Joseph and Emma Smith stayed temporarily with the Hale family before purchasing a small two-story home, where Smith began his translation of the Book of Mormon sometime between December 1827 and February 1828. Although the Bible records no such spiritual gift as translation, Joseph Smith claimed to possess the spirit of revelation and translation. Although the detailed process of how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon is not fully known, it seems clear that he would stare at the seer stone or the Urim and Thummim through which he would see words, similar to seeing lost objects or treasure, and dictate them to a secretary, who would write them down. Smith would apparently stare for hours through egg-shaped seer stones located at the bottom of a hat, and dictate-by the gift and power of God-English characters he saw to his scribes, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery. This is how Daniel Peterson, a professor at Brigham Young University, describes Joseph Smith's so-called translation process of the Book of Mormon:
We know that Joseph didn't translate the way that a scholar would translate. He didn't know Egyptian. There were a couple of means that were prepared for this. One was he used an instrument that was found with the plates that was called the Urim and Thummim. This is a kind of a divinatory device that goes back into Old Testament times. Actually most of the translation was done using something called a seer stone. He would put the stone in the bottom of a hat, presumably to exclude surrounding light. And then he would put his face into the hat. It's a kind of a strange image for us.
It is also said that Joseph Smith seemed to be in the grip of creative forces that caused him to dictate in rapid fashion, with pages pouring out of his mind like Messiah from the pen of George Frideric Handel. With this understanding, the Book of Mormon is really more a revelation than a translation. LDS historian Richard Lyman Bushman succinctly summarizes Smith's translation powers and process this way:
Neither his education nor his Christian upbringing prepared Joseph to translate a book, but the magic culture may have. Treasure- seeking taught Joseph to look for the unseen in a stone. His first reaction when he brought home the Urim and Thummim was delight with its divining powers. "I can see any thing," he told his friend Joseph Knight. He knew from working with his own seer stone what to expect from the Urim and Thummim: he would "see." Practice with his scrying stones carried over to translation of the gold plates. In fact, as work on the Book of Mormon proceeded, a seer stone took the place of the Urim and Thummim as an aid in the work, blending magic with inspired translation.
The Book of Mormon translation was finished between April and June of 1829, approximately sixteen to seventeen months after Smith had started. Immediately following the completion of the translation, Smith showed it to eleven people. But we know that six of these witnesses-including key early Mormon leaders Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer- would eventually leave the LDS Church. Joseph Smith reported that he returned the original gold plates to Moroni, who apparently took them into heaven. On June 11, 1829, Joseph Smith was granted a copyright and began to plan the publication of the Book of Mormon.
As Smith was translating the Book of Mormon, he was also engaged in far-out interpretations of the Bible. In April 1829, while in Pennsylvania, he claimed to receive a revelation that the apostle John was still living, based on John 21:20-23:
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?"
More Supernatural Visitations and the Mormon Priesthoods
The Joseph Smith story continues with more supernatural visitations from John the Baptist and the apostles Peter, James, and John. The Mormon Church claims that through these heavenly visits it alone possesses the God-given authority of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods to act as the only lawful agent in building the kingdom of God on earth.
On May 15, 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery went into the woods to pray along Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River. While they were engaged in prayer together, John the Baptist- acting under the authority of the apostles Peter, James, and John-descended from heaven, laid his hands on them, and authoritatively imparted the priesthood of Aaron. John the Baptist then directed Smith and Cowdery to baptize each other in the river. They emerged out of the water full of the Holy Ghost, prophesying, and experiencing a new enlightenment to the true meaning of the Bible.
As the story was told-although the exact time is unclear- shortly after the visitation by John the Baptist, Smith and Cowdery were also visited by the apostles Peter, James, and John, who ordained them into the advanced Melchizedek Priesthood and gave them the keys of apostleship. Although Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had received the authority of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, they had not as yet received from Elijah the keys of sealing, binding, and loosing, relating to the ability to perform ordinances for the living and the dead. This anointing was restored by Elijah when he apparently appeared to them during the dedication of the Kirtland, Ohio, temple in 1836.
The Publication of the Book of Mormon
Joseph Smith chose twenty-three-year-old printer Egert Grandin of Palmyra, New York, to publish the first edition of the Book of Mormon manuscript. Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith supervised the printing, while Joseph Smith continued to live in Pennsylvania. The pages of the Book of Mormon were gradually taken to Grandin over several months. Since the translation manuscript was delivered with rough formatting, Grandin's typesetter, John Gilbert, added the punctuation and paragraphing. On August 17, 1829, five thousand copies of the Book of Mormon were printed, costing approximately $3,000. It went on sale on April 6, 1830, for $1.25 per copy.
The First Mormon Church
Ten years after his First Vision, and only a few weeks after the publication of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith-now twentyfour years old-officially organized the first Mormon church on April 6, 1830, based in the little farmhouse of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York. Mormons believe that April 6 is the birthday of Jesus Christ himself and thus connect the incarnation of Jesus Christ with the birth of the first Mormon church. Approximately forty to fifty people gathered for the official ceremony, and Smith appointed official organizers to meet New York's legal requirements for incorporating a religious society. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery ordained each other to be the church's first elders. The new kingdom of God on earth was named the Church of Christ.
During the first general conference of the Mormon Church on June 9, 1830, Joseph Smith received a revelation declaring himself the Mormons' primary "seer, translator, prophet, and apostle of Jesus Christ." In this revelation, the Lord instructed the members of the newborn church to receive Joseph's words as if they were spoken by God himself. Joseph Smith made it very clear from the beginning of the LDS Church that he alone held the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom of God on earth, and that only his utterances carried God's authority for the Latter-day Saints. To this day, the ultimate authority of the Mormon Church is only and exclusively embodied in its residing President and Prophet.
Although Joseph Smith continued to live in Pennsylvania, the proactive exertion of his claims of ultimate authority and revelations from God would lead a small group of Mormons westward into lands unknown-and into a future normally found only in fairy tales.