Thursday, May 1, 2014

Combining Two Objections to The Method of Translating the Book of Mormon to Support its Authenticity

Critics level two criticism of the Book of Mormon that, when looked at separately, detract from its authenticity, but when viewed together support the conclusion that either (1) the Book of Mormon text was revealed to Joseph Smith to match the Bible text or (2) Joseph Smith had a brilliant memory and had memorized large portions of the Bible.

First, critics like to point out that Joseph Smith performed the translation of the Book of Mormon by using seer stones or "peep" stones, instead of, as most Mormons think, using the Urim and Thummim. Smith did use the Urim and Thummim on the lost 116 pages, but he pretty much exclusively used the sear stones to translate the remainder of the book. Most of the accounts say that Joseph Smith would put a stone in a hat, block out all light, and then dictate the translation with the plates resting on the table next to him.

There are two reasons the critics like to point out the translation method. First, it is different from what most Mormons think they know about the translation process. Second, the plates Joseph Smith was supposed to be translating do not seem to play much of a role in the translation process. Of course, Smith did not know Egyptian or Reformed Egyptian (the language of the plates) but claimed to translate by a type of revelation, so there's no reason to suppose that he needed to look at the plates to receive the revelation. Still, it is counter-intuitive that he would need to first receive the plates to translate them, but then ultimately not actively use them in the translation process.

Second, critics point out that large portions of the Book of Mormon are verbatim, or close to verbatim quotations from the King James version of the Bible. The Book of Mormon even quotes Bible passages that themselves contain translation errors. The objection here is that Joseph Smith is merely copying material instead of actually translating, and that if he was really translating by the power of God as opposed to copying, God would inspire him to correct the Bible errors.

Put these objections together, however, and I think they pose a real problem for the theory that Joseph Smith copied portions of the Bible to fill out the Book of Mormon. First, the testimony establishing that Joseph Smith translated using a hat also establishes that Smith had no way to conceal notes from the scribe who copied down his dictations.When Emma was specifically asked about the possibility that Joseph had concealed a manuscript, she said there was nowhere for him to have concealed it from her. Any notes in his hat would be difficult to impossible to read if the light was blocked out, and would have easily exposed the fraud when he had to rearrange them.  In contrast, if Joseph Smith was translating directly from the plates as concealed by a curtain as most Mormons visualize, it would have been much easier to conceal Bible passages or notes to help him fabricate the Book of Mormon text.

If Joseph Smith was using notes, those who served as his scribes, like Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery, would have to know he was a fraud. However, Emma and Oliver give every indication that they were true believers in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Oliver also reaffirmed his testimony that the Book of Mormon was translated by the "gift and power of God," even after his falling out with Joseph Smith and defection from the church. Thus, unless Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery were part of a conspiracy, the fact that Joseph Smith could dictate lengthy passages of the Bible without notes shows that he either had a terrific memory or those passages were revealed to him.

No comments: