Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith through the power of God. How this happened is a subject of some debate as the historical record of the process and the translation story taught to Mormons and church investigators differ considerably.
In a strange twist that seems like it belongs more to an alternate dimension, the translation process depicted in the South Park episode All About Mormons tells a more accurate story of the Book of Mormon’s creation than the faith-promoting version of the translation process taught by the Mormon church.
The Faithful Version
One thing is not in dispute between the official and the more historically accurate version of the translation of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by an angel who revealed to him the location of golden plates an a nearby hill. It would be four years before the angel who visited Smith would let him take the plates for translation. The first Mormon prophet would return to the site every year until he was allowed to take the plates from the HIll Cummorah.
The version of the Book of Mormon translation story that the church teaches has Joseph Smith using a device called the Urim and Thummim. The Urim and Thummim was a pair of glasses with diamond lenses attached to a jewel encrusted breastplate. Joseph Smith looked into the lensesand he would see the text in English. The words the prophet saw would be read aloud and the scribe working with Smith committed the words to paper.
The Seer Stone – the More Historically Accurate Version
The actual translation process worked a little differently. Viewers of South Park may remember Joseph Smith putting a seer stone into a hat and reading off the words that appeared on the seer stone, according to The Mormon Times.
Daniel C. Peterson, one of the leading apologists for the Mormon church and a professor of Islam and Arabic studies at Brigham Young University, confirms that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon. Peterson states that only the seer stone that belonged to the prophet resulted in a successful translation. The Brigham Young University professor relates the story where Martin Harris, one of Smith’s scribes, replaced the prophet’s seer stone with a similar looking rock. The translation process could not proceed until Smith’s seer stone was placed back in the hat.
Other Book of Mormon Translation Theories
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Restorationist groups have long maintained that the Book of Mormon could not have been produced by an uneducated farm boy. One of the most common alternate theories for how the Book of Mormon was produced is that the text was copied or plagiarized from another manuscript called Views of the Hebrews.
The Views of the Hebrews theory has never been proven and the question of whether Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon or if the text was the product of an imaginative but uneducated farm boy continues to be debated.