Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, was born in Vermont on Dec. 23, 1805.

Joseph Smith’s seer stone: the stuff of revelation or a rock to mock?

The printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon rests on a table in this early 20th-century photograph. Photo courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon rests on a table in this early 20th-century photograph. Photo courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

SALT LAKE CITY – Mormon critics reacting to the release of photos of Mormon founder Joseph Smith's chocolate-colored "seer stone,"  see it as another reason to view the Mormon prophet as a conniving fraud and the entire faith as bogus.

Even some devout Latter-day Saints say they knew nothing of Smith's use of the stone in producing the Book of Mormon from buried gold plates. And they are troubled by it — although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has addressed the issue previously.


READ: Mormon Church reveals images of founder’s ‘seer stone’


A statue of founder Joseph Smith at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Independence Visitors' Center in Missouri on Sept. 10, 2013. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

A statue of founder Joseph Smith at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Independence Visitors' Center in Missouri on Sept. 10, 2013. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Blame some misunderstanding on artists' depictions and lack of historical awareness, assistant LDS Church historian Richard E. Turley Jr. writes in a forthcoming article for the faith's official Ensign magazine.

"Each artistic interpretation is based upon its artist's own views, research and imagination, sometimes aided by input and direction from others," Turley writes.

The problem with the "brown, striated stone," acclaimed Mormon historian Richard Bushman writes at By Common Consent, is that "it crosses a boundary we had held on to between religion and superstition."


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


Mormons have known about "the gold plates and the angel and the Urim and Thummim long enough to assimilate them into respectable religion,' says Bushman, author of the Smith biography "Rough Stone Rolling." "Those are the ways of God."

On the other side of the divide, he writes, "are witchcraft and spells and tarot cards. Those are silly superstitions that the benighted believe in. We want none of that."

The seer stone, "sitting there like it had just been dug up," Bushman adds, "drags across the line into the realm of the superstitious."

But the historian is not troubled by a rock of revelation or other religious artifacts.

A new volume of the Joseph Smith Papers project featuring the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon was released Tuesday (August 4, 2015) by the Church Historian's Press, an imprint of the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Photo courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

A new volume of the Joseph Smith Papers project featuring the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon was released Tuesday (August 4, 2015) by the Church Historian's Press, an imprint of the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Photo courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

"I rather like them. They are part of Mormon materiality," he writes. "They suggest there is a technology of revelation, somewhat resembling iPads, that assist us in getting divine intelligence. I don't subscribe to Protestant stuffiness about proper ways for God to act and disreputable ones. I am willing to go along with the ways of God even if they are unconventional by Enlightenment standards."

This seer stone will be "one more excuse to mock Latter-day Saints," laments another Mormon historian, Ardis E. Parshall, on her blog, Keepapitchinin. "But believers crave this sort of connection to our miraculous past and, I think, our longed-for miraculous present.

Far too often, writes Parshall, who is working on "She Shall Be an Ensign," an LDS Church history from a female perspective, "our month-to-month religion is prosaic and borderline: We hear 'sermons' on skirt lengths and sleeves; 'testimonies' are too often nothing but 'this is my last week in this ward and I just wanted to thank all you guys for being so amazing'; and Sunday School discussions, if we follow the manual, are uninspiring recitations of obvious answers to tedious questions."

Then something like the seer stone comes along to remind Mormon believers that "we are not all that removed from the spiritual and the miraculous, if we make the effort to connect with it," she writes. "I'm looking forward to thinking about this some more."

That's Emily Jensen's hope, too.

The LDS writer believes Bushman's iPad analogy might help Mormons, but also could shut down the conversation.

"I imagine telling my children, 'It's like an iPad' and them going, 'Ohhh, that makes sense,' and then moving on," she said, "and I don't want everyday members to do the same."


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Mormons "need to wrestle with the idea more," she writes. "I don't think it was iPad easy for Joseph. I don't think we can understand it."

This is a "defining moment in discussing (Mormon) peculiarity," Jensen says, "and I want to take it."

(Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune.)

Comments

  1. In all seriousness these folks are willing to believe that a rock (in a hat mind you) allowed Smith to translate Egyptian plates 185 years ago in upstate New York. Fine. Yet they cannot accept the settled science on LGBT matters. Can you understand my frustration?

  2. Definitely a rock to mock along with the other myths of the business cult called Mormonism.

  3. I admire Mormons as a group of good citizens, but have always been shocked that they built a religion around such an absurd story.

  4. The folklore seems to outlive the facts. Eyed Agates or stones with circles and rings are common to Upperstate New York and especially around Lake Superior. These water and ice polished pebbles. These “seeing stones” or eyed agates are still treasured and popped into the pockets of amateur collectors. Joseph Smith probably did own a few, just as people on the west coast treasure sea glass, sand dollars and bits of abalone shell.

    Joseph Smith did not toss them in a hat and use them for translations.

    He and his contemporaries wrote that he used a device, referred to as a Urim and Thumimmum, which means “Thought and Memory” or “Light and Comprehension” in old Hebrew, to do the translations. This device is mentioned several times in the old testament. Some biblical; scholars have thought that it was something like a set of dice, but since it could form words, and be used to define genealogy records, it may have been something like a computer.

  5. There seems to be a movement to discredit the Mormons because they have the old fashioned view on the sacredness of straight marriage. If you are not a Mormon and do not share their other religious beliefs then why worry about forcing them to accept the LGBT standards that are newly created affect less than 5% of the American population?

    Settled Science? In the 1950s LGBT matters were considered crimes against nature, punishable by law. In the 1960s, LGBT matters were considered mental illness, and treatable. In the 1970s LGBT matters were considered cultural choices, with health risks. Under the Obama Administration they are considered civil rights. In which year did they become settled science?

  6. The stone in a hat story seems to have come from the writings of Orson Pratt, who had came to Joseph for a blessing.. He recorded that Joseph “produced a small stone called a seer stone, and putting it into a Hat, soon commenced speaking.”.

    So why put a stone in a hat? Because if you leave it in your pocket, it hurts when you sit on it, and if you put it in your hat, you don’t lose it.

    Similar origins may explain how stones, bones, teeth, and “yeti scalps” became part of the religious folk objects of Buddhist, Catholic, and Muslim faiths, etc.. ( Muslims, prize a large stone, possibly a meteor, which is on display in the most sacred center of Mecca)

  7. reference ‘Book of Mormon Musical’ nobody cares if the Mormons are mocked. it is always open season on Mormons.

    to all those who mock this faith, frankly you don’t know what you are doing, it is the restored true religion.

  8. Restored true religion? You are kidding me? How can anyone fall for this in the 21st century?

  9. Wait until they learn that Joseph Smith didn’t even look at the golden plates when he translated them with the stone.

  10. I highly doubt the rock that recently hit the news is the actual Seer Stone! My grandfather, 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. After he was shot Brigham Young was 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 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.

  11. No more absurd than god sacrificing himself to himself to atone to himself for being himself and creating people to be less perfect than he himself is.

    On the other hand, you’re right. Why did God require a stone in a hat to translate the BOM? Mohammed was told to “recite!” and delivered the Quran out of whole cloth, however flimsy. Jesus had “near eyewitnesses” to record contradictory accounts of his life.

  12. You can try Freud’s Letter to an American Mother for a start.Or you can research the Napoleonic code. Or you can give up the absurd notion that you know anything of the subject at ALL.

  13. You better not say that around here. The Only True Christians (TM) will soon inform you otherwise.

  14. Just like the 17 foreskins of Jesus that are known to exist, or the collection of pieces of the True Cross sufficient to built a house, or the Crown of Thorns residing in Sainte Chappelle in Paris, along with all of the other thorns that also have enough thorniness to build a house.

    Psssssst. I have a large bridge in san Francisco. Wanna buy it?

  15. No, I can’t understand how that relates to ur science.

  16. You Mormons truly amaze me. You lie at EVERY OPPORTUNITY. WHY?

    “Joseph Smith did not toss them in a hat and use them for translations.”

    Really? Then explain this…

    From Martin Harris:
    “By aid of the Seer Stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say ‘written;’ and if correctly written, the sentence would disappear and another appear in its place; but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used” (CHC 1:29).

  17. Or this…

    From David Whitmer:
    “I will now give you a description 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; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment 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.”

  18. Or this…

    And Smith’s own wife:
    “Smith’s wife, Emma Smith Bidamon, was interviewed late in her life by her son Joseph Smith III about her knowledge of the early [p.99] church. This interview took place in February 1879 in the presence of Lewis C. Bidamon, her husband. At one point Emma stated the following: ‘In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us… .'”

  19. Joseph Smith’s brother William also confirmed the use of the hat and seer stone. His account is also similar to the accounts given by Harris and Whitmer although he refers to the seer stone as the “Urim and Thummim.” He stated, “The manner in which this was done was by looking into the Urim and Thummim, which was placed in a hat to exclude the light, (the plates lying near by covered up), and reading off the translation, which appeared in the stone by the power of God”

    Wanna try that again?

  20. Joseph Smith made so many predictions that didn’t come true which
    shows he is a liar/herectic because no true prophet can be revered
    if they are a liar plus with all of the “spirit bride” nonsense when no
    such thing happens in heaven since there’s no sex in heaven shows
    we don’t need the book of mormon. We only need to Repent/trust in
    Jesus to be saved! Mormons say they are the true/restored church
    which is complete nonsense/heresy. How anyone can still follow the
    book of mormon and mormonism just shows how stubborn some are.
    You do not need a/ the book of mormon or Joseph Smith just Jesus.

  21. Here are some prophesies that did not come to pass. They must not be true ones.

    “18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

    and

    Matthew 16:28 “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

    and

    23:36 “I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.”
    and

    24:34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

  22. Mormons are into talking of “testimony” and well it is in that there is indeed a schema of interpretation found in the Bible that allows the archive of testimony we know of as the Bible to be interpreted. But this same schema when used establishes the truth that the Bible’s testimony by active Holy Spirit endowed members in particular of the body of Christ would be done away with and the marvelous sign gifts would STOP. The marvelous sign gifts did indeed stop at the end of the “this generation” Jesus called evil and would not have a “sign from heaven.” In 70 AD at the destruction of the temple did that forty year generation end. The gift of prophecy would linger till the death of the last eyewitness of what Jesus said and did, and John the apostle wrote the last eyewitness testimony and the last book of prophecy. There will be no more prophet till after the rapture in the seven years before the millennial kingdom is established. Joseph Smith, even Muhammad, are frauds.

  23. Incidentally, the “this generation” of Matthew 24 is a future generation that WILL see signs from heaven, Jesus being one IN HEAVEN, and not as the sign of Jonah given the first “this generation” that Jesus calls evil. This will be the generation after the rapture when the churches will not exist any more and God will focus again in the last week of years promised to Daniel that God will deal with the Jews. Here there will be prophets and miracles again in that time after the rapture. As for Matt.23:36, the blood of all the persecuted saints up till that time did indeed fall on “this generation” that Jesus called evil. Peter called upon corollary one of the Schema of interpretation that says “in the mouth of one witness shall no man be put to death,” when Peter said in 2 Peter 1:20, “this first knowing that every prophecy of scripture is not of its own interpretation.” You need to consider IN THE BIBLE all the scriptures in reference to one focus for temporal 3-D…

  24. Fill in the blanks.

    A __________and his ___________ blank are soon parted.

  25. wow, you sound like quite a prophet yourself! All those words, to explain simple sentences that are clear as glass. Oh well, I guess that’s what theology– every single one of them– is for. It all goes to show that whenever your holy book says something that is inconvenient, it is far more convenient to pretend it says something else entirely.

    Well, that’s Hermeneutics for you:

    the fine art of getting your holy book to say exactly what you want it to.

  26. Hilarious!
    Mormon believers never cease to entertain me. Keep up the good work!

  27. I find it interesting that Thomas Edison also had a seer stone. http://www.artswfl.com/public-art-2/fort-myers-river-district-public-art-2/edison-ford-estates-collection/edison-ford-estates-collection and Edgar Cayce (mid-western “seer” also used a personal stone for revelation. The prophet Moses and subsequent Jewish High Priests also used the Urim and Thummim, which according to Josephus, was a breast plate of stones and jewels and revelation came as light through the jewels.

    Which makes me then ask, who is the rockhead here — Joseph Smith or the thousands of ignorant commentators who don’t know or respect the use of such objects in the seeking of higher knowledge.

    Edison used his metal ball to keep his conscious acute and assure that while he was meditating, if he fell into the sleeping state, he would end up dropping the ball onto a tin pan, which would cause him to wake up.

  28. I just love that the Mormon church is chalking this as a misconception to artistic interperetation. Are you serious ????

    Every propaganda piece and art that appears in Mormon church publications and buildings is carefully approved by the Mormon church. When I converted (thank God I had the sense to leave)
    every image was Josrph Smith reviewing the plates.

    I am fortunate that left the cult

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