Mormons react to first-ever photograph of Joseph Smith’s seer stone

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Joseph Smith translates the Book of Mormon using a hat in a 2003 "South Park" episode.

Screen Shot, Comedy Central

Joseph Smith translates the Book of Mormon using a hat in a 2003 "South Park" episode.

This 2001 "Ensign" cover shows Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon by poring over the plates -- which is how many faithful Latter-day Saints have been instructed to imagine the process.

This 2001 “Ensign” cover shows Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon by poring over the plates — which is how many faithful Latter-day Saints have been instructed to imagine the process.

Seer stones, Urim and Thummin, golden plates: In the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, all of these odd-sounding components play a part.

But most contemporary Mormons don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the unusual logistics of the book’s translation. And it’s something the LDS Church has become transparent about only recently, releasing a Gospel Topics essay on the issue in December 2013 that conceded that:

  1. Joseph Smith also used his seer stone to seek buried treasure, and
  2. He translated much of the Book of Mormon by placing the seer stone in a hat to block out the ambient light, then proceeded to simply recite whatever words appeared on the stone.

Despite its presence on lds.org, it’s safe to say the GT essay hasn’t made a major impact. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before here on this blog, most of those (excellent) essays on various historical and theological topics have been largely ignored by members, who either don’t know about their existence or worry they’re not approved by the First Presidency. (They are.)

So if the essays have not, as yet, helped Mormons learn about their own history, then what will?

Perhaps a photograph.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the truth of that statement came home to me last night, when the media jumped on the Church’s release yesterday of a groundbreaking installment in the Joseph Smith Papers series . . . which included the first-ever public photograph to show what Smith’s seer stone actually looked like.

The AP story got picked up far and wide, even as far as the South China Morning Post.

And suddenly, Mormons up and down the Internet are asking each other: Did you know about the seer stone and the hat? If so, when did you find out?

The answer to the latter question is often South Park.

Joseph Smith translates the Book of Mormon using a hat in a 2003 "South Park" episode.

Joseph Smith translates the Book of Mormon using a hat in a 2003 “South Park” episode.

Yes, Trey Parker beat everyone to the punch. In the 2003 episode “All About Mormons,” Stan gets a crash-course introduction to LDS history from Gary, a shiny new Mormon kid in his class. Part of the episode’s flashback to Joseph Smith shows Smith translating the Book of Mormon with his face plunged earnestly in a hat.

While many Mormons dismissed the South Park explanation as anti-Mormon hogwash (a conclusion hastened by the harsh refrain of the scene’s song, which accused Mormon theology of being “dumb, dumb, dumb”), Parker’s vision of Smith pulling a translation out of hat was actually a darn sight more historically accurate than the sanitized, Church-approved images I have in my Primary binder for teaching little kids.

Those images typically show Smith translating by candlelight, poring over the golden plates. He’s sometimes depicted as being alone, sometimes with his scribe Oliver Cowdery discreetly off to the side.

But the golden plates are always front and center, with no hat anywhere in evidence.

In contrast, what the Church has been discreetly admitting in recent months is that the plates themselves were almost peripheral to the translation process, at least after the initial phases.

After the fiasco of the lost 116 pages, Smith relied on the seer stone to the exclusion of the Urim and Thummin, “with the plates apparently covered and laid aside as he worked,” as Terryl Givens put it in By the Hand of Mormon. (BTW, this 2002 book is where I first learned about the hat, though South Park certainly provided an unforgettable visual image.)

Which begs the question: Why were the plates necessary in the first place? Was their physical existence merely to persuade Smith and his early followers that something miraculous was afoot, something that could not be dismissed as the product of Smith’s own imagination?

My own testimony of the Book of Mormon doesn’t rest on its origins, but on its contents, which I have found to be life-changing. (Here’s an account of a recent lovely experience I had studying the Book of Mormon in depth. You can also read here a brief narrative of my experience of falling in love with the Book of Mormon in my early 20s.)

The stark beauty of the Book of Mormon was a major reason I joined the LDS Church.

Robin Linkhart, president of the Seventy for the Community of Christ, spoke to reporters during a news conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' release of volume three of the Joseph Smith Papers.  © 2015 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Robin Linkhart, president of the Seventy for the Community of Christ, spoke to reporters during a news conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ release of volume three of the Joseph Smith Papers. © 2015 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

It’s clear that the LDS Church has downplayed the less savory aspects of the story of how the book came into being, or even actively promoted a version of the history that doesn’t fit the facts. I’m glad that is changing now with this much-needed emphasis on transparency in Mormon history. So many things about yesterday’s press conference — the release of the volume, the overall trajectory of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the unprecedented cooperation with the Community of Christ — are of good report.

I only hope such transparency isn’t too little, too late. Last night online I saw several people for whom this new-ish revelation was a “shelf-breaking” moment, which in the language of faith transitions means that it’s the last straw before they leave Mormonism for good.

On the one hand, we can say, “Seer stones? Big deal. The important thing is the scripture itself.” I’m inclined toward that POV too.

But on the other hand, for people who are already feeling anxiety and doubt, yesterday’s revelation is just one more example of how they have felt misled by the Church.

And if they have been misled in a small thing, have they also been misled in major matters of faith? That is their question.

I hope the Church has a compelling answer.

  • Joshua Bolding

    I hope we keep trying to overcome our PTSD of being different because I think stuff like this is so cool.

  • Thor Ordinson

    I love the story in the BOM, and I love our Mormon theology. I just am starting to have a hard time keeping the faith in the story. I mean, looking in a hat and having the story appear on a rock? How is that different than a fortune teller with a crystal ball? Commanded to marry polygamous wives under threat of death and damnation by an angel? Priesthood introduced at the same time people question if he is a fallen prophet? When does the BOM cross the line from scripture to a really good fictional story that teaches of Christ, like the Narnia stories?

  • annon

    My LDS family and friends on FB and twitter are silent about this, which is odd since I’m bombed with daily LDS memes about pickle and airplane stories and ‘chin up’ quotes.
    Despite the fact that the Nauvoo School of the Prophets experimented with the stones and failed to replicate Joseph’s gift, it was President Joseph F. Smith’s most fervent prayer to be entrusted with translating the sealed portion of the BoM. Does anyone care about that anymore? We’ve seemed to have lost an urgency in seeking out these gifts. We’re physically comfortable and ok with the status quo. Our millennial zeal is fizzling too. Only a few lone bloggernacle posters have braved the question which echoes unanswered, “so, does it still work? When was the last time someone tried it?”

  • Jeff P

    An interesting question to me is how this news will effect how Mormons read the Book of Mormon?

    With this announcement, the origins of the blue Book of Mormon are very different than thought before. Even if the Book of Mormon it is still seen as just as much a sacred text, seen as the Word of God, its nevertheless a very different type of book than it was. Seems to me the upshot is that the book is now ‘modern scripture’ rather than ‘ancient scripture’.

    If the origins of the Book of Mormon are a single modern revelation by one man, derived with the assistance of a seer-stone, that’s a completely different kind of book than if it is a translation of a series of ancient writings by a number of ancient prophets and communities over a period of many hundreds of years, heavily edited by ancient editors like Mormon, written on golden tablets, and translated in modern times with divine assistance.

    Will Book of Mormon exegesis need to fundamentally change?

  • Braden

    I was a little surprised that this was not more widely known. I think I heard about it first in 1993, in the Ensign, in a talk by then-Elder Nelson. He recounts it quite clearly. I didn’t realize it was controversial.
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1993/07/a-treasured-testament?lang=eng

  • Craig S.

    Jana, thank you for the recognition that for many people, it’s not the actual seer stone itself that’s the issue, it’s the fact that the church has been telling a different story for so long. I’ve seen so many comments and blog posts asking the lines of “the seer stone is just another means of transmitting revelation, what’s the big deal?” And while there are some legitimate questions raised by the process of translation (some of which you bring up here), it’s true that when you take it in the context of golden plates and the Urim and Thummim, a seer stone is not inherently any more or less strange than those things that are already accepted. But that fact that this history has been out there for ages but not generally taught to us in the church? That can be very troubling to many people.

  • Maddy

    From Elder Nelson’s talk you referenced:
    “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.” (JS—H 1:34–35.)”

    And…
    “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat”

    I don’t see where Elder Nelson makes clear Joseph Smith used something other than the Urim and Thumim–which he referred to as “stones” and “seers.”

    Born and raised in the church in Salt Lake. Never, ever was I taught about the hat or the seer stone. No one in my family knew–most probably still don’t know.

  • GP

    The LDS church’s release of pictures of the seer stone used in the BoM dictation is a good step towards more transparency. I am curious if this will now be openly discussed in GC, SM, SS, PH/RS, etc. Like Jana and many others, the correlated story of the BoM translation given to me during my church attendance only included mentions of a seer stone that at best resembled a crystal passed down from the Nephites. It certainly did not involve a brown rock in a hat – the same rock found while digging a well and used in JS’s unsuccessful treasure quests… for (among other things) none other than buried gold – hint: there is a non-faith-promoting clue buried here.

    Further, I wonder when this will be part of the missionary discussions. Oh to be a fly on the wall to hear how that story goes over. How will members now respond when asked how the translation occurred? Which story will they tell – the one they grew up with or the real story now admitted?

  • I agree with Craig S. that the real problem here isn’t that Joseph Smith put his head in a hat that contained a stone and was somehow able to use this apparatus to produce the Book of Mormon.

    The real problem is that the LDS church has intentionally allowed a false narrative to develop over decades as well as perpetuating that narrative through sanctioned illustrations showing Smith using other means. The quaint picture of Smith sitting with the plates under candlelight was meant to soften the blow to believers that leadership didn’t feel were ready for the truth.

    I heard the same reasoning given when blacks were banned from holding the priesthood.

  • CG

    Thanks for addressing these points, Jana. The efforts toward “transparency” by the Church is both admirable and unseemly. Finally, they admit to the failings and faults of past leaders and their cover-ups, but defending them at all costs simply de-legitimizes the Church’s efforts to make it all right in the end. Too many people have felt the sting of betrayal from Church leadership, past and present, and admitting to the lies doesnt fix the broken heart. Sadly, though, at this point an apology probably couldn’t either… Perhaps it is too little too late.

  • CG

    Agreed, Brett. We can’t rewrite history, and what has been “admitted” by church leaders doesn’t change the story. Too much damage has been done.

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  • Bernardo

    Once again, the Angelic/Satanic cons:

    Joe Smith had his Moroni and Satan/Perdition/Lucifer. (As does M. Romney)
    “Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah.”

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God and of course Satan and his demons.
    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tin-kerbell” got around) and of course the jinn.
    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As do BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

  • WanderWoman

    1. Nothing about this seer stone is news to Mormons, except for the photos of the stone themselves. Every Mormon knows that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God using seer stones, what the Bible calls the Urim and Thummim.

    2. The historical hearsay suggests that this particular stone probably is one of the stones used by Joseph Smith during translation of the Book of Mormon. But it might not be for a hundred reasons. Oliver Cowdery and all of those along the chain of custody from Joseph Smith to Brigham Young’s wife who donated this stone to the Church might have been misled, lied or exaggerated about where they got this stone and what it was (as people have been known to do).

    3. Using a stone to assist a prophet in translating scripture is no less suspect than using a magic staff of wood to turn water to blood, to part the Red Sea, or to make water come out of a rock; using a burning bush to talk to God; or using a rib to make a woman

  • WanderWoman

    What do you mean a “different story?” I’ve been a member of the Church since the 70s, and the only story that has ever been told about the translation of the Book of Mormon is that Joseph did it by the “gift” and “power” of God using stones, including the two that were buried with the plates and fastened into bows so they could be set in the breastplate.

  • WanderWoman

    “When does the BOM cross the line from scripture to a really good fictional story …?”

    As Moroni, himself put it (Moroni 10:27-29):

    27 And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?

    28 I declare these things unto the fulfilling of the prophecies. And behold, they shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the everlasting God; and his word shall hiss forth from generation to generation.

    29 And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true.

  • WanderWoman

    “Which story will they tell – the one they grew up with or the real story now admitted?”

    There is only one story, and it is the same story I told on my mission and that has been told to me since I joined the church in the 70s: that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the “gift” and “power” of God by looking into “stones … that God had prepared … for the purpose of translating the book.” https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/js. The Book of Mormon itself teaches that stones have been prepared by God through the ages to assist prophets in translating ancient records. So there’s nothing new here.

  • Porter

    To WanderWoman and the others who want to try to deny that the church has perpetrated a false narrative on this issue, take a look at the Ensign cover at the top of Jana’s article and the link she provided in the text. There are many many false depictions of this story that have appeared in church publications and lessons over the years. Perhaps there are some in the church who were aware of the correct story, but I believe they were a tiny minority.

    Why is it so difficult for you to accept that the church has whitewashed this and other issues, such as multiple versions of the first vision? The fictional story seemed more palatable at the time I’m sure, and of course nobody foresaw that the internet would make this information so readily available and force the church’s hand.

  • WanderWoman

    I feel like a broken record now, but what is the “false narrative?”

    Anyone who ever read the preface pages in the Book of Mormon would have read the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and would have read about the stones that were used to assist him in translation. And any active primary kid knows this. The only thing not widely understood is to whether and to what extent Joseph used a different seer stone than the two that were buried by Moroni in the box with the Golden Plates. This historical record was unclear and uncorroborated on this insignificant point, so why would the Church waste time dwelling on it?

  • WanderWoman

    Porter, I must have missed that day in art history class when they taught that all paintings are required to be historically accurate in every detail.

    Are you similarly offended by the Arnold Friberg paintings that show every Nephite bulging with biceps? Or how about every painting that has even been made about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, revolutionary war, civil war, etc.?

    And are you going to walk out of Heaven when you find out Jesus has white hair instead of dark hair?

  • SanAntonioRob

    Agreed.

    There is a significant difference between (a) using the Urim and Thumim, which was prepared by God anciently for the translation of scripture (presumably the same stones Mosiah used to translate the Jaredite inscriptions), and (2) using a stone Joseph found prior to the BOM and used for seeking lost items and buried treasure.

    If the two were equal, there would have been no reason for the Church not to publish descriptions or paintings with Joseph’s head in a hat and the plates off in a corner. If the two were equal, there would be no reason to not publish photos of the stone for 150 years. The Church didn’t because they realized the methods looked suspicious, or at least didn’t foster trust and faith. So they published the whitewashed version.

    Faith propped up with half truths or false narrative isn’t faith at all. It’s deception. Which is why many will hurt while they transition there faith to be based in truth. It’s a hard, but necessary, process.

  • SanAntonioRob

    So when we tell stories to build people’s faith, they don’t actually have to be true? WanderWoman, are you really Paul H. Dunn?

  • AM

    I think the pictures that the Church has provided at lds.org give a story that is significantly at odds with the actual history. Some of those pictures have shown up on the cover of the Ensign. I definitely think they count as “a different story.” The picture of the seer stone is a good start to telling a more accurate account, though.

  • Fred M

    “The story of the rib, of course, is figurative.” Spencer W. Kimball (Ensign, March ’76)

    Which ought to make one wonder what else is figurative. Probably a lot more than some are willing to admit.

    And I think you assume a lot when you say nothing about the stone is news to Mormons. Maybe not the Mormons you know–but there are a lot of them out there in other countries that have never heard anything about this.

  • Porter

    When the church publishes a painting on the cover of the ensign – an official church magazine that many feel is akin to scripture – I think its fair to assume that the painting is reliable and historically accurate.

  • Porter

    And then there is this:

    “While the statement has been made by some writers that the Prophet Joseph Smith used a seer stone part of the time in his translating of the record, and information points to the fact that he did have in his possession such a stone, yet there is no authentic statement in the history of the Church which states that the use of such a stone was made in that translation. The information is all hearsay, and personally, I do not believe that this stone was used for this purpose.”

    –Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol 3, Pg. 225

  • Freedom Surfer

    This is not “insignificant”, this is about the coming forth of the book that is at the core of the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Misrepresenting repeatedly how the translation was done through commentary and illustrations is significant. And for someone like myself, who has only been a church member for a few years, it creates problems with the truthfulness of how the translation of the book came about, and thus with the entire narrative of church and the gospel it teaches. I must wonder what else the church has been glossing over and what else I will be told I am not permitted to openly discuss without becoming “anti-“.

    I sincerely doubt that this will be openly discussed in church meetings, and if it does, it will be glossed over. I’m starting to see a pattern here, and it isn’t a positive one.

  • WanderWoman

    I guess, if the Church had good reason to believe that Joseph never sat at a table by candle light looking at the golden plates, and that the only time he ever sat down with the plates was with his head stuck in a hat. But the opposite is true. The documents reflect that only a portion (and not even the majority if we have an accurate picture) of his time with the plates was spent with his head in a hat. So why would the Church Ensign department reject using a very nice painting showing Joseph gazing at the plates by candlelight, when we know he probably spent a lot of time doing just that?

    I’m sorry for taking such a critical tone. I don’t want to, but I get frustrated with all of the comments made by those who come across as just looking for an excuse to try and criticize the Church.

  • WanderWoman

    Very interesting statement, good find. This seems to me a very open and honest statement that the Church knew that Joseph had seer stones but had no clear answer as to whether they had actually been used in translation. Without clear evidence one way or the other, why would they speculate or deviate from the actual words Joseph Smith used to describe the translation process?

    Even now, the evidence only recently scrutinized by those on the papers project can at best say that this seer stone was “likely” used. No one really knows.

  • Jeff W

    The church using paintings by LDS artists as covers for their magazines is not “misleading” or “telling a different story”. It’s simply using beautiful art for beauty’s sake, showing an artists own perspective. This information has always been available to those who seek it. Just because it wasn’t taught over the pulpit doesn’t mean the church was hiding it or inflating other areas of the translation story. I learned about this as a kid because I was taught church history by my parents. Either way this doesn’t increase or detract from my belief in the Book of Mormon. A testimony is gained through living the gospel and personal revelation, actively seeking with faith & not skepticism.

  • Benjamin

    WanderWoman – this stone is not the Urim and Thumin mentioned in Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith History that was buried with the plates. The Urim and Thumin were set aside early in the process in favor of this stone that was found by Joseph in the early 1820s by a well and placed in a hat for most of the translation process. This stone was also used in Joseph’s treasure hunts.

    This is based on first hand statements from Emma Smith, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery’s wife, and Isaac Hale. This is not new information, yet it is new to most members. That doesn’t mean it has to be troubling, but the Church has certainly favored an image that was more artistic and less historically accurate.

  • SanAntonioRob

    The LDS.org Gospel Topics article doesn’t say “likely”. It states it like it is 100% fact. And is says Joseph “often” used the stone he had earlier used for seeking treasure.

    Others have been talking about Joseph using the seer stone for ages. Just not the Church. Just not by someone lay members felt like they could trust giving truth without spin. If in fact evidence could only be scrutinized by Church-sanctioned inquests recently, it is only because access to the records was not granted by the Church before now.

    It’s been the pattern of the Church with too many issues. Deny. Then when you can’t deny, tell a half truth. Then when you are found out, admit the truth and act like you never denied or misled. If the tables were turned and it were members acting this way towards leaders, you can bet there would be consequences.

  • WanderWoman

    Yes, of course there is a difference, but I don’t see why that difference should matter to anyone. The two stones described in Ether 3 were most likely 2 of the 16 stones that the brother of Jared made himself out of a rock and took to the Lord to turn them into magic shining stones, and then Lord told him that 2 of those stones could be used as interpreters. If Joseph Smith had done/claimed something similar, you would still be skeptical.

  • WanderWoman

    Quoting from the LDS Newsroom article: “a seer stone Joseph Smith likely used in the translation of the Book of Mormon”

    And the October 2015 Ensign article confirms that all we have are scant second hand accounts of him using another seer stone, but there is no verification that the stone now in the Church’s possession is that same seer stone. It simply matches the description of a couple hearsay accounts and seemed to have a believable chain of custody. So it is “likely” but by no means certain that this was THE stone.

  • Sue

    As a culture that honors connection to the past vis a vis the laying on of hands, the temple, etc., how do we connect the past to the present to the future? I do not think we can simply relegate seer stones to the past any more than we can do so with polygamy. What does this mean about modern curriculum and the future of our worship of men as prophets seers and revelators?

    How do we deal with a majority of people who don’t know and don’t want to know these truths & yet hold callings as teachers of our children?

  • GP

    “Oliver Cowdery and all of those along the chain of custody from Joseph Smith to Brigham Young’s wife who donated this stone to the Church might have been misled, lied or exaggerated about where they got this stone and what it was (as people have been known to do).”

    I find it very interesting when I hear evidence from the same individuals being accepted and rejected seemingly using a shifting standard to meet a predetermined conclusion. Here you suggest dismissing the historical record from multiple individuals who gave their testimony individually and their testimony lined up to tell essentially the same story (JS translated the BoM using his seer stone in his hat) – one was a BoM witness and another the/a widow of JS!

    “Using a stone to assist a prophet in translating scripture is no less suspect than using a magic staff of wood to turn water to blood…”

    I agree. All of these examples (including getting messages from a stone in a hat) is irrational and suspect.

  • GP

    This is an hen-pecked citation – one of very few contemporary references that exist on the official church record. That said, I have found no church curriculum or illustrations that teach the rock/hat translation method for the BoM (except perhaps in the past few years as the church “comes clean”).

    I hear folks who are similarly surprised and claim to have been taught this in some church setting. That may be – each teacher can expound upon a topic in their own way. But the curriculum did not teach it and I never knew about it until I was well into adulthood – and then I suspected that the history was embellished or anti-Mormon lies. Turns out it was just history. Anecdotally, in talking with others, most fellow members of the church I spoke to also did not know about the rock/hat translation.

  • GP

    What lesson material taught you the rock/hat translation? You made the claim, please provide the reference. Or did you mean to say that someone taught it to you outside of the official curriculum?

    Aside from that, I am genuinely interested in what you divulged on this topic during your mission. Please choose all of the following points that you covered:

    a) JS found a brown seer stone while digging a well for Josiah Stowell while lending his other neighbor Sally Chase’s seer stone.
    b) JS went on [unsuccessful] treasure quests using his brown seer stone and invoked spells to help try to find the treasure.
    c) Right in the middle of the treasure quests, he sought out and obtained GOLD plates.
    d) He used the very same brown rock (in his hat) to dictate the BoM through English messages that appeared on the rock.
    e) The plot and some text correlated to several 19th century works that JS either knew about or had in his possession.
    … at my character limit 🙁 …

  • GP

    To build on this, the words “Urim and Thummim” were not even used until 1833, well after the BoM dictation using the brown “seer stone”. W. W. Phelps suggested that JS’s seer stone was a “Urim and Thummim” in 1833 and it stuck – probably because it made the stone more official-sounding.

    Anyone who googles “Urim and Thummim” can quickly see from historians that their function was quite different than the LDS definition – it was more of a Magic 8-ball that gave “Yes” or “No” answers to a specific question.

  • GP

    Sorry, for a church that carefully checks what goes out officially, I don’t buy this explanation. Have you ever seen a picture in the church curriculum depicting angels with wings? Of a literal dove descending during Jesus’ baptism? No, because they are not [LDS] doctrinal.

    Given that, are you really suggesting that nearly a dozen or more photos of the translation process in church curriculum are factually incorrect and “prophets, seers, and revelators” for decades did nothing to correct it? I just find that hard to believe.

  • I highly doubt this is the actual Seer Stone! My grandfather, Lauritz George Petersen, was a church historian for over twenty-five years. He’s told me this story: Joseph Smith founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints back in the 1800s in the eastern United States such as New York, Illinois, and Missouri. Even though Joseph said: “I go like a lamb to the slaughter” before he was killed, he surprisingly did not appoint a successor to lead the church after him. After he was shot, Brigham Young gave a speech and the entire congregation listening that day saw through a vision Young turning into Joseph, so he was unanimously voted the next leader of the church, and multitudes followed him west to Utah. They took very little, if any, of Joseph’s personal belongings. In fact, Joseph’s immediate family and close friends that oversaw Joseph’s personal affairs remained back east. They fixed the damage left by the angry mobs, and then started their own church called The Reorganized…

  • (Continued)
    Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
    The Mormons in Utah then spent many years, and many generations, buying items that once belonged to Joseph, and honestly, many were fakes.
    A church historian named Leonard Arrington, my grandfather’s boss, worked his way up to be a very trusted individual, and then stabbed the church in the back. He profited from, and was involved with, many other corrupt dealers that ripped the church off constantly with fakes and forgeries. Yes, the church had been had! Nobody is perfect. I wished my grandfather had done more to stop it. I loved him dearly, but he was the biggest coward I had ever met. When my grandfather began talking to co-workers about what was going on at the time, he was quickly silenced by being moved to a corner of the basement where he spent his days filing index cards. And so, it is my personal opinion, that much corruption and deceit is still going on to this day by showing the world a worthless rock, while they…

  • WanderWoman

    I think you are just trying to bait fights, GP. My point is that (unlike with the golden plates) there is no chain of custody corroborated by sworn testimony at each link in the chain to prove that the pictured rock is the very same rock used by Joseph Smith in the translation. It probably is, but no one knows.

  • Taylor

    Jana, I am so glad this kind of thing didn’t rock your faith. I am 61. I probably learned of the seer stone in a BYU religion class, though it’s been so long I can’t remember precisely. It never seemed hidden to me. I always took it as my own responsibility to learn that kind of thing for myself. We are generally not taught that Noah got drunk or that the Judah/Tamar incestuous relationship is part of Jesus’ ancestry. We learn about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the twelve tribes of Israel, but not much is made of the extra wives and concubines. And the bible says nothing about dinosaurs or the Big Bang (unless you count “and God said Let there be light,” which I think is a pretty good description). Once you have had your own experiences with the Spirit, with the Book of Mormon, and with God, everything you learn through study, all the surprises you may find, serve only to broaden your understanding of how God works with and through men and women in this mortal probation.

  • WanderWoman

    GP – we taught that Joseph smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God using special stones prepared by God. If that is true — and the only way anyone could know if it is true is through the Holy Ghost after reading the Book of Mormon and asking God in prayer if it is true — then it doesn’t even matter whether 50% of the BoM was translated using the stones from Moroni and 50% using Joseph’s other stones, or 75/25. or whatever the percentage may be. Using stones to translate is miraculous enough, regardless of their origin. And since the origin of the stones used matters little if the BoM is true or not true, why would we get into additional details that are mere hearsay, that deviate from the sworn testimony that we had, and that could be wrong?

    The Book of Mormon either is what it purports to be or it isn’t. And, like the divinity of Christ, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is not susceptible to proof except by following it and observing the…

  • Annoyed

    What really bothers me about the whole seer stone thing is the context of “Well, South Park was right, and I was told it was just anti-Mormon propaganda, but since they were right, it wasn’t anti and the Church isn’t true.” It seems most are running with this POV.

    I’ve seen very accurate pictures and videos of the Temple Endowment. Some I saw before I was even endowed. Some kids laughed it off as complete rubbish. I knew a little bit better. Now in 7 years when those kids showed up to receive their own endowment, what could they have possibly been thinking? Those depictions were fairly accurate, but were they not any less Anti-Mormon? I found them offensive, even as they were accurate, just as the South Park episode was still offensive, even if it was accurate. Both were done in very mocking ways.

    It appears many expect too much of our leaders when really we should be depending on ourselves for knowledge, especially knowledge that is not essential to our…

  • Dave

    Yeah, I think Jana’s premise that Trey beat everyone to the punch is smashed by that conference talk. Nelson talks about the stone AND the hat.

    I guess she missed the even earlier:

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/09/by-the-gift-and-power-of-god?lang=eng

    …and the even earlier big reveal in the Children’s Friend:

    https://www.lds.org/friend/1974/09/a-peaceful-heart?lang=eng

  • SanAntonioRob

    You don’t know why it matters to me? (By the way, Church attending, RM, serve faithfully Mormon here)

    Or you don’t know why it mattered to Joseph Fielding Smith enough for him to specifically reject the thought? Obviously it was enough of a deal to him that his personal desire for it not to be true overrode any whisperings of the Spirit that it actually was true.

    Or you don’t know why it would matter enough to modern Church leadership to obscure the fact it was used.

    The larger point is this… That this isn’t the only thing. It’s prophets and early leaders lying about polygamy, real reasons for early Church apostasy and persecution, the origin of the priesthood ban, etc, etc, etc. The problem is a Church that is to be a source of truth has very blatantly been hiding or obscuring truth. That’s a major problem. Thankfully current leadership is making changes. We need more.

  • Annoyed

    And I have to say, to me, complaining about artist depictions and feeling mislead by them seems to be pouring on. LDS pictures all depict Mary as a woman, even the most recent Bible videos show her as a very mature woman in her 30s when we all know that Mary was a young adolescent when she became pregnant with Jesus. Why not the outcry over such obvious misrepresentation that is only aimed at glossing over the past that seems unseemly to us today? Why indeed. If you can find a plausible answer to that question, you might understand a little bit of what’s going on with why some have made this “revelation” such a big deal.

  • Thirstingforknowledge

    The LDS Church is marvelous at directing attention away from the real issue. The point is that Joseph Smith used this very stone, well before any claim of a Heavenly visitation, to find buried treasure. He would use this stone to see the guardian spirits that guarded the treasure. This was a very common and occultic practice that sometimes involved animal sacrifice. He would place the stone in the hat in order to locate these spirits. This is what should bother people. He used the same technique to locate buried treasure (though he never found any) as he did to translate the book of Mormon. Take for instance the book of Abraham. We are to believe that the same God who despised the false gods of Egypt would inspire Joseph to claim that pictures of those false gods represented the one true God and His priesthood. You have pictures of false gods in your standard works that supposedly represent Heavenly Father and His eternal priesthood. Can you see how truly blasphemous that is?

  • EG

    Angels painted (to this day) with wings, halos, capes, harps, sitting on clouds. Devil painted with horns, tail, hooves,red.

    Scrying by Prophets, talking animals, bad behaving Prophets, Apostles arguing & disagreeing with one another, much more in Bible.

    Noah had lit stone in Ark- dim for day, bright for night.
    Mysticism (different meaning today) practiced by early Jews & Christians, in Bible.

    Atheists argue that Christianity is nothing but belief in magic, occult, fairy tale. Think about that, good argument.

    Abraham did teach the Egyptians.

    Yes, the church could have done some things differently. All religions could have, should have.
    I doubt church leaders lied, hid, deceived on purpose. Catholic church & others do not teach a history.

    J.Smith had a few seer stones.

    People accuse LDS of putting God in a small box, reducing His Glory. No, that is what others are doing. God can use anything & anyone He wants to get the job done.

  • EG

    Read Cornelis Van Dam, author.

    The Urim and Thummim: A Means of Revelation In Ancient Israel. 1997.

    Excellent.

  • GP

    No fight baiting here… I’m just expressing my own position and I was pointing out an inconsistency that some folks can apply to gathering evidence. We can disagree and still have a constructive conversation… a disagreement is not a “fight”.

    I agree with you that this stone is probably the one. It does match the descriptions given by others.

    I do want to re-emphasize (as I stated in my own reply to this article) that I am happy that the church has released the picture and a formal statement on the rock. I hope that they are more transparent about it in the future and integrate it into the curriculum.

  • GP

    The context surrounding the stone and the coming about of the BoM is significant (my points a-e above). The situation was clearly suspect and it logically follows that claiming to find golden plates with a guardian spirit was simply just another treasure quest. Joseph made several claims that simply did not materialize. Treasure “slipping” into the earth because someone broke silence thereby breaking a spell, etc.

    I realize that you believe differently, but to an unbiased pool of individuals, I am quite confident that this connection would be very easy to make. That is why I find it difficult to understand why individuals find the history and context surrounding the origin of a belief to be irrelevant – although I understand the appeal to remain a believer.

    I have many LDS friends and am still LDS myself (now unbelieving). I respect others’ right to believe as they wish. I also respect your right to believe. I can’t let feelings (the “spirit”) trump evidence.

  • GP

    Bingo! This is precisely my position. To be properly understood, folks need to look at the context.

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  • Jeff P

    Wanderwoman:
    This does seem to be a very different understanding of the Book of Mormon.
    If Joseph Smith received at least parts of the Book of Mormon revelation from writing on a seer-stone, rather than reading the golden plates themselves, it means that the source of the book of Mormon is not the golden plates any more – its a new, modern revelation received by Joseph Smith, like other LDS modern scriptures.
    As a Christian, when we read sacred scripture, we immediately have to consider who the prophet was, the audience, context, etc.. And if the revelation is 19th century rather than 5th century BCE Hebrew, that forces the reader to see and interpret the document entirely differently.
    Important: I’m not diminishing the Book of Mormon. I read it recently, and so spent some time trying to understand what I was reading: who wrote it,when, to whom, and why were the books written. This is all very different from what my LDS resources told me about the golden-plate origins of the…

  • Jeff P

    And, just to make very clear:
    I am NOT criticizing or attacking the Book of Mormon, or making a statement about whether it is the ‘Word of God’. I read it recently, with the help of Jana’s commentary and the LDS Sunday School manual. (I looked for, but was unable to find, informative commentaries on the book like Protestants and Catholics would use in a Sunday School class).
    Rather, am talking about what the source of the modern Book of Mormon is: golden tables, or a seer-stone. Who the prophet is (Joseph Smith, or Nephi and Alma and company), when it was revealed (19th century AD or 5th century BCE).

  • Ben in oakland

    Probably the first time it says, “And Lo! And It came to pass!”

  • mb

    JS Book of Abraham translation in the Pearl of Great Price has been proven false by Egyptologists and the church made a statement about this recently; the LDS are supposed to believe in it for the inention it was meant for?
    Is this the same seer stone that JS used to translate his version of the Book of Abraham that are actually Egyptian funerary documents?
    Did JS use this same seer stone to translate the Kinderhook Plates that he was duped with?
    Faithful LDS should just believe in all of this for the intentions that Joseph had; he didn’t want to work a normal job so this was his way of making a living.

  • Hansens

    Joseph Smith did not use the seer stone before his first heavenly manifestation. Because something is a common practise doesn’t mean that Joseph followed that same practise. Maybe it would be better to read the story written by Joseph’s mother to really know how Joseph became to be called a treasure hunter. Joseph also did not associate with spirits but was visited by Angels, which is a big difference. God is truth and if the Egyptians represented Him by pictures of false Gods then how can God not inspire Joseph to claim it is a representation of Himself because that’s what it is. How are the pictures of false Gods in our scriptures blasphemous if God has no problem with it and we are not bowing down or praising these pictures. Looking at statues from Egyptian or other false Gods or even studying them to understand other cultures isn’t blasphemous, is it? I knew about the seer stone in the hat and I am from a small country with just 6000 members. What you read counts, then pray to…

  • Hansens

    Maybe you should update your information because the so called Egyptologist that made this claim, wasn’t a Egyptologist at all. He claimed he was and even made a fake degree but neither the university nor the Egyptologists he claimed to associate with, knew who the man was.
    It is also silly to presume that the book of Abraham was translated from those few documents that were found again. Joseph Smith never translated the kinderhook plates. Faithful LDS believe these things because they have read it, studied it, pondered about it and prayed about it and then after the timing and way God sees fit, He revealed it to them to add the truth of the topic at hand to their testimony. I already knew about the seer stone and the claims about the hat but was never to bothered by it. Now that it has come much more in the open, I asked God to give me understanding and discernment and am very satisfied by the answer I received to this prayer. God lives and this is His kingdom on earth. Amen.

  • Yes, I thought it was common knowledge that (I think later on in the translation?) he used a hat or what not.
    Not common knowledge, but still “discussed” FWIW. My BYU religion teacher mentioned the seer stone in a class I took like 10 years ago. So it’s not like the knowledge hasn’t been in existence. My assumption has been that the church hadn’t taught much about it because the actual process of translation wasn’t ever really expounded on by Joseph Smith, so lots of it is speculation. FWIW.
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/joseph-the-seer?lang=eng is quite insightful as well.

  • SanAntonioRob

    I reject the notion that pointing out incomplete truths in the sanctioned narrative is the same as relying too much on leaders. It isn’t the same as reserving sacred information about the temple. It isn’t that no information was given on a too-sacred or unimportant subject. Much information has been given – even scripture (POGP) – and the translation process has been depicted in movies, shown in paintings on Church walls, and discussed in countless General Conference talks. It’s just not the full story – on how the most important book in our dispensation was translated. I would call that a VERY important subject to be completely frank about.

    Our doctrine not only relies heavily on revelation, we are taught regularly the importance of personal revelation and how to receive it. And yet we swept what appeared to be the more unseemly parts of the BOM translation under the rug – the very part that apparently gave us the majority of the BOM. It’s indefensible.

  • SanAntonioRob

    In reference to South Park being done in mocking ways, 100% agree. It is also a mockery that Church leaders don’t trust us with the full truth. The fact Joseph used the same seer stone he used for looking for treasure doesn’t hurt my faith. The Bible says Jacob gained much of his wealth (in flocks) by laying speckled rods before the sheep, something rank with superstition. But God still used what many would consider an unseemly, naïve approach to bring about his work.

    My problem is that multiple Church-sanctioned narratives turn out to be incomplete or misleading. This lessens my trust that the Church is the one and only true Church. Obviously I still believe it is at this point, because I remain a full-fledged faithful member. But there is zero reason to just sit quietly and put my full faith in leadership who will not put their full faith in me and my ability to confront the whole truth without spin.

  • Rean

    Occam’s razor.

  • bluntnose

    Au contraire, Freedom Surfer, I’m reading these because my Stake President addressed it directly in Stake Conference today. I confess I’m not smart enough to make the forensic essays which some of you are floating, to the effect that our collective testimonies of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, should be rocked by contemporary historical revelations about the precise methodology of its introduction to the modern world. If I could use my brain to think my way to heaven, if only they’d give me all the evidences of the precise details of a book’s advent (any book), all at once, and from the beginning, never wavering, I’d throw faith under the bus and think my way to heaven. My belief that the book is what it purports to be is not a function of my brain’s ability to interpret the historical details, including whether the Church intended me to rely on paintings on a magazine cover. It relies on the exercise of my faith, and revelation. Set this aside & retake the…

  • bluntnose

    “…directing attention away from the real issue.” Hmm, and I thought the real issue was whether the Book of Mormon faithfully communicates to us the dealings of God with ancient peoples, as told by ancient prophets, and whether it contains the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we could tell that by examining the details of Joseph’s translating, as you espouse, I’d be all for it, as I make my living indulging in such forensic investigations. The problem with that approach is the impossibility of accurately reassembling, over a century later, ALL of the precise details. If we had a video of the prophet Joseph translating there would still be only one way to know the answer to the “real issue,” and that would be done individually, not by some group consensus. On our knees, as those who put no artificial limits on the acquisition of knowledge, have done. To the extent the foregoing lacks a spirit of love, I apologize. I mean it to be from love, else it’s pointless.

  • So many things in history just don’t make sense. I wish we could all travel back in time to 9000 years ago. I bet we are all wrong.

  • Realist

    @Jeff P – Read “No Man Knows My History” a biography of Joseph by Fawn McKay Brody. Your questions may find answers there. Mrs. Brody was a famous historian and niece of our very own David O. McKay. For anyone with doubt about our prophet Joesph F. Smith this is a must read for Mrs. Brody lists in the book the location of every document she references. Lots and lots of photographs of Emma Smith and other wives. Mrs. Brody is also famous for her biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Richard M. Nixon. You can find “No Man Knows My History” on Amazon.

  • Realist

    Sadly there is so much we were not taught. But if you read “No Man Knows My History” by Fawn McKay Brody your knowledge of church history will leave you very informed.

  • @WanderWoman – bravo, we need more devout LDS members supporting the authenticity of JFS’s work, gifts and purpose. Please direct naysayers to read “No Man Knows My History” a biography of Joseph by Fawn McKay Brody. Your questions may find answers there. Mrs. Brody was a famous historian and niece of our very own David O. McKay. For anyone with doubt about our prophet Joesph F. Smith this is a must read for Mrs. Brody lists in the book the location of every document she references. Lots and lots of photographs of Emma Smith and other wives. Mrs. Brody is also famous for her biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Richard M. Nixon. You can find “No Man Knows My History” on Amazon. – See more at: http://janariess.religionnews.com/2015/08/05/mormons-react-to-first-ever-photograph-of-joseph-smiths-seer-stone/#comment-763984

  • Read “No Man Knows My History” a biography of Joseph by Fawn McKay Brody. Your questions may find answers there. Mrs. Brody was a famous historian and niece of our very own David O. McKay. For anyone with doubt about our prophet Joesph F. Smith this is a must read for Mrs. Brody lists in the book the location of every document she references. Lots and lots of photographs of Emma Smith and other wives. Mrs. Brody is also famous for her biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Richard M. Nixon. You can find “No Man Knows My History” on Amazon.

  • Read “No Man Knows My History” by Fawn McKay Brody, niece of David O. McKay. A very reliable and well written biography of Joseph Smith.

  • Great rebuttal. You would probably enjoy reading Joseph Smith’s bio by Fawn McKay Brody, niece of David O. McKay. It is called “No Man Knows My History”. I just saw a copy on Amazon for $11.00 great price, I paid something like $30 for mine.

  • You would probably enjoy reading Joseph Smith’s bio by Fawn McKay Brody, niece of David O. McKay. It is called “No Man Knows My History”. I just saw a copy on Amazon for $11.00 great price, I paid something like $30 for mine.