I have been waiting to see if William Schryver posted any further comments from Royal Skousen on his views of the mode by which the Book of Mormon was translated.
Since it seems that there will be nothing further for the moment, may I say a little more on how the present situation seems to me? As I understand what has been posted here and what I have I have read about Royal Skousen’s position, the suggestion is that the Book of Mormon was not translated into English by Joseph Smith in any normal sense of the word. All Joseph Smith did was to receive (through the seer stone) the words of an English translation that had already been made, by some person or persons unknown, perhaps as long before Joseph Smith’s time as 1600. (William Schryver speculates that the translation may have been done by angels, who may have included Moroni.)
Royal Skousen appears to be the person who has devoted most attention in recent times to the text of the Book of Mormon, as text. Any suggestion by him is therefore not to be treated lightly. But there do seem to be some obvious problems here, and I should like to see them discussed.
Firstly: if the translation of the Book of Mormon had long been in existence by the time Joseph Smith sat down to gaze at his seer stone and began to read off words to his scribes, what purpose was served by the golden plates? But if we follow the account given by Joseph Smith in the Wentworth letter, as published in the Ensign (http://www.lds.org/e...entworth-letter
), the plates seem to have been crucial:
“I was also told where were deposited some plates on which were engraven an abridgment of the records of the ancient prophets that had existed on this continent. The angel appeared to me three times the same night and unfolded the same things. After having received many visits from the angels of God, unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22nd of September, A.D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands.
These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold. Each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters, and bound together in a volume as the leaves of a book, with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving. With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rims of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.”
It is possible to imagine why the seer stone had to be near the plates if the stone was some kind of device for extracting a translation from the plates - which is of course the view that sees the Urim and Thummim as ‘translation spectacles’ which enabled Joseph to understand the Reformed Egyptian of the plates when he looked through them. But if the translation had already been made, why did Joseph Smith need the plates at all? And yet he clearly felt that he did.
Secondly: if the translation was made in advance, then given the view that the role of the Prophet Joseph Smith as deliverer of the Book of Mormon in the Latter Days was foretold by prophecy, that translation would presumably have been made with Joseph Smith in mind. Why was it made using a version of English which would in part have been incomprehensible to Joseph - as Royal Skousen points out?
Thirdly: The suggestion of a pre-existing translation that was simply transmitted to Joseph Smith seem out of tune with the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 10, in reference to the loss of the 116 pages. Throughout the Lord speaks in a way that assumes that the translated version of the Book of Mormon that Joseph produces comes from the plates. Thus, for instance:
“38 And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the aplates of Nephi;
39 Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.
40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I awould bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—
41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained;”
This is not inconsistent in the strict logical sense with the idea that a pre-existing translation was being transmitted through the seer stone. - presumably including headings identifying the different sections of the text But if that is what is happening, why does the Lord not simply speak in those terms? It might be disrespectful to write a parody of D&C, but surely one would have expected some reference along the lines of “Fear not. I have already caused to be prepared more translation to replace what you have lost, and it shall be given to you. Transmit it faithfully to the scribes”. Then Joseph looks at the stone, and sees the name of the part of the Book of Mormon he is to dictate, followed by the first section of the text from the plates of Nephi.
None of these are intended as ‘killer points’ for Royal Skousen’s suggestion. But they do seem to need discussion.