Brant A. Gardner
The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon
It is a commonplace that translators translate not only words but a culture, that some words or concepts have no exact match in another language or culture, that something always gets lost in the translation — which leads to a second commonplace, expressed in the Italian phrase “traduttore, traditore!” In The Gift and Power Brant A. Gardner dismisses that second commonplace. The translator is not a traitor, he says. The translator enlarges a work's audience and memory.
As for the first commonplace, Gardner is more interested in the fact that the translator translates into a culture. So he spends considerable time exploring Joseph Smith's culture, the relationships between science and religion and magic, and Joseph's transformation from village seer of lost objects to prophet and seer of lost records. And not a seer only but a translator.
The Gift and Power reminds us how much we take for granted in the word translation when we have access to the original source, questions we often don't think to ask of a translation seen through a stone in a hat. Word for word, conceptual, paraphrase, midrash, what kind of translation is the Book of Mormon? Or is it a dictation to Joseph Smith and through him to his scribes, and if so, who translated the plate text?
In thinking about these questions, the relationship of Joseph's translation to the plate text, and his Bible translations, Gardner ranges widely through religion, science and optics, magic, anthropology, and textual criticism, and suggests how much is involved in just getting the text, before a critic can begin a full critique of a book. His disagreements with other scholars also give a model of civil discourse — rather than uncivil culture war.
What little Joseph Smith had to say about how he translated the Book of Mormon is captured in Gardner's title: It came through the gift and power of God. For a book that shows us how much is packed into that short phrase, that reminds us how much can be found in translation, and what a faithful translator can do, the Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to honor Brant A. Gardner's The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon with an award for Criticism in 2011.