Welcome to the Naked Mormonism podcast, my name is Bryce Blankenagel and thank you for joining me. Here, we study the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or LDS Church). Not the sugar coated PR friendly history that the church itself teaches, but the real history so we can know where it really came from, and compare it to the current teachings of the church. I'm looking to build a body of knowledge, hopefully with your help, about the LDS church in it's factual entirety so listeners can understand what this thing really is. I also want to call Joseph Smith out on his boldfaced hypocrisy, prophetically inspired God complex, and methodical mindfuckery, so if any of that offended you, then you should either shut it off, or, open your mind, give it a listen and try to reconcile why the facts offend you.
On Today's episode we are going to discuss how Joseph Smith purportedly translated the golden plates into the Book of Mormon, as well as the people involved in the work and authorship of the Book.
Last episode ended with Joe getting the plates on Sept. 22 1827 with his new lovely wife Emma Smith. I want to talk about how the church tells the translation story in their PR friendly way.
In 1820 when Joe was 14 years old, he prayed to the Lord and asked to be shown the truth. I breifly covered this in a previous episode, but it is important to the "translation" of the plates, so I have to rehash it. Among the many things that Jesus said to Joe, one main imperative was Joe's preparation to receive revelation to bring the restored truth back to the earth. However, Joseph was not mature enough in the spirit to receive the plates and begin his journey. Finally, on the night of September 21, 1823 17 year old Joe was praying in the upper room of his parents log cabin and the angel Moroni came to visit him. In this visit he told Joe that he would need to be rightously worthy in order to get the plates. This was dictated by Joe
"He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people."
"He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulnessof the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;"
After Joe was visited by the angel, he was instructed on how to acquire the plates. We talked about this earlier so I won't go into the details, but needless to say he got ahold of them.
Now I'm going to read straight from the lds.org website to see just how the translation time frame is reported.
Joe 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 Joe Smith as written on 116 pages, was subsequently lost or stolen. As a result, Joe Smith was rebuked by the Lord and lost the ability to translate for a short time.6
Joe 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 Joe’s parents in Palmyra. Called by God in a vision, Cowdery traveled to Harmony to meet Joe Smith and investigate further. Of his experience as scribe, Cowdery wrote, “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the *inspiration *of heaven.”7
The manuscript that Joe Smith dictated to Oliver Cowdery and others is known today as the original manuscript, about 28 percent of which still survives.
Unlike most dictated drafts, the original manuscript was considered by Joe Smith to be, in substance, a final product. (Well it did come straight from god so why wouldn't it be?) To assist in the publication of the book, Oliver Cowdery made a handwritten copy of the original manuscript. This copy is known today as the printer’s manuscript. Because Joe Smith did not call for punctuation, such as periods, commas, or question marks as he dictated, such marks are not in the original manuscript. The typesetter later inserted punctuation marks when he prepared the text for the printer. With the exceptions of punctuation, formatting, other elements of typesetting, and minor adjustments required to correct copying and scribal errors, the dictation copy became the text of the first printed edition of the book.
So that is the rough time frame that the church has recoreded on their website as far as translating the Book of Mormon goes. Now let's see what lds.org has to teach us about the method of translation. While this may seem insignificant now, to those listeners who don't know the truth about how Joe translated the plates, we will soon see the difference between the reported method and the truth of the method.
"Joe Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon. According to witnesses of the translation, when Joe 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.” Joe found the interpreters buried in the hill with the plates.16 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.”17
The other instrument, which Joe Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or “seer stone.”18 As a young man during the 1820s, Joe Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure.19 As Joe grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.20
Apparently for convenience, Joe 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, Joe Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters. 'God literally gave him a tool and then gave him a backup tool that was easier to use just in case he wanted to be lazy' In ancient times, Israelite priests used the Urim and Thummim to assist in receiving divine communications. Although commentators differ on the nature of the instrument, several ancient sources state that the instrument involved stones that lit up or were divinely illumined.22 Latter-day Saints later understood the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters. Joe 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.
I would speculate that the last line in that paragraph really illustrates the dodging conclusion they came to about Joe saying he had the Urim and Thummim. They have to do this because the real Urim and Thummim are supposedly lost inside the ark of the covenant according to the bible and there is literally no physical way that the U and T that Joe had were the originals spoken of in the bible.
Now that we have seen how the church teaches us the translation story, let's really dive in to what happened. I'm sure that the lds.org story is completely accurate, but let's see if any details are ommitted.
I want to start out this portion of Naked history with Marin Harris or as we'll call him not-so-smarty Marty. Until 1831, NSSM lived in Palmyra, New York, where he was a prosperous farmer. His neighbors considered him both an honest and superstitious man. A biographer wrote that His "imagination was excitable and fecund." For example, Marty once perceived a sputtering candle to be the work of the devil. An acquaintance said that Harris claimed to have seen Jesus in the shape of a deer and walked and talked with him for two or three miles. The local Presbyterian minister called him "a visionary fanatic." A friend, who praised him as being "universally esteemed as an honest man," also declared that Harris's mind "was overbalanced by 'marvellousness'" and that his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy. Another friend said, "Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks."
This sets out a very fascinating profile for NSSM which seemed to offer just what Joe needed to really get things going with this book. Let's hear NSSM's personal dissertation on what happened. This will take a few minutes to read, but it contains and immense amount of information to unpack and examine and I can't wait to get to it.
****Interview with Martin Harris
in Tiffany's Monthly
Published by Joel Tiffany, No. 6 4th Ave.
Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, p.163-170
THE following narration we took down from the lips of Martin Harris, and read the same to him after it was written, that we might be certain of giving his statement to the world. We made a journey to Ohio for the purpose of obtaining it, in the latter part of January, 1859. We did this that the world might have connected account of the origin of Mormonism from the lips of one of the original witnesses, upon whose testimony it was first received. For it will be remembered that Martin Harris is one of the three witnesses selected to certify to the facts connected with the origin of that revelation.
Mr. Harris says: "Joseph Smith, jr., found at Palmyra, N. Y., on the 22d day of September, 1827, the plates of gold upon which was recorded in Arabic, Chaldaic, Syriac, and Egyptian, the Book of Life, or the Book of Mormon. I was not with him at the time, but I had a revelation the summer before, that God had a work for me to do. These plates were found at the north point of a hill two miles north of Manchester village. Joe had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase, twenty-four feet from the surface. In this stone he could see many thing to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates.
"In the first place, he told me of this stone, and proposed to bind it on his eyes, and run a race with me in the woods. A few days after this, I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth, and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph and Northrop Sweet also did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him--I said, ‘Take your stone.’ I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat-- the old white hat--and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick, and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.
"Joseph had had this stone for some time. There was a company there in that neighborhood, who were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients. Of this company were old Mr. Stowel--I think his name was Josiah--also old Mr. Beman, also Samuel Lawrence, George Proper, Joseph Smith, jr., and his father, and his brother Hiram [Hyrum] Smith. They dug for money in Palmyra, Manchester, also in Pennsylvania, and other places. When Joseph found this stone, there was a company digging in Harmony, Pa., and they took Joseph to look in the stone for them, and he did so for a while, and then he told them the enchantment was so strong that he could not see, and they gave it up. There he became acquainted with his future wife, the daughter of old Mr. Isaac Hale, where he boarded. He afterwards returned to Pennsylvania again, and married his wife, taking her off to old Mr. Stowel’s, because her people would not consent to the marriage. She was of age, Joseph was not.
"After this, on the 22d of September, 1827, before day, Joseph took the horse and wagon of old Mr. Stowel, and taking his wife, he went to the place where the plates were concealed, and while he was obtaining them, she kneeled down and prayed. He then took the plates and hid them in an old black oak tree top which was hollow. Mr. Stowel was at this time at old Mr. Smith’s, digging for money. It was reported by these money-diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth. A candid old Presbyterian told me, that on the Susquehannah flats he dug down to an iron chest, that he scraped the dirt off with his shovel, but had nothing with him to open the chest; that he went away to get help, and when they came to it, it moved away two or three rods into the earth, and they could not get it. There were a great many strange sights. One time the old log school-house south of Palmyra, was suddenly lighted up, and frightened them away. Samuel Lawrence told me that while they were digging, a large man who appeared to be eight or nine feet high, came and sat on the ridge of the barn, and motioned to them that they must leave. They motioned back that they would not; but that they afterwards became frightened and did leave. At another time while they were digging, a company of horsemen came and frightened them away. These things were real to them, I believe because they were told to me in confidence, and told by different ones, and their stories agreed, and they seemed to be in earnest--I knew they were in earnest.
"Joseph did not dig for these plates. They were placed in this way: four stones were set up and covered with a flat stone, oval on the upper side and flat on the bottom. Beneath this was a little platform upon which the plates were laid; and the two stones set in a bow of silver by means of which the plates were translated, were found underneath the plates.
"These plates were seven inches wide by eight inches in length, and were of the thickness of plates of tin; and when piled one above the other, they were altogether about four inches thick; and they were put together on the back by three silver rings, so that they would open like a book.
"The two stones set in a bow of silver were about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the centre; but not so thick at the edges where they came into the bow. They were joined by a round bar of silver, about three-eighths of an inch in diameter, and about four inches long, which, with the two stones, would make eight inches.
"The stones were white, like polished marble, with a few gray streaks. I never dared to look into them by placing them in the hat, because Moses said that ‘no man could see God and live,’ and we could see anything we wished by looking into them; and I could not keep the desire to see God out of my mind. And beside, we had a command to let no man look into them, except by the command of God, lest he should ‘look aught and perish.’
"These plates were usually kept in a cherry box made for that purpose, in the possession of Joseph and myself. The plates were kept from the sight of the world, and no one, save Oliver Cowdrey [Cowdery], myself, Joseph Smith, jr., and David Whitmer, ever saw them. Before the Lord showed the plates to me, Joseph wished me to see them. But I refused, unless the Lord should do it. At one time, before the Lord showed them to me, Joseph said I should see them. I asked him, why he would break the commands of the Lord! He said, you have done so much I am afraid you will not believe unless you see them. I replied, ‘Joseph, I know all about it. The Lord has showed to me ten times more about it than you know.’"--Here we inquired of Mr. Harris-- How did the Lord show you these things? He replied, "I am forbidden to say anything [about] how the Lord showed them to me, except that by the power of God I have seen them."
Mr. Harris continues: "I hefted the plates many times, and should think they weighed forty or fifty pounds.
"When Joseph had obtained the plates, he communicated the fact to his father and mother. The plates remained concealed in the tree top until he got the chest made. He then went after them and brought them home. While on his way home with the plates, he was met by what appeared to be a man, who demanded the plates, and struck him with a club on his side, which was all black and blue. Joseph knocked the man down, and then ran for home, and was much out of breath. When he arrived at home, he handed the plates in at the window, and they were received from him by his mother. They were then hidden under the hearth in his father’s house. But the wall being partly down, it was feared that certain ones, who were trying to get possession of the plates, would get under the house and dig them out. Joseph then took them out, and hid them under the old cooper’s shop, by taking up a board and digging in the ground and burying them. When they were taken from there, they were put into an old Ontario glass-box. Old Mr. Beman sawed off the ends, making the box the right length to put them in, and when they went in he said he heard them jink, but he was not permitted to see them. He told me so.
"The money-diggers claimed that they had as much right to the plates as Joseph had, as they were in company together. They claimed that Joseph had been [a] traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which belonged to them. For this reason Joseph was afraid of them, and continued concealing the plates. After they had been concealed under the floor of the cooper’s shop for a short time, Joseph was warned to remove them. He said he was warned by an angel. He took them out and hid them up in the chamber of the cooper’s shop among the flags. That night some one came, took up the floor, and dug up the earth, and would have found the plates had they not been removed.
"These things had all occurred before I talked with Joseph respecting the plates. But I had the account of it from Joseph, his wife, brothers, sisters, his father and mother. I talked with them separately, that I might get the truth of the matter. The first time I heard of the matter, my brother Presarved Harris, who had been in the village of Palmyra, asked me if [I] had heard about Joseph Smith, jr., having a golden bible. My thoughts were that the money-diggers had probably dug up an old brass kettle, or something of the kind. I thought no more of it. This was about the first of October, 1827. The next day after the talk with my brother, I went to the village, and there I was asked what I thought of the Gold Bible? I replied, The Scripture says, He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is foolishness unto him. I do not wish to make myself a fool. I don’t know anything about it. Then said I, what is it about Joe’s Gold Bible? They then went on to say, that they put whiskey into the old man’s cider and got him half drunk, and he told them all about it. They then repeated his account, which I found afterwards to agree substantially with the account given by Joseph. Then said I to them, how do you know that he has not got such gold plates? They replied, ‘Damn him! angels appear to men in this enlightened age! Damn him, he ought to be tarred and feathered for telling such a damned lie!’ Then I said, suppose he has told a lie, as old Tom Jefferson said, it did [not] matter to him whether a man believed in one god or twenty. It did not rob his pocket, nor break his shins. What is it to us if he has told a lie? He has it to answer for if he has lied. If you should tar and feather all the liars, you would soon be out of funds to purchase the material.
"I then thought of the words of Christ, The kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. I knew they were of the devil’s kingdom, and if that is of the devil, his kingdom is divided against itself. I said in my heart, this is something besides smoke. There is some fire at the bottom of it. I then determined to go and see Joseph as soon as I could find time.
"A day or so before I was ready to visit Joseph, his mother came over to our house and wished to talk with me. I told her I had not time to spare, she might talk with my wife, and, in the evening when I had finished my work I would talk with her. When she commenced talking with me, she told me respecting his bringing home the plates, and many other things, and said that Joseph had sent her over and wished me to come and see him. I told her that I had a time appointed when I would go, and that when the time came I should then go, but I did not tell her when it was. I sent my boy to harness my horse and take her home. She wished my wife and daughter to go with her; and they went and spent most of the day. When they came home, I questioned them about them. My daughter said, they were about as much as she could lift. They were now in the glass-box, and my wife said they were very heavy. They both lifted them. I waited a day or two, when I got up in the morning, took my breakfast, and told my folks I was going to the village, but went directly to old Mr. Smith’s. I found that Joseph had gone away to work for Peter Ingersol to get some flour. I was glad he was absent, for that gave me an opportunity of talking with his wife and the family about the plates. I talked with them separately, to see if their stories agreed, and I found they did agree. When Joseph came home I did not wish him to know that I had been talking with them, so I took him by the arm and led him away from the rest, and requested him to tell me the story, which he did as follows. He said: ‘An angel had appeared to him, and told him it was God’s work.’" Here Mr. Harris seemed to wander from the subject, when we requested him to continue and tell what Joseph then said. He replied, "Joseph had before this described the manner of his finding the plates. He found them by looking in the stone found in the well of Mason Chase. The family had likewise told me the same thing.
"Joseph said the angel told him he must quit the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them. He must not lie, nor swear, nor steal. He told him to go and look in the spectacles, and he would show him the man that would assist him. That he did so, and he saw myself, Martin Harris, standing before him. That struck me with surprise. I told him I wished him to be very careful about these things. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘I saw you standing before me as plainly as I do now.’ I said, if it is the devil’s work I will have nothing to do with it; but if it is the Lord’s, you can have all the money necessary to bring it before the world. He said the angel told him, that the plates must be translated, printed and sent before the world. I said, Joseph, you know the doctrine, that cursed is every one that putteth his trust in man, and maketh flesh his arm; and we know that the devil is to have great power in the latter days to deceive if possible the very elect; and I don’t know that you are one of the elect. Now you must not blame me for not taking your word. If the Lord will show me that it is his work, you can have all the money you want.
"While at Mr. Smith’s I hefted the plates, and I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead. I left Mr. Smith’s about eleven o’clock and went home. I retired to my bedroom and prayed God to show me concerning these things, and I covenanted that if it was his work and he would show me so, I would put forth my best ability to bring it before the world. He then showed me that I was his work, and that it was designed to bring in the fullness of his gospel to the gentiles to fulfill his word, that the first shall be last and the last first. He showed this to me by the still small voice spoken in the soul. Then I was satisfied that it was the Lord’s work, and I was under a covenant to bring it forth.
"The excitement in the village upon the subject had become such that some had threatened to mob Joseph, and also to tar and feather him. They said he should never leave until he had shown the plates. It was unsafe for him to remain, so I determined that he must go to his father-in-law’s in Pennsylvania. He wrote to his brother-in-law Alvah Hale, requesting him to come for him. I advised Joseph that he must pay all his debts before starting. I paid them for him, and furnished him money for his journey. I advised him to take time enough to get ready, so that he might start a day or two in advance: for he would be mobbed if it was known when he started. We put the box of plates into a barrel about one-third full of beans and headed it up. I informed Mr. Hale of the matter, and advised them to cut each a good cudgel and put into the wagon with them, which they did. It was understood that they were to start on Monday; but they started on Saturday night and got through safe. This was the last of October, 1827. It might have been the first of November."
It is extremely easy to read deeper into this statement. It is fascinating to see the almost mob-like nature of the meeting. NSSM is walking around downtown Palmyra in 1827 and some random people come up to him and offer to get him sloshed and proceed to tell him all about the BOM and Joe while he is having a good time. Later, Joe sends his mom to prime the pump and take Marty's wife and daughter off his hands, with an obvious secondary motive of showing them the box that had the plates in it and telling them how rightous and called of god Joe was.
They obviously made a good impression, because NSSM visited Joe and the Smith fam damly to see what this Golden Bible was all about. When he says "Gold or Lead" that seems suspicious... kind of like he didn't see the actual plates, just 'hefted' or lifted them. If he saw them outside of the box you would think even a layman like NSSM could tell the difference between gold and lead.... one is a little more shiny....
Anyway, Marty gave Joe the old 'still small voice' prayer test, which must have been more positive than negative, and reckoned that publishing the book of mormon was his calling in life. What followed after Marty's dissertation is quite fascinating to say the least. Let's hear what Abigail, Marty's cousin, and Lucy, Marty's cousin wife, had to say about the situation during the tranlation in Pennsylvannia.
Mormonism Unveiled: Testimonies of Abigail Harris and Lucy Harris (Martin Harris' wife)
A little sidenote, that last part of her statement was in regards to an affair that NSSM was having at the time. The Haggard's lived 3 houses away from the Harris' so Lucy could see when Marty would 'steer a straight course for Haggard's house'. I don't include this to express an ad-homonim attack on NSSM, but rather to help show what kind of a guy he really was, both professionally and at home.
I hope this episode wasn't too dry being so heavily focused on one person, but without NSSM the BOM never would have been published and we want all of the facts and puzzle pieces to fit together in their proper shape and place. Thank you for joining me and I look forward to talking to you about Oliver Cowdery next time here on the Naked Mormonism podcast.
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