On Seerstones

Richard Bushman is an American historian and Gouverneur Morris Professor of History emeritus at Columbia University. He is the author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder. He also serves on the general advisory board of the Joseph Smith Papers. We’re very grateful for his thoughts.

In a way the pictures of the seerstone are nothing new. We have known for a long time that Joseph found a stone that he used to discover lost objects and later to help him translate. The Urim and Thummim which has long been part of the story consisted of crystal stones, and there is the passage in D&C 130:10 about celestial beings receiving a white stone to reveal things about higher kingdoms. (Something like each missionary receiving an ipad.) This is all tucked away in corners of our memories as part of the technology of revelation.

Why then does the picture of a brown, striated stone trouble us? I think because it crosses a boundary we had held on to between religion and superstition. We have known about the gold plates and the angel and the Urim and Thummim long enough to assimilate them into respectable religion. Those are the ways of God. On the other side of the boundary are witchcraft and spells and tarot cards. Those are silly superstitions that the benighted believe in. We want none of that.

The seerstone, sitting there like it had just been dug up, drags across the line into the realm of the superstitious. Do we really want to be part of a religion that dredges up objects and symbols from folk magic? In doing so we join a battle that has waged for four centuries or more between magic and religion. In the seventeenth century lots of religious people believed in seerstones and various kinds of magical apparatus. They were instruments for reaching the divine. In the eighteenth century all such things were discredited by the Enlightenment, and Protestants (more than Catholics) sloughed them off. That process began at the top of society and only worked its way down gradually. In Joseph Smith’s time ordinary people were divided. Many of his neighbors believed in seerstones; others ridiculed them. He made them part of his religion.

Seerstones don’t trouble me. I rather like them. They are part of Mormon materiality. 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.

I am also happy the church brought out this stone as part of the transparency policy. The Historical Department is willing to show everything, it appears, and let the chips fall.


  1. WestBerkeleyFlats says:

    I think that the tension is because the current narrative would appear to have Smith beginning the translation process by looking at the plates using the seer stones in the Urim and Thummin given to him by an angel and then going on to produce a text by looking at his previous seer stone that he found by conventional means without bothering to consult the plates.

  2. You’d probably admit the seer stone as ipad analogy is imprecise, but I really don’t know if it’s a good tool. See I imagine telling my children “it’s like an ipad” and them going “ohhh, that makes sense” and then moving on and I don’t want everyday members to do the same. I think we need to wrestle with the idea more. I don’t think it was ipad easy for Joseph. I don’t think we can understand it. And this is a defining moment in discussing our peculiarity and I want to take it.

  3. Seeing the seerstone doesn’t trouble me.
    I think the gospel as we practice it is good, but so much of it (including temple rites, priesthood, etc.) is done with a mortal mind’s understanding and interpretation of eternal things.
    If Joseph Smith needed a stone to help his mortal mind understand the role he would play as seer, so be it. The fact that he would abandon the practice later as he grew in spiritual understanding shows that it isn’t the item that matters, but the man as prophet. This mirrors to me changes in the temple ceremony, for example. As we as a church grow in our understanding of huge, eternal, godly concepts, our practices become better and more pure. At least, ideally.

  4. Clark Goble says:

    I think this is right that when an aspect of religion has been in that religion for a very long time (centuries) people take it for granted and don’t see it as odd. (Even though to outsiders it may seem very odd indeed) This is why items like the Urim and Thummim in the Old Testament don’t seem odd or even the various things Jesus did for his miracles that appear to mimic contemporary magic of the era don’t. It’s familiarity that’s the issue.

    There was a move towards “rational religion” that was going on in the 19th century culminating in the shift of most mainline Protestant sects towards a strong liberal theology. That theology tended to demythologize the Bible such that people didn’t take serious divine interventions as miracles. Religion then becomes more about ethics or God in very abstract senses. (Often equated with Being itself) This stance of scientism (the idea that we should only believe what science establishes) makes strange the objects of the restoration. This was true in the 19th century of course. It’s what Charles Dickens called the problem of angels in an age of railways.

    From a more secular stance the supernatural itself its a problem. As such a seerstone is no worse than the claim of a resurrection. Yet one is familiar whereas the other is not. So people react differently.

  5. Jenny G: Bingo.

  6. I liked this very much.

  7. MikeInWeHo says:

    I think you are spot on, Clark. The only differences are the level of familiarity and the length of time involved. The Restoration is very recent, and unfamiliar. I think Mormonism is reaching a juncture where it either embraces its origin stories and all that implies, or distances itself from them and gradually evolves back into Protestantism. My sense is that there is a tension within the LDS church, sometimes even reflected here at BCC, between those two possible trajectories.

    Thanks for sharing here, Dr Bushman.

  8. I for one very much like technological analogies for the seer stones (smart watch minus wristband running Trados) and Liahona (gps with text messaging). It just really doesn’t take that much imagination even with the seer stone to make the “On” switch remote (only flipped when user is righteous), the guts subatomic, and the display holographic (of course you would need to block out light…) Or whatever. One of the blessings of the pace of contemporary technological innovation is that no magic or mysticism is required anymore (unless you’re into that sort of thing) to “swallow” this stuff and we can focus instead on having a *relationship* with God and his Christ, and having our hearts changed. That is where the real miracles lie.

  9. So there are “seers, prophets and revelatory” and there is a seer stone. So why does every new bit of information come from the Newsroom?

  10. An Anon Nom says:

    I think MikeInWeHo makes an important observation about underlying tension and trajectories. The seerstone represents Mormon uniqueness. Contemporary Mormons are likely split between those who embrace this uniqueness and those repulsed by it. The latter can often be found in the ranks of NOMs and EXMOs who, when first exposed, are shocked and dismayed. Other members, like Dr. Bushman (“Seerstones don’t trouble me. I rather like them.”), and Jenny G (“Seeing the seerstone doesn’t trouble me.”) accept or embrace Mormon uniqueness.

    Mormonism filled a unique but important need in the 20th century religious landscape as a hybrid that successfully balanced tensions and trajectories. We were unique but not too unique. However, with the dawn of the information age as well as cultural and demographic shifts both in the membership and in the world generally, balancing those tensions will become increasingly difficult. I think the question of the day is, how unique are we going to be?

    I hope that no matter what the answer is, we will be honest and forthright about it, as well as considerate of those who decide they no longer want to go with us. Let’s be us without deception and without compulsion.

  11. I met a convert during my mission in Florida who had previously dabbled in fortune telling, etc. She said that one of the things that clicked for her during her investigation of the Church, was the idea that there was an opposition in all things, and that Satan tries to counterfeit the Lord’s work. Thus, the crystal ball gazing was a counterfeit for the real thing (urim & thummim, seer stones, etc.).

  12. The statement that “In a way the pictures of the seerstone are nothing new” is at best incomplete. It may apply to both professional and amateur historians as well as to avid South Park fans. I suspect, however, that this will be quite shocking for a number of people who will in turn be met with the requisite “How could you not know about that? Everyone’s heard of that.”

    There is no meaningful way whatsoever that seer stones are in some sense like an I-Pad. The physical laws which govern the I-Pad (mostly classical electromagnetism as well as the quantum mechanics of silicon) have been understand for quite some time and understood by many. The computer code is also understood. Since there is nothing mysterious, magical, or mystical about the physical operation of an I-Pad plenty of other companies have independently developed similar products. As far as the users of tablets are concerned, they need not have any understanding of the physical underpinnings and children (righteous or not, prophets or not) can learn its operation quickly and without much frustration.

    There is no known physical law whatsoever that allows the appearance of lighted words on a stone unless you’re talking about liquid crystal displays which I’m fairly certain Joseph did not have access to.

    No one can fashion their own seer stone that performs the same function as claimed by Joseph.

    I feel quite confident in claiming that any person today trying to use the exact same seer stone as used by Joseph would not get the same results. Ever.

    Jenny G’s comment about Joseph abandoning the practice upon further understanding should apply to Mormons as an entire group. As our understanding increases, there will be plenty who simply do not accept nor have need for stories involving magical stones used to translate nonexistent languages which in turn describe stories involving people who never existed.

  13. it's a series of tubes says:

    Jeff, may I refer you to Clarke’s third law? :)

  14. Dr Bushman always has a sensible reasoning and calmness. Just being honest here. The Urim and Thummim never gave me trouble, as I was believing it was from God and blessed of him. When I first heard I out the seer stone found in the well and hence the translation of the BoM, I had chills down my back and a bad impression. This does trouble me and I am uncomfortable with it. Am I the only one here?

  15. Clark Goble says:

    Tubes, earnest question. Why does Joseph using one particular set of rocks (the Urim and Thummim) not trouble you while using a different rock (the seerstone) does? I confess I have a hard time seeing the difference beyond familiarity. I’d love someone to explain why one is so troubling and the other not. I sincerely want to understand better.

  16. An Anon Nom says:

    This is more of a tongue in cheek PM to Jeff, but come on, there were two sentences that specifically mention seerstones somewhere in the Friend 30 years ago and three sentences in the New Era and Ensign 12 years after that (and subsequently 8 years after that!). So I think it’s safe to say that everybody’s heard of it.

    Also, jiminpanama, you’re not the only one. And what’s even less comforting is to read about the other things Joseph et al did with seerstones and how they might lead naturally to claims of the discovery of golden plates.

  17. hope_for_things says:

    Firstly, it’s the folk magic that I have a problem with, I just don’t believe in it. I can try to believe in magical stones, treasure guardians, divining rods, talismans, magical parchments, autumnal equinox magic, astrology, etc, but I can’t make myself believe these things are real. I accept that Joseph and the early saints believed these things. What am I supposed to do, pray about it? Decide that God somehow used these instruments to communicate to Joseph divine truths?

    Secondly, why are Mormonism’s magical roots any more legitimate than other cultures magical roots. Tarot cards, smoke rings, hallucinogenic drugs, séances, voodoo, etc. Does God communicate through these means as well?

  18. Christopher J. says:

    Thanks for this, Dr. Bushman. Your comments, as always, are thoughtful and measured.

    I will add my voice to those of others pushing against the iPad analogy, not because it isn’t perfect but rather because it attempts to collapse the distance between the 1820s and today, and because I don’t think the seer stones can be understood apart from the historical context and culture in which they existed and were used.

  19. Clark Goble says:

    Hope, I don’t believe in most folk magic either. But I do think the distinction between religion and magic is pretty problematic. At best it’s horribly blurry. It’s not clear to me why one rock is religion and an other is folk magic. Why writing appearing on the liahona is fine but writing appearing on a seerstone is problematic. I think I can accept God using the trappings of people’s beliefs to reveal things without thinking that those practices/trappings work on their own independent of God.

    The main reason for my caveat is that if we believe in personal revelation and that God speaks to all people and not just Mormons then I don’t think we can say a person seeking God in a context different from our own can’t get an answer. That said I suspect most claims about God are false and I tend to even be skeptical of a lot of stories within the Church. Yet if I have an investigator raised Pentacostal praying for an answer and God manifests that answer to them in the broad language they are used to, is that really bad? In one area in my mission an investigator came up out of the waters of baptism speaking in tongues simply because that was what she was used to when the spirit was strong. It was very weird to me, but a confirmation of the truth of the restoration to her. Who am I to tell God how to speak to individuals?

    I personally don’t care for ritual. There was no way I was going to my college graduation for instance which I see as a silly ritual. Yet simultaneously I’ve gotten a lot out of the temple ceremonies and the passing of the sacrament. God speaks to us according to our own understanding. It doesn’t mean our understandings are themselves accurate.

    So I guess that’s how I can reject dowsing as nonsense while thinking that a person praying and fasting to find water might be inspired while dowsing.

  20. This is more than a matter of swapping one set of weird spiritual novelties for another. The rock in the hat dynamic implies that JS did not need the plates. Even more, using the rock in the hat precluded the use of the plates. That necessitates a profound shift in paradigm. Why did he need the plates? Why all the trouble? None of the ad hoc explanations can begin to offer a satisfactory answer. The stone does more than simply insert a new magical tool into the story. It forces us to grapple with a much more pressing question. The plates distinguish the BoM by their tangibility. Yet, if JS didn’t need the plates, suddenly the BoM loses that distinguishing feature. Yes, he may or may not have received plates from an angel, but he didn’t use them to translate in any tangible sense. So the existence of the plates is only tangentially related to the development of the BoM. Instead, the BoM falls into the same category as the BofA or B of Moses — or any other religious text from any other religion, for that matter — namely, a product of a subjective religious experience.

  21. Christopher J. says:

    I do not think “Joseph Smith did not translate directly from the plates” necessarily means that “JS didn’t need the plates.”

  22. Clark Goble says:

    An Anon Nom, I don’t think I ever said we should expect everyone to know it. I don’t think most members know much history in the least. However even if you don’t go to there resources the information has been in the Ensign regularly. As I said in the other thread I doubt most members can really distinguish between important historical figures like Sidney Rigdon and Martin Harris. I don’t think knowing the history is really that important religiously. It’s just that if people don’t know these things and then blame the Church for their ignorance I get a little cranky.

    That’s especially true in the contemporary era when the entry on the translation of the Book of Mormon goes through this. But I’d be the first to acknowledge that most people don’t study entries at lds.org or even typically do the reading for Sunday School.

  23. hope_for_things says:

    Clark Goble, thanks for your response. It’s so confusing to me. I’m at a place where I don’t know whether to accept metaphysical phenomena as coming from God or reject it entirely. Although I have had spiritual experiences in my life, I’m questioning the reality of these experiences and I can’t rule out the possibility that it might be all in my head.

    I see so many problems with superstitious belief systems. I come from a family that believes very strongly in NDEs and gravitates toward apocalyptic ideas as well. I’m in a place where I want to reject the bad that I see and still hold onto a belief in a higher power, but it’s hard. The seer stone story just resurrected all my anxiety about dismissing Mormonism’s connections to its folk magic roots. I wish I could see these things as benign like Mr. Bushman, it’s just so hard for me.

  24. Okay, JS didn’t translate directly or indirectly from the plates. We’re still left with a situation similar to the contemporary view on BofA: namely, he used it as a springboard for revelation. Well, okay, then the tangibility of the plates only has relevance to the extent that he had a piece of hardware to prompt an experience? That’s a very, very, very different paradigm from the traditional narrative that the existence of the plates distinguishes the BofM from any other scripture. Any thoughts on that question?

  25. hope_for_things says:


    One option is this idea by Ann Taves. Perhaps Joseph created the physical plates, she likens it to how the Eucharist becomes the body of Christ. An act of creation to help God’s work move forward. It’s an interesting concept that I’m not doing justice to. Check it out if you’re interested.

    Click to access B-6-Golden-Plates-Numen.pdf

  26. Manuel Villalobos says:

    I feel some sadness regarding the impressive disconnect within LDS different circles, specifically privileged ones and non-privileged ones when it comes to meaningful information regarding Church History (which is not to be found in official Church materials).

    When I read the following: “We have known for a long time that Joseph found a stone that he used to discover lost objects and later to help him translate.” I am a bit taken aback.

    Who is “we”?

    It certainly is none of my leaders, and it certainly is none of the people in the LDS congregations I attended when I was a Mormon. It certainly isn’t the missionaries that converted me. At some point, It was me, but I was reprimanded for ever letting this knowledge leave my lips. It was my friend, a History Major student that had developed a masterful method to silence himself and never let anyone know how much he knew about things that were constantly misrepresented in Church meetings. But the rest? No. It certainly wasn’t them.

    Now that I live in Mexico, I know the odds of finding a member of this privileged “we” are even greater. A privileged elite. One that I have never witnessed while physically attending Church in two countries and dozens of wards and stakes.

    I am sorry to contradict Mr. Bushman but no. No!

    “We” as a Church have not known for a long time that Joseph found a stone and that he used it to discover lost objects, or that he also used it later to translate, specifically, the Book of Mormon. No! No! No!

    I also feel uncomfortable that the focus of the article is the fact that a picture of the seer stone is what is troubling to Mormons, specifically, the privileged “we” I suppose. Yet, the way information was managed regarding this stone and its usage is what is troubling every single Mormon I have interacted with since the picture became public. I haven’t found Mormons having trouble with the actual stone. In the end, Mormons are people who believe in divine visitations and supernatural means of obtaining information. The focus or the assumption of what is troubling seems off per my Mormon experience. The privileged “we” continues to misrepresent Church membership.

  27. Manuel, privilege doesn’t seem like the right word. It’s not like this was restricted knowledge. I don’t disagree with the sentiment.

  28. For those of you interested in the practicality of a seer stone (I’m not), you might look up the book Reunions by Raymond Moody, who also wrote the famous Life After Life. In it he explores the practice of mirror gazing.

  29. Elizabeth says:

    Manuel, it does feel a bit like gaslighting.

    I’m sure Clark Goble has noble intentions, but his comments often make things worse for me.

  30. May I ask why is the Prophet not giving revelations? and instead you have to speak on the matter? You’re not a prophet are you?

  31. it's a series of tubes says:

    Tubes, earnest question. Why does Joseph using one particular set of rocks (the Urim and Thummim) not trouble you while using a different rock (the seerstone) does? I confess I have a hard time seeing the difference beyond familiarity. I’d love someone to explain why one is so troubling and the other not. I sincerely want to understand better.

    Clark, I’m not sure what I may have posted to make you think this. I have no problem with either. But then again, I’m the sort of Mormon who found Rough Stone Rolling to be tremendously faith-promoting, and who thinks the painting By the Gift and Power of God is freaking awesome. Look how young they were!

  32. Mark Romney says:

    As I mature in the Gospel I am humbled and my testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith is greatly strengthened to know that Heavenly Father was able to take a simple farm boy and, by utilizing means that may seem odd to us in our day but were not similarly so considered by Joseph and those around him, teach him how to interpret and, more importantly, how to channel the Spirit of the Lord as required not only to translate the plates but receive other important concepts of Gospel needed for the last days. The progression from the use of the Urim and Thummin and the seerstone to the eventual ability to receive direct and detailed information through the Spirit without external devices makes the history and work of Joseph Smith ring true to me and I hope to each of you. If Joseph were making this up he would most likely not have chosen to devise this method of the mode of translation and/or channeling of the Spirit. I am amazed that many today who carry a smart phone every where with access to the bulk of human knowledge at their fingertips, would have such a hard time accepting that God could prepare a method of translation as simple and elegant as what Joseph described.

  33. hope-for-things

    Thanks for the reference. That’s a unique perspective to say the least.

  34. Manuel Villalobos says:

    Steve, from my point of view it is privileged. I live in Mexico. How many documents with scholarly value do you think members of the Church here are going to find in their language regarding the origins and usage of Joseph Smith’s seer stone? This is why many of us make a “fuss” about these things never being mentioned in ofiicial Church materials. Mormons in the USA are a minority. Mormons in the USA who have stumbled across the seer stone narratives and have not dismissed it as anti-Mormon information are even a smaller number. Mormons who have enought time to research every strange thing that comes from outside the Church regarding the Church and that is not found in Official Church Materials is even a smaller and yes, pivileged group. LDS is a global Church. Simply use that context to think about what you are telling me.

  35. Manuel, have it your way.

  36. There used to be a seer stone in the old church history museum (where the south visitor’s center is now). I doubt it was this one. There were several of these stones among the early brethern and it could have been any one of those. I knew early on that Joseph had a seer stone. It has only when I read Mike Quinn’s Magical World View book15 years ago that I became aware of the seer stone in the hat mode of Book of Mormon transmission. My question is, how often did Joseph possess the plates after the 116 pages episode?
    If they weren’t used in the writing of the Book of Mormon we have they would have been a real burden on Joseph to protect them.

  37. >”. If Joseph were making this up he would most likely not have chosen to devise this method of the mode of translation and/or channeling of the Spirit.”

    Mark, with all due respect, if Joseph were to invent a way to translate things, a seer stone is a very likely way to do it. He was a treasure hunter using the same stone in his early days. The use of peep stones was a relatively common practice as well. This seems like exactly the method he would choose were he to have “devised “a revelatory method on his own.

    The thing I have found most striking about this newly spawned discourse is the treatment of JS’s pre-religious use of the stone. Are we to believe that his use of the seer stone prior to his calling as a prophet was legitimate? Wouldn’t the basic assumption about this practice be that it was fraudulent (even if it was an ignorant or well-meaning fraud)? If it is fraudulent, when does the use of such a stone switch over from fake folk-magic to real holy power? If it was always real, what does that say about the LDS worldview regarding the supernatural?

  38. Manuel Villalobos says:

    Steve, I am not trying to argue the point to “have it my way.” I want to believe Mormons can understand things outside their immediate context.

    The faces and voices of my Mormon experience and of the Mormon experience of millions. What about them?

    I have in mind, Sister Perez, from my first ward in Colonia Villahermosa in Northern Mexico. She was a diligent member of the Church, but she had to make tortillas and doughnuts in the mornings for her and some of her children to sell in the evening. She won’t hear about seerstones in Church. She is not an exception to the rule, there are millions of Church members like her.

    You are right. Information is not truly “restricted” to her. She could learn English, take a plane and visit the special collections section of BYU’s library and learn many things about Church history. She could then come back and understand that the painting of Joseph translating plates in her Stake President’s office lobby is misleading when it comes to understanding the translation process used to translate the Book of Mormon.

    She could see the picture of the seerstone and say “Bingo! That is exactly how people described the stone Joseph found while helping dig a well in his neighbor’s property.” But realistically, she exists in a situation these events are not even remotely likely to happen for her, even if she tried her hardest for the rest of her life. She, like it or not, represents millions in the Church, and the core of church membership in Mexico and likely around the world.

    So, my point is still who is this “we”? Do the rest of us ever count in these blog posts?

  39. MikeInWeHo says:

    “It’s not like this was restricted knowledge.”

    I dunno, Steve. Back in my day this information was in the realm of what was routinely called “Anti-Mormon Literature,” and I’m sure you recall just how taboo that was. Isn’t that a form of restriction?

  40. Carey F. says:

    Manuel – the reason I’d also suggest that “privilege” might not be the best fit here is because possession this knowledge doesn’t bring a benefit to one within the Mormon church in the US or even abroad rather it usually comes with only a burden.

  41. Manuel Villalobos says:

    Casey F.,

    Except when a photograph of a seer stone is made public by the Church itself. Then the tables turn. Then the people who had that information are like “we knew all along,” while the rest sit confused thinking, where did this come from? But I am fine if nobody here can see privilege. My experience as a Mormon all over again. ;)

  42. Christopher J. says:

    Do we know if the Ensign article on the translation process and the accompanying photo of the seer stone will also be published in the Liahona or otherwise made available to non-English speakers (on lds.org or elsewhere)?

  43. Manuel, you’re right, Dr. Bushman’s use of the word “we” would be incorrect, if “we” must necessarily mean all members of the church the world over, or even the majority of members or and former members. Perhaps it would have been more accurate for him to say that “those having access to the scholarly literature have known or could have known for a long time that Joseph found a stone that he used to discover lost objects and later to help him translate.” If we’re going to get into speculation as to why Dr. Bushman used the word “we”, I’d say that he figured the alternative was too verbose. I think most people, you and some others excepted, are willing to give him a pass on that kind of imprecise language though, given his intellect, stature, and writings — and possibly also since he is not a church spokesman or apostle.

  44. Chris J., that is the standard operating procedure.

  45. Bro. Jones says:

    I get where Manuel is coming from. This is not dissimilar to the publication of the essays on Race and the Priesthood and Polygamy on the LDS.org website. As a lengthy (and sometimes acrimonious) debate on the bloggernaccle showed, while many members were already familiar with this information and felt a sense of validation, others were only just discovering it and felt hurt that they came to the knowledge through what amounted to a press release. It particularly hurt some who in earlier times might have chosen to avoid asking or researching “tough questions,” or who were advised to avoid such things as “Anti-Mormon.” Suddenly a bit of information that was at best obscure and, at worst, actively derided as a misguided attack on the faith is common knowledge. And on top of that, the image of Joseph muttering into a hat isn’t nearly as inspiring as his studious consideration of gold plates, as presented in many LDS images.

    I also get what hope_for_things is saying: if folk magic is okay, why are things like tarot reading or voodoo dolls bad? And if it’s just the seer stone that is God’s work, was it also doing God’s work when Joseph used it to go (unsuccessfully) treasure hunting? For myself, I have no problem with an imperfect prophet building a syncretist religion under God’s direction, but that had better darn well be the narrative all the way from the top of our church: the soft-focus paintings of a coiffed, platinum blonde Joseph translating from gold plates need to be placed on the scrapheap and never appear in official channels again.

  46. Bro. Jones says:

    Edit: Joseph isn’t that blond in the picture on this thread, but I’ve otherwise noticed a trend of him growing blonder and blonder in official portraits.

  47. The picture of the seer stone is striking to me but in the end does not necessarily troubles me. It is certainly striking in the sense that it is to my knowledge the first piece of real tangible object related to the translation process that we can actually see and handle. We don’t have the golden plates, we don’t have the Urim/Thummim, we don’t have the sword of Laban, etc., but yet there it is, the alleged seer stone captured in a clear high-resolution digital photograph. It is also striking in how ordinary and mundane the object looks. It’s not exactly the Liahona that we read about the Book of Mormon that is supposed to be an elaborate and intricate piece of equipment. But again, more time I spend reflecting on its implication, ultimately it is not troubling for me to see it. The thing that comes to my mind is the brother of Jared and his sixteen stones. We all know the story. The Lord asked what BOJ would have Him do about the predicament (journeying for months in the perpetual darkness of the watertight vessel) and BOJ suggested that the Lord touch the stones and the stones will light up, which is exactly what happened. We have to remember that it was BOJ’s idea not the Lord’s. He could have just made the boat glow in the dark or something just as easily or provided some other miraculous suggestions. But the amazing thing was, the Lord gave BOJ a choice. And BOJ provided a solution.

    I’m not an expert on this subject and I know very little of church history let alone some of those more “esoteric” elements surrounding the early church history. However, I don’t find it difficult to believe that what Joseph did wasn’t too far from what the Lord allowed BOJ to do with those stones. Maybe Joseph had more leeway in choosing the method of translation. Maybe Lord even encouraged Joseph to find the method that he felt most comfortable with, the same way He let BOJ choose the method of illumination in the boat. Though I consider myself a faithful member of the Church, I’m okay with the notion that JS was into folk magic and treasure finding before he started to receive “real” revelations from God. I think it’s kinda quaint and makes him more down to earth so to speak. Maybe he really was this really unsophisticated and even superstitious little boy who believed in these spiritual powers. Which is fine. Many uneducated and unsophisticated folks back then probably were too. And his BOM translation period was still very early in his new career (so to speak) as the legitimate prophet of God. He was still figuring things out. He doesn’t have all the answers yet. He didn’t even have the priesthood when he started translating the Book of Mormon! Can you imagine that? These days, you can’t even pass the sacrament in church if you don’t have at least the Aaronic priesthood, yet the prophet of God didn’t even have the priesthood when he was given these holiest of holy ancient records. He was learning things as he went. In this context, imagine what Joseph would have chosen as the method of translation if the Lord gave him that choice. He could have said something like this: “I am a eighteen-year-old farm boy with no formal education. Lord, I really REALLY don’t know anything about translating ancient text let alone translating ANY language. I do have this rock that I used to find treasures with when I was little, though. I probably didn’t really know what I was doing and I don’t think it really worked anyway. But I believe you are almighty God. I think you can make anything possible. If I have enough faith that i can translate using this stone, I know you can make it happen. So, can I use this ordinary stone as a seer stone?” Now, of course, this is completely fictional and I’m not suggesting that any of this actually happened. But, some version of this might have happened. I believe God can do wonderful things through ordinary people, like the farm boy Joseph Smith. I also believe that God may let an ordinary person to use an ordinary object to accomplish great many things, if that were to be the way that He wanted it.

    If BOJ’s sixteen stones were to be still out there somewhere (and I’m pretty sure they ARE out there somewhere. After all they’re just rocks) what do you think they would look like? I’d imagine that they would look like perfectly normal rocks just like any other rocks. They might be clear rocks like crystals maybe because that’s how they looked like when BOJ found them. But still ordinary crystals. No special powers. God’s signature would NOT be on them. No one would be able to tell that a very very long time ago, the Creator Himself has personally touched them one by one. Maybe you even stepped on one of them this morning on your commute to work. You just didn’t realize it because it looked so ordinary.

  48. Manuel Villalobos says:


    Considering Mr Bushman’s experience, I think your speculation as to his ability or lack therof to give his writings the tone and context he desires for his audience to capture the right connotation seems far off.

  49. Bro. Jones, If you haven’t seen this article, I think it’s worth a look. Not that I expect it to change your mind, but it gave be a broader perspective.

    Click to access From-Darkness-unto-Light.-Appendix.pdf

    I think that an objection to a painting of Joseph looking at the plates because most of the translation was accomplished by means other than looking at the plates can be analogous to objecting to a painting of Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman because most of his ministry was among the Jews.

  50. Manuel,

    You are probably right there too.

  51. Bro. Jones says:

    To be blunt: I find myself skeptical that the plates were ever consulted and would not be surprised if at some point the narrative becomes “Joseph was miraculously inspired by some kind of physical object to produce the Book of Mormon. There may or may not have been a literal, historical object that may or may not have been actually edited by ancient prophets.”

    I’m nearly at that point in my belief, and I’m okay with that. I’d actually far prefer if our narrative emphasized Joseph’s inspiration and creativity over a more academic-sounding term like “translation.” I think we’re moving in that direction (see Book of Abraham essay), but it makes teaching Gospel Doctrine a whole lot easier if we focus on gifts of the spirit rather than magical qualities of rumored artifacts. And it also leads to less of an orthodoxy split among members if there’s not a semi-official litmus test requiring believers to profess the truth of very specific historical claims.

  52. Bro. Jones says:

    To quote Morgan Davis’ very on-point tweet from the sidebar: “God, I believe, has occasionally worked through me, which is so more impressive than working through a rock, or even a whole box of them.”

    I believe he worked through Joseph occasionally as well. And I for one hope that this slight relaxation of the “official” narrative might someday allow us the space to reject the “official” narratives of polygamy and the priesthood ban, and finally acknowledge them as the errors of men rather than mysterious acts of the divine.

  53. Bro. Jones says:

    at: thanks for that linked article. I totally get it, and even agree: and since it seems to be a correct viewpoint, I look forward to Asian, African, and Native American portrayals of the Savior appearing in our publications and meetinghouses. Because indeed, “historical accuracy” doesn’t matter as long as the inaccuracy in question supports a particular narrative.

  54. MikeInWeHo says:

    I agree with that, Bro. Jones. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming Ensign article impacts people.

  55. “but it makes teaching Gospel Doctrine a whole lot easier if we focus on gifts of the spirit rather than magical qualities of rumored artifacts. ” – Bro. Jones

    I didn’t know we thought the stone itself was magic. Maybe I missed something in the comments?

    We’re taught that faith (a gift of the spirit!) is a principle of power. But power to do what exactly? Well, whatever it is you think it can do! Faith has the power to accomplish anything that you believe CAN be accomplished. So, you believe you can look into a rock and get revelation, and it works. You believe you can stand in Peter’s shadow and be healed, and it works. You believe you have to lower your friend through the roof so Jesus can touch him, and it works. Or you believe that if you send your servant to Jesus and He will just say the words, that you can be healed, and it works. Or you believe that if you get into a pool of water when it is “troubled” and you’ll be healed, and it works. You believe you can walk on water, and it works.

    So what do you believe that God/priesthood/faith can do in your life?

  56. Trevor –

    Wouldn’t the basic assumption about this practice be that it was fraudulent (even if it was an ignorant or well-meaning fraud)?

    There is no such thing as ignorant fraud. If it was ignorant, it would not, by definition, be fraud.

  57. Clark Goble says:

    Manuel, I think you’re completely right about privilege (although I don’t quite like the way that term gets used – but I agree with your point). Here in the US in particular most people have access to the internet and nearly everyone reads English. There is an amazing amount of materials easily available if we want to research.

    While I know lds.org is trying to provide translations of as much as possible, doing a quick search I didn’t see that the Book of Mormon Translation entry in Spanish. I suspect the amount of resources is much more wanting in Spanish let alone other languages. I’m not sure what we can do beyond the Church providing more resources to translate pages on lds.org.

    Br Jones, I think the reason things like tarot cards and so forth are warned against is that they are often tied to counterfeits of revelation – sometimes including actual satanic activity. It’s a tricky line again since most people know relatively little about other religious traditions and may judge something as satanic that has a very different meaning in its original context.

    The worry I have with a lot of this is that people see them as quasi-technological. Which is one reason why I think iPad analogies are bad. Rather I think this is regular revelation with people using items as a catalyst for their faith. I rather suspect that if we saw the Urim & Thummim or any other item talked about in the scriptures we’d be rather underwhelmed, coming from our particular culture.

    The best analogy I have for this sort of thing is some of the miracles of Jesus. Some of what he did was making use of the equivalent of folk magic of his time. (Say spitting on the eyes of the blind or tongue of the mute) I’m rather confident Jesus didn’t need to do that. Yet for whatever reason he made use of the trappings the people of the time understood. Likewise the very Urim & Thummim itself appears tied to folk traditions of divination in the middle east. There’s no real reason why God had to do it that way.

    Regarding your broader point of how people learn this, I’m not sure there is a good solution. Ultimately what’s in question is peoples expectations. I think the Church has to present the information but what is the best way to do this? I tend to think what they are doing is the best solution, but I’m open to hearing better ideas.

  58. Clark Goble says:

    Tubes, my apologies. I read the name off the wrong comment. I meant to write jiminpanama. Mea culpa.

  59. Manuel Villalobos says:

    “Joseph isn’t that blond in the picture on this thread, but I’ve otherwise noticed a trend of him growing blonder and blonder in official portraits.”

    Indeed. His features have greatly evolved too. His receeding chin and weak jaw line have been replaced with a strong angular jaw on the cover of the Joseph Smith manual, you know, something more marketable and Hollywood style. His nose also appears significantly smaller in proportion and his forehead reduced.

    I have known of paintings commmisioned by the brethren to have specific requirements on them and to avoid certain things. Dell Parson described this when he spoke about painting the ubiquitous Jesus portrait.

    Because illustrations are among the most powerful form of marketing and have the greatest impact on an audience, I agree we should not try to deduct historicity from art. Especially from commisioned art, like in the case of a lot of Church art.

    What we can deduct though, is how commisioned paintings have been used to portray a narrative in a specific way by what they do hide and what they do focus on. And there is nothing wrong with that. In the case of Del Parson’s painting of the translation, a painting that clearly was commisioned by the bretheren and given specific requirements; the focus is the plates and the items to hide is the translation artifact (absent from the painting). My analysis is that the message is intended to be that the Book of Mormon comes from plates, but the actual artifact used to translate them is less important and hidden from the narrative. This is how they shape narratives. Historical accuracy is for sure lost, because that’s how somoene wants it to be.

  60. Bro. Jones says:

    Jax: So what do you believe that God/priesthood/faith can do in your life?

    All manner of miracles. But I guarantee you that I’ll be getting a talking-to if I start telling my Gospel Doctrine class that my lesson material is revealed to me each week in a shiny stone I found in my back yard just because with God, all things are possible.

    Clark: Thanks for the analogy to Jesus using mud/spit in some acts of healing. I think that’s a fair analogy and helps me place this into context. (I also somewhat cynically suspect that an Elder who dabbed mud on an investigator as part of a healing blessing would get the same talking-to I’d get about my nice stone, though.)

  61. Mary Ann says:

    Other “folk magic” elements in the Bible are casting lots to pick a new apostle (Acts 1) and communing with dead prophets (1 Samuel 28). Not to mention staffs being turned into serpents by both prophets and magicians. Those elements always seemed to make my religion teachers squirm a bit (the Liahona was completely reasonable, though). Seerstones are not the only things that seem out-of-place in our “modern” understanding of religion. By all accounts our doctrine admits the presence of the supernatural (seeing spirits of loved ones in the temple), yet we seem to have a set of cultural expectations as to what’s appropriate and inappropriate interactions. Seerstones in today’s church would be highly inappropriate.

    Honestly, I was uncomfortable when the pic of Joseph’s seerstone popped up on MSN, and I already had internalized the concept of him translating with a seerstone in his hat. I wouldn’t be surprised if it struck other members as odd (at the very least), since it’s natural to use the church artwork to picture the translation process in your mind. I’m very glad the essay will be published in the Ensign and Liahona for the worldwide membership to see, though I really wish at least one of the 4 depictions of the translation process accompanying the article in the magazine would have included Joseph looking into a hat. Props that one of them incorporated the Urim and Thummim.

    Thank-you Brother Bushman for offering your perspective. I was actually very curious to know your viewpoint on this.

  62. I’m glad the church published photos of the stone and I’m glad we’re talking about how ridiculous a thing it is. But of course it is! The Lord by small and simple means brings great things to pass, right? And a seer stone is a very small and simple (simply ridiculous) thing. I think that’s OK to say.

    Because, apparently, Joseph Smith, who I believe was a prophet of God — he translated the Book of Mormon, the most spiritually satisfying book I’ve ever read, by means of a seer stone that’s so “chocolate-looking” it’s almost lick-able. That’s a laughably ridiculous claim. It really is. Then again, if you reject the idea of a seer stone, you’re forced to accept that first-time author Joseph Smith — unread and unschooled, to boot — wrote the Book of Mormon in only one hurried draft that took less than a year to compose, while he worked more or less full time on a farm. That’s equally as ridiculous a claim as the seer-stone thing (even if not obviously ridiculous; i.e., to someone who’s never tried to write a book).

    Then again, the more ridiculous the Book of Mormon’s composition process, the more important the content of the book itself.

    Because what kind of book would you expect to arise or be created from this seer-stone, one-draft ridiculous translation process? Certainly not the Book of Mormon. Certainly not a book with a suitable structural synecdoche for the revelational pattern it details. Certainly not a book that continues the Old Testament temple narrative in so subtle and profound a way as the Book of Mormon does. Certainly not a book that so slyly argues against war in as literarily a sophisticated a way as the Book of Mormon does. Certainly not a book that can literally bring you closer to God, as the Book of Mormon has for (at least) me.

    But why would God do things this way? That is, if you accept that the Book is from God, why doesn’t the Lord clothe a dignified thing in dignity? I don’t know. Maybe the Lord is against traditional expressions of power. Maybe the Lord is 100% committed to keeping things real. Who knows. Maybe better not to believe in God at all rather than to believe in a God who communicates with his children in ridiculousness ways.

    The Book of Mormon asks to be taken at face-value but doesn’t come stamped with any kind of comfortingly official or respectable imprimatur. That’s a problem. And given how many books there are to read, and how little the time to read them in, I don’t suppose it’s all that surprising that most people refuse to even read it; or if they do read it, they refuse to expend the effort required to truly understand it. That’s a lot to ask. I’m beyond fortunate to have been raised in a home that accepted the Book of Mormon as God’s very own word. That way, the only thing standing between me and the Book were its chloroformally dull Isaiah passages. I’m glad I woke up and kept reading.

  63. Seriously? I can never understand the whole Mormon/weird/mystical/youguysarecrazy argument.
    Do you want to talk weird and mystical? Let’s talk Christianity. Immaculate conception? Healings? Walking on water? Bringing the dead back to life? Resurrection? Salvation through a vicarious atonement? Being a Christian requires faith – big faith. Being a Christian is not logical. Being a Christian and believing all of those “stories” must appear as total gullibility to the non-believer. Believing that stones were the means of revelation to an illiterate, backwoods boy who was use to and accepted that medium are but oatmeal in comparison to digesting the meat of the whole Jesus as Savior and Son of God theory.

  64. Try and picture Joseph’s face in the hat . . . I mean a picture of it. It would look like a “sick” picture as was pointed out in the excellent Appendix to From Darkness Unto Light which recently came out. Food for thought.

  65. Mary Ann says:

    Terry, not all the pics in the appendix show Joseph’s face completely buried. There are ways to depict the process without making it look like Joseph was having trouble keeping his food down. (You can see various depictions at http://blog.fairmormon.org/2015/04/30/artwork-of-joseph-smith-translating-the-book-of-mormon/)

  66. Bro. Jones, I often don’t tell my family, let alone my Gospel Doctrine class, about sacred events in my life (I bet you don’t either). But I hope we both DO get revelation for our classes, does it really matter if it comes via vague promptings or a stone?

    I think a lot about what I actually believe God can do for me… On a theoretical level I know He can do everything, but I think my faith is limited in that I expect it to happen in particular ways most of the time, and that is exactly how I experience them. There might be other miracles out there for me that I just don’t believe in just yet. Hard to break through skepticism of miracles and practice a real belief because seeing certain things would be what we think of as “superstitious”.

    Take that pool at Jerusalem where the sick would gather and wait for the troubling of the waters. They gathered there ritualistically because somebody WAS actually healed and they wanted their turn/try at it. If someone told me that they had a pool like that I would think they were a nutcase. I lack that belief. I think its a cultural thing and I don’t know how to break it. Ideas?

  67. D. Knowles says:

    To: Bro. Jones, Manuel Villalobos, etc.
    There are a couple of books written on the portraits of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In these you will find explanations for the many different renderings, and the difficulties in coming to a consensus. These include artists renditions based on the death mask, computer modeling, many personal descriptions from people who knew or met him, etc.
    Many of the early artists had their own preconceptions, artistic styles as well to factor in.
    Consider famous paintings by Arnold Friberg, which pretty obviously were not what Nephites and Lamanites looked like.
    One of the books is “Joseph Smith Portraits (A Search For the Prophet’s Likeness)”.
    Another Is “Millions Shall Know Brother Joseph Again (The Joseph Smith Photograph)”.

  68. The process by which Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon via seerstone is not, at all, equivalent to the layperson’s understanding of the term “translate”, being far more revelatory than scholarly. Yet, the in the narrative seems to suggest, and we do not dissuade it, that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, so I think the threat of dissonance upon discovery of the true role of the seer stone is quite genuine and real for many.

    I am reminded of the mission, where we never, ever talked about U&T or seer-stones, though I had a good seminary education and was quite aware and yet unbothered by their role. What is interesting now, looking back, is that when seeking out persons to teach, we would almost certainly avoid the types of people that would readily accept folk magic like seer stones — them not being the level-headed head-of-household types desperately needed to grow the Church. (Where I toiled, one could easily spend every day discussing the vagaries of the occult and explaining why we would not appoint or lay hands on household appliances and animals.)

    As per usual, my discomfort is not with the events, but the telling.

  69. Clark Goble – you place blame on the member for not knowing their church history. In fact you state that it makes you cranky. So why three hours of church every week that only presents the whitewashed versions of church history that the correlation department wants taught? In fact the church handbook and church training advises against bringing in material outside of what the lesson book teaches. This is in fact where the whole problem lies. The church, correlation, chose to whitewash church history. Fault is not owned by the member. It is solely owned by the church. Prior to the age of the Internet, prior to Fawn Brodie, the information simply wasn’t available. When Brodie exposed the church with her book, this was categorized as anti-Mormon and the members were in fact counseled to avoid it. Now it turns out what she wrote was true. You must not, you cannot place blame on the individual member. The church had a responsibility to teach the real history and they chose not to. Now they have to own up to it as they have been exposed through Google. You can get cranky all you want, but the historical facts and the churches lack of proper teaching of it fall squarely on the churches shoulders.

  70. I think the stone issue is laughable. Mormons are great people, just a little delusional.

  71. Hook 'em Horns says:

    Wow, God sure does make things complicated. It’ s a minefield of nuanced faith that is getting harder and harder to navigate. Or do I just say,” it’s true”, regardless of how weird it’s getting. And hope that it’s enough?

  72. marcella says:

    I’ll take a stab at why many members can be uncomfortable even though “we” have really all known this forever. It’s because real, detailed, specific information like this hasn’t been out there until now. Sure, there have been throw away lines here and there but those are easy to miss. Most of the members I know go to church and hold family home evening (of their own devising since manuals went away decades ago) and read the scriptures simply. The teachers we learn from in our wards are told to only teach from Official Church Materials. So much of the detail about these things had indeed been printed but if you live your life as a member only exposed to official church materials you have a very, very limited view of things.

    Even if there is a line in a lesson about a seer stone, I have to ask myself how many teachers I’ve had who would have been comfortable bringing that little nugget up with nothing else provided to explain it or answer any questions students might have. I suspect most of my teachers simply skipped that bit. I wonder if I had been asked to teach a lesson on the topic if I would have done the same – I probably would have.

    I had heard about Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon using a stone in a hat as a teenager. However, it wasn’t from official material. I had long been taught that anything not official was anti and thus should be automatically disregarded. As members we’ve often been warned off reading anything from other sources no matter how legitimate they may appear.

  73. Burt Macklin says:

    This is an interesting quote regarding traditional illustrations of the Book of Mormon translation process in a preview of the October 2015 Ensign:

    “Over the years, artists have sought to portray the Book of Mormon translation, showing the participants in many settings and poses with different material objects. Each artistic interpretation is based upon its artist’s own views, research, and imagination, sometimes aided by input and direction from others. Here are a few scenes produced throughout the years.”


    Note that none of these scenes depict the seer stone. I wonder what this article means with respect to these illustrations being “sometimes aided by input and direction from others”. Who are the “others”? Clearly, the “others” are CES generally and the Church employees who specifically commissioned these illustrations for lesson manuals and other Church publications.

    With this article, the Church is distancing itself from these illustrations of the translation process, which are exclusively of Joseph Smith with gold plates and not with seer stones. It’s disingenuous to imply that these illustrations were made by artists without concerted direction and specific instruction from the Church.

  74. Clark Goble says:

    Joe, if you read what I said I made a distinction between things that are white washed and that I agree are a problem versus things that the Church actually does talk regularly about. And stones for the translation is one of those. Most of the manuals talk about him using the stones that came with the Book of Mormon but as I noted in the other thread there were numerous discussions of using a different rock after the Urim & Thummim were taken away. While I only talked about this particular seer stone if you expand it to using the other stones then pretty well it’s ubiquitous.

    So this is hardly something white washed. It’s talked about when the Urim & Thummim is discussed in either the text of the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, D&C or Old Testament. It’s talked about with regards to the translation of the Book of Mormon. D&C 130 even says everyone will get one. The official history in the Pearl of Great Price talks about the stones used for translation (JSH 1:35) and says that the meaning of seer is using the stones. The Urim & Thummim as sacred stones are discussed in every manual I looked up that discussed translation.

    The only shock appears to be (1) having pictures (2) and some people not realizing Joseph switched stones after losing the 116 pages. Although as I mentioned that’s discussed in numerous places.

    Now there definitely are topics that I think fit your criteria. I’m simply pointing out that the use of stones as a seer can’t be one of them.

  75. The Lord teaches us in a myriad of ways. One of which is to use physical objects that often represent symbolically other things we may relate to, and these objects often are preserved as a memorial of His grace and goodness toward the children of men. All of these things are done in an effort for the Lord to help us know Him (John 17:3) For example, the budding rod of Aaron, the ten commandments written on tablets of stone and other items found in the arc of the covenant. I suppose the Urim and Thummim would fit the bill for just such items. (The Book of Mormon as well – never perish and never be dimmed anymore by time 1 Ne 5:19 and “But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand. When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day, being the second day of May, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.” JSH 1:60).

    To me, the stone is just another symbol of the way God deals with man. It’s like Aaron’s Rod, the Gold Plates, the LIahona, and the Ten Commandments. If you think about it, each of us is in our own way a seer stone. We are made from the dust of the earth just like a rock. We can receive personal revelation through the feelings we experience in our mortals bodies. The more pure and righteous, the more clear the revelation. The Lord called Peter the Rock and said upon the rock of revelation He would build his church. Multiple and layered meanings in the idea of revelation through stones. So whether one has an actual physical stone or not, revelation can come through the Spirit to our heart and mind through feelings experienced in a physical body. To me, Joseph’s seer stone helped him with the mission the Lord had for him to accomplish. And for Dr. Bushman to use the prophets statement that he is like a “rough stone rolling” as his title for his book I believe is no small coincidence. Quite the contrary. Joseph was becoming in reality a seer stone himself, capable of the most glorious and heavenly revelation known to mankind. And to varying degrees, each and every human being is the same – capable of receiving revelation from God through feelings like a seer stone.

    I see the hand of the Lord in the process all along and it increases my understanding of his perfections and attributes. He is consistent in his teachings and means of revealing truth from the beginning of time. So like Dr. Bushman, I don’t have a problem with seer stones, or Aarons rod, or the cruise of oil or the pot of meal that never failed, or anything else that the Lord wants to use as object lessons for how he accomplishes His designs. I embrace them all and relish the confirmation of the Spirit to me personally that all of it is true.

  76. Haven’t read all the comments, but wanted to add something here. The fact that Joseph saw writing on the stone may not mean the stone itself is something special or at least different than any other stone. What matters is that Joseph received revelation in the form of writing on its surface. Compare the story of Elder Nelson in heart surgery:

    We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, 23 we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. “The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.”

    But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, “It’s a miracle.”


    Elder nelson says he saw a picture complete with dotted lines. If that image can be placed in his mind certainly the image of words could be placed in Joseph’s mind against the backdrop of an ordinary stone. Its the revelation that matters, not the tool used to receive it.

    I’ve known about the seer stone since I was a missionary and listened to Truman Madsen’s tapes on the Prophet Joseph. Didn’t bother me then, nor now.

  77. Charles Webber says:

    A rock is a like an iPad in the same way horse can be a tapir. Complete nonsense.

  78. JT:”There is no such thing as ignorant fraud. If it was ignorant, it would not, by definition, be fraud.”

    JT, that’s a lovely semantic musing, but it doesn’t acknowledge or even deal with my point. Do you have any thoughts on that?

  79. I’m done. If it was just any “one thing”, I could live with it. But if Joseph Smith heard an “audible voice” telling him to start a bank that would become the second largest bank in the world (pretty specific) which would then fail in less than 2 months…then either Joseph lied, or God did. I don’t believe God lied. Nor do I believe a true prophet would lie about something that so closely resembles a ponzi scheme. I don’t believe God told Joseph to marry a 14 year old girl. I also don’t believe a Prophet of God would have Joseph hide his polygamy from Emma for close to 9 years to only have her find out by catching him in the barn with another woman. Mormon and Moroni traveled thousands of miles carrying the plates and Urim and Thumim to only have Joseph use the seer stone most of the time because “the seer stones hurt his eyes”. I don’t believe God is so small that he needs a rock found at the bottom of a well to translate scripture. I don’t believe there would be another fictional text written by another author around the same time that are almost identical….word-for-word. When you add it all up, I can no longer be a part of a church that continually covers up their past. I was born and raised in the Covenant. I served a full-time mission where I poured my heart and soul into the people of Brazil. I married in the temple. I blessed my children in Sacrament Meeting. I was Elder’s Quorum President….then I stumbled upon the Church’s own essays – where it all started. It’s a mess that I can no longer justify and rationalize any more than I can Warren Jeffs’ actions. The only difference between him and Joseph is that today’s legal system is a bit more competent. I wish none of this were the case. I didn’t look for it nor did I want any of it. It turned my world upside down. The Church will never apologize, they’ll just continue saying they’re the only true and living church upon the face of the earth and that I’m the one that’s wrong. I’m the one that’s lost my faith and fallen off the straight and narrow. I couldn’t be any more heartbroken about it all and have never in my life felt more alone. My wife doesn’t look at me the same. I don’t know what to do with my children as they grow up in the church. No one knows these thoughts in my head….except you. I guess this became a venting session that I needed. Thanks for “listening”. I wish this upon no-one.

  80. Crushed 2 says:

    I am going through the same thing as Crushed. The hardest thing about it is the loneliness and the sinking feeling that no matter how carefully and sincerely you communicate how and why these new revelations have shaken and destroyed your testimony, your family and friends view you as broken and dangerous because you no longer believe the same things as they do.

    I wasn’t old enough to be paying attention during the salamander letter episode in the 1980s, but I don’t know how to sweep this kind of stuff under the rug or put it on the shelf just as the smart accomplished bloggers at BCC have been able to do and continue to be faithful attending members of the church. Is there any fact or set of facts that would facilitate you leaving the church? It seems like the church could pretty much say anything and most people would accept it and just move on. I wish I knew how to do this. I love the Mormon community but I feel like an interloper and a complete stranger to it now.

  81. Sandra Benson says:

    It troubles me because the only object that has been found from the BOM translation is a stupid brown rock. No gold plates, no gold translators, nothing. Just a stupid brown rock.

    It also troubles me because if we as LDS people must now believe in magic rocks, then we must now ask why President Monson doesn’t use one? Or why we don’t each have our own?

    Also the fact that you label Joseph Smith as “working as a scryer” troubles me because a scryer is not a real thing. What you should have said was while he was “defrauding people” as he admitted to never finding any treasure with the rock and admitting he was defrauding people in the 1826 trial.

    If I recall correctly you claimed in your book that Joseph was being taught how to use real real Godly power by using folk magic. I just don’t believe it. I’m sorry. Especially because the folk magic never worked and he was actively trying to deceive people. Why would God be on board with any of that.

    I’m sorry but this magic rock has made me rethink everything.

  82. Serious question for the author about a claim in the first paragraph:

    Why should anyone believe that the stone actually helped Joseph Smith find lost objects? Sure, he had one or more stones, and he looked for lost objects, and he said the stone could lead him to lost objects, but did it? Would he have been brought before the court and accessed of fraud by dissatisfied customers if the stone actually directed him to the lost objects?

  83. Well Endowed says:

    I wonder why Steve Jobs was able to develop a much better seerstone. Must be his R&D department.

  84. “In a way the pictures of the seerstone are nothing new.”

    In quite another way, the pictures are very new.

  85. Clark Goble says:

    Wes (12:31) so far as I know Joseph was completely unsuccessful in treasure hunting. So if he did use any of them for treasure seeking God definitely wasn’t helping out. In his personal histories he clearly indicates that he had to learn not to seek for riches. He’s pretty clear on his weaknesses in his accounts. See JSH 1:46 among other places.

    Sandra (12:25) The article in the Ensign does address some of those issues such as Joseph telling Orson Pratt that he didn’t need it anymore and Brigham not thinking they were necessary. On the other hand there’s D&C 130:10-11 which says we each get one. Although that’s done symbolically in the temple. As for whether others have used such items, I don’t think there are accounts of GAs using them since the 19th century although there have been unconfirmed stories of use. (Who knows how trustworthy they are given how mangles folk stories are from real events when one finds you can find the source narrative)

    We should also note that many accounts (largely based on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Josephus) have the Urim and Thummim having a similar role. While some scholars think the original were sticks tossed for yes/no answers there was a tradition around the time of Christ that words were spelled out on the high priesth’s ephod. Scholars can’t really explain how 12 stones do 22 letters in Hebrew, but if the process was as some described Joseph Smith’s translation process then in makes more sense. So this does line up fairly well, albeit not exactly, with what the Jews at the time of Christ interpreted the stones of the Urim and Thummim & Ephod doing.

  86. Will Roberts says:

    “The Historical Department is willing to show everything”

    Everything, Dr. Bushman? You mean to tell me there is NOTHING ELSE in the church archives, First Presidency vault inclusive, that the church is willing to show? Because I don’t believe you.

  87. Will Roberts says:

    Sorry, previous comment should read “isn’t willing to show”

  88. Hey, new commenters!

    Welcome to BCC. If you are unfamiliar with our site, you should know that this is not an ex-mo, post-mo, or DAMU site. I understand that seerstones are really interesting and can be tough to come to grips with. But we’re going to remove comments that are overly antagonistic towards the Church or that extol the virtues of leaving. Sorry!

  89. I wanted to comment in light of comments made here by those who indicate they’re done with the church. I’m not going to judge you or criticize you (at least I hope my words aren’t interpreted that way).

    Let me first start by saying how grateful I am for all the people who are much more intelligent than I am and have spent a lot of time and energy studying/analyzing myriad issues regarding the church, its history, doctrine, etc. I don’t have answers to all the questions, but the fact that there are intelligent people who’ve examined these issues and chosen to remain have inspired me and strengthened me. I hope you realize that.

    I know that we must each, at some point, proceed on our own testimonies (and I have my own), it’s great to have others express their beliefs amid questions, etc. Some of the comments here remind me of a jury trial I recently did (as defense attorney). I’ll keep details to a minimum, but we had a solid expert testify regarding a particular issue. He was educated, experienced and very knowledgeable about the subject. He was essentially unimpeachable.

    One of our jurors was an educated, intelligent woman with somewhat liberal leanings (at least in the context of our community). After the trial she answered a questionnaire and she completely discounted this expert. Not because he was a “hired gun” who she thought would say whatever we paid him to, but because she completely threw out his data (which was not “his” but came from the government), and she implied that he was lying about working for __________ University.

    I was astounded that she could so easily reject him that way. I don’t know why it is that otherwise intelligent people refuse to acknowledge that others may have some knowledge/understanding above their own. I am not questioning the sincerity of those who completely discount Bushman and so many others here at BCC and elsewhere. But it seems to me that in order to discount them and their beliefs, one must assume that they (Bushman, et. al.) are really just blind, naive, etc.

    I know this will probably come across as oversimplifying the challenges of those who struggle with doubts, but I guess I would just encourage doubters who haven’t made the decision to jump to the other side of the fence to give that some thought. “Outsiders” call us blind sheep for staying, but that’s too easy. There are so many intelligent people who’ve examined ALL of these issues and decided to stay (at least for the time being). That may not be the “end all be all” of the issue, but it ought to be worth considering.

    Sorry for the rambling, but I just want to contribute this thought that so much strength is given by those who’s spent time analyzing and still believe. Thank you.

  90. My first reaction was… uneasiness. What Bushman kind of hits on I think is the answer that came to me. How the Lord chooses to reveal truth to someone would be through a means that the person would understand. Young Josephs had to feel a bit overwhelmed and inadequate so to give him something familiar to do the work with makes a tremendous amount of sense to me.

  91. Mary Joseph says:

    Not since the Pickle Sermon have I heard such a great analogy.

  92. I’d sure love it if the church would sort out what the truth was before asking me to accept it.

  93. Another aspect of this seer stone is that Joseph found it in the place where the Nephite civilization expired; i.e., upstate New York. It’s interesting to think that it may have once belonged to a Nephite and he was led to discover it.

  94. Oh dear.

  95. Wasatch Rebel says:

    I’m with crushed and crushed2. And really, I don’t think you can throw in that LDS scholars know so much and still choose to remain in the Church. Some haven’t. I think scholars like Dr. Bushman have shared most of what they know with those who read their works, so we pretty much can know most of the facts as they have been discovered. What we choose to do with those facts often depends not just on faith, but also on continued acceptance within the LDS culture. Many of us (liked the crush people), have family and friends who think we are “lost” if we decide the Church isn’t true based upon certain facts. We may choose to remain part of that culture to preserve relationships–and so may the scholars. On the other hand, it’s possible that they don’t leave the Church because they still strongly believe, despite what they’ve found. In any case, it isn’t easy to leave and it causes a lot of hurt feelings along the way–especially if you have a still-believing spouse. I say this from experience.

  96. Wasatch Rebel says:

    Sorry about the typos. I should’ve proof read.

  97. I’ve begun to use the following analogy with my kids who find it plausible, accessible, and it tastes good to them spiritually. The seer stones are simply scaled down versions of the answer board on Wheel of Fortune with Vanna White standing in for Mother in Heaven.

    I remain quite surprised that Dr. Bushman couldn’t come up with a better analogy simply because history is replete with them. Take the Royal Society which is deeply rooted in Francis Bacon’s notion of Solomon’s House, and Bacon’s rumored ties to both the Masons and the Rosicrucians.

    “Ye shall understand (my dear friends) that amongst the excellent acts of that king, one above all hath the pre-eminence. It was the erection and institution of an Order or Society, which we call Salomon’s House; the noblest foundation (as we think) that ever was upon the earth; and the lanthorn of this kingdom. It is dedicated to the study of the works and creatures of God. Some think it beareth the founder’s name a little corrupted, as if it should be Solamona’s House. But the records write it as it is spoken. So as I take it to be denominate of the king of the Hebrews, which is famous with you, and no stranger to us.”

    “Seeing the only wise and merciful God in these Latter Days hath poured out so richly His mercy and goodness to mankind, whereby we do attain more and more to the perfect knowledge of his Son Jesus Christ and of Nature, that justly we may boast of the happy time, wherein there is not only discovered unto us the half part of the world, which was heretofore unknown and hidden, but He hath also made manifest unto us many wonderful, and never-heretofore seen works and creatures of Nature, and, moreover, hath raised men, imbued with great wisdom, who might partly renew and reduce all arts (in this our spotted and imperfect age) to perfection, so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobleness and worth, and why he is called Microcosmus, and how far his knowledge extendeth in Nature.”

    Like modern day scientists peering back at the subject’s fits and starts, perhaps we too can view Joseph’s seer stones as spiritual alchemy. First steps, quickly abandoned after significantly better methods have been found.

    Hopefully the publication of the pictures will change the discussion from geology (what could possibly be going on inside of a rock) to biology and neuroscience (what could possibly have been going on inside Joseph’s head). Here too I think Lachlan Mackey will play a further role with many more enlightening and explanatory stories to tell.

  98. Just jasper says:

    Most Mormon’s like to base their beliefs on a foundation of logic and reason with all natural laws having a a place within that foundation. Magic and the supernatural have no place in its with all miracle simply being some unknown expression of natural law. Now you have something that defies that belief. Within the context natural law how can you explain the action of the atonement, the sacrifice one bloods to bring about the salvation of man from the fall? Or that of faith being able to move mountains? Mormon apologies would contrive some excuse based on some pseudo-scientific belief that would not cut the mustard in most high school physic or chemistry class. Yet denny that there are some things in their religion that defy reason and logic.

  99. Just jasper says:

    It does make sense that Joseph had a seer stone. In mesoamerica you can’t swing a dead cat without finding a seer stone or scrying mirror in a grave or still being used by living practitioner of magic.

    The practice of magic is in part a result of apostate, were truth has degraded overtime to a magical or superstitious act without understanding the principal truth or having priesthood authority. Nibley’s graduation robes being the robes of an apostate priesthood with little true power or authority.

  100. Here is an interesting take on this news that is life-giving for LGBT people. The seer stone can be seen as the technology of the powerless.


  101. My problem with Dr. Bushman’s comments does not focus on the iPad analogy. Instead, I take issue with his last sentence: “The Historical Department is willing to show everything, it appears, and let the chips fall.”

    When I go into the on-line catalog, I still find to be restricted many of the documents that were closed to my doctoral dissertation research conducted during the first decade of the twenty-first century. I found myself writing my dissertation, and subsequently the first scholarly monograph dealing with Mormon involvement in the peacetime years of Nazi Germany (1933-45), without key mission presidents’ diaries, and even some oral history interviews conducted years later that remain restricted in part or in whole.

    Because the Historical Department is opening more resources to scholarly examination does not mean that all documents that known to church archivists are available. The new transparency still comes with key exceptions.

  102. Mr. Outsider says:

    The release of the picture of the seer stone greatly increased my faith….that the whole tale is not true. Sorry if that offends, but most people will see it the same way.

  103. “Most people will see it the same way”? What is “most”? Do you care to quantify that? Would you agree that it’s at least 50.1%? If so, we can expect at least 7.5 million people to exit the church. My money says not.

  104. Mr. Outsider says:

    Hi Mike. It wouldn’t surprise me if 7.5 million members of the LDS church already do not believe in the >entirereally< believe that the Earth was created around 6000 BC, and that Adam and Eve put saddles on dinosaurs, but stay in their churches for other reasons.

    But, when I said, "most people," I was speaking of people as a whole, the vast percentage of which do not belong to the LDS church. Most outsiders will see stories of a "seer stone" and think that the LDS church is very odd.

  105. Mr. Outsider says:

    The text editor scrambled my reply. I’ll try again. It wouldn’t surprise me if 7.5 million members of the LDS church already do not believe the >entire< story of the Book of Mormon (how it came to be and the odd version of history it teaches), just as most Fundamentalists don't believe that the earth was created about 6000 BC, and that Adam and Eve put saddles on dinosaurs. Most people do not believe everything their churches teach, but stay in them for other (perfectly good) reasons.

    But when I said "most people," I was speaking of people as a whole. Most outsiders will see stories of a "seer stone" and think that the LDS church is very odd.

  106. it's a series of tubes says:

    But when I said “most people,” I was speaking of people as a whole. Most outsiders will see stories of a “seer stone” and think that the LDS church is very odd.

    The BOM agrees with you on this point: see at least 1 Nephi 14:12 and Jacob 5:70.

  107. Being perceived as odd is something of a tradition for Mormons. I think we’ll be ok, somehow.

  108. Clark Goble says:

    LOL. I wonder if the church is pushing seerstones since Californians have made our odd dietary habits so mainstream. We need something more to differentiate ourselves as odd and the Word of Wisdom just isn’t doing the job it did in the Mad Men era.

  109. Scott Roskelley says:

    The WHITE seer stone was the one found on the property of mr. chase while digging a well in 1822. Not the brown one. Joseph found his first BROWN seer stone by borrowing the green glass from Sally Chase in 1819. The WHITE seer stone was the instrument used to discover the location of the plates in 1823.

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