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Radio Free Mormon: 117: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Translation?

More and more evidence is accumulating that shows Joseph Smith’s translations are actually a cobbling together of contemporary sources.

Faithful LDS scholars try to account for this by bending the word “translation” into a thousand fantastic shapes.

This is their story.


20 thoughts on “Radio Free Mormon: 117: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Translation?”

  1. How does the church solve a problem like RFM? Very well done my friend. Thank you! Even if JS was inspired, why did he claim translation? How to solve the problem of translation indeed. This is not a John Valjean case of stealing a mouth full of bread (Les Mis). Much money and power has been gained by his claims of translation. Thanks to recent whistle blowers, we have a better idea to whom that money and power has been serving. Why claim translation and not inspiration? Who received the benefit of this claim? If JS can think for himself and be inspired, then so can we, including RFM. Great podcast!

  2. Another great episode! There really can’t be any separation of rethinking “translation” from rethinking “authority.” You can have a brainy seminar on the former and no one will get too concerned, so long as you sustain the current “prophets, seers and revelators”. Better not have a seminar on the latter, however, if you value your church membership. As Nicole Allison points out, there’s a lot of money riding on authority, and hence, translation, as traditionally understood.

  3. Stunningly insightful episode. No doubt a lot of hard work went into it. While you have produced many excellent podcasts, this one might be your most impactful and insightful ever.

    No doubt this episode qualifies as premium content. Looking forward to signing up as a premium subscriber when the page works.

  4. You sure got them this time! Brillant, honest, unbiased….. Hey since you know so much about translation, can you please list for me the proper and acceptable ways in which God would allow someone to translate an ancient religious record? How exactly does God allow men to do his work? Also didn’t we loose some of the papyri? Anyway, just rambling here. You sure are amazing RFM. Brave, smart, witty. Keep these coming!

      1. Since RFM can’t or won’t answer a simple question maybe you can. Please list for me the limitations that God places on mankind when he asks them to translate an ancient record?

        Also please explain to me how a Urim and Thummim works, and why it is an acceptable method of translating an ancient record? Tell me how that method is acceptable while other methods are unacceptable. All based on your scholarly research of course.

  5. Hi, I saw you on john Dehlin episode and am very impressed.
    I don’t know of any one person who understands this any more deeply than you. I will be coming back often…I left the Church about two or three years ago, sort of an ongoing process, my wife loves the Church but is not interested in understanding it, so…..

  6. Love your work RFM. This episode is very insightful and incredibly useful. Thank you.
    Terryl Givens bricoleur theory reminded me of another podcast from A Thoightful Faith. Episode 206. Sheldon Smith, a young English academic, has put in a lot of work demonstrating Joseph Smith’s bricoleur qualities.
    I reckon Terryl is being somewhat of a bricoleur himself. Stealing ideas.

  7. Hi, RFM. The word “translation” actually does get pretty messy outside Joseph Smith. For instance, Egyptological translations of facsimile 3, like Ritner/Rhodes, are not translations at all according to your standard. They can’t read most of the text on the facsimile, so they piece together what they think “should” be there, based on what similar types of vignettes say. See Quinten Barney’s Masters thesis – it’s sort of an open secret about Egyptology.

    Also, make sure to read my comments on Bill’s facebook post where he shared this podcast. I explain why the 1832 account is more complicated than you might have realized.

    Love ya man!

    1. While JS might have gotten away with calling his “Bible Translation” a commentary, his claims of translation fails scholarship.

      Your example of Eygtology is even more baseless. Using scholarship, both Ritner and Rhodes are able to derive fairly close translations of the BoA papyrus, neither of which even remotely resembles JS’s “translation”

      1. It sounds like you didn’t read Quinten Barney’s thesis. Are you trying to claim that most of the characters on Facsimile 3 are directly translatable?

        Learn more about how Ritner “translated” those characters.

        1. No, specifically I’m pointing out two things.
          1) Your assertions about the translation of the hieroglyphics are irrelevant to the JST and book of Moses. In fact RFM does a great job tying JST/Moses/D&C together
          2) For the BoA, how close is the cast of characters between Ritner and Rhodes? How about the story line. Willing to gauge the percentage that their story line aligns?
          3) Is Rhodes even in the same stratosphere as JS’s BoA translation? How close is Smith’s story line to what each of the papyrus state? How many cast of characters (identities) does Smith get right?

          As such, I view your comments as a red herring.

        2. You completely miss the point. Comparing Ritner’s and Rhodes translations of the relevant glyphs, there are a couple observations that are obvious:
          – Compare each of their list of characters (identities)
          – Compare each of their story lines

          Let’s now go to the BoA. It’s not even in the same stratosphere. It started off bad when JS claimed to have found the writings of Abraham and went it downhill from there. If we choose to give credence to the eye witness accounts of how JS used his seerstone to translate the Nephite plates, it’s even more incriminating knowing that he used one for the BoA.

        3. I don’t find Quinten’s musings very compelling all. Ritner’s and Rhode’s translations line up fairly well and coroborate their process. Quinten hypothesis is quite weak and does zero to address why JS’s claims that Hor’s Book of Breathings contain the writings of Abraham.

  8. Bricolage. Nice.

    “Joseph [Smith Jr.] was an eclectic, syncretic innovator, not a systematic theologian. Many of his religious inspirations were largely gleaned from his nineteenth-century environment, ruminated over, confirmed by what he said was God’s spirit, then refined and enhanced through on incremental process of trial-and-error development that in many ways is still on-going among his successors. Believers refer to this process as continuous revelation; non-believers as the natural expression of human intellect and reason.”
    (Richard Van Wagoner, “Natural Born Seer”, 2016, p. viii)

  9. This podcast was so amazing I had to listen to it twice. A couple questions. How do we know that any man has actually received revelation? How does any man who claims to have received revelation distinguish his own thoughts from God’s thoughts? If God does speak to man how exactly does he do it? What are the approved methods for God to speak to man? RFM I wait anxiously for your instruction.

  10. WOW! Listening to your analysis of Terryl Givens reasoning for Joseph Smith’s “revelation and translation” methods was revealing. Anyone who’s in a profession that requires creativity, whether an architect, composer or even an attorney, understands the creative process. There rarely are new ideas. Most of your creativity comes from what you have learned, experienced or seen/ heard. You take that knowledge, sometimes have to do a little research, and the creativity and inspiration come. It doesn’t necessarily come from a higher power, but from inside. That’s where Joseph Smith’s church came from. It’s all just a man made creation from a creative mind, using his own knowledge and experience and fashioning it into a new creation inspired by others works. Again, none of it is divine but inserting divinity is always good for business.

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