Did Joseph Smith Write the Book of Mormon?

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Some assert that when Joseph Smith translated the golden plates into what is now the Book of Mormon, the seer stones he used literally showed him each word, just like Babelfish. Others hold to the idea that Joseph Smith had ideas come to his mind and these he expressed into his own words (similar to what many experience when giving priesthood blessings).

In the case of the latter, the possibility seems to exist that Joseph Smith could have inserted his own interpretations into the text. If this possibility is factual, does that mean the claims Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon are accurate?

16 thoughts on “Did Joseph Smith Write the Book of Mormon?

  1. he DID translate the Book of Mormon. Don’t you think that if Christ knew he was adlibbing it, that He wouldn’t have stepped in causing him stupor of thought or taken away his privileges?

    Christ knew that was an important piece of wondor that the people of the future, us, needed to continue in our progression towards Heavenly Father’s plan. He would have never allowed Joseph Smith to incorrectly translate or write it.

  2. I don’t want to comment too much on this topic, but Grant Palmer’s Insider’s View of Mormon Origins goes into quite some detail in relation to how much ‘artistic license’ Joseph’s ‘translation’ contains.

    Lacking any access to the golden plates, this argument wil unfortunately remain completely speculative.

  3. The process of translation described to Oliver Cowdery in the Doctrine and Covenants seems to be a mix of personal effort and divine gift. Oliver was told he would have to work on it–to “study it out in his mind.” Then, the Lord would guide him. This principle seems to apply to most revelation–that there’s a mix of personal initiative and inspiration.

    I don’t doubt that Joseph’s familiarity with the Bible influenced his word choices. (And of course, in saying that, I also assume that Joseph was the one who chose some of the words.) On the other hand, I can’t suppose that Joseph came up with names such as Coriantumr or Nephi, or the names of beasts such as cureloms and cumoms, on his own based on the “impressions” of the Spirit. I’m pretty sure he had to have those given to him verbatim.

    I suppose, then, that the translation of the Book of Mormon was much like other revelatory experiences: It involved varying degrees (probably from moment to moment) of pure revelation, and varying degrees of personal effort on Joseph’s part.

    So it might be reasonable to define this process as “writing” the Book of Mormon. But I would avoid using that term because it would tend to cause confusion. Most people who claim that Joseph “wrote” the Book of Mormon are saying the book was entirely of his own invention. If we started saying he “wrote” it when we mean something entirely different, we would not be communicating clearly and, through our lack of precision we would tend to support the Book of Mormon’s detractors.

  4. There was a huge discussion over at T&S a while ago about Blake Ostler’s “Expansion Theory” of the BoM’s translation process. Maybe he’ll chime in on this discussion.

    I guess we’ll never really know what the process is like unless we have the opportunity to do such a translation ourselves. That said, I like to think that there may be a little wiggle room for expression much like in translating a lyric or poem. One has to find a way to express the lyricism in the target language without losing the intent of the original. Such a process almost amounts to an artistic collaboration of sorts rather than a dry translation.

    Jack

    Off topic–Where’s Larry?

  5. I simply offer the words from the title page of the Book of Mormon:

    THE BOOK OF MORMON

    AN ACCOUNT WRITTEN BY

    THE HAND OF MORMON

    UPON PLATES

    TAKEN FROM THE PLATES OF NEPHI

    Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.

    An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven—Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever— And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations—And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.

    TRANSLATED BY JOSEPH SMITH, JUN.

  6. I’ve read some of Joseph Smith’s personal writing in the form of journal entries and letters to his wife, Emma. They read a lot like the Book of Mormon so I believe (independent of whether or not he “wrote” the book of Mormon) his voice can be heard through the narrative.

    It’s also interesting to compare and contrast changes in the writing style when covering chapters that overlap with the bible. For example see 2 Nephi / Isaiah or 3 Nephi Matthew.

    Apparently I’m not the first person to discover this phenomenon. In his book “New Witnesses for God”, noted scholar B. H. Roberts wrote:

    When Joseph Smith saw that the Nephite record was quoting the prophecies of Isaiah, of Malachi, or the words of the Savior, he took the English Bible and compared these passages as far as they paralleled each other, and finding that in substance, they were alike, he adopted our English translation; and hence, we have the sameness to which you refer.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that B. H. Roberts opinion should be taken as the only possible solution to the problem, but I present it as an alternative to some of the evidence that may suggest the Book of Mormon was not translated from the Golden Plates.

  7. Not all communication from the Holy Ghost, for example, is in the form of English words and sentances, or any known language for that matter. Often it is merely a perfect understanding in your mind of the message you are receiving, without any words used. Perhaps sometimes Joseph received an understanding of a scenerio from the Gold Plates in this way, and it was then up to him to articulate this understanding in English.

  8. Jeff states:

    I’ve read some of Joseph Smith’s personal writing in the form of journal entries and letters to his wife, Emma. They read a lot like the Book of Mormon so I believe (independent of whether or not he “wrote” the book of Mormon) his voice can be heard through the narrative.

    Yet I contend, How should Smith’s voice have been heard through the narrative at all, since (according to Mormon Belief) David Whitmer, one of the so-called “three witnesses” to a testimony appearing at the front of the Book of Mormon, said: “Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God and not by the power of man” (Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Missouri, 1887, p. 12).

    As well, at the front of the Book of Mormon, in the section titled “Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” it is stated that the book was “translated into modern speech by the gift and power of God as attested by Divine affirmation”. So, if the Book of Mormon is a book of Divine revelation – not the voice of Joseph, but that of God should be the only voice heard in the reading of the text.

    So either you are giving Joseph Smith way too much credit, or you are implying that He spoke for God.

    However, I have successfully argued this with you elsewhere and, save for this one comment, need belabour the point no further on this thread.

  9. John, everything you raise here has already been dealt with in the other comments on this page. Look, for example, at #7.

  10. Did Joseph write the Book of Mormon? How ridiculous, I thought everyone knew that Sidney Rigdon wrote it (ha ha).

    Seriously, from the accounts of the first-hand observers (and scribes) I get the impression it was more of a direct dictation than personal expression of ideas. Emma said he would pick up where he left off without having any portion read back. That sounds to me like an accurate place marker being used on a very definite text, not a formation of ideas that needed words to express.

    Like Jeff Milner I also hear a familiar voice in the Book of Mormon, only for me I hear it in the endowment.

  11. Hmmm, I think he created it. Similar to the tales he used to create as a kid. “If the Book of Mormon is held up as proof of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, then we must grant the same status to Pearl Curran and Mohammed, on the same grounds. Anything less would amount to intellectual dishonesty.” I’m named after this man, an I’m not sure he was telling the truth…..

  12. Kim Siever said: “I just want to be clear that I was not asking whether Joseph translated the plates or not, but rather what that translation consisted of.”

    I am under the impression the translation consisted of Joesph Smith putting a rock in his hat, then sticking his head in his hat and with his faced covered by his hat he then read the words that appeared on the rock in his hat.

  13. joseph said:

    If the Book of Mormon is held up as proof of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, then we must grant the same status to Pearl Curran and Mohammed, on the same grounds. Anything less would amount to intellectual dishonesty.

    Who’s saying that Pearl Curran and Mohammed are not divinely inspired? The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants are replete with the idea that God gives revelation to His children and not just to one particular group. God reveals Himself to those that seek Him regardless of who they are.

    Eric S said:

    I also hear a familiar voice in the Book of Mormon

    It should not be surprising that any translation would be primarily in the voice of the translator.

    That sounds to me like an accurate place marker being used on a very definite text,

    Insinuating that Joseph had memorized text that he had written previous or using a manuscript that someone else had written previous. This would seemingly conflict with the idea that Joseph Smith, after losing the first 116 pages, was unsure if he could remember what was written and so received the ‘revelation’ not to re-translate them. If he had an existing text, why not just re-memorize it? If he made it up, why did he not need anything read back to him to remember where he was?

    So which is it, does Joseph have an elephant’s memory with an pre-existing text or is he just making it up as he goes along and can’t remember all the details later?

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