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Book of Mormon translation
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Book of Mormon Translation

Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon is his translation of an ancient book written on gold plates.

Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon by looking at a seer stone in a hat. Joseph Smith looking at Seer Stone "As Smith dictated... the Prophet would sit in a different room, or up stairs." — Martin Harris, Book of Mormon witness.

Ironically, according to eyewitnesses, Joseph did not look at the plates while "translating" them.
  • David Whitmer, one of the Book of Mormon witnesses, explained the process:
    David Whitmer I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling a parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. Once character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principle scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear.

    David Whitmer - Mormon apostle and Book of Mormon witness
    An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.12
  • Joseph's wife explained the same process:
    Emma Smith In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.

    Emma Smith - Joseph Smith's wife
    Interview with her son, Joseph Smith III, The Saints Herald, Vol. 26, No. 19, p.289
    Note: after Joseph's death, Emma married Major Lewis C. Bidamon.
  • Contrary to these eyewitness accounts, official church resources depict Joseph simply reading the plates and dictating his interpretation to a scribe. See

Urim and Thummim

The LDS church emphasizes that Joseph used an ancient device called the Urim and Thummim to aid with his translation.
  • The Urim and Thummim are not to be confused with the seer stone:
    There were a couple of means that were prepared for this. One was that he used an instrument that was found with the plates that was called the Urim and Thummim. This is kind of a divinatory device that goes back into Old Testament times. Actually, most of the translation was done using something called a seer stone. The seer stone is obviously something like the Urim and Thummim. It seems to be a stone that was found in the vicinity, and I can't say exactly how it would have worked. It may have been a kind of a concentrating device or a device to facilitate concentration. He would put the stone for most of the concentration period in the bottom of a hat, presumably to exclude surrounding light. Then he would put his face into the hat. It's kind of a strange image for us today...

    Daniel C. Peterson - Prof. BYU
    Interview, PBS, The Mormons
  • Unlike the Urim and Thummim which Joseph allegedly found buried along with the Gold Plates, Joseph found the Seer Stone while digging for a well:
    B. H. Roberts The seer stone referred to here was a chocolate-covered, somewhat egg-shaped stone which the Prophet found while digging a well in company with his brother Hyrum.

    B. H. Roberts – Mormon apostle and LDS church historian
    Comprehensive History of the Church 1:129
  • The evidence shows that the Urim and Thummim was an afterthought:
    • Church records before 1833 do not mention the Urim and Thummim in connection with the translation of the Book of Mormon.
    • The Book of Mormon is silent on the Urim and Thummim. However it does appear to mention the seer stone:
      Book of Mormon And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light...
      Alma 37:23
    • Doctrine and Covenants 10:1 was edited in 1835 to insert the Urim and Thummim.
    First Publication, 1833
    Book of Commandments, Chapter IX
    Second Publication, 1835
    Doctrine and Covenants, Section XXXVI
    Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up so many writings, which you had power to translate, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them, and you also lost your gift at the same time... Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hand of a wicked man, you have lost them; and you also lost your gift at the same time...


  • Seer stones are associated with divination, something the Bible condemns. See Lev. 19:26, Deut. 18:10, Jer. 14:14, Acts 16:16
  • Joseph Smith was tried and convicted in New York for deceiving others that he could find buried treasure by looking at seer stones.
  • Is it any wonder why the church and its missionaries paint a different picture to its converts and members.