Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Rising Generation, SITH and the GTE

Let's discuss the "rising generation."

Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers. (Mosiah 26:1 )

In our day, there are "many of the rising generation that cannot understand the words" of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery because our LDS apologists "have rejected the words of the prophets" (1 Nephi 3:18) because of "the simpleness of their words" (2 Nephi 3:20). Not only has Cumorah been censored from the Saints book, volume 1, but the teachings of Joseph and Oliver about the Urim and Thummim have been all but erased as well. 

A prime example is the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation as we'll discuss below. This essay has been criticized by outsiders, but it is more problematic from a faithful perspective.

There are two aspects of the Gospel Topics Essays that people seem to overlook. 

1. They were written by committee, published anonymously, and are not canonized.
2. They are subject to revision at any time without notice, and have been revised from time to time in the past. 

These two aspects lead me to hope and propose that the essays continue to be improved. As it is now, the Translation essay misleads readers--particularly the rising generation.

In all our discussion of LDS apologetics, we remember this important observation by Tad Callister:

If I were to ask my good Christian friends how they unquestionably know the Bible is the word of God, I do not believe they would cite archaeological discoveries or linguistic connections with ancient Hebrew or Greek as their prime evidence; rather, they would make reference to the Spirit. It always comes back to the Spirit. The Spirit that helps me know the Bible is true is the very same Spirit that helps me know the Book of Mormon is true.

https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/tad-r-callister/book-mormon-man-made-god-given/

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Joseph Smith used the term "rising generation" three times when he translated the Book of Mormon. (It's a term Jonathan Edwards used numerous times as well.) 

Joseph used the term once in the Doctrine and Covenants, in this verse: And also it is an imperative duty that we owe to all the rising generation, and to all the pure in heart— (D&C 123:11)

We all owe a duty to the rising generation to give them good information to help them make informed decisions. As President Nelson taught, "good inspiration is based upon good information."

Some of that good information includes the original sources for what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught about the events of the Restoration.

_____


Two years ago I blogged about the book The Next Mormons

One datapoint the authors reported was the percentage of Latter-day Saints who believe the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical account. 

The numbers are declining in younger generations.


SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory) is one reason why so many of the "rising generation" disbelieve the Book of Mormon is an authentic historical account.

When Joseph Smith said he translated the plates--that he took his translation from the plates--he directly tied the text to an actual ancient document. 

SITH explicitly separates the text from the plates. That's why critics promoted SITH in the first place. Detaching the text from the ancient record undermines its authenticity.

In his preface to the 1830 edition (which was omitted from subsequent editions, including the one we use today), Joseph wrote: 

I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon.

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/book-of-mormon-1830/9

It's difficult to imagine more plain and simple language than this. Joseph "took" the translation from the Book of Lehi. He did not state or imply that he "took" the text from a stone he found in a well. 

Actually, he never said or implied that he dictated the Book of Mormon from words that appeared on the stone in the hat (SITH).

But the rising generation does not know any of this. 

They are not being taught to refer to original sources but instead are led to the Saints books and to the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation.

That essay omits and edits important, relevant original sources, including the teachings of the prophets, to promote the narrative generated by David Whitmer and others, contrary to the plain teachings of Joseph, Oliver, and their successors in Church leadership.

For instance, readers cannot tell from this Gospel Topics essay that neither Joseph nor Oliver ever once said or implied that Joseph dictated a text that appeared on the seer stone he found in a well.

I've discussed this essay in more detail before, offering line-by-line analysis, but in this post, we'll focus on one short paragraph that omits a key point:

The Mechanics of Translation

In the preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith wrote: “I would inform you that I translated [the book], by the gift and power of God.” 

Notice how the essay omits the rest of the sentence in the Preface quoted above, in which Joseph explains he took the text from the Book of Lehi.

It's also interesting that "gift and power of God" is a nonbiblical phrase that occurs in only a handful of obscure pre-1830 sources. Not even Jonathan Edwards used it. Below we'll see where it originated.

The essay continues:

When pressed for specifics about the process of translation, Joseph repeated on several occasions that it had been done “by the gift and power of God”24 and once added, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon.”25

Here, the essay repeats the excerpt from the 1830 Preface, again omitting the rest of the sentence

The paragraph is misleading in several ways, as we can see by looking at the two notes.
_____

Note 24Preface to the Book of Mormon, 1830 edition.

The note references the Preface but doesn't even provide a link so readers can see it--in context--for themselves. 

And although the essay refers to "several occasions," it doesn't quote, list or provide references to those occasions. Readers have to wonder why not. 

If you search in the Joseph Smith Papers for the phrase, you will see that there are only four documented "occasions" when Joseph repeated that phrase outside of the Book of Mormon. There are a few additional statements from Joseph relating to the translation that don't use the phrase "gift and power of God." It is inexplicable that none of the sources below are quoted or cited in the essay, even though they each deal directly with the translation.

Maybe the essay omits these references because, in the best known of these occasions (the Wentworth letter), Joseph specifically explained that he translated with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. His explanation leaves no room for confusion with a seer stone he found years earlier while digging a well.

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.


The Wentworth letter was later republished in 1844 as "Latter Day Saints" with some modifications, but the paragraph about the translation remained unchanged except for omitting the final comma.

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 on 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.


In another direct, clear statement, Joseph answered a question in the 1838 Elders' Journal by reaffirming that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates:

Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon? 
Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County New York, being dead; and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon.

_____

The first known "occasion" for which Joseph used the term "gift and power of God" was when he translated the Title Page, which he said was "a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated."*

Because this was a "literal translation" of a specific part of the plates, we can reasonably infer that the phrase "gift and power of God" originated with Moroni and was not drawn from Joseph's lexicon. 

Written, and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed;  to come forth by the gift and power of God, unto the interpretation thereof; sealed by the hand of Moro­ni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the way of Gentile; the interpretation thereof by the gift of God...
(Title Page)

Here, the "gift and power of God" involves the coming forth of the record, while the interpretation thereof is by the "gift of God." That distinction will be relevant in the discussion below.

The next reference was in the text of the Book of Mormon, specifically in the plates of Nephi which Joseph translated in Fayette.

And  it  came  to  pass  that  the  people  of  Zarahemla,  and  of Mosiah,  did  unite  together;  and  Mosiah  was  appointed  to  be their king.  And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a  large  stone  brought  unto  him,  with  engravings  on  it ;  and  he did  interpret  the  engravingsby  the  gift  and  power  of  God
And  they  gave  an  account  of  one  Coriantumr,  and  the  slain of  his  people. 
(Omni 1:19–21, or page 150 in the 1830 edition)

Here we see that Mosiah interpreted the engravings on the large stone. These engravings gave an account of Coriantumr. Nothing in this passage states, suggests or implies that Mosiah put a stone in a hat and read words that appeared on the stone. He could have done that without the people bringing the large stone to him. Instead, he interpreted the engravings on the large stone.

In his 1832 History, Joseph explained that he, too, translated characters: "the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters."


Similarly, Joseph later explained that "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."
(Joseph Smith—History 1:62)

Returning to the phrase "gift and power of God," the next reference comes from 4 January 1833, when Joseph wrote a letter to Noah Saxton.

The Book of Mormon is a reccord of the forefathers of our western Tribes of Indians, having been found through the ministration of an holy Angel translated into our own Language by the gift and power of God, after having been hid up in the earth for the last fourteen hundred years containing the word of God, which was delivered unto them, By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are desendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the Land of America is a promised land unto them, and unto it all the tribes of Israel will come. with as many of the gentiles as shall comply with the requesitions of the new co[v]enant.


In this letter, Joseph's brief outline of the discovery and translation of the record didn't mention either the plates or the Urim and Thummim. The existence of both was well known at the time, however.

The claim that the text is a record "of the foregathers of our western tribes of Indians" and that these tribes are descendants from Joseph of Egypt is controversial among modern scholars. Perhaps that is why the Gospel Topics Essay omits this reference. 

Yet every Latter-day Saint who studies the scriptures should know that the "western tribes of Indians" were the same tribes identified by the Lord as Lamanites in D&C 28, 30 and 32. These are the Lamanites to whom Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, and Peter Whitmer, Jr., were called to preach.

The next reference comes in a journal account of conversations with Robert Matthews, 9–11 November 1835.

I went and found the place, where the plates were, according to the direction of the Angel, also saw them, and the angel as before; the powers of darkness strove hard against me, I called on God, the Angel told me that the reason why I could not obtain the plates at this time was because I was under transgression, but to come again in one year from that time, I did so, but did not obtain them also the third and the fourth year, at which time I obtained them, and translated them into the english language; by the gift and power of God and have been preaching it ever since.


Here again, Joseph did not mention the Urim and Thummim, or any other translation instrument, but he affirms that he "translated them into the english language." That leaves little room for an alternative translator (the Mysterious Incognito Supernatural Translator, or MIST, that supposedly put the words on the stone in the hat for Joseph to read).

Other sources relate Joseph translating by the gift and power of God, also referring to the Urim and Thummim, such as this anonymous article in the Times and Seasons:

and that the Book of Mormon had come forth as an “ensign to the nations,” containing an account of the gospel in much plainness, being translated by the gift and power of God by the use of the Urim and Thummim, that had come forth with the plates that contain the record


This reference reiterates the plain teaching of the Wentworth letter, published a few months earlier in the same Times and Seasons

Oliver Cowdery provided this statement in 1834, which now appears as a note in Joseph Smith-History:

* Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the 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 would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’
(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1)

Oliver reiterated his first-person testimony when he rejoined the Church in 1848.

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. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.


In conclusion regarding Note 24, while the Gospel Topics Essay accurately states that Joseph said he translated "by the gift and power of God," it is misleading by omission. A partial truth is not helpful when it obscures the whole truth, particularly here when the partial truth is used to support SITH, which expressly contradicts the plain meaning of what Joseph and Oliver actually taught. 

The essay misleads readers by omitting Joseph's own explanations that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. It should be revised to quote, cite and link these direct statements from Joseph and Oliver regarding the translation, instead of misleading readers by omitting them and relying instead on the speculations of scholars and the statements of those who never saw the plates or the Urim and Thummim during the translation because they were not authorized to do so.

Whatever Joseph may have done with the stone he found in a well, he and Oliver left no room in their accounts for its use in connection with the translation.
_____

Note 25: Minutes, Church conference, Orange, OH, Oct. 25–26, 1831, in Minute Book 2, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, available at josephsmithpapers.org; Welch, “Miraculous Translation,” 121–9.

Here, the note gives us a link to the cited reference, which consists of minutes of a conference from October 1831:


Recall the passage from the essay that includes this note:

When pressed for specifics about the process of translation, Joseph repeated on several occasions that it had been done “by the gift and power of God”24 and once added, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon.”25

When we read the actual reference in context, though, we see that Joseph was not "pressed for specifics about the process of translation."

Br. Hyrum Smith said that he thought best that the information of the coming forth of the book of Mormon be related by Joseph himself to the Elders present that all might know for themselves.
 
Br. Joseph Smith jr. said that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon, & also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things &c.

The minutes here are incomplete, as we can see from the "&c." at the end of the sentence. When considered in context and in light of subsequent events, the incomplete minutes of Joseph's 1831 statement likely meant that it was not expedient at that meeting for Joseph to relate these things. 

No reasonable historian can say that the 1831 statement precluded later statements about the "coming forth of the Book of Mormon," particularly because Joseph himself did provide more details in the later statements. Other participants in the 1831 meeting, including Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Orson Pratt, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer, certainly did not understand Joseph's statement to preclude future discussions about the translation. They discussed it publicly.

This meeting took place in 1831. Joseph didn't produce his first known account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon until 1832. The first detailed account was not published until 1834-5 (Oliver Cowdery's eight historical essays, with which Joseph assisted). The Elders' Journal account of the translation was published in 1838. Joseph's own detailed account was not compiled until 1838, and wasn't published until 1842. The Wentworth letter was also published in 1842, and the Latter Day Saints article was published in 1844.

Recall that Joseph's 1842 History was prompted by extrinsic events:

Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession.
(Joseph Smith—History 1:1)

The phrase "coming forth of the Book of Mormon" encompasses more than just the translation, and may not even include the translation. After all, the Title Page itself distinguishes between the coming forth and the interpretation, as we discussed above. 

The gradual release of information about the "coming forth of the Book of Mormon" makes sense because circumstances changed. The growth and expansion of the Church meant that fewer people could have personal interactions with Joseph Smith. He and Oliver needed to document their experiences for future generations as well. 

We can see from the 1834 Mormonism Unvailed that various accounts of the translation were circulating. That book pointed out that the idea of a "translation" produced by reading words of the stone in the hat (SITH) without reference to the plates not only undermined the credibility of the narrative Joseph provided, but made the testimony of the witnesses about those plates irrelevant.  

Ultimately, the historical record establishes that Joseph and Oliver wanted people to know that Joseph Smith translated the engravings on the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates; i.e., that God had prepared the special instrument that Joseph used to translate the ancient record. This meant that there was no possibility of a source for the text that was not divine.

By omitting and editing original sources, the Gospel Topics Essay deprives readers of the very knowledge Joseph and Oliver tried so hard to impart.

_____

* Joseph's full explanation was published in the Times and Seasons as part of the serialized History of Joseph Smith:


I wish also to mention here, that the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said title page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation. Therefore, in order to correct an error which generally exists concerning it, I give below that part of the title page of the English version of the Book of Mormon, which is a genuine and literal translation of the title page of the Original Book of Mormon, as recorded on the plates.

The irony today is that another error generally exists concerning the Title Page (and the rest of the Book of Mormon) because some of our own LDS intellectuals actually teach that Joseph didn't use the plates when he translated! 

Yet here Joseph tells us specifically which part of the plates he translated. And he specifies that this was a genuine and literal translation. These claims would be pointless if Joseph was merely reading words off a stone in the hat.

One wonders what else Joseph and Oliver could have said or written to prevent the SITH error.






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