As Richard Bushman mentions in this podcast episode, one of the very first things Joseph Smith did in announcing himself to the world was to take on the title of “translator.” What an audacious thing, especially as Mormonism associates translation with the gift of seership, even proclaiming that “a seer is greater than a prophet” (Mosiah 8:15). Since declaring himself a translator, and yet it being apparent that he knew no ancient languages, exactly what Smith meant by “translation” has been an ongoing debate both within and without the faith. Though never a particularly settled question, it has in recent years become a topic of renewed fascination within Mormon scholarly circles, and with the release in the past 18 months of images and more information of the seerstone Smith used in translating the Book of Mormon, it has caught on as a fresh area of inquiry among non-specialists as well. In addition new angles of inquiry are emerging that examine the notion of translation far beyond the confines of Book of Mormon production.
Recognizing this renewed interest and the fascination of the approaches being taken, the Utah State University religious studies program, in partnership with the Faith Matters Foundation, are convening a conference (“New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation”) on 16 March 2017 at Utah State exploring these emerging perspectives with great energy. This episode of Mormon Matters hosts three of the conference’s participants, Richard Bushman, Samuel Brown, and Philip Barlow, to tease some of the new perspectives that are finding some footing and why discussions like this are important and fascinating both to scholars and lay church members. The episode, of course, mentions the conference a lot, but even for someone not able to consider trying to attend, there are wonderful insights aplenty as Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon turns these three great thinkers loose to talk about things for which they have great passion.
We think you’ll love listening in, and after you do, we hope you’ll add your thoughts in the comments section!
Links to things discussed in this episode:
Faith Matters Foundation website (opens on page with conference information, including schedule and parking. Also sign up to receive emails from the foundation, including when video of the conference is ready for viewing)
“Joseph Smith’s Use of a Seer Stone in Bringing Forth the Book of Mormon,” Mormon Matters podcast, Episodes 287-288, 10 August 2015 (featuring Ann Taves, D. Michael Quinn, and Ronald Barney)
Ann Taves, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies of the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths (Princeton, 2016), paperback; Link to purchase Kindle edition of same book)
Selected Books and Writings by authors on this episode:
Samuel M. Brown, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple (Maxwell Institute, 2014)
Samuel M. Brown, In Heaven As It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (Oxford, 2012)
Philip A. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of Latter-day Saints in American Religion (Oxford, 2013)
Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, reprint edition (Vintage, 2007)
Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (University of Illinois Press, 1987)
Richard L. Bushman, “Faithful History,” Dialogue 4, no. 4 (Winter, 1969)