerstone and the hat because they weren’t taught it at the right time – and I don’t think the right time is Primary. There are LOTS of things that haven’t been taught in the past, and Primary isn’t the place to teach many of them, imo.

    **I want them taught**, but are you really saying the Salamander letter should be taught in Primary? The difference between the translation of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses? Polygamy vs.polyandry? the Second Annointing? the Priesthood ban? women laying on hands to heal? the connection between Mormons and Masons? Brigham’s feud with Emma?

    **I’ve never said not to teach them.** I’m just saying to teach them as early as is appropriate – not too early. Primary is too early for lots of things – and we aren’t losing people in Primary to crises of faith.

  48. We could work it into Primary, Ray! It just needs a catchy melody:

    “The Lord commanded Joseph to look inside a hat
    Analytic moderns, they say ‘what’s up with that?’
    All Joseph’s neighbors thought prophets shouldn’t scry
    Joseph didn’t heed them, this was his reply…”

  49. 10 points for Syphax, that was fantastic. Now that will be stuck in my head all night:)

  50. I’m with you, Ray. Teenage Sunday School and Seminary offer ample classroom time to start discussing our doctrine and history as adults.

  51. Nevermind…Syphax won me over (please add some gestures to really drive it home)

  52. #48 is amazing. Thanks for the laugh!

  53. #47: Ray,

  54. #47: Ray,
    I am sorry for the “Come on”__too personal between us.
    (Kevin): “Just because I have been able to do inoculation and do it well doesn’t mean that the tens of thousands of GD teachers in the Church would necessarily have similar success. Handled ham-handedly, it has the potential to be a disaster. Sensitively prepared curriculum materials that broached issues like this would be a good start, and I believe they will come eventually, but that is something that is going to take [a long] time”.
    “Inoculation”, (I hate the term, as if truth is an illness you need to take a shot for), Primary kids are ready and in need of the truer “stone in the hat” story to be taught them now, than untrue things that will cause them pain in their futures.

  55. Kristine says:

    Primary kids can totally handle the truth. There’s no need to deliberately bring up complicated issues, but “this is how the process of translation worked” is pretty fundamental. I can’t remember when I didn’t know about the seerstone & the hat–I even remember the hat my dad used to illustrate the story in FHE. I knew the basic history of polygamy by the time I was 12. As a result, I’ve never suffered from the feeling of betrayal that many people feel when they belatedly discover the full story. It’s important to be helping kids do things that build their own faith, give them the building blocks of their own testimonies, but I don’t think there’s ever any reason to obfuscate or withhold the truest version of the history we know, even with quite young children. (For Pete’s sake, we expect them to believe in virgin birth and resurrection in Primary–how much harder could it possibly be to grok a mystical translation process??)

  56. Kristine says:

    And, Ray, why in the world would we NOT teach about women performing healings? Little girls in Primary are desperately trying to figure out how they fit in a church where their brothers will grow up to pass the sacrament and they won’t. They need that history!

  57. Ray, we are losing people in primary to crises of faith. children are children, not idiots. and some of them are born 45 year old cynics.

  58. I didn’t think I was being immoderate, but it seems my comment was placed in moderation.

  59. Kristine says:

    John, I don’t see it in the queue.

  60. “The Church didn’t teach the Hat and Stone to ANY members for a 150 Years.”
    Hyperbole and poppycock.

    A quick and shallow perusal of my hard drive shows that it was in David Whitmer’s Address to all Believers in Christ (showing it was not exactly unknown in the earliest days of the Church), Roberts’ Comprehensive History of the Church (1930), The Friend in 1974 (!)….
    Critics won’t be satisfied until missionaries use a door approach involving seerstones, polygamy, and the September Six.

  61. Kevin Barney’s lesson is a great example of putting things in context, what some like to call “inoculation.” A few weeks back my 10-year-old chose Joseph Smith for a school biography project.(The previous year, he did Captain Cook, which was very cool.) So, we handed him Bushman’s Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism. He didn’t say anything to us about the translation process—he keeps a lot of thoughts to himself—but he did bring up finding seer stones while digging wells. He also asked what Masonry is, since the text assumed the reader had heard of it, and it happened there was an announcement at this website that a talk on early Mormon Masonry would be given that week just five miles from our home. From that he learned that Masonry is something a scholar can talk about for much longer than interests a boy.

    A few years earlier I handed my then 11-year-old The Wild Colorado: The True Adventures of Fred Dellenbaugh, Age 17, on the Second Powell Expedition into the Grand Canyon, among which is an encounter with John D. Lee. My son found the encounters with earlier Mormons intriguing, particularly that they would have been suspected of a massacre, and then to learn that it was so. Some may wonder how to bring up difficult matters such as this. As with Kevin Barney’s lesson: In context. Focusing tightly on a 160-year-old horror or Joseph Smith looking in a hat is just voyeurism or sensationalism if we don’t know or care about anything else around those things. (“Son, Meet John D. Lee.”)

  62. #60: Ben S.,
    “Critics won’t think be satisfied until missionaries use a door approach involving seerstones, polygamy, and the September Six”.
    That too is “Hyperbole and poppycock”.
    Thanks for the 3 quotes. Given time, I could give you quotes from millions of Mormons who never heard the Church talk about the Hat and Stone.

  63. Maybe my missing comment was too long, I’ll try it in two pieces.

    Kevin Barney’s lesson is a great example of putting things in context, what some like to call “inoculation.” A few weeks back my 10-year-old chose Joseph Smith for a school biography project.(The previous year, he did Captain Cook, which was very cool.) So, we handed him Bushman’s Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism. He didn’t say anything to us about the translation process—he keeps a lot of thoughts to himself—but he did bring up finding seer stones while digging wells. He also asked what Masonry is, since the text assumed the reader had heard of it, and it happened there was an announcement at this website that a talk on early Mormon Masonry would be given that week just five miles from our home. From that he learned that Masonry is something a scholar can talk about for much longer than interests a boy.

  64. “Haven’t heard of” is qualitatively different than “Church not teaching.” Let’s not move the goalposts.

  65. A few years earlier I handed my then 11-year-old The Wild Colorado: The True Adventures of Fred Dellenbaugh, Age 17, on the Second Powell Expedition into the Grand Canyon, among which is an encounter with John D. Lee. My son found the encounters with earlier Mormons intriguing, particularly that they would have been suspected of a massacre, and then to learn that it was so. Some may wonder how to bring up difficult matters such as this. As with Kevin Barney’s lesson: In context. Focusing tightly on a 160-year-old horror or Joseph Smith looking in a hat is just voyeurism or sensationalism if we don’t know or care about anything else around those things. ( “Son, Meet John D. Lee.”)

  66. Why is the site rejecting my comments with URL links?

  67. Kristine says:

    Because it always does. Prevents comment spam. I think it allows one link per comment before it tosses it into the mod queue.

  68. This story was told in the Church newspaper, Millennial Star in 1882.
    “Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.”

  69. Well, it’s not allowing me one, and you said it didn’t toss to the mod queue.

  70. ““Haven’t heard of” is qualitatively different than “Church not teaching.” Let’s not move the goalposts.”

    Just as “mentioning it once every few decades” is very different from “teaching the true story”. Again, if I can make it to the age of 27, having been a very active and reasonably intelligent/curious member my whole life- I read the church magazines every month (perhaps not thoroughly enough, apparently), yet I found out about the seer stones in the translation process on wikipedia…
    I do think I may have heard of a seer stone once or twice, but never in connection to the golden plates, and certainly not as a replacement for the urim and thummim. I can’t tell you how infuriating it is when I tell my mom (who has been a member for 25 years) that the golden plates weren’t even in the room much of the time he translated because he was looking in a hat, and she says “that can’t be true- I’ve never heard that, I don’t believe it for a second. what are your sources?” Yet I tell my brother and he says “oh of course, I’ve known about that for years, it’s never been an issue for me”. If the church is so big on correlation and us all learning the same things, how do we account for the huge shock for some of us who don’t learn about it until we go to outside sources?

  71. Stephanie says:

    Kristine (55 and 56 ), amen! I’m left wondering, though, just how specific your Primary gets about virgin birth….
    John (64), thanks for the title. I’ll make my kids read it on our upcoming road trip through the SW.

  72. Kristine says:

    Sorry, John. I don’t know what’s going on.

  73. Jenn- Here are some more recent references from the Church magazines about Joseph’s seerstone. Some are more explicit than others. Elder Nelson, for example, has a whole story about it, whereas Elder Maxwell just talks about it being part of the translation.

    Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, (Jan.1997): 39

    “Highlights in the Prophet’s Life,” Ensign, (June 1994): 24

    Elder Russell M. Nelson, “A Treasured Testament,” Ensign, (July 1993): 62. (This was adapted from an address to new mission presidents.)

    Richard L. Anderson, “The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction,” Ensign, (Aug. 1987): 58-­‐70.

    Richard L. Anderson. “By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, (Sept. 1977): 80-­81.

  74. Non-Church magazine references (again, not a comprehensive list)-
    “Seer Stone” in A Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003): 712.

    “Joseph Smith-­‐ The Prophet,” “Book of Mormon Translation By Joseph Smith,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992).

    All of BYU Studies 24:4 (Fall 1984), but particularly Ronald Walker, “Joseph
    Smith: The Palmyra Seer.”
    • Richard L. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005): 48-­‐52,
    120, 131.
    • Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, (New York: Oxford University Press,
    2002): 16-­‐34.

    I don’t have an answer to your question, and clearly different people learn at different times. But as to the gist of Bob’s contention, while there’s not an Ensign cover-story on the topic, it certainly has also not been suppressed, and has been mentioned multiple times here and there. I recall Elder Holland dropping it once in a BYU devotional. Is it assumed to be common knowledge? Was it once (as it appears to me in the early days of the church) common knowledge?

    I taught a RM section of Book of Mormon at BYU back in 2004 or so. The first day, we spent some time talking about the coming forth, translation, publication, etc. I mentioned Joseph’s seerstone and got some funny looks, so I elaborated. After a minute or two, a hand was raised. His comment and manner of delivery clearly implied that I was making things up, because he was a Utah-born 5th-generation RM and *he’d* never heard of this, so clearly, it wasn’t true.

    I asked for a show of hands of those who’d heard of Joseph’s seerstone. 2-3 tentative hands out of a class of 20+.

    “How many of you read back issues of the Ensign on your mission? It’s been in there, as recently as 1997 by Elder Maxwell.” None.
    “How many of you have read any biographies of Joseph Smith?” None
    “History of the Church?” None
    “By the Hand of Mormon?” None
    “Browsed the Encyclopedia of Mormonism? It’s mentioned in there.” No hands.

    I was, frankly, surprised and dismayed at both the lack of intellectual curiosity and the naive arrogance that somehow simply attending church for 21 years and being a missionary meant you’d learned all there was to know and seen all there was to see, and if you didn’t know it, it couldn’t be true. BCC is not typically filled with fresh-face 21-yr-old RMs. Not saying we can’t do a better job teaching some of this stuff (as I try to do, as Kevin does, etc.), but it’s also not accurate to claim the Church hid it for 150 years.

  75. If that goes hand in hand with the recent list from FAIR, my husband actually look most of those up, and most them mentioned seerstones in passing but did not go into detail and certainly did not mention “by the way, the golden plates weren’t even used for much of the process”.
    And again, even if they did go into detail, mentioning it every few years is very different from teaching it.

  76. Let’s see-
    “How many of you read back issues of the Ensign on your mission? It’s been in there, as recently as 1997 by Elder Maxwell.” None.
    In 1997, I was in 7th grade.

    “How many of you have read any biographies of Joseph Smith?” None
    Oh, like Rough Stone Rolling? The book that launched me into my current disaffection because it’s the first time I’ve heard of Joseph Smith as anything other than a nearly-christlike figure?

    “History of the Church?” None
    I would LOVE to get my hands on this. Too bad the church makes it so difficult.

    “By the Hand of Mormon?” None
    Never heard of it.

    “Browsed the Encyclopedia of Mormonism? It’s mentioned in there.” No hands.

    Never thought to buy it because I figured I knew mormonism pretty well- afterall, I’ve always been a sunday school/seminary rock star.

    Frankly, if I have all the church lesson manuals, preach my gospel, and readily read articles found on lds.org, I shouldn’t have to become a stockholder in deseretbook to get the full true story of the history of the church. If I don’t know to LOOK for the true story on seer stones, how am I to know where to find it?

  77. Can you clarify what you mean by “teaching it”? Or “the true story”? You want in-depth historical detail in a Church magazine where the average article is 2 pages long and has pictures?

    How does the Church make it difficult to access the “History of the Church”?
    This was a BYU class, so I sent them all over the library. The bookstore was having a fabulous sale, and I sent them to pick up copies of By The Hand of Mormon for $5 in paperback.

  78. BCC’s own W.V. Smith has an annotated electronic edition of the HC here.
    http://www.boap.org/LDS/History/HTMLHistory/

  79. There’s a story supposedly told by J. Golden Kimball that seems relevant: “In case any of you are concerned over some of the ideas your children may have picked up at this university, just remember that many of the students did not listen to their professors. Of those who listened, most did not understand. Of those who listened and understood, most promptly forgot. Of those who listened and understood and did not forget, most did not agree. Of those who listened, who understood, did not forget, and did agree, most will later change their minds. So I want to assure you that if any professors tried to pass on radical philosophies to their students, they did not succeed. I feel confident that everything will turn out well.”

    I don’t remember how or when or where I first heard most of the ideas that trip people up about Church history. They didn’t come from any class at BYU. My parents did have some church history books on the shelves as I was growing up, but they were never big deals, never topics of conversation beyond occasionally reading up prior to our family visits to Church history sites when we lived in Jackson County, Missouri. We had the Church magazines, but none of the scholarly journals, in our home. I went to home study seminary, which maybe required me to read more than other forms of seminary, but we only met and discussed things as a class once a week so there wouldn’t have been time for learning much there. And yet I entered young adulthood knowing all these things that people complain now of not knowing

    I suspect that J. Golden isn’t too far off, that everybody around me was exposed to exactly the same materials and information and discussion — but it interested me, I listened, maybe I understood it better, I remembered it, and I haven’t changed my mind. Others with the same exposure didn’t listen, weren’t especially interested, and have forgotten. Maybe. That’s the only explanation I have.

    But I do know and can state unequivocally that nobody — individually, or as a Church — has ever tried to prevent me in the slightest from reading and discovering and discussing and learning and writing and teaching about our history.

  80. Jenn, I’m sympathetic to the whirlwind you have described. It can be very jarring for people to make a transition from a strictly devotional approach to our heritage, to a more scholarly approach to our history. And while I’m happy to say that we can and must do better as a people (especially those charged with the mandate) in teaching our history, I also think that there is an important responsibility on us as individuals. I don’t know the details of your situation or where you will end up, but as I recently heard Church Historian Elder Jensen recently say: the danger is in studying our history too little. There is a deep and rich body of literature on Mormonism and many people contribute to it that are very happy believers.

    Regarding the History of the Church, it is a problematic volume, but widely available in the various digital collections (including google books, and Deseret’s offerings). I think that we can also look forward to some more accessible and better history materials from the church soon.

  81. Kristine says:

    The Encyclopedia of Mormonism is also online: http://eom.byu.edu/

    It would help if Sunday School manuals included bibliographies for further reading, but I’m also impatient with the idea that this stuff is hard to find.

  82. Ben S.

    If you have a room full of RMs that are life long members that don’t know the mechanism of translation of the Book of Mormon the I have to say that the fault lies with the ciriculum in church, seminary, and institute rather than the arrogance of your students.

    It would be interesting to know what they thought was the mechanism of translation and where they were taught it.

  83. Ray,

    What do you suggest we teach the Primary about the translation of the Book of Mormon? Nothing?

  84. “as I recently heard Church Historian Elder Jensen recently say: the danger is in studying our history too little. ”
    Whereas my Bishop says I need to stop digging so deeply. Actually, I lost my ability to attend the temple because I’ve done too deeply and “allowed satan to carry me away”- and this, from reading nothing more controversial than wikipedia and the FAIR website responses to those wikipedia articles. But then, my bishop said he hates Rough Stone Rolling because brother Bushman has a bad, irreverent attitude.

    I thought I did take a scholarly approach growing up- scholarly in an apologetic way. I even did a report in 8th grade on evidence for hebrew roots for modern-day native americans. My belief in the church was always logical and not at all faith-based, which is why I’ve run into my current dilemma. I believed in the church because the evidence I had available to me (correlated, sunday-school type stuff, since I was under the impression that that was all I needed) pointed to it being true. Now I have new evidence, I have to reexamine it all. Without the faith side of it, I’m in big trouble.
    In the past, I’ve literally thrown books away if it made me doubt the church story I had always known, because that’s what I was told to do: don’t read things that shake your testimony. And I’ll admit I never sought out the deseret-book type history books because I figured it would be more of the same. Frankly, I’m bored to tears with the sunday school stories but didn’t realize they weren’t really all that inclusive- I thought it was the whole story and any further reading would just support what I was hearing on sundays.

    If I hear one more implication that it’s because I wasn’t paying attention…. I just don’t know how to express how much I have been an active, seeking member of the church, I was just seeking in the wrong places apparently.

    I’ll admit I skipped the BYU class on the D&C and opted instead for World Religions (awesome class!) The lesson I was taught, from primary on up: Joseph Smith used the urim and thummim to translate the golden plates. He had the plates in front of him and dictated to a scribe. I’ve heard this story a billion times and had it be backed up by all church media I’ve come across. He may have had a seer stone but it doesn’t play into the story much.
    That is what I mean by “teach the truth”. That story is not the truth- at least, not the whole truth. I’d go so far as to say it is a lie of omission. Like I said earlier, the method of translation matters very little to my actual testimony of the gospel. But feeling lied to, that matters a lot.

  85. #83- “If you have a room full of RMs that are life long members that don’t know the mechanism of translation of the Book of Mormon the I have to say that the fault lies with the ciriculum in church, seminary, and institute rather than the arrogance of your students.”
    THIS! Exactly. I hate the assumption that it is the fault of those who don’t know, rather than the teachers.

    #82 “I’m also impatient with the idea that this stuff is hard to find.”
    It isn’t hard to find, if you know to look for it. I didn’t know- why would I assume the story I’d been told was less than accurate? Why would I assume 27 years of sunday school (including 3 stints as a teacher), 4 years of seminary, 4 years of BYU, and 2 years of institute would be insufficient? Or apparently I’m at fault for not paying attention enough, despite answering the majority of the questions in those classes (good heavens I hate awkward silences in sunday school).

  86. Jenn, if there is no other relevant info, your bishop is catastrophically wrong. And I am sorry. It is just plain stupid.

    The stuff about the Urim and Thummim is a bit tricky, as Mormons started referring to all the various translational media that way very early. They just had the context that we don’t.

    I also think that we need to draw a distinction between ancient studies and history.

    You have the right to feel the way you do, but I encourage you to engage the scholarship. I also encourage you, if it is something that is meaningful to you to not forget the faith aspect of Mormonism. Faith is often about relationships and choice.

  87. Ben, I appreciate your patient approach to the concerns about church cirriculum (read: SS & Seminary), which is where most of us cut our teeth on the stories around the restoration.

    I joined the church at age 8 as a convert with my parents. By the time I got to BYU, I had heard of seer stones, though I can’t say where. It might have been from a particularly progressive youth SS teacher I had during my last years at home, and it might have been in the institute class taught by our mission president (Kenneth Godfrey) just before I left for BYU. It probably wasn’t from my parents, who were learning right along with me in those early years.

    I find myself thinking now about the conversations we’ve had at home about these things. I probably could do more to discuss these kinds of things with my kids than I do.

    #83: I served my mission a long time ago, but I think I taught that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. Today’s Preach My Gospel simply states that he translated by the power of God. That would include Urim & Thumim, seerstones and direct revelation, I think.

  88. On the mish I was asked to sub a primary class and had the kids role play with one as scribe writing and another with face in a tophat to see the spiritual light shining from the seer stone (a glowing PDA with a Book of Mormon app open) to re-enact Book of Mormon translation and they loved it–how’s that for inoculation!

  89. Thanks, J Stapley (#87). It gives me a lot of hope that so many deep thinking, scholarly mormons can maintain their faith. I may yet get there, we’ll see.
    And no, the Bishop wasn’t dismayed only at how deeply I’d dug, it was that I was willing to admit I had doubts about Joseph Smith (not just because of the seer stone- that’s the least of my worries. Polyandry/lying to emma, being a king of the earth, and the differing first vision accounts are much higher on my list). And once that sure testimony of Joseph Smith came down, the rest came tumbling down too (see seekinggood.com for that whole story). Sin-wise I’m still a-ok (k, I’ll admit I’ve very recently taken to wearing shorts again, but otherwise I’m a good girl), but apparently doubts are enough to make it so the bishop told me not to see my adopted niece be sealed to my sister in law last month (the bishop didn’t actually take my recommend away though- after much praying, I went anyways, despite the bishop telling me not to, and I’m glad I did, it was a wonderful spiritual experience that helped me sort out a lot of my issues- and don’t worry, this was before I ditched the Gs).
    Sorry, how’s that for a thread-jack?

  90. Er, seekinggoodNESS.com. Sorry, I typoed my own shameless plug.

  91. >> If I hear one more implication that it’s because I wasn’t paying attention….

    Jenn, that one’s my fault, sorry; it is, though, just one of several of J. Golden’s humorous hypotheticals. I simply don’t know how to account for the difference between someone like me who absorbed all that without apparent effort, and someone like you who hunted for it but didn’t find it.

    On the flip side, along with the many other things I don’t recall being explicitly taught was the idea that Joseph sat with the plates on the table before him, read through his U&T “spectacles,” and dictated the translation to a scribe. I may have been taught that; I don’t remember being so. I wonder — and this is just a speculation for discussion, not an accusation — whether you have been unduly influenced by artists’ conceptions (well-meaning but hardly definitive) in commonly seen illustrations? Because if you were explicitly taught that, in so many words, teachers were taking license to teach something they assumed but did not know, since that’s not how Joseph and his contemporaries described it (at least not exclusively or consistently). I’m the very last one in the world to want to say anything positive about DCPeterson, but maybe he’s on to something here: http://dcpsicetnon.blogspot.com/2012/05/simple-explanation-works-best-for.html .

    Again, that’s not any kind of an accusation. I am truly puzzled by how some of us run across the history and some of us don’t, largely because I can’t remember how *I* ran across it. As with my first comment, this one is laced through and through with “maybe,” and is meant to be completely free of judgment or accusation of any kind.

  92. I was taught in primary in Dallas TX that Joseph Smith used a seer stone (different from the Urim and Thummin device found in the box with the Golden Plates) as part of the translation of the Book of Mormon. I don’t think that there was any discussion about putting it in a hat or that for at least some of the time while the seer stone was being used the Golden Plates weren’t directly to hand. But it was no biggie when I first learned of that (whenever that was — probably in Elder Nelson’s 1997 Ensign article) because I already knew about Joseph’s use of the seer stone in the translation process. The hat was just tertiary detail, as Left Field observes above.

    A generation later, I was pleasantly surprised years ago when my oldest daughter came home from primary one Sunday with a little pente stone that she had gotten as a take-home from their lesson on the translation of the Book of Mormon and that it represented Joseph’s seer stone. That was in an East Bench SLC ward. So there still are some primary teachers who know about it, don’t think it’s embarassing or forbidden or uncorrelated and are still teaching it.

  93. Wow. Tough Bishop. If he seriously has problems with FAIR, tell him to contact Church PR. Church news covers the FAIR conference every year, which would be unusual if they were some kind of apostate group.

    Jenn and John, I’m sympathetic to issues with Church curriculum and teaching. Those who have history with me online (been on the blogs in one form or another since 2003) or IRL know my views, my past posts on the topic, and my own teaching history. So I’m on board with some reform, but I also agree with Stapley that we have some individual responsibility to seek out and deepen our knowledge. There’s been some General Authority discussion of both the quality of our teaching and our responsibility to study.

    “I fear that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or meeting, and they then return home having been largely uninformed [Elder Holland uses the word uninspired and talks about theological Twinkies]. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time when they may be entering a period of stress, temptation, or crisis. We all need to be touched and nurtured by the Spirit, and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen. We often do vigorous enlistment work to get members to come to church but then do not adequately watch over what they receive when they do come.” ~ Spencer W. Kimball, “Ministering to the Needs of Members,” Ensign, Nov 1980, 45.

    “No one knows anything about Christ’s work simply by being born a member of the Church, and often he knows little about it after years of unmotivated exposure in meetings or classes. He must learn. And learning involves self-investment and effort. The gospel should be studied ‘as carefully as any science.’ The ‘literature of the Church’ must be ‘acquired and read.’ Our learning should be increased in our spare time ‘day by day.’ Then as we put the gospel truth to work in daily life, we will never find it wanting. We will be literate in the most important field of knowledge in the universe, knowledge for lack of which men and nations perish, in the light of which men and nations may be saved”- Elder Marion D. Hanks, “Theological Illiterates”, Improvement Era (September 1968): 42 (Single quotes apparently in the original.)

    I’ve also had my own experiences feeling snowballed, but all shortly after my mission. I quickly came to lower (appropriately, I think) my expectations and conceive of Church teaching as something like the following. Church publications/teachings are like required General Education credits. You get the necessary introductory basics, a bit of everything (history, doctrine, scripture, practice, church government, warm fuzzies, international studies, etc.) and then most people major in Life/Applications. Unless you are one of the few weirdos who decides to major in Scripture (with subspecialties in Bible or Old Testament or something), or Church History (and then subspecialize in the Nauvoo period, or the Church in England from 1850-900, etc.) or take a directed class or two just for fun, you’re unlikely to get the full grasp of the topic or any subset.

    Most people don’t like history or complexity, and most people don’t understand that history is complicated. It’s rarely as simple as “the true story” or “accurate vs. inaccurate”; what about sources and their reliability and bias, primary and secondary? The sig in my email (from Bible and Lit scholar Robert Alter) reads, “History is far more intimately related to fiction than we have been accustomed to assume.” History is always about hanging a narrative on various selective datapoints, and trying to impose a possible order on chaotic and contradictory bits and pieces. Or, on the lay level, it’s about repeating whatever you’ve heard. If none of your teachers know anything, you won’t either.

    The Church has such a narrow and simplified focus now, that I do not rely on or expect their publications to contain anything approaching a completeness of information. I look elsewhere, and there’s lots of that for free, online. Blogs, journals (BYU Studies, Dialogue, FARMS, Sunstone), groups (MSH, FAIR, MHA), local libraries often have Mormon books from non-LDS publishers and those have been excellent recently (lots from Oxford Press, for example, such as By The Hand of Mormon).

    “My belief in the church was always logical and not at all faith-based, which is why I’ve run into my current dilemma.” It’s interesting that you recognize that; it took me a long time to figure that out about myself. One of the things I read often as a warning or counter-balance is Brigham Young’s statement, “Many receive the Gospel because they know it is true; they are convinced in their judgment that it is true; strong argument overpowers them, and they are rationally compelled to admit the Gospel to be true upon fair reasoning. They yield to it, and obey its first principles, but never seek to be enlightened by the power of the Holy Ghost; such ones frequently step out of the way.”- Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 85. I lean heavily on the academic and struggle with the faith, but since it’s something I’m aware of, it’s something I’m working on.

  94. Oh, I most definitely was influenced by artist’s depictions- that’s part of the story, right? And while I agree with Dan Peterson (*shudder at the thought*) that we can’t take an artist’s rendition as fact, it is slightly different in the church since artists are frequently employed directly by the church and go through many rounds of feedback (just ask Del Parson about his painting of Jesus in the red robe). But still, there is a huge difference between painting an anachronism or using familiar elements to tell a story, and completely leaving out something that CHANGES the story. And I do think it fundamentally changes the story- the entire restoration story, to know that the golden plates weren’t even needed. I can apologetically come up with reasons they were needed (they started the process, they gave joseph credibility, the 3/8 witnesses, and so forth) and maybe those things should be taught alongside the full story at some point in the church education system’s recommended path, but that kind of change in the story is significant to me.

  95. Also, I’d just echo what Ardis said. “I simply don’t know how to account for the difference between someone like me who absorbed all that without apparent effort, and someone like you who hunted for it but didn’t find it. [It's] not any kind of an accusation… and is meant to be completely free of judgment or accusation of any kind.”

  96. Thanks for the response, Ben.
    This line is hard for me: “They yield to it, and obey its first principles, but never seek to be enlightened by the power of the Holy Ghost; such ones frequently step out of the way.”
    My testimony was logic-based because that, I have control over. I can learn, I can research. I cannot, however, force a spiritual witness, and believe me I’ve tried.
    I agree that maybe many of the members don’t want to dive deeply or look at complex issues, but SO MANY do. For instance, the entire readership of BCC:). We’re a pretty smart, well-educated group. We can handle it.
    And it’s hard, because it feels like “spiritual twinkies” seems to be the direction the church is taking, at least as far as correlated materials go: for instance, the fact that last year’s RS/Priesthood manual was the same manual my husband and I used to teach Gospel Basics to investigators. I’ll admit I frequently wonder where the sunday school class is for those who want to dive deeply?
    And I feel like the church does discourage digging deeply unless it is within their control: you can dig deeply, but only if it’s written by a GA or has been edited by a GA. Dialogue and Sunstone are hardly church-endorsed, and I once got in trouble in college for arranging a private scripture/gospel study/devotional group because there is no room for that within our church. This is why I felt, growing up, that the correlated materials were all I needed- uncorrelated personal study is not encouraged.

  97. Ben S,

    I was a eager student of the gospel and church history as a youth. I know about these topics now because of my own study. In many cases my own study has contradicted what I learned as a child. This is a disheartening experience. I feel like we’re improving in some ways and getting worse in others. For example, recent depictions of John the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver are less accurate than the former depictions were. Now we show John with both hands on Joseph’s head and Oliver passively off to one side. Why they change? Why portray something that is actively false?

    Again, what should we teach the Primary about the translation process? Where in the curriculum is the seer stone in a hat introduced? I agree that people should study on their own, but when they do so they should find a more complex story, not a story that contradicts what they were taught earlier.

  98. My experience as a youth was very similar to the one Ardis described, and thinking it over the past couple hours, I’ve thought about how the intermediate past becomes one link more distant even over the span of 30 years. In 1980, B.H. Roberts’ Comprehensive History of the Church had been published by the Church only 50 years earlier and it had more currency then, much like Talmage’s books, than any 1960 Church publication does today.

  99. I can sympathize with Jenn, clearly something was lacking and it’s possible to understand why.

    Now you can shake your heads and wonder how is this possible when so much is written, but the student needs to have context first. And as she has explained, Jenn lacked it. There are some references in various materials as listed by many already but you would have to go looking for them. My wife is like Jenn, an intelligent woman, but she doesn’t go looking for additional reading materials about Church history. So she is often surprised as I bring up topics like this that seem totally straightforward to me because I have delved deeply.

    Here is what I found in my quick perusal of the existing correlated manuals:

    In the Primary 5 manual (Doctrine & Covenants and Church History, Chapter 6 discusses Joseph’s initial effort at translating:

    Once Joseph and Emma Smith were settled in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Joseph began to translate the gold plates. At first Joseph spent a lot of time becoming familiar with the plates and the language in which they were written. As he studied and prayed, the Urim and Thummim helped him understand the characters on the plates. Joseph learned that the process of translation requires faith, hard work, worthiness, patience, and obedience.

    Chapter 7 discusses Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery translating the Book of Mormon and the following quote from Joseph Smith History is included (this is as detailed as it gets on how Joseph translated):

    Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’

    There is actually no mention in the Teachings of the Presidents manual (for older Primary age) of the actual method Joseph used to translate. Nor is there any mention of it in the book “Our Heritage” which is the reference manual used for the Doctrine & Covenants year in Adult Sunday School. And throughout the adult Gospel Doctrine lesson on the Book of Mormon translation there are several references to translating books and material into other languages which would give a reasonable metaphor that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate while reading the plates.

    In the Seminary teachers resource manual for the Doctrine & Covenants there is no mention of how the Book of Mormon was translated. But in the referenced institute manual, Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341-43, the following information is shared:

    Process of Translation

    Little is known about the actual process of translating the record, primarily because those who knew the most about the translation, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, said the least about it. Moreover, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Emma Smith, who assisted Joseph, left no contemporary descriptions. The sketchy accounts they recorded much later in life were often contradictory.

    The Prophet was reluctant to give the details about the translation. In a Church conference held 25–26 October 1831 in Orange, Ohio, Hyrum requested that a firsthand account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon be given. But the Prophet said, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.” 16 Joseph explained in an open letter to a newspaper editor in 1833 the heart of the matter, but he gave few particulars, stating that the Book of Mormon was “found through the ministration of an holy angel, and translated into our own language by the gift and power of God.” 17 His explanation is consistent with the Doctrine and Covenants, which says that he was granted “power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon” ( D&C 1:29 ) and that the Lord “gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon” ( D&C 20:8 ).

    That is about as specific as it gets in the correlated materials for how Joseph translated the Book of Mormon. If you stick to the manuals then it would be entirely plausible to think Joseph exclusively used the Urim and Thummim to translate the plates into the pages of the Book of Mormon.

    Now I grew up in a home with a readerly father who collected an impressive library of books about Church history and doctrine so well before the internet I was perusing The History of the Church – it was only after I left home and started looking for my own collection that I came to realize most members do not have these volumes on their shelves. Mom and Dad were also very good friends with Richard and Claudia Bushman and we happen to be closely related to Richard Turley so it seemed destined that discussing history and doctrine around the dinner table was a foregone conclusion. And my wife despairs often that this is exactly what continues when the family gathers together. But what is normal for me is evidently, from what Jenn expresses, not normal in many LDS households.

    With the advent of the internet so much more is available for good and for bad. But if teachers stick to the correlated materials many “controversial” topics which aren’t controversial at all will get missed and never really developed in the minds of students at Church. Which means it is on each of us as parents to encourage our children to drink deeply and learn at an early age to really understand their history and doctrine. Because the Church manuals will not make that happen.

  100. “I had this vision of one of our young people seeing the South Park “All About Mormons” episode, which portrays the stone-in-the-hat methodology, asking his parents about it, and the parents saying “That’s absurd, of course it didn’t happen that way.” And then they look into it and feel blindsided over the issue”. (Kevin Barney ).
    So which is true? The Mormon Church speaks openly and daily about the Hat & Stone, or hates the story? Would it gladly tell the Golden Plates story a million times than to have to tell the Hat & Stone story once?
    Was the Church welcoming of Fawn Brodie for her open writing on these things, or not.

  101. With that said some will say what about the articles in the Ensign that discuss the use of a seer stone. Well, if you were younger than 16-18 years old in 1997 (the last time it was directly referenced – by Elder Maxwell) then you probably aren’t aware of it either. How many youth read the Ensign regularly? So there may be a generational divide as well which would explain why Jenn, who is now 27, never encountered the reference.

  102. I was born and raised in the church and my understanding was the urim & thummim were placed OVER the gold plates and that’s how he interpreted. The drape separating JS from his scribe was another image. I thought it was because no one else could see the plates. No one spoke of top hats, etc. Hearing the gold plates didn’t need to be in the same room is news to me.

    Kevin, so here’s a semi-inoculation story I’m hoping you can help us address. Our RS presidency teaches a chapter out of DIMK every 1st Sunday. I was supposed to teach Lesson #4 where they slip in polygamy completely out of the blue IMO. I tried my best and saw the wide-eyed look of our newest convert as I was teaching this and could tell this was the first time she was hearing it and was blown away. She called me later and she was. I came home and told my husband I never wanted that to happen to one of my daughters. Just then, he called to our 13 yr old daughter who happened to be walking by and said, “Hey do you know how in the Bible, Abraham, David & Solomon had multiple wives”? She answered affirmatively and then he said, “Well in the early history of the church, many of the leaders took multiple wives too.” She shrugged and said, “Okay” and walked away. He then turned and smugly said, “And that’s how inoculation works.”

    So what happens when/if my daughter then hears some of the girls were young, some were married to other men, etc. I agree it was a good “first step” but not sure how/when to give her the full story. Do we just wait for things to naturally happen? Hopefully when she hears about polygamy she’ll remember that we mentioned something, even in passing.

    By the way, my first experience with learning about JS with multiple wives was Susan Easton Black’s Church History class. No one else seemed bothered by it but I was blown away! Knew about BY but not JS. I went up and asked numerous follow-up questions. She answered each one but lowered her voice consciously. It seemed like such a secret. Of course this was 25 years ago so hopefully things have changed.

  103. Kevin Barney says:

    kc, while I agree that that’s only a start; it’s a good start. I personally don’t freak out over polygamy because my parents were very proud of our polygamous ancestors and would talk about them. So the more you can naturally talk about these topics in the home as they come up, the better.

  104. I don’t like the term “innoculation”. Disillusionment wouldn’t occur if there wasn’t some illusion in the first place. I’m a bit sympathetic with Jenn. The church does have a culture of bearing testimony to over-simplification.

    I completely agree with Kristine that primary kids can handle the realities better than just about anybody. And even when there is complexity they can’t digest, being exposed to it makes it easier to understand when they get older. It’s like mentioning integrals to your 6th grader who’s calculating the area of a circle — she may not understand the concept right away, but when she gets to it later, it’s a lot less scary because she knew it was coming.

    Maybe I just live in a charmed area with lots of reasonable people, or maybe I’ve just formed my own illusions, but I wouldn’t hesitate teaching the way Kevin did. I just wouldn’t do it nearly as well.

  105. #84 – John, read my comments. I answered that explicitly, even if I didn’t spell it out in detail.

  106. John, I apologize. #106 was too harsh.

    I believe in teaching everything when it is appropriate for the majority of the class participants. Period.

    Maybe that is Primary, given all the comments here supporting it. I know it would have been fine with some of my kids, so I’m fine admitting I probably am wrong about this. However, I don’t see the harm in teaching it in Sunday School and Seminary – and we aren’t losing children in Primary to intellectual crises of faith. We’re losing them to boredom and lack of truly spiritual experiences and poor instruction and verbal abuse and other such things. Those are very different than intellectual crisies of faith, which is what I meant.

  107. Oh, and Joseph didn’t translate the plates just by using a seerstone in a hat. Manyu people reading the comments probably wouldn’t understand that – even though it’s spelled out in the OP.

    I also think that’s relevant to this discussion.

  108. Kristine says:

    “Maybe I just live in a charmed area with lots of reasonable people”

    Well, you and I did grow up in such a charmed area! Lucky us.

  109. I’m not sure Primary kids would even understand what “translation” means. On the other hand, you could do a great object lesson with a hat and an iPhone with the brightness turned all the way down…

  110. Greg D. says:

    #33.holdenmorrisseycaulfield
    That’s too bad you withheld your brilliant contribution :-)

  111. Greg D. says:

    #35. Bob If you question the JS story, that is your concern. My comment was clearly made with the assumption that the JS story is true.

    If it is true, then, the main point of my comment is that since the translation took place by the gift and power of God (that is, since JS did not speak any form of Eyptian, reformed or otherwise, the translation into English was given to him) then the mechanics used in receiving the translation—whether by using the Nephite interpreters, the seer stone in a hat, or even by sticking his head up a horses ass—is TRIVIAL. It doesn’t matter! It is a non-issue with regards to the fundamental fact of having the translation take place by the gift and power of God.

    JS used the Nephite interpreters in translating the intial 116 pages which were lost. This is the method generally portrayed by the LDS church. After the Nephite interpreters were taken from JS after he lost the first 116 pages, JS resorted to using the seer stone in the hat.

    If you wish to criticise the LDS church for not more prominently portraying or talking about the seer stone in the hat method, fine. I have no quarrel with that. But, it has not been completely ignored. And please don’t suggest that the “hat story” is a challenge to the “Golden Plates” story (by which I presume you refer to the use of the Nephite interpreters) because the fact is both methods were used. Peace.

  112. Greg D. says:

    #39 Ray : You said, “to say the translation process described is more absurd than what’s accepted commonly throughout Christianity just makes me smile and shake my head.”

    And that is precisely the point. Either the gold plates existed or they did not. Either they were translated by the gift and power of God or the BoM is a fraud. Those are the two fundamental questions at issue. The mechanics involved in receiving the translation are trivial in comparison. Seriously, people, is it so difficult to see that? To say that using a seer stone in a hat in addition to using the interpreters somehow undermines the story is just plain silly.

    Oh, and one last point. Over time both the Nephite interpreters AND the seer stone were referred to by various people as the Urim and Thummim–which is a potential source of confusion for many.

  113. Ray,

    I was actually taught about the second anointing in Primary. Repeatedly.

    There are still several problems here. One is that this topic is never addressed in the official curriculum. I really think that a sharing time or two with a glow in the dark message or an iPhone would be totally reasonable. Mention it once every three years and you’re good.

  114. “One is that this topic is never addressed in the official curriculum.”

    I hope it is obvious from my comments that I agree with that statement.

  115. NewlyHousewife says:

    First time I learned about the hat was watching the PBS documentary, which the seminary morning after the teacher said parts of it weren’t true–which I took as meaning the hat, because everything else in the documentary I’ve heard of before.
    Wasn’t until my husband showed me the episode of South Park that I realized there was truth to it.

    Of course now I have no idea how the BOM was actually translated. I don’t blame myself, I blame the system.

  116. Mommie Dearest says:

    I don’t think we have a very clear picture about how it was translated anyway, though it’s been a topic of study and speculation for nearly 200 years. Joseph Smith and the people around him who were a party to the work left what has proven to be a rather messy and incomplete record of the mechanics. It’s likely that the Lord is just fine with us being mystified by the translation process, but I don’t know about that either, and I don’t presume to speak for the Lord.

  117. Peter LLC says:

    the mechanics used in receiving the translation—whether by using the Nephite interpreters, the seer stone in a hat, or even by sticking his head up a horses ass—is TRIVIAL.

    I understand your point–since the ways of God are inscrutable we shouldn’t get worked up about how improbable they are. But your conclusion–that the mechanics are trivial–is unwarranted. If Joseph Smith had translated like everyone else, i.e., learn the language, consult other texts and think about it really hard, then the mysteries and power of God would be less apparent and the standard narrative of “Joseph Smith–country bumpkin yet prophet extraordinaire” less convincing. With that in mind, the more unlikely the mechanics the better since it would totally prove that JS worked by the gift and power of God rather than relying on his own devices. Of course, we don’t want to make it too obvious so as to allow some room for the excercise of faith, which is why I suspect a balance was struck and the horse’s ass ruled out.

  118. #118:Peter LLC Says,
    Once you play the “God did it”, all bets are off.
    No more neen for pondering, logic, or discussions. Anything goes.
    “The ways of God are inscrutable ” is also a game ender.

  119. I just stumbled upon this blog. Wow! I’m impressed.
    However, I’m wondering why some of you have problems with Daniel Peterson. I love the guy!
    Also, as I read this, and thought about my own faith journey in the Church, I would say to Jenn (especially) — from personal experience over many years — I’m almost 65 — that faith is the only answer for your current crisis, as intellectual knowledge can only take you so far — which is why there is that promise in Moroni!
    My first faith crisis in the church came in about 1998 when a second child out of my six children was proselyted out of the Church by members of Crusade for Christ, who threw the book, The Godmakers, at her.
    To first try to understand what had happened to both of my children, and to understand what kind of information might have been thrown at them, I found and read an anti-Mormon, young adult, romance novel I had picked up. Within the first few pages, I read about Joseph’s trial for treasure digging. That threw me for a loop, as I knew nothing about either his trial or the treasure digging episodes which prompted that trial — despite having graduated from Institute at Utah State with a Seminary and Institute teaching certificate!
    To help me understand why Joseph might have engaged in such a practice, I read Early Mormonism and the Magical Worldview, which had just been published by D. Michael Quinn. (This was before the September Six were
    excommunicated.)
    What I found in that book that enlightened me was Michael’s concept that if the Lord was going to choose someone to be a Prophet and to restore Christ’s Church as well as to translate ancient records and speak with angels, why wouldn’t he pick someone who would actually believe that something like that was possible, rather than the alternative! I remember thinking, “bingo — what a concept — if I were God, that is exactly what I would do!” (I will say, however, that I felt that Michael got into the weeds by the end of that book, but by then, I had internalized what I needed to understand from his thesis about Joseph Smith and his family and their interest in such things as treasure seeking.)
    After that, I did read a copy of the Godmakers, which I pretty much laughed my way through because it was so ridiculously stupid and took so much out of proper context; however, reading it taught me how important it is to have an accurate understanding of Church History. (My kids had testimonies, but they had little understanding of Church History, and that was the Achillies heel that Dekker used so successfully in his book to turn his readers away from Mormonism.)
    Unfortunately, as has been discussed on this blog, lack of a good understanding of Church History continues to be a major problem in the Church as identified recently by Elder Marlin K. Jensen.
    All that said; however, I also know that it is faith and especially my love for and understanding of the Temple as well as my absolute determination not to endanger my ability to still worship and work at the Temple that keep me within safe boundaries in my search for knowledge and truth.

  120. Re: church art, Kevin great point, great point. I’d still like to see a painting which depicts somehow the stone in the hat method.

    This morning I had reviewed the Dialogue article “Joseph Smith: The Gift of Seeing,” which is the seminal article on this subject, to refresh my recollection on the witness statements, since I had a feeling this might come up in class.)

    I submit that Brant Gardner’s work on the witness accounts is fundamental reading on this. If you don’t like the 2nd part of his book on the translation the first part has a great look at witness statements and documentary evidence, combined with some academic folklore studies. Awesome stuff. It responds directly, if not perfectly, to the comment #17 (Seldom) who mentioned the connection to folk magic and “unsuccessful” attempts. Which raises the problem of what to do when the inoculation itself is contestable info, that people will surely differ regarding! Sometimes we cede too much in our inoculations.

    Just as importantly, I taught it absolutely matter-of-factly, not as some great mystery.

    Exactly. The rhetorical “gotcha!” or “surprise!” or “you’re dumb for not knowing this already!” approach is not good.

    Love this post for what it says and also what it models.

    #32 for BCotW, and #33 is a total phony. #48 for also BCotW!!

  121. Love your approach to this topic. I just wish you could come teach our youth as I do not have the background or ability to do it well.

  122. ps- here’s my review of Gardner, please, read the dude’s part 1 at least! then part 2 if you liked it.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/09/14/review-gardner-the-gift-and-the-power-translating-the-book-of-mormon/

  123. One more comment — as I think about the stone in the hat — I think that the Urim and Thumim, Joseph’s Seer Stone — and perhaps — even the Gold Plates as well as the parchment scrolls from the Book of Abraham — were all perhaps just training wheels for Joseph to learn how to receive revelation!
    Ultimately, either revelation is possible or it isn’t; and God is the one who determines the means through which it is received — always!

  124. and God is the one who determines the means through which it is received — always!

    I would qualify that by saying God determines–in addition to us and our circumstances, things which also play a role in the way revelation is received, imo. See the Gardner review I wrote above, “Especially key here is Gardner’s belief that the scientific and religious understanding of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries—their perceptions—directly influenced the translation process itself, in addition to the stories they told about the process, which Gardner posits are not necessarily equivalent.”

  125. Kevin Barney says:

    For the art aspect of this, folks might find this post from BHodges’ blog of interest:

    http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2009/10/stone-in-hat-translation-method-in-art.html

  126. “I would qualify that by saying God determines–in addition to us and our circumstances, things which also play a role in the way revelation is received, imo.”

    I would say that your comment just underscores my thought that God always determines how information is received by those to whom he transmits it, as he has perfect knowledge of both the recipients as well as their circumstances!

  127. # 26:
    In reference to other problems with representations of Church History found in official Church art:

    Another visual misrepresentation from Church History would be at least one of the official paintings of Moroni’s first visit to Joseph Smith with Joseph ALONE in the bedroom (i.e., with none of his brothers portrayed as either sleeping in the same bed with him or in adjacent beds in that small bedroom!)

  128. The seer stone was JS’s default setting. He use them before the BoM. Why the Golden Plates? Why hundreds of years of writing, hiding, finding Golden Plates, only for JS to return to his default setting of the Hat and Stone and not use those Plates (excect for a short period)?

  129. it's a series of tubes says:

    While not the only representation I have seen, this one on LDS.org looks pretty accurate:
    “He Called Me By Name” by M. Malm.

    http://www.lds.org/josephsmith/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=c08679179acbff00VgnVCM1000001f5e340aRCRD&vgnextfmt=tab3

  130. I did not read all the comments, so this may be a repeat. Also, I am prone to attempting to use language precisely. So, answer me this: In what way can we consider the process Joseph Smith used to render the English version of the Gold Plates as “translation.” As described by Oliver, he worked by looking into the seer stone. The plates were covered by a linen most of the time. It may have been revelation (via the seer stone), but he didn’t translate from one language to another–he wasn’t looking at the other language very much at all.

    What am I missing?

  131. Sure he did. The text was originally in another language, now it’s English. How is that not translation? You can argue means, but means do not a translation make. Ask anyone struggling along with their lexicons and signlists and “Intro to Sumerian syntax” who finish a translation and it makes no sense at all…

  132. Remlap says:

    To me the issue of how Joseph Smith translated the plates is not as important as to why the church leadership does not seem to want to be up front with it. Urim and thummim or seer stones in a hat both seem odd to a non-believer (although I think the head up a horse’s ass method would have required a lot more faith on Joseph’s part not to mention a good set of lungs)

    The book of Mormon has enough real problems with it that the issue with the translation method seems to be more of a distraction from the real reasons the book could not possible be true. I think the church leadership would rather have people dancing around discussing this trivial issue than delving more deeply into other problems with the book.

  133. Remlap says:

    #132:”The text was originally in another language, now it’s English. How is that not translation?”

    So would you say that the BOA was a translation too?

  134. I suppose if you didn’t want to use the word “translation” for fear of confusing the process with the kind used by multilingual people, you’d have to stick with the term “revelation.” The reason we use translation (even with the caveat “by the gift and power of God”) is because the BoM was originally penned in an ancient language, and the message was recorded again in English.

    Sometimes I use http://translate.google.com/ as my translation tool. I suppose google and a seer stone might fall into the same category, as they circumvent the need for a personal knowledge of the language.

  135. Peter LLC says:

    The text was originally in another language, now it’s English. How is that not translation?

    Cute.

  136. #135. Sounds like Joseph Smith was the man in John Searle’s “Chinese room!”

  137. I wasn’t familiar with the Chinese room idea, thanks. Joseph Smith would be the black box; feed in ancient text, feed out English. Of course, that’s faith-based…

    Given that there’s much less certainty about the relationship between the papyri and the BOA than there is between the BOM and the plates, I’m happy to assert inspiration, and perhaps translation. Kevin has a very interesting paper on the BOA that touches on these ideas, The Facsimiles and Egyptian Adaption of Existing Semitic Sources.

  138. To me the issue of how Joseph Smith translated the plates is not as important as to why the church leadership does not seem to want to be up front with it. Urim and thummim or seer stones in a hat both seem odd to a non-believer.

    Pretty much, but borrowing a little biblical cachet isn’t surprising for a group who reveres the Bible. JS himself seemed uncomfy talking about the method, likely because he didn’t want it to be a stumbling block (ha!) to people who can;t imagine or deal with the fantastic. (Evidently, like you, right?)

    The book of Mormon has enough real problems with it that the issue with the translation method seems to be more of a distraction from the real reasons the book could not possible be true. I think the church leadership would rather have people dancing around discussing this trivial issue than delving more deeply into other problems with the book.

    Nailed it. Totes a conspiracy. (Your “BoM is false, QED” comment annoys me. Thus my smarmy response.)

  139. Remlap says:

    139# You seem to get annoyed easily don’t you?

    If the book of Mormon is true then how it was translated does not matter. I would rather see some discussion of the real issues with the book of Mormon like the anachronisms, the incorporation of KJV translations errors and so forth.

  140. Actually, BHodges is remarkably polite and tolerant with trolls. I admire him for it. I’ve never mastered the art.

  141. I hope you’re not under the impression that my irritation resulted from your single cocksure statement rather than a myriad of such cocksure statements. :D

    “If the book of Mormon is true then how it was translated does not matter.”

    I see that opinion apparently works for you. I admit I see the translation issue as somewhat of a peripheral question, myself, but to the extent that it helps me think about the nature of revelation from God in general I think it’s a fascinating subject. Language and communication in general interest me a great deal, so throw God into that recipe and you’ll serve me a sumptuous feast indeed.

    I would rather see some discussion of the real issues with the book of Mormon like the anachronisms, the incorporation of KJV translations errors and so forth.

    “This is not the blog post you’re looking for…” In my comment above I recommended Brant Gardner’s book. I extend that recommendation again, personally, to you. It deals specifically with such things.

  142. BHodges is quite good. And Remlap, this isn’t that thread. And if you’ve already concluded the Book of Mormon has no historical basis, why discuss?

  143. And if you’ve already concluded the Book of Mormon has no historical basis, why discuss?

    Indeed. Or better still, why not discuss it by discussing how other people aren’t discussing it the way you’d like it discussed in one particular thread on the internet even while ignoring suggestions about where else it is being discussed?

  144. #138:Ben S,
    Where does it say JS saw an ancient text in his hat?

  145. Really Bob? Really? You think it’s a stretch that active believing Mormons might just describe the text of the Book of Mormon as “ancient text”?

  146. @fbisti #131, quoting from the Dialogue article Kevin mentioned he studied to refresh his memory on what is known about the translation process from witnesses, here is perhaps the most detailed description available as given by David Whitmer:

    I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated by Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.

    So God supplied the text and the translation to the text. Joseph was the Seer, the one who was required to open himself up spiritually and develop the skill of focusing on what God wanted to provide to him. That as we understand from his interactions with Oliver was a physically and spiritually draining experience that required effort to develop the stamina and skill to accomplish. So Joseph provided the translation because he spoke the words that were to be written down and ensured that they were correct as he received them. But note, Joseph never claimed he translated the Book of Mormon, he was consistent in stating that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. Joseph was merely the mouthpiece through whom the translation was delivered. My guess is that as his skill in translation and receiving revelation improved, Joseph no longer required the plates to translate them. They were there as a physical object on which to focus but it strikes me that there is a whole meta – physical (I break them apart to speak to the connection between data and the physical entity on which the data resides) aspect about this that we cannot fully understand without being Joseph and going through his experience.

  147. #130. You’re right about that representation; however, notice that it is dated 2004! Pretty recent when you consider how long that particular incident has been illustrated by the Church.

  148. Reading the comments on the importance of accuracy in the artwork used to teach children, I thought I’d take a quick look at our ‘Doctrine and Covenants Stories’ books, and our ‘Book of Mormon Stories’ book for children.
    ‘Book of Mormon Stories’ 1997 edition: Picture shows Joseph sitting at a table reading from the plates as though he were reading a book. Urim and Thummim mentioned but not shown.
    ‘Doctrine and Covenant Stories’ 1995 edition: Pictures show Joseph sitting at a table reading from the plates as though he were reading a book both before and after the Martin Harris incident, though beforehand the Urim and Thummim both mentioned and depicted beforehand but not afterwards.
    ‘Doctrine and Covenant Stories’ 2002 edition: Pictures show Joseph sitting at a table reading from the plates as though he were reading a book both before and after the Martin Harris incident. The Urim and Thummim is mentioned beforehand, but NO LONGER depicted (hardly progress!).
    The hat and stone are not mentioned in any of the books.

    I had heard of it, but no details. I don’t think I heard it at home, or growing up. Probably one of the many titbits the Institute director managed to drip into my ear in passing, as student. He must have been big on inoculation I think.

  149. Kai, take a look at Kevin’s post where he linked to this:

    http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2009/10/stone-in-hat-translation-method-in-art.html

    You’ll notice a particularly interesting image where there are no plates and no interpreters! If you have scans or images of those pictures you describe, can you send them to me?

  150. Alain, #147. Excellent comment. I hadn’t read that description for decades. One can accurately (precision in language) say that JS “translated” through the “gift and power of God.” However, the more common description is that JS translated the reformed Egyptian language on the plates into English (and he, only a poorly educated young man, miracle of miracles), etc.

    The point I was attempting to make (poorly, clearly) was that he didn’t actually perform the translation. He only was the receiver and mouthpiece of the “power of God.” I have a long-standing chip on my shoulder regarding all the false, inaccurate, and “faith-promoting” things about Church history that I have been taught all my life. That chip, all to often, gets in the way of clarity of speech.

  151. just my two ontis says:

    If you go to the Church’s Joseph Smith website to the link below you will see a series of depictions of him translating the plates. None of them show him with the urim and thuminn or the seer stones. Since this is a church sponsored website I think it is reasonable to believe that they are church approved depictions. There is even a neat little video clip showing Joseph reading straight off of the plates to Oliver.
    This seems to me that this is the image that the Church wants people to believe
    http://www.josephsmith.net/josephsmith/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=0bda0fbab57f0010VgnVCM1000001f5e340aRCRD&vgnextfmt=tab3

  152. “Just as importantly, I taught it absolutely matter-of-factly, not as some great mystery. There is no debate among Mormon scholars on this point, so why not express it as a given rather than making a huge deal out of it?”

    I think this is key. I think when we adress events with proper objectivity and we teach them in a way that distinctly removes any shock value, the actual process of learning is better facilitated.

    I think what you did is great. Now, I go ponder the injustices of the differences in quality of sunday school lessons that I have received in the last two decades… I am feeling anyone who did not get to hear your lesson has been robbed as I know too many people who would have enjoyed this so much :(

  153. #150 BHodges
    Interesting. Just commented over on that site. I hope it helps.

  154. Word, Kai!

  155. #155 Meaning?

  156. Ha, that means something like “cool, thanks!” or “I hear you, yo!”

  157. BTW, you can buy the 7-Volume History of the Church for a few bucks in the App store…

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