Hey guys, so as you’re probably already aware, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated bluntly in 2009 that anyone who rejects the Book of Mormon “without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages…has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.”
So in this episode, we’re going to look at some very basic claims about how the Book of Mormon was translated, and whether or not those claims are true. Let’s do it.
Here’s the bottom line: Joseph Smith never explained in detail the method of translation. When his brother, Hyrum, in 1831 asked him to explain in a meeting how the translation happened, Joseph said that “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon and also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things.”
On several occasions he simply said that he translated the record, “by the gift and power of God,” and he left it at that. Most of the other details you’ve probably heard are second or third-hand accounts from people who may or may not have known what was actually going on. But we do have an ace up our sleeve. We still have some 28% of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, and it speaks volumes (no pun intended).
A lot of what we learn from the original manuscript might seem like common sense because it simply reflects the descriptions we’re already familiar with about the translation, but the manuscript is the evidence that supports those descriptions, and it’s evidence that has to be taken into account by those who believe the Book of Mormon is a fraud. So, specifically, the manuscript suggests the following:
As multiple sources indicate, the translation was a dictation. Joseph was reading something out loud, and the scribe was writing down what he heard. For example, when Oliver Cowdery wrote down Helaman 1:15, he originally spelled Coriantumr like this [Coriantummer]. Of course, this is understandable because no normal English-speaker would spell it ending in “mr.” But the name is crossed out and Joseph presumably gave him the correct spelling, suggesting that Joseph could see the words and how they were spelled; he wasn’t just making things up off the top of his head.
And using this same example. we see that unless Joseph spelled words out for him, Oliver was spelling names phonetically. He was spelling them the way he heard them. It’s hard to explain how he misspelled this name if he had just been copying words from a secret manuscript.
David Whitmer reported that after Oliver would write something, he’d repeat it back to Joseph to make sure it was correct before they would move on. The original manuscript also suggests that this is how it was done. Smudges and ink flow on the pages suggest that many errors in the manuscript were corrected right after they happened, which you would expect if you’re repeating them back to Joseph right after they’re written. But there are also errors that slip through the cracks because they sounded right to Joseph.
For example, in 1 Nephi 13:29, the scribe writes “& because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb & exceeding great many do stumble.” He should have written, “an exceeding great many do stumble.” An easy mistake if you’re only hearing words being repeated back to you. They didn’t catch it until making a second copy of the manuscript.
There are also multiple sources reporting that Joseph could not continue with the translation until every word was spelled correctly, suggesting that the finished manuscript was written perfectly. As we’ve seen, this is obviously not true. The manuscript had plenty of little errors. I think that’s just a detail that became exaggerated by various people over time.
Now, there are still lots of questions about how Joseph was receiving the words he dictated that we don’t have answers for. And I’m pretty sure Joseph didn’t even have the answers. Hence, “the gift and power of God,” was probably the only description he felt he could give. But the evidence from the original manuscript does pose challenging questions for those who may believe Joseph was a fraud.
For example, some people believe Oliver Cowdery was in cahoots with Joseph, and instead of simply writing what Joseph was saying, the two were actually just secretly putting their heads together and composing a fraudulent work of fiction. But based on the manuscript evidence, that only works if they somehow wrote a fraudulent manuscript, and then Joseph dictated what they’d just written back to Oliver, who was spelling names wrong that he himself had helped create, all within about 57 days time.
Since the evidence suggests Oliver is totally innocent, some believe Joseph, probably starting as a teenager, created the 514-page book by himself and was reading to Oliver from his manuscript. This leads to a firehose of difficult questions. How did he hide it? How did he turn hundreds of pages without Oliver noticing? How could he read the pages with his face in a hat?
How did nobody in Joseph’s family notice him studiously scribbling away for years in their small Palmyra home? Was his entire family in on it and just took the secret to the grave even though many members of the family seemed quite religiously content in the Presbyterian church they’d just joined as all of this started happening? OR could they all have just been telling the truth about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon?
- Translating and Printing the Book of Mormon, by Royal Skousen: http://bit.ly/2RZHI48
- Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript: http://bit.ly/2H1HDXe
- How Long Did It Take to Translate the Book of Mormon?: http://bit.ly/386izKG
- Gospel Topics Essay: Book of Mormon Translation: http://bit.ly/2vaHUVu
- Video on this subject by LDS Truth Claims: http://bit.ly/2UtyQoY
- Video on this subject by Latter-day Saints’ Q&A: http://bit.ly/31sbd1E
- Translation completed in 57 days: http://bit.ly/2tFbgec