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Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon (press conference)

Rich Kelsey

Joseph Smith with breastplate and Urim and Thummim

Illustration by Robert T. Barrett    @ LDS.org



The following announcement was made during a press conference at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church History Library, in Salt Lake City, on Tuesday August 4th, 2015:


"SALT LAKE CITY — In collaboration with the Community of Christ, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has published the original printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon as part of its ongoing Joseph Smith Papers project.

The release of "Revelations and Translations Volume 3, Parts 1 and 2: Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon," the facsimile edition, was announced in a press conference Tuesday at the Church History Library
The new volume, the 11th in the Joseph Smith Papers series, includes images and details the use of seer stones as instruments used by Joseph Smith during the translation process of the Book of Mormon." (The Deseret News)


During that conference, for the first time ever, the LDS (Mormon) Church shared photos of Joseph Smith's brown seer stone with the world.


On this subject LDS Assistant Church Historian, Richard Turley, explained:


"... 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)



To coincide with the news release, the following Ensign Magazine article was made available on-line:  


[Ensign Magazine, October 2015]


Joseph the Seer


By Richard E. Turley Jr., Assistant Church Historian and Recorder, Robin S.

Jensen and Mark Ashurst-McGee, Church History Department



 seer stone


What Happened to the Seer Stone?


The stone pictured here has long been associated with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon translation. 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.


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


According to Joseph Smith’s history, he returned the Urim and Thummim, or Nephite "interpreters," to the angel. But what became of the other seer stone or stones that Joseph used in translating the Book of Mormon?

David Whitmer wrote that "after the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, early in the spring of 1830, before April 6th, Joseph gave the stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the stone any more."






Concerning the printer’s manuscript, Richard Lloyd Anderson: LDS professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, made the following statement:


“…we possess parts of the original unpunctuated Cowdery manuscript from Joseph’s dictation in 1829. The scribe on occasion wrote ‘hart’ for ‘heart’; ‘desirus’ for ‘desirous’; and ‘futer’ for ‘future.’ These spelling errors were corrected in the recopied printer’s manuscript and thus appeared in correct form in the first printing.” (By the Gift and Power of God, Ensign, Sept, 1977)


One might wonder why the original manuscript from Joseph’s dictation in 1829 was not correct to begin with?


After all, it was claimed that the translation came about, by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man:


"Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man." (An Address to All Believers in Christ, 1887, p. 12. - Quoted by Elder Russell M. Nelson, A Treasured Testament, Ensign, July 1993, p. 61)


One thing is certain: According to the story, a spiritual light would shine forth from the stone. That was a common claim by stone peepers in Joseph Smith's day:


"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." (Book of Mormon Translation, LDS.org)



A Historical Fact:


During the 1820s, Joseph Smith became known as,


"a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures."[1]


The LDS Church Explains:      


"'Seeing' and 'seers' were part of the American and family culture in which Joseph Smith grew up. Steeped in the language of the Bible and a mixture of Anglo-European cultures brought over by immigrants to North America, some people in the early 19th century believed it was possible for gifted individuals to 'see,' or receive spiritual manifestations, through material objects such as seer stones." (Joseph the Seer, Ensign Magazine, October 2015)



The Obvious Question:


Was Joseph Smith's stone in a hat act merely a con game; or, could he really see underground?[2]


On this subject, LDS attorney Gordon A. Madsen, while speaking of the 1826 glass looking trial, said:


"The pivotal testimony, in my view, was that of Josiah Stowell. Both accounts agree on the critical facts. The Pearsall account states: '[Joseph] had been employed by him [Stowell] to work on farm part of time; ... that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.'

The Purple account states:

Justice Neeley soberly looked at the witness and in a solemn, dignified voice, said, 'Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under the solemn oath you have taken, that you believe the prisoner can see by the aid of the stone fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plainly as you can see what is on my table?' 'Do I believe it?' says Deacon Stowell, 'do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief. I positively know it to be true.'" (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Selling, BYU Studies, p. 105)


Madsen went on to say:


"The foregoing considerations lead me to conclude that in 1826 Joseph Smith was indeed charged and tried for being a disorderly person and that he was acquitted. Such a conclusion does nothing to 'prove' or disprove the claim that he was reputed to be a 'glass-looker.'" (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Selling, BYU Studies, p. 106)


To imply that because Joseph Smith was acquitted, it was not proven that he was a glass-looker, or in other words, a stone peeper, is a misleading statement. Because Joseph Smith readily admitted to being a glass looker during the trial (hearing); his defense was that he had not broken any laws because he actually could see things in his stone.[3]





Perhaps the most significant detail brought out in the 1826 glass looking trial 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)



Another Example of a Misleading Statement:


The following quote is from LDS.org:


A time line of some key events in the life and ministry of Joseph Smith

... Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a "disorderly person," South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. New York law defined a disorderly person as, among other things, a vagrant or a seeker of “lost goods.” The Prophet had been accused of both: the first charge was false and was made simply to cause trouble; Joseph’s use of a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye brought the second charge. Those who brought the charges were apparently concerned that Joseph might bilk his employer, Josiah Stowell, out of some money. Mr. Stowell’s testimony clearly said this was not so and that he trusted Joseph Smith. (Highlights in the Prophet's Life, Ensign, June 1994)


The reasoning[4] in the above quote equates Mr. Stowell’s trust in Joseph Smith's ability to use,


"a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye,"


with Stowell not being bilked out of some of his money.


For this to be the case, a band of robbers would have actually buried a box of treasure on Mr. Stowell’s property; because, that is what Joseph Smith told Mr. Stowell.[5]  Yet, no treasure was ever obtained, and if there had been, the matter would have never ended up in court.


Jonathan Thompson, who also testified in Joseph Smith's defense, explained why the treasure was never obtained:


" ... Smith looked in hat while there, and when very dark, and told how the chest was situated. After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board or plank. Prisoner would not look again, pretending that he was alarmed the last time that he looked, on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried came all fresh to his mind; that the last time that he looked, he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk; that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed. Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner's professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but, on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging; that, notwithstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them." (Joseph Smith 1826 glass looking trial, Miss Pearsall Account, Jonathan Thompson testimony)



Point of Interest:


Another interesting thing to come out in court, is the saying,


"... as he supposed."


Those words give us a glimpse into Joseph Smith's mindset, during the same time period that "Moroni" was supposedly watching over the golden plates.



Chests of Money and Treasure Guardians:


Treasure seekers in Joseph Smith's day believed that spirits who had charge over the treasure, could cause the treasure[6] to move from here to there, sink[7] deeper into the earth, or disappear.[8]


On this subject, LDS scholars explain:


"... the treasure seekers staked out magical circles around the treasure. They used Bible passages and hymns, prayers and incantations, ritual swords and other magical items, or even propitiatory animal sacrifices to appease or fend off preternatural guardians of the treasure. Excavation usually commenced under a rule of silence. Should someone carelessly mutter or curse, the treasure guardian could penetrate the circle or carry the treasure away through the earth."(Moroni: Angel or Treasure Guardian?, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Maxwell Institute, 2006)


Here is an example:


"Their digging in several places was in compliance with peeper Smith's revelations, who would attend with his peep-stone in his hat, and his hat drawn over his face, and would tell them how deep they would have to go; but when they would find no trace of the chest of money, he would peep again, and weep like a child, and tell them the enchantment had removed it on account of some sin or thoughtless word; finally the enchantment became so strong that he could not see, and so the business was abandoned." (The Amboy Journal, Amboy, Illinois, Wednesday, April 30, 1879, page 1.)  



Stories of buried treasure:


The golden plates stories which Joseph was telling to his family during the 1820s contained many of the same details as stories Joseph was telling about buried treasure during the same time-frame. 


Example: Joseph Smith’s Mother said,


“In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him. Having some further conversation with the angel on this occasion, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house weeping for grief and disappointment.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 347)


It's interesting that Lucy Smith used the word




while describing how her son was acting after not obtaining the golden plates the first time he tried to get them.


One might wonder, was Joseph's weeping just an act, or was his story credible?  If it was credible, then that would mean "Moroni" really did hurl Joseph back on the ground,


"... with great violence,"


which is one detail most LDS Church members are unaware of!


One thing is certain: Joseph Smith's neighbor Willard Chase substantiated Lucy's account,


"... he [Joseph Smith] again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously. After recovering from his fright, he enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders. He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them." (MORMONISM, p.242)  < (see documentation)



Joseph Smith's neighbor Fayette Lapham gave a similar account, adding more details:


"Taking up the first article, he saw others below; laying down the first, he endeavored to secure the others; but, before he could get hold of them, the one he had taken up slid back to the place he had taken it from, and, to his great surprize and terror, the rock immediately fell back to its former place, nearly crushing him in its descent. His first thought was that he had not properly secured the rock when it was turned up, and accordingly he again tried to lift it, but now in vain; he next tried with the aid of levers, but still without success. While thus engaged, he felt something strike him on the breast, which was repeated the third time, always with increased force, the last such as to lay him upon his back. As he lay there, he looked up and saw the same large man that had appeared in his dream, dressed in the same clothes. He said to him that, when the treasure was deposited there, he was sworn to take charge of and protect that property, until the time should arrive for it to be exhibited to the world of mankind; and, in order to prevent his making an improper disclosure, he was murdered or slain on the spot, and the treasure had been under his charge ever since.


He said to him that he had not followed his directions; and, in consequence of laying the article down before putting it in the napkin, he could not have the article now; but that if he would come again, one year from that time, he could then have them." (HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 1870, p. 308)


The words:


"... dressed in the same clothes,"


are noteworthy. Because, the clothes described earlier in that account were bloody :


"... he [Joseph Smith] had a very singular dream; but he did not tell his father of his dream, until about a year afterwards. He then told his father that, in his dream, a very large and tall man appeared to him, dressed in an ancient suit of clothes, and the clothes were bloody. And the man said to him that there was a valuable treasure, buried many years since, and not far from that place..." (HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 1870, p. 307)


That hardly resembles later accounts of a bedroom vision in which a messenger from the skies appeared in white clothing:


"The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam." (Messenger and Advocate, 1835, p. 78)


One might wonder if it's likely that later golden plates stories evolved out of earlier stories of a dream and a bleeding ghost?


On this subject, the sons of Rev. Nathaniel Lewis explained:


[In the early stories] "... there was not one word about 'visions of God,' or of angels, or heavenly revelations. All his [Joseph Smith's] information was by that dream, and that bleeding ghost. The heavenly visions and messages of angels, etc, contained in Mormon books, were after-thoughts, revised to order." (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1)



There was a time when the LDS Church could get away with concealing this embarrassing history.[9]


Oh how things have changed!


Images of Joseph Smith's seer stone, also known as a "glass" back in the day, are out of the vault. (Salt Lake Tribune, Associated Press, Rick Bowmer)


This latest admission will no doubt cause many to take a closer look into the LDS faith:[10]




Other articles of interest on this subject:


■  Enchantment — Magic and JS Money Digging Accounts < (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)

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

■  Am I a Seeker of Truth? < (an adult level / family orientated FHE Lesson on Joseph Smith's 1826 glass looking trial)



LDS Series






1. "There had lived a few years previous to this date, in the vicinity of Great Bend, a poor man named Joseph Smith, who, with his family, had removed to the western part of the State, and lived in squalid poverty near Palmyra, in Ontario County. Mr. Stowell, while at Lanesboro, heard of the fame of one of his sons, named Joseph, who, by the aid of a magic stone had become a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures. … as a seer, by means of the stone which he placed in his hat, and by excluding the light from all other terrestrial things, could see whatever he wished, even in the depths of the earth." (CHENANGO UNION, Vol. 30, Norwich, N. Y., Thursday, May 2, 1877, No. 33, Joseph Smith The Originator of Mormonism, Historical Reminiscences of the town of Afton, BY W. D. PURPLE)


2. "... a young fellow By the name of Docter Benton in Chenengo County to sware out a warrent against Joseph for as they said pertending to see under ground. A little Clause they found in the york Laws against such things." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, BYU Studies, Dean C. Jessee)


3. "On the request of the Court, he [Joseph Smith] exhibited the stone. It was about the size of a small hen's egg..." (Purple account, Joseph Smith Jr. testimony, 1826 glass looking trial)


4. Double-talk:
"language that appears to be earnest and meaningful but in fact is a mixture of sense and nonsense." (Merriam-Webster.com, dictionary)


5. "Mr. Thompson, an employee of Mr. Stowell, was the next witness. He and another man were employed in digging for treasure, and always attended the Deacon and Smith in their nocturnal labors. He could not assert that anything of value was ever obtained by them. The following scene was described by this witness, and carefully noted: Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences [something believed to have magical powers]. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm." (1826 Trial, Purple account, Jonathan Thompson Testimony)


6. "For the most part, the quest for buried wealth and its associated belief system have slipped away into a forgotten world. Though strange to us today, treasure-seeking beliefs probably influenced hundreds of thousands of Europeans and thousands of early European Americans. Many early Americans believed that treasures had been secreted in the earth by ancient inhabitants of the continent, by Spanish explorers, by pirates, or even by the dwarves of European mythology. Treasure hunters usually looked for caves and lost mines or dug into hills and Native American mounds to find these hidden deposits. A legend, a treasure map, or a dream of buried wealth initiated the hunt. Local specialists were enlisted to use their divining rods or seer stones to locate the treasure... "  (Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian, Mark Ashurst-McGee, FARMS Review Vol. 18 - 1 p.p. 34-100, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2006)


7. "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." (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris)


8. "The utmost silence was necessary to success. More than once, when the digging proved a failure, Joe explained to his associates that, just as the deposit was about to be reached, some one, tempted by the devil, spoke, causing the wished-for riches to disappear." (Lippincott's Magazine, August, 1880 / narrative from the book: Mormon Origin, William Alexander Linn, Hackensack, N. J., 1901)


In October 1825, Josiah Stowell of South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, made his way up the newly-opened Erie Canal to visit his oldest son, Simpson Stowell, in Manchester, Ontario County, New York. By this time, Joseph Smith, Jr.’s, activities as a treasure seer were well known in Palmyra and Manchester. For years, Josiah had attempted to locate a lost Spanish silver mine along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. This mutual interest in treasure seeking drew Stowell to the Smiths’ Manchester residence. Stowell was amazed by young Joseph’s ability to see distant places in his seer stone and therefore hired him on the spot (I.A.15, JOSEPH SMITH HISTORY, 1839, 8; I.B.5, LUCY SMITH HISTORY, 1845, 1853:91-92; IV.F.l, BAINBRIDGE [NY] COURT RECORD, 20 MAR 1826).


Both Joseph Sr. and Jr. accompanied Stowell back to South Bainbridge, and after gathering a small band of treasure seekers proceeded on to Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, where on 1 November 1825 “Articles of Agreement” were drawn up and signed stipulating how the treasure would be divided among the interested parties (V.E.I, ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT, 1 NOV 1825). According to Isaac Hale, at whose home the money diggers boarded, the company disbanded about 17 November (V.A.1, ISAAC HALE STATEMENT, 1834). Although Smith’s later accounts limited his treasure seeking activities to this one episode in Pennsylvania, he apparently continued similar ventures in Chenango and Broome Counties until his arrest and court hearing in March 1826. Peter Bridgeman, a nephew of Josiah Stowell who evidently believed Smith was conning his uncle, issued a warrant accusing Smith of being “a disorderly person and an Impostor.” While the court’s findings remain a matter of controversy, conclusions of innocence or guilt are less important than evidence of Smith’s continued employment as a treasure seer (IV.F.l, BAINBRIDGE [NY] COURT RECORD, 20 MAR 1826; IV.F.2, ALBERT NEELY BILL OF COSTS, 20 MAR 1826; IV.F.3, PHILIP DEZENG BILL OF COSTS, 1826; see also IV.C.2, ABRAM W. BENTON REMINISCENCE, MAR 1831; and IV.D.2, WILLIAM D. PURPLE REMINISCENCE, 28 APR 1877).  (excerpt – Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 4, Signature Books)


10. 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. (Interview with Martin Harris in Tiffany's Monthly 1859


 (see article on enchantment)