Monday, May 2, 2016

An Interesting Thing About Translation – Part VII

Continuing from the previous posts in which we introduced the method in which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. As should be seen, this was not a process of trying to determine what a word meant or a phrase, but a process involved in God-given methods to translate an unknown language, and in the involvement of the Spirit to make sure the translation—the word or wordage chosen by Joseph Smith in his own language—was accurate.
Continuing with the process, in the preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith wrote: “I would inform you that I translated [the book], by the gift and power of God.” When pressed for specifics about the process of translation, Joseph repeated on several occasions that it had been done “by the gift and power of God” and once added, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon (Minutes, Church conference, Orange, OH, Oct. 25–26, 1831, in Minute Book 2, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
    In any event, the scribes and others who observed the translation left numerous accounts that give insight into the process. Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates. Most of the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument. The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light” (Alma 37:23-24).
    The scribes who assisted with the translation unquestionably believed that Joseph translated by divine power. Joseph’s wife Emma explained that she “frequently wrote day after day” at a small table in their house in Harmony, Pennsylvania. She described Joseph “sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.” According to Emma, the plates “often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth.” When asked if Joseph had dictated from the Bible or from a manuscript he had prepared earlier, Emma flatly denied those possibilities: “He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.” Emma told her son Joseph Smith III, “The Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me for hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him.”
    Michael Morse, Emma Smith's brother-in-law, gave a first-hand account published in an 1879 article in the RLDS publication Saint's Herald:
    “When Joseph was translating the Book of Mormon [I] had occasion more than once to go into his immediate presence, and saw him engaged at his work of translation. The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph's placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face, resting his elbows upon his knees, and then dictating word after word, while the scribes - Emma, John Whitmer, O. Cowdery, or some other wrote it down.”
Another scribe, Martin Harris, sat across the table from Joseph Smith and wrote down the words Joseph dictated. Harris later related that as Joseph used the seer stone to translate, sentences appeared. He related an incident that occurred during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said that the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone, Martin explained the translation as follows: By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin and when finished he would say "Written," and if correctly written that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.
    By what process the words disappeared and another appeared is not stated, nor by what source the words remained if they did not agree with what was written; however, Joseph Smith worked under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and certainly the Spirit was involved in bringing the words into English and in removing them if correct or retaining them if not, so they could be reworded or restated until they were written correctly.
    Joseph Knight, Sr., an early member of the Church and a close friend of Joseph Smith, wrote the following in a document on file in the LDS Church archives:
    “Now the way he translated was he put the Urim and Thummim into his hat and darkened his eyes then he would take a sentence and it would appear in bright roman letters then he would tell the writer and he would write it then that would go away the next sentence would come and so on. But if it was not spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite, so we see it was marvelous. Thus was the whole translated.”
    LDS writer Francis Kirkham notes that Joseph Smith's brother William also confirmed the use of the hat. His account is similar to the accounts given by Harris and Whitmer although he refers to the seer stone as the "Urim and Thummim." He stated, "The manner in which this was done was by looking into the Urim and Thummim, which was placed in a hat to exclude the light, (the plates lying near by covered up), and reading off the translation, which appeared in the stone by the power of God" (2:417).
The principal scribe, Oliver Cowdery (left), testified under oath in 1831 that Joseph Smith “found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraven on the plates.” In the fall of 1830, Cowdery visited Union Village, Ohio, and spoke about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Soon thereafter, a village resident reported that the translation was accomplished by means of “two transparent stones in the form of spectacles thru which the translator looked on the engraving.”
     It should be noted that “At the outset it must be recollected that the translation was accomplished by no common method, by no ordinary means. It was done by divine aid. There were no delays over obscure passages, no difficulties over the choice of words, no stoppages from the ignorance of the translator; no time was wasted in investigation or argument over the value, intent or meaning of certain characters, and there were no references to authorities.
These difficulties to human work were removed. All was as simple as when a clerk writes from dictation. The translation of the characters appeared on the Urim and Thummim, sentence by sentence, and as soon as one was correctly transcribed the next would appear."
    Notice that the Spirit was involved in the appearing and disappearing of the word or wordage and would not be removed until the translation was correct and correctly written.
It should be recognized at this point that all the problems the theorists indicated in the first five posts of this series, would not have been a factor in Joseph Smith’s translation. He did not fight to know what the word meant—if he understood an English equivalent, it was given to him to know, he read it off, and if the scribe copied it correctly, then the word disappeared and he proceeded to the next word or phrase. Thus, when Joseph Smith said “horse,” “ass,” or “elephant,” being completely knowledgeable of the words “horse,” “ass,” or “elephant,” and the scribe correctly wrote down “horse,” “ass,” or “elephant,” that the Spirit provided on the image in the seer stone, meant “horse,” “ass,” or “elephant,” And the same would be true of any other word we find in the scriptural record. When Joseph did not know the meaning of the word appearing on the stone, the word remained in the language Mormon wrote it, and Joseph spelled the word for the scribe, as in the case of cureloms and cummons, or neas and sheum, or ziff, as well as in the case of unknown proper names.

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