Book of Mormon Translation


A Closer Look

"Unlike the scholarly translators, [Joseph] went back beyond the existing texts to the minds of the prophets, and through them the mind of God."

Richard Bushman, What is Mormonism? p. 111

Those who believe Joseph Smith authored the book himself, they also get to explain how Joseph recited long biblical passages while staring into a dark hat.

- Mary Ann, Beyond the CES Letter

Joseph Smith Translating Using Hat Ensign Magazine LDS
Joseph Smiths Seer Stones

Artistic Representation of the Translation

Handling Plates

BOM Translation Portrayal

Using a Hat

BOM Translation Hat
CES Letter Core Question

Why do we have artistic representations of Joseph Smith holding the gold plates while translating when we have accounts that he translated with his head in a hat and them under a cloth?

Joseph Smith Hat Translation

Painting by Anthony Sweat 

Anthony Sweat, a professor of church history at BYU as well as an artist, made the following points during an interview on LDS Perspectives podcast. "I can’t speak for the church or everything they produce but it has a stamp of officialness on it… I wish that there would be a disclaimer that says ‘all images within this magazine are meant to convey ideas or emotions that are not depictions of historical or doctrinal reality.’... He added, "Whatever they [artists] want to use to evoke God inspiring the sacred text, let them use it. I think it’s more responsibility to have the viewer to see art as a medium, not necessarily as historical reality."

Anthony created a painting conveying Joseph translating while using a hat and indicated it was challenging. "It was a hard composition… I did some sketches and drawings with his face buried in the hat and all it looked like was sick. So I joked in the piece I wrote that I wanted to call it the sick of Joseph instead of the Stick of Joseph. It wasn’t conveying that feeling of revelation or inspiration and sacred work."

Professors Sweat further addressed this issue in his essay essay titled By The Gift and Power of Art.

"I asked [artist] Walter Rane about creating an image of the translation with Joseph looking into a hat, he surprised me by telling me that the Church had actually talked to him a few times in the past about producing an image like that but that the projects fell by the wayside as other matters became more pressing."


Purpose of the Plates

CES Letter Core Question

Did Joseph use the plates at all during translation?

Numerous accounts indicate that Joseph put his head in a hat. However, we have at least one account to the contrary:

He [Oliver Cowdery] represents Joseph as sitting by a table with the plates before him, and he reading the record with the Urim & Thummim. Oliver, his scribe, sits close beside to hear and write every word as translated. This is done by holding the translators over the words of the written record."

Samuel Richard on Oliver Cowdery, Early Mormon Documents, 1:501

CES Letter Core Question

Why were there gold plates if they just sat wrapped up in a cloth while he looked into a seer stone?

The historical record doesn't always provide this answer answers to every question. There is no question that Joseph dictated portions of the Book of Mormon translation while the plates were covered.  Additionally, there is at least one account where Joseph may have openly used the plates in the translation process. Richard L. Anderson speculated that Joseph may have kept the plates covered at times because he knew that looking at the characters he couldn't read wouldn't yield any result. Rather Joseph knew through pondering and using the Urim and Thummim the Lord would reveal the text.

Explaining away the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Richard L. Anderson (2004)