Our Tribute To Joseph Smith, the Translator

By Richard Wellington & George Potter



“Those who follow the Apostle,

the unlettered Prophet,

whom they find mentioned

in their own scriptures,

in the Torah and the gospel...”



(Holy Quran: VII-157;  trans: Yusif Ali).


Joseph of Egypt taught that a choice seer would be raised from one of his descendants, and his name would be Joseph (2 Nephi 3:7,15).

This prophecy of Joseph’s was realized in Joseph Smith, Jr.  One great Prophet saw the ministry of the other though the mists of four thousands years of time.  It was Joseph Smith who was to be the welding link in the house of Joseph, restoring the covenants and returning the blessings to the remnant of the house of Joseph on the Native Americans.  But more than this, this Seer would not only bring the Lord’s gospel of salvation to the members of the House of Joseph but also to the other members of the House of Israel. (2 Nephi 3:13)

The effect that Joseph Smith had on the world can only fully be appreciated when we realize that there is no person on this earth who is not affected by his legacy.  For it is by way of the gentiles[1] that the house of Israel will be restored in the last days. (1 Nephi 15:13).

He was responsible for bringing the gospel to the gentiles and thence to the House of Israel.  In this way he is like the great Patriarch Abraham, in that through him “shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.” (1 Nephi 15:18).  Whether they appreciate it or not, there is no one who is not affected by him.  Perhaps then it can now be seen why the Church of Jesus Christ so boldly claims

“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” (D&C 135:3)

Not since father Adam has a prophet had a mission to all the nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples of the earth.  Many have belittled the Prophet Joseph but if the world only knew the truth of it they would be clamoring to hear his words.  For “No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith… He holds the keys of the last dispensation”[i].

But what does the world make of Joseph Smith...prophet or fraud? In our book, Lehi in the Wilderness, we have looked at only the smallest part of the knowledge given to mankind by the prophet Joseph Smith.  We have concentrated on only 18 chapters of the Book of Mormon, a mere 42 pages out of the hundreds and thousands of pages that the Prophet brought forth.  Yet there is not a verse that we have discussed that does not speak eloquently of the truthfulness of the revelations given, that does not shout out the testimony that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet.  Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was an ancient record which he translated.  His critics have alleged that he, or others, were the true authors and that the Book of Mormon was the modern work of an imaginative young mind.  Yet we will here boldly claim that an examination of the process by which Joseph Smith translated the record and the contents of the book of First Nephi reveals that it is impossible that Joseph Smith could have concocted this story.

Recent evidence indicates that Joseph Smith produced the text of the book of Mormon in an incredibly short time.  While carrying out the process of translation of the text he also had to carry on his everyday life.  During the translation period we know that Joseph also moved on horse and buggy from Harmony to Fayette, made at least one (and possibly two) trips to Colesville thirty miles away, received and recorded thirteen revelations that are now sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, converted and baptized Hyrum and Samuel Smith, preached a few days and baptize several people near Fayette, acquired the Book of Mormon copyright and began making arrangements for the Book of Mormon's publication, sought employment, experienced manifestations with the Three and Eight Witnesses, received the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods as well as taking time to eat, sleep and perform all the other household chores of a loving husband.  Within this busy schedule Joseph Smith translated the entire Book of Mormon in about 63 days, or just under 8½ pages per day.  In other words, all of the Book of First Nephi would have been translated in about a week.

By contrast we have been researching this material for 6 years and writing for four.  We have made numerous field trips each year to examine the terrain and the lands over which Joseph proposed the family traveled.  Between us we have covered some 50,000 miles of desert.  Each chapter has been written and rewritten and researched for accuracy, proofread and submitted for criticism, then rewritten again.  We have had access hundreds of works which we cite in our full work on our web page.  Yet our work is only a commentary on Joseph’s original, which he wrote, with no time for outside research, in his ‘spare time’ in little over a week. 

Each original draft of a chapter of this book had hundreds of errors, even with the help of modern word processing programs, and we spend much of our time proofreading each other’s work for errors.  We invariably return chapters with numerous crossings out on every page.  By contrast Joseph Smith made amazingly few changes in the Book of Mormon.  About a quarter of the original manuscript is held by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints and the pages hold few crossings out.  The vast majority of the changes that were made when the book went to publication were spelling, capitalization, punctuation and grammar.  This is all the more remarkable when one considers that his wife, Emma reported that, in the late 1820’s Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon...The larger part of this labour [of translation] was done in my presence and where I could see and know what was being done…During no part of it did Joseph Smith have any [manuscripts] or book of any kind from which to read or dictate except the metallic [sic] plates which I knew he had.  If, he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.”[2]  She added, writing to her son:

I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father 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.  It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.[3]

In concluding our six year study, we are convinced that Arabia and its history holds straight-forward and compelling evidence that Joseph Smith could not have authored the Book of Mormon.  Rather the prophet had to have been amongst the greatest, if not the greatest, translator of ancient script who has ever lived.  So perfect is the work that every 1st Nephi place-name in Arabia can now be readily identified with a potential site that fits with complete harmony the Book of Mormon narrative.  Eleven out of eleven identified with a high degree of certainty.  Yet in 1830, each of these nine remote desert places, The Borders, River of Laman, Valley of Lemuel, Shazer, The Most Fertile Parts, the More Fertile Parts, Nahom, Land Bountiful and Place Bountiful (where the ship was built), would have been known only to the Arabs living in the immediate vicinity of each of these places.  We had to travel in the desert back roads of Arabia for nearly six years to find these places, how could Joseph Smith have known about them in upstate New York in 1830?

In the course writing our book we have discussed, in detail, some 81 points obtained from the first book of Nephi pertaining to the geography or topography of the trail and Nephi’s ship and voyage. (The 81 points are briefly identified at the end of this chapter.)

What is that chance that Joseph Smith could have guessed these 81 details of Arabia correctly and gotten them in the correct order and direction from each other? What is the chance of correctly guessing that a river exists in the desert of Saudi Arabia? 1 in 1,000? 1 in 1,000,000? What is the chance of guessing that wild bees found hardly anywhere else in Arabia exist on the south coast of Arabia? That a trail exists on the southern edge of the Rub’ Al Khali leading east? That two parallel mountain ranges, one near and the other nearer the Red Sea, run along the Red Sea in Midian?  Let us be very generous.  Let us assume that Joseph Smith had a one in two chance of guessing any one of these 81 points.  This would mean that:

By the time they reached Shazer Joseph Smith’s chances of having guessed the details correctly would be 1 in 8,388,608.

By the time they reached Nahom Joseph Smith’s chances of having guessed the details correctly would be 1 in 140,737,488,355,328

By the time they reached Bountiful Joseph Smith’s chances of having guessed the details correctly would be 1 in 36,028,797,018,964,000

By the time they were sailing to the Americas Joseph Smith’s chances of having guessed the details correctly would be 1 in 241,785,000,000,000,000,000,000

This number is over 2.4 Septillion, that also be written 2.4 x 1024 (2.4 with 24 zero’s after it.).  Of course the number should be much higher than this because we only gave a 1 in 2 chance for each of these occurrences, and they should in fact be more like 1 in a million or higher.  In this case the chance of Joseph Smith guessing these details would be incomprehensible, as if 2.4 Septillion isn’t! To put this number into some perspective let us undertake a simple exercise.  There are estimated to be 5 x 108 (5 followed by 8 zeros) stars in our galaxy.  The Hubble telescope, the most powerful yet available, has been able to site distant galaxies previously unknown to mankind.  There are now estimated to be 5 x 108 galaxies in the universe.  That makes 2.5 x 1019 (2.5 with nineteen zeros after it) stars in existence in all the known universe.

To put things in perspective the chance of Joseph Smith guessing all of these points in a row would be far higher than the chances of you and I pointing into the sky and pointing to the exact same star in the exact same galaxy, remembering that there are 500,000,000 stars in our galaxy and the sky contains 500,000,000 galaxies! In fact to give us the same odds as Joseph Smith guessing those 81 points we would both have to choose the same star from 100,000 skies, all the same as our own! And that is when we give Joseph Smith a 50/50 chance of guessing each point right. In reality the chances of Joseph Smith having guessed this all is so infinitely small as to have been rationally impossible.

This image from NASA’s Hubble Space telescope shows hundreds of galaxies in an area of space as small as President Roosevelt’s eye on a dime held at arm’s length.

This leads us to the only one possible conclusion, something that the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have claimed for over 150 years.  The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Book of Mormon is an ancient book giving a first hand account of a journey through Arabia by Nephi, and that Joseph Smith truly was what he claimed to be, one who was entrusted with the Book of Mormon by God, and who translated it by the powers of Heaven. 

Our final tribute to Joseph Smith, the man who brought this record of the Book of Mormon to us though countless trials and hardships, is that it is true.  Our appreciation goes out to him across the hands of time.

“His genius cast its shadow o’er the world,

And in brief time he much achieved and wrought:

The Age’s Sun was he, and ageing suns

Cast lengthy shadows, though their time be short.”


Kemal Pas ha-zade[4]

[1] The word ‘gentile’ here is used meaning those individuals who are members of the House of Israel by adoption rather than by birth

[2] Statement of Emma Smith to her son Joseph Smith III, February 1879 cited in The Saints Herald, volume 26, pp.289-290. October 1st 1879.

[3] Daniel H Ludlow. A companion to your study of the Book of Mormon, p.24.

[4] Translation of the Turkish inscription on the cover of Vol. II: The Pearl-Strings; A History of the Resuli Dynasty of Yemen, by ‘Aliyyu’bnu’l-Hasan ‘El-Khazreji, trans. by the late Sir J.W. Redhouse ed. & Trans. J.W. Redhouse, Ed. E.G. Browne, R.A.Nicholson & A. Rogers, (Leyden: E.J. Brill, Imprimerie Orientale, 1907).

[i] Journal of Discourses 7:289-290

This tribute is at the end of George Potter and Richard Wellington's book "Lehi in the Wilderness, 81 new documented evidences the Book of Mormon is a true history."