Let's look at two more Church essays called: Book of Mormon Translation and Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham. I'm trying to keep my analysis of the Church's essays brief, but there are excellent thorough analysis of them here and here and here and many other places.
Translation of the Book of Mormon
Growing up in the Church, and still to this day, as far as I know, we are taught that Joseph Smith translated the golden plates by the use of the "Urim and Thummin", which were two clear stones bound together with a metal rim. I recall being taught in Seminary that there was a table with a curtain that divided it, and Joseph Smith sat behind the curtain on one side of the table, and the scribe sat on the other side of the table. Joseph Smith had the golden plates on the table as he translated them out loud to the scribe who sat on the other side of the curtain, and wrote down what Joseph Smith said. The curtain was to keep the scribe from seeing the golden plates, as they were not to be viewed by anyone else but Joseph Smith. I was taught that it was a matter of faith and that's why the plates were not allowed to be seen by anyone. And also that they were of great monetary value and needed to be kept hidden from others. This same scenario is portrayed in various Church pictures that are in our books and in our chapels. You are taught the story and then the pictures are a visual confirmation of what you are taught. Any small child in the Church could tell you this same story.
So what a surprise it is to learn from the Church's essays that, ..."Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, a small oval stone, or 'seer stone'. As a young man during the 1820's, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture." Excuse me, this is news to me! When did this seer stone become part of the narrative? When were we taught that Joseph Smith found a stone and used it to look for buried treasure? Never, ever, never, that's when. I was taught that people tried to accuse Joseph Smith of looking for buried treasure but they were just trying to slander his name, that they were lying. Now the Church is saying he did hunt for buried treasure. Did you know that our Prophet and founder of our church was a treasure hunter? The same person that found the gold plates, was also a treasure hunter. Boy, you just don't learn this stuff in Seminary, do you?
According to the essay, "Apparently for convenience, Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather then the two stones bound together to form the interpreters. These two instruments--the interpreters (Urim and Thummim) and the seer stone--were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term 'Urim and Thummim' to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters." Come on! Are you kidding me? This stone that Joseph found as a youth, which he used to look for treasures buried in the ground, is now going to be interchangeable with the Urim and Thummim that was carefully stored away and preserved by the Lord for 1,500 hundred years. Fifteen hundred years, it sat waiting for the time of the restoration of Jesus Christ's gospel on the earth, and now for convenience sake, it will be interchangeable with a rock. Really? This man who will be tarred and feathered and persecuted, and will know all kinds of hardships, can't be inconvenienced enough to use the Urim and Thummim, that was reserved specifically for the translation of the gold plates?
Rock in a hat
But here's the real kicker! ..."Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out the extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument." Is that news to you? I sure haven't seen any pictures in the chapel of Joseph Smith putting his head in a hat and reading from his rock that he found as a youth to translate the golden plates, have you? The essay says Emma described, "Joseph 'sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us'." What happened to the curtain? What happened to the gold plates? Why is Joseph burying his head in a hat and translating from a rock he found, when all the pictures show him with the gold plates open on a table and studiously translating from them?
Translation of the Book of Abraham
This one should be short and sweet. Well maybe not sweet, but short. If you are new to all of these issues about the Church, as I was, you will not even know that there are any questions concerning the Book of Abraham. But this one is huge, it's the issue that caused my husband to completely loose his testimony of the Church. Let's begin with what we were taught. I learned that Joseph Smith had been shown some Egyptian mummies and papyri from a traveling salesman, of some kind. As Joseph examined the hieroglyphics he realized that one of the rolls was the writings of Abraham. The Church collected enough money to buy the ancient records and from them Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham. It says in the introduction to the Book of Abraham, that it was "translated from the papyrus by Joseph Smith" and that it is "the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus."
The original papyri had been sold by Joseph Smith's family. In 1967, the Church was given what is left of the remaining fragments of the papyri. According to the Church essay, "The fragments included one vignette, or illustration, that appears in the book of Abraham as facsimile 1. Long before the fragments were published by the Church, some Egyptologists had said that Joseph Smith's explanations of the various elements of these facsimiles did not match their own interpretations of these drawings...None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham's name of any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham...Scholars have identified the papyrus as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived."
And that's why this is going to be short, what more can I say? The essay says it all. The papyri were not written by Abraham; they are not about Abraham; they are not from the time period of Abraham. They are common funerary texts and that's most likely why they were found along with mummies! End of story. Like I said short, but not sweet.
What we learn from the essays
Joseph Smith used a seer stone, that he found in his youth to look for buried treasures, to translate the gold plates, by placing the stone in a hat. He often used the stone that he found, instead of the Urim and Thummim that had been preserved for that exact purpose. Joseph Smith's translation of the papyri which constitutes our book of Abraham, which is part of our scriptures, does not match any of the fragments of the papyri. The papyri are common funerary texts that were buried with a body. We have the fragment with facsimile 1 on it, which is shown in the Book of Abraham, along with Joseph Smith's explanation of it; but Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that characters on the fragment do not match the explanation. These were not written in Abraham's hand as claimed by Joseph Smith, and they are not from Abraham's time period.
So in other words, everything we were taught about the translation of the Book of Mormon is different from the way it was actually translated, according to the Church's essay. And in the Book of Abraham, which Joseph Smith was supposed to have translated from the papyri, none of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics match Joseph Smith translation, He said they were about Abraham and written in his hand. They turn out to be ordinary funerary texts.