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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Peep stones vs. Urim and Thummim - part 3

This is a continuation from part 2, posted here:


Here in part 3, we'll address this question: Why did Emma say Joseph used the stone-in-a-hat method?

In part 4, we'll address this question: How are revisionist historians (including BYU professors) teaching the youth that the prophets are wrong?

In part 5, we'll discuss how all of this implicates M2C.


To clarify my position (based on comments people are making), I completely agree with historians who think it's important to examine the entire historical record. I don't agree with those who think Mormonism Unvailed and other sources should be censored or ignored. I don't agree with those who think every historical account that disagrees with their personal theory is a lie.

However, I also don't agree with those who accept a historical account uncritically solely because it confirms their own bias. And I don't agree with those who, for the same reason, put more credence on secondary sources than they do on primary sources.

When it comes to the translation of the Book of Mormon, they're all secondary sources except for Joseph and Oliver. 

[If you're thinking, what about Emma, that's what this post is all about.]

Besides, there's an easy explanation for the differences between what Joseph and Oliver taught (Urim and Thummim), and what the others taught (stone-in-a-hat). Joseph and Oliver did the actual translation, using the plates and Interpreters that Joseph was forbidden from showing to any unauthorized persons. The others merely observed a demonstration of the process that Joseph conducted to satisfy their curiosity, and then they inferred they were watching the actual translation. It's really no more complicated than this.
Except, probably, in the case of Emma.

Regarding the translation, there's another important point to consider.

Throughout the late 1800s, LDS leaders repeatedly reaffirmed the teaching that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate the engravings on the plates. [I've listed several examples later in this post.] Without understanding the historical context, we might wonder why they kept repeating something that Joseph and Oliver had made plain.

The existence and usage of the Urim and Thummim was a big issue during that era. These Church leaders were all fully aware of the alternative stone-in-a-hat theory set forth in Mormonism Unvailed. When they gave these sermons, they were responding to critics (such as Emma) who denied that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate the plates.

For example, around 1880, William E. McLellin, one of the original Twelve Apostles who left the Church in 1838, wrote a document titled "Reasons Why I Am not a 'Mormon'" that listed 55 things he did not believe.* The first 3 are relevant.

1. I do not believe that Joseph translated the book of Mormon. He only read the translation as it appeared before him. The Lord translated it for him, so says the book. "Wherefore, thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee" Page 111, of the Palmyra edition [2 Ne. 27:20]

2. I do not believe he ever possessed the Urim and Thummim during his whole life.

3. I do not believe he ever possessed the Interpreters after he lost the 116 pages first translated.

Now that I look at McLellin's list, I realize where I've seen it before. Numbers 1 and 3 are currently being taught throughout the Church today, thanks to the revisionist Church historians.

IOW, the very points that McLellin cited for not being a Mormon are being taught as doctrine by employees at CES, BYU, and COB.

That should give us pause, to say the least.

Which brings us to the question, Why did Emma say Joseph used the stone-in-a-hat method?

The easy answer is that she was supporting her son, Joseph Smith III, and opposing Brigham Young and the Saints who followed him to Utah.

I realize that a lot of people have a deep investment in the credibility of Emma's statement, so I'll take some time to explain.

The 1877 quotation from Emma's "Last Testimony" has been cited everywhere by the revisionist Church historians. They accept it on its face because it supports the stone-in-a-hat theory that they favor over the Urim and Thummim narrative.

Awesome illustration of
Emma's story
Here's how the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation frames it:

Joseph’s wife Emma explained that she “frequently wrote day after day” at a small table in their house in Harmony, Pennsylvania. She described Joseph “sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.”


The Maxwell Institute rates Emma's "Last Testimony" so highly that its Study Edition of the Book of Mormon places her testimony right after the testimony of the Three and Eight Witnesses--and before the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith from JS-H.

I find this emphasis on Emma's "Last Testimony" astonishing.

The revisionist historians accept this testimony without question, but when considered in its historical context, Emma's "Last Testimony" has all kinds of problems that would ordinarily give historians pause. If not for bias confirmation (because her testimony supports their stone-in-a-hat theory), the revisionist historians would at least qualify their embrace of this testimony. 

The interview with Emma was conducted in February 1877, a couple of months before she died. She never signed it. It was published six months after she died so she never saw it in print. 

(You can see the original here: http://www.mormonthink.com/files/emma-interview-1879.pdf.)

Worse, the questions were prepared by RLDS leaders who were in an ongoing ecclesiastical battle with the LDS leadership in Utah. In a section of the interview that the Maxwell Institute and the Gospel Topics Essay omitted, Emma insists Joseph Smith never taught or practiced polygamy, never had another wife, and never received a revelation on polygamy. 

Of course, plural marriage was one of the biggest controversies between RLDS and LDS at the time. For Joseph Smith III, the President of the RLDS who certified the accuracy of his mother's testimony, Emma's denial that Joseph ever practiced or taught polygamy was a major victory in his ongoing battle with Brigham Young and the Utah Mormons. 

During this period, RLDS missionaries were going to Utah. In General Conference, Brigham Young warned the Saints against these missionaries, but they converted 3,000 Utah Mormons (a significant number in those days)

I've listed these historical details below, but this quick overview of this historical context is essential to assess the credibility of Emma's "Last Testimony."

The revisionist Church historians who embrace Emma's "Last Testimony" for the stone-in-a-hat theory all reject the rest of her testimony that deals with polygamy. It's a strange but unmistakable case of cherry picking.

It's also important to recognize what Brigham Young said about Emma in the October 1866 General Conference. "To my certain knowledge, Emma Smith is one of the damnedest liars I know of on this earth; yet there is no good thing I would refuse to do for her, if she would only be a righteous woman; but she will continue in her wickedness." See http://www.eldenwatson.net/1860s.htm#14

In October, 1863, Brigham Young commented on  Joseph Smith III. "You have heard that Young Joseph Smith, the son of Joseph Smith the Prophet, has presented himself as the leader of the Latter-day Saints. I will take this for my text. In the first place I will say to the saints that I know more about Joseph Smith, the prophet of the last days, and his family, than all the apostates that ever did or ever will leave this church.... Joseph Smith that now is living in the state of Illinois, the son of Joseph the Prophet, will never lead the Latter-day Saints: he may lead apostates, and will lead them to hell."

Brigham Young had a lot more to say about Emma and Joseph Smith III, but you get the idea from these quotations.

By now, you're wondering, what does this have to do with the Urim and Thummim and the translation?

We have to remember that Joseph Smith, Jr., was under a strict command to not show the plates or the interpreters to anyone except those the Lord authorized. There is no record that Emma was ever authorized to see the plates or the Urim and Thummim, and she never claimed to have seen them. Whatever she witnessed, it would not have been those items.

Second, when considered in the context of the RLDS/LDS competition, possession of the Urim and Thummim was strong evidence of divine authority. Possession of the Urim and Thummim, called the Interpreters in the Book of Mormon, is what constituted a seer (Mosiah 8:13).

In August 1853, prior to the RLDS reorganization but during a time when other restoration groups that had not followed Brigham Young were actively opposing the Utah LDS, President Heber C. Kimball noted that people often asked whether Brigham Young had the Urim and Thummim.

He said, "The question is asked many times, 'Has brother Brigham got the Urim and Thummim?' Yes, he has got everything; everything that is necessary for him to receive the will and mind of God to this people. Do I know it? Yes, I know all about it; and what more do you want?"

In a contest over Priesthood authority, that statement was especially important. For example, in 1854, William E. McLellin published a "Treatise on Faith" in which he explained the importance of the Urim and Thummim to Priesthood authority.* Everyone who read the Book of Mormon knew the Mosiah reference. In his treatise, McLellin quoted from the Bible to expound on the importance of the Urim and Thummim.

Consequently, it was important for RLDS leaders to deny that Joseph had the Urim and Thummim, (at least after he lost the 116 pages, as Emma claimed) because if he didn't have it, he couldn't have given it to Brigham Young.

Emma's "Last Testimony" accomplished this for her son Joseph Smith III.

I realize this is getting more detailed than most readers want to know. These are really my notes for another project, but I hear from enough readers to know that some of you are interested in these details. Feel free to bail on this post at any time, but there's more good stuff below.


There are other reasons to doubt Emma's "Last Testimony," such as the absence of her handwriting on any extant portion of the Original Manuscript. True, she might have written part of the 116 pages, but she also claimed that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate those pages, and only after they were lost did he use the seer stone.

If her testimony is accurate--if she wrote while Joseph read words off a stone-in-a-hat--then she could only have been writing after the 116 pages were lost. But then we would expect to see her handwriting somewhere on the Original Manuscript. (To be sure, the extant portion starts with Alma 22, a point I discuss below.)

We have to also wonder, if Emma was writing "day after day," why did Joseph need Martin Harris or Oliver Cowdery to serve as scribes?

When we look at her "Last Testimony," Emma is not even sure who baptized her, a normally memorable event that took place after the translation of the plates. When asked if Joseph forbid her from examining the plates, she replies "I do not think he did." She says she felt of the plates and thumbed them, but "was not specially curious about them." Although she moved them from place to place, she never uncovered them to look at them.

Of course, it's impossible to assess the credibility of a published statement made by a witness decades ago without cross examination. The best we can do is consider context, motives, bias, opportunity to observe, reliability, and other indicia of credibility.

It's not impossible that Emma was completely truthful in everything she said. But if so, her testimony directly opposes some of the core teachings of Brigham Young and his contemporaries and successors as leaders of the Church. Not least among these teachings is the affirmation of what Joseph and Oliver consistently taught; i.e., that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates with the assistance of the Urim and Thummim.

A great source for information about the early days of Church history is the book Opening the Heavens, edited by John W. Welch. I recommend the second edition in print. You can see the book online, thanks to Book of Mormon Central, here:


(This is an example of how Book of Mormon Central can provide some really great service. If only they would abandon their editorial policy of insisting on M2C, they would be a go-to source for the entire world instead of an advocate and fundraiser for teaching people that the prophets are wrong.)

To be sure, Opening the Heavens has its problems because of the editorial bias of its editor, as I've discussed before.


But in this case, we'll use it as a reference because everyone can see it right on the Internet.

The book contains 6 entries under Emma Smith Bidamon (numbers 38-43, starting on page 129).

I'll paste them below for ease of reference, with my interlinear commentary.

First, let's consider the historical context of Emma's statements, particularly after 1844 when she made the statements that led to the 6 entries.

From wikipedia:

Emma Hale Smith Bidamon (July 10, 1804 – April 30, 1879) was the first wife of Joseph Smith and a leader in the early days of the Latter Day Saint movement, both during Joseph's lifetime and afterward as a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church)....

Later years in Nauvoo, 1844–79[edit source]

Emma later in life, ca. 1870s
Upon Joseph's death, Emma was left a pregnant widow—it would be on November 17, 1844, that she gave birth to David Hyrum Smith, the last child she and Joseph had together. In addition to being church president, Joseph had been trustee-in-trust for the church. As a result, his estate was entirely wrapped up with the finances of the church. Untangling the church's property and debts from Emma's personal property and debts proved to be a long and complicated process for Emma and her family.
Debates about who should be Joseph's successor as the leader of the church also involved Emma. Emma wanted William Marks, president of the church's central stake, to assume the church presidency, but Marks favored Sidney Rigdon for the role. After a meeting on August 8, a congregation of the church voted that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles should lead the church. Brigham Young, president of the Quorum, then became de facto president of the church in Nauvoo.
Relations between Young and Emma steadily deteriorated. Some of Emma's friends, as well as many members of the Smith family, alienated themselves from Young's followers. Conflicts between church members and neighbors also continued to escalate, and eventually Young made the decision to relocate the church to the Salt Lake Valley. When he and the majority of the Latter Day Saints of Nauvoo abandoned the city in early 1846, Emma and her children remained behind in the emptied town.
Nearly two years later, a close friend and non-Mormon, Major Lewis C. Bidamon, proposed marriage and became Emma's second husband on December 23, 1847 (the late Joseph Smith's birthday). Bidamon moved into the Mansion House and became stepfather to Emma's children. Emma and Bidamon attempted to operate a store and to continue using their large house as a hotel, but Nauvoo had too few residents and visitors to make either venture very profitable. Emma and her family remained rich in real estate but poor in capital.
Unlike other members of the Smith family who had at times favored the claims of James J. Strang or William Smith, Emma and her children continued to live in Nauvoo as unaffiliated Latter Day Saints. Many Latter Day Saints believed that her eldest son, Joseph Smith III, would one day be called to hold the same position that his father had held. When he reported receiving a calling from God to take his father's place as head of a "New Organization" of the Latter Day Saint church, she supported his decision. Both she and Joseph III traveled to a conference at Amboy, Illinois and on April 6, 1860, Joseph was sustained as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which added the word "Reorganized" to the name in 1872 and is presently known as Community of Christ. Emma became a member of the RLDS Church without rebaptism, as her original 1830 baptism was still considered valid.
Emma and Joseph III returned to Nauvoo after the conference and he led the church from there until moving to Plano, Illinois in 1866. Joseph III called upon his mother to help prepare a hymnal for the reorganization, just as she had for the early church.
Major Bidamon renovated a portion of the unfinished Nauvoo House hotel (across the street from the Mansion House) and he and Emma moved there in 1871. Emma died peacefully in the Nauvoo House. Her funeral was held May 2, 1879 in Nauvoo with RLDS Church minister Mark Hill Forscutt preaching the sermon.

This background provides several important items of context.

1. There are no extant records of Emma making statements about the Book of Mormon translation during the lifetime of Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery (who died in 1850).

2. Emma made her most extensive statements (her "Last Testimony") in February, 1877, a few months before she died on April 30, 1877. The testimony consisted of responses to a series of questions written by H. A. Stebbins and other leaders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS). (The RLDS church had been reorganized in 1860 with Joseph Smith III, the 27-year-old son of Joseph and Emma, as President.)

3. During the late 1800s, there was significant competition between the LDS and RLDS churches. Leaders and members debated Priesthood succession, polygamy, and other issues. RLDS missionaries went to Utah and converted around 3,000 LDS members.

In 1866, Brigham Young called 27-year-old Joseph F. Smith, son of Hyrum and cousin to Joseph Smith III, as a member of the First Presidency. This seems to be at least in part an effort to offset the family influence of Joseph Smith III. (By 1901, the cousins were each Presidents of their respective churches.)

4. In early 1877, Brigham Young, although in poor health, introduced important temple ordinances and procedures in the St. George temple. He reorganized the Priesthood throughout Utah and reaffirmed important teachings such as the New York Cumorah. He died on August 29, 1877.

5. Although Emma gave her "Last Testimony" in February, 1877, the RLDS paper The Saints' Herald did not publish Emma's "Last Testimony" until October 1, 1877. This meant Brigham Young never had an opportunity to respond to it.

After Brigham Young led the LDS to Utah, Church leaders delivered numerous sermons in various conferences in which they reaffirmed the teaching that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim. Several of these are included at the end of this post.

None of these Church leaders ever said Joseph used a seer stone to translate the plates. They knew the difference between the Urim and Thummim and the peep stone because each of these Church leaders was familiar with the controversy associated with Mormonism Unvailed. To the extent they mentioned peep stones, it was in a negative context.

For example, Heber C. Kimball mentioned that "When I came back from England there were but a few left in Kirtland. There was one little society of men that pretended to take the lead and oversight of the people, and they were guided by a peep stone." https://jod.mrm.org/6/63

In my view, these teachings about the Urim and Thummim are in direct contradiction to the testimony of Emma Smith and others such as William E. McLellin who claimed Joseph didn't really translate the plates but instead read words that appeared in a stone-in-a-hat.

Ultimately, we each have to decide what to believe. We can each assess the credibility of the witnesses and Church leaders, the plausibility of alternative explanations, and the relevance of scriptural passages. We can seek our own witness from the Spirit.

All I ask of the revisionist historians who are promoting the stone-in-a-hat theory is to recognize that many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don't agree with their theory. While we're fine with people believing whatever they want to believe, many of us think their theory is destructive of faith and disloyal to Joseph, Oliver, and their successors.

We ask for accommodation of alternative perspectives whenever the stone-in-a-hat theory is taught. IOW, please stop teaching the stone-in-a-hat as the gospel truth.

The historical record of Emma's statements. Original in blue, my comments in red.

38. Emma Smith Bidamon, as interviewed by Edmund C. Briggs (1856)

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 any mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. Even the word Sarah he could not pronounce at first, but had to spell it, and I would pronounce it for him.       

When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, “Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?” When I answered “Yes,” he replied “Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived.” He had such a limited knowledge of history at that time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.38

38. Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History 9 (October 1916): 454. Edmund C. Briggs and Samuel H. Gurley traveled to Nauvoo to visit Joseph Smith III and testify to him of the reorganization of the Church, which had recently occurred in Wisconsin. Briggs and Gurley arrived at the Mansion House in Nauvoo on December 5, 1856, and interviewed Emma Smith Bidamon three days later. 

It is difficult to reconcile this account with the other statements attributed to Emma, let alone extrinsic evidence. We notice that this account was first published 60 years after the interview; Emma had no chance to review it, and we have no original notes or other manuscript to compare to the published account. Emma mentions Sarah, but the only mention of Sarah in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon is in 2 Nephi 8:2, which was translated in Fayette. There are no records of Emma acting as scribe in Fayette. (It may be significant that Sarah is mentioned twice in D&C 132, a revelation that Emma denied Joseph ever received.)

If Emma was referring to the translation of the 116 pages, she later contradicted herself because she claimed (i) Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate those pages but did not use the Urim and Thummim after they were lost, and (ii) Joseph used the stone-in-a-hat to translate the portion she wrote. If her statements are correct, she could not have written Joseph's dictation from the 116 pages. 

Overall, this published account looks to me more like Emma (or Briggs) incorporating accounts she (or he) heard from others, such as the Jerusalem wall question.  

39. Emma Smith Bidamon to Emma Pilgrim (1870)

Now, the first part my husband translated, was translated by the use of Urim and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost After that he used a small stone, not exactly black, but was rather a dark color.39

39. John T. Clark, “Translation of Nephite Records,” The Return 4 (July 15, 1895): 2. Written from Nauvoo on March 27, 1870, the original letter is located in the Emma Smith Papers, Library-Archives, Community of Christ, Independence, Mo. (hereafter cited as Community of Christ Library-Archives).

To date, I have not seen the original of this letter, but I'll assume this passage is accurate and not taken out of context. As noted above, this pretty well excluded Emma as a scribe for the 116 pages. She never claimed to have seen the Urim and Thummim, and Joseph had been warned never to show it. Even in this statement, she doesn't say she saw the stone; she describes it the same way anyone would who had heard someone else describe it. 

This entire passage could be either an eye-witness account by someone who forgot to mention she was an eye-witness, or an explanation based on what she heard others say.

Another problem with this statement is that Lucy Mack Smith explained that in May 1829, Joseph applied the Urim and Thummim to his eyes to look on the plates but instead of the translation he received a commandment to write to David Whitmer. Obviously this was well after the 116 pages were lost.  

40. Emma Smith Bidamon,  as interviewed by Nels Madsen and Parley P. Pratt Jr. (1877)     

Q. Did he receive the plates from which he claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon?       
A. Yes, They lay in a box under our bed for months but I never felt at liberty to look at them.

In regard to the Book of Mormon Mrs. Bidemon stated emphatically that he husband, Joseph Smith could not have written such a book without inspiration. He had not read the Bible enough to know that there were walls around Jerusalem and he came and asked me if there were walls around the city of Jerusalem.40

40. Nels Madsen, “Visit to Mrs. Emma Smith Bidamon,” 1931, Church Archives. Madsen and Parley Pratt Jr. visited Bidamon in Nauvoo while they were missionaries.

This passage says little about the translation. It's yet another version of the "walls around Jerusalem" story that David Whitmer also repeated. 

I'm curious about that story anyway. Does the Bible say there were walls around Jerusalem when Lehi left Jerusalem? No. The Book of Mormon refers to the "first year of the reign of Zedekiah." This is in 2 Kings 24. There's nothing in the Bible about walls around Jerusalem in that year. Asking about walls around Jerusalem at this time seems like a reasonable question to me, and I'd be curious what Emma's answer was.

2 Kings 25:1 skips to the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, after Lehi had left. That chapter does discuss walls, but not when they were built. The 2 Chronicles 36:19 version of the history says the Chaldeans brake down the wall of Jerusalem, but again, that was several years after Lehi left.

It's not a big deal, but I think it's a stretch to say Joseph didn't know the Bible because he didn't know if there were walls around Jerusalem when Lehi left the city.

41. Emma Smith Bidamon,  as interviewed by Joseph Smith III (1879)       

Q. Who were scribes for father when translating the Book of Mormon?       
A. Myself, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and my brother, Reuben Hale.        
Q. Was Alva Hale one?        
A. I think not. He may have written some; but if he did, I do not remember it. . . .        
Q. What of the truth of Mormonism?        
A. I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the Church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.       
Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?        
A. He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.        
Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?       
A. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.       
Q. Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?        
A. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metalic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.        
Q. Where did father and Oliver Cowdery write?       
A. Oliver Cowdery and your father wrote in the room where I was at work.
Q. Could not father have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?        
A. Joseph Smith [and for the first time she used his name direct, having usually used the words, “your father,” or “my husband”] could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to any one else.       
Q. I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?        
A. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so.       

Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?        
A. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.       
Q. Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin of the Book of Mormon?       
A. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.41

41. Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald 26 (October 1, 1879): 289–90; and Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (October 1879): 50–52. Joseph Smith III wrote that Emma reviewed the answers he had recorded for her. The answers “were affirmed by her” on the day before he left Nauvoo. Emma’s husband Lewis C. Bidamon asserted that Emma’s answers were “substantially what she had always stated” at times when they discussed the translation of the Book of Mormon.

The full interview is available here: http://www.mormonthink.com/files/emma-interview-1879.pdf

Notice that the ellipses in the excerpt above involve Emma's statement that "there was no revelation on either polygamy, or spiritual wives.... No such thing as polygamy, or spiritual wifery, was taught, publicly or privately, before my husband's death, that I have now, or ever had any knowledge of.... [Joseph] assured me... that there was no such doctrine, and never should be with his knowledge, or consent. I know that he had no other wife or wives than myself, in any sense, either spiritual or otherwise." 

I discussed the credibility of this interview above. In 1870, Emma claimed Joseph used the stone-in-the-hat after the 116 pages were lost. Here, she claims she wrote "hour after hour" and "day after day" as Joseph dictated from the stone-in-a-hat. That means she had to have been recording Joseph's dictation beginning with Mosiah.

Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony on April 5, 1829 and commenced writing for Joseph on April 7th. Oliver was an answer to Joseph's prayers for a scribe. The extant original manuscript does not include Mosiah, which is where Joseph began translating after losing the 116 pages, so it's possible that Emma wrote some of Mosiah. However, Oliver testified that he wrote the entire manuscript save a few pages, and there are a few pages in 1 Nephi written by one of the Whitmers. 

It's difficult to figure out how Emma's work as a scribe fits the rest of her statements, especially since she never indicated what portions she wrote.

42. Emma Smith Bidamon,  as recorded by Joseph Smith III (1879)

She wrote for Joseph Smith during the work of translation, as did also Reuben Hale, her brother, and O[liver]. Cowdery; that the larger part of this labor was done in her presence, and where she could see and know what was being done; that during no part of it was did Joseph Smith have any Mss. [manuscripts] or Book of any kind from which to read, or dictate, except the metalic plates, which she knew he had.42

 42. Joseph Smith III to James T. Cobb, February 14, 1879, Community of Christ Library-Archives; cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:544.

This statement seems like an expansion of the "Last Testimony." I find it interesting because she didn't mention Reuben in the Last Testimony, nor did she mention that Joseph had the "metalic plates" from which to read. She also doesn't mention Martin Harris.  

43. Emma Smith Bidamon,  as recorded by Joseph Smith III (1900)

My mother [Emma Smith] told me that she saw the plates in the sack; for they lay on a small table in their living room in their cabin on her father’s farm, and she would lift and move them when she swept and dusted the room and furniture. She even thumbed the leaves as one does the leaves of a book, and they rustled with a metalic sound. Yes, mother did some of the writing for father while he was translating[.] She testified that father found and had the plates, and translated them as the history states; that she had no doubt as to the truth of it.43

43. Joseph Smith III to Mrs. E. Horton, March 7, 1900, Community of Christ Library-Archives; cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:546–47.

This is another restatement of the Last Testimony that doesn't add much if anything.

Let's look a moment at Opening the Heavens to see an editorial treatment of Emma's testimony.

On page 85, we find this editorial introduction to an important quotation from Emma:

Apparently during this time, when the book of Lehi was being translated and Emma was acting as scribe, Joseph translated a passage describing Jerusalem as a walled city (compare 1 Ne. 4:4) and stopped to ask Emma if Jerusalem indeed had walls. 

Note that this is an editorial inference, not something that Emma stated. In fact, she said the opposite. As we saw above, she said she wrote while Joseph dictated from a stone-in-a-hat, but she also said Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate the 116 pages and only thereafter used the stone-in-a-hat. 

[After quoting Emma's 1856 statement, Opening the Heavens says this:

 (document 38; details corroborated in documents 40, 54, 88, 93, 95, and others)

Several further accounts similarly focus on the point that Joseph Smith was poorly equipped educationally to produce the Book of Mormon. David Whitmer stated that “Joseph Smith was a man of limited education” who was “ignorant of the Bible”24 (document 95). In 1875, David Whitmer expressed a similar view:

So illiterate was Joseph at the time, said Mr. Whitmer, that he  didn’t even know that Jerusalem was a walled city and he was utterly unable to pronounce many of the names which the magic power of the Urim and Thummim revealed, and therefore spelled them out in syllables and the more erudite scribe put them together.2

This reiteration of the walls of Jerusalem and proper noun stories strikes me as hearsay. Perhaps David heard it from Emma, or perhaps from one of his brothers who was a scribe for part of 1 Nephi. Not knowing how to pronounce proper nouns is enough of a problem that many editions include a pronunciation guide. It's not a question of literacy, especially when the names are transliterated from another language.  


For many years, LDS Church leaders have reiterated the teachings of Joseph and Oliver that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim, or Interpreters, that he obtained from Moroni's stone box along with the plates.

Here are some examples from the Journal of Discourses. These are significant because the speakers were contemporaries of Joseph Smith.

1859, Aug. 14. Elder Orson Pratt. In the year 1827 he was permitted to take those plates from their long deposit, and with them the Urim and Thummim—a sacred instrument such as was used by ancient Prophets among Israel to inquire of the Lord. He was commanded of the Lord, notwithstanding his youth and inexperience, to translate the engravings upon those plates into the English language. He did so, and others wrote from his mouth.

1864, June 4. President Brigham Young. The Lord had not spoken to the inhabitants of this earth for a long time, until He spoke to Joseph Smith, committed to him the plates on which the Book of Mormon was engraved, and gave him a Urim and Thummim to translate a portion of them, and told him to print the Book of Mormon, which he did, and sent it to the world, according to the word of the Lord. https://jod.mrm.org/10/299

1864, Nov. 6. President Brigham Young. The first act that Joseph Smith was called to do by the angel of God, was, to get the plates from the hill Cumorah, and then translate them, and he got Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery to write for him. He would read the plates, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, and they would write. They had to either raise their bread from the ground, or buy it, and they had to eat and drink, and sleep, and toil, and rest, while they were engaged in bringing forth the great Work of the last days. All these were temporal acts, directed by the spirit of revelation.

1869, Feb 24. Elder Orson Pratt said, "He uncovered the spot of ground, took off the crowning stone on the stone box, and there beheld the sacred record of the ancient inhabitants of this continent; by its side lay the Urim and Thummim, an instrument for its translation.... The work of translation was done with the Urim and Thummim, for Mr. Smith was not a learned man, and in fact was scarcely in possession of an ordinary common school education. He could write a little, but was by no means an expert penman, and, in the work of translation, he had to employ first one and then another to write the words of the records as he translated them with the Urim and Thummim, consequently the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon were written by different scribes. Not long before the time he obtained the plates, Mr. Smith got married, and he employed his wife to write some of it. Martin Harris also wrote some portion of it; but the greater part was written by Oliver Cowdery—a still younger man than Joseph—and that the manuscript is in his handwriting, anyone can satisfy himself by appealing to the original. https://jod.mrm.org/12/352

1870, Nov. 27. Elder Orson Pratt. And having revealed this book, and it having been translated by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost—the same gift and spirit which enabled Joseph Smith to interpret the language of this record by the use of the Urim and Thummim;

1872, Sept. 22. Elder Orson Pratt. The Prophets who deposited those plates in the hill Cumorah were commanded of the Lord to deposit the Urim and Thummim with them, so that when the time came for them to be brought forth, the individual who was entrusted with them might be able to translate them by the gift and power of God. https://jod.mrm.org/15/178

1874, June 21. President Brigham Young. We have passed from one thing to another, and I may say from one degree of knowledge to another. When Joseph first received the knowledge of the plates that were in the hill Cumorah, he did not then receive the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, he merely received the knowledge that the plates were there, and that the Lord would bring them forth, and that they contained the history of the aborigines of this country. He received the knowledge that they were once in possession of the Gospel, and from that time he went on, step by step, until he obtained the plates, and the Urim and Thummim, and had power to translate them.

This did not make him an Apostle, it did not give to him the keys of the kingdom, nor make him an Elder in Israel. He was a Prophet, and had the spirit of prophecy, and had received all this before the Lord ordained him. And when the Lord, by revelation, told him to go to Pennsylvania, he did so, and finished the translation of the Book of Mormon; and when the Lord, in another revelation, told him to come back, into New York State, and to go to old Father Whitmer's, who lived in a place opposite Waterloo, and there stop, he did so, and had meetings, and gathered up the few who believed in his testimony.

[Note: Lucy Mack Smith explained that Joseph received this revelation through the Urim and Thummim, after he applied it to his eyes and looked on the plates. This occurred in May 1829 while Joseph and Oliver were translating in Harmony.]

1875, Sept. 12. Elder Wilford Woodruff. And what I wish to say to the Elders and to the Latter-day Saints is—Have we faith in God and in his revelations? Have we faith in our own religion? Have we faith in Jesus Christ? Have we faith in the words of the Prophets? Have we faith in Joseph Smith, who, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, translated the Book of Mormon, giving a record of the ancient inhabitants of this country, and through whom the Lord gave the revelations contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants? If we have faith in these things, then we certainly should prepare ourselves for the fulfillment of them. https://jod.mrm.org/18/109

1877, Dec. 2. Elder Orson Pratt. The time having fully arrived, in this the 19th century, for the prophecies to be fulfilled, in regard to the setting up of the latter-day kingdom, the Lord and his angel, as predicted in the 14th chapter of John's Revelation, revealed the original plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated by inspiration and the aid of the Urim and Thummim, is found to contain the fullness of the Gospel of the Son of God, as revealed in ancient times to the Israelites of this western hemisphere, the forefathers of our Indian race. https://jod.mrm.org/19/168

1878, June 30. Elder Wilford Woodruff. For by faith Joseph Smith received the ministration of God out of heaven. By faith he received the records of Nephi, and translated them through the Urim and Thummim into our own language, and which have since been translated into many different languages. https://jod.mrm.org/19/357

1882, March 5, President John Taylor. We have here on the ceiling of this building pictured to us, Moroni making known to Joseph Smith the plates, from which the Book of Mormon was translated, which plates had been hidden up in the earth; and in connection with them was the Urim and Thummim, by which sacred instrument Joseph was enabled to translate the ancient characters, now given unto us in the form of the Book of Mormon; in which is set forth the theories, doctrines, principles, organizations, etc., of these peoples who lived upon this continent. People talk about their disbelief regarding these things. That is a matter of no moment to us. I do not intend to bring any argument upon this question, caring nothing about what people believe. We know certain things, and knowing them we regard them as matters of fact. https://jod.mrm.org/23/28

1882, May 6. Elder Erastus Snow. At first Joseph Smith received the gift of seeing visions and the gift of translating dead languages by the Urim and Thummim, and when he had exercised himself in these gifts for a season, he received the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, together with his Brother Oliver, under the hands of John the Baptist, who was a resurrected being...

*See Larson and Passey, ed., The William E. McLellin Papers, p. 380. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Peep stones vs. Urim and Thummim - part 2

This is a continuation from Part 1, found here:

Faced with the publication of Mormonism Unvailed, how did Joseph and Oliver respond?

They prepared essays about the history of the Church. They published these as letters in the Messenger and Advocate newspaper. I consider these to be the first Gospel Topics Essays, with the significant difference that unlike today's anonymous Gospel Topics Essays, these 1834-5 essays were signed by President Oliver Cowdery, the Assistant President of the Church (senior in authority to the two counselors in the First Presidency).

After the eight essays were published, Joseph had his scribes copy them into his journal as part of his life story. You can read them in the Joseph Smith Papers (see links below).

To make sure all members of the Church were familiar with these essays, Joseph had them republished in every Church newspaper during his lifetime: the Times and Seasons, the Prophet, the Millennial Star, and the Gospel Reflector. They were published as a separate booklet in England, and thousands of copies were sold. Later, Joseph F. Smith republished them in the Improvement Era in Utah. Part of essay #1 has been canonized in the Pearl of Great Price.

The essays are important because they address doctrinal and historical issues that are just as pressing today as they were when Joseph and Oliver wrote the essays in 1834-5.

Sadly, most Church members today are unfamiliar with these important essays, which have never been published in the Ensign.

Consequently, members of the Church are uninformed about what Joseph and Oliver taught and are therefore more easily persuaded by M2C intellectuals and revisionist Church historians. 

[BTW, I had trouble finding illustrations for this section because most of them show Joseph

(i) simply looking at the plates (the older ones) or

(ii) staring at a stone in a hat (the newer ones).

Tomorrow in part 3 we'll look at the artwork and how the stone-in-a-hat theory is being forced on the youth of the Church today.]

Now, let's take a look at the original sources.

Oliver introduced the essays with this explanation:

That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. Smith Jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensible. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.—
To do Justice to​ this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts.


Rare historically accurate
depiction of the translation
In the very first essay, Oliver wrote this:

These were days never to be forgotten—to ​sit​ under the voice sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites should have said, “Interpreters,” the history, or record, called “the book of Mormon.”

Also found in JS-H, footnote.

Oliver's observation, when read in the context of Mormonism Unvailed, constitutes a refutation of the stone-in-a-hat theory.

Recall that Mormonism Unvailed had juxtaposed the two alternative theories: a seer stone (peep stone) vs. the Urim and Thummim. Oliver assured his readers that he was conveying facts, and one of those facts is that Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim.

There are over 200 records of historical accounts about the translation. You can read them at Book of Mormon Central here: https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/miraculous-translation-book-mormon.

If you take the time to read those accounts, compare and contrast what Joseph and Oliver said with what everyone else said.

The current Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation

The current version of the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation includes two quotations from Oliver that predate what he wrote in the Messenger and Advocate but affirm the same facts.

The principal scribe, Oliver Cowdery, testified under oath in 1831 that Joseph Smith “found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraven on the plates.”31 In the fall of 1830, Cowdery visited Union Village, Ohio, and spoke about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Soon thereafter, a village resident reported that the translation was accomplished by means of “two transparent stones in the form of spectacles thro which the translator looked on the engraving.32

In both cases, Oliver explains that Joseph used the Nephite stones to look on the engraving on the plates.

When Oliver rejoined the Church in 1848 he reaffirmed his testimony about the Urim and Thummim as he spoke to an Iowa conference. I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet as he translated it by the gift and power of God by means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by that book, holy interpreters. I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters. That book is true. … I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.”8


This is another rejection of the stone-in-a-hat theory.

Oliver's rejection of the stone-in-a-hat-theory was obvious to his listeners, but would not be obvious to today's readers (except those who are familiar with the details of the changes in the text of the Book of Mormon). The explanation is a little detailed so I'm making it a footnote (*) to this post for those interested.

Note also that if you read footnote 8 in the Ensign article I quoted above, it refers to a BYU Studies article which you can read here:

However, the BYU Studies article omitted Oliver's statement about the Urim and Thummim by replacing it with ellipses: I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon save a few pages as it fell from the lips of the prophet... I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold
plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the interpreters....

This is important: If you read the current version of the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation, you will see that the anonymous authors were unable to find a single quotation from either Joseph or Oliver to the effect that Joseph (i) used a seer stone (or peep stone) that he found in a well, or (ii) simply read words that appeared on such a stone without even using the plates.

Nevertheless, the anonymous authors of the Gospel Topics Essay preferred the stone-in-a-hat explanation over what Joseph and Oliver stated.

Worse, they omitted what Joseph and Oliver taught.

For example, when they quoted the passage above ("days never to be forgotten") they omitted Oliver's statement that Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim.

They also omitted Joseph's own statement in JS-H 1:35 "Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book."

The essay does not mention the injunction Joseph was under that led him to conduct the demonstration with the stone in a hat:

JS-H 1:42 Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed.

The essay omits Joseph's account of translating with the Urim and Thummim: JS-H 1:62 By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.

The essay omits Joseph's explanation about Moroni's first visit: also that the Urim and Thumim, was hid up with the record, and that God would give me power to translate it, with the assistance of this instrument.


Notice this: there is no record that Joseph or Oliver ever said Joseph had power to translate the plates with anything other than the Urim and Thummim.

In the Wentworth letter, also omitted from the essay, Joseph declared the following: With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.

Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God.


When read in the context of the times, when his audience was familiar with the difference between the stone-in-a-hat theory and the Urim and Thummim narrative, the Wentworth letter is a definitive declaration of how Joseph translated the plates.

We wonder, why do the revisionist Church historians prefer the stone-in-a-hat theory over the definitive, consistent explanations from Joseph and Oliver?

We can't read minds, and so far as I know the intellectuals have not articulated the rationale for their preference, but it is deliberate, as we've just seen from the selection of quotations in the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation.

One possibility is that the revisionist historians think they have discovered something in Church history that was "covered up" for decades. In the interest of openness, they have brought forth the stone-in-a-hat theory.

That makes sense from an academic perspective. To get a PhD and have a career, historians have to contribute something new to their field, and because the prophets have consistently taught that Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim, the idea that Joseph "really" used a seer stone instead would have appeal to an academic.

The problem, of course, is that the stone-in-a-hat theory is 185 years old. Those familiar with Church history have always known about Mormonism Unvailed.

Rather than contributing something new, these revisionist historians have resurrected an old, discredited claim made by critics to undermine faith in the accounts of Joseph and Oliver.

True, there are plenty of accounts of the stone-in-a-hat process, but as I've pointed out, a careful reading of these accounts is consistent with a demonstration, not the actual translation of the plates.

BTW, if Church historians want to write about something new, I recommend that they republish President Cowdery's eight historical essays in the Ensign so members of the Church can see how he and Joseph responded to the critics. Those eight essays provide a far more effective response to the critics than the current Gospel Topics Essays that largely embrace the arguments of the critics instead of refute them.

Another possible rationale for the stone-in-a-hat theory is good old academic arrogance. There's nothing an intellectual enjoys more than showing that he/she knows more than the prophets. IOW, the revisionist historians have "discovered" that the teachings of the prophets about the translation, consistently taught for 180 years, were "incomplete" or even "misleading."

Depiction of Emma's unbelievable account
from Fairmormon and Book of Mormon Central
Among other things, the historians usually cite statements from Emma Smith, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, which I've discussed in detail in my upcoming book on the translation.

To summarize, David was never a scribe; he could only have witnessed a demonstration, not the actual translation with the plates and Urim and Thummim. He didn't even see the plates until after the translation was complete and he became one of the Three Witnesses.

Martin Harris' statements are consistent with the demonstration explanation. He, too, never saw the plates or the interpreters until he became one of the Three Witnesses. If he knew those objects weren't even used for the translation, why would he have been so insistent on seeing them?

Emma's statement is not believable for several reasons that I'll discuss in part 3.

Like modern revisionist historians, Mormonism Unvailed greatly preferred the stone-in-the-hat theory.

Here's an observation from p. 77-8 of Mormonism Unvailed. If you look at the Internet, you'll find plenty of memes that make the same point today.

Now, whether the two methods for translating, one by a pair of stone spectacles "set in the rims of a bow," and the other by one stone, were provided against accident, we cannot determine — perhaps they, were limited in their appropriate uses — at all events the plan meets our approbation 

We are informed that Smith used a stone in a hat, for the purpose of translating the plates. The spectacles and plates were found together, but were taken from him and hid up again before he had translated one word, and he has never seen them since — this is Smith's own story. Let us ask, what use have the plates been or the spectacles, so long as they have in no sense been used ? or
what does the testimony of Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer amount to ? They solemnly swear that they saw the plates, and that an angel showed them, and the engravings which were upon them. 

But if the plates were hid by the angel so that they have not been seen since, how do these witnesses know that when Smith translated out of a hat, with a peep-stone, that the contents of the plates were repeated and written down? Neither of the witnesses pretend that they could read the hieroglyphics with or without the stone; and, therefore, are not competent testimony....


For decades, Church leaders taught that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim. If you search Journal of Discourses, for example, you get over 100 results that explain that Joseph translated the plates with the "Urim and Thummim" that he obtained from Moroni, which had been prepared for the purpose of translating the plates.

The speakers in Journal of Discourses were familiar with Mormonism Unvailed and Oliver's eight essays that cited facts to rebut the claims of the critics. They were familiar with all of the statements by Oliver and Joseph about how Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate the plates.

Nevertheless, our intellectuals have persuaded members of the Church that the prophets were wrong because Joseph actually used the stone in a hat instead of the Urim and Thummim.

Based on the feedback I've received over the last few years, many members of the Church will be happy to know there is an alternative narrative that supports, instead of repudiates, the teachings of the prophets.

In part 3, we'll address these questions:

Why did Emma say Joseph used the stone-in-a-hat method?

How are revisionist historians (including BYU professors) teaching the youth that the prophets are wrong?

How does all of this implicate M2C?

* As noted above, Oliver Cowdery said "I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet as he translated it by the gift and power of God by means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by that book, holy interpreters. I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters."

I think it's safe to say that Oliver Cowdery knew what was written in the Book of Mormon. He not only wrote it as Joseph dictated the text, but he copied the entire manuscript for the printer.

Plus, he actually saw the Interpreters and specifically identified them as the Urim and Thummim.

[Here, I should mention that our revisionist historians claim W.W. Phelps was the first to call the interpreters the Urim and Thummim, but as I've explained elsewhere, all we can say is that the Phelps reference is the first extant published reference. The Phelps statement is consistent with prior use of the term by Joseph and Oliver.]

Oliver Cowdery certainly knew that the Book of Mormon refers to "interpreters" in only four verses.

Mosiah 8:13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.

Mosiah 8:19 And now, when Ammon had made an end of speaking these words the king rejoiced exceedingly, and gave thanks to God, saying: Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.

Mosiah 28:20 And now, as I said unto you, that after king Mosiah had done these things, he took the plates of brass, and all the things which he had kept, and conferred them upon Alma, who was the son of Alma; yea, all the records, and also the interpreters, and conferred them upon him, and commanded him that he should keep and preserve them, and also keep a record of the people, handing them down from one generation to another, even as they had been handed down from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem.

Ether 4:5 Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters, according to the commandment of the Lord.

Now, if you're checking up on me as you should, and you consult the current edition of the Book of Mormon, you'll notice that I omitted two references to the "interpreters" in Alma 37:21 and 25.  

21 And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters.

24 And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:

In the 1830 edition, these verses read "yea, and that ye preserve these directors... And now my son, these directors were prepared..."

It wasn't until the 1920 edition that the term directors was changed to interpreters

IOW, Oliver Cowdery was not referring to the directors in Alma 37.

This is important because the revisionist historians always cite Alma 37 to support their stone-in-a-hat theory.

Why was the term changed in the 1920 edition?

One reasonable interpretation of Alma 37 is that when Alma referred to the directors, he was referring to the same objects called interpreters in Mosiah and Ether. That's the gist of an article in the Interpreter, which you can read here:

The comments below the article raise several interesting points and provide additional references for those who want to know more about all of this.

The article in the Interpreter magazine makes a point that in Chapter 37, Alma refers to the directors, plural, but Alma also discusses the liahona, a compass, a ball, or director (singular).

The article doesn't mention that, in today's editions of the scriptures, the only reference to directors is in D&C 17:1. That verse makes a clear distinction between the Urim and Thummim and the directors (plural).

Doctrine and Covenants 17:1 Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.

Of course, it's possible that D&C 17:1 is simply an error; i.e., that it should have read "the miraculous director" (singular). On the other hand, it's possible that Lehi was given both a ball or compass, and an interpretive seer stone, and that Alma was referring to both when he used the plural, and then later focused only on the liahona. I won't get into the details of that here, but you can get some background on this in the comments to the article in the Interpreter magazine.

For purposes of this post, though, it seems obvious that Oliver Cowdery understood and made it clear that the interpreters referred to in the Book of Mormon, which he equated to the Urim and Thummim, had nothing to do with a seer stone Joseph found in a well.