With all the great resources out there for people who are engaged in religious studies generally and Mormon studies in particular, I thought I would start a new recurring feature here at Equality Time to help people find the best blogs and web sites out there on the "Internets" that deal with these subjects. For the inaugural post in what I intend to be a regular series, I feature a newly created blog by a talented artist (who, it seems, at this point wants to remain anonymous). The blog is called Images of the Restoration. The author/artist of this blog has created a number of compelling depictions of events from Mormon history--events that Mormon apologists, studious members of the LDS Church who venture outside the correlated materials, and critics of the LDS Church alike are aware of but which are seldom if ever mentioned or depicted in official LDS Church lesson materials.
Mormon apologists sometimes argue that the LDS Church, as an institution, does not whitewash or cover up its history, and that blame for artwork in church manuals, etc. that is not historically accurate should be laid at the feet of the artists and not the church that uses their work. Critics disagree, and sometimes point to the way the translation of the Book of Mormon is most often portrayed in church-approved and distributed print and visual media. For example, the following pictures are probably familiar to most members of the LDS Church:
This image is by Del Parson, the artist of the ubiquitous "red robe" painting of Jesus. It is found in the Gospel Art Kit, a resource found in every LDS ward library and which teachers are directed to use in conjunction with the correlated lessons the church provides. The same Gospel Art Kit is used for all ages, from Nursery through the adult Sunday School classes. This is the only depiction of the translation of the Book of Mormon found in the Gospel Art Kit. Note that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith are together with the plates in front of them in plain view.
Here is another image taken from the LDS Church-run josephsmith.net site. Here, Joseph is the only one shown, and he is studying the plates intently, running his finger along the inscriptions. Harold Kilbourn is the artist and the painting was done in 1970.
What I find interesting about all these images is what they have in common--the plates are in open view out on a table. But although the witness accounts about the translation period vary and sometimes conflict in some details, one thing they all agree on is this: Joseph Smith kept the plates covered during the translation. No one--not Emma, not Oliver, not Martin--was ever able to see and handle the plates during the translation. Other details about the translation are also known. Joseph Smith never acted as his own scribe. He used either the Urim and Thummim delivered to him with the plates by the angel, or (for most of the translation) he used the seer stone he had obtained while digging a well for Willard Chase in the early 1820s (which he had used in attempting, in vain, to locate buried treasure for Josiah Stowell and others). According to David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses and in whose home the translation took place: "Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man." David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Missouri: n.p., 1887, p. 12.
He also said that: "I, as well as all of my father's family, Smith's wife, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, were present during the translation. . . . He [Joseph Smith] did not use the plates in translation." Interview given to Kansas City Journal, June 5, 1881, reprinted in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Journal of History, vol. 8, (1910), pp. 299-300.
Emma Smith and Martin Harris corroborated Whitmer's account.
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in an address to some of the LDS Church's Mission Presidents, quoted from Whitmer's description of Joseph Smith putting the seer stone in his hat to effect the translation. The address was published in the church magazine The Ensign in July 1993. This appears to be the only mention in an official church magazine, lesson manual, or church-produced medium of the "stone-in-hat" method of translation. Despite the clear historical record, and knowledge of it by at least one member of the Quorum of the Twelve, the LDS Church continues to portray the event in the manner shown in the three images above. I have heard apologists respond by saying the church is dependent on the artists for the depictions that appear in official church sources. If so, then I hope the folks at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City will visit Images of the Restoration. Here is how the artist there depicts the translation of the Book of Mormon in an historically accurate way:
This is just one of several historically accurate drawings you will see when you go to Images of the Restoration, my featured site of the week.