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Mormons on South Park: - Part 4: Translating the Book of Mormon

mormon translation  

South Park's depiction of the translation of the Book of Mormon is more accurate than most Mormons realize. It shows Joseph Smith putting two seer stones into a hat, then burying his face in the hat and dictating words to Martin Harris.

mormon translation

Mormon Church Apostle Russell M. Nelson explained the real translation process:

“The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. [Oliver Cowdery's brother-in-law] 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, 1887, p. 12.)
- Elder Russell M. Nelson, A Treasured Testament, Ensign, July 1993, 61

Joseph Smith's first wife (of over 30 wives he had), Emma, was an eye-witness to Joseph Smith's use of a seer stone during the transcribing of the Book of Mormon. She testified to her son:

"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."
- History of the RLDS Church, 8 vols, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," 3:356.

seer stone

So according to Special Book of Mormon Witness David Whitmer and other eye-witnesses, Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon.

This fact is also corroborated by Martin Harris himself, who acted as Joseph Smith’s scribe as depicted in the South Park Episode. Martin Harris testified to Elder Edward Stevenson how he helped Joseph Smith dictate the Book of Mormon. Elder Stevenson wrote:

“Martin Harris related an incident that occured during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said that the Prophet 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, Martin explained the translation as follows: 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."
- Deseret News, “One of the Three Witnesses," 30 November 1881.

Again, Joseph Smith used his rock-in-the-hat method of dictation, not the Urim and Thummim which some mistakenly think today.

mormon prophet


As a sidenote, Joseph Smith continued to use his brown seer stone after his Book of Mormon dictation work. He used the same seer stone to "translate" the Book of Abraham. And several of the early revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants also came through this seer stone medium.

Revelations given through the seer stone at the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York, during 1829 include not only LDS Doctrine and Covenants sections 14 through 17, but also section 18. The headnote references, which were not added until the 1921 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, list sections 14-17 as having been given through "Urim and Thummim," but David Whitmer testified that these Revelations as having come through the same brown seer stone Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon.
- 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.

Details on the Urim and Thummim and the Book of Mormon

Eyewitness Testimonies of the Book of Mormon Translation Process

Smith's Seer Stone Gets the Book of Abraham Wrong

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