Seer stone in a hat – Book of Mormon translation

From the page on The Book of Mormon, we read, “By the power of God, Joseph Smith translated this book from an ancient record written on gold plates. In September 1827, Joseph received the record, which was written on thin plates of gold. Joseph translated the book into English by the inspiration of God and called the book the Book of Mormon.”

Inspiration is defined for us on the same page as “divine guidance that comes through the promptings of the Holy Ghost.” Let’s look a little closer at that process of translation. From the LDS Newsroom article on the Book of Mormon we read, “Joseph translated the plates in about three months after which he returned them to the angel Moroni. ” That’s 531 pages in 85 days!

The process of translating evolved

President Faust said, “The process of translating the Book of Mormon was an education for Joseph Smith. When the Lord called him, he was a young man, unlearned, simple, and very ordinary in the eyes of the world. The translation process taught the unlearned young man from New York essential lessons which were vital for his call as the prophet of the Restoration.”

In the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 5:4) the Lord said to Joseph, “And you have a gift to translate the plates.” The Lord also said in D&C 20:8 that He “gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon.” So literally, the Lord said that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, just as we claim.

“These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! 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 Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1834, 14, or Joseph Smith—History 1:71, note

How the seer stones were used

Moroni said to Joseph, “that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

“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 on that appeared the writing. One character at a time 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, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.”

Source: David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.

We do not know all the details

I think the process David Whitmer was describing above may have been true for only the early work when Joseph was first learning to translate. The Lord referred to the process of using the seer stones in translation as having “sight and power.” We know that Joseph did not need or use the seer stones in translating the later portion of the work but we do not know all the details.

Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Joseph Smith told him that he used the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced at translation but that later he did not need it, which was the case in Joseph’s translation of many verses of the Bible (Millennial Star, 11 Aug. 1874, 498–99 as quoted by Elder Maxwell).

We do not know all the details of the translation process or how much Joseph used or needed the seer stones. The Lord made it clear that it was a powerful and merciful gift: “And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon (D&C 1:29).

Judge the results, not the method used

The Lord told the three witnesses that He was pleased with the Book of Mormon as translated by Joseph Smith: “…he has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.

The Three Witnesses testified: “And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.” They saw the plates as shown unto them by a angel.

Joseph Smith declared that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, . . . and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461). I add my testimony to the witness of Joseph.

The Book of Mormon is a test

I am confident that there are many who are investigating the Church who turn to Internet sites to get an understanding of what the Book of Mormon is all about. When they read or hear about the use of seer stones for the first time (in a hat), it can seem strange and very different.

Even Hyrum, the brother of the Prophet was told by Joseph Smith that “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon” and that “it was not expedient for him to relate these things” (History of the Church, 1:220).

Don’t get hung up on the use of a “seer stone in a hat” that may have been used in the early days of translating the Book of Mormon. The method of how it was translated is not a big deal. The real test of the authenticity of the book is found in Moroni’s promise. Ask God in prayer.

8 thoughts on “Seer stone in a hat – Book of Mormon translation”

  1. I don’t care about seer stone or whatever.I am not an english native speaker and I had to learn your language first at shool, then on my mission, and then I “polished” it at university when I majored in English. I can make mistake still but I know how to correct them and if I take the time to think about things I can tell why this or that should be said.I took this class with one of the most proeminent scholar, since she is a famous translator, who would seldomly give a grade above 8/20. I got 12.5!!!!Why am I bragging about it?Because I know (I don’t have faith or trust or whatever) that translating such a book would take forever to this teacher, probably a lifetime, therefore it is absolutely impossible for someone lacking her knowledge (such as J.Smith) to do it. I know the field of translation, I know what it takes, I know what it took me to get a mere 12.5 with this teacher, I know I am far more educated than he was, therefore I can’t imagine any other way to translate this book but by a higher power.I can also see how the Lord educated him by enabling him to translate this book.

  2. You are mixing two completely different objects and making them become one. I don't know if this is the intention or not. The U & T was found with the Plates given to Joseph Smith. There was also a seer stone found in a well. The U & T is what Joseph Smith taught (and Oliver Cowdery) was used to Translated the Book of Mormon. David Whitmer argues that the Seer stone was used. These are two different items, and is still debated how much the seer stone was actually used in translation. Mostly because why use the seer stone if the U & T was still around?

  3. Sorry Max, that was not my intention to leave the impression that the seer stone and the Urim and Thummim were one and the same. They are not. And I agree with you that the amount of usage of the seer stone in translating the Book or Mormon is still not clear. You statements are concise and provide ample summary of the two methods used. I might also point out that at times, Joseph used neither instrument in bringing forth the translation of an ancient document, as in the book of Moses. Your clarifying comments are greatly appreciated.

  4. Dear Tim, it seems you are not willing to take seriously my scriptural case, elsewhere, against the LDS understanding of the priesthood and Mormon exclusivism. This is unfortunate. But, for now, I think we’ll move on to a different issue. Namely, that of the seer stone in the hat.This is a very important issue, it seems to me, for the central book of Mormonism was translated, so it is said, through the seer stone in the hat. To be more precise, a significant portion of the Book of Mormon was translated through the seer stone and/or urim and thumim.That this alleged process may seem odd at first blush does give us cause to re-examine such a fundamental event. Perhaps if it is weird then it is false? But I do not think it is the right question to ask. A talking donkey is weird because it had never happened before, or since, but it really did happen (I believe and you do too, I think).The correct question to ask, then, is, is it true? Do we have any reason to believe it? Presumably, your answer to this question would be, “we know that it is true for Joseph told us.” And how do we know we can believe Joseph?Because you feel that he is telling the truth? I did not ask why we should feel that he is telling the truth but how we can know it. Is there a reasonable doubt?Yes, and for at least two reasons. First, there is the matter of the missing pages which allegedly translated “the more secular part”. The scribe took it home and his wife apparently destroyed it. Then God very conveniently revealed that Joseph did not have to retranslate that part. The temptation is very strong to suppose Joseph was just making the whole thing up as he went along (if the retranslation did not match the original which, for all he knew, his scribe’s wife still had, it would be devastating to his claims and why would God have him translate it in the first place if it would end up being lost).Secondly, it is apparently admitted even by Mormon historians, in good standing, that the Smith family, including Joseph hiself, practiced magic. “Rough Stone Rolling” gives an account of this, if memory serves. And what is one of the most common magical practices of all time? Crystal gazing. The difference between divination through a crystal (ball) and receiving information through looking into a rock does not seem very large to me. And the Bible condemns witchcraft just as clearly as it condemns polytheism.Ultimately, like everything else in Mormonism, we are reduced to subjectivity/feeling and the claims of one man, Joseph Smith, who is commonly viewed outside of Mormon circles as less than totally honest. And we have good objective evidence (two pieces of evidence were laid out above) for supposing he lied about this.But I need to qualify that. I am not calling into question that Smith put a rock in his hat and claimed it enabled him to see an English translation of Reformed Egyptian. What I am questioning is that it really enabled him to so do.As you know, we do not have access to the gold plates so Egyptologists cannot compare the translation. What they can compare, and have, is the Book of Abraham scroll. At the very least, their findings on that score-which you have blown off while safely sheltered in your bubble of personal testimony-should raise the possibilty that maybe, just maybe, the Book of Mormon is not all it is cracked up to be. Maybe Smith really was lying about the seer stone in the hat. Your thoughts on this?

  5. Pingback: General Authority training – advanced subjects | Mormon Bloggers

  6. Pingback: General Authority training – advanced subjects | Latter-day Commentary

  7. Pingback: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for faith | Latter-day Commentary

  8. Interesting stuff. It is a bit unfortunate that we don’t everything about how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. But I suppose that these details are not as important as what we do know: that God loves us, that we can be saved through the Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and that we can be with our families forever.

Comments are closed.