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Joseph Smith, the stone and the hat: Why it all matters?

Rich Kelsey


 seer stone Photograph by Welden C. Andersen and Richard E. Turley Jr.

"The stone Joseph Smith used in the Book of Mormon translation effort was often referred to as a chocolate-colored stone with an oval shape." (Joseph the Seer, Ensign Magazine, October 2015 online edition)



On August 4th, 2015, for the first time ever, the LDS (Mormon) Church shared photos of Joseph Smith's brown seer stone with the world.

About this event, LDS Assistant Church Historian, Richard Turley said,

"... the chocolate-colored, oval-shaped seer stone has been mentioned from the earliest days of the church, including general conference talks and church magazine articles.

'We felt as we were putting together the Joseph Smith Papers project, it would be helpful for our public to see a visual image of it,' Turley said. 'We live in a highly visual age. A lot of our rising generation of church history like to see pictures of things. We thought that putting an image of the stone in would do a lot in terms of connecting people to it.'" (Deseret News, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015)


A short time earlier, in the March 26, 2015, Deseret News article:

Defending the Faith: Joseph, the stone and the hat: Why it all matters,

LDS Apologist Daniel Peterson sided with a growing number of Mormons who have come to understand that Joseph Smith used that chocolate colored seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon.


On this subject Richard Lloyd Anderson quoted Book of Mormon witness, Martin Harris, saying:

"He [Martin Harris] said that the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone." (Quoted in the Ensign Magazine, Sept. 1977, 'By the Gift and Power of God,' Richard Lloyd Anderson



Following is an explanation from LDS.org:


Book of Mormon Translation


"Joseph Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon. According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English. One instrument, called in the Book of Mormon the 'interpreters,' is better known to Latter-day Saints today as the 'Urim and Thummim.' Joseph found the interpreters buried in the hill with the plates.


The other instrument, which Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or 'seer stone.' As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture." (LDS.org retrieved July 2015)


About this seer stone, the tenth President of the LDS Church said:


"The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, [on the altar in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated] however, was the seer stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. This seer stone is currently in the possession of the Church." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 3: 225)


An LDS scholar from the Church History Department explains: 


"Eyewitnesses reported that he [Joseph Smith] also used a dark brown seer stone. JS referred to the pair of stones found with the plates as 'spectacles,' and he later referred to these stones and his other seer stones with the term 'Urim and Thummim ...'" (Joseph Smith Papers, Translate, Summary)


Based upon this evidence, let's look into Joseph Smith's seer stone use to consider:


Why it all matters?


■ It matters because: Joseph Smith has a well documented history of using a seer stone in a hat to search for buried treasure. < (see documentation)

■ It matters because: What Joseph Smith claimed he saw in the stone during his money digging days lacks any semblance of truth. < (see documentation)

■ It matters because: Modern accounts of Joseph Smith discovering, obtaining, and then translating the golden plates, as generally believed by members of the LDS Church today, have been whitewashed over so much, that they do not come close to resembling history from Joseph Smith's day. < (see documentation)        



Joseph Smith's 1826 Glass Looking Trial:


In 1825 Josiah Stowell hired Joseph Smith to use his chocolate colored seer stone to look for,

"valuable treasures" < (see documentation)

buried underground.


Then, after a few of Josiah Stowell's sons became disillusioned with Joseph Smith’s influence over their father, and, nephew Peter Bridgeman brought criminal charges against Smith, Josiah Stowell ended up becoming one of Smith's staunch defenders.


Stowell testified in court:

"' ... that he positively knew that the prisoner [Joseph Smith] could tell and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.'" (Gordon A. Madsen, “Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting,” Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1990, p. 105)


But, what Josiah Stowell said to Judge Neely during the 1826 glass looking trial is highly questionable: Because, if any treasure had been obtained while Joseph Smith was working for Josiah Stowell, there would have been no reason to file criminal charges.


Stowell went on to testify:

"... that the prisoner possessed all the power he claimed, and declared he [Joseph Smith] could see things fifty feet below the surface of the earth…" (1826 Trial — Purple account) 


Perhaps the most significant detail brought out in court is what Joseph Smith told Judge Neely about the stone:


"With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye." (Joseph Smith Jr. Testimony, Purple Account)


That was the same basic thing that Joseph said about the glasses / spectacles, which he claimed he obtained with the golden plates about a year later, in 1827. < (see documentation)


Faithful History — the Urim and Thummim Myth: 


Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith


"Again, he [Moroni] told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed." (Extracts from the History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet)


That testimony was written in 1838; in it, Joseph Smith's 1823 bedroom vision story is covered with "Moroni" telling Joseph about the Urim and Thummim. Yet, there are problems with the story. < see endnote 1


An LDS apologist explains:


"In January 1833, the Latter-day Saint newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star, edited by William W. Phelps, equated 'spectacles' and 'interpreters' with the term 'Urim and Thummim': the Book of Mormon 'was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles— (known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim)." (Book of Mormon Translation, LDS.org, endnote # 17.) < see endnote 2


After Phelps suggested that, 


in ancient days the Interpreters, or spectacles, were know as the Urim and Thummim, the words Urim and Thummim began to be written into foundational Church History; then backdated, to make it look like the words Urim and Thummim were there from the very beginning.


Here is an example:


"Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up so many writings, which you had power to translate, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them, and you also lost your gift at the same time…" [Harmony, Pennsylvania May 1829] (Book of Commandments, 9:1, p. 22) —  [See actual photo]


Notice that the words Urim and Thummim are missing from the above early revelation:


Then, later, when the same revelation was recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, it was changed to include the words Urim and Thummim:


"Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings, which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them…
(v.2) And you also lost your gift at the same time…" (Doctrine and Covenants, 10:1)


The words Urim and Thummim are not found in any of Joseph Smith's first 65 revelations, as recorded in the 1833 Book of Commandments. They are also missing from all of Smith's early bedroom vision accounts, up, until 1835, which is 12 years after an angel supposedly first told Joseph about the Urim and Thummim.


On this subject, in 1879, The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints spelled out:


"The proofs are clear and positive that the story of the Urim and Thummim Translation does not date back, for its origin further than 1833, or between that date and 1835; for it is not found in any printed document of the Church of Christ up to the latter part of the year 1833, or the year 1834. The 'Book of Commandments' to the Church of Christ, published in Independence, Mo., in 1833, does not contain any allusion to Urim and Thummim; though the term was inserted in some of the revelations in their reprint in the 'Book of Doctrine and Covenants' in 1835.


Who originated the Urim and Thummin story, I do not know; but this I do know, that it is not found in the first printed book of the revelations to the Church of Christ, and there is other testimony to show that it is not true."

(J. L. TRAUGHBER, Jr., Mandeville, Mo., Oct. 13, 1879, The True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, 15th November 1879)


Another thing to consider: Before Joseph started calling the object/objects he claimed to have used to translate the Book of Mormon, the Urim and Thummim, we find this account of Joseph Smith discovering spectacles with the golden plates:


"... Joseph believed that one Samuel T. Lawrence was the man alluded to by the spirit, and went with him to a singular looking hill, in Manchester, and shewed him where the treasure was. Lawrence asked him if he had ever discovered any thing with the plates of gold; he said no: he then asked him to look in his stone, to see if there was any thing with them. He looked, and said there was nothing; he told him to look again, and see if there was not a large pair of specks with the plates; he looked and soon saw a pair of spectacles, the same with which Joseph says he translated the Book of Mormon." (TESTIMONY OF WILLARD CHASE, as recorded in Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe's 1834 book, p. 243)


 Joseph’s 1832 history also referred to the object needed to translate the plates as spectacles:


"...I said cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spectticke spectacles JS recounted that he found these spectacles with the plates." (Church History, circa Summer 1832,  vol. A- 1, Page 5 — Joseph Smith Papers)


Two questions to consider:


■  Why would Joseph think there was nothing else buried with the plates if the angel had told him there were other objects with the plates the evening before he first discovered them; as maintained in his 1838 history?




■  Why would Joseph use the term "spectacles" in 1832 to describe the supposed translation device, if an angel had told him nine years earlier that it was the Urim and Thummim from Old Testament scripture? 


One thing is certain: The idea of a holy prophet of God putting on a pair of spectacles with seer stones as lenses first originated in Joseph Smith's day. < see endnote 3


Also, when Christ's Apostles needed to find out who should be chosen to take the place of Judas Iscariot', did they look into a seer stone; or, put on some magical glasses to receive a revelation?




They cast lots:


"Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen

to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs. Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles." (Acts 1:24-26)


This biblical example adds to the concept that the actual Urim and Thummim, from Old Testament scripture, were also meant to be used for casting lots.


(see Urim and Thummim page)



A Recollection of LDS History Before the Whitewashing:


Interview with Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris:


"Joseph had had this stone for some time. There was a company there in that neighborhood, who were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients. Of this company were old Mr. Stowel--I think his name was Josiah--also old Mr. Beman, also Samuel Lawrence, George Proper, Joseph Smith, jr., and his father, and his brother Hiram [Hyrum] Smith. They dug for money in Palmyra, Manchester, also in Pennsylvania, and other places. When Joseph found this stone, there was a company digging in Harmony, Pa., and they took Joseph to look in the stone for them, and he did so for a while, and then he told them the enchantment was so strong that he could not see, and they gave it up.

Mr. Stowel was at this time at old Mr. Smith’s, digging for money. It was reported by these money-diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth. A candid old Presbyterian told me, that on the Susquehannah flats he dug down to an iron chest, that he scraped the dirt off with his shovel, but had nothing with him to open the chest; that he went away to get help, and when they came to it, it moved away two or three rods into the earth, and they could not get it.


Samuel Lawrence told me that while they were digging, a large man who appeared to be eight or nine feet high, came and sat on the ridge of the barn, and motioned to them that they must leave. They motioned back that they would not; but that they afterwards became frightened and did leave." (Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany's Monthly, 1859)



It's worth mentioning that five early accounts of finding the golden plates maintain that Joseph Smith initially discovered the plates with his seer stone, including the following account from Martin Harris:


"These plates were found at the north point of a hill two miles north of Manchester village. Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase, twenty-four feet from the surface. In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates.


Here Mr. Harris seemed to wander from the subject, when we requested him to continue and tell what Joseph then said. He replied, 'Joseph had before this described the manner of his finding the plates. He found them by looking in the stone found in the well of Mason Chase. The family had likewise told me the same thing.'" (Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany's Monthly, 1859)

(Four more examples) 


In Joseph's Smith's official 1838 history, there is no mention of him discovering the plates with his seer stone. Evidently, by 1838, Joseph was trying to distance himself from his earlier seer stone use. Yet, Joseph Smith's initial claim to fame was his ability to see anything he wished by looking into his seer stone. < see endnote 4


For example: On one occasion Joseph looked in his stone to discover who the right person was to take with him to obtain the golden plates:


"... when the 22nt Day of September Came he went to the place and the personage appeard and told him he Could not have it now. But the 22nt Day of September nex he mite have the Book if he Brot with him the right person. Joseph says, 'who is the right Person?' The answer was you will know. Then he looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale, Daughter of old Mr Hail of Pensylvany, a girl that he had seen Before ..." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)


Note: The glass spoken of in the above quote is another way to describe a seer stone.


Based upon all this evidence, let's consider the question again:


"Joseph Smith, the stone and the hat: Why it all matters?"


It matters because: Anyone who turns a blind eye to Joseph Smith's history of using a seer stone, has no idea who the real Joseph Smith was.



Other Articles of Interest:

■  Enchantment — Magic and Money Digging < (the most eye-opening article on this site)

■  Excerpts from LDS.org: Joseph Smith's Use of Seer Stones < (LDS.org seer stone quotes over the years)

■  Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts < (A fairly thorough compilation of JS Money digging accounts)

■  Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon (press conference)  < (seer stone images released in 2015)  



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1. For example, when Joseph Smith showed a seer stone to Wilford Woodruff in late 1841, Woodruff recorded in his journal: “I had the privilege of seeing for the first time in my day the URIM & THUMMIM.” (Wilford Woodruff journal, Dec. 27, 1841, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)


2. Mosiah 28:14–15, 20; see also Mosiah 8:13, 19; and Ether 4:5. Joseph Smith seems to have used the terms “interpreters” and “spectacles” interchangeably during the early years of the Church. Nancy Towle, an itinerant Methodist preacher, recounted Joseph Smith telling her about “a pair of ‘interpreters,’ (as he called them,) that resembled spectacles, by looking into which, he could read a writing engraven upon the plates, though to himself, in a tongue unknown.” (Nancy Towle, Vicissitudes Illustrated in the Experience of Nancy Towle, in Europe and America [Charleston: James L. Burges, 1832], 138-39.) Joseph’s 1832 history referred to “spectacles.” (Joseph Smith History, ca. summer 1832, in Joseph Smith Histories, 16.) In January 1833, the Latter-day Saint newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star, edited by William W. Phelps, equated “spectacles” and “interpreters” with the term “Urim and Thummim”: the Book of Mormon “was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles— (known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim).” (“The Book of Mormon,” The Evening and the Morning Star, January 1833, [2].) By 1835 Joseph Smith most often used the term “Urim and Thummim” when speaking of translation and rarely, if ever, used the terms “interpreters” or “spectacles.” (Joseph Smith, Journal, Nov. 9-11, 1835, in Journals: Volume 1: 1832-1839, 89; Joseph Smith, History, 1834-1836, in Davidson et al., Histories, Volume 1, 116; John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in John W. Welch, ed., with Erick B. Carlson, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844 [Provo, UT, and Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University Press and Deseret Book, 2005], 123-28.)


3. "The Urim and Thummim referred to in the Bible is not the same instrument used by the Nephites or by Joseph Smith. (THE SPECTACLES, THE STONE, THE HAT, AND THE BOOK: A TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY BELIEVER’S VIEW OF THE BOOK OF MORMON TRANSLATION, Roger Nicholson, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5, 2013: The Spectacles and the Stone as Urim and Thummim, p.149)


4. "Not only did Joseph possess a seer stone prior to receiving the Nephite interpreters: He was already quite familiar with the manner of its use. Matthew B. Brown notes that, 'Joseph Smith reportedly said in 1826, while under examination in a court of law, that when he first obtained his personal seerstone he placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place, and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing Eye.'" (THE SPECTACLES, THE STONE, THE HAT, AND THE BOOK: A TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY BELIEVER’S VIEW OF THE BOOK OF MORMON TRANSLATION, Roger Nicholson, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5, 2013)