Below, however, we will show how the Book of Mormon was translated and why all these arguments over the past five posts are totally and completely invalid when it comes to evaluating Joseph Smith’s translation. The problem is in the fact that all these theorists miss the point of the Joseph Smith translation process, as well as why the Hebrew and reformed Egyptian have little effect on the actual translation that we have before us today.
First of all, let us start this post out by saying that in the past five articles, we have taken an inordinate amount of time and even covered redundant arguments about the problems theorists see in the translation process. And while any normal translation, i.e., that is translating the Popol Vuh or any other ancient text found in Mesoamerica, or anywhere else for that matter, other than the Book of Mormon, is going to have many or perhaps even all of the suggestive problems outlined in the past five articles, they are all missing and of no concern when determining the Joseph Smith translation. We apologize in the beginning for the lengthy effort to make our point here in this series, however, the very tenacity that theorists cling to this idea of problems with words and meanings in the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon cause us to take all this time and explain each and every point so that the information covered in this final post on the subject will be that much more understandable and answer all the kinds of questions that these theorists raise in their attempt to discredit the actual meaning and try to substitute another, such as claiming Mormon really meant a tapir or deer when he wrote and Joseph Smith translated “horse.”
Nor is it that the answer is that complicated or unknown. We have written about this many times in different ways; however, since the idea of “clouding the issue” with other ideas, words, and meanings that theorists use to deflect the actual wordage of the scriptural record in these areas, is an ongoing process without any credibility check, with article after article in books, periodicals and classroom discussion at places like BYU and elsewhere when the Book of Mormon is discussed, it seemed worthwhile for us to take this time with the issue at hand to make sure that all arguments and comments on the subject are dealt with, corrected, and fully understood.
In order to do this, let’s address some of the information surrounding the translation of the Book of Mormon.
The characters of reformed Egyptian, most likely a form of shorthand developed around Lehi’s time that he learned, probably as part of his business connection in or with EgyptFirst, we are told around 600 B.C. that the Book of Mormon was written in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2);
Second, that this reformed Egyptian was the language used after 1000 years, as Moroni stated around 400 A.D.: “we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech” (Mormon 9:32);
Third, that “the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:34);
Fourth, and that "such means" was Joseph Smith, who was charged by the angel Moroni, to translate the book from the ancient language in which it was written.
Joseph received the plates in September 1827 and the following spring, in Harmony, Pennsylvania, began translating them in earnest, with Emma and his friend Martin Harris serving as his main scribes. The resulting English transcription, known as the Book of Lehi and referred to by Joseph Smith as written on 116 pages, was subsequently lost or stolen. As a result, Joseph Smith was rebuked by the Lord and lost the ability to translate for a short time (Joseph Smith History, 1838–ca. 1841, 8–11 (draft 2); Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844, vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers).
Joseph began translating again in 1829, and almost all of the present Book of Mormon text was translated during a three-month period between April and June of that year. His chief scribe during these months was Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher from Vermont who learned about the Book of Mormon while boarding with Joseph’s parents in Palmyra.
Now, in conveying how this was done, it is very important that we understand, Joseph Smith was called to render into his own language an entire volume of scripture amounting to more than 500 printed pages, containing doctrine that would deepen and expand the theological understanding of millions of people.
Into his own language. In order to do this, God prepared additional, practical help in the form of physical instruments for Joseph Smith to use. Joseph Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon. According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English. One instrument, called in the Book of Mormon the “interpreters,” is better known to Latter-day Saints today as the “Urim and Thummim.” Joseph found the interpreters buried in the hill with the plates. Those who saw the interpreters described them as a clear pair of stones bound together with a metal rim. The Book of Mormon referred to this instrument, together with its breastplate, as a device “kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord” and “handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages."
The other instrument, which Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or “seer stone.” As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.
Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather than the two stones bound together to form the interpreters. These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters. In ancient times, Israelite priests used the Urim and Thummim to assist in receiving divine communications.
In fact, there are numerous witnesses to Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon, and all essentially tell the same story: Joseph put a stone (often called a seer stone) in a hat, then burying his face in the darkened hat words appeared on the stone which he dictated to the scribe. The gold plates were either always covered by a cloth, where no one including Joseph could see them or they were not even in the room at the time Joseph was translating. The seer stone Joseph used was the same stone he found when digging a well with his brother Hyrum on Willard and Mason Chase's property years earlier.
Several comments exist in scripture of the The Urim and Thummim along with the above one interpretation. Though it is mentioned in the Old Testament and used as a major instrument in Hebrew revelation, no firm description seems to exist with commentators differing on the nature of the instrument. Several ancient sources state that the instrument involved stones that lit up or were divinely illumined. Latter-day Saints later understood the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters. Joseph Smith and others, however, seem to have understood the term more as a descriptive category of instruments for obtaining divine revelations and less as the name of a specific instrument.
The Urim and Thummim were mysterious objects used by the ancient Israelites to determine God’s will, and although they are mentioned several times in the Bible, Scripture does not give a description of what they were or what they looked like. In Hebrew, Urim means "lights" and Thummim means "perfection." These objects were used to illuminate the people about God’s flawless will(See the next and last post in this series, “An Interesting Thing About Translation – Part VII,” to see how the different between normal translation and the translation conducted by Joseph Smith eliminated all the problems theorists claim caused errors in the scriptural record)