Nephite Interpreters

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græy
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Nephite Interpreters

Post by græy » Thu Jul 11, 2019 8:59 am

I just finished listening to the Gospel Topic Essay: 003: Book of Mormon Translation episode by Allan Mount, Bill Reel, and Anthony Miller. Great episode!

In this episode they play a clip from John Dehlin's interview with Richard Bushman. Bushman says the documentary evidence suggests JS used the brown seer stone exclusively for the entire translation project, including the lost 116 pages and the BoM we know and love today.

I don't doubt that Richard Bushman knows the document evidence, but I am kind of curious about that claim. Going to the translation essay (lds.org), one of their footnote sources is John Welch's The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon (archive.bookofmormoncentral.org), which is claimed to contain a compilation of nearly all known quotes describing the translation process and the seer stones/interpreters themselves.

After doing a quick read, there are around 8 unique quotes from JS, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and William Smith all describing the Nephite interpreters and how they were used in the translation process.

Their descriptions do vary a bit. The interpreters are described as "large", "too large for Joseph", etc. several times. Some descriptions state that he could only see through one lens (stone) at a time. The stones are called "small" once by JS, though he may have only been describing the stones, and not the full spectacle assembly. Harris says the stones were "two inches in diameter" and "five eighths of an inch thick at the centre".

They are almost always claimed to have been transparent, sometimes "like glass". A couple of quotations have them as "white". And Martin Harris goes so far as to say "white, like polished marble, with a few grey streaks", which is definitely not transparent at all. David Whitmer is once quoted saying they were "chocolate color", but in a correction letter Whitmer explains he was describing the single seer stone, not the two interpreters.

Some accounts put him wearing (or at least "looking through") the spectacles to read the plates. A few describe him putting the spectacles to his face, or at least one eye, and then putting his face in the hat.

So here is where I'm curious. How does Bushman discount these descriptions? Is there evidence the descriptions were altered? Do we think they were all lying? Is this a simple of case of JS saying something, Martin buying into it, and everyone else just quoting what they heard from those two? In that sense, the majority of the restoration narrative could just be rumors all the way down.

My money is definitely on the last explanation. I do not believe there were any plates. I do not believe there were any "Nephite Interpreters." I'm really just wondering how Bushman came to the conclusion that the interpreters were never used.

Thoughts?
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Corsair
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by Corsair » Thu Jul 11, 2019 9:05 am

græy wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 8:59 am
So here is where I'm curious. How does Bushman discount these descriptions? Is there evidence the descriptions were altered? Do we think they were all lying? Is this a simple of case of JS saying something, Martin buying into it, and everyone else just quoting what they heard from those two? In that sense, the majority of the restoration narrative could just be rumors all the way down.

My money is definitely on the last explanation. I do not believe there were any plates. I do not believe there were any "Nephite Interpreters." I'm really just wondering how Bushman came to the conclusion that the interpreters were never used.
I do have the greatest respect for Richard Bushman even as I disagree with some of his conclusions. His testimony is based on faith being a choice and what kind of person it inspires him to be. The most definitive statement from Joseph Smith about how the translation worked is that it was the "gift and power of God." That is quite slim on details and we are left to rely on the quotes from Martin Harris, Emma Smith, David Whitmer, and a few others.

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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by FiveFingerMnemonic » Thu Jul 11, 2019 9:55 am

The contradictory quotes sure are confusing. Almost makes me wonder if JS came up with different props that evolved over time or this whole interpreters thing was just like everything else, a retrospective evolving narrative. Were these giant glasses that only fit giant nephites? Regular looking 19th century eye glasses? Round marbles attached to some kind of metal rim which itself was attached to a breastplate? Or merely a figment of imagination and rumor? Inquiring minds want to know.



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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by RubinHighlander » Thu Jul 11, 2019 10:27 am

I thought our approved gospel art libraries had it all figured out, but those artists were all thrown under the bus and the debate rages on. I'm glad I don't have to be in that debate anymore. The how of the BOM translation and all the various conflicting stories around the existence of the plates, the witnesses, the method of it's authorship/translation is all less important than the content and it's truth claims. Same applies to the bible.

For me, at this point, it's like arguing points of accuracy in the historical facts of Harry Potter or LOTR or Dune or any other work of fiction. Whether JS used actual spectacles or is brown stone is irrelevant for me, but I can understand how those details might help others in their faith crisis journey.
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by 1smartdodog » Thu Jul 11, 2019 10:52 am

RubinHighlander wrote:I thought our approved gospel art libraries had it all figured out, but those artists were all thrown under the bus and the debate rages on. I'm glad I don't have to be in that debate anymore. The how of the BOM translation and all the various conflicting stories around the existence of the plates, the witnesses, the method of it's authorship/translation is all less important than the content and it's truth claims. Same applies to the bible.

For me, at this point, it's like arguing points of accuracy in the historical facts of Harry Potter or LOTR or Dune or any other work of fiction. Whether JS used actual spectacles or is brown stone is irrelevant for me, but I can understand how those details might help others in their faith crisis journey.
They are all preposterous when you think about. Just magical thinking. All systems employed are just products of the culture and understanding of the time.

Why would a God who invented everything resort to such means that require magic to work?

As far as Bushman who knows. Anyone who can know what he knows and still walk the path of believer makes me wonder what they are thinking.




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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by moksha » Thu Jul 11, 2019 1:37 pm

Image
Use these cool shades along
with your Masonic signet ring.
Good faith does not require evidence, but it also does not turn a blind eye to that evidence. Otherwise, it becomes misplaced faith.
-- Moksha

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RubinHighlander
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by RubinHighlander » Thu Jul 11, 2019 1:40 pm

moksha wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 1:37 pm
Image
Use these cool shades along
with your Masonic signet ring.
And the first thing he saw when wearing the shades and looking at the decoder ring:
"Don't forget to drink your Ovaltine!"
“Sir,' I said to the universe, 'I exist.' 'That,' said the universe, 'creates no sense of obligation in me whatsoever.”
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Hagoth
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by Hagoth » Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:09 pm

I think the answer might be pretty simple.

All of the actual eyewitnesses of the translation process saw a rock in a hat, not a pair of spectacles. The reason the descriptions of the Nephite Interpreters are so varied is that people were describing what they assumed they looked like, what Joseph claimed they looked like, or what they saw via spiritual eyes, without having actually seen them. The church claims that the interpreters were only used for the translation of the 116 lost pages, but they also say that's when Joseph put a curtain between himself and the scribe. But Harris told a story of swapping out the rock in the hat with one he found just to test Joseph during that period. William Smith is the one who said the spectacles were so huge that Joseph could only look through one lens at a time, but his mother Lucy said they whole thing was so small that she felt it while wrapped in a handkerchief.

None of these people, in my opinion, ever actually saw magic spectacles, they just talked about them in a way that has led others to assume that they saw something.
“The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.” -Mark Twain

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Hagoth
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by Hagoth » Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:12 pm

I also like Dan Vogel's observation that it was another stone seer (I forget the name) who first claimed to see were spectacles in the Hill Cumorah, during a sort of battle-of-the-seers contest with Joseph. After that Joseph was stuck with finding a way to fit he spectacles into the narrative.
“The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.” -Mark Twain

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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by wtfluff » Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:17 pm

Need we mention that spectacles were not invented until LONG AFTER the so-called Nephites would have created the so-called Urim and Thummim?
Faith does not give you the answers, it just stops you asking the questions. -Frater Ravus

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Brilliant.

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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by græy » Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:26 pm

Hagoth wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:09 pm
All of the actual eyewitnesses of the translation process saw a rock in a hat, not a pair of spectacles. The reason the descriptions of the Nephite Interpreters are so varied is that people were describing what they assumed they looked like, what Joseph claimed they looked like, or what they saw via spiritual eyes, without having actually seen them. The church claims that the interpreters were only used for the translation of the 116 lost pages, but they also say that's when Joseph put a curtain between himself and the scribe. But Harris told a story of swapping out the rock in the hat with one he found just to test Joseph during that period. William Smith is the one who said the spectacles were so huge that Joseph could only look through one lens at a time, but his mother Lucy said they whole thing was so small that she felt it while wrapped in a handkerchief.
William Smith definitely said they were too large for Joseph. But Martin's much earlier description puts the spectacles themselves at 8 inches across, so that seems pretty big too. Also, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were all present for portions of the translation and could have seen them, IFF the spectacles were present at all after the 116 pages were lost.

I guess I'm still not sure why we limit the spectacles to only the first 116 pages, what records deal with that?

edit to add: The size is important because the gigungus breastplate/spectacles were made to fit the gigungus mound builder peoples, who have proven to be just as real as the rest of JS's inventions.
Hagoth wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:12 pm
I also like Dan Vogel's observation that it was another stone seer (I forget the name) who first claimed to see were spectacles in the Hill Cumorah, during a sort of battle-of-the-seers contest with Joseph. After that Joseph was stuck with finding a way to fit he spectacles into the narrative.
Samuel Lawrence was the man in question. JS believed Samuel was the man he needed to take with him to get the plates after Alvin died. On an apparent practice run, Samuel told JS the spectacles were in the box with the plates and made JS check is own stone until he could see them too. After that JS decided Emma, rather than Samuel, was the right man for the job. It's a funny story, because in the end, Emma still didn't go with him and he "got the plates" all on his own.

Still, it seems like all JS had to do was tell everyone that Samuel was wrong and there never were any spectacles. That would elevate JS, who had successfully seen the "real" plates, in everyone else's eyes, and simultaneously drop Samuel's reputation because he mistakenly thought there were spectacles there. Unless, JS was really just trying to save face after telling Samuel that he saw them too.

Oh, the tangled webs we weave!
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græy
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by græy » Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:33 pm

Ah, found Lucy's description. She did say they were made to fit "man of extraordinary size."

She also said the stones were "three-cornered diamonds set in glass". So, some kind of uber bifocal. :lol:
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by græy » Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:39 pm

Sorry for the excessive number of posts on this thread...
græy wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:26 pm
I guess I'm still not sure why we limit the spectacles to only the first 116 pages, what records deal with that?
I found this quote from Emma in 1870...
Now the first that my <husband> translated, [the book] was translated by 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.
So she says only the first 116 pages via interpreters, the rest by seer stone. However, that taken along with Martin Harris swapping out the stone in the at (which could only have happened during the first 116 pages) indicates that even the first part was done with the standard brown seer stone in a white hat.

Am I missing anything? Are there any other relevant quotes?
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by Palerider » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:05 pm

Hagoth wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:09 pm
I think the answer might be pretty simple.

All of the actual eyewitnesses of the translation process saw a rock in a hat, not a pair of spectacles.
In support of your thoughts here and to give possible reason for Bushman's conclusion, I think it's important to order those who were scribes for Joseph.

IIRC:

1. Emma Smith (not many are aware that Emma began scribing for Smith in 1828 and would have written the first pages of the book of Lehi)

2. Martin Harris

3. Oliver Cowdery

4. One unknown scribe who's handwriting has either not been matched or else the church has preferred to keep it anonymous.

Seeing that Emma was the very first scribe and knowing that her description in no way refers to Joseph using anything other than the "hat trick", Bushman might have been forced to assume that Joseph never did use the "Nephites Interpreters".

For me this only lends support that they never existed as did not the plates.

Also, one can barely understand the command to not permit anyone a view of the gold plates but, seriously folks, what would be the problem with allowing a view of the Interpreters as a verification of their authenticity? Especially knowing that their existence was not critical to the translation of the plates in case they were misappropriated...heaven forbid...

The chocolate chicken egg was always there waiting in the wings. ;)

ETA: I seem to recall David Whitmer, who also gave a description of the "translation process" as having possibly written a page or two of the BoM. I would have to research that for sure.
"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily."

"Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light."

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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by Palerider » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:16 pm

græy wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:39 pm
Sorry for the excessive number of posts on this thread...
græy wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:26 pm
I guess I'm still not sure why we limit the spectacles to only the first 116 pages, what records deal with that?
I found this quote from Emma in 1870...
Now the first that my <husband> translated, [the book] was translated by 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.
So she says only the first 116 pages via interpreters, the rest by seer stone. However, that taken along with Martin Harris swapping out the stone in the at (which could only have happened during the first 116 pages) indicates that even the first part was done with the standard brown seer stone in a white hat.

Am I missing anything? Are there any other relevant quotes?

Emma's quote above gives more content to the discussion but isn't she only taking Joseph's word for using the Interpreters as the tool while she was scribing? Was there a sheet between herself and Joseph when she was scribe? Is there any record of her giving an actual account of "seeing" the Interpreters?
"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily."

"Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light."

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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by jfro18 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:22 pm

Hagoth wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:09 pm
I think the answer might be pretty simple.

All of the actual eyewitnesses of the translation process saw a rock in a hat, not a pair of spectacles. The reason the descriptions of the Nephite Interpreters are so varied is that people were describing what they assumed they looked like, what Joseph claimed they looked like, or what they saw via spiritual eyes, without having actually seen them....

None of these people, in my opinion, ever actually saw magic spectacles, they just talked about them in a way that has led others to assume that they saw something.
This is pretty much where I come down on it too -- the varied descriptions are so different that you can't possibly come to any other conclusion rationally.

I've heard John Hamer talk about this as well as Dan Vogel and they both agree Joseph might have made a prop and put it under a cloth, and so some people might have seen or felt that and then let their imaginations run wild.

More to the point though is that no one could see the interpreters and live, so how do we have so many descriptions of what they looked like?
græy wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:26 pm
I guess I'm still not sure why we limit the spectacles to only the first 116 pages, what records deal with that?
This is because the witnesses all say Joseph only used the stone in a hat for the BoM as we have it today, and the only note of him using interpreters for the first 116 pages is Emma's late recollection. So even if we concede that he used something else for the beginning (which no one would have been able to see regardless), he definitely did not do so once he started again post-116 pages.

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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by jfro18 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:24 pm

Palerider wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:16 pm
Emma's quote above gives more content to the discussion but isn't she only taking Joseph's word for using the Interpreters as the tool while she was scribing? Was there a sheet between herself and Joseph when she was scribe? Is there any record of her giving an actual account of "seeing" the Interpreters?
No one could have seen them because Joseph said no one could see them and live... which is what makes all the descriptions so bizarre.

So Emma says he used the interpreters likely because Joseph told her as such, and then once they restarted and JS likely dropped the curtain and just used a rock in a hat she obviously noticed the difference.

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moksha
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by moksha » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:54 pm

Has anyone suggested that Joseph used a flux capacitor and 1.2 Gigawatts to translate the plates?
Good faith does not require evidence, but it also does not turn a blind eye to that evidence. Otherwise, it becomes misplaced faith.
-- Moksha

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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by jfro18 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 5:45 pm

moksha wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:54 pm
Has anyone suggested that Joseph used a flux capacitor and 1.2 Gigawatts to translate the plates?
You can't prove he didn't and I can't explain the feelings I've had so why not?

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græy
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Re: Nephite Interpreters

Post by græy » Thu Jul 11, 2019 9:36 pm

jfro18 wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 5:45 pm
You can't prove he didn't and I can't explain the feelings I've had so why not?
1.21 gigawatts would certainly give you a burning in your bosom.
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