The Translation Process of the Book of Mormon
Daniel C. Peterson wrote an excellent article in which he cites witnesses to the Book of Mormon translation process, giving modern readers insight into what eyewitnesses saw regarding how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. I cite just a few of these accounts here below. You can read the entire article here.
According to witnesses, Joseph had no outside text during the translation process
In an interview with her son, Joseph Smith III, not long before she died, Emma Smith insisted that Joseph had no text with him during the work of translation:
Q: Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
A: He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.
Q: Could he not have had, and you not know it?
A: If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
Emma Smith could speak authoritatively regarding the period during which she herself served as scribe. But what about the much longer period when Oliver Cowdery was taking the dictation? In fact, Emma could speak from personal experience with respect to that time, as well. While they were in Harmony, Pennsylvania – where most of the Book of Mormon text was committed to writing – Emma says that Joseph and Oliver were not far away from her:
Q: Where did father and Oliver Cowdery write?
A: Oliver Cowdery and your father wrote in the room where I was at work.
“The plates,” she said, “often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.”
Not long after speaking with her, Joseph III wrote a letter in which he summarized some of her responses to his questions. “She wrote for Joseph Smith during the work of translation, as did also Reuben Hale, her brother, and O. Cowdery; that the larger part of this labor was done in her presence, and where she could see and know what was being done; that during no part of it did Joseph Smith have any mss. [manuscripts] or book of any kind from which to read, or dictate, except the metallic plates, which she knew he had.”
A correspondent from the Chicago Times interviewed David Whitmer on 14 October 1881, and got the same story: “Mr. Whitmer emphatically asserts as did Harris and Cowdery, that while Smith was dictating the translation he had no manuscript notes or other means of knowledge save the seer stone and the characters as shown on the plates, he [i.e., David Whitmer] being present and cognizant how it was done.”
Thus we see that Joseph Smith seems to have been reading from something, but that he had no book or manuscript or paper with him. It seems to have been a text that was new and strange to him, and one that required a certain emotional or mental focus before it could be read. All of this is entirely consistent with Joseph Smith’s claim that he was deriving the text by revelation through an interpreting device, but it does not seem reconcilable with claims that he had created the text himself earlier, or even that he was reading from a purloined copy of someone else’s manuscript. In order to make the latter theory plausible, it is necessary to reject the unanimous testimony of the eyewitnesses to the process and to ignore the evidence of the original manuscript itself.