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The LDS Church: Examining Mormon Beliefs 1


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#1 Fortigurn

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 04:53 PM

The LDS Church teaches that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from certain 'golden plates'. However, there is no evidence that the text of the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates

* The reasons for this are:

(a) There is no evidence for the existence of the plates
(b) There is no evidence that the plates contained the information in the Book of Mormon
© There is no evidence that whatever was on the plates was translated by Smith
(d) There is evidence contrary to the claim that Smith translated the plates:

(i) Most witnesses describe the plates as completely absent during Smith's writing of the Book of Mormon, or else as not being viewed by him during the writing of the Book of Mormon
(ii) Even witnesses recording Smith's alleged interaction with the plates describe a process which is not translation (Pratt, Whitmer)

* There are alternative sources to the plates which contain a significant amount of the information in the Book of Mormon, constituting either identical or near identical material (local geography, over 200 names and a considerable amount of text from the KJV Bible, plus text from the Spaulding Manuscript the View Of The Hebrews, and possibly others), which has been acknowledged and documented by General Authority BH Roberts:

It is the noted Mormon historian, B. H. Roberts, who first pointed out the amazing correspondence between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. In two unpublished manuscripts released by his family after his death, this eminent scholar presented a short list of parallels between the two books.


In light of this evidence, there can be no doubt as to the possession of a vividly strong, creative imagination by Joseph Smith, the Prophet. An imagination, it could with reason be urged, which, given the suggestions that are to be found in the 'common knowledge' of accepted American Antiquities of the times, supplimented [sic] by such a work as Ethan Smith's, View of the Hebrews, would make it possible for him to create a book such as the Book of Mormon is." (Part 1, Chapter 14, p. 250)


* It can be demonstrated that these alternative sources exist, and the information in them was available to Smith, which cannot be said for the plates

The fact is that we have no evidence whatever that the material in the Book of Mormon was taken from the plates by any means, still less by translation (and much evidence against a translation process). We must therefore look for another source. There are a number of sources (already mentioned), in which a signficant amount of the material in the Book of Mormon can be found.

The case that the material in the Book of Mormon was taken from these sources is therefore considerably more credible than the case that the material was translated from the plates.

If we are to believe the Mormon source, it must be acknowledged that most of the witnesses to the writing of the Book of Mormon insist that the plates were not present, or weren't even viewed by Smith when they were. Sometimes Mormons will claim that these witnesses were only describing part of the translation process, not the whole. The problem is that a number of the witness accounts sound like they are describing the entire process of 'translation', not merely one incident of many (Cowdrey claims he wrote the entire Book of Mormon 'save a few pages', as it was translated through the 'Urim' and 'Thummim' by Smith, Journal of Reuben Miller 21 October 1848, in Richard Anderson, "'By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign 7:9 (1977), 80). This would mean that some of the accounts contradict each other.

But even granting that the writing of the Book of Mormon was written over time, in different places, using different scribes, and even granting that the 'translation' method was different each time, we are left with the fact that the vast majority of accounts, covering the vast majority of the 'translation' sessions, record very plainly the fact that the plates were not used in the 'translation' process, and that often they weren't even present.

According to the Mormon sources themselves, there is no evidence that an actual translation process took place. A translation process requires the reading of one language and the transmission of its meaning into a different language. Mormon sources claim Smith had no knowledge of the language on the plates, and therefore couldn't read it. In order for a translation process to have taken place, he would have had to have been able to read the text. If he had been granted a Divinely bestowed knowledge of the language on the plates, and then transmitted the meaning of that text into English using this gift, that would have been translation.

But that is not what Mormon witnesses say. On the contrary, they give us a variety of different accounts:

* Smith, using the seerstone, saw the 'Reformed Egyptian' (which he could not read), and the English underneath it, and dictated the English

* Smith, using the seerstone, saw simply the English (not the 'Reformed Egyptian'), one word at a time, and dictated the English

* Smith, using the 'Urim' and 'Thummim' like spectacles, looked directly at the 'Reformed Egyptian' on the plates, and instead of seeing the 'Reformed Egyptian' actually saw English

None of these, not even the last, is a description of translation, by any definition.

Despite Mormon claims, the 'eye witnesses' didn't actually see a 'translation' process. They wrote down words which Smith spoke. The 'translation' process (if any), was not actually visible.

For example:

* They couldn't see in the hat, so they had no way of verifying if anything was being shown on the seerstone

* They couldn't use the 'Urim' and 'Thummim', so they had no way of verifying if it actually made the 'Reformed Egyptian' characters turn into English when used

* They couldn't read 'Reformed Egyptian', so they had no way of verifying if what was on the plates was being translated into English

* Most of them didn't even see the plates present during the 'translation' process

What they saw was Smith sitting and staring into a hat with a stone in it (most witnesses), or looking at plates with the 'Urim' and 'Thummim' used like spectacles (Cowdrey). In fact FARMS Mormon apologist Stephen Ricks makes the point that the accounts of Harris and Whitmer are not reliable ('However, several things argue against their explanation of the translation process', source).

Most of the witnesses say that what was revealed to Smith was English, which means that no translation took place. This is revelation, not translation. If you are shown a book written in English, and you read it aloud, you are not translating anything. You are reading English.

Even prominent Mormon apologists are uncertain as to exactly what the alleged 'translation' process was, and cannot come to an agreement on it. In fact they cannot even agree that it can be described as 'translation'. The fact that the plates were entirely unnecessary to the process of writing the Book of Mormon shows that the information was not being taken from the plates - it was being supplied by direct revelation.

Very tellingly, the Mormon witness accounts are so damaging to the claim of 'translation' that some apologists even try to dismiss them all as inaccurate. In this FARMS article, apologist Stephen Ricks attempts to address this by basically discounting all the witness accounts which describe such a process. The fact is that there is no evidence that the plates were necessary for the translation, and the eye witness accounts claim that the information came from the seerstone, not the plates.

The problem is that the eye witness accounts demonstrate that the plates were unnecessary to the process of writing the Book of Mormon, leaving them without a purpose. Smith didn't need them, because he was shown English, which he read. God didn't need them, because He didn't need to read what He already knew. The plates then become redundant.

The eyewitnesses simply confirm that they saw Smith looking into a hat, and talking to them. That tells us nothing about the source of Smith's words. If you look into a hat and start talking, claiming you are 'translating' a text which other people can't even see (let alone read), there is no evidence whatever that you are doing what you claim, and certainly no way anyone can say they saw you translating anything. they just saw you sitting with a hat, talking to them.

Edited by Fortigurn, 17 June 2008 - 01:12 PM.

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‘John Wesley once received a note which said, “The Lord has told me to tell you that He doesn’t need your book-learning, your Greek, and your Hebrew.”

Wesley answered “Thank you, sir. Your letter was superfluous, however, as I already knew the Lord has no need for my ‘book-learning,’ as you put it. However—although the Lord has not directed me to say so—on my own responsibility I would like to say to you that the Lord does not need your ignorance, either.”

Osborne & Woodward, ‘Handbook for Bible study’, pp. 13-14 (1979)

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