It is error only and not the truth, that shrinks from inquiry”  Thomas Paine

The Church did it again. On August 14, 2016, they published an article about the Book of Mormon translation process along with an image. Can you spot the three main problems with the image? After your picks, scroll down to get the answers. Here it is:


The caption under it says, “Joseph Smith translates the Book of Mormon while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe.”

The first issue is there are no accounts that I am aware of that discuss a curtain between Joseph and Oliver. There are accounts of a curtain early on when Martin Harris was involved with the translation, but that changed for all other scribes. Some mention how Joseph went behind a curtain to write down characters for Martin to take with him. There is an account of a curtain used for awhile in the Whitmer home, but it was  apparently used on windows, so outsiders could not look in. Everyone in the home could view the translation process. Case in point is this quote from David Whitmer’s younger sister, Elizabeth. At the time of the quote, she was the widow of Oliver Cowdery. This is what she said,

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.”

Emma said this, when interviewed by 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.”

This quote also leads to the second problem with the image .Joseph Smith does not have a seer stone in the picture.Here is what David Whitmer said concerning the process,

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.”

William Smith and Joseph Knight offered second hand accounts of the translation process and both describe the “interpreters”   that were supposedly placed with the gold plates in the ground.Since they are not not first hand accounts and they do not reveal the source of their information, they are less reliable than Emma, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. Martin describes Joseph using both seer stone and interpreters during his time. Emma and David both said the “interpreters” were taken from Joseph and he only used the seer stone for translating after Martin lost the 116 page manuscript. Case in point is this quote from Whitmer,

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 [manuscript]—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[s] appeared upon parchment and under it the translation in English, which [enabled him] to read it readily.”

Emma said this,

Now the first that my husband translated by the use of the 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..”

The third error in the image is Joseph looking at the gold plates as if he is actually engaging in translation from one language to another. Eyewitness accounts don’t bear this out.David Whitmer said this,

He did not use the plates in the translation.”

Why is it so difficult for the Church to portray the event correctly? Apologetics have offered some half-hearted explanations such as putting the blame on the artist and saying those who want truthful depictions of Church history are looking beyond the mark.

Clearly, the Church knows how powerful images are and wants to limit the number of people who see the image of the actual process. It is problematic when people look at the correct image and compare it to the carefully constructed narrative the Church wants to portray. By seeing the real event, it is easy to observe that Joseph was not an actual translator of some unknown language to English. The picture they presented on their website is deceptive in Joseph’s use of the gold plates. Only the most die hard apologist believes Joseph Smith used the plates in the translation process.

In addition, to see Joseph Smith with his head stuck in a hat looking at a brown stone is problematic for many reasons. First and most important, it impeaches some of the testimony of Joseph Smith and Olivery Cowdery who describe things differently.

It also puts Joseph Smith closer to magic rods, money digging, magical world view, superstition, and fraud, than the image they presented. It certainly bothered Emma’s father who said this,

The manner in which he [Joseph] pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods.”

Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth Prophet knew the implications of it and refused to acknowledge Joseph’s use of the seer stone during translation.

The Church portrays itself as a standard of truth, but  is selective in its use of the word.

“Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion? We have none..” Joseph Smith

Maybe that answers the question as to the deception.