Thursday, April 26, 2018

Another Critique Regarding Joseph’s Translation

In answer to a critique on one of our articles regarding Joseph Smith’s translation of names he did not know about, one reader’s critique of him not naming the animals stems from the method in which Joseph translated. Following is his series of comments and our responses:

Comment: “The assumption that those two oddly named animals were the Alpaca and the Llama make some very liberal assumptions. First, you assumes that Joseph Smith saw in vision the words he was translating. This doesn't seem to be the case. In most instances we learn that he saw words.” Riingram 23
    Response: First of all, there seem to be different terminologies used by different scribes and people, and at different times by Joseph Smith himself, some of these terms were “interpreters,” “Spectacles,” "Urim and Thummim," and "Seer Stone." 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.”
Left: Hebrew High Priest wearing a Urim and Thummim within the breastplate; Top Center: The gold breastplate of judgment hung from chains of pure gold and in the breastplate was the Urim and Thummim; Bottom Center: Artist depiction of the Urim and Thummim Joseph Smith had; Top Right: Artist Depiction of Joseph wearing Urim and Thummim; Bottom Right: Joseph Smith’s “seer stone” 

Latter-day Saints often understand the term “Urim and Thummim” (which translates as “Lights and Perfections”; and mentioned in Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Deuteronomy 33:8; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65) to refer exclusively to the interpreters; however, Joseph Smith and others, 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, though in the early days of the Church, Joseph Smith seems to have used the terms “interpreters” and “spectacles” interchangeably.
    Nancy Towle, an itinerant Methodist preacher, recounted Joseph Smith telling her about “a pair of ‘interpreters,’ (as he called them,) that resembled spectacles, by looking into which, he could read a writing engraven upon the plates, though to himself, in a tongue unknown.”
Joseph placed the seer stone into a hat and peered into it to block out the light so the writing on the stone was unimpeded—something like our watching TV in a dark room today
Secondly, 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.
Third, the scribes and others who were involved in writing down or observing the translation left numerous accounts that give insight into the process. The initial scribe,  Martin Harris, said that he 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. Joseph read those sentences aloud, and after penning the words, Harris would say, “Written.” An associate who interviewed Harris recorded him saying that Joseph “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.”
    A later person and principle scribe, Oliver Cowdery, 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 engraved on the plates.
    According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English. 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.
    Apparently for convenience, 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.
Joseph’s wife Emma reports Joseph translating when looking into a hat at the seer stone 

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 acting as his scribe, [Joseph] 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.”
    Comment: There are various Nephite words in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith didn't need to translate. To assume he saw them in vision and couldn't figure what to call them is a stretch.” 
    Response: What most people simply do not understand about translation, or man understanding inspiration or revelation at all, is the simple fact that the Spirit cannot prompt a person to know something that is not within their knowledge or understanding. It is like trying to explain to a child the meaning of atomic energy. Without a background or familiarity with a concept, the concept falls short of interpretation. Take as an example the Lord providing guidance or prophecy to ancient prophets about futuristic events that included things like tanks, rockets, helicopters, etc. Those prophets wrote about what they saw, but used language familiar to them since they had no words or knowledge to use the words we would know today.’
    When interpreting the writings of Moroni about the two animals, Cureloms and Cumoms, Joseph, a farmer by trade and upbringing, from a long line of farmers, living in a farming community at a time when farming and husbandry was a way of life, did not know what type of animals to which Moroni referred. Therefore, he could not interpret the Nephite or Jaredite words Moroni had written, and had to use those words instead of a name know to us today. The same is true with Mormon’s words for two grains: neas and sheum; or his use of a decorative metal, ziff. Because he had evidently never heard of or knew nothing about these items, the Spirit’s prompting couldnot register in his mind with anything other than the Jaredite or Nephite words, which is what he dictated to the scribe.
    It would not have mattered if he saw them in a vision or not, if he had never seen the animals before, knew nothing about them, heard of them, etc., then he would be without English equivalent words to list them.
    As an example, what if you were translating something from another language into English and came across the word “Sparklemuffin,” would you know how to translate that? Or “Chilesaurus diegosuarezi”? Assuming you had never heard of these animals before, what would you call them? The first is a peacock spider that walks on his hind legs, and the second is a plant-eating, turkey-sized cousin to a Tyrannosaurus rex. 
    Comment: “Another assumption is that he says the Cureloms and Cumoms are basically labor animals. That is not detailed. They could have been useful to man in the form of food. There are mountain sheep for example that are unique to North America. Their horns could have been used in the practice of Law of Moses, while the meat could be used for food.” 
    Response: Most any animal is useful to man in one way or another; however, Moroni makes it clear that the Cureloms and Cumoms were more useful than the horse and the ass, therefore, drawing a parallel to two animals well known to us and their value well understood. He also tells us they were more useful than “cattle, oxen, cows, sheep, swine, goats and many other kinds of animals, which were useful for food.” In addition, he tells us that these two animals were on a par in usefulness to man as an elephant. This eliminates the use of horns for the Law or Moses, or some other singular or simple concept, or only useful for food as this reader claims.
    Now, as to labor animals, in Moroni telling us that the Curelom and Cumom were more useful than horses and asses, separate from the “food” animals he listed, he is referring to these two animals’ “beast of burden” or “labor” value, as he is when telling us that the two animals were as valuable as the elephant, another labor/burden animal. Consequently, this individual’s comments are again misleading and inaccurate.

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