The fact that Joseph Smith did not tell much about the translation process of the Book of Mormon is illustrated in an exchange that took place between the Prophet and his brother Hyrum in a conference of the Church held 25 October 1831. On that occasion Hyrum said “that he thought best that the information of the coming forth of the book of Mormon be related by Joseph himself to the Elders present that all might know for themselves.” In response, Joseph Smith said that “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon, & also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things &c.” (Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 23)
Other Interesting Statements about the Translation Process of the Book of Mormon
The earliest known description of the process of translating the Book of Mormon is found in an article titled “History of the Mormonites,” published 9 June 1831, in
“A few days after these men appeared again, a few of us went to see them and Cowdery was requested to state how the plates were found, which he did. He stated that Smith looked onto or through the transparent stones to translate what was on the plates. I then asked him if he had ever looked through the stones to see what he could see in them; his reply was that he was not permitted to look into them. I asked him who debarred him from looking into them; he remained sometime in silence, then said that he had so much confidence in his friend Smith, who told him that he must not look into them, that he did not presume to do so lest he should tempt God and be struck dead” (Allen, “Historian’s Corner,” 308).
What Has Oliver Cowdery Said About the Process?
In the October 1834 Messenger and Advocate, he wrote: “These were days never to be forgotten— to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The book of Mormon’” (Messenger and Advocate, 1:14).
The testimony borne by Oliver Cowdery upon his return to the Church in 1848 was as follows: “Friends and Brethren: My name is Cowdery, Oliver Cowdery. In the early history of this Church, I stood identified with her, and one in her councils. True it is that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance; not because I was better than the rest of mankind was I called, to fulfill the purposes of God. He called me to a high and holy calling. I wrote with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by the book, ‘holy interpreters.’ I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was translated. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the ‘holy interpreters’” (as cited in Smith, Restoration of All Things, 113).Artist Rendering of the Urim and Thummim
Lucy Mack Smith was able to inspect the Urim and Thummim the morning after Joseph had obtained them from the Hill Cumorah. She stated that she “took the article in [her] hands and, examining it with no covering but a silk handkerchief, found that it consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows connected with each other in much the same way that old-fashioned spectacles are made” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, 1996, 139).