The Miracle of Translation
Joseph Smith was only 22 years-old in September of 1827, when he obtained the Gold Plates. He was charged to translate, but in the area of Palmyra, New York there was not peace sufficient to do so. In December 1827, he moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania where he “commenced copying the characters off the Plates.” By the aid of the Urim and Thummim he was able to translate some of them.
The Book of Mormon was written in reformed Egyptian. Joseph did not speak or write this language, and neither did anyone else. Joseph never claimed mastery, or even fluency, in this language. Indeed, his wife Emma, who knew him best, said he, “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon.” Young Joseph was an uneducated farmer. How then could he translate a record that he could not read? Therein lies a miracle.
Emma who possibly served first as his scribe described the translation process. She said. “I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscript unless he was inspired; for when acting as his scribe, [Joseph] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.”
Martin Harris assisted with the translation in the spring of 1828. Martin said this. “By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written…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.”
In April 1829, Oliver Cowdery became Joseph’s scribe. Oliver later testified that Joseph 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 engraven on the plates.”
In June 1829, persecution forced Joseph and Oliver to move to Fayette, New York. It was there that other scribes assisted with the work. Among those was David Whitmer who left this account. “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat and put his face in the hat, drawing it close 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.”
Even the citizens of Palmyra, though they adamantly opposed the book, knew how it came to be. A local newspaperman, Jonathon Hadley published this. “By placing the spectacles in a hat, and looking into it, Smith could…interpret these characters…. Now it appears not a little strange that there should have been deposited in this western world, and in the secluded town of Manchester, too, a record of this description, and still more so, that a person like Smith…should have been gifted by inspiration to read and interpret it.”
It is approaching two centuries now since the Book of Mormon was translated and the only viable explanation for how the book came to be is the one provided by Joseph and multiple witnesses who were there. Emma Smith said it best. “Though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder’ as much so as to anyone else.”
The Book of Mormon is a miracle, both in what it is and how it came to be.
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