In recent years, influential LDS scholars have claimed the critics were right after all.
According to them, Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by reading words off a seer stone. He didn't really translate anything. We "need to change the definition of the term translate." He didn't use the Urim and Thummim. He didn't even use the plates!
Despite what the scholars say, many active LDS still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught. We're fine with the scholars saying whatever they want. We're fine with people following them. We just think some of their conclusions are not credible and contradict what the prophets have taught.
The evolution of the seer stone narrative parallels the evolution of M2C. The historical record shows that Joseph and Oliver taught that Cumorah was in New York. Scholars dispute that record--Church historians even changed Church history to censor Cumorah in the Saints book--but the record persists and those interested can read it for themselves. We think extrinsic evidence supports the teachings of the prophets. We think M2C persists because of confirmation bias, but we don't insist others agree with us. We oppose the efforts of the M2C citation cartel to censor and suppress alternative faithful perspectives.
It's the same thing with the seer stone narrative.
The historical record shows that Joseph and Oliver taught that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. From as early as 1834, when Mormonism Unvailed set forth the seer stone ("peep" stone) narrative as an alternative to the Urim and Thummim narrative, critics pushed the seer stone while Joseph and Oliver reiterated the Urim and Thummim narrative throughout their lives.
The other day our friends at Book of Mormon Central posted an article about seer stones that articulated the latest LDS scholarly fad. It included this comment:
|Joseph using peep stones|
to produce the
Book of Mormon
Joseph Smith used both the Nephite Interpreters and his individual seer stone in the translation of the Book of Mormon. The practice of using stones or glass to receive divine revelation is found in many cultures, including among the ancient Israelites and Maya. Though we may ultimately never fully understand the nature of the Book of Mormon’s translation, Joseph repeatedly testified that he translated the plates by the gift and power of God.
Notice how they threw in the "Maya" reference. That's the confirmation bias we see in everything produced by the M2C citation cartel.
Notice also that last clause in bold. It's a classic example of diversion because it's a half-truth.
Joseph did say he translated the plates by the gift and power of God. But he also said he did so by the means of the Urim and Thummim he obtained with the plates.
E.g., in the Wentworth letter, Joseph wrote: 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.
Today I'll refer to Benjamin Winchester to illustrate the evolution of the seer stone narrative. Our M2C scholars followed Benjamin Winchester's lead by focusing on Central America. (Winchester wrote the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles that remains the basic rationale for M2C. We discussed that yesterday here.)
Now scholars are following Winchester's lead on the seer stones vs Urim and Thummim.
In 1841, Benjamin Winchester published a newspaper in Philadelphia. At the time, he was a zealous missionary, a close friend of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, etc. In the March 15 issue, he wrote:
Moroni was then commanded to deposit this record in the earth, together with the Urim and Thummim, or as the Nephites would have said, Interpreters, which were instruments to assist in the work of the translation, with a promise from the Lord that it should be brought to light by means of.a Gentile Nation that should possess the land; and be published to the world, and go forth to the Lamanites, and be one of the instruments in the hands of God for their conversion.
A few pages later, with Joseph Smith's express permission, Winchester republished Oliver Cowdery's eight essays on Church history (the original Gospel Topics essays). These include the passage now found in the Pearl of Great Price:
Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, “ Interpreters,” the history, or record, called “ The book of Mormon.”
Also this passage: "[Moroni] said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."
Winchester was on solid ground. Not only did Joseph give him permission to republish Oliver's essays, but he gave them to his brother Don Carlos to publish in the Times and Seasons. He had his scribes copy them into his own journal as part of his life history. His brother William republished them again in 1844 in New York City.
Winchester continued to publish books and articles defending the Church. He refuted the Solomon Spaulding theory. He went on a mission to promote Joseph Smith's candidacy for U.S. President.
But then he became disgruntled, partly over polygamy and partly over disputes with his old friend William Smith (Joseph's brother). He was excommunicated.
Later in life, he changed his version of his experiences with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Here's what he wrote about the peep stones and the Urim and Thummim. This article was published in the Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday, September 22, 1889.
In regard to Joseph's literary work -- his "translations" -- I well remember some of it at Kirtland. They had there in the temple some Egyptian mummies, four of them I am positive. From one of them Joseph had taken a scroll lettered over with what purported to be Egyptian characters. It was kept on exhibition in a glass case. To this scroll Joseph applied his peep-stone or "Urim-Thummim" and made out a translation purporting to be a vision of Abraham in which the modern theory that the world is round and that it revolves was sustained against the ancient theory prior to the time of Galileo.
Just like some of our LDS scholars today, Winchester put quotation marks around "translation" and equated the seer stone with the Urim and Thummim.
In 1900, Winchester dictated a final testimony.
[Joseph] carried what he called a 'Peep stone' through which he claimed to see hidden treasure & etc. This is what he afterwards called his 'Urim and Thummem.' Finally he took the notion to get up a book. Then he claimed to have made the discovery of the plates. Then he got Cowdery, Harris and Whitmer into it."
"Cowdery was his scribe, or the writer of the book, as Smith dictated it. It was done this way.... Smith was behind the blankets in the dark with this 'peep stone' in his hat and then his face in the hat. As he looked into the hat there would come sentence after sentence upon the stone, and he would dictate it to Cowdery, and Cowdery would write it down.
We can all choose what we want to believe. For now, let's just consider a final passage.
34 He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;
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.
(Joseph Smith—History 1:34–35)