Letter: Challenging the seer stone consensus on Book of Mormon translation

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Actor portraying the Prophet Joseph Smith in the church's 2005 movie, "Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration" examines gold plates containing the Book of Mormon.

Our sincere thanks to The Tribune and Peggy Fletcher Stack for the article on our new book, “By Means of the Urim & Thummim: Restoring Translation to the Restoration.” We are especially pleased that you reached out for comments to such distinguished scholars as Kathleen Flake, Grant Hardy and Ben Park, all of whose work we admire.

We would note a few points on their remarks.

For example, our book reports use of the term “Urim & Thummim” earlier than 1833. And we are somewhat chagrined that the professors opined on our book without acknowledging that they had not yet read it. Of course, we realize the constraints of responding to an inquiry on a deadline, and that they were reflecting the current pro-seer stone scholarly consensus.

However, if they read our book, they will see that our challenge to that consensus is based on a deep review of the historical record which shows that (1) the case for the seer stone narrative is actually quite weak and (2) that the seer stone narrative ignores or downplays the near contemporaneous firsthand eyewitness testimony of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that the entire translation used the Nephite interpreters.

Beyond the factual record, professors Flake and Hardy’s remarks illustrate the abstract and amorphous realms where the seer stone narrative has taken LDS Book of Mormon scholarship. We believe the translation model in our book can return study of the Book of Mormon translation, how Joseph used the plates and interpreters, and what Joseph was studying out in his mind, to a basis as real and concrete as the plates and interpreters themselves.

Finally, we would note that, although the article refers to some comments from Richard Bushman in 2015, this year (2023) Professor Bushman has written that all “readers who take the translation debate seriously must reckon with this book.”

James W. Lucas, Salt Lake City and Jonathan E. Neville, Waldport, Oregon

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