View the full PDF (420+ pages)View PDF

Why did Joseph try to get others to translate the plates if he had engraved them himself?

Evidence suggests that Joseph Smith first tried to get the Book of Mormon translated using secular means. Michael Hubbard McKay mentions three separate accounts:

Joseph Knight Sr. had a personal conversation with Joseph, just after Joseph had secured the plates in Lucy and Joseph Sr.’s house. Joseph Knight recalled Joseph Smith excitedly describing the plates to him, saying, “Now they are written in Caracters [sic] and I want them translated.” According to Joseph Knight’s memory, Joseph Smith recognized that he could not read the characters on the plates, and, in frustration, knowing that the angel had told him that he would translate the plates, he quickly expressed his desire to get them translated. When Knight wrote about this experience, Joseph Smith had published the Book of Mormon at least six years earlier, and he thoroughly believed that Joseph Smith was the person who had translated the plates. Though Knight wrote his history years later and there are potential problems with his ability to remember the details of the event, he was in a unique situation that may have enabled him to recall Joseph Smith’s original plan. When Joseph Knight was writing he knew the outcome of the story, which included the fact that Joseph Smith eventually translated the plates himself. Because of that knowledge, Joseph Knight may have been differentiating between what Joseph Smith’s original intentions were and what eventually happened. Knight explained that once Joseph Smith had moved to Harmony, he took an additional step to have the plates translated by copying “of[f] the Caricters exactley [sic] like the ancient” so that he could send them to scholars for translation.

Knight’s record also seems to coincide with Lucy Mack Smith’s account, which focused on Joseph Smith’s role in the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon. Lucy Smith asserted that as Joseph Smith took “some measures to accomplish the translation . . . he was instructed to take off a fac simile of the . . . characters” and by sending it to “learned men” he could acquire a “translation of the same.” Though Lucy Smith focused on the secular translation of just a sample of the characters, both she and Joseph Knight Sr. remembered that Joseph Smith was trying to find someone who could translate the characters. This is striking because both of them knew that Joseph Smith would declare that he had translated the plates by the power of God, as stated in the preface of the Book of Mormon.

Making Lucy Mack Smith and Joseph Knight Sr.’s accounts even more probable is the fact that they appear to coincide with the earliest surviving account of the translation. This account is all the more powerful because it comes from a non-apologetic source: local Palmyra printer Jonathan Hadley of the Palmyra Freeman. Hadley apparently spoke with Joseph Smith in the summer of 1829, at which time Joseph briefly explained to Hadley what had occurred in the winter of 1828. In the account, Hadley derided Joseph’s claims, declaring that Joseph had a friend take some of the characters he had copied from the plates “in search of someone, besides the interpreter [Joseph Smith], who was learned enough to English them.” Like Lucy Mack Smith’s and Joseph Knight’s accounts, Hadley knew that Joseph Smith eventually translated the plates, but he also knew about Joseph’s initial attempt to find a translator other than himself.

Michael Hubbard MacKay – “Git Them Translated”: Translating the Characters on the Gold Plates

Why would Joseph do this if he knew he had created the plates himself?


Add a Question
Thank you for your submission