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.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Peep Stones vs. Urim and Thummim - part 5 M2C

People are wondering what happened to part 5 that discusses the connection between the peep stones and M2C. Here it is.

I postponed it because of the other issues I've blogged about for the last three weeks. You can see parts 1-4 in the Blog Archive under July and August, but because it has been three weeks since I posted part 4, here's a quick review.

There has been a big change in recent years regarding the treatment of the translation of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and all of their contemporaries and successors as Church leaders taught that Joseph translated the engravings on the Nephite plates using the Urim and Thummim (or Nephite interpreters) that Joseph found in Moroni's stone box with the plates.

These were the interpreters specifically designated by Moroni (and the Lord) for the interpretation of the plates. "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." (Ether 4:5)

There were several hearsay accounts from people who believed they witnessed the translation, but the original first-person account was published in Oliver Cowdery's Letter I, found in the Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, which Joseph had copied into his personal history here:


Today, a portion of Letter I is found in JS-H as a footnote. You can read it here:


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.’

As I pointed out in a Letter VII post, Joseph copied the characters and translated them using the Urim and Thummim for a couple of months before Martin Harris arrived to act as scribe.


In the 1842 Wentworth letter, Joseph again explained what he did:

These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold. Each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters, and bound together in a volume as the leaves of a book, with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving. With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rims 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.

These and other accounts from Joseph and Oliver might appear straightforward enough. They consistently and persistently taught exactly the same thing.

But sophistry can turn any words into any meaning.

Our revisionist Church historians now say that when he worked with Oliver, Joseph didn't actually use the plates (they were covered with a cloth) nor did he actually use the Nephite interpreters but instead took a seer stone (called a peep stone by critics) that he found while digging a well, put it in a hat, and then read the words that appeared on the stone, which functioned as a metaphysical teleprompter with the words supplied by an unknown intermediary.

In doing so, these historians rely on accounts by others who claimed to have observed the translation.

I've suggested elsewhere that those witnesses were mostly telling the truth about what they saw (or heard), but they didn't see the translation. Joseph merely demonstrated the process to satisfy their curiosity so he and Oliver could translate in peace.

Think about it. After being chastised for losing the 116 pages, was Joseph going to show the Urim and Thummim or the plates to people who were not authorized to see them?

Of course not.

The revisionist historians seek to reconcile the two different narratives by claiming Joseph and Oliver really meant the peep stone when they wrote "Urim and Thummim," but that's patently ridiculous because the 1834 anti-Mormon book that Oliver was responding to made the distinction clear.

Everyone knew the difference, including Joseph and Oliver. That's why they both specified Joseph used the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. I wrote about all of this in parts 1-4, as well as the incoherence of Emma's "Last Testimony" that was published six months after her death (and two months after Brigham Young died).

I also discussed this on the SaintsReview blog:


It's stunning how much the revisionist historians rely on that "Last Testimony." It's an obviously self-serving statement published by Joseph Smith III to bolster his claims in his disputes with the LDS Church in Utah. In it, Emma insists Joseph never practiced polygamy, but you don't see the historians mentioning that part when they cite her testimony about the translation as if it's the gospel truth.

BTW, if you want to see a fun example of the ongoing dispute between Joseph Smith III and Joseph F. Smith, which centered on polygamy but extended to other issues as well, read this awesome 1869 letter from George A. Smith to Joseph Smith III.

Let's look at an example of what our historians have done. Go to Saints, Vol. 1, chapter 6, p. 61, or go to this link:

Here's what we're supposed to believe now, according to Saints, vol. 1:

Meanwhile, Joseph and Oliver started translating. They worked well together, weeks on end, frequently with Emma in the same room going about her daily work.24 Sometimes Joseph translated by looking through the interpreters and reading in English the characters on the plates.

Often he found a single seer stone to be more convenient. He would put the seer stone in his hat, place his face into the hat to block out the light, and peer at the stone. Light from the stone would shine in the darkness, revealing words that Joseph dictated as Oliver rapidly copied them down.25

The part in bold is all theory, taught here as fact.

South Park, 2003
Of course, neither Joseph nor Oliver said anything remotely like this peep stone narrative, as we just saw above.

If the Saints version sounds familiar, and you're old enough, you might remember it from the South Park episode that first aired on November 19, 2003.

Book of Mormon Central recently produced a video explaining their peep stone-in-a-hat narrative. They could have saved some time by just licensing the South Park episode.

Back to the Saints excerpt. Look at notes 24 and 25. They both cite Emma's "Last Testimony."

Actually, Saints, vol. 1, cites Emma's "Last Testimony" 15 times without ever pointing out the obvious problems with its credibility.

One of the most astonishing references to Emma's "Last Testimony" is on the next to the last page of Saints, vol. 1 (p. 585). The narrative reads:

Emma and the children were not going west. Her struggle to accept plural marriage, as well as ongoing disputes over property, continued to complicate her relationship with the church and the Twelve. She still believed in the Book of Mormon and had a powerful testimony of her husband’s prophetic call. But rather than follow the apostles, she had chosen to stay in Nauvoo with other members of the Smith family.48

Note 48 cites Emma's "Last Testimony." If you read it, you'll see that Emma did not "struggle to accept plural marriage." She flatly denied that Joseph ever taught or practiced it. 

Do the historians think we're not going to look up these references? Or are they telling us to disbelieve everything Emma said about plural marriage, but to believe everything she said about the translation, even though her account is inconsistent and makes no sense? 

Here's another beauty from Chapter 5 that relies solely on Emma's "Last Testimony."
South Park, 2003

With peace restored, Joseph and Martin translated quickly. Joseph was growing into his divine role as a seer and revelator. Looking into the interpreters or another seer stone, he was able to translate whether the plates were in front of him or wrapped in one of Emma’s linen cloths on the table.28

Naturally, most people wonder why Joseph went to so much trouble to take care of the plates if he didn't need them.

Even more so, people wonder why Mormon and Moroni went to all their trouble.

The obvious answer is that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates, just as he said he did, but our revisionist historians don't accept that.

Now we come to the question, why? And what does it have to do with M2C?

We can't read the minds of the revisionist historians, so there's no point trying to guess. But as I've said before, academics have to publish, and they have to have new material, which is not always easy for historians. From the outside, it looks like they found the old Mormonism Unvailed materials and resurrected the peep stone story so they could write about it (and depict it in paintings). They have sold lots of books, spoken at lots of conferences, etc.

Basically, the same academic motivation behind M2C.

These are career-making developments. Between the stone-in-the-hat and M2C, there is always something new to write and speak about, depict in media, teach to students, etc. Just look at all the material Book of Mormon Central has produced on these topics, not to mention the rest of the M2C citation cartel.

But there are two more important ramifications behind the peep stone-in-a-hat narrative.

First, one of the basic premises of M2C is that Joseph Smith didn't know that much about the Book of Mormon. He was an ignorant farm boy who knew nothing about Mesoamerica, so he didn't use the Mesoamerican terminology; i.e., he said "horses" when he should had said "tapirs," he said "tower" when he should have said "pyramid," etc.

Plus, he only learned about the Book of Mormon when he studied the Stephens and Catherwood books in 1841-1842 and then wrote about them (anonymously) in the Times and Seasons.

This line of reasoning is as obviously self-serving for our M2C scholars as Emma's "Last Testimony" was for Joseph Smith III. It frames Joseph as dependent on experts and scholars, just like our M2C intellectuals want Church members today to be dependent on them to understand the Book of Mormon. Hence, their favorite journal is named The Interpreter. Seriously, could there be a more arrogant name than that? It fits right in with their claim that they're above criticism because they've been hired by the prophets to guide the Church.

As an alternative, you could read what Joseph said in the Wentworth letter, or what his mother said about his familiarity with the ancient Nephites: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/2002/12/a-mothers-testimony?lang=eng

The second ramification involves the Hill Cumorah.

Cumorah in fantasy Mexico
It is crucial for M2C that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 cannot be in New York. That's what M2C stands for: Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. The M2C intellectuals insist that the "real Cumorah" is in Mexico, while the "hill in New York" was named Cumorah because of a false tradition that Joseph Smith passively (or ignorantly) adopted.

According to M2C intellectuals, all the prophets and apostles who have reaffirmed the New York Cumorah have misled the Church by teaching their own false opinions, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

Consequently, there is a lot riding on the New York Cumorah.

The stone-in-the-hat narrative is important to downplay the significance of the plates because if, as more and more people believe, there were really two sets of plates, then Mormon's depository of Nephite records really is in New York, as Oliver Cowdery and others declared.

If you don't know about the two sets of plates, there's a diagram here:
http://www.lettervii.com/p/the-two-sets-of-plates-schematic.html. Here are the key points:

1. The Title Page, which was the last leaf of the plates Joseph got from Moroni, describes the contents as two abridgments (Nephite and Jaredite). It doesn't mention any original plates. The plates of Nephi were original plates so could not have been included.

2. Joseph translated all of the plates he got from Moroni (except the sealed portion) when he was in Harmony. He reached the last leaf, which was the Title Page, and had the translation printed for the copyright application (probably in Binghamton).

3. In D&C 9, the Lord promised Oliver he had other records he would assist to translate. In D&C 10, the Lord identified these other records as the "plates of Nephi" which Joseph didn't have in Harmony.

4. Before leaving Harmony, Joseph gave the original plates to a divine messenger that he later identified as one of the three Nephites. He, Oliver and David encountered this messenger on the road to Fayette. The messenger said he was going to Cumorah. Obviously, he was taking the Harmony plates back to the depository so he could pick up the plates of Nephi and bring them to Fayette for Joseph to translate.

5. Before giving the plates of Nephi to Joseph, the messenger showed them to David's mother. She said his name was Nephi, which fits with 3 Nephi 11. Then the messenger met Joseph in the garden and gave him the plates.

[Note: now you see why the M2C intellectuals and revisionist Church historians insist it was a shape-shifting Moroni who showed the plates to David's mother, contrary to the testimony of David and his mother. I've discussed this in several places, but the most convenient is probably here:

6. Martin Harris said only he, Joseph, Oliver and David ever saw the Harmony plates. For that and other reasons, we can tell the Eight Witnesses saw the plates of Nephi, not the original plates. That's why none of them said there was a sealed portion, even though they handled the plates.

There's lots more, but now you see why the M2C scholars love the stone-in-a-hat narrative. If Joseph didn't use the plates anyway, all the discrepancies from the traditional narrative of one set of plates kind of fade away.

Clearly, the discrepancies don't fade away for those who know the details and can't make sense of them except within the two-sets-of-plates explanation. But from all appearances, it doesn't look like our friends at Book of Mormon Central and other M2C intellectuals and revisionist Church historians care much about how their claims appear to people outside their bubbles.


The most bizarre aspect of all of this is that the teachings of the prophets, starting with Joseph and Oliver, are the simplest, most direct, clearest, and most logical of all. Yet our intellectuals repudiate what the prophets have taught in favor of M2C and the stone-in-a-hat.

It's fine that people believe whatever they want; that's one of our Articles of Faith. I have no problem with anyone else's beliefs.

As I've said all along, my problem is with the ongoing censorship being practiced by Book of Mormon Central and the rest of the citation cartel, as well as the revisionist historians.

Because that doesn't appear likely to change, we'll continue to offer a faithful alternative that, to us, makes more sense and supports the teachings of the prophets.


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