Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book of Mormon "translated" via the use of a brown stone in a hat




It was back in 1987 that I first began a serious, in depth study into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter LDS Church or Mormon/s). [For more on my early exploration into the LDS Church, see the opening paragraph of THIS POST.] I began collecting (and reading) hundreds of books, journals, articles, et al., which included the monthly journal, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. At that time, I was able to obtain all the past issues up to 1987, and began a subscription. As I started reading through the issues, one of the many articles that caught my attention was Richard Van Wagoner's and Steven Walker's, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing'" (Vol. 15.2, Summer 1982 - LINK).

Wagoner and Walker examined the extant eyewitness accounts concerning the translation process of the Book of Mormon, and provided the following synopsis of those accounts:

These eyewitness accounts to the translation process must be viewed in proper perspective. Most were given in retrospect and may be clouded by the haze of intervening years. Many were reported second hand, subject to skewing by nonwitnesses. Yet there are persistent parallels among these scattered testimonies. Consensus holds that the "translation" process was accomplished through a single seer stone from the time of the loss of the 116 pages until the completion of the book. Martin Harris's description of interchangeable use of a seer stone with the interpreters, or Urim and Thummim, refers only to the portion of translation he was witness to—the initial 116 pages. The second point of agreement is even more consistent: The plates could not have been used directly in the translation process. The Prophet, his face in a hat to exclude exterior light, would have been unable to view the plates directly even if they had been present during transcription. (Page 53.)

Prior to this detailed article, the common perception of the translation process was much different among the vast majority of Mormons. Artist depictions and written descriptions have Joseph Smith directly using the metal plates and the "Urim and Thummim" at the same time in the translation process. Wagoner and Walker make reference to this dichotomy between the extant accounts and the common Mormon understanding, writing:

The concept of a single seer stone is another problem area, for we have been taught since the Prophet's day that the Urim and Thummim were used. The term itself is problematic. The Book of Mormon does not contain the words "Urim and Thummim." Ammon describes the instrument as "the things . . . called interpreters"—"two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow" which were "prepared from the beginning" and "handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages" (Mosiah 8:13, 28:13-14). Joseph Smith adds in the Pearl of Great Price that "God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book" (Joseph Smith—History 1:35). Furthermore, the Nephite interpreters were not referred to as Urim and Thummim until 1833, when W. W. Phelps first equated the two in the first edition of the Evening and Morning Star: "It was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles—(known, perhaps in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim)." (Ibid.)

I was soon able to ascertain that Wagoner's and Walker's well researched article had little impact on the vast majority of believing Mormons. Of the literally dozens of LDS missionaries that have contacted me during the subsequent 30 years, it was not until this last year that any of them had knowledge of the single stone in the hat translation process. The same held true with lay Mormons I have met (in person and on message boards). However, this near unanimous consensus understanding started to undergo reductions at the end of 2015, and this due to an article published in the official LDS Church magazine, Ensign. The October, 2015 issue contained a contribution by three LDS scholars— Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin S. Jensen and Richard E. Turley Jr.—under the title, "Joseph the Seer". [Full issue available online HERE.]

This Ensign article (pp. 48-55) mentions the use of, "at least one other seer stone in translating the Book of Mormon, often placing it into a hat in order to block out light" (p. 51). It also includes a large color photograph of the "chocolate-colored stone", that "has long been associated with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon translation effort" (p. 53). For the first time in LDS Church history, knowledge of a single stone in a hat translation process had been disseminated amongst the majority of lay Mormons.

But, as important as the Ensign article was/is for Mormon studies, it was my recent purchase and reading of the above pictured book that prompted me to write this post.

Joseph Smith's Seer Stones, by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Nicholas J. Frederick, was published in 2016, through B.Y.U.'s "Religious Studies Center" (LINK). I obtained this book in early May of this year, and read it the very next day. The following is from the back dust-cover of the book:

When the Church released photos of the brown seer stone that was owned and used by Joseph Smith, the news ignited a firestorm of curiosity and controversy. People wanted more information and wondered why they weren't aware of the stone's existence before.

This book discusses the origins of Joseph Smith's seer stones and explores how Joseph used them throughout his life in a way that goes beyond translating the Book of Mormon. I also traces the provenance of the seer stones once they leave his possession.

Joseph Smith's Seer Stones, is a book of 243 pages, and by far the most comprehensive treatment I have yet to read on the topic of Joseph Smith's "seer" stones. It is well written, and easy to read. It references dozens of other important contributions that will provide the more curious investigators with days, if not months, of informative reading. In upcoming posts (the Lord willing), I shall delve into some of those works that I have obtained, and have been researching. Until my next post, I would like to recommend to folk interested in this topic that they look into the following article from BYU Studies, 55.1, pp. 73-93 (also published in 2016):



Grace and peace,

David

4 comments:

David Waltz said...

Earlier today, I discovered two online reviews of Jospeh Smith's Seer Stones: Park Review; Smoot Review.


Grace and peace,

David

Rory said...

In the twenty years that I have corresponded with Latter-day Saints on the internet I have come to have a great esteem for people who have expressed their own respect for Catholics as people. I have always included Salt Lake Mormonism among the few non-Catholic institutions to have a consistent explanation for its own historical place in our times.

In contrast, to paraphrase John Henry Newman from the bottom of this blog site, "Whatever history teaches...if ever there was a safe truth it is this...to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." I even tend to think Cardinal Newman does not go far enough in the case of the Protestants. I do not think the historical inconsistencies of a Protestant claim to have the authority to speak for Christ are deep. They are on the surface.

This is not the place for a discussion of my points of view or even Newman's. I only want to make it clear that historically, I have a regard for Mormon claims that is lacking toward Protestants. I can develop this later if there is any interest, but even before seeing this blog post, I had arrived at the place where I agreed with Mormons that Joseph Smith did not conceive of the Book of Mormon alone. But since I cannot deny the truth of the Catholic faith, I am compelled to say that I believe the origins of Mormonism to be the product of one disguised as "an angel of light".

This blog post adds confirmation to my previous beliefs as to the Satanic origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This would not mean that it is worse to be Mormon than a convinced "once saved, always saved" unconcerned about personal sanctity. Both are in spiritual peril. It is a clever stroke of the devil when he can make someone behave according to Christian morality while having disdain and repugnance for the revealed truths of The Blessed Trinity.

When a Protestant has doubts about his spiritual authorities, he usually still believes in God. When a Mormon has doubts about his spiritual authorities, it usually illustrates that he never really believed in the true God at all. Atheism is by far the most usual result when a Mormon leaves Mormonism. In consideration of that, from a Catholic perspective, it becomes necessary to ask this question about Mormons. Do we even mean the same thing by the word "God"? This is why I am persuaded that even if Mormons follow the norms of Christian morality to a high degree, the devil has been delighted with the fruits borne out of Joseph Smith's use of "seer stones".

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

So good to hear from you again. Thanks much for taking the time to share some of your thoughts on my opening post. From your comments, we read:

==I have always included Salt Lake Mormonism among the few non-Catholic institutions to have a consistent explanation for its own historical place in our times.==

I concur with you on this. However, with that said, I cannot help but think that along with so many other advent type sects that arose in the 19th century (7th-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Advent Christian Church, et al.), the LDS Church has a certain built-in 'shelf-life'. The fundamental premise behind the existence of such sects was to prepare for the eminent second coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As these groups quickly approach 200 years of existence, the notion of eminence sure seems to have lost any tangible value.

==...but even before seeing this blog post, I had arrived at the place where I agreed with Mormons that Joseph Smith did not conceive of the Book of Mormon alone. But since I cannot deny the truth of the Catholic faith, I am compelled to say that I believe the origins of Mormonism to be the product of one disguised as "an angel of light". ==

I think that is the only consistent understanding a devout Catholic can maintain.

==This blog post adds confirmation to my previous beliefs as to the Satanic origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This would not mean that it is worse to be Mormon than a convinced "once saved, always saved" unconcerned about personal sanctity. Both are in spiritual peril. It is a clever stroke of the devil when he can make someone behave according to Christian morality while having disdain and repugnance for the revealed truths of The Blessed Trinity.==

You are a bit more generous here than I can be. I think it is important to note that the Catholic Church accepts the baptisms of most those "once saved, always saved" sects, but rejects the baptisms of the LDS Church. [See THIS POST for details.]

A father god who needs a mother god/gods to produce his 'spirit children', is not the God of the Bible or the Catholic Church.

==When a Protestant has doubts about his spiritual authorities, he usually still believes in God. When a Mormon has doubts about his spiritual authorities, it usually illustrates that he never really believed in the true God at all. Atheism is by far the most usual result when a Mormon leaves Mormonism. In consideration of that, from a Catholic perspective, it becomes necessary to ask this question about Mormons. Do we even mean the same thing by the word "God"? This is why I am persuaded that even if Mormons follow the norms of Christian morality to a high degree, the devil has been delighted with the fruits borne out of Joseph Smith's use of "seer stones".==

Excellent points Rory. But let us not forget that much of the 'fruit' borne out by so many today who claim to be Christian sure seems to be the 'fruit' of 'tares' and not 'wheat'...


Grace and peace,

David

Rory said...

With regards to my comment "But since I cannot deny the truth of the Catholic faith, I am compelled to say that I believe the origins of Mormonism to be the product of one disguised as 'an angel of light' David says:

"I think that is the only consistent understanding a devout Catholic can maintain."

I would revise that a little. Most devout Catholics have little acquaintance with Mormonism. They heard enough to think it is bizarre. These tend to gravitate to naturalistic explanations, which in my opinion, fail to give due respect to LDS claims, while failing also to recognize Catholic beliefs that isolated from context, can be caricatured as crazy.

I think Mormons have good reasons to be amazed with the origins of the Book of Mormon, but not good reasons for assuming that the origins are good, and that it follows that the Catholic Church is apostate. There are horrible consequences for assuming that all the devil wants is to make us drink and fornicate.

The devil wants us to hate God like he does. And most Mormons are kind enough to try not to be offensive, but they are also persuaded that the Catholic idea of God is ludicrous. They cannot have respect for an immaterial Spirit who creates out of nothing. They have been persuaded to despise God. Drunks and fornicators don't inherit the kingdom of God, as we both teach, but I am afraid that those who have been persuaded that the Blessed Trinity is absurd are further away still.