Book of Mormon Origins:
This is one of my most favorite pictures. Some people love to mock it and tell us how stupid Joseph Smith looks with his face stuck in his hat, day in and day out, while he translated the Book of Mormon. Why do I like this picture? It’s because it shows Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. God gave Joseph Smith an interpreter or a seer stone, a miniature computer, a Dick Tracy watch, and Joseph Smith read the Book of Mormon to Oliver Cowdery off of this little computer that God had given him. This picture and the ones like it show Joseph Smith doing exactly what he said he was doing, translating the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.
We haven’t gotten our computer systems as small as a stone or a watch, but we are getting close. We can read the Book of Mormon now off of our iPods, including translations of these things. Of course, back then in the 1820’s, nobody had any idea what a computer was or how one would work, but God certainly knew how to make one and how to use one. Can you imagine how tiny the screen would be and how hard it would be to see the screen if the computer is the size of a small stone? No wonders Joseph Smith had his head in a hat trying to get a better look at the thing so that he could see what it was saying to him. Now we are putting computers in glasses and wearing them like eye-glasses so that the screen is close to our eyes and we can see what’s taking place on the screen.
I personally have found Joseph Smith’s explanation of the events infinitely more plausible than the dozens of other explanations that the detractors have come up with. The Book of Mormon really does feel like it came from God, and it dovetails perfectly with the Bible. Of course, it took me a half a dozen readings of the Book of Mormon, before I was able to come up to speed and see that it is so.
I personally believe that Joseph Smith with his head in a hat is the correct rendition or picturing of the event, when it comes to his translation of the Book of Mormon. Here’s why:
I cheerfully certify that I was familiar with the manner of Joseph Smith’s translating the book of Mormon. He translated the most of it at my Father’s house. And I often sat by and saw and heard them translate and write for hours together. Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe while he was translating. He would place the director in his hat, and then place his [face in his] hat, so as to exclude the light, and then [read] to his scribe the words as they appeared before him.
Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, Oliver Cowdery’s wife, 1870
Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, “Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery Affidavit, 15 February 1870,” in Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1870), 5:260.
Next time you put your hand or your hat over your Kindle or tablet so that you can see it better, think of Joseph Smith. Then try not to laugh and mock so hard the next time someone tells you that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by sticking his head in his hat.
Martin Harris was used as one of the scribes while Joseph Smith was translating the writing on the plates. This enabled Marting to give a firsthand account of how Smith performed this translation. Harris noted, “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, the 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” (CHC 1:29).
Harris’ description agrees with that of David Whitmer, another one of the three witnesses whose testimony appears at the front of the Book of Mormon. David Whitmer the stones or interpreters produced the English interpretation. On page 12 of his book “An Address to All Believers in Christ”, David Whitmer wrote, “I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. 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 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.”
Robert N. Hullinger, in his book: Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism, cites a personal interview Emma Smith Bidamon gave to a committee of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1879. He notes on pages 910:
“Smith’s wife Emma supported Harris’s and Whitmer’s versions of the story in recalling that her spouse placed his face in his hat to translate the Book of Mormon, while she was serving as his scribe.”
Dan Vogel also mentions Emma’s 1879 interview on pages 98-99 of his book, The Word of God:
“Smith’s wife, Emma Smith Bidamon, was interviewed late in her life by her son Joseph Smith III about her knowledge of the early church. This interview took place in February 1879 in the presence of Lewis C. Bidamon, her husband. At one point Emma stated the following: ‘In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us… .'”
In volume two of “A New Witness for Christ in America,” LDS writer Francis Kirkham notes that Joseph Smith’s brother William also confirmed the use of the hat and seer stone. His account is also 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).
Here we are, nearly two hundred years later, and some of us are finally catching up to the point where Joseph Smith was two hundred years ago. I have seen people block the sunlight with their hand or go into a darkened room so that they could read their book on the Kindle. Some of those screens are so small that I practically have to stick my nose onto the screen so that I am close enough to read the writing on the screen. With my tablets and phones, I’m constantly having to adjust the angle of the screen so that I can actually see the writing on the screen. My children are blocking the sunlight and moving their screens around so that they can see what’s on them while they are playing their computer games. Joseph Smith went through the exact same kinds of things while translating the Book of Mormon. It’s easy to understand for anyone who is willing to understand. Just observe some of the things that we go through while trying to see and read our computer screens.
God gave Joseph Smith some kind of computer with the Book of Mormon on it, and Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon off that computer to his scribes. You could do the exact same thing here and now. Just pull up a copy of the Book of Mormon on the Kindle or your tablet, and then start dictating it to your friend. The only thing miraculous or amazing about it is that Joseph Smith did this exact same thing two hundred years ago when there were no man-made computers, tablets, or Kindles to be had. Just remember, there is nothing amazing or miraculous or incredible about any of this to a person who has been working with computers all of his life. When you work with computers, you are constantly adjusting the monitor and your work-space so that you can more easily see what is written on the screen.
This is how I believe it really went down, as explained by someone who was actually there.
The Contributor, Volume 5
We will next give the testimony of Oliver Cowdery. It is as given by him at a special conference held at Council Bluffs, on October 21st, 1848, his words being reported by the late Bishop Reuben Miller, of Mill Creek. He said:
“Friends and Brethren, my name is Cowdery – Oliver Cowdery. In the early history of this Church I stood identified with her, and one in her councils. True it is that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Not because I was better than the rest of mankind was I called; but, to fulfill the purposes of God, He called me to a high and holy calling. I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages), as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, ‘holy interpreters.’ I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the ‘holy interpreters.’ That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet. It contains the everlasting gospel, and came forth to the children of men in fulfilment of the revelation of John, where he says he saw an angel come with the everlasting Gospel to preach to every nation, and kindred and people. It contains principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high. Brother Hyde has just said that it is very important that we keep and walk in the true channel, in order to avoid sand-bars. This is true. The channel is here. The holy Priesthood is here. I was present with Joseph when an holy angel from God came down from heaven and conferred on us or restored the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood, and said to us, at the same time, that it should remain upon the earth while the earth stands. I was also present with Joseph when the higher or Melchisedek Priesthood was conferred by the holy angel from on high. This Priesthood was then conferred on each other, by the will and commandment of God. This Priesthood, as was then declared, is also to remain upon the earth until the last remnant of time. This holy Priesthood or authority we then conferred upon many, and is just as good and valid as though God had done it in person. I laid my hands upon that man – yes, I laid my right hand upon his head (pointing to Brother Hyde), and I conferred upon him this Priesthood, and he holds that Priesthood now. He was also called through me, by the prayer of faith, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I want the truth of the matter, not something that has been manufactured by those who are trying to tear it all down.
Here in this quote, Oliver Cowdery tells us that he wrote the Book of Mormon while Joseph Smith translated it or dictated it to him. That I believe to be the truth.
What some people see as a mockery, I see as being the truth.
You are not going to sit around with your head in your hat all day long unless you are actually accomplishing something by doing so. I imagine that he tried it for awhile with the computer or Seer Stone in the palm of his hand, but soon learned that he could see it better if the thing was in his hat.