There are 9 thoughts on “An Unfortunate Approach to Joseph Smith’s Translation of Ancient Scripture”.

  1. Pingback: A Man That Can Translate and Infinite Goodness: A Response to Recent Reviews | The Interpreter Foundation

  2. Just curious what the historical support is for the statement: “While Joseph did initially use the plates and the Urim and Thummim in the conventional method that Neville accepts, as he spiritually matured and learned how he might receive revelation.” I know that you cited a recent Church leader, but wondering if there are any historical statements to this effect? It seems to me that the actual historical evidence is that he used the plates when translating individual characters, but that when he started translating full text he no longer used the plates. As a translator myself, knowing that JS did not have any inherent knowledge of reformed Egyptian, the plates would not have been useful if trying to construct a text trying to translate the document character by character, as the structure of language construction to English is quite different. Him not using the plates, seems to me, does not mean that he had less reliance on the use of the translating instrument and becoming spiritually mature. I wonder if this is kind of in fact a standard Mormon fable that has been around for years and is now relied upon as fact.

  3. I’m actually glad to see Neville’s differing points of view, while I don’t agree with many. To me it does seem that people are kind of accepting the seer stone in the hat as the exclusive means of the translation. Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith said that the interpreters were used to translate the BOM. Ironically, in your review you go after Neville for indicating there may have been misremembering as an attack on the individuals making the statements, but now you have academics like Skousen indicating that this statement by JS and OC was deceptive because he does accept the stone in the hat premise. So it seems that one must decide JS and OC are dishonest or the stone in the hat witnesses are dishonest? Actually I think there may be some resolution that it seems no one has considered.
    1) OC indicated that JS would look at the interpreters and then look in the hat. Perhaps at times he also put his seer stone in the hat? This is tricky to square with the premise of him reading the dictation, but perhaps not.
    2) While it has recently been popular to accept that contrary to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s own statements, that, based principally on other’s statements, that a seer stone was used for the translation of the Book of Mormon after Joseph lost the plates and the interpreters, there are other sources contrary to this position. Although perhaps less direct and reliable as sources, they ought to be considered as at least outlining an alternate possibility that squares more with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s statement but also accommodates the use of a hat.
    First, in an interview with Fayette Lapham (1870), Joseph Smith, Sr. recounted that Joseph Smith did not lose the interpreters when the plates were taken. In fact, he was able to use the interpreters to see
    where the plates had been hidden, “among the rocks, in the mountains.” He could also “read them as they were, as well as if they were before him,” which is consistent with other descriptions that the plates were in fact covered during translation. The interpreters were much more powerful tools than simply being translators, as according to Joseph Smith, Sr., the Liahona led to finding the interpreters, at which point the Liahona no longer worked. It was no longer needed as the interpreters also functioned
    as “directors.” The interpreters mentioned in Alma 37:21, 24 were originally referred to as “directors” in the Original Manuscript (Skousen 2007, 2358–2361) indicating the interpreters were able to still provide the direction that the Liahona previously provided.
    So, if it is true that the interpreters were not taken, how can this be squared with statements that a hat was used with a seer stone placed in it? Joseph Knight Sr. indicated (referring to the time that Joseph Smith originally began translating) that the “urim and thummim” was placed into his hat (Jessee, 1976).
    In this context and time frame this reference to the Urim and Thummim are referring to the interpreters. So, the use of a hat noted by some observers is not inconsistent with the use of the
    interpreters. In addition, although not evidenced in any statements, it is possible that at least one interpreter stones may have been able to be removed from the bow. As discussed later, the original
    Jaredite stones are not indicated to be in a bow when prepared by the Lord, and the text in the Book of Mormon refers to only one of the interpreter stones (Gazelem) being necessary for translation (Alma 37:23).
    Of course there are statements not completely consistent with these approaches either (any historians surprised by that LOL). Likely we will just be left with a fragmentary knowledge of all the specific details.
    I would have to say that you do seem to be quite concerned about Neville’s “attacks” on LDS Church leadership. I think most thinking LDS people recognize that church leaders, past and present, knew very little about all these historic details or details of things like BOM geography. I’m not too concerned about Neville’s small books jeopardizing anyone’s faith tbh.

  4. Spencer,
    Thank you for this review. I agree with your conclusions.

    What do you make of the statement by Oliver Cowdery when he spoke to the Saints at Council Bluffs in 1846 stating (also found in the Pearl of Great Price after Joseph Smith – History), in part:

    “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.’”

    Oliver seems to equate the Nephite Interpreters to the Urim and Thummim and does not mention the a seer stone. Do you think Oliver also considered the seer stone to fall in the category of ‘interpreters’?


    • Thanks for your question! I think that early Latter-day Saints used the term “interpreters” to describe other forms of revelatory instruments, yes. I think this might be evidenced by William McLellin’s 1847 statement linking the terms interpreters, directors, and Urim and Thummim. Further, the scripture in Alma 37:23-25 that describes “a stone” gives it the same role as the directors/interpreters, which clearly refers to the Nephite interpreters (I would again recommend Stan Spencer’s paper on Alma 37).

      It should also be noted that the term Urim and Thummim does not appear in the Book of Mormon. When Oliver says the Nephites called them “interpreters,” he appears to be acknowledging that fact. I think that, like the term Urim and Thummim or Directors, the term “Interpreters” can be understood as a class of revelatory instruments (or just another name for that class), and the seer stone would be a part of this class.

  5. Although Kraus recognizes that early Latter-day Saints innocently “linked all tools of translation to the Urim and Thummim — sacred tools mentioned in the Bible — to underscore the divinity of the Book of Mormon” (page 26), he does not seem to understand why that is itself an unacceptable scholarly response – and one in which he inappropriately revels. He excuses this atrocious error by suggesting that “whether or not the phrase ‘Urim and Thummim’ originated with Moroni or another individual in our dispensation” cannot be determined. While this is just the sort of sleight-of-hand we might expect from Neville, Kraus even attacks Neville for accepting that kind of confusion on pages 43-44.

    In fact, the Book of Mormon never uses the phrase “Urim and Thummim,” nor does Joseph Smith, until after William W. Phelps first unwisely used the term in 1833: Evening and Morning Star (Independence), I/8 (Jan 1833):58b (= Kirtland reprint, 116b). After that, even though the original manuscripts of his previous revelations did not include the phrase, they were soon reedited to include it in place of “interpreters” (D&C 10:1, 17:1; cf. JS-H 52 footnote b, and Oliver Cowdery’s comments at the end, note *). Repeatedly using brackets [] to enclose one’s own interpolations is most unfortunate.

    Scholars should assiduously avoid falling into that absurd trap, regardless of the continued use of that inaccurate term by nearly everyone else in the Latter-day Saint community.

    • You are correct that the phrase Urim and THummim was not used until the early 1830s, is missing from the Book of Mormon, and was inserted by Joseph Smith into his previous revelations. These are all topics I have discussed on my blog, including (albeit briefly) the post linked to in Note 4. I allow the term to be open to previous usage in part because of an article in the Boston Investigator published 5 August 1832 in which “Mormonite preachers” allegedly used the term. See “Questions proposed to the Mormonite Preachers and their answers obtained before the whole assembly at Julian Hall, Sunday Evening, August 5, 1832,” Boston Investigator 2, August 10, 1832. Available online at

      Ultimately, I do not discuss the complexities of the origin of this phrase in this paper simply because according to Neville, the seer stone could not be called a Urim and Thummim. I show early on how early Saints did refer to the seer stone as a Urim and Thummim, which would ultimately make the point of origin moot for this paper. It would not matter if Moroni or Joseph or William W. Phelps first used the phrase, because it was used for both tools nonetheless.

      However, I think you are taking my discussion out of context, and so I must respectfully disagree with some of your observations. As you point out, I state that early Latter-day Saints linked all tools of the translation to the Urim and Thummim on page 26, but believe I do not provide an adequate scholarly response. I dealt with the issue of how a seer stone was called the Urim and Thummim between pages 3 and 7, and here am simply building on my previous argument to deal with the current point Neville is raising. (I did not deal with how the Nephite interpreters are called a Urim and Thummim because they are the common referent to that name today, and as pointed out above, the name may have been used even prior to Phelps’ article to which you refer).

      My overarching point of the cited discussion was how Oliver did not refute the seer stone, as Neville says Joseph and others did to respond to Mormonism Unvailed. Rather, Oliver was using a term already in use by the Saints and did not care to distinguish what instrument he may have been referring to (i.e. Interpreters or seer stone). I also believe this is drastically different that Neville’s misunderstanding and lack of mention of the numerous scriptures referencing the walls of Jerusalem, as you claim this is the same “kind of confusion.” Neville actively claims something that contradicts what the scriptures actually say on a historical matter. This is different than discussing the origin of the phrase “Urim and Thummim” in this dispensation.

      Also, as noted in Note 51, I do expand many of Neville’s acronyms such as SITH. I also do the same for instances of Neville using “LDS Church” or “Mormon,” the latter of which are done so I can follow President Nelson’s advice (as also explained in Note 78). Because Neville used the acronyms in a clunky way – such as the citation for note 51, originally reading “acceptance of SITH” – I had to make the sentence grammatically work while still reporting honestly what Neville said. I hope that this explanation will help you understand my use of bracketed phrases throughout, based on what I recorded in my end notes.

  6. Another sign of spiritual immaturity and sometimes apostasy is when one focuses on certain gospel principles or pursues “gospel hobbies” with excess zeal. Almost any virtue taken to excess can become a vice.

    Certain members have wanted to add substantially to various doctrines. An example might be when one advocates additions to the Word of Wisdom that are not authorized by the Brethren and proselytes others to adopt these interpretations. If we turn a health law or any other principle into a form of religious fanaticism, we are looking beyond the mark.

    Some who are not authorized want to speak for the Brethren and imply that their message contains the “meat” the Brethren would teach if they were not constrained to teach only the “milk.” Others want to counsel the Brethren and are critical of all teachings that do not comply with their version of what should be taught.

    The Lord said regarding important doctrine, “Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me” (D&C 10:68) and “That which is more or less than this cometh of evil” (D&C 124:120). We are looking beyond the mark when we elevate any one principle, no matter how worthwhile it may be, to a prominence that lessens our commitment to other equally important principles or when we take a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Brethren.

    — Elder Quentin L. Cook, “Looking Beyond the Mark” (2003)

    • (I do want to make it clear that I was referring to Jonathan Neville in the prior comment, not Spencer Krause. 🙂 )

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