I know the headline sounds like a lead-in to a joke, but in fact, Mormon apologist Daniel Peterson wrote a “Defending the Faith” column for Deseret News in which he suggested that, though “some critics of Joseph Smith mock the fact that part of the Book of Mormon translation process apparently involved dictating while looking at a stone that he’d placed within a hat…far from being damaging evidence against his claims and against the Book of Mormon, this fact may strongly support their plausibility.”
Dr. Peterson asks his readers to “consider a smartphone or e-reader, for instance. Their screens are very difficult to read out in the sunlight and need to be shaded. Or consider your personal computer. You probably don’t place it directly in front of a window where bright light will be streaming into your face.” So too, he says, did Joseph Smith need to place his seer stone in a hat in order to better see the words on it, and to reduce eye strain.
Dr. Peterson argues that the fact that Joseph put his face in a hat while dictating the Book of Mormon has “intriguing” implications. Referring to a common charge by critic’s that Joseph Smith may have plagiarized existing documents to write the Book of Mormon, Dr. Peterson points out: “A manuscript hidden in the bottom of a hat would be difficult if not impossible to read.”
The question, of course, is why Joseph Smith needed to look at a stone in a hat in the first place. As the story goes, Joseph had been given tangible metal plates covered with the writings of ancient prophets written in “Reformed Egyptian.” God had supplied Joseph with “interpreters” — two stones in silver bows, called the Urim and Thummim — to enable him to translate the characters into English. But he set the plates and the interpreters aside and resorted to a stone in a hat.
The fact that he used a hat, according to Daniel Peterson, “strongly supports” Joseph Smith’s claims and the validity of the Book of Mormon. But if, in fact, the hat really does powerfully substantiate the plausibility of Mormonism’s claims, why has the Mormon Church largely neglected to include it in its official narratives regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon?
Despite Dr. Peterson’s apologetic, I’m afraid I remain unconvinced.
Listen to today’s Viewpoint on Mormonism where Bill and Eric discuss this particular defense of the Mormon faith as argued by Daniel Peterson.