Joseph Smith/Money digging
|Joseph Smith, Jr.|
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Critics insist that Joseph Smith's engagement in "money digging" or looking for buried treasure shows itself as a blot on his character. Furthermore, critics argue that Joseph's initial religious experiences were related to "treasure seeking," and only later did he "retrofit" a religious explanation. (Critics argue, for example, that Moroni was originally conceived of as a treasure guardian by Joseph, and only later came to be seen as a divine messenger, an angel.)
Joseph and his family were involved in seeking for treasure. This was a common and accepted practice in their culture, though the Smiths do not seem to have been involved to the extent claimed by some of the exaggerated attacks upon them by former neighbors. The earliest documents strongly suggest, however, that Joseph and those close to him always understood Moroni as an angelic messenger, with a divine role.
- "Treasure hunting" trip to Salem—
Critics claim that Joseph Smith was commanded by the Lord to go to Salem, Massachusetts to hunt for treasure in the cellar of a house. Upon arriving there, the treasure was nowhere to be found. This proves that Joseph was not a prophet. (Link)
If Mr. Smith dug for money he considered it was a more honorable way of getting it than taking it from the widow and orphan; but few lazy, hireling priests of this age, would dig either for money or potatoes.
— W.I. Appleby, Mormonism Consistent! Truth Vindicated, and Falsehood Exposed and Refuted: Being A Reply to A. H. Wickersham (Wilmington DE: Porter & Nafe, 1843), 1–24. off-site
- Was not Joseph Smith a money digger?
- Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.
- —Joseph's tongue-in-cheek response to one of a list of questions that were asked of him during a visit at Elder Cahoon's home. (Elders' Journal 1/3 (July 1838): 43)
In the young Joseph Smith's time and place, "money digging" was a popular, and sometimes respected activity. When Joseph was 16, the Palmyra Herald printed such remarks as:
- "digging for money hid in the earth is a very common thing and in this state it is even considered as honorable and profitable employment"
- "One gentleman...digging...ten to twelve years, found a sufficient quantity of money to build him a commodious house.
- "another...dug up...fifty thousand dollars!"
And, in 1825 the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra reported that buried treasure had been found "by the help of a mineral stone, (which becomes transparent when placed in a hat and the light excluded by the face of him who looks into it)."
Given the financial difficulties under which the Smith family labored, it would hardly be surprising that they might hope for such a reversal in their fortunes. Richard Bushman has compared the Smith's attitude toward treasure digging with a modern attitudes toward gambling, or buying a lottery ticket. Bushman points out that looking for treasure had little stigma attached to it among all classes in the 17th century, and continued to be respectable among the lower classes into the 18th and 19th.
Despite the claims of critics, it is not clear that Joseph and his family saw their activities as "magical."
For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Occultism and magic
Source of the power?
So, did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power? Yes—and so does every Christian, Jew, or Muslim who believes in God, angels, and divine power to reveal, heal, etc. However, to label these beliefs as "magic" is to beg the question—to argue that Joseph believed in and sought help from powers besides God. Nobody disputes that Joseph and his family believed in the Bible, which condemns divination and witchcraft:
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Deuteronomy 18:10
Therefore, Joseph and his family viewed folk magic and the use of seer stones as not falling under this Biblical condemnation. It is clear that Joseph and his contemporaries believed that one could gain knowledge from such activities as dowsing (using a rod to find water, ore, or buried treasure) and the use of the seer stones. This does not mean, however, that Joseph understood such activities to be a form of magic.
In Joseph's day, the power of (for example) dowsing was seen as a manifestation of "how the world worked." An article published in 1825 described how the downward bob of a divining rode "closely resembles the dip of the magnetic needle, when traversing a bed or ore." A journal of science reported the idea that "the rod is influenced by ores."
An early British dowser denounced the idea that dowsing for ore was based on magic. "it [the rod] guided mee to the Orifice of a lead mine. [The rod is] of kin to the Load-stone [magnet], drawing Iron to it by a secret vertue, inbred by nature, and not by any conjuration as some have fondly imagined."
Thus, divining was seen in these examples as a manifestation of natural law. Just as one might use a compass or lode-stone to find true north, without understanding the principles or mathematics of magnetism which underlay it, so one could use dowsing as a tool, without understanding the principles by which it operated.
It is further clear that those who used divinization by rods, for example, believed that the rod's natural ability also required the grace of God to operate. Hence, practitioners would consecrate their rods, and pray to God to bless their efforts. Of such matters, Oliver Cowdery was told in an early revelation, "without faith you can do nothing." Like any natural ability, Joseph believed that the gift and tools of seership (in the broader sense) could be misused. As he told Brigham Young, "most...who do find [a seer stone] make an evil use of it." And, Emma Smith's hostile brother Alvah would later remember that Joseph told him "that his gift in seeing with a [seer] stone and hat, was a gift from God."
Later changes in society's attitude
The attitude of acceptance toward money-digging in general society changed later in the century, and certainly became a liability for Joseph among the educated and sophisticated, such as newspaper publishers and clergy. His use of a seer stone provided further ammunition for his critics.
Claims that Joseph "retrofitted" his visions with religious trappings after the fact often beg the question, and ignore crucial evidence. In fact, the earliest accounts treat the matter as religious; this is true even of skeptical newspaper reports, as well as a Smith family letter which shows that Joseph or his father considered Moroni "the Angel of the Lord" as early as 1828.
Joseph and those around him may have also seen some aspects of Moroni in a "treasure guardian" role (and he certainly did guard something of both material and spiritual value—the gold plates) but this seems to have been a secondary conclusion, as they interpreted Joseph's experience through their own preconceptions and understanding.
However, Moroni's status as an angel and messenger from God, is well attested in the early sources. Interestingly, the "treasure guardian" motif becomes more common and distinct in later sources, especially those gathered by enemies of Joseph, who sought to discredit him through ridicule and association with the (increasingly disreputable) practice of "treasure digging."
The Hofmann forgeries gave great emphasis to the "money-digging" and "occult" aspects of Joseph's experience, and they unfortunately shaded a good deal of the initial scholarly discussion surrounding these issues. Hofmann's documents made the case "air-tight," so to speak, and so other clues along the way were given more weight. When the Hofmann documents collapsed, some authors were not willing to abandon the shaky interpretive edifice they had constructed.
- [note] Joseph Smith, Elders' Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Kirtland, Ohio] 2 no. 3 (July 1838), 43. Also reproduced in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 120; History of the Church 3:29; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 271.
- [note] Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FAIR link
- [note] "Wonderful Discovery," Wayne Sentinel [Palmyra, New York] (27 December 1825), page 2, col. 4. Reprinted from the Orleans Advocate of Orleans, New York; cited by Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 170–171. Buy online
- [note] Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference) FAIR link
- [note] "The Divining Rod," The Worchester Magazine and Historical Journal (October 1825): 29; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 66. Buy online
- [note] "The Divining Rod," The American Journal of Science and Arts (October 1826): 204; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 65–66. Buy online
- [note] Gabriel Platts, A Discovery of Subterraneal Treasure (London: 1639), 11–13, emphasis added; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 66. Buy online
- [note] See discussion in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 140, 182–192. Buy online
- [note] A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized according to law, on the 6th of April, 1830 (Zion [Independence, Missouri]: W.W. Phelps and Co., 1833) 7:4.
- [note] Joseph Smith, cited by Brigham Young, "History of Brigham Young," Millennial Star (20 February 1864), 118–119.; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 184. Buy online
- [note] "Mormonism," The Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian (Montrose, Pennsylvania) (1 May 1834): 1, column 4; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 184. Buy online
- [note] Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 34–100. off-site PDF link wiki (Key source)
- [note] Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site PDF link (Key source)
- [note] Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of D. Michael Quinn Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (1987)," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (Date?), 88. PDF link; see also John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. off-site PDF link; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. off-site PDF link; Rhett S. James, "Writing History Must Not Be an Act of Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 395–414. off-site PDF link