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Summary

To produce a new text through a revelatory, rather than scholarly, process, by the “gift and power of God.”1 In the Book of Mormon, the ancient prophet Mosiah translated records into his own language using “interpreters,” or “two stones which was fastened into the two rims of a bow.”2 According to the account, the possessor of the instrument was called a seer.3 On 6 April 1830, a revelation stated that JS would be known not only as a revelator, but also as a seer and a translator.4 JS stated that he was directed to translate the Book of Mormon from gold plates buried in a hill near his home.5 Buried with the plates were “two stones in silver bows,” which fastened to a breastplate and were later referred to by the biblical term Urim and Thummim.6 JS was instructed to use these stones “for the purpose of translating the book.”7 As he translated, JS dictated to scribes.8 Emma Smith recalled that JS used the Urim and Thummim for the first part of the translation and another seer stone for the remaining portion.9 Other accounts reported that JS translated by looking at the stone or stones, which he placed in a hat to reduce exterior light.10 JS worked on the translation of the gold plates until summer 1829.11 From June 1830 to July 1833, he worked on a revision or translation of the Bible, using the King James Bible rather than ancient writings as his original text.12 His work included both revisions and, especially within the book of Genesis, lengthy expansions.13 There are no reports that JS used a stone in his translation of the Bible.14 In July 1835, after members of the church purchased several ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls, JS commenced translating some of the characters and stated that one of the scrolls contained the writings of the biblical prophet Abraham.15 JS worked intermittently on translating some of the papyri for the remainder of the year, though his exact process of translating is unclear.16 Portions of this translation were first published in March 1842.17 JS and other church members, as encouraged by an 1833 revelation, also sought to gain more conventional translation skills through the academic study of other languages, including Greek, Hebrew, and German.18

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