Monday, November 15, 2010

Who Cares How the Book of Mormon Was Translated?

Many people are bothered by the fact that most of the Book of Mormon was "translated" without Joseph looking at the plates directly - that he covered his face in his hat and "saw" the words appear through the seer stones. My response is quite simple:

What difference would it make HOW the plates were used, as long as the message on them (or conveyed through them) was conveyed and recorded?

At the risk of being offensive to some, as long as the message is inspired and gets recorded, I wouldn't care if Joseph dressed up in a monkey suit and dictated the words to a scribe as the plates swung back and forth on a vine - or if he rested his feet on them in a pail of milk - or whatever other ludicrous translation method that I could conjure. If the central point was tapping into a narrative that he couldn't "read" ("translate" in the orthodox sense) no matter what he did but, instead, relying on the power and gift of God (which is always what he claimed), then his choice to block out all light and focus intently on "seeing" with his "spiritual eyes" is about as "normal" as it gets.

I listen to many authors and song writers, for example, describe how they came to write their stories or songs, and it's interesting how many of them who wrote truly great stories and songs felt the words just flow out of them. It is interesting, particularly, how many of them talk about struggling to start then having the rest come gushing out all at once like a dam breaking. Many of them describe the experience in very religious terms, no matter their own religiosity.

Whether the plates were authentically an ancient record or not (and I accept that they were), as I read Joseph's account of how the translation process occurred, I am struck by the similarity between that process and the great authors and songwriters. He seems to have needed the plates at the beginning to act as the catalyst, but once the dam broke the entire narrative seemed to gush forth simply by his concentrating on it.

The key in my mind is NOT the historicity of the plates (which I personally accept, since I can't know for sure), but rather the authenticity and power of the recorded message (of which I personally feel sure).
In other words, I accept the historicity of the message, even though I can envision a scenario where the plates themselves might not be historically authentic - or might not have included the ancient record - meaning they might have been a "prop" God used to open the eyes of a prophet and seer in order to record what He had promised earlier prophets and seers would be preserved for a later day. I can envision that possibility, but I choose to accept the Book of Mormon as truly historical - and I have absolutely no problem with the translation method as it was described.


jay said...

Maybe translated is the wrong word. Maybe we should be using something else. I don't have a problem with how it was done, but the descriptions we have from those who were there certainly don't seem to be describing a process of translation.

Papa D said...

I agree, jay. I have said for a long time that I prefer the term "transmission".

Rebecca Raye said...

I'm an "investigator" and what you have said makes sense to me. I don't feel the Book of Mormon is historically accurate, but I don't know that this matters. I think it's the message and the church that matter. It doesn't need to be historically accurate for me. I think too many folks get hung on that. If it is accurate, great, but does it matter?

Jettboy said...

The problem I have with this is that the Book of Mormon (the three and eight witnesses and many comments of the prophets in the book) demands it is accepted as historical. One of its main points is that Jesus and the Atonement are real, and proves it with historical (although not provable) examples. You take away the historicity and you take away its main messages. Worse, you make it and Christ a liar.

You can proclaim that the historicity doesn't matter, but only by wrestling its scriptural proclamations. Many times the prophets in the book state what is written is truth and not just the theology. They point out the history recorded in the pages as divine witness. That isn't to say it is infallible and objectively accurate, but at least based in reality.

Papa D said...

jettboy, I said more than once that I accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon. That isn't an issue for me. There are MANY reasons I accept it - some of them intellectual and some of them spiritual. I believe it is a transmission / translation of an ancient record.

I simply am saying I couldn't care less about the translation method - since Joseph never claimed to have been able to "read" it, and since he wasn't using the plates themselves for much of the process.

Jettboy said...

sorry if my "you" sounded personal. It was a general "you" to those who take your thoughts on the subject and not only don't think its as important as the message, but don't believe in the literalness of any of it. They often use your kind of arguments to justify a faith without belief. To me that destroys the message of the Book of Mormon as I explained above. We probably agree more than disagree, but I am cautious about this line of thought.

Papa D said...

I understand and actually share that concern, jettboy. Thanks for the clarification.