Translating the Golden Plates

How did Joseph Smith translate the Golden Plates into the Book of Mormon?

Reference Links

Joseph Smith Translating Picture
How the Plates Were Translated
The Lost 116 Pages
Reformed Egyptian - The Anthon Transcript
The Failed Revelation
The Printing
Video Transcript

The writing on the Golden Plates was in a language Joseph Smith called ‘Reformed Egyptian’, a language which has never been found anywhere else. Naturally, Smith would have needed divine help to translate such writings into English.

Fortunately, when Smith received the plates, he also received a pair of magic spectacles called the Urim and Thummim which were to be used to translate the writing. The words Urim and Thummim are taken from the Bible, but are not described to be like spectacles nor were they used for translation in the Bible.

With Martin Harris as the scribe, Joseph began translating what would later become the Book of Mormon. After some time, Harris got permission from Smith to borrow the manuscript of the first 116 pages of translation, which he took to his own house, where they were lost.

Obviously, with so much work lost, Smith was distraught. But instead of just retranslating the pages from the plates, he received a message from the Lord telling him not to bother. Instead, the Lord told Joseph about some different plates, the plates of Nephi, which he would use in lieu of the Golden Plates to replace the lost pages.

It would seem Joseph did this because he could not rewrite 116 pages word for word from memory, and would then be exposed as a fraud. But Joseph claimed the reason was because his enemies could have changed the lost manuscript, waited for him to retranslate it, and then release the changed manuscript to frame him as a fraud.

With this problem behind him, translation resumed with a curtain hung between Smith and his various scribes. But now, instead of using the Urim and Thummim, which had been preserved with the plates for the purpose of translation, Smith was using his seer stone to translate. He would place it in his hat, look into the hat, and the translation would appear one character at a time. His wife stated that the entire Book of Mormon was translated in such a manner, without Smith even having to look at the plates at all.

After almost two years of work, the Book of Mormon was finally finished. But not all the plates had been translated. Smith said that two thirds of the plates were still sealed, and he was not able to view those pages. Nevertheless, Smith stated that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

The original manuscript, some of which still survives, was then sent to a printer where the grammar and lack of punctuation was corrected. But money was tight, so Joseph consulted his seer stone again, and was told that Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery would be able to raise money by selling the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Toronto. When this failed to happen, Smith confessed that some revelations were of the devil.

In the end, Martin Harris sold part of his farm to pay for the printing of 5000 copies of the Book of Mormon, the first edition of which credited Joseph Smith as ‘Author’, and all later editions as ‘Translator’. Visit us at to explore the contents of the Book of Mormon.