Great piece from my good friend Christopher Smith.
Growing up in the LDS church, I was taught that Joseph Smith used the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon, as described his 1838 history:
Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.
As Chris notes, however, the official illustrations of the translation process almost never showed Joseph using the Urim and Thummim. For example, this compilation shows the Urim and Thummim in only one of the illustrations, and it’s one I did not see until I was well into adulthood.
Now, before someone gets upset, I am not suggesting some nefarious attempt to cover up church history. This version of the translation process is just what I was presented with growing up.
As the church has recently acknowledged, the other instrument used to translate was a seer stone that Joseph Smith had borrowed from Willard Chase. I was completely unaware of the seer stone until my mission president mentioned it in a devotional meeting in our office.
As Chris says, the church’s increased openness in discussing the translation process is a very positive sign that the church has decided to “peel back many of the layers of historical revisionism that have accumulated around the translation process.”