Was the Book of Mormon translated? Was the Book of Mormon revealed? Was it inspired? Was it all three, or a combination of the above? How much does it matter?
The accounts left by Joseph and others involved suggest that the translation of the Book of Mormon was conducted, with a few variations, largely in this manner: Joseph and the scribe sequestered in a room, with a sheet or curtain drawn up to shield them from the casual view of others in the house. The plates wrapped in a cloth on the scribe’s table, with the scribe writing down what Joseph dictates. Joseph himself at least periodically buries his face in a hat to peer intently at his seerstone, in which he sees words, whether one at a time, or in clusters is unclear. Joseph also feels free enough with his work to correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word choice, both immediately and after the Book of Mormon was published.
In later productions, like the Books of Abraham, Moses, and the revision of the Bible, there was apparently even less physicality to the process. Other than the Egyptian papyri purchased from Michael Chandler, there appeared to be no seerstone or other mechanical device used in the writing of these books. They were received much as most of the sections of the D&C (with the obvious seerstone section aside) were, by inspiration.
Given the above, what does it say about Joseph Smith that he began his prophetic translations with physical objects and moved away from them later on? That he “graduated” in a spiritual sense? Were the physical objects necessary prompts to revelatory experience?
Why would Moroni bother with giving Joseph physical objects like the plates which were apparently so cumbersome and the desire of his neighbors when God could simply reveal the contents of the book to Joseph? And why would Moroni take them back again? Were the plates themselves like the “slippery” treasures spoken of in the text of the Book of Mormon itself, a thing of great worth which is impossible to control?