Understanding the Translation Process: Did Joseph Smith use the Urim and Thummim & Gold Plates or Rock in a Hat? (And why the 116 pages weren’t retranslated)
Critics have suggested that Joseph Smith’s unwillingness or ‘inability’ to retranslate the 116 stolen pages of the Book of Mormon is evidence that the record is not an actual translation. Joseph Smith’s revelation in D&C 10:1–23 suggests that this was part of the plan of those who stole the 116 pages, with the perpetrators believing he would not be able to retranslate them identically again (v16). And to many the fact that he did not retranslate the exact text again suggests that he could not retranslate them again because he was actually making the whole story up as we went.
I’ve personally thought the logic in D&C 10:17–19 a bit confusing and fishy myself, since if Joseph was in a no-win situation where the thieves of the 116 pages had stolen and altered his original manuscript, reproducing the same original text would at least seem less fraudulent than not being able to retranslate the original text. However, I had an interesting visionary dream showing me how the 116 pages will actually play a major role in proving the truth of the Book of Mormon, after the end of the ‘Fullness of the Gentiles’. (see D&C 45:25, D&C 121:27–31)
The strong impression I got as I woke from a dream was that THE 116 PAGES STILL EXIST! As also the gold plates, which were reburied (NOT actually taken by an angel) so that both can be again ‘found’ when the time is right. And because the 116 pages deal more in history and secular matters, they will allow researchers to more fully understand where the Book of Mormon took place and how it relates to Israeli, Mesoamerican and North American prehistory. The 116 pages will also serve as a sort of Rosetta stone to help decode the ancient script and will indeed “show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.” (D&C 10:43)
Following is the logic which came to me as I woke from a dream.
UNDERSTANDING THE TRANSLATION PROCESS.
The 116 pages were nearly verbatim translations of the ancient record, through the Urim & Thummim (crystal seer stones attached to metal frames, hidden with the plates). The Book of Mormon we have today, on the other hand, is not a tight translation. It is a “channeled”, anglicized, modernized, euro-Christianized version of the ancient record summarized by spiritual beings, and given to Joseph through mediumship or revelation with the rock in the hat.
After Martin Harris’s wife was complicit in stealing the 116 pages, she and her accomplices (probably family members) read through the text to satisfy their curiosity and judge its authenticity. But to the surprise of the angelic beings helping to bring forth the book, this group of conspirators as well as the ‘scholars’ I believe they took the work to, not only didn’t believe that the book was a legitimate ancient record, but they saw the foreign religious concepts of the book as as pagan, unchristian, devilish and evil. (Because the religion taught in the book was from pre-exilic Jews and was much more like what’s found in the Kolbrin.) Because of this, the group of conspirators began to hatch a plan on how to steal the supposed Gold Plates, turn Martin Harris against Joseph and destroy Joseph’s reputation by altering the manuscript in clever ways working with the scholar they had shown, and telling everyone that it didn’t match with the version they had stolen and show everyone the “pagan” and forged nature of the text with their alterations.
This unexpected reaction and turn of events prompted the spiritual overseers to change course and give Joseph Smith a summarized and puritanized, “preparatory” (see 3 Ne 26:9–10) version of the record which was more friendly to the Euro-Christian culture of Joseph’s day. The nature of this ‘preparatory’ anglicized version of the book is obviously not a tight translation when comparing the language and ideology of the Book of Mormon with ancient texts. However, much like the Kolbrin (British Israeli history) and the early Israeli record vaults mentioned therein, the 116 pages and gold plates will be found/revealed in the final dispensation, sometime within the next 150 years.
“1 Now, behold, I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them.
6… even the man in whom you have trusted has sought to destroy you.
7 And for this cause I said that he is a wicked man, for he has sought to take away the things wherewith you have been entrusted; and he has also sought to destroy your gift.
8 And because you have delivered the writings into his hands, behold, wicked men have taken them from you…
12 And, on this wise, the devil has sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work..
43 [but] I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.” (D&C 10)
After this betrayal and conspiratorial plan to steal the plates, the angelic overseers of the plates instructed Joseph to put them back in the stone crypt (or possibly a new location) & bury/hide it with ample dirt and leaves. Joseph used vague wording to the effect of “god took the plates back”, so no further attempts would be made to search or find them would be made. (an account not solidified until 1853, read Lucy Mack’s history here). In fact the angel translators make plain that this was their plan in their loose translation of the ancient Native American prophet Nephi’s prophesy about the latter-day translation of the record:
22 Wherefore, when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee, and obtained the witnesses which I have promised unto thee, then shalt thou seal up the book again, and hide it up unto me, that I may preserve the words which thou hast not read, until I shall see fit in mine own wisdom to reveal all things unto the children of men. (2 Nephi 27:22)
This is also why the three witness were shown the plates only in vision. Joseph Smith first retrieved the Book of Mormon on Sept 22, 1827, and translation on the 116 pages took place using the actual plates in late 1827 and early 1828 when the manuscript was stolen. Joseph was castigated in D&C 10 and the plates returned to the hill sometime by early summer 1828. In April 1829, he met Oliver Cowdery, who replaced Harris as his scribe, and resumed dictation–this time channeling the account through revelation while occasionally using the rock in the hat to aid his focus. They worked full time on the manuscript between April and early June 1829. The three witnesses were then shown the plates in vision or ‘with an eye of faith‘ on June 28, 1829. The finished manuscript of the current channeled or revealed summary of the Book of Mormon was finished about July 1829.
TESTIMONY OF THE KOLBRIN
Much like the Book of Ben Kathryn, I was led to find the Kolbrin after my mission shortly after it was first published. The Kolbrin (Somewhat like a Book of Mormon for Great Britain), gives an account unbelievably similar to the box, records, and seer stones associated with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Read more about the Kolbrin and its amazing Egyptian, Assyrian and British historical records at my article on it here.
“When I was young my grand-father told me that the Kolbrin had been brought back to light by his grand-father’s people in the place known to them as Futeril Cairn, beyond the pool of Pantlyn at Carclathan by way of Gwendwor in Wales.”
“I remember him saying it was originally written in the old alphabet of thirty-six letters. The books were stored in a tinker’s budget box, the lid of which was not hinged but held with flanges and lifted off after being heated, a cunning device of the wayfaring tinkers [Traveling MetalSmiths]. It was also secured with pins and stirrups. There were goblin heads at the corners and it was fastened by locking bars inside and out. I never saw it, nor did I know anyone who knew whether it still existed.”
“I remember being told that inside the box was a clear glass roundish ball about the size of a large apple, which at one spot reflected all the colours of the rainbow. It was encased in a precious cagework inside a protective cover of horny hide which had raised swellings, the like of which my grand-father had never seen before. He knew a lot about animals and their hides, but could not tell what this was; he thought it might have been the hide of some kind of large, horny snakelike creature such as those which live in deep lakes.”
“There were two stones of dullish glass like rainstones, one being whitish at one end. Each was oval in shape and somewhat flattened and tapered towards one end. Grand-mother used to tell fortunes with these and they went to cousin Sarah in America. There were two other pieces of rounded glass set in something made of bone which had pretty designs engraved on it. The bone setting was falling apart and was of no conceivable use. There was also a bluish coloured cross with an opening at the top and its arms were forked at the ends. This was fastened by a small chain curiously worked, to piece of round brass about the size of a small plate which was engraved with figured, of which a bird, a wand, two billhooks, a whip and some heads could be made out. There were beads of blue and red and a brooch shaped like a hook and made of gold. There was a acorn-like cap such as Flamens wear.”
“There was also a longish brass object like a knife, with engraving, in a wrapping of rotten wood. That is all there was, except for the books which were not like books at all. I do not know what became of the other items. I saw the glass ball once when I was a small child but cannot remember much about it, except that it was hollow at one end and when I put a finger in the hollow it felt warm.
After the above came to me (in the morning waking from a dream and accompanied by a certain feeling which I associate with revelation instead of my own thoughts) it was interesting that I found an account which seems to corroborate the idea that only the first part of the Book of Mormon was translated with the Urim & Thummim. This is something I’d never read or imagined prior to my inspiration on the matter…
Now the first that my husband translated, was translated by use of the Urim, and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost, after that he used a small stone, not exactly, black, but was rather a dark color. (Emma Smith Bidamon to Emma Pilgrim, 27 March 1870,” in Early Mormon Documents, 1:532)
During a private interview with her son Joseph Smith III in 1879, Emma responded to questions about the translation after a lifetime of thought and contemplation. Just months before her death, Emma gave these answers to the following questions concerning the translation process. (see original publication here)
Question. Who were scribes for father when translating the Book of Mormon?
Answer. Myself, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and my brother Reuben Hale.
Question. Was Alva Hale one?
Answer. I think not. He may have written some; but if he did, I do not remember it.
Question. What of the truth of Mormonism?
Answer. I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the Church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
Question. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
Answer. He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.
Question. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
Answer. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
Question. Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?
Answer. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.
Question. Where did father and Oliver Cowdery write?
Answer. Oliver Cowdery and your father wrote in the room where I was at work.
Question. Could not father have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?
Answer. Joseph Smith (and for the first time she used his name direct, having usually used the words, “your father” or “my husband”) could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to anyone else.
Question. I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?
Answer. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them [Joseph had covenanted to ONLY show 4 people, see smith 1832. v5]. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so;
Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?
Answer. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.
Question. Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin, of the Book of Mormon?
Answer. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity – I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.
D&C 17:1–7 “was given in answer through the Urim and Thummim”, and explains that it was given to the Brother of Jared upon the Mount.
1 Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.
2 And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.
3 And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God;
4 And this you shall do that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., may not be destroyed, that I may bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men in this work.
5 And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith.
6 And he has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.
7 Wherefore, you have received the same power, and the same faith, and the same gift like unto him;
ACCOUNTS OF THE RECORD ROOM AS THE LOCATION OF THE PLATES
The following quotes seem to support the impressions I got in this experience. In addition to the shared vision of the three/eight witnesses, an account by Brigham Young decades after the fact, tells of a shared vision between Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in 1829 which may be an illusion to the idea that Joseph actually returned the plates to the Hill Cumorah, previous to the final translation.
I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things pertaining to that country. I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in [public meetings] as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family.
Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room… They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls…(Journal of Discourses, vol.19, p.39, June 17, 1877)
Heber C. Kimball made it clear in 1856 that he believed this occurrence was in fact, a shared vision.
How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry? There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts, and keep the commandments.(Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, 28 September 1856)
In an 1878 interview with P. Wilhelm Poulson, David Whitmer supports my idea that Joseph Smith returned the plates to the Hill and that he and other individuals privy to the location of the original Hill Cumorah where the plates came from, lied concerning its location in order to lead possible treasure diggers astray.
Poulson: Where are the plates now?
Whitmer: In a cave, where the angel has hidden them up till the time arrives when the plates, which are sealed, shall be translated. God will yet raise up a mighty one, who shall do his work till it is finished and Jesus comes again.
Poulson: Where is that cave?
Whitmer: In the State of New York.
Poulson: In the Hill of Comorah?
Whitmer: No, but not far away from that place.David Whitmer, found in P. Wilhelm Poulson, “Interview with David Whitmer,” Deseret Evening News, 16 August 1878, 2
Several other quotes exist corroborating the above information:
Attended meeting a discourse from W. W. Phelps. He related a story told him by Hyrum Smith which was as follows: Joseph, Hyrum, Cowdery & Whitmere went to the hill Cormorah. As they were walking up the hill, a door opened and they walked into a room about 16 ft square. In that room was an angel and a trunk. On that trunk lay a book of Mormon & gold plates, Laban’s sword, Aaron’s brestplate.(William Horne Dame, Journal of the Southern Exploring Company, 1854—1858, Iron County, UT, 14 January 1855, Della Edwards Papers, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.)
President [Heber C.] Kimball talked familiarly to the brethren about Father Smith, [Oliver] Cowdery, and others walking into the hill Cumorah and seeing records upon records piled upon table[s,] they walked from cell to cell and saw the records that were piled up.(Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 5 May 1867)
President Young said in relation to Joseph Smith returning the Plates of the Book of Mormon that He did not return them to the box from wh[ence?] He had received [them]. But He went [into] a Cave in the Hill Comoro with Oliver Cowdry & deposited those plates upon a table or shelf. In that room were deposited a large amount of gold plates Containing sacred records & when they first visited that Room the sword of Laban was Hanging upon the wall & when they last visited it the sword was drawn from the scabbard and [laid?] upon a table and a Messenger who was the keeper of the room informed them that that sword would never be returned to its scabbard until the Kingdom of God was established upon the Earth & until it reigned triumphant over Every Enemy. Joseph Smith said that Cave contained tons of Choice Treasures & records.(Wilford Woodruff Journal, 11 December 1869)
Although not a member of the church, Elizabeth Kane lived in St. George, Utah, and entertained the company of Brigham Young. She recorded the following discussion:
…asked where the plates were now, and saw in a moment from the expression of the countenances around that I had blundered. But I was answered that they were in a cave; that Oliver Cowdery though now an apostate would not deny that he had seen them. He had been to the cave. … Brigham Young’s tone was so solemn that I listened bewildered like a child to the evening witch stories of its nurse.
Brigham Young said that when Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were in the cave this third time, they could see its contents more distinctly than before…… It was about fifteen feet high and round its sides were ranged boxes of treasure. In the centre was a large stone table empty before, but now piled with similar gold plates, some of which lay scattered on the floor beneath. Formerly the sword of Laban hung on the walls sheathed, but it was now unsheathed and lying across the plates on the table; and One that was with them said it was never to be sheathed until the reign of Righteousness upon the earth.Elizabeth Kane, A Gentile Account of Life in Utah’s Dixie, 1872-73: Elizabeth Kane’s St. George Journal (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Tanner Trust Fund, 1995), 75-76
It was likewise stated to me by David Whitmer in the year 1877 that Oliver Cowdery told him that the Prophet Joseph and himself had seen this room and that it was filled with treasure, and on a table therein were the breastplate and the sword of Laban, as well as the portion of gold plates not yet translated, and that these plates were bound by three small gold rings, and would also be translated, as was the first portion in the days of Joseph. When they are translated much useful information will be brought to light. But till that day arrives, no Rochester adventurers shall ever see them or the treasures, although science and mineral rods testify that they are there.(Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Edward Stevenson, 1893), 14-15, BYU Special Collections.)
But the grand repository of all the numerous records of the ancient nations of the western continent, was located in another department of the hill, and its contents put under the charge of holy angels, until the day should come for them to be transferred to the sacred temple of Zion.Orson Pratt, “Cumorah,” The Contributor 3/12 (September 1882): 357.