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, March 1, 2024

March Liahona: Gerrit Dirkmaat almost gets there

In this post, we'll discuss the first of two articles published in the US/Canada section of the March 2024 Liahona

"The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon" by Gerrit Dirkmaat, PhD, Associate Professor of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University
Gerrit is an awesome individual, a truly professional scholar and historian, and an exemplary Latter-day Saint. The article makes some steps toward improved accuracy about historical sources. Specifically, Gerrit Dirkmaat started by asking, "What Do the Scriptures Say about the Translation?" 

He almost gets there.

But he couldn't quite go all the way to accurately quoting the scriptures. 

Instead, he edited the first scripture he cited to change the meaning, and he didn't cite other relevant scriptures, but at least he started with scriptures. That's a step in the right direction.

Next, he asked, "What Did Joseph Smith Say about the Translation Process?"

In note 8, he actually cited “Answers to Questions,” Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 43." 

Again, he almost gets there.

But he couldn't quite go all the way to actually quoting what Joseph said, thereby depriving readers of the complete and accurate Church history regarding this event.

This is a persistent puzzle. How could any faithful account of the translation omit what Joseph Smith specifically said? Yet the Saints book, the Gospel Topics Essays, and this very article deprive readers of Joseph's teaching.

I commend Gerrit for this small step toward correcting one of the more egregious oversights in previous publications. He at least included this important reference in his article (note 8), but in a practical sense the reference remains opaque because he did not provide links so people can find the references. 

Why not just quote what Joseph said?

Fixing those problems would significantly improve the article and better educate readers.

Even better, how about taking this small step further by fixing the Saints book and the Gospel Topics Essay electronically in all the languages? 

It seems unfair to Latter-day Saints who don't read English to have this small correction available only to readers of the Liahona in the United States and Canada.

Still better: fixing the Saints book, the Gospel Topics Essay, and this article and then republishing them in all the languages with links to the original sources.


We assume that these articles were editorially pruned for space restrictions. Yet certain tangential sources were quoted at length while other core sources (particularly Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery) were truncated or omitted entirely. 

For a detailed analysis of each article, go to 


Here, we will look at a few highlights after a short explanation of why I'm posting these comments.


We all recognize and appreciate the diligent, professional historians who have assembled, compiled, organized, and presented the voluminous historical record of the Restoration, particularly those who have worked with the Joseph Smith Papers. 

In the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding (nomorecontention.com), we have all been blessed by the world-class accuracy and reliability of the historical content in the Joseph Smith Papers.

For some time now we've also hoped that more accurate and complete information about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon would be made available to the Latter-day Saints around the world. For non-English speakers, the historical references are difficult to access. Few have been translated. Consequently, new, young and non-English speaking Latter-day Saints necessarily rely on a handful of materials, including the Saints books and the Gospel Topics Essays, for accurate information.

We've previously discussed the way the Saints book (Vol. 1) was written to accommodate the SITH (stone-in-the-hat) and M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs) agendas instead of to inform readers about the authentic historical record regarding the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon. E.g., https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-historians-explain-censorship-in.html

We've also discussed how the Gospel Topics Essays on Book of Mormon Translation and Geography were written to accommodate the same agendas. For example, it's unthinkable that an essay on the translation of the Book of Mormon would omit what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said about the topic, but everyone can read the essay and see for themselves. E.g., https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/p/gospel-topics-essay-on-translation.html

Even the editorial content of the Joseph Smith Papers accommodates these agendas. E.g., https://www.academia.edu/67756647/Agenda_driven_editorial_content_in_the_Joseph_Smith_Papers

Thus, there is room for improvement, as we've discussed many times on this blog. This post encourages such improvement in accuracy in the editorial content of ancillary materials, in this case the Liahona magazine.

Another consideration: In my view, the way this article and related materials are edited (such as using ellipses to change meanings and providing obscure citations without links) seems to contravene basic principles of the Standard of Professional Conduct from the American Historical Association, such as this one:

Professional integrity in the practice of history requires awareness of one’s own biases and a readiness to follow sound method and analysis wherever they may lead. Historians should document their findings and be prepared to make available their sources, evidence, and data, including any documentation they develop through interviews. Historians should not misrepresent their sources. They should report their findings as accurately as possible and not omit evidence that runs counter to their own interpretation. 


Hopefully we can all do better in the future.


Now let's turn to the first article, "The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon" by Gerrit Dirkmaat, PhD.

Dr. Dirkmaat seems to be the "go-to" authority in the Church on the translation of the Book of Mormon. With Michael MacKay, he wrote the recent book Let’s Talk about the Translation of the Book of Mormon," published by Deseret Book. 

This is the book that starts with a creative narrative about Jonathan Hadley and the origins of SITH, as we discussed here:


It's also the book which, on page 26, subtly edited JS-H 1:62 to delete Joseph's explanation that "by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them," referring to the characters he copied from the plates. Instead, the book actually claims that "it was God who delivered the words of the Book of Mormon to him. This implies that Joseph had not identified which words of the translation corresponded to the characters on the gold plates." (page 50)


The article in the Liahona edits the scriptures in similar fashion, as I detailed in the post at ldshistoricalnarratives, linked above.

I mentioned above that the article cited, but did not quote, what Joseph wrote in the Elders' Journal.

This is the type of pseudo-transparency that leaves readers misinformed. While it's nice to see the citation in a note, why, in a section that asks what Joseph said about the translation, would an article omit Joseph's specific statement on the topic?

Like with the Wentworth letter, we can only infer that Joseph's response in the July 1838 edition of the Elders' Journal, pages 42-43, is too clear and unambiguous to accommodate the SITH theory that Joseph used a seer stone he found in a well.

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.

I've heard that some historians dismiss this statement on the ground that Joseph was just being concise and didn't want to get into the details of SITH. Others suggest that Joseph was embarrassed by the SITH narrative. Whatever the reason for omitting Joseph's answer, historians owe it to readers to explain their decision.


Some of the other editorial decisions in the article seem designed mainly to accommodate SITH. 

On one hand, the article omits some scriptures about the Urim and Thummim. On the other hand, it spends considerable time focusing on Alma 37 and the Gazelem passage. 

On one hand, the article omits what Joseph and Oliver said, but on the other hand, it emphasizes the dubious statements from Emma Smith and David Whitmer.

Specifically, it is very strange how eager Gerrit and other LDS historians are to quote from David's screed against Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the "Utah" church. Notice that David Whitmer himself rejected the claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which anyone can read on page 4 of his pamphlet that this article quotes from. I included that excerpt in my review on ldshistoricalnarratives.


1 comment:

  1. Read this by Joseph Fielding McConkie, “… On another occasion, Dad suggested to me that all scripture is given with sufficient ambiguity that those desiring to misconstrue or misuse it will be able to do so. This, he held, was very deliberate on the Lord's part, for the way we interpret scripture becomes a measure not only of our understanding but also of our spiritual integrity…”