Evidence #293 | January 4, 2022

No Translation Prompts

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Scripture Central


In two separate interviews, Emma Smith stated that Joseph Smith was able to resume translation sessions after interruptions without prompting or assistance from his scribes.

Interruptions of the Translation Process

Frontier Prophet, by Nathan Andrew Pinnock. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

The translation of the extant text of the Book of Mormon took place between April 7 and June 30, 1829.1 Yet it would be a mistake to assume that Joseph Smith and his scribes spent every waking hour of these 85 days engaged in the translation process. Aside from the need for sleep each night, they would have needed to take regular breaks for meals and simply to recuperate from the translation activity itself.2

Joseph also spent time doing farm chores, entertaining visitors, making trips to Colesville, receiving priesthood authority and additional revelations, baptizing Samuel and Hyrum Smith, moving from Harmony to Fayette, acquiring the Book of Mormon’s copyright, and so forth.3 Similar constraints—certainly the need for sleep, meals, relaxation, and chores—would likely have hampered the dictation of what is now referred to as the lost 116 pages.4 Undoubtedly, such activities during the various phases of translation collectively resulted in numerous interruptions, some of which may have lasted for hours or even days.

Resuming Translating without Hesitation

This situation is notable, considering what Emma Smith said about Joseph’s ability to handle such interruptions: “When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation.”5 In a later interview Emma gave a fuller description:

I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, [Joseph Smith] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do.6

While Emma’s statements aren’t directly corroborated by any other eyewitness account, they are also never cast into doubt. No other witness ever mentions Joseph asking for a scribe’s assistance to help him resume his dictation, or really for help in any way whatsoever other than recording his dictation.

Emma Smith. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Furthermore, eyewitnesses report that when dictating the Book of Mormon to his scribes, Joseph Smith did not rely on any notes or manuscripts.7 Instead, he simply looked into his divinely prepared translation instrument and read off words (which appeared to him through a visionary process) to his scribe. Emma’s statements are thus consistent with the overall miraculous nature of the translation found in many other accounts.8


When beginning a new session of writing, even accomplished and experienced authors typically have to review what they had previously written. Yet Joseph Smith—who was neither well-educated nor an experienced writer—apparently didn’t need such prompts.9 Emma’s statements thus support the miraculous nature of the Book of Mormon’s translation. As she herself once remarked, “though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much so as to any one else.”10

John W. Welch, “Timing the Translation of the Book of Mormon: ‘Days [and Hours] Never to Be Forgotten’,” BYU Studies Quarterly 57, no. 4 (2018): 10–50.

John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Timing of the Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, 2nd edition, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2017), 79–227.

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