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  1. Pingback: John Hamer in Mormon Podcasts « Saints Herald

  2. Dan where did you get that picture of that awfully ragged seer stone? I thought seer stones had to be shiny and smooth to work.

    1. Just Google images. Check out what’s there! For this one, I think there’s a smooth surface inside the hole.

      1. I was mostly kidding, but for some reason I envisioned the stone to be well polished, oval shapped but flat and colored some sort of emerald green. I geuss I know what to look for if I start my own divining practice 😉
        Overall I enjoyed the podcast. It was an interesting set of perspectives represented. I do think just mentioning the seer stones is a HUGE step forward. I remember being told that he used the urim and thummim at first then he became so proficient in the language that he didn’t need them anymore. Turns out he became proficient at using the seer stone rather than understanding an ancient language.

  3. Great discussion, as always. I have wondered why the church is going about making these notable clarifications through these short articles on lds.org rather than through a general conference address, or message from a general authority. Maybe this is just the first step in transparency and more clarifications are to come, or maybe they have chosen to quietly correct a few misconceptions.

  4. Here’s some food for thought regarding ways to expand the seeing the actual words appear without having to accept a literal translation like Royal Skosen’s.

    The following is taken from Brant Gardner’s book Translating the BOM. For those that are familiar with Brant’s MS podcast but not his actual book I think you’d be pleasantly surprised to find his translation theory is not a literal translation,

    He references this story told by a Brain and Cognition professor:

    “Many people cling to the misconception that seeing simply involves scanning an internal mental picture of some kind. … that there’s a screen somewhere inside the brain where images are displayed-embodies a serious logical fallacy. For if you were to display an image of a champagne glass on an internal neural screen, you’d need another little person inside the brain to see that image.

    And that won’t solve the problem either because you’d then need yet another even tinier person inside his head to view that image and so on ad infinitum. You would end up with an endless ingress of eyes, images and little people, without solving the problem of perception.

    So the first step in understanding perception is to get rid of the idea of images in brain and to begin thinking about symbolic descriptions of objects and events in the external world.”

    Later he discusses Steven Pinker’s term mentalese. Quoting Pinker:

    “Mentalese [is] the language of thought in which our conceptual knowledge is couched. When you put down a book, you forget almost everything about the wording and typeface of the sentences and where they sat on the page. What you take away is their content of gist. (In memory tests, people confidently “recognize” sentences they never saw if they are paraphrases of the sentence they did see.) Mentalese is the medium in which content of gist is captured. . . Mentalese is also the mind’s lingua fraca, the traffic of information amoung the mental modules that allows us to describe what we see, imagine what is described to us, carry out instructions, and so.”

    Then Gardner says his hypothesis is “that mentalese, or the prelanguage of the brain, holds the answer to how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. According to this hypothesis, divine intervention implanted the plate text in Joseph’s brain in the brain’s native prelanguage. This process is actually quite similar to the way B.H. Roberts described the translation process: “The translation though out in the see’s mind may also have been reflected in the interpreters and held there until recorded by the amanuensis, all of which would be incalculably helpful. But since the translation is though out in the mind of the seer, it must be though out in such thought-signs as are at his command, expressed in such speech-forms as he is the master of”.

    “Whatever mentalese might be, it occurs prior to consciousness. Science is discovering that our subconscious is not the stuff of nonthought but of thought prior to the time that we are aware of it.

    Thus, any understanding that the Lord implanted in Joseph’s subconscious would effectively create the foundation on which Joseph constructed the language he dictated, but Joseph would have been unaware of the process itself. Therefore, he was only able to describe the process in terms of the “gift and power of God”.

    Because this process occurred in Jospeh Smith’s mind, then conversion of thought to language had to access to his normal vocabulary, grammar, and cultural contexts….A second process turned this subsconscious mental language into a visual image…He saw the translation when his normal vision was sufficiently distorted or limited in ways that he could see the mental image better. He really read, but not from the stone. Joseph read from the inside out.”

    1. Computer analysis on the text of the book of mormon by Gilbert Hunt and Chris Johnson is showing pieces from the Koran, Late War, first book of Napoleon, rights of christ, and then when Oliver cowdery joins the project, it is difficult to not include view of the hebrews. Also we have sermons by local preachers, and KJV directly copy and pasted in. It is difficult to account for the speed and complexity of producing 100’s of pages. We definitely have interaction with his firmware from his reading and memorizing of many texts with this divine mentalese process – unless we are theorizing that the angels inspiring the mentalese were like Michael Bay’s transformers who come to earth and copy the cloud of media information to speak to Joseph and modern people “in their own language”? Most of the other theories for the production of the book of mormon bounce between genius, and plagiarist, but even the plagiarism looks complex requiring mountains of outlines, paper and notes, edits, books strewn everywhere, etc.

  5. I checked on mormon.org under book of mormon translation and they are still pushing the marketing lie artist rendition portraying the genius “scholar JS” translating the plates by scanning the plates with his finger using his triple PhD in Egyptology, Eblaite, Meroitic, Demotic, Akkadian, old Hebrew. Also I have spoken with full-time missionaries over the last month and they have no clue about any of these Gospel Topic essays. Also spoke with the mission president, and my stake presidency, and they hadn’t read or heard anything.

  6. I was disappointed that neither the document nor the podcast discussed D&C 9. It’s a document that comes for the period of the translation, comes from Joseph Smith, and discusses the translation process. It certainly doesn’t sound like he just read the words.

    1. Larrin: I agree! I actually had D&C 9 open so that I could read it, and I almost jumped in a couple times to do it. I think that text (along with D&C 8) pretty clearly set out the revelation process.

  7. Question for John Hamer: I have really enjoyed your podcasts on Mormon Stories and now this one on Mormon Matters.

    I view the BOM just as you do, but I still struggle to get the spiritual nourishment when reading it like I used to prior to becoming aware of all its issues. It has been almost two years now since my “faith crisis” and maybe I just need more time?

    As a result I prefer the New Testament to the BOM. I prefer the parables, reading about the life and ministry of Jesus and His disciples to the endless war chapters, Isaiah chapters plagerized, and disappointing chapters on Christ in America found in the BOM.

    Do you prefer the NT to the BOM?

    Because you haven’t read the BOM since your teenage years, I am curious to see if you actually have the spiritual experience as you read the BOM that you are hoping for…

    1. Paul: I’ve been reading and studying the NT much, much more in recent years, yes. Usually, when I’m giving a sermon/talk in church, the reading is drawn from the NT. I’ve done a lot of reading on the quests for the historical Jesus and I am pleased that I think we can find a lot of good there.

      I think the exercise of reading a difficult book of scripture for its theological perspective can be helpful — and I’ve had several instances where it’s been helpful for me. A decade ago, when I first began re-investigating religion and Community of Christ, I decided to start by going to the heart of it and read one of the gospels. As a Mormon kid, I’d primarily been interested in the OT, as I was attracted to it as a legitimately ancient document, and I’d really never spent any time on the NT.

      I decided to read the gospel of John, for no better reason than “that’s my name too.” I was flabbergasted by the text. I routinely had to throw the book on the ground in disgust. John’s Jesus is a demigod who wanders around declaring his divinity. It was so clearly the creation of someone writing after the real Jesus’s death, who had come to believe Jesus was a demigod, and who then retrojected his ideas about what such a demigod would have said. It nearly turned me off from my investigations. But then I researched more about the gospels, turned to the synoptics, and began to see the actual Jesus under the layers of writings created by post-Easter Christians.

      I still don’t think the Gospel of John has much to tell us about the historical Jesus, but I think it’s possible to read the book as a theological text and pull out useful messages. I’ve had the same experience with the Book of Revelations (also attributed to John, neither of which were written by anyone who’d ever met Jesus). Given what I know of fundamentalist Christianity, at first I thought the best strategy with Revelations might be to dismiss it as a fraud and ignore it. But I’ve since come to see it as a book that has been totally mis-read by Christians since the Middle Ages, when people began to read history into and see it as predictive of the future; which it is not.

      That’s a long answer and probably not long enough to explain myself.

  8. Pingback: What the Hell did Joseph Mean By Translation? - Rational Faiths

  9. A great discussion. I do want to push back a little based on conversations I have had with the author regarding the intent of this article (I apologize in advance for not being able to name the author, but suffice it to say that the author has no affiliation with FARMS or FAIR).

    As to the general weight of these new “Gospel Topics” articles, I would place them more in the category of CES or Church Curriculum updates rather than “official statements” from the Brethren. Yes, they are reviewed by the Brethren for final approval, but they are not intended as proclamations or decrees on these subjects, as some have been treating them. One intended usage for these articles is in the new “Come Follow Me” youth curriculum in Seminary, Sunday School, and YM/YW classes. Incidentally, the new adult Sunday School curriculum that is being prepared will follow the “Come Follow Me” approach (a basic topic outline and approved resources). These Gospel Topics will hopefully be incorporated as approved resources. I would place these essays in line with church curriculum manuals in terms of authoritativeness rather than official declarations, general conference talks, or even circulars sent out to bishops to be read over chapel pulpits.

    The articles are indeed passed through committees: namely through the Church History Department and Church Correlation before seeking final approval from the First Presidency and Quorum. The process is laborious and, as was pointed out by Katie, multiple revisions with competing approaches do make it difficult to agree on language as well as brevity. What is finally approved is typically a compromise.

    More specific this particular article, the author believes that there is more flexibility than what is being interpreted. The biggest push-back seems to be regarding the usage of Martin Harris’ description of the translation process: “According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English”. The key in this sentence is the phrase, “According to witnesses.” The author was not presuming the reliability of the witnesses’ account, but simply reporting the witnesses’ description. It was not intended as an official endorsement of a “tight translation” as many have supposed. The author intentionally avoided any of the more modern theories regarding the mechanical aspects of translation; focusing solely on contemporary statements. In regards to Harris’ statement, the author is not supposing him to be a reliable witness. I agree that this could have been qualified better in the article in order to avoid the natural conclusions that are being drawn.

    Regarding the interchangeability of the terms ‘seer stone’ and ‘Urim and Thummim’ I think Dan did a good job of clarifying the author’s position. It was not the author’s intention to gloss over the use of the seer stone as the primary tool of translation in favor of the more Biblical “Urim and Thummin” terminology.

    Regarding the closing of the article, this boilerplate call to “Ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true” with the promise that “if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Similar language was used at the end of the First Vision article, which stated: “If the seeker asks with the
    real intent to act upon the answer revealed by the Holy Ghost, the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s vision will be manifest.”

    These closings are obviously at the behest of the ecumenical leadership. These articles, after all, are designed to be devotional and faith-promoting.

    For a good explanation of the purpose of the articles and their process of creation, see Elder Steven Snow’s video on the main Gospel Topics page: http://www.lds.org/topics?lang=eng#media=11373505780672488714-eng

    Finally, I agree that D&C 9 would have been good to include not only in this panel discussion, but in the article itself. I agree with John Hamer’s assessment that this may be the best explanation we have for the revelatory and translation process.

  10. From time to time when the revelation subject has come up in Sunday classes I have referred to the 9th section and asked my fellow class members and the teacher what God was referring to when he told Oliver to study it out in his mind. What was he supposed to study?? Was he supposed read the latest books on translating hidden records? I always felt it was kind of unfair of God to take him by surprise like that. I guess I had the “curtain” idea with him and the golden plates and the Urim and Thummin and him not being able to make heads or tails out what he was seeing (not being able to see an English translation).
    I’m not real concerned either way, but I’ll probably end up excusing the curtain theory. With this new wave stuff, I, at least have him looking at some English words, but who was telling him the translation wasn’t right? Was Joseph constantly looking over his shoulder telling him it was wrong? That could get kind of heavy too!

  11. Two things I think are of interest. First there are no eyewitnesses of Joseph actually looking at the gold plates during any of the process of dictating the BoM. He seems to have dictated all the text while looking in his hat with the plates either hidden under a cloth or even hidden in the woods per his father-in-law. Second, the church history reports that afer Martine Harris had lost the 116 pages, an angel took the plates AND the Urim and thummin from Joseph. After a time, the plates were returned to him BUT NOT the Urim and Thummin. Thus Joseph used his seer stone for all the text from Mosiah to the end and then to start at the begining to write the replacement text for the lost pages. Thus the BOM the we read today was completely composed by Joseph looking at his seer stone. Thus one has to wonder whether he needed any plates at all.
    If Joseph used the same process that he suggested to Oliver, then one cannot get a better description of how an author writes his novel.

  12. The original translation of the plates have changed so many times, have been re-classified so many times and have been re-defined so often that the translation due to the seer stone is worthless today. Joseph Smith claimed to use the Egyptian scrolls to translate the Book of Abraham. Today the spin is that Joseph Smith did not actually use the scrolls to translate but only as an inspiration. This is because the real translation of the scrolls demonstrated an entirely different translation than what Joseph Smith declared.The Church today is only interested in mainstreaming the message and mixing with the once abominations religions revealed by Joseph Smith.

  13. Several years ago the LDS church made the “mistake” of opening their archives to students writing PhD papers at BYU. Among the documents they found was a notebook written by Joseph Smith on the method he used to translate the Egyptian Papyrus. It can be correlated to the actual papyrus which was found and later translates to the funeral documents for the dead. Thus the LDS claims that their were other papyrus which were used to write the Book of Abraham is false.

    In addition a document was found, in Oliver Cowdrey’s handwriting in which he records one of his vision experiences where he gives the required wording for the eucharist prayers. They are identical to those found in the Book of Mormon and the D&C. So much for the claim that Oliver did not write any of the BoM text.

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