translation smith hat stone copy

1. Joseph Didn’t Use the Plates
Despite all that the Book of Mormon prophets apparently went through to assemble, write, and preserve the records, Joseph Smith didn’t even use them to translate. Various witnesses of the process, including Emma Smith and Martin Harris, recalled how Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon while the plates were either covered or absent from the room.

Apologists assert that physical plates weren’t essential as a source text but were necessary to convince Joseph Smith and others that the story of “the principle ancestors of the American Indians” was a literal, not merely spiritual, account.

It seems odd that Joseph Smith, who at that point had allegedly seen God and angels, would need any further convincing that the work was true. This is also a blatant double standard. If a prophet needed physical evidence to believe, why can’t members today have physical evidence to help their belief, especially with so many physical evidences that disprove the Book of Mormon?

2. Joseph Used a Seer Stone
Most Latter-day Saints grew up learning that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon through the use of magic spectacles known as the Urim and Thummim. This is not quite accurate.

In 1822, Joseph Smith found a brown, egg-colored stone while digging a well for Willard Chase. Claiming the stone could be used to find hidden objects, he spent several years hiring out his services as a scryer to various treasure hunters. In 1825 he failed to find a silver mine for his paying client, Josiah Stowell, and in 1826, Stowell’s nephew had Joseph arrested on charges of being “a disorderly person and an imposter.”

joseph smith seer stone

It was this stone that Joseph used to translate the Book of Mormon. John L. Traughber, testified:

“I, too, have heard Father Whitmer say that he was present many times while Joseph was translating; but I never heard him say that the translation was made by aid of Urim and Thummim; but in every case, and his testimony is always the same, he declared that Joseph first offered prayer, then took a dark colored, opaque stone, called a “seer-stone,” and placed it in the crown of his hat, then put his face into the hat, and read the translation as it appeared before him. This was the daily method of procedure, as I have often heard Father Whitmer declare” (J. L. Traughber to Editor, 13 Oct. 1879, Saints’Herald 26 (15 Nov. 1879): 341 (EMD 5:59)

The stone brought Joseph some notoriety as a “glass looker” but had repeatedly proven to be ineffective at finding treasure. Still, Joseph relied on it to dictate the Book of Mormon.

This brings up some questions: If it couldn’t find treasure, why should the stone be relied on to correctly translate an ancient record? If Joseph made false claims about his scrying ability, why should anyone trust his story about translating the Book of Mormon, especially when the translation was done behind a curtain, like a magician hiding his trick?

Furthermore, if a prophet so great as Joseph Smith needed a seer stone to translate, and even so made mistakes in his translation, how much worse off are the prophets today who don’t use seer stones to help them receive revelations? Perhaps this is the reason the leaders have not issued a new word-for-word revelation in over 100 years?

3. Witnesses Said it Was a Word-for-Word Translation
David Whitmer said, “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” (An Address to All Believers in Christ,pg. 12).

Emma, who first acted as Joseph’s scribe, recalled, “When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling” (Letter to Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History 9, pg. 454).

If Joseph saw a word-for-word translation on the stone, then why are there so many historic and linguistic errors (including spelling) in the Book of Mormon? For example, it makes multiple mentions of horses, despite the complete lack of evidence that there were horses anywhere in the New World during the Book of Mormon timeframe (along with goats, swine, asses, and cattle).

Apologists at the Maxwell Institute claim the word “horse” may have simply been used to describe another animal (the tapir being the choice candidate). But if the Lord used the “horse” to describe an animal that was clearly not a horse, why did he use unique words like “curelom” and “cumom” to describe other unknown animals?

A Nephite Steed

A Nephite Steed

Beyond historical problems, the Book of Mormon also contains errors specific to the King James Bible the Smith family owned. This means that either Joseph simply plagiarized directly from the Bible (which means he could have easily also used a document to help dictate other portions) or the Lord gave him the same biblical errors that the Book of Mormon claims were made by “the great and abominable church.” And why would the Lord give Joseph a historically faulty (to say nothing of spelling and grammar) revelation?

If it was a word-for-word revelation like the witnesses attested, then why did it undergo over 3,000 textual and grammatical changes? If it was not a word-for-word revelation and Joseph needed to correct his mistakes, why didn’t he correct the most damning inaccuracies and errors? If the revelations on the stone were filtered through the projections of Joseph’s own mind, how can we be certain what is literally true and accurate and what his mistake?

4. It Was Not a Superhuman Feat states, “One of the most amazing facts about the Book of Mormon is that it took Joseph Smith only about sixty-five working days to translate a book that, in the current edition, is 531 pages long.” This assertion can mislead people into believing the Book of Mormon production process was nothing short of miraculous.

Truly, if an uneducated, 24-year-old Joseph had only 65 days to generate a uniquely impressive plot, find a scribe, dictate, revise, and publish the book, it would have been an impressive (though not impossible) task. The reality, however, is less impressive.

Joseph didn’t suddenly produce a story from nothing. It was several years in coming. Prior to the translation, Joseph demonstrated his interest in Native American origins as well as his storytelling ability.

In a biography of her son, Lucy Mack Smith recounted how, as a young man, “Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelings, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them” (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations, pg. 36-173).

Over the course of several years, Joseph adapted the commonly believed myth that the Native Americans were Israelite descendants into a working plot, borrowing heavily from various sources including View of the Hebrews (written by Oliver Cowdery’s pastor), the Bible, The Late War, The First Book of Napoleon, and his own family.

Once Oliver Cowdery volunteered to act as scribe, Joseph was able to dictate for many hours at a time. Though there were less than 100 actual translation days, those days were spread out over almost two years, in which time Joseph could easily have refined the story.

Other authors have produced more impressive works in a shorter time. The uneducated housewife, Pearl Curron, acting as a spiritual medium, dictated a 325,000-word novel in 109 days. Curron’s book included vivid and compelling descriptions of ancient peoples as well as correct idiom and spelling. Whereas Joseph’s book of 275,000 words (27,000 of which were lifted directly from the King James Bible) has been discredited by historians and criticized by linguists.

Another example is L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Like Joseph Smith, Hubbard was a treasure-seeking visionary who had a penchant for storytelling. After dropping out of college, he began a career as a novelist, during which he wrote between 75,000 and 100,000 words a month. Featured on the Smithsonian magazine’s list of the 100 Most Significant Americans, Hubbard wrote 19 New York Times bestsellers and currently has over 250 million copies of his works in circulation. How is this any less “superhuman” than Joseph’s?

There are even works comparable to the Book of Mormon within Mormonism. One of Joseph’s self-proclaimed successors, James Strang, claimed to translate a set of “ancient” plates which were handled by multiple witnesses, including several non-Mormons.

voree plates

Strang’s The Book of The Law of the Lord reads like the Book of Mormon and even features lengthy chiastic structure, a poetic form apologists tout as evidence of the Book of Mormon’s alleged Hebrew origins. Among Strang’s followers were prominent members of Joseph’s family as well as Martin Harris and David Whitmer, two witnesses of the Book of Mormon. If they could be fooled by Strang’s obvious fraud, why should we trust their testimony of the Book of Mormon?

Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland
  • Yeah, the seer stone deal kinda takes the magic out of it, don’t it? My grandparents used to tell us about the “golden plates” and the “eleven witnesses” around the breakfast table. I’m afraid I didn’t believe the story any more than the one about Hansel and Gretel or the one with Rumpelstiltskin, even as a kid, but I liked the story and liked hearing it. The “rock in a hat” version loses something in the romance department, though I’ll bet he didn’t use the hat either.

    It’s been pooh-poohed by savvier people than me, but I’ll bet that Smith, Cowdery and Rigdon used the Solomon Spalding manuscript at least as a template or general outline. And, as imperfect as the BoM may have been in the beginning, it is said to have bee in much worse shape when it went to the printer’s shop, where a conscientious type setter took sections home at night to straighten them out and try to render them in coherent English.

    It’s interesting how God is almost never any smarter than the people He is “working” through.

  • Jose Galdamez

    The November 2016 debate between Grant Palmer and Alma Allred brought up the idea that the Old Testament Urim and Thummim was used a binary yes or no device, and there’s no historical precedent for using it as a seeing device. I’ve posted the transcript below for anyone interested in the back and forth.

    Allred (LDS CES Director): I don’t think he was seeing treasures. Otherwise, I think they would’ve found them.

    Wallace (Presbyterian Moderator): But you admit he was telling people he was seeing treasures.

    Allred: No, I don’t think so. I think that he claimed that he could see things in the Urim and Thummim or in the seer stone. I think that for Joseph Smith and for the other people in the church they saw the terms as synonmous, whether they used the seer stone or the Urim and Thummim. I think they even referred to the seer stone as the Urim and Thummim.

    Palmer (Ex-LDS Critic): The church would be better served if they went back to interpreters for the simple reason Joseph Smith’s [History] 1 in the Pearl of Great Price verse 35 says Urim and Thummim. He buys into this, and the Urim and Thummim was not a seeing device. It was a yes or no kind of thing. Ask any Rabbi. Any Rabbi!

    Allred: Actually, there’s quite a bit of literature on this subject.

    Palmer: Of course there is.

    Allred: And the most recent literature that I’m aware of they’ve said that taking the position that it’s a yes or no device is not a tenable position. I can give you the…

    Palmer: But it’s not a seeing device. It’s a device where, “Should we go to war?,” and it’s…

    Allred: Well, that’s your conclusion. but clearly it isn’t the conclusion of a lot of…

    Palmer: That’s a majority of the people in the field. Look, you can find a small number of people who think the Earth is flat. You can find a small number of people who think the landing on the moon was staged in a Hollywood studio.

    Wallace: Where in the scriptures do you see the Urim and Thummim ever being used in the context in which Joseph Smith is using the seer stone?

    Allred: Where in the Bible? I don’t see it.

    Wallace: However, in the Bible, what you have is a clear yes or no, or you have is a division where it’s Saul or Jonathan but not everyone else.

    Allred: Actually, what you’re doing is relying on the Septuagint translation.

    Wallace: But you’re not seeing anywhere this idea of this being like a crystal ball that is showing images. There’s nothing in terms of the way that Joseph Smith is describing using.

    Allred: I don’t think that you can disqualify it, either way. I don’t see it stating that “Yeah, Abraham could look into the Urim and Thummim.” In fact, I don’t remember Abrahama having a Urim and Thummim in the Bible—or Aaron.

    Wallace: It was part of the breastplate.

  • “In imitation of the true order of heaven whereby seers receive revelations from God through a Urim and Thummim, the devil gives his own revelations to some of his followers through peep stones or crystal balls.”
    – Bruce R. McConkie

    (Mormon Doctrine 1966 version)

  • Eric Monroe

    I kinda feel sorry for the silly saps that chased Joseph in the woods at night to steal the “Golden Bible,” to no avail. Good thing JS had super human strength to run, jump and zig zag with 150 – 200 lbs under his arm or over his shoulder…er in his napsack…Damn he was one athletic S.O.B!

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  • Craig

    1 & 2. You are correct, Joseph used the seer stone most of the time: “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.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)

    Joseph continually insisted, the only real answer, from any perspective, is that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God.

    To try a paradigm shift and see it from Joseph’s point of view – why would it matter what he used to translate the plates? Why would it matter that Moses used a rod (that later budded) instead of just commanding the waters to part? If you were to do something miraculous, what would you use? God works in mysterious ways to fulfill HIs purposes.

    3. Witnesses to the translation process never reported that a Bible or any other book was present during the translation. Given this evidence, we could assume that the Biblical passages were revealed to Joseph during the translation process in a format almost identical with similar passages in the King James Bible.

    A closer look at these duplicate Isaiah texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity. We often find differences in Book of Mormon Isaiah texts where modern texts disagree. One verse (2 Nephi 12:16), is not only different but adds a completely new phrase: “And upon all the ships of the sea.” This non-King James addition agrees with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Bible, which was first translated into English in 1808 by Charles Thomson. Such a translation was “rare for its time.” The textual variants in the two texts have theological important and ancient support. (

    It is interesting that the Book of Mormon mentions “horses”. It is also interesting that if they were “horses”, why does the BOM never mention them being ridden in battle? This is in stark contrast to the Biblical account, in which the chariots of Egypt, Babylon, and the Philistines are feared super-weapons upon the plains of Israel. Nor do we see a role for the horse in gallant cavalry charges that were the romantic warrior ideal in Joseph Smith’s day. Nor is there any sign of the rapid war of maneuver and skirmish favored by the cavalry of the western nations. These are not the horses of the nineteenth century’s practical realities or fanciful dreams. There are societies in which the horse was vital, such as among the Hun warriors of Asia and Eastern Europe, for whom horses were a sign of wealth and status, and for whom they were essential for food, clothing, and war. Yet, there is no known horse bone from this period in the archaeological record (S. Bokonyi, History of Domestic Mammals in Central and Eastern Europe (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1974), 267.)

    4. Joseph saw the Angel Moroni 4 years previous and met with him each year before he was given permission to see the gold plates. “The chronology found in Lucy Mack Smith’s history, however, tells just the opposite story, and puts this quotation in its proper context. Lucy says that the angel Moroni told her son (during his first appearance) about the existence of the plates and informed him where they were buried. Lucy then states that Joseph (the evening after he had seen the Nephite record in their place of deposit) told his family all about ‘the plates.” .

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