Joseph Smith/Seer stones

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    What is the relationship between Joseph's seer stone and the Urim and Thummim?

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QUESTIONS


  • What role did Joseph's seer stone play during the Book of Mormon translation?
  • What is the relation between the seer stone and the "Urim and Thummim"?
  • Did Joseph place his seer stone in his hat while he was translating the Book of Mormon?


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS RESPONDS TO THESE QUESTIONS

"Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics (lds.org), (2013)


These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters. In ancient times, Israelite priests used the Urim and Thummim to assist in receiving divine communications. Although commentators differ on the nature of the instrument, several ancient sources state that the instrument involved stones that lit up or were divinely illumin[at]ed. Latter-day Saints later understood the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters. Joseph Smith and others, however, seem to have understood the term more as a descriptive category of instruments for obtaining divine revelations and less as the name of a specific instrument.
(Click here for full article)


THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS RESPONDS TO THESE QUESTIONS

Matthew S. McBride, "Orson Pratt's Call to Serve: D&C 34," Revelations in Context, (21 December 2012)


Joseph Smith invited Orson Pratt and John Whitmer upstairs into the chamber where Joseph had earlier completed the translation of the Book of Mormon.8 In this more private space, Joseph asked Pratt if he would be willing to write the revelation down as he spoke it. “Being then young and timid and feeling his unworthiness,” Pratt asked if John Whitmer might act as scribe in his place. Joseph Smith agreed, and “produced a small stone called a seer stone, and putting it into a Hat soon commenced speaking.
(Click here for full article)


CONCLUSION


  • Joseph used both the Nephite interpreters and his seer stone during the translation process. The use of the seer stone is mentioned in a number of Church publications, such as the Ensign.
  • Both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone were referred to as the "Urim and Thummim" several years after the Book of Mormon translation was completed, but not during the period of translation.
  • Joseph placed his seer stone in his hat in order to block out the light. Joseph used this method while he was translating the Book of Mormon.

PERSPECTIVES

Brant A. Gardner"Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?," Proceedings of the 2009 FAIR Conference (August 2009)


"The manner of translation was as wonderful as the discovery. By putting his finger on one of the characters and imploring divine aid, then looking through the Urim and Thummim, he would see the import written in plain English on a screen placed before him. After delivering this to his emanuensi,[sic] he would again proceed in the same manner and obtain the meaning of the next character, and so on till he came to the part of the plates which were sealed up." (Truman Coe, Presbyterian Minister living among the Saints in Kirtland, 1836)


"I cheerfully certify that I was familiar with the manner of Joseph Smith’s translating the book of Mormon. He translated the most of it at my Father’s house. And I often sat by and saw and heard them translate and write for hours together. Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe while he was translating. He would place the director in his hat, and then place his [face in his] hat, so as to exclude the light, and then [read] to his scribe the words as they appeared before him." (Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, Oliver Cowdery’s wife, 1870)
These two descriptions of Joseph Smith translating the golden plates paint radically different pictures of the same event. It easy to accept the finger-on-the-plates translation, but the rock-in-the-hat feels completely foreign. Nevertheless, it is a much better attested description of the process than the first.

Why do we have both of these pictures if the second better fits the majority of descriptions? To answer that question, there are two stories that must be told: first–why would anyone think of translating with a rock in a hat?–and second–why we are so surprised at that?
(Click here for full article)


THE INTERPRETER FOUNDATION

Roger Nicholson,"The Spectacles, the Stone, the Hat, and the Book: A Twenty-first Century Believer’s View of the Book of Mormon Translation", Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 5:121-190 (June 7, 2013)


This essay seeks to examine the Book of Mormon translation method from the perspective of a regular, nonscholarly, believing member in the twenty-first century, by taking into account both what is learned in Church and what can be learned from historical records that are now easily available. What do we know? What should we know? How can a believing Latter-day Saint reconcile apparently conflicting accounts of the translation process? An examination of the historical sources is used to provide us with a fuller and more complete understanding of the complexity that exists in the early events of the Restoration. These accounts come from both believing and nonbelieving sources, and some skepticism ought to be employed in choosing to accept some of the interpretations offered by some of these sources as fact. However, an examination of these sources provides a larger picture, and the answers to these questions provide an enlightening look into Church history and the evolution of the translation story. This essay focuses primarily on the methods and instruments used in the translation process and how a faithful Latter-day Saint might view these as further evidence of truthfulness of the restored Gospel.
(Click here for full article)


SUB-ARTICLES



Urim and Thummim and seer stones

Joseph Smith used the Nephite Interpreters as well as his own seer stone (both of which were later referred to as "Urim and Thummim") to translate the Book of Mormon. (Click here for full article)


DETAILED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In the stone box containing the gold plates, Joseph found what Book of Mormon prophets referred to as “interpreters,” or a “stone, . . . . He described the instrument as “spectacles” and referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim. . . . He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed, called “seer stones” because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer. The Prophet received some early revelations through the use of these seer stones.
— "Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God," Ensign, (January 2013). off-site
∗       ∗       ∗
"Martin Harris related of the seer stone: 'Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin'"
—Neal A. Maxwell, “‘By the Gift and Power of God’,” Ensign, (January 1997), 36 off-site
∗       ∗       ∗
"David Whitmer wrote: ' Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine.'"
—Russell M. Nelson, “A Treasured Testament,” Ensign, (July 1993), 61. off-site
∗       ∗       ∗
"There he gave his most detailed view of 'the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated': “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light."
—Richard Lloyd Anderson, "‘By the Gift and Power of God’," Ensign (Sep 1977), 79, emphasis added. off-site
∗       ∗       ∗
To help him with the translation, Joseph found with the gold plates “a curious instrument which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in a rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.” Joseph also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating called a seer stone.
— “A Peaceful Heart,” Friend, (September 1974), 7 off-site

Joseph as the village seer

Brant Gardner clarifies the role that Joseph and his stone played within the community of Palmyra,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society. He exhibited a talent parallel to others in similar communities. Even in Palmyra he was not unique. In D. Michael Quinn's words: "Until the Book of Mormon thrust young Smith into prominence, Palmyra's most notable seer was Sally Chase, who used a greenish-colored stone. William Stafford also had a seer stone, and Joshua Stafford had a 'peepstone which looked like white marble and had a hole through the center.'" [9] Richard Bushman adds Chauncy Hart, and an unnamed man in Susquehanna County, both of whom had stones with which they found lost objects. [10] [1]

During his tenure as a "village seer," Joseph acquired several seer stones. Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably that belonging to Palmyra seer Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[2]

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The second seer stone was reportedly found on the property of William Chase in 1822 as Chase described it:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.[3]

Gardner continues,

Joseph Smith, long before golden plates complicated his position as a local seer, appears to have functioned just as Sally Chase did. Quinn reports that: "E. W. Vanderhoof [writing in 1905] remembered that his Dutch grandfather once paid Smith seventy-five cents to look into his 'whitish, glossy, and opaque' stone to locate a stolen mare. The grandfather soon 'recovered his beast, which Joe said was somewhere on the lake shore and [was] about to be run over to Canada.' Vanderhoof groused that 'anybody could have told him that, as it was invariably the way a horse thief would take to dispose of a stolen animal in those days.'"13 While Vanderhoof reported a positive result of the consultation, it is interesting that his statement includes a qualifier that has the same intent as those added by the Saunders' brothers. By the end of the century, one wouldn't want to actually credit a village seer when describing their activities. Nevertheless, it isn't the effectiveness that is important—it is the nature of the consultation. Sally Chase's clients consulted her to find things which were lost, and Joseph Smith had at least one client who did the same. [4]

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with the second, white stone:

I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph and Northrop Sweet also did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him--I said, "Take your stone." I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat--the old white hat--and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.[5]

How many seer stones were there?

Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[6]

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The color and sequence of obtaining these stones has often been confused,[7] and readers interested in an in-depth treatment are referred to the endnotes.[8]

Joseph would later discover at least two more seers stones in Nauvoo, on the banks of the Mississippi. These stones seem to have been collected more for their appearance, and there is little evidence of Joseph using them at that late date in his prophetic career.[9]

How did Joseph obtain his second seer stone?

The seer stone was reportedly found on the property of William Chase in 1822 as Chase described it:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.[10]

Martin Harris and Wilford Woodruff were to later confirm this account after Joseph's death.[11]

What did the stones look like?

One witness reported (of the first, brown stone), from 1826:

It was about the size of a small hen's egg, in the shape of a high-instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket.[12]

The second stone:

[the] Seer Stone was the shape of an egg though not quite so large, of a gray cast something like granite but with white stripes running around it. It was transparent but had no holes, neither on the end or in the sides.[13]

For what purpose(s) did Joseph use the stones prior to the restoration?

As noted above, Joseph used the first stone to find the second.

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with the second, white stone:

I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph and Northrop Sweet also did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him--I said, "Take your stone." I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat--the old white hat--and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.[14]

Joseph's mother also indicated that Joseph was sought out by some, including Josiah Stoal, to use the stone to find hidden valuables. He

came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.[15]

Joseph referred to this incident in JS-H 1:55-56.

Stoal eventually joined the Church; some of his family, however, charged Joseph in court for events related to this treasure seeking. Stoal testified in Joseph's defense.

Joseph Knight also said that, at the command of the angel Moroni, Joseph looked into his seer stone to learn who he should marry. He "looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale."[16]

For a detailed response, see: Joseph's 1826 glasslooking trial

How were the stone(s) involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon?

There is considerable evidence that the location of the plates and Nephite interpreters (Urim and Thummim) were revealed to Joseph via his second, white seer stone. In 1859, Martin Harris recalled that "Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase...It was by means of this stone he first discovered the plates."[17]

Some critics have sought to create a contradiction here, since Joseph's history reported that Moroni revealed the plates to him (JS-H 1:34-35,42). This is an example of a false dichotomy: Moroni could easily have told Joseph about the plates and interpreters. The vision to Joseph may well have then come through the seer stone, as some of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (e.g., Section X) would later be revealed. One account matches this theory well:

I had a conversation with [Joseph], and asked him where he found them [the plates] and how he come to know where they were. he said he had a revelation from God that told him they were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his [seer] stone and saw them in the place of deposit."[18]

Joseph Knight recalled that Joseph was more excited about the Nephite interpreters than the gold plates:

After breakfast Joseph called me into the other room, set his foot on the bed, and leaned his head on his hand and said, "Well I am disappointed."
"Well, I said, "I am sorry."
"Well, he said, "I am greatly disappointed. It is ten times better than I expected."
Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But, he seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did of the plate for, said he, "I can see anything. They are marvelous."[19]

Martin Harris later described the Nephite interpreters as

about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the centre.... They were joined by a round bar of diver, about three-eights of an inch in diameter, and about four inches long, which with the two stones, would make eight inches.[20]

Despite having the Nephite interpreters, Joseph Smith often used the seer stone to translate. This led to an episode in which Martin tested the veracity of Joseph's claim to use the second, white stone to translate:[21]

Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[22]

Joseph also seems to have sometimes removed the Nephite stones from the "silver bows" which held them like spectacles, and used them as individual seer stones. Joseph used his white seer stone sometimes "for convenience" during the translation of the 116 pages with Martin Harris; later witnesses reported him using his brown seer stone.[23]

For a detailed response, see: Why would Joseph use the "rock in the hat" for the Book of Mormon translation that he previously used for "money digging?"

Did Joseph lose the seer stone(s) and/or the Urim and Thummim?

Following the loss of the 116 pages, the Lord told Joseph:

1 NOW, behold, I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them.
2 And you also lost your gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened.
3 Nevertheless, it is now restored unto you again; therefore see that you are faithful and continue on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun.
4 Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end. (DC 10:1-4)

Thus, "it" (Joseph's gift) was restored to him, but there is no indication that the Nephite interpreters (Urim and Thummim) were also returned, Joseph having also lost "them." That is, after repenting, Joseph would recover his seer stones, but apparently not the Urim and Thummim. Some Church sources have seen this as the point at which Joseph received the seer stone for the first time, but this is likely incorrect:

As a chastisement for this carelessness [loss of the 116 pages], the Urim and Thummim was taken from Smith. But by humbling himself, he again found favor with the Lord and was presented a strange oval-shaped, chocolate colored stone, about the size of an egg, but more flat which it was promised should answer the same purpose. With this stone all the present book was translated.[24]

This source is clearly somewhat confused, since it sees Joseph as getting his dark stone after the 116 pages, when it likely dates to 1822 at the latest (see above).

David Whitmer, who only came in contact with the translation after the loss of the 116 pages, indicated through a friend that

With the sanction of David Whitmer, and by his authority, I now state that he does not say that Joseph Smith ever translated in his presence by aid of Urim and Thummim; but by means of one dark colored, opaque stone, called a 'Seer Stone,' which was placed in the crown of a hat, into which Joseph put his face, so as to exclude the external light. Then, a spiritual light would shine forth, and parchment would appear before Joseph, upon which was a line of characters from the plates, and under it, the translation in English; at least, so Joseph said.[25]

Joseph also used the seer stone to keep himself and the plates safe, as his mother recorded:

That of which I spoke, which Joseph termed a key, was indeed, nothing more nor less than the Urim and Thummim, and it was by this that the angel showed him many things which he saw in vision; by which also he could ascertain, at any time, the approach of danger, either to himself or the Record, and on account of which he always kept the Urim and Thummim about his person.[26]

We see here the tendency to use the term "Urim and Thummim" to refer to Joseph's seer stone (or to the Nephite interpreters, which would have been too large for Joseph to carry on his person undetected). This lack of precision in terminology has, on occasion, confused some members who have not understood that either or both may be referred to by early LDS authors as "Urim and Thummim." To Joseph and his contemporaries, they were all the same type of thing, and merely differed in the strength of their power and ability. Clearly, devices from the Lord when directed by an angelic messenger (such as the Nephite interpreters) would outrank a seer stone found on one's own.

What is the relation between Urim and Thummim and seer stones?

As seen above, members of the Church tended to conflate the seer stone with the Nephite interpreters (never called "Urim and Thummim" by the Book of Mormon text; the label is a modern application).

The Book of Mormon makes reference to a stone that likely has reference to Joseph Smith's seer stone (as distinct from the Nephite interpreters):

And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.Alma 37:23

Joseph Smith's "code name," used for the publication of some sections of the Doctrine and Covenants to hide the recipients from their enemies, was "Gazelem." And, at his funeral, W.W. Phelps also applied this name to Joseph.[27]

Alma's account then goes on to speak of the Nephite interpreters:

24 And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:
25 I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land.Alma 37:24-25

Thus, "stone" (singular) may well be distinct from the "interpreters" (plural) possessed by the Nephites. The Book of Mosiah makes clear that the interpreters consisted of "two stones":

13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
14 And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.Mosiah 8:13-14
13 And now he translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow.
14 Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages;
15 And they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people;
16 And whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times. .Mosiah 28:13-16

The first use in print of "Urim and Thummim" to refer to the interpreters was in January 1833:

[The Book of Mormon] was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles--(known, perhaps in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim).[28]

Members of the Church seem to have used the term interchangeably on many occasions.[29]

Why did Joseph tend to use the seer stone more than the Nephite interpreters?

The size of the interpreters may have been a significant barrier to their use. William Smith, Joseph's brother, described the Nephite instruments as

too large for Joseph's eyes; they must have been used by larger men.[30]

Charles Anthon agreed when he later recalled Martin Harris' description and wrote:

These spectacles were so large that if a person attempted to look through them, his two eyes would have to be turned towards one of the glasses merely, the spectacles in question being altogether too large for the breadth of the human face.[31]

Why did use of the seer stones subside?

These Urim and Thummim were the means of receiving most of the formal revelations until June 1829. That was the time of completing the Book of Mormon, which was translated through the Nephite interpreters and also Joseph's other seer stone(s). After this, seer stones were generally not used while receiving revelation or translation. (The JST and the Book of Abraham translations both began with seer stone usage, but Joseph soon quit using them.[32]) Following his baptism, receipt of the Holy Ghost, and ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood, Joseph seems have felt far less need to resort to the stones.[33] He had learned, through divine tutoring, how to receive unmediated revelation—the Lord had taken him "line upon line" from where he was (surrounded with beliefs about seeing and divining) and brought him to further light, knowledge, and power.

This perspective was reinforced by Orson Pratt, who watched the New Testament revision (JST) and wondered why the use of seer stones/interpreters (as with the Book of Mormon) was not continued:

While this thought passed through the speaker's mind, Joseph, as if he read his thoughts, looked up and explained that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument.[34]

Are there any Biblical parallels to Joseph's seer stone understanding?

The idea of sacred stones acting as revelators to believers is present in the Bible, and Joseph Smith embraced a decidedly "non-magical" and "pro-religious" view of them:

In Revelation, John incorporates past religious symbols into his message. Thus the most internally consistent interpretation of the "white stone" combines with the book's assurance that the faithful will become "kings and priests" to the Most High (Rev. 1:6). These eternal priests will be in tune with God's will, like the High Priest with the breastplate of shining stones and the Urim. In Hebrew that term means "light," corresponding to the "white" stone of John's Revelation. This correlation should be obvious, but Joseph Smith is virtually alone in confidence that John sees the redeemed as full High Priests: "Then the white stone mentioned in Rev. 2:17 is the Urim and Thummim, whereby all things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms, even all kingdoms, will be made know." As for genuine religion, Joseph Smith perceived the stone of John's vision not as a stone of chance but as a conduit of enlightenment and a reward of worthiness of character.[35]

What happened to the seer stones?

As noted above, the Nephite interpreters were apparently reclaimed by Moroni following the loss of the 116 pages, and were only seen again by the Three Witnesses (Testimony of Three).

Van Wagoner and Walker write:

David Whitmer indicated that the seer stone was later given to Oliver Cowdery: "After the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished early in the spring of 1830 before April 6th, Joseph gave the Stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the Stone anymore.” Whitmer, who was Cowdery's brother-in-law, stated that on Oliver's death in 1848, another brother-in-law, "Phineas Young, a brother of Brigham Young, and an old-time and once intimate friend of the Cowdery family came out from Salt Lake City, and during his visit he contrived to get the stone from its hiding place, through a little deceptive sophistry, extended upon the grief-stricken widow. When he returned to Utah he carried it in triumph to the apostles of Brigham Young's 'lion house.'"...

[Van Wagoner and Walker here confuse the two seer stones, so this section is not included here, given that better information has since come to light.]

...Joseph Fielding Smith, as an apostle, made clear that "the Seer Stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days . . . is now in the possession of the Church." Elder Joseph Anderson, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve and long-time secretary to the First Presidency, clarified in 1971 that the "Seer Stone that Joseph Smith used in the early days of the Church is in possession of the Church and is kept in a safe in Joseph Fielding Smith's office.... [The stone is] slightly smaller than a chicken egg, oval, chocolate in color."[36] (This would be Joseph's first, "shoe-shaped stone," which was given to Oliver Cowdery, and then to his brother-in-law Phineas Young, brother of Brigham Young.[37])

Joseph's second (white) stone is also in the possession of the LDS First Presidency.[38]

Has the Church tried to hide Joseph's use of a seer stone?

The stone is mentioned occasionally in Church publications, but is rarely (if ever) discussed in the 21st century in venues such as Sunday School, nor is it portrayed in any Church-related artwork. Part of the reason for this is the conflation of the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone under the name "Urim and Thummim." In church, we discuss the Urim and Thummim with the assumption that it is always the instrument that Joseph recovered with the plates. Only those familiar with the sources will realize that there was more than one translation instrument.

That said, the Church has been very frank about the seer stone's use, though the product of the translation of the Book of Mormon is usually given much more attention that the process. Note the mention of the stone in the official children's magazine, The Friend (available online at lds.org):

"To help him with the translation, Joseph found with the gold plates “a curious instrument which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in a rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.” Joseph also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating called a seer stone."
—“A Peaceful Heart,” Friend, Sep 1974, 7 off-site

Text translated with the Nephite interpreters was lost with the 116 pages given to Martin Harris—see DC 3:. The Church's Historical Record records Joseph's use of the seer stone to translate all of our current Book of Mormon text:

As a chastisement for this carelessness [loss of the 116 pages], the Urim and Thummim was taken from Smith. But by humbling himself, he again found favor with the Lord and was presented a strange oval-shaped, chocolate colored stone, about the size of an egg, but more flat which it was promised should answer the same purpose. With this stone all the present book was translated. [Note that the chronology of Joseph's acquisition of the stone is here somewhat confused. The use of the stone, however, is clearly indicated.][39]

References to the stone are not confined to the distant past. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Twelve Apostles described the process clearly in an Ensign article:

Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.[40]

It would be strange to try to hide something by having an apostle talk about it, and then send the account to every LDS home in the official magazine!


Other mentions in Church materials

Similar material is also found in other Church publications, some of which are included below:

  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, "‘By the Gift and Power of God’," Ensign (September 1977), 79. off-site
  • Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, the Man, the Seer (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 102. GL direct link
  • William J. Hamblin, "An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe's Assumptions and Methodologies (Review of Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity by Brent Lee Metcalfe)," FARMS Review of Books 6/1 (1994): 434–523. off-site
  • Marvin S. Hill, "Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretative Suggestion," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984), ?–??.GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  • Francis W. Kirkham, "The Manner of Translating The BOOK of MORMON," Improvement Era (1939). GL direct link
  • Joseph Fielding McConkie, Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2000), D&C 9. GL direct link
  • Stephen D. Ricks, "Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 201–206. off-site wiki
  • Brigham H. Roberts, "A Brief Debate on the Book of Mormon," in Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (1907), 1:350. Vol 1 GL direct link Vol 2 GL direct linkGL direct link
  • Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 1 (Winter 1990), 52.GL direct link

Endnotes

  1. [note] Brant A. Gardner, Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, 2009 FAIR Conference presentation. Gardner references [9] D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 38. and [10] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 70.
  2. [note]  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), 200–215. Buy online
  3. [note]  Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 2 (Summer 1982), 48–68.
  4. [note] Gardner, Joseph the Seer...
  5. [note]  Joel Tiffany, Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 164;cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 55.
  6. [note]  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), 200–215. Buy online
  7. [note]  See, for example, Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:129. GospeLink (requires subscrip.); Roberts was followed by Richard S. Van Wagoner, Dan Vogel, Ogden Kraut, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, and D. Michael Quinn. See discussion in Ashurst-McGee, 247n317.
  8. [note]  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), 200–283. Buy online
  9. [note]  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), 200–201. Buy online
  10. [note]  Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 2 (Summer 1982), 48–68.
  11. [note]  See Van Wagoner and Walker, 54.
  12. [note]  W. D. Purple, The Chenango Union (3 May 1877); cited in Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 2:365. ASIN B000HMY138. (See Van Wagoner and Walker, 54.)
  13. [note]  Richard Marcellas Robinson, "The History of a Nephite Coin," manuscript, 20 December 1834, LDS Church archives; 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), 264. Buy online
  14. [note]  Joel Tiffany, Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 164;cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 55.
  15. [note]  Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853),91–92.
  16. [note]  Dean C. Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 1 (August 1976).; 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), 281. Buy online
  17. [note]  Mormonism—II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 163, see also 169; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 286.
  18. [note]  Henry Harris, statement in E.D. Howe Mormonism Unvailed (1833), 252; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 290.
  19. [note]  Joseph Knight, cited in Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Saints Without Halos: The Human Side of Mormon History (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1981), 6. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized. The original text reads: "After Brackfist Joseph Cald me in to the other Room and he sit his foot on the Bed and leaned his head on his hand and says, well I am Dissopented. Well, say I, I am sorrey. Well, says he, I am grateley Dissopnted. It is ten times Better then I expected. Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummim than he Did of the plates for says he, I can see anything. They are Marvelous."
  20. [note]  Joel Tiffany, "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 165–166; cited in VanWagoner and Walker, footnote 27.
  21. [note]  Tiffany, 163.
  22. [note]  Told in Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988), 6. off-site
  23. [note]  See 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), 320–326. Buy online
  24. [note]  The Historical Record. Devoted Exclusively to Historical, Biographical, Chronological and Statistical Matters, (LDS Church Archives), 632,; cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 54. Note that Van Wagoner and Walker contain inaccurate information about the stones, their provenance, and order of discovery.
  25. [note]  Saints' Herald 26 (15 November 1879): 341.
  26. [note]  Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853),91–92.
  27. [note]  The material on "gazelem" is derived from Van Wagoner and Walker, 56.
  28. [note]  William W. Phelps (uncredited), "The Book of Mormon," Evening and Morning Star 1 no. 8 (January 1833), 58. off-siteGospeLink (requires subscrip.); cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 53. off-site
  29. [note]  See discussion in Van Wagoner and Walker, 59–63.
  30. [note]  William Smith interview by J. W. Peterson and W. S. Pender, 4 July 1891, reported in The Rod of Iron 3 (February 1924): 6-7; Saints' Herald 79 (9 March 1932): 238; cited in VanWagoner and Walker, footnote 27.
  31. [note]  Charles Anthon letter to E. D. Howe, 17 Feb. 1834, published in E.D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 17; cited in VanWagoner and Walker, footnote 27.
  32. [note]  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), 334–337. Buy online
  33. [note]  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), 332–333. Buy online
  34. [note]  Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman ; citing Orson Pratt, "Discourse at Brigham City," 27 June 1874, Ogden (Utah) Junction, cited in Orson Pratt, "Two Days´ Meeting at Brigham City," Millennial Star 36 (11 August 1874), 498–499.
  35. [note]  Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  36. [note]  Van Wagoner and Walker, 58–59 (citations removed).
  37. [note]  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), 230. Buy online
  38. [note]  Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View 242–247.
  39. [note]  The Historical Record. Devoted Exclusively to Historical, Biographical, Chronological and Statistical Matters (LDS Church Archives), 632.
  40. [note]  David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887), 12; cited in Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign (July 1993), 61. off-site


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims


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