Translation Art

Need for the Gold Plates

CES Letter Core Question

Why were the gold plates necessary if Joseph didn't rely on them?

That the gold plates that ancient prophets went through all that time and effort of making, engraving, compiling, abridging, preserving, hiding, and transporting were useless? Moroni’s 5,000 mile journey lugging the gold plates from Mesoamerica (if you believe the unofficial apologists) all the way to New York to bury the plates, then come back as a resurrected angel, and instruct Joseph for 4 years only for Joseph to translate instead using just a...rock in a hat?

CES Letter, Page 72

An unwritten book cannot be translated.

Martin Harris copied characters for comparison indicating that there was an undeniable connection between the characters on the plates and the process of translating. If the translation was limited to the rock and the hat, with not association with the plates, then why did Martin ask for characters to be examined by Charles Anthon?

Joseph described that the Book of Mormon was translated by "the gift and power of God," so the exact process through which the words were presented to the Prophet's mind are unknown. That Joseph wasn't looking through the stone towards the plates is apparently unimportant.

Oliver Cowdery, the primary scribe, left this description: "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'" (Messenger and Advocate 1 (Oct. 1834):14).

None of the historical sources mentioning a hat were readily available to Church members or artists. David Whitmer's late pamphlet describing the translation with a stone in a hat was not widely distributed.

More recently, the Ensign  published two accounts mentioning the stone and the hat, one by Richard Lloyd Anderson in 1977 and a second more recently by Elder Russell M. Nelson in 1993.  The publication of these articles apparently did not influence artists' renditions of the translation process but if using a seer stone in a hat was problematic or embarrassing, printing these articles in the Ensign would not have occurred.

Contradictory statements are among the descriptions currently available. Joseph may have started translating with Martin Harris as scribe, only to alter the process later. The exact details are unknown. 

Robert J. Matthews recalled that when he was on the Correlation Committee of the Church, project managers never sent them artwork to be assessed for historical accuracy. It wasn’t because they wanted to deceive, but because the managers already assumed the drawings they used were accurate.

The use of a seer stone in a hat is not intrinsically less plausible than the use of two seer stones mounted in a set of "spectacles" attached to a breastplate. Accusations of cover up or deception seem extreme.