Book of Mormon/Translation/Method/1836-1840

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Statements on the Book of Mormon Translation method: 1836-1840

This page is a chronology of statements from primary and secondary sources. Sources may be viewed by following the citation links.

Jump to statements in: 1829–1835| 1836–1840| 1841–1845| 1846–1900| 1900–2000


Truman Coe (non-eyewitness), Hudson Ohio Observer

An angel descended and warned him that God was about to make an astonishing revelation to the world, and then directed him to go to such a place, and after prying up a stone he should find a number of plates of the color of gold inscribed with hieroglyphics, and under them a breastplate, and under that a transparent stone or stones which was the Urim and Thummim mentioned by Moses....The manner of translation was as wonderful as the discovery. By putting his finger on one of the characters and imploring divine aid, then looking through the Urim and Thummim, he would see the import written in plain English on a screen placed before him. After delivering this to his emanuensi, he would again proceed in the same manner and obtain the meaning of the next character, and so on till he came to a part of the plates which were sealed up,and there was commanded to desist: and he says he has a promise from God that in due time he will enable him to translate the remainder. This is the relation as given by Smith. A man by the name of [Martin] Harris, of a visionary turn of mind, assisted in the translation, and afterwards Oliver Cowdery.[1]

  • Scribe: Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery
  • Curtain: not mentioned
  • Instrument: transparent stone, Urim and Thummim
  • Method: "looking through the Urim and Thummim."

Hostile press account 1 Sept 1836

The translation was commenced by the prophet himself, who was enabled to read the “reformed Egyptian” by the aid of the “peepstone.” this was done by putting the stone in a hat or box, and then by applying his face, the prophet was enabled to read one word at a time, which he pronounced aloud to an amanuensis....The three most important of these witnesses, are Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whiteman [sic]; the first two of whom acted as amanuenuis of Smith.[2]

  • Scribe: Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: "peepstone"
  • Method: Face in hat or dark


Alphonoso Wetmore 1837

he professed to have found in the earth a book with golden leaves. This book, leaf by leaf, Joe Smith, by aid of inspiration, read to a friend, “who held the pen of a ready writer,” and it was written out in dull, drawling, oriental style. The reader could only translate and read these golden tablets with the aid of a pair of marble spectacles, strapped to his head with thongs of leather; and this part of the solemn farce was performed in a closet, from which much of the light of heaven was excluded.[3]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Marble spectacles, strapped to his head with thongs of leather
  • Method: Closet (in the dark?)

Satirical poem/song 1837

Then Smith, that is Joseph, the prophet indeed,
In search of some treasures, at last he has found
A pair of white glasses, of stone, it is said,
And then saw the Bible that lay under ground.
The new Golden Bible{, the new fangled Bible.
The fictitious Bible that lay under ground.}[4]

Jo Smith has pretended to a new revelation,
While angels and spirits encricled him round,
He professed to translate, by divine inspiration,
The new Golden Bible that he dug from the ground.
The new Golden Bible, &c.

’Twas through the stone glasses those wonderful stories
Were read to the people with sacred renown:
In language unknown the mysterious glories,
Unfolded by Mormon just raised from the ground.

The new Golden Bible, &c.[5]
  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: White glasses of stone
  • Method: Not specified


Joseph Smith (translator) Elders' Journal

Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon? Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the Book of Mormon [42] was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon.[6]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Urim and Thummim
  • Method: Not specified

Hostile press account Supplement to the Connecticut Courant

On removing it, the idiot discovered that it had served as a covering to a box or chest of the same material, under which were deposited ‘twelve golden plates or tables,” engraven all over with mystical characters. Upon the upper plate lay ‘pair of spectacles’ made of freestone, (save the mark,) which the angel commanded Smith to place astride of his nose. On doing so, Joe’s ‘tongue was loosened,’ as he himself states, and his intellect instantly became like those of other men. He saw through the freestone and the engraving on the golden plates became perfectly intelligible to him. The angel then commanded him to associate with himself ‘twelve other men,’ whom he named as ‘Scribes,’ and to interpret to them the writing on the plates.[7]

  • Scribe: Twelve of them (likely confusion with the three and eight witnesses)
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Pair of spectacles
  • Method: Not specified


Henry Caswall (hostile non-witness) America and the American Church

an angel appeared to a man residing in the vicinity, and directed his attention [322] to the spot where the precious deposit was concealed. He searched and found the golden plates; but the language inscribed upon them was unknown. He was accordingly furnished with some talismanic power, by which he translated the original, word by word, and thus produced the “Book of Mormon.”[8]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Not specified
  • Method: Some talismanic power

James M’Chesney (hostile non-witness) Supplement to an Antidote

This translation was made by Joseph Smith, Jr., it is said, while this book was hid in the woods, part of the time, where he could see as well to translate as if he had it by him—by means of an enchanted stone placed [2] in a hat put over his face, as we have been informed he done formerly in fortune-telling, &c.[9]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: "Enchanted stone"
  • Method: Face in a hat
  • Plates: not always present

John Storrs (hostile non-witness) Boston Recorder

a man of money-digging memory who was accustomed to look into the ground by the aid of a peculiar stone, was in a similar manner enabled to read and translate it![10]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: "peculiar stone"
  • Method: Not specified


Hostile press account A Letter to Those...

He declared that an angel was sent from God to make known to him the place in which the book was concealed,—that he searched and found the same,—that the words were engraved on plates of gold in a language which no man understood,—and that two large jewels resembling diamonds were given to him, which, being applied to the eyes, like spectacles, enabled him to get at the meaning and translate the Book of Mormon into English. These jewels were, he said, the Urim and Thummim of the Old Testament.[11]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: Two large jewels resembling diamonds applied to the eyes like spectacles ("Urim and thummim")
  • Method: Not specified

Hostile press account A Little Talk...

It is said, these plates contained the Book of Mormon engraven in the Egyptian language, and that Joseph Smith translated them into English by the help of the Urim and Thummim, which the angel gave him with the plates, and that the Book of Mormon is as much the Word of God as the Bible, and contains “the fulness of the Gospel of Christ”.... It is not easy to understand what is meant by the Urim and Thummim mentioned in the Bible, but the Urim and Thummim which Joseph Smith says the angel gave him with the plates, consisted of two bright Stones, which, when he looked at them, shewed him the right words in English, and these words were copied by another person, as Joseph Smith was not able to write well enough to copy [4] them himself. So you see, if this be true, it was the Spirit of God which translated the book.[12]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: "Urim and thummim" (two bright stones)
  • Method: "looked at them"

Parley P. Pratt (sympathetic non-witness) Millennial Star

The record consisted of a large volume, in the Egyptian language, engraven on plates of gold. The plates were each about 7 by 8 inches in width and length, being about the thickness of common tin. These were filled with engravings on both sides, and a volume of them were bound together like the leaves of a book, and fastened at one edge with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness. With this record was found a large breastplate, apparently of copper, such as had been worn for defence; and also a curious instrument, called by the ancients the Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones, clear as chrystal, set in the rims of a bow of silver. This was in use, in ancient times, by persons called seers; it was an instrument by the use of which they received revelation of things distant, or of things past or future. By this means, and by the gift of the Almighty, Mr. Smith was enabled to translate the record into the English language, and it was first printed and published in 1830.[13]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: " two transparent stones, clear as chrystal, set in the rims of a bow of silver" ("Urim and thummim")
  • Method: With the above, "and by the gift of the Almighty."

Samuel Haining (hostile non-witness)Mormonism Weighed in the Balance...

An angel appeared unto him, gloriously, three times in one night, directing him to go to a neighbouring mountain, where he should find a stone chest, containing golden plates, on which the will of God was written. He did as he was commanded; found the plates, and, by the aid of Aaron’s urim and thummim, deciphered, translated, and published them, as a new revelation from God, of equal authority with the Old and New Testaments.... Two of these stones were [28] sealed up with the plates, and became spectacles to Joseph Smith, jun., according to a prophecy before Abraham was born!...Hedeposited them in a stone chest, and placed it on the side of a mountain, where it remained 1,400 years concealed, until Joseph Smith was directed by an angel to the place, and, by the aid of his glasses, and the urim and thummim, was enabled to decipher the plates and to write the book.[14]

  • Scribe: Not specified
  • Curtain: Not specified
  • Instrument: "Glasses and the urim and thummim" / Two stones like spectacles
  • Method: Not specified

John A. Clark (hostile non-witness; quoting Martin Harris) Episocopal Recorder

The way that Smith made his transcripts and translations for Harris was the following; Although as the same room, a thick curtain or blanket was suspended between them, and Smith concealed behind the blanket, pretend to look through his spectacles, or transparent stones, and would then write down or repeat what he saw, which, when repeated aloud, was written down by Harris, who sat on the other side of the suspended blanket. Harris was told, that it would arouse the most terrible divine displeasure, if he should attempt to drawn near the sacred chest or look at Smith while in the work of deciphering the mysterious characters. This was Harris’ own account of the matter to me. What other measures they afterwards took to transcribe or translate from these metallic plates, I cannot say, as I very soon after this removed to another field of labour where I heard no more on this matter till I learned the BOOK of MORMON was about to be published.[15]

  • Scribe: Martin Harris
  • Curtain: Present
  • Instrument: spectacles or transparent stones
  • Method: Look through the spectacles


  1. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836). Reprinted from Ohio Observer, circa August 1836. off-site See Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe’s 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (Spring 1977), 347-55. See also Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:47. Also cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:47.
  2. “History of Mormanism,” The Ohio Repository (Canton, Ohio) (1 September 1836). Reprinted from New York Commercial Advertiser, circa August 1836. off-site
  3. Alphonoso Wetmore, Gazetteer of the State of Missouri (St. Louis: C. Keemle, 1837), 93–96. off-site
  4. The material enclosed in braces {} is taken from the first stanza of the song. This is the refrain, which in the original text is only printed for the first verse, and then indicated with "The new GOlden Bible, &c."
  5. The Golden Bible,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) (26 May 1837).
  6. "[Questions and Answers]," Elders' Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Kirtland, Ohio] 1 no. 3 (July 1838), 42–44. off-site
  7. “Mormonism,” Supplement to the Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) 5, no. 22 (15 December 1838): 175–176. off-site
  8. Henry Caswall, America, and the American Church (London: J.G. & F. Rivington, 1839), 321–322. off-site
  9. James M’Chesney, Supplement to an Antidote to Mormonism, &c. (Brooklyn, 1839), 1–2. off-site
  10. John Storrs, “Mormonism,” Boston Recorder (Boston, Massachusetts) 24 (19 April 1839). off-site (italics in original)
  11. A Letter to Those Who Have Attended Mormonite Preaching (London: J. B. Bateman, 1840), 1–4. off-site
  12. A Little Talk, Between John Robinson and his Master about Mormonism, Shewing its Origin, Absurdity, and Impiety (Bedford: W. White, 1840), 3–4. off-site
  13. Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  14. Samuel Haining, Mormonism Weighed in the Balances of the Sanctuary, and Found Wanting: The Substance of Four Lectures (Douglas: Robert Fargher, 1840), 26–28. off-site
  15. John A. Clark, “Gleanings by the way. No. VI,” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) (5 September 1840): 94. off-site