Yesterday the NY Times published an interview with Chan Koonshung who wrote a novel about how societies have short memories.
How quickly can a whole nation forget about a catastrophe?
In Chan Koonchung’s 2009 dystopian novel “The Fat Years,” China endures a huge, fictional crisis. Two years later, nobody seems to remember it.
In reality, Mr. Chan realized, it took less than two months for many people in China to leave behind their anger and despair over the coronavirus crisis and the government’s bungled response. Today, they believe China triumphed over the outbreak.
“It’s like nothing had happened,” Mr. Chan said in an interview. “I’m dumbfounded. How could they make a U-turn so fast?”
We are all observing, in real time, how media drives public opinion. Fake news become real news, and facts don't matter, especially when they get in the way of a popular narrative.
Many members of the Church are wondering the same thing about the U-turn involving the translation of the Book of Mormon.
From the beginning of the Restoration until 2007, Church leaders and members embraced the narrative that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery repeatedly set forth; i.e., that Joseph Smith translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.
We're told that when Joseph and Oliver said Joseph "translated" the plates, they didn't really mean "translate" in the ordinary sense of the word as a synonym for "interpret" (which is why they were called "interpreters").
We're supposed to believe that, as used by Joseph and Oliver, "translate" really means to read words off a stone in the hat (SITH).
Now Royal Skousen is trying to persuade people that the text of the Book of Mormon was created in the 16th century by an unknown individual who somehow transmitted the text to the seer stone. We'll discuss this more tomorrow.
Scholars strive to discuss Church history in context to help explain past teachings and practices. Regarding seer stones, for example, historians say lots of people used them in Joseph's time, so it was not unusual for him to use them. Ideas about race in Brigham Young's time may explain the priesthood restrictions. Beliefs about Native Americans and the ancient ruins in Central America drove the development M2C, and so on.
What is the modern context? What would future historians say about the influences of our culture? Certainly one element is the "credentialed class" who expect others to defer to their expertise and judgment.
It's apparent that the "credentialed class" among LDS scholars think there is no greater sin than to accept what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught, even when it contradicts the theories and revisionist history promoted by the scholars.
The intellectual evolution of SITH is fascinating. All the accounts cited to support SITH were known in the 19th century. As early as 1834, the book Mormonism Unvailed proposed SITH as an alternative to the Urim and Thummim explanation of the translation. It was in response to that book that Joseph and Oliver wrote the eight essays on Church history, starting with Letter I that includes this declaration:
“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.’
For decades, Church leaders have reaffirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught, despite being fully aware of SITH. The so-called "Last Testimony" of Emma Smith was published in the late 1800s, along with David Whitmer's statements about the seer stone. But those who personally knew Joseph, Oliver, Emma, and David continued to teach that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim, reiterating it over and over in General Conference.
As Joseph wrote in the Wentworth letter,
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.
Joseph Smith--History, in the Pearl of Great Price, explains it this way.
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.
52 Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger.
62 By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there 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...
Note to verse 71*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.’
That's the old narrative. Now we're learning the revisionist history. Here's how Saints, volume 1, teaches this.
Buried with the plates, Moroni said, were two seer stones, which Joseph later called the Urim and
Thummim, or interpreters. The Lord had prepared these stones to help Joseph translate the record.... Beneath the boulder was a box, its walls and base made of stone. Looking inside, Joseph saw the gold plates, seer stones, and breastplate.... Moroni appeared, and Joseph lifted the gold plates
and seer stones from the stone box.... Assisted by Emma, he copied many of the strange characters from the plates to paper. Then, for several weeks, he tried to translate them with the Urim and Thummim.
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.... 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.