Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Joseph translated with instruments he got at the same time he did the plates

On the question of how the Book of Mormon was produced, a useful item shows up in the June 1, 1881, issue of the Saints' Herald. The newspaper reported the efforts of William H. Kelley to interview people who lived in Palmyra. Kelley interviewed John H. Gilbert, who set the type for the Book of Mormon. 

From page 165 of the 1881 Saints' Herald.

"I would know that manuscript today if I should see it. The most of it was in Oliver Cowdery's handwriting. Some in Joseph's wife's; a small part though. Hyrum Smith always brought the manuscript to the office; he would have it under his coat, and all buttoned up as carefully as though it was so much gold. He said at the time it was translated from plates by the power of God, and they were very particular about it. We had a great deal of trouble with it. It was not punctuated at all. They did not know anything about punctuation, and we had to do that ourselves."

Well, did you change any part of it when you were setting the type?

"No, sir; we never changed it at all."

Why did you not change it and correct it?

"Because they would not allow us to; they were very particular about that. We never changed it in the least. Oh, well; there might have been one or two words that I changed the spelling of; I believe I did change the spelling of one, and perhaps two, but no more."*

Did you set all of the type, or did some one help you?

"I did the whole of it myself, and helped to read the proof, too; there was no one who worked at that but myself. Did you ever see one of the first copies? I have one here that was never bound. Mr. Grandin, the printer, gave it to me. If you ever saw a Book of Mormon you will see that they changed it afterwards."

They did! Well, let us see your copy; that is a good point,. How is it changed now?

"I will show you," (bringing out his copy). "Here on the title page it says," (reading) "'Joseph Smith, Jr., author and proprietor.' Afterwards, in getting out other editions they left that out, and only claimed that Joseph Smith translated it."

Well, did they claim anything else than that he was the translator when they brought the manuscript to you?

"Oh, no; they claimed that he was translating it by means of some instruments he got at the same time he did the plates, and the Lord helped him."

Gilbert remembered that Joseph translated with the instrument that came with the plates. This was not the seer stone that Joseph found in a well years earlier.


*Gilbert later disputed some elements of this published interview. For example, he said he specifically changed the spelling of "travail" twice (in Mosiah). But he did not dispute what he said about the translation with the instruments that came with the plates.

Those who have read my book A Man that Can Translate might be interested in what Gilbert said about the Spalding theory.