Caractors large

"Caractors" from the golden plates

The Book of Mormon was originally written in reformed Egyptian characters[1] on plates of "ore"[2] by prophets living in the Western Hemisphere between 600 BC and AD 421. Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the LDS Church, published the Book of Mormon in 1830 as a translation of these golden plates.

Reformed Egyptian and the Book of MormonEdit

The Book of Mormon uses the term "reformed Egyptian" in only one verse, Mormon 9:32, which says that "the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, [were] handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech" and that "none other people knoweth our language."[3] The Book of Mormon also implies that its record is written in "reformed Egyptian" both because it took less space on the golden plates than Hebrew and because of the evolution of the language since the people left Jerusalem.[4]

Although accounts of the process differ, Smith is said to have translated the reformed Egyptian characters engraved on golden plates into English through various means including the use of a seer stone or the Urim and Thummim, or both.[5] When Smith finished the translation, he returned the plates to the angel Moroni, and therefore they are unavailable for study.[6]

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  1. Mormon 9:32
  2. 1 Nephi 19:1
  3. Mormon 9:32-34. The book says that its first author, Nephi, was taught both the "learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians." 1 Nephi 1:2.
  4. Mormon 9:33 Some LDS scholars have interpreted this to mean that while one of the original written languages of Lehi's group was Egyptian, that language evolved (possibly due in part to contact with other cultures) into a language that became a modified or reformed Egyptian. See Reformed Egyptian by William J. Hamblin, "In fact, the word reformed is used in the Book of Mormon in this context as an adjective, meaning "altered, modified, or changed." This is made clear in the book of Mormon, where it is written that "the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, [were] handed down and altered by us" and that "none other people knoweth our language" (Mormon 9:32, 34). Other LDS scholars note that other languages evolved from Egyptian through the centuries and have speculated that the term "reformed Egyptian" might refer to a form of Egyptian writing similar to other modified Egyptian scripts such as hieratic, a priestly shorthand for hieroglyphics thousands of years old by the first millennium B.C., or early Demotic, a derivative of hieratic, perhaps used in northern Egypt fifty years before the time that the Book of Mormon prophet-patriarch Lehi is said to have left Jerusalem for the Americas. See William J. Hamblin, Egyptian However, Richard Packham argues that Hebrew is more compact than hieratic Egyptian.Packham website
  5. Michael Morse, Smith's brother-in-law, said that he watched Smith on several occasions and said his "mode of procedure consisted in Joseph's placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face." Michael Morse interview with William W. Blair, May 8, 1879, in EMD, 4: 343. Morse was clearly awed by Smith's ability to dictate as he did and called it "a strange piece of work." David Whitmer said that at one point "the plates were not before Joseph while he translated, but seem to have been removed by the custodian angel." David Whitmer Interview with the Chicago Times, August 1875, in EMD, 5: 21. Whitmer also stated that "after affixing the magical spectacles to his eyes, Smith would take the plates and translate the characters one at a time. The graven characters would appear in succession to the seer, and directly under the character, when viewed through the glasses, would be the translation in English." Chicago Tribune, 15 December 1885 in EMD, 5: 124.
  6. "Joseph Smith Interview with Peter Bauder, October 1830" in EMD, 1: 17; "Joseph Smith Interview with Leman Copley, 1831" in EMD, 1: 24–25. Yet even after Smith had returned the plates to the angel, other early LDS Church members testified that an angel had also showed them the plates. In 1859, Brigham Young referred to one of these "post-return" testimonies: "Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who handled the plates and conversed with the angels of God, were afterwards left to doubt… One of the Quorum of the Twelve, a young man full of faith and good works, prayed, and the vision of his mind was opened, and the angel of God came and laid the plates before him, and he saw and handled them, and saw the angel." Journal of Discourses, June 5, 1859, 7: 164.