Last Sunday I was interviewed by Micah Nickolaisen for “A Thoughtful Faith” podcast (click here to go to A Thoughtful Faith podcast homepage). During our chat, I discussed a two-part lesson that I gave to the combined Aaronic Priesthood in my ward that examined Joseph Smith’s use of his brown seer-stone/peep-stone in receiving the revelation we call the Book of Mormon. Earlier this week I posted my lesson-notes from my modesty lesson I gave to my Priest Quorum a few weeks ago (click here to read my lesson notes). It was very warmly received. So, I had the the thought, “Why not post me seer-stone lesson-notes this weekend?” The other reason for posting these lesson notes is that I didn’t have time to do my weekly Book of Mormon post this week.
Allow me to explain how I used these notes and every-so-often I will also give a little hint on how a particular part of the lesson notes were used. First, I provided two hand-outs to each of the boys and each of the adult leaders that were in the room. The first hand-out was a packet that had the notes you see here. It is primarily quotes that were used throughout the lesson with one or two of the papers having different artistic renditions of Joseph ‘translating’ the Book of Mormon; the pictures below are the pictures I used. The other hand-out was a copy of Elder Nelson’s Talk about Joseph using a seer-stone as found in the Ensign (click here to read all of the Elder Nelson’s Ensign article)
The things that the notes do lack, but which I explained, was that Joseph was a ‘treasure-seeker” and what that meant and entailed.
Seer Stones and Urim and Thummim in Book of Mormon
Michael Barker, 2012
Would you believe me if I told you that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon like this picture (show him looking in a hat)? – Most of my young men thought I was wrong.
What if I told you that a historian said it happened like that? (of course I am referring to Richard Bushman)
What if I told you that the same historian was the Chair of the History Department at an Ivy-League school?
What if I told you that the same historian was a past Stake President, Stake Patriarch, and is now a temple sealer? ( You’ll find that the previous responses might start to change. )
Ask the question:
What if I told you that Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said that Joseph used one of his seer-stones to receive the Book of Mormon?
Read Elder Nelson’s quote from Ensign:
“The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote:
‘Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.’” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)
Here is a clip from South Parks’ “All About the Mormons”. This one is in German so as to be less offensive. You might consider just muting it if you do show it. This was the opener for my Part II of the lesson. It was an attention grabber for sure (click here to watch). The way I played it was by plugging my Iphone into the TV at church. The church’s wifi will not allow you to play anything form Youtube so you will have to use a 3G/4G network.
THE BOOK OF MORMON TRANSLATION TIME LINE
compiled from Rough Stone Rolling , Richard Bushman
Michael Barker 2006
1822: Joseph receives first seer stone while working for Willard Chase digging a well. Some indicate it was possibly found under a tree around Lake Erie (Joseph is 16-17 years old)
Sept. 21 & 22, 1823: Moroni appears three times to Joseph Smith; beginning on the evening of the 21st. On the morning of the 22nd, Joseph collapses after being sent home from work and has a fourth visit. Moroni tells Joseph to tell his father of Moroni’s visits. Joseph meets with Moroni for the next four years (Joseph is 17 years old)
Oct. 1825: Josiah Stowell hires Joseph Sr. and Jr. to dig for Spanish silver. (Joseph is 19 years old)
Nov. 1825: “Articles of Agreement” indicate Joseph Sr. & Jr. to receive 2/11 of money found. Less than one month later Joseph Jr. convinces Stowell to stop treasure hunting; the company is dispanded.
March 1826: Peter Bridgeman (Josiah Stowell’s nephew) enters complaints that Joseph Smith Jr. is a disorderly person (treasure hunter).
Jan. 18, 1827: Marries Emma (Joseph is 21 years old)
Sept. 22, 1827: Receives plates from Moroni. Leaves his family home around 12:00 am to get them (leaving Sept. 21st) (Joseph is 21)
Dec. 1827: Emma and Joseph move to Harmony, Pennsylvania and live in a two bedroom home owned by Emma’s brother.
Feb 1828: Martin Harris arrives in Harmony, Pennsylvania to transcribe The Book of Mormon (Joseph is 22)
Feb1828: Harris arrives at Columbia College to show Professor Charles Anthon The Book of Mormon characters; it does not appear Joseph has quite figured out how to translate yet.
April 1828: Harris returns to Harmony and translation begins.
*April 12-June 14, 1828: Translates with Martin Harris using Urim and Thumim. A curtain is between the two to prevent Harris from seeing the plates. The first 116 pages are translated (called The Book of Lehi)
June 1828: Harris allowed to take 116 page manuscript to show 5 people.
June 15, 1828: Joseph and Emma’s son, Alvin, dies.
Around June 15, 1828: Emma sends Joseph to Palmayra, New York to check on Harris; the 116 page manuscript has been lost.
July 1828: Joseph returns to Harmony and translation stops.
Sept. 22, 1828: Joseph receives the interpreters againα. Joseph and Emma work on translation very little but have to stop to make preparation for winter.
April 5, 1829: Samuel Smith brings Oliver Cowdery to Joseph and Emma’s home.
*April 6, 1829: Joseph and Oliver work together on translation. The seer stone is used primarily to translate. (Joseph is 23)
Late May/Early June 1829: Translation of 1 Nephi begins. This is probably after the rest of the book was done.
May 15, 1829: John the Baptist appears to Oliver and Joseph. They receive the Aaronic Priesthood and baptize each other (Section 13)
May 1829: Oliver writes David Whitmer, who lives in Fayette, New York, to see if he has work for Joseph and himself.
While in Fayette various people transcribe: Emma, John Whitmer (who helps a lot and his writing is seen on manuscripts of 1 Nephi), Christian Whitmer. However, Oliver Cowdery is the primary transcriber.
*Around July 1, 1829 (Lucy Smith dates it middle of June): The Book of Mormon is done. (Joseph is 23)
June 11, 1829: Title page of The Book of Mormon dropped off to get copy right.
Late June/ early July 1829: Joseph contracts with Mr. Gardin in Palmayra to print The Book of Mormon.
Mid August: First 24 pages of The Book of Mormon delivered to Gardin’s print shop in Palmayra.
Aug 25, 1829: Martin Harris mortgages his farm as security in case The Book of Mormon does not sell.
Dec. 29, 1829: Abner Cole (pseudonym O. Dogberry), publisher of the Palmayra Weekly, “The Reflector” publishes pirated portions of The Book of Mormon excerpts on the front page.
Jan 13 & 22, 1830: Subsequent two issues of “The Reflector” contain more excerpts; nothing more published.
*March 26, 1830: Gardin has an add printed in local paper that The Book of Mormon is for sale (Joseph is 24)
March 1830: Martin Harris states, “I want a commandment (revelation)”, because The Book of Mormon is not selling. Doctrine and Covenants section 19 is the revelation.
April 7, 1831: Martin Harris sells his farm.
αThis assertion clashes with other accounts, David Whitmer said Moroni did not return the Urim and Thummim to Joseph in September. Instead, Whitmer states that Joseph used a seerstone for the remaining translation. Of the translation process, Emma Said that Joseph at first used the Urim and Thummim and upon resuming the translation after the 116 pages were lost, the seer stone was used.
* I don’t remember why I put in these asterisks originally. But I decided to keep them in case I figure it out some day
Joseph at first used “The Urim and Thummim” for Book of Mormon Translation:
“Day after day I continued uninterrupted to write from his mouth as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim, or as the Nephites would have said, ‘interpreters,’ the history, or record called ‘The Book of Mormon” (Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate 1:14).
Was the “Urim and Thummim” actually one of Joseph’s seer-stones?
Use of Urim and Thummim stopped and Seer Stone then used:
“Now the first that my husband translated was translated by the use of Urim and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost. After that he used a small stone, not exactly black, but was rather a dark color . . . “ (Unpublished letter of Emma Smith Bidamon to Mrs. George W. Pilgrim, March 27, 1870, RLDS Archives P 4 F 20. The background of this letter is given in The Return 4:12 (July 15, 1895), where in a letter to the editor John T. Clark writes that “about the year 1868 or 1869 William E. McClellam made the statement that ‘after the 116 pages were lost Joseph translated the rest of the Book of Mormon with a stone;’ which statement Granville Hedrick nor none of the church here credited, and Sister Pilgrim being somewhat acquainted with Emma wrote her a letter, asking if the statement by Dr. McClellan was true.”)
William E. McLellan wrote that Joseph translated the “entire Book of Mormon by means of a small stone. I have certificates to that effect from E. A. Cowdery (Oliver’s widow), Martin Harris, and Emma Bidamon. ” (William E. McLellan letter to Joseph Smith III dated July 1872, RLDS Archives P 13 F 213. William McLellan provides a transcript of Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery’s certificate in a February 1870 letter in RLDS Archives P 13 F 191.)
“As a chastisement for this carelessness, the Urim and Thummim was taken from Smith. But by humbling himself, he again found favor with the Lord and was presented a strange oval shaped, chocolate colored stone, about the size of an egg, but more flat which it was promised should answer the same purpose. With this stone all the present book was translated.” ( The Historical Record. Devoted Exclusively to Historical, Biographical, Chronological and Statistical Matters, p. 632, LDS Archives, cited in van Wagoner and Walker, ibid., p. 54.)
All Believers in Christ, David Whitmer wrote (quoted earlier by Elder Nelson):
“I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph would put the seer stone into a hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO: n.p., 1887), 12.)
When Zenas H. Gurley, editor of the RLDS Saints’ Herald, interviewed Whitmer in 1855 and specifically asked if Joseph used his “‘Peep stone’ to finish up the translation,” David replied that:
“…he used a stone called a “Seers stone,” the “Interpreters” having been taken away from him because of transgression. The “Interpreters” were taken from Joseph after he allowed Martin Harris to carry away the 116 pages of Ms of the Book of Mormon as a punishment, but he was allowed to go on and translate by the use of a “Seers stone” which he had, and which he placed in a hat into which he buried his face, stating to me and others that the original character appeared upon parchment and under it the translation in English.” (“Questions asked of David Whitmer at his home in Richmond Ray County Mo. Jan. 14 1885relating to Book of Mormon, and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS by Elder Z. H.Gurley,” holograph in LDS Church Archives). Another supportive account is a Whitmer interview recorded in the Chicago Tribune, 17 Dec. 1885: “The plates were never restored to Joseph–nor the spectacles, but a different Urim & Thummim–one oval or kidney-shaped–a seer’s stone, which he plsced in his hat, and, face in hat, he would see character and translation on the stone.” Whitmer’s account is also corroborated by William E. McLellin, an early member of the Quorumof the Twelve: “After the 116 pages were lost Joseph translated the rest of the Book of Mormon witha stone,” Saints’ Herald 19 (1 Aug. 1872): 473)
“Joseph did not see the plates in translation, but would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light, and before him would appear what seemed to be parchment on which would appear the characters of the plates on a line at the top, and immediately below would appear the translation in English.”(David Whitmer, Kansas City Journal, 5 June 1881).
“While the statement has been made by some writers that the Prophet Joseph Smith used a seer stone part of the time in his translating of the record, and information points to the fact that he did have in his possession such a stone, yet there is no authentic statement in the history of the Church which states that the use of such a stone was made in that translation. The information is all hearsay, and personally, I do not believe that this stone was used for this purpose. The reason I give for this conclusion is found in the statement of the Lord to the Brother of Jared as recorded in Ether3:22-24” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 3, pg. 226) – President Smith was incorrect.
On Joseph Smith using a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon Dr. Richard Bushman said the following:
“I will begin by saying that we still have pictures on our Ward bulletin boards of Joseph Smith with the Gold Plates in front of him. That has become an irksome point and I think it is something the church should pay attention to. Because anyone who studies the history knows that is not what happened. There is no church historian who says that is what happened and yet it is being propagated by the church and it feeds into the notion that the church is trying to cover up embarrassing episodes and is sort of prettifying its own history. So I think we should just stop that immediately. I am not sure we need a lot of pictures of Joseph looking into his hat, but we certainly should tell our children that is how it worked. It’s weird. It’s a weird picture. It implies it’s like darkening a room when we show slides. It implies that there is an image appearing in that stone and the light would make it more difficult to see that image. So, that implies a translation that’s a reading and so gives a little clue about the whole translation process. It also raises the strange question, what in the world are the plates for? Why do we need them on the table if they are just wrapped up into a cloth while he looks into a seer stone?” (FAIR Conversations podcast with Blair Hodges; Dr. Richard Bushman, part I, 47:46)
Richard Bushman then goes on to give a possible analogy of why the plates needed to even exist if Joseph was not looking at them, but eventually concedes that the analogy “is lame.” The analogy he uses is that of a magnetic coil generator; the coils and magnet don’t touch, yet it produces energy. Similarly the plates needed to be in the same room to produce some type of revelatory energy. Below is a generator I made with my two daughters and used during my lesson. The boys really liked it.
Click on the words just below this picture to see this awesome generator in action.
How did he translate?
“But if it was not Spelt rite [sic] it would not go away till it was rite, so we see it was marvelous.” (Joseph Knight (autograph [between 1833 and 1847]))
“When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time.”
(Emma Smith (Edmund Briggs interview, 1856))
Martin Harris (Edward Stevenson’s 1881 account):
“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.”
“With the sanction of David Whitmer, and by his authority, I now state that he does not say that Joseph Smith ever translated in his presence by aid of the Urim and Thummim; but by means of one dark colored, opaque stone, called a ‘Seer Stone,’ which was placed in the crown of a hat, into which Joseph put his face, so as to exclude the external light. Then, a spiritual light would shine forth, and parchment would appear before Joseph, upon which was a line of characters from the plates, and under it, the translation in English; at least, so Joseph said” (Edward Trughber, Saints’ Herald 26, 15 Nov. 1879): 341).
Michael Morse, husband of Emma Smith’s sister, Trial Hale, described the procedure as he witnessed it, a description remarkably consistent with previous accounts. He is quoted in 1879 by W. W. Blair, of the RLDS First Presidency:
“When Joseph was translating the Book of Mormon, I [Morse] 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” (Saints’ Herald 26 (15 June 1879):190-91)).
David Whitmer (Eri Mullin interview, 1874):
“…the words would appear, and if he failed to spell the word right, it would stay till it was spelled right, then pass away; another come, and so on.”
(compare the letter of J. L. Traughber, Jr., Saints’ Herald26(1879):341 with the letter of Eric B. Mullin, Saints’ Herald 27(1880): 76.)
What did Joseph Say about the particulars of translation?
Joseph says that the translation occurred “by the . . . gift and power of God.”
(Warren Cowdery, MS History of the Church, Bk A-1, pp. 121—22. Joseph also uses the phrase “by the gift and power of God” in an 1833 letter to N. E. Seaton in Joseph Smith, op. cit., 1:315; cf. his November 13, 1843 letter to James Arlington Bennett in Times and Seasons IV:24 (November 1, 1843), 373, where he states: “By the power of God I translated the Book of Mormon from hieroglyphics.”)
“The Book of Mormon was translated “through the medium of the Urim and Thummim . . . by the gift and power of God.”
(Times and Seasons III:9 (March 1 or 3, 1842), 707 = Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed., 7 volumes (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1960), IV:537)
“…it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon and . . . it was not expedient for him to relate these things” (“Minutes of a General Conference held at the dwelling of Br. Serenes Burnet in the Town of Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, October 25, 1836,” Far West Record, p. 13 = Joseph Smith, op. cit. I:220, note.)
Description of Seer Stone
“The seer stone, which was found when Joseph and his brother Alvin were digging a well on the Mason Chase property in 1822, was “about the size of a small hen’s egg, in the shape of a high instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps from being carried in the pocket” (Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled (Painesville, OH: Eber D. Howe, 1834), 241—42; cf. Martin Harris’ account in Tiffany’s Monthly (June 1859), 163. W. D. Purple’s account in The Chenango Union, 3 May 1877, cited in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2 vols. (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Company, 1951), 2:365.).
“I, as well as all of my father’s family, Smith’s wife, Oliver Cowdery, and MartinHarris were present during the translation. The translation was by Smith, and themanner as follows: He had two small stones of a chocolate color, nearly egg shaped and perfectly smooth, but not transparent, called interpreters, which were given him with the plates. He did not use the plates in the translation, but would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light” (David Whitmer, Kansas City Journal, 5 June 1881)
Description of Urim and Thummim
J.W. Peterson and W. S. Pender interviewed Joseph’s brother William in 1891 and reported:
“Among other things we inquired minutely about the Urim and Thummim and the breastplate. We asked him what was meant by the expression “two rims of a bow,” which held the former. He said a double silver bow was twisted into the shape of the figure eight, and the two stones were placed literally between the two rims of a bow. At one end was attached a rod which was connected with the outer edge of the right shoulder of the breast-plate. By pressing the head a little forward, the rod held the Urim and Thummim before the eyes much like a pair of spectacles. A pocket was prepared in the breastplate on the left side, immediately over the heart. When not in use the Urim and Thummim was placed in this pocket, the rod being of just the right length to allow it to be so deposited. This instrument could, however, be detached from the breastplate and his brother said Joseph often wore it detached when away from home, but always used it in connection with the breastplate when receiving official communications, and usually so when translating as it permitted him to have both hands free to hold the plates” ( (J. W. Peterson in The Rod of Iron I:3 (February 1924), 6—7.)
Seer Stone used to Receive other Revelations:
In addition to Joseph’s use of a seer stone in “translation” work with the Book of Mormon and the book of Abraham, evidence suggests that several of the early revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants may have come through this medium. Orson Pratt, who lived for a time in the Prophet’s home, related in 1878
“…the circumstances under which revelations were received by Joseph . . . he [Elder Pratt]being present on several occasions of the kind…. At such times Joseph used the ‘seer stone’ when inquiring of the Lord, and receiving revelations, but that he was so thoroughly endowed with the inspiration of the Almighty and the spirit of revelation that he often received them without any instrument or other means than the operation of the spirit upon his mind” (“Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star 40 (16 Dec. 1878): 787)
David Whitmer, stated he was “present when Brother Joseph gave nearly every revelation that is in the Book of Commandments” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in the Book of Mormon (Richmond, MO: n.p., 1887),p. 3. Also All Believers in Christ, p. 30)
David Whitmer also said:
“Brother Joseph giving the revelations of 1829 through the same stone through which the Book was translated…. He then gave up the stone forever” (Whitmer, Believers in the Book of Mormon, p. 3)
D&C Section 3, 6, 7(parchment of John), 11, 14-17
Hiram Page D&C 28
Conflation of the terms “Seer Stone” and “Urim and Thummim”
The term “Urim and Thummim,” (first used by W. W. Phelps in 1833) which is generally associated with the Nephite interpreters, is frequently used in a rather undifferentiated manner to indicate either the seer stone or the interpreters. As a consequence, mention of the “Urim and Thummim” cannot be allowed as undisputed evidence for the use of the Nephite interpreters after the loss of the 116 pages.
Here is the exact quote:
“It was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles–(known, perhaps in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim)”
(Evening and Morning Star 1st ed. I:8 (January 1833), 58b = 2nd ed., 116b. See van Wagoner and Walker, ibid., 59—63, for a detailed discussion of this issue.)
“The statement has been made that the Urim and Thumim was on the alter in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of , however, was the seer stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. This seer stone is now in the possession of the Church” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol 3, pg. 225)
Evidence of use of Urim and Thummim after 116 lost manuscripts
“During an 1830 trial of Joseph on the “charge of misdemeanor” Oliver Cowdery “testified under oath, that said 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” (A. W. Benton, “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate n.s. 2:15 (April 9, 101))
In an early number of the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate, Cowdery wrote: “Day after day I continued uninterrupted to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record, called the book of Mormon” (Latter-day Saint Messenger and Advocate l (October 1834), 14 = Times and Seasons II (November 1, 1840), 201.)
“Oliver Cowdery is also recorded as saying, “I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet as he translated it by the gift and power of God by means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, holy interpreters . . . “
(Journal of Reuben Miller 21 October 1848, in Richard Anderson, “‘By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign 7:9 (1977), 80.)
Evidence that the Golden Plates were not in the same room at times (just an FYI, I did not have time to share this part with the YM) Most of these are not primary sources and nearly all may be considered “hostile” or even “unreliable” sources. Part of the discussion could be deciding what is and isn’t a reliable source and why.
Shortly after leaving the Church in 1838, Oliver expanded his description of the translation process:
“I have sometimes had seasons of skepticism, in which I did seriously wonder whether the Prophet and I were men in our sober senses, when he would be translating from plates, through ‘the Urim and Thummim,’ and the plates not be in sight at all” (Messenger and Advocate 1 (Oct. 1834):14). This, of course, only shows that Joseph was not looking at the plates; it does not necessarily show that the plates were not in the room.
Isaac Hale, quoted by Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled, 1834:
”The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with a stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time
hid in the woods.”
Eber D. Howe (non-eyewitness), paraphrasing Martin Harris (eyewitness) in Mormonism Unveiled:
”[Martin Harris] says he wrote a considerable part of the book, as Smith dictated, and at one time the presence of the Lord was so great, that a screen was hung up between him and the Prophet; at other times the Prophet would sit in a different room, or up stairs, while the Lord was communicating to him the contents of the plates. He does not pretend that he ever saw the wonderful plates but once, although he and Smith were engaged for months in deciphering their contents.” This is a little confusing. Is it stating that Joseph and Harris were in two different rooms or that the Golden Plates were in a different room than Joseph?
James Hunt, hostile author also cites Martin Harris (witness) 1844. It appears to be the same quote as used by Eber How:
“He [Martin Harris] says, he wrote a considerable part of the Book as the Prophet dictated, and at one time, he remembers distinctly, the presence of the Lord was so great, that a screen was hung up between him and the Prophet. At other times, when the presence was not so great, the Prophet would sit in a room or up stairs, while the Lord was communicating to him the contents of the plates…. The plates, in the meantime, were concealed from human review—hid up unto the Lord; the Prophet declaring that no man could look upon them and live. They at the same time gave out, that along with the plates was found a huge pair of silver spectacles, too large for the present race of men entirely, but which were, nevertheless, to be used in translating the plates. The translation at length commenced; and strange to tell, dear reader, they were found to contain a language not known on earth! (which they termed, “reformed Egyptian characters”); so the plates so much talked of were found to be of no manner of use whatever. Howbeit, after all, the Lord showed and communicated to Joe every word and letter of the book. Instead of looking at the “reformed Egyptian characters” upon the plates, the Prophet was forced to resort to the old “peep-stone,” which he previously used in money-digging: this he placed in a hat or box, as formerly, into which the Prophet put his face. Through the stone he then could discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would appear immediately, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book ( James H. Hunt, Mormonism: Embracing the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Sect” (St. Louis: Ustick and Davies, 1844)
“Like many early Americans, Joseph Smith and his family were religious seekers who did not accept the limits imposed by secular rationalists and mainline Protestant clergymen…[they] occasionally experienced the traditional gifts of visions and dreams of the early apostolic church, just as these early American folk believers also used folk methods of divining and occasionally participated in treasure digging. Although understandably sensitive to the ridicule of those who rejected this amalgam, Joseph Smith, and his family and other early Mormons, evidently saw themselves as simply drawing upon a larger frame of reference in their religious quest…For me, sympathetic and empathetic analysis of the past does not require endorsement and certainly not emulation of such practices. These and other magic techniques facilitated the religious quest of persons who already perceived reality from the magic world view, at the same time that other church leaders and believers without that view or those techniques enjoyed an equally rich experience of divine communication, charismatic gifts, and personal spirituality without using folk magic. The record of the past indicates that culture and personal perspectives help to shape the expression of the interactions between the individual and God. What was natural, good, and effective for some individual’s religious quest in the 1820’s and 1830’s would be artificial and undoubtedly ineffective for equally ardent believers today who have a different perspective of reality.” (Dr. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 1st edition, pg 226, 228)
Emphasize that God speaks to us in our “own tongue” (Alma 29:8). That does not just mean that he speaks to me in English, but that he speaks to us in our milieu and in a way that is familiar to us. Moses used a staff to part the Red (or Reed) Sea, the Apostles “drew lots” when picking a new apostle (Acts 1:26) Jacob used “rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and of chestnut tree(s)” to try to manipulate the color of sheep that were born (Genesis 30:37-43). Part of Joseph’s social milieu was that of treasure digging so God allowed Joseph to use what was familiar to him to bring about the Book of Mormon.
Despite our limitations, God chooses to work with imperfect beings. He allows us to work with Him to bring about great things.