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.

Friday, April 16, 2021

What are we reading when we read the Book of Mormon?

What are the implications of embracing SITH (stone-in-the-hat) as the explanation for the origin of the Book of Mormon?

For the first 200 years of the restoration, believers accepted the claims of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that the Book of Mormon was a translation of ancient records kept on metal plates. They rejected the claims of critics that Joseph merely read words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat (SITH).

About 20 years ago, LDS scholars re-interpreted the historical evidence to reject what Oliver and Joseph said in favor of SITH. Lately, SITH has gained more widespread acceptance.

Nevertheless, many Latter-day Saints (including me) still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

Some of us think Joseph used SITH solely to demonstrate the process to a handful of supporters to whom he could not show the Urim and Thummim or the plates. Decades later, after Joseph and Oliver had died, some of the eyewitnesses transformed the demonstration into the translation, as I've described in my book, A Man that Can Translate.

Does it make a difference what we believe about the origin of the Book of Mormon?

I think it does, but apparently others do not think it matters. For them, it's the words in the book, not their origin, that matter. That explains much of recent apologetics, but it also explains why recent apologetics are so ineffective, as I'll discuss in my upcoming book on LDS apologetics.

I'm curious what people think about this topic, because it raises the question, what are we reading when we read the Book of Mormon?

1. A translation of a history of a small group of Hebrews living within Mayan culture?

2. A translation of a history of the moundbuilders in North America?

3. A spiritual vision?

4. Words, provided by an unknown source, that appeared on a stone that only Joseph could read?

5. A composition by Solomon Spalding and/or Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, etc.?

6. A compilation of Christian teachings in the framework of a faith-promoting narrative unrelated to any actual people?

7. Something else?


In my view, the evidence points to #2, which also happens to corroborate the teachings of the prophets.

And yet, many believers accept alternatives, including #1, #3, #4, and #6. It is their underlying assumption about these alternatives that drive apologetic arguments such as M2C.

I'm fine with people believing whatever they want, of course. 

But I don't see much discussion of the implications of replacing #2 with the other alternatives. We'll discuss the alternatives in upcoming posts.


  1. Sir, are you aware that you disagree with President Nelson on this matter? If you're fine with people believing whatever they want, stop using this as an orthodoxy test in many other places and delete your blogs, Neville.

  2. Eliza - Can you give your source for your claim that President Nelson would disagree?

    1. “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing." -David Whitmer

      President Nelson clearly believes this is the translation method.

      Thus, he would disagree.


    2. President Nelson mentions in the very beginning of his talk you provided the link to:

      “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.” (JS—H 1:34–35.)”

      I could easily stop here and declared that President Nelson “clearly believes this is the translation method.”

      However, Nelson goes on to add: “The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote: ‘Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat . . . ‘”

      It appears to me that President Nelson is simply sharing what we know and then asking us to decide. Until we are told explicitly HOW it was done, that is all we can do for now.

    3. Written in 1990s. Gospel Topics essay correlates this as the translation method. We should decide for ourselves, but it is ahistorical to decide that seer stones were not involved.