long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

M2C impact on Church history

Here are three issues in Church history that are obstacles for people because the prevailing narratives make the truth claims about events in Church history less credible. This is a serious problem for the youth, for investigators (friends) and for less-active members.

There are solid answers, based on historical evidence, that LDS scholars ignore or reject mainly because of M2C.

1. The plates. There are a lot of inconsistencies about the plates. Here are a few.

-Martin Harris said that only he, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith ever saw the original plates.
- Witnesses said the plates weighed 30 pounds others said 60 pounds.
- The Eight Witnesses said they handled the plates but none of them said any portion was sealed.
- A divine messenger took the original plates to Cumorah before meeting Joseph in Fayette and giving him the plates of Nephi to translate.

None of this can be explained by the prevalent narrative that there was only one set of plates, and that Moroni hauled this set of plates 2400+ miles north from southern Mexico.

LDS intellectuals will tell you to put these questions "on the shelf" because they reject what two of the three witnesses said about the Hill Cumorah.

There is an answer to these inconsistencies.

Joseph Smith translated the original plates in Harmony and gave them to the messenger before leaving for Fayette. The messenger took those plates to the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah, found the plates of Nephi (to replace the lost 116 pages), and brought those to Fayette so Joseph and Oliver could translate what we know today as 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon.

You can see the diagram here:


Simple. But because it contradicts M2C, you'll never hear about it from our LDS intellectuals.

2. The translation process. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (as well as the revelations in the D&C) consistently said Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by using the Urim and Thummim, or Nephite translators that had been prepared for that purpose. Moroni put them in the stone box so Joseph could use them.

However, several witnesses said Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon (after the 116 pages were lost) by reading words off a stone he put in a hat.

In terms of truth claims, the stone-in-a-hat scenario is obviously a far cry from Joseph actually translating the engravings on the plates using instruments prepared by the Lord for that purpose.

There are three ways to resolve this inconsistency.

A. We can say Joseph and Oliver used the term "Urim and Thummim" to apply to any device used for translation, including both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone Joseph found in a well years earlier. Church historians (and Church publications and web pages, including the Gospel Topics Essay) now teach that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon with the stone-in-a-hat technique. They teach that Joseph didn't even use the plates after all, but that they were always covered in a cloth or even outdoors. Because they believe Joseph didn't even use the plates, they can't explain how Joseph knew the Title Page was the last leaf of the plates, or why the Lord told Joseph he would have to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10).

B. We can say Joseph and Oliver told the truth but everyone else who spoke or wrote about the stone-in-a-hat scenario was a liar; i.e., Joseph never used the stone-in-a-hat technique. This requires one to believe a grand conspiracy over decades.

C. We can say that everyone told the truth according to what they observed, but people made inferences that they reported as facts. Joseph and Oliver translated the engravings on the plates using the Nephite interpreters, which they called Urim and Thummim. People also saw Joseph put a stone in a hat and dictate words to a scribe. But what these witnesses saw was a demonstration, not the actual translation.

I favor option C, and I provide all the detail in my upcoming book (to be released in August). The key is, Joseph was commanded never to show the Nephite interpreters or the plates to anyone. That commandment was a nullity if Joseph didn't even use the interpreters or the plates. Plus, the stone-in-a-hat scenario negates all the work Mormon and Moroni did when they abridged and protected the plates.

Why a demonstration? People were constantly asking about the translation process, but Joseph was expressly forbidden to let anyone see the interpreters or the plates. The solution: demonstrate how the translation works by putting a stone anybody can see in a hat anybody can see and then dictating words to a scribe while letting people infer they were watching the actual translation.

3. The language of the text. There are three basic explanations for the text of the Book of Mormon.

A. Composition. Critics claim Joseph and/or co-conspirators wrote the entire book, drawing from their experiences and sources available to them. The language is that of Joseph and/or his co-conspirators. Joseph read the words of such a manuscript to Oliver Cowdery when they were alone, and used the stone-in-a-hat demonstration to mislead observers.

B. Transcription. Because the stone-in-the-hat scenario has been embraced in today's Church, the concept of translation has evolved to the point where most LDS intellectuals now think Joseph merely transmitted (transcribed) words that appeared on the stone. They claim the language is not Joseph Smith's because he was unschooled and didn't know big words, the grammar of Early Modern English, etc. IOW, our LDS scholars now teach that Joseph didn't really translate the text. He simply read out loud the words that appeared on the stone in the hat.

C. Translation. After years of instruction from Moroni (and probably Nephi, one of the Three Nephites), Joseph used the Nephite interpreters to study the characters, translate them, write them down, and then give some of them to Martin Harris to take to New York. When Martin returned, Joseph dictated his translation to Martin, who then lost the 116 pages. Nearly a year later, Joseph dictated the translation of the text we have today to Oliver Cowdery (except for a few pages). The text we have today reflects Joseph's own vocabulary and speech patterns.

For reasons I explain in detail in my August book, Option B is the least plausible. Option C is better supported by the evidence than Option A. Plus, of course, it coincides with Option C from the method of translation.

What does the translation process have to do with M2C?

I'm glad you asked.

The basic premise of M2C is that Joseph didn't know about Mesoamerican culture, that he was illiterate and barely educated, and that he speculated about the New York Cumorah, the plains of the Nephites, etc.

The idea that Joseph was smart and educated enough to produce the text of the Book of Mormon contradicts the M2C narrative. The more ignorant and speculative Joseph was, the better, as far as the intellectuals are concerned. They assert more knowledge than the prophets on lots of topics, but especially on the topic of the New York Cumorah.

This all comes back to the truth claims.

Imagine you are a youth in the Church attending Seminary or Institute or BYU. In which of the following explanations would you be more likely exercise faith?

Current CES/BYU teachings. Joseph Smith was an uneducated farm boy who found a seer stone in a well and produced the entire Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared on the stone when he put it into a hat and covered his face with the hat. Yes, he found gold plates, but he didn't use them. Yes, Mormon and Moroni were real people, and they worked hard at considerable personal risk to abridge the Nephite records, but all that effort was only done so Joseph could have metal plates to show to 11 men who served as witnesses. And yes, Martin Harris said only the 3 witnesses ever saw the plates, but he was wrong. Yes, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery said the Nephite depository was in the Hill Cumorah in New York, but they were wrong, too. So were all the prophets who repeated these teachings.

Alternative teachings. Although he attended little formal school, Joseph Smith was prepared from a young age to translate the Book of Mormon. Moroni directed him the the stone box that contained the plates and the Urim and Thummim prepared by the Lord for the translation of the plates. Joseph took these plates to Harmony and translated the engravings on them. After he and Oliver translated the last leaf of the plates (the Title Page), Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger who took them to the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York. The messenger brought the plates of Nephi to Fayette, where Joseph and Oliver translated them. Martin Harris was correct that only the Three Witnesses and Joseph himself ever saw the original Harmony plates. David and Oliver were correct that the depository of Nephite records was in the Hill Cumorah in New York. All the prophets who repeated these teachings were likewise correct.

The choice between these explanations could not be any plainer.


  1. 40 years ago I served a mission in the deep south and served six months in Greenville, SC near Bob Jones University, which has been the aggregator, originator, and publisher of much anti-Mormon propaganda. Every single day being confronted with this stuff.
    Also lived near Independence for a few years, in the heart of RLDS territory. Same thing. So I've seen this stuff before and defended the Church against it.
    Never in my life did I imagine reading the exact same material as CES generated and Church approved media.

  2. These are all excellent points, but if you had to rank them, I personally find the acceptance of the stone-in-the-hat as the actual method of translation to be perhaps the most pernicious. What does it say when CES is following the South Park interpretation of Church history? I know that there are several accounts of the stone-in-the-hat. Are you able to show that this demonstration by Joseph was a single incident, or does there need to have been more than one to account for all of the first-hand accounts of the demonstration? Looking forward to the full book.