How Did Joseph Smith Get Some Things Right?
Joseph Smith: The Successful Fraud
When it comes to Joseph Smith's "revelations from God" it remains evident to Christians familiar with the Word of God in the Bible and by experience with the Holy Spirit of God that Smith was a fraud. This much is even obvious to people who profess no faith but who can at least occasionally think clearly enough to simply weigh the facts in evidence before us all. Joseph Smith's many "prophecies" routinely failed to materialize as he said they would. His allegedly miraculous "translations" have been proven fraudulent when compared to the original texts (the Bible, the "Book of Abraham", the "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar"). And when there is no original text or even any original language in the case of the Book of Mormon, the content of the "translation" is observably false when compared to the facts of the history that translation pretends to describe. Furthermore, Mormons consistently fail to provide any reasons to actually believe any of these "revelations", "prophecies" or miraculous "translations". Since the facts stack up so clearly against the claims of Mormonism and since no Mormon can substantiate those claims with anything that has ever been confirmed, it is glaringly obvious that Joseph Smith was a liar and a fraud.
However ...he DID get SOME things right. Some of his "prophecies" APPEAR to have come true. And on occasion he actually used a correct Hebrew name or word in his allegedly miraculous translations. How do we explain these?
With regard to Smith's 60-some-odd predictive "prophecies", few ever materialized at all. Most were total failures. Of those that did come to pass, the claims of the "prophecy" were either already circulating in the public discourse (such as the Civil War "Prophecy") or else the prophesied event was an obvious likelihood easily predicted by any cogent person (such as a named Mormon returning to his home country on a mission for the LDS church). After all, if such an obvious prediction had NOT come to pass would probably have been forgotten anyway. We can only wonder how many of these forgotten "prophecies" there were.
But what about Smith's rare use of obscure Hebrew words in the Mormon "scriptures"? Mormons are fond of claiming that Smith correctly "translated" the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham as demonstrated in his occasional presentation of a correct Hebrew word or verbal formula that does not appear in the Bible. How can anyone deny this as evidence of divine revelation?
Its not hard. The explanations fall into two categories - the natural and the supernatural.
The Natural Explanations
First of all, we have no evidence that any original language document translated by Smith actually DID contain any of these correct Hebrew words. The words or names in question appear ONLY in the "translation" NEVER in the original documents when we can compare them (the Bible and the BoA). And when it comes to the "cornerstone" of the Mormon faith, the Book of Mormon, there is no evidence that the book itself or even the entire language in which it was supposedly written ever even existed. So no comparison is even possible.
Secondly, the absence of words from the Bible does not mean that the words were not available to Joseph Smith from OTHER sources. Smith lived in a country almost entirely populated by first to third generation Europeans. Many of THEM were of Hebrew lineage. Others lived with and knew of Hebrew and Yiddish language from their Hebrew neighbors and friends. No one can say for sure which words or names Smith did NOT hear in the natural course of discussions with other people or even simply over-hearing such discussions. In the 19th century, the primary social activity of the population of the United States was church. Surely there were at least a few pastors and preachers who were at least somewhat informed about Hebrew language. Furthermore, Smith spent virtually his whole life from an early age to his death steeped in magical, occult, Masonic, Kabalistic and Hermetic claims, writings and myths. ALL of these traditions, in the usual, desperate effort to lend themselves at least SOME credibility and supposedly divine authority, freely use valid Hebrew language terms and verbal formulas, such as the parallelism. It is easy to see how Smith could have absorbed these just as kids today absorb valid scientific facts from super-hero comic books and movies.
These are entirely naturalistic explanations for the rare, apparently correct translations posited in the Mormon "scriptures". But there is a possible third explanation for that rare, correct but obscure Hebrew term appearing in the LDS "scriptures".
The Supernatural Explanation
As mentioned above, Joseph Smith spent almost his whole life immersed in the occult - dabbling with spirits and ghosts, talismans, seer stones and the like. The man routinely used occult tools and rituals, Hermetic and occult terms and even overtly stole the Masonic initiation rites for use in his own organization (after swearing to never reveal them, of course). It is not at all unusual for someone indulging in these occult practices forbidden by God in his word - the Bible, which Mormons will claim to believe at least when trying to recruit Christians into their organization). Necromancy, sorcery and divination are expressly forbidden by God Himself throughout the Bible and for good reason. These are the tools and methods that Satan uses to DECEIVE people. Yet Smith (and to be fair MANY people in his time and place) indulged in these practices freely.
Satan knows that lies, to be effective, must contain some truth. Just look how he deceived Eve in the Garden. He appeals to the Word of God but twists and distorts it's language. We can assume that Satan knows at least something of biblical languages. Leading a victim to intuit a correct Hebrew on occasion term would be a simple task for the Father of Lies. And Using a cultivated ability to predict the future based on a vastly superior and deeply experienced understanding of human nature is no big challenge for Satan either. It is entirely possible that Smith was simply duped by Satan - the Master Deceiver as a means to deceive others.
Natural? Supernatural? ...Both?
Personally, I tend to think the naturalistic explanations are generally sufficient to explain the occasionally correct (there really are only a handful) Hebrew word or name or verbal formula appearing in the text of the Mormon "scriptures". But I concede that the third explanation - the "supernatural explanation"- is also a possibility and in some cases the more likely. Furthermore, as with most things, this is probably not really an "either-or" situation. Smith's occasional "success" in actually translating a Hebrew word correctly, could in some cases most likely be explained by some combination of BOTH the naturalistic and the supernatural explanations given here, depending on the specifics of each case.
The one explanation that simply does NOT make any sense is that Smith really WAS an actual, true prophet who DID achieve these very rare successes by means of divine revelation. We know this because of his countless FAILURES to get ANYTHING right in the vast majority of his alleged "revelations", "prophecies" and supposedly miraculous "translations". We know this because of the FACT that so much of his primary "revelation" (the Book of Mormon) is observably false and even bluntly absurd. We know he was a false prophet because he so routinely contradicts the Word of God in the Bible and even totally butchered the Bible while claiming to "translate" it by divine means, resulting in a rendition that is so BAD, that even Mormons generally prefer to use OTHER translations that THEY say are corrupt. Finally we know Smith was a fraud because the man's character denies him the credibility he sought to create for himself as a "prophet" of some apparently imaginary "restoration". He was a womanizer, serial adulterer, convicted occult con artist and general scoundrel who stayed on the run from the law for most of his life. So the claim that he got an occasional word right as evidence of his role as a true prophet of God simply does not stand up when compared to the other possible explanations.