Conference: New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation, 16 March 2017

A Conference to Explore Joseph Smith’s Translation Process

One key to understanding Mormonism’s prophetic founder, Joseph Smith, is to grapple with his sharply distinctive practice of “translation.” Come take advantage of a unique, day-long conversation by some of Mormon Studies’ leading minds on this challenging issue. Featuring presentations and round-table discussions with Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens, Jared Hickman, Jana Riess, Samuel Brown, and Rosalynde Welch.

When: 16 March 2017
Where: Utah State University, Perry Pavilion Hall (4th floor), Jon M. Huntsman School of Business
Who: Open to students, scholars, and community members
Cost: Free to attend
Websites: http://chass.usu.edu/stay-connected/news/translation-conference, and https://www.faithmatters.org/
More information: PDF flyer

The proceedings will be videorecorded for broad distribution. Sponsored by USU Religious Studies and Faith Matters Foundation.

Seers and Stones:
The Translation of the Book of Mormon as Divine Visions of an Old-Time Seer

Abstract: Joseph Smith used the term the Urim and Thummim to refer to the pair of seer stones, or “interpreters,” he obtained for translating the Book of Mormon as well as to other seer stones he used in a similar manner. According to witness accounts, he would put the stone(s) in a hat and pull the hat close around his face to exclude the light, and then he would see the translated text of the Book of Mormon. By what property or principle these stones enabled Joseph Smith to see the translated text has long been a matter of conjecture among Mormons, but the stones have commonly been understood as divinely powered devices analogous to the latest human communications technology. An alternative view, presented here, is that the stones had no technological function but simply served as aids to faith. In this view, the stones did not themselves translate or display text. They simply inspired the faith Joseph Smith needed to see imaginative visions, and in those visions, he saw the text of the Book of Mormon, just as Lehi and other ancient seers saw sacred texts in vision. Although Joseph Smith also saw visions without the use of stones, the logistics of dictating a book required the ability to see the translated text at will, and that was what the faith-eliciting stones would have made possible. Continue reading

Improvisation and Extemporaneous Change in the Book of Mormon (Part 2: Structural Evidences of Earlier Ancient versus Later Modern Constructions)

Abstract: Joseph Smith made various refining changes to the Book of Mormon text, most of them minor grammatical in nature. However, one type of textual change has been virtually unstudied in Book of Mormon scholarship: extemporaneous change that was present the moment Smith dictated the original text to his scribes. This type of change appears to have been improvisational, a fix or repair made in the middle of a thought or expression. I study these improvisations in depth — when they appeared historically, their purpose, and their authorship. The evidence of Article One points to ancient authors and editor-engravers whose extemporaneous changes appeared during the early layers of the Book of Mormon’s construction. But how were these improvisations affected by later contributors? In this paper, Part 2, we study the improvisational work of Moroni as compiler, finishing-editor, and conservator, and of Joseph Smith as modern translator. The findings tell us much about the Book of Mormon as scripture, and about the construction and compilation of scripture by ancient editors and authors. Continue reading

Improvisation and Extemporaneous Change in the Book of Mormon (Part 1: Evidence of an Imperfect, Authentic, Ancient Work of Scripture)

Abstract: Joseph Smith made various refining changes to the Book of Mormon text, most of them minor and grammatical in nature. However, one type of textual change has been virtually unstudied in Book of Mormon scholarship: extemporaneous change that was present the moment Smith dictated the original text to his scribes. This type of change appears to have been improvisational, a fix or repair made in the middle of a thought or expression. I study these improvisations in depth — where they might appear historically, their purpose, and their authorship — in two articles. The evidence points to ancient authors and editor-engravers whose extemporaneous changes appeared during the early layers of the Book of Mormon’s construction. In this paper, Article One, we study the improvisations found in the quoted ancient texts of ancient prophets, then in the embedded texts of authors who improvise, and finally in the improvisational narratives of the major editor-engravers — Mormon, Nephi, and Moroni. The findings tell us much about the Book of Mormon as scripture, and about the construction and compilation of scripture by ancient editors and authors. Continue reading

Assessing the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Introduction to the Historiography of their Acquisitions, Translations, and Interpretations

Abstract: The Book of Abraham has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention since some of the papyri once owned by Joseph Smith were rediscovered. A focus of this attention has been the source of the Book of Abraham, with some contending that the extant fragments are the source, while others have argued that the source is either other papyri or something else altogether. New investigations suggest that, while the relationship between papyri and text is not clear, it is clear that the fragments are not the source and that the method of translation was not the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Additionally, further investigations into the source of the Book of Abraham as well as the interpretations of the facsimiles have made it clear that much of the controversy about the Book of Abraham has been based on untested assumptions. Book of Abraham studies have made significant strides forward in the last few decades, while some avenues of research are in need of further pursuit. Continue reading