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, June 4, 2021

More on the Witnesses movie

Last week I mentioned the Witnesses movie, and there have been some reactions online. 

I'm sure the Witnesses movie is awesome. It must be, given the amount of publicity going on. As I wrote last week, I'm suspending judgment until I see it, if I do. (It won't be playing anywhere near where I live.)

To inoculate viewers, I'll offer some things to watch for. 

- Maybe the movie will show the important encounter between David Whitmer and the messenger taking the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah. 

- Maybe it will show Joseph translating the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim. 

- Maybe it will show Joseph and Oliver visiting the repository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York, about which both Oliver and David Whitmer testified.

- Maybe it will relate what Oliver wrote about Moroni's first visit (Letter IV) and the fact that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is the hill in New York (Letter VII), which anyone can read in the Joseph Smith Papers (click on the links).

Because the movie comes from the Interpreter Foundation, though, I wasn't surprised to hear from some who have seen the film that instead of the above scenes, we can expect to see plenty of SITH (stone-in-the-hat), little of U&T (Urim and Thummim), and nothing about Cumorah.


As readers here know, there is no more delightful name for a group of self-appointed experts than the "Interpreter Foundation." It is the nature and disposition of almost all scholars, as soon as they get a few credentials, they will begin to interpret the scriptures for everyone else.

The Interpreter Foundation, along with the other structures in the Potemkin M2C village such as Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, and FairLDS, famously and completely reject what all three witnesses said about the New York Cumorah. 

Just yesterday, our favorite "Interpreter" republished an earlier article in which he wrote this:

The founding events of the Restoration took place in the literal material world. They were not metaphorical. They were not merely symbolic. Accordingly, they are of immense significance to all of humanity.

Oliver Cowdery’s unwavering eyewitness testimony of them, through persecution, suffering, illness, disappointment, anger and even excommunication, is powerful evidence of their reality. This book, “Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness,” provides powerful scholarly evidence that his testimony can be trusted.

I agree with all of that. If only our scholars did...

Instead, Dan and the other M2C "interpreters" completely reject Oliver's testimony about the New York Cumorah. Most of them reject Oliver's testimony about the Urim and Thummim, preferring SITH.

For these "Interpreters," Oliver's testimony can be trusted only if it agrees with their theories. 

But let's suspend judgment. Maybe the movie will inform people about what the witnesses actually said about Cumorah and the translation.

Maybe we'll have a sea change among the M2C Interpreters because of the new focus on the witnesses.


The rejection of what Joseph and Oliver said about the U&T* in favor of SITH has the obvious problem of rendering irrelevant the testimony of the witnesses anyway. 

Back in 1834, the book Mormonism Unvailed discussed the alternative explanations for the translation. The author had heard about both the "peep stones" and the Urim and Thummim. They were definitely not the same thing. Merging the two, the way our modern scholars do, produces exactly the problem Mormonism Unvailed identified all those years ago--a problem that Joseph and Oliver specifically resolved.

The author pointed out that "The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old "peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. 

[Note that contrary to the assertion in Mormonism Unvailed, Joseph explained he not only looked at the characters inscribed upon the plates, but he copied and translated them.] 

This [the "peep stone"] he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face.... 

Another account they give of the transaction, is, that it was performed with the big spectacles before mentioned, and which were in fact, the identical Urim and Thummim mentioned in Exodus... and finally buried up in Ontario country, some fifteen centuries since, to enable Smith to translate the plates without looking at them!"

[Even by late May 1829, when Joseph and Oliver were finishing the translation of the abridged plates in Harmony, Joseph was looking on the plates with the Urim and Thummim. But we don't hear about that in SaintsOpening the Heavens, or other recent books by our scholars who are pushing SITH.] 


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. 

[That actually contradicts 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--nor can we see any use, either in finding the plates or the spectacles, nor of the exhibition of them.

Oliver Cowdery specifically responded to this commingling of translation instruments, and the argument that the Three Witnesses were not competent, by explaining that he "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.’"

(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1)

Joseph explained that he copied and translated the characters on the plates. The Lord instructed Joseph to "translate the engravings" on the plates. This is why the plates were so important. They were not merely a talisman that sat covered up while Joseph read words from a stone in a hat. Joseph and Oliver always said Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim. They never said he used a seer stone without using the plates. Even when Oliver rejoined the Church, he reiterated this testimony about the Urim and Thummim. Despite having the seer stone in his possession on that occasion, he did not produce it or mention it.

Meanwhile, nowhere do the scriptures (Book of Mormon, D&C, Pearl of Great Price) describe Joseph producing the Book of Mormon by dictating words from a vision in a stone or hat. Joseph's contemporaries and successors consistently rejected SITH in favor of U&T. They taught about it in General Conference and elsewhere.

Why, then, did David and Emma describe SITH?

The simple explanation, supported by detailed historical analysis as I explained in A Man that Can Translate, is that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim, but he also conducted a demonstration in the Whitmer home using SITH. Those present inferred they were observing the translation, but the demonstration differed from the actual translation in several respects. Decades later, David Whitmer and Emma cited the demonstration to refute the Spalding theory.

But our modern scholars nevertheless "interpret" the historical evidence the same way Mormonism Unvailed did, thereby rejecting what Joseph and Oliver and the scriptures say about the translation, the same way these "interpreters" reject what the witnesses said about the New York Cumorah.

Nevertheless, we can remain optimistic that someday, even the Interpreter Foundation may change course and actually accept what the witnesses said. 

We'll see.

 *Notice that the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation never even quotes what Joseph and Oliver taught. It certainly doesn't reaffirm what they taught. Some revisionist scholars say SITH and U&T were the same thing; i.e., they claim that when Joseph and Oliver wrote about the Urim and Thummim, which the Nephites called interpreters, they were really referring to a seer stone (or "peep" stone) that Joseph found in a well years before he dictated the Book of Mormon. 

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