The story that we are normally told involves Smith also having a pair of magic spectacles which allowed him to translate the gold plates into the Book of Mormon which he published in 1830. The story often goes that he sat behind a curtain and dictated the words of the Book of Mormon to a neighbour, such as Martin Harris, who rarely got more than a glimpse of them.
|The classical view of Joseph Smith
translating (image from here)
Carelessly, he lost the first 116 pages. I won't waste much time wondering what they said but some speculate that they were stolen by Lucy Harris, the wily and wise wife of the neighbour who had been wasting too much time round at the Smiths, writing a book of nonsense. Perhaps she thought Smith could demonstrate the truth of his claims by simply translating the pages again. He didn't.
But it seems that this story itself might be apocryphal. Yes really!
Set aside the question of the weight of this set of gold plates (90 kg or 200 pounds!) and how anyone could have carried them around. Neglect the fact that the plates have mysteriously disappeared and that the magic spectacles have not survived. There are other reasons to doubt it. The Mormons themselves tell of a different method of translation where Smith never even needed to look at the gold.
It seems that Smith had two magic stones which eventually became known as the Urim and the Thummim (as in the contents of the lost Ark of the Covenant). He almost certainly dug them up while he was digging a well, but perhaps they had been there waiting for him to dig at a revealed spot! He would put one of these stones into a hat and then bury his face in the hat and dictate in muffled words.
|The 'much more believable' (??) view of Smith |
inventing the Book of Mormon
The words of David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses whose testimony appears at the front of the Book of Mormon come from this site (and elsewhere):
"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 under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe . . . "
Somehow the Mormons must think that that makes the story more believable.
Incidentally, all this took place only a few months after Smith's initiation into the Order of Freemasonry. Many parts of Mormon symbolism are said to resemble Masonic ritual, although somewhat modified as Smith claimed that the Masons had corrupted the truth over the centuries.
The veracity of these stories is there for all of us to believe or doubt. I have to say that I don't find it overwhelmingly convincing. Tomorrow I will mention something about another document that Smith apparently translated. You might see something about his modus operandi. However, I do find it amazing that so many people think the opposite way to me. It can't be true that they don't think about it at all.
So surely Smith's most amazing discovery was that people can be much more gullible than even scam artists expect to be possible!