I’m enjoying Don Bradley’s new book Lost 116 Pages. I’m just getting to the good part where Don describes what’s on the lost pages. I wanted to highlight an excerpt from the book and a bit of explanation from his podcast interview with Bryce Blankenagel from Bryce’s podcast Naked Mormonism.

from the book:

Joseph’s visionary seeing of the translation is believed by some to exclude him from having any role in formulating the language of the translation, such as the selection of words. This exclusion of a role for Joseph Smith in the process is viewed as problematic for three reasons: First, such a process would not make Joseph Smith a translator at all, but merely a reader of the Book of Mormon. Second, portions of the translated Book of Mormon text are written in Joseph Smith’s rural, upstate-New York idiom, including grammatical errors common to that idiom. Third, such a process would contradict Joseph’s “thus saith the Lord” revelations that describe the processes of revelation and translation as allowing and requiring the prophet’s mind to be active in these processes… The question of whether Joseph Smith saw symbolic images of the translated words is entirely distinct from how those images were produced. Were Joseph’s cognitive processes involved in selecting or crafting what he saw? That Joseph Smith could have worked out, or “studied out” (D&C 9:8), the words of translation then seen them reflected back to him through the interpreters (and presumably also the seer stone) was suggested by Elder B. H. Roberts in the beginning of the twentieth century.

from the podcast interview:

DB: He believes that divine providence is all over his life, the hand of God is everywhere. Including in picking the scribes and choosing the people around him helping him, that all becomes part of his process of “studying it out” in his mind (D&C 9) of what should go into translation of the Book of Mormon. So I think for Joseph Smith there’s not a dichotomy between things in his environment entering into his mental hopper as he’s working through this process of translating of bringing out text. There’s not a dichotomy for him between environmental influence and the divine working through him. Part of the way the divine influence works through him is by putting certain influences into his environment. BB: And not only into his environment but the words that he says are implanted into his mind by the divine hand. The things that enter his mind, he sees as being divinely inspired as things that don’t come from his inner consciousness but come from external, benevolent forces that cause him to do what he does. DB: Right. Joseph Smith treats the words that he brings froth through revelatory process whether it’s the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Abraham, he treats those words differently from his own day to day words. He thinks there’s something more going on with those words than just himself.

This all fits in nicely with my new view of BOM translation. Two parts. 1) A “study it out” process where Joseph possibly together with his scribes and by consulting KJV and other modern sources, worked out a “rough draft” for the BOM in his mind. 2) A dictation process where Joseph’s initial “rough draft” in his mind is perfected by the Holy Ghost and is shown on the seer stone.

I asked Brian Hales what he thought of this. His answer:

Thanks for bringing me back into the conversation. I love what Don has pulled together for us. He is truly one of the great thinkers of this era. I hope we can extract a lot more of his ideas in the future. Regarding the BofM “translation,” my study of the documents convinces me that no theory accommodates all the data. No matter what hypothesis is advanced, significant contradictory observations can be made. Reason to believe JS WAS NOT reading: 1. Joseph’s willingness to make changes in later printings suggests the words were originally his. 2. Some grammar is clearly 1820s upstate NY. 3. Some word choices seem to be Joseph’s. 4. Oliver Cowdery’s experience with translation suggests translating was more than reading. 5. Traditionally, seer stones do not function as teleprompters. Reason to believe JS WAS reading: 1. Joseph spelled difficult words and proper nouns: 2. Verbally wordsmithing (in real-time) nearly 7000 very long sentences that needed no re-sequencing or changes (besides grammar/spelling) seems beyond JS’s abilities. 3. The sophistication of the integrated KJV language (at times) seems beyond JS’s ability to wordsmith in real-time. 4. The sophistication of the integrated 19th century elements seem beyond JS’s ability to wordsmith in real-time. The heavy lifting of JS’s dictation was not coming up with ideas, but wordsmithing sentences (in his head) with the level of refinement that his scribes recorded, and doing it while dictating without using notes. No genius has approached this level of performance that I can identify—not even close. This is an opportunity for secularists.

I was asked what books I thought Joseph might have used in his “study it out” process. I answered:

Nothing in particular. And I’m not talking like Late War or View of the Hebrews. I’m thinking more like Bible commentaries, the Wesleyan magazine maybe, Pilgrim’s Progress maybe, collections of sermons, doctrinal analysis. I picture for some reason Oliver bringing this to the effort and Joseph viewing this as God’s will. But that part of it is not important. The crux of my theory is that Joseph believed he was responsible for creating the Book of Mormon and he had to do all he could to “study it out” and then let the Spirit do the rest.

When did he have “study it out” time? He was never known to be actively working on the Book of Mormon, outside of the dictation process. The dictation process is understood by some to be a “full time” effort with no possibility of downtime study time.

  1. In the years 1823 to 1829, Joseph might have spent some time working over the over reaching arc to the story, and making and refining a list of doctrines the Book of Mormon should clarify, along with working out the logical argument for those doctrines.
  2. Based on research from John Hamer and John Welch, it’s estimated the range of much time Joseph and Oliver spent in dictation on a daily basis the spring-summer of 1829 is two hours on the aggressive side and five hours on the conservative side. This left most of the rest of the day for a very active “study it out” process.