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Introduction 3
1 The Mormon Phenomenon 5
2 The Book of Mormon and Systems Theories of Translation 8
3 (Fictitious) Translations: an Instrument of Cultural Shaping 13
4 The Book of Mormon - an Instance of Culture Planning 23
4.1 Even-Zohars hypotheses 23
4.2 The Book of Mormon and Culture Planning 27
5 A Philosophical Approach to The Book of Mormon as a Pseudo-translation 36
6 Psychological Approaches to Pseudotranslation 41
7 The Book of Mormon and Bible Translation 46
8 Other Cases of Pseudotranslation 52
Conclusions 59
Bibliography 61
Appendix 63






The mere association of ‘The Book of Mormon’ with the word ‘translation’ may confuse someone who knows that the above-mentioned ‘book’ is not a translation from any ancient document at all, but a text created and written around 1827 and presented as a translation to the public. This is not even the title of the whole ‘book’ – but only of a chapter of the Mormon Bible, officially known as ‘The Bible of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’; nevertheless, people call it that way.

In short, Joseph Smith, Jr., son of an impoverished New England farmer, claimed to have received from an angel, Moroni, golden plates from which, with the use of special stones set in silver bows, he translated ‘The Book of Mormon’. Three associates solemnly testified that they, too, saw both the plates and the angel Moroni, and afterwards they and other converts frequently claimed to have had visions and revelations. [1 Goring, Rosemary (ed) (1995) The Wordsworth Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, p. 322]

‘The Book of Mormon’ relates the history of a group of Hebrews who migrated from Jerusalem to America about 600 BCE, led by a prophet, Lehi. They multiplied and eventually split into two groups. One group, the Lamanites, forgot their beliefs, became heathens, and were the ancestors of the American Indians. The other group, the Nephites, developed culturally and built great cities but were eventually destroyed by the Lamanites about 400 CE. Before these events occurred, however, Jesus had already appeared and taught the Christian law to the Nephites just after his ascension. The history and teachings were abridged and written on gold plates by a prophet called Mormon. His son, Moroni, made additions and buried the plates in the ground, where they remained about 1,400 years, until Moroni, a resurrected being or angel, delivered them to the American prophet Joseph Smith; later on Smith returned them to Moroni.

Non-Mormon critics disagree in their opinions over the origin of the book; some critics believe that it was written solely by Joseph Smith. Another theory, now discredited, claimed that it was based on the manuscript of a novel by a clergyman, Solomon Spaulding. [2 Gwinn, Robert P. et alii (eds) (1993) Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago: University of Chicago and Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., pp. 329]

On the whole, scholars proved it to be a fake translation, and it should unanimously be treated as such whether judged within the context of the first half of the eighteenth century or our age, that of the strict copyright laws. At least when taking into account the factual evidence. Such debates over the ‘origin’ or ‘authenticity’ of a thing are somehow similar to those regarding the appearance of life on Earth: some claim that it was created here, others that it was brought from another planet by some meteorite: that does not change the fundamental aspect of the problem, but only moves it to somewhere else – how did life appear on that other planet then?

Nevertheless, speaking about evidence, the evolution of translation theory meant a deep change in the nature of the evidence used for tackling texts such as ‘The Book of Mormon’, and this is closely related to the higher status acquired by translation studies. As translation theory becomes more and more interdisciplinary, the perspective from which translation products are judged becomes wider.

So, is the fact that Moroni’s plates never existed enough evidence to account for ‘The Book of Mormon’’s not being a translation? Does the fact that Joseph Smith invented this text prevent it from "behaving" as a translation? Seen from the perspective of its cultural and political effects, ‘The Book of Mormon’ acts as a translation.

Therefore, another type of evidence has to be taken into consideration when dealing with this subject. But in that case we have to cross the borders of the translation seen as a mere linguistic discipline.

1 The Mormon Phenomenon

In order to better understand how a book considered to be a plagiarism or, at its best, a fake translation, gave birth to a new religion and church, we have to place it within a large-scale phenomenon with profound social, political and economic, not only religious, implications.


The Mormon doctrine diverges from the orthodoxy of established Christianity, par-ticularly in its polytheism, affirming that God has evolved from man and that men might evolve into gods, that the Persons of the Trinity are distinct beings, and that human souls have preexisted. Mormons accept that Christ came to earth and rose from the dead so that all might be saved but consider that a person’s future is determined by his or her actions. Amongst the principles of this new religion there are the baptism of the dead, the eternal character of the marriage, the material nature of the soul, polygamy and millennialism (that is, after the millennium the earth will become a celestial sphere). [3 Eliade/Culianu (1993) Dictionar al religiilor, Bucuresti: Humanitas, pp. 312 -313]


Mormons accept the Bible ‘as far as it is translated correctly.’ Smith did not finish his inspired translation of the Bible, which incorporates prophecies of his own coming and of ‘The Book of Mormon’, which is central to Mormon belief. ‘The Book of Mor­mon' is largely similar in style and themes to the Old Testament. It recounts the history of the virtuous, industrious Nephites, who were eventually exterminated by the sinful Lamanites. A familiar moral cycle may be discerned: the virtue of God's people leads to prosperity; then to pride, iniquity, decadence, and sin; and so to God's chastisement and finally the people's repentance. Smith's other revealed scriptures were later incorporated into books also declared to be translations. [4 Gwinn, Robert P. et alii (eds) (1993), op. cit., p. 328]


After Smith's translation of the ‘Book’ (1827), he and his followers moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where, together with the Mormons of Missouri, established the communistic United Order of Enoch. Disagreement with non-Mormons led to the prophet’s being tarred and feathered, to killings, and to the burning of Mormon property.

Armed conflicts forced several thousand Mormons to leave Missouri in 1839, even though Smith had designated it as Zion. In Illinois, Smith built a new city Nauvoo, of which he became mayor and lieutenant general of his army. Mormon self-assurance, commercial advantage, and polit­ical power provoked renewed hostility from without while Smith's secret teaching and practice of plural marriage and his trade in land caused dissension among his most dedicated and powerful converts. Smith was arrested and murdered by the Illinois military forces in June 1844.

His successor, Young, who dominated his people, decided on their place of settlement, built Salt Lake City, and promoted further missionary work in Great Britain and Scandinavia. The Mormon migrations from Europe were admirably organized, and Mormons were highly praised for their discipline, orderliness, and moral probity by the captains of the ships that conveyed them to the United States. The overland journey to Utah was itself a rigorous test of the converts’ faith, especially after the disastrous trek in 1856 when the converts were organized to journey from Iowa City to Utah pulling handcarts.

In 1857, in what became known as the Mountain Meadows massacre, uncontrolled Mormon enthusiasts murdered non-Mormon settlers who were later to leave for California. The whole episode proved to be the end of direct political control of Utah. Polygyny was banned by the church in 1890.

An important minority of Mormons rejected Young and remained in Iowa and Illinois, where, with the help of Emma Smith, the prophet’s (first) wife, and their son, Joseph Smith III, they formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (1852-60). This church eventually set up its headquarters at Independence, Missouri, which Smith had designated as Zion in 1831.

Institutions and Practices