The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a 1,000 page, two-volume book containing the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon. In conjunction with the release of the printer’s manuscript project, the Church posted an article about seership, seer stones, and their roles in translation and revelation. The article is scheduled to be published in print in the Church’s October 2015 issue of the Ensign magazine.
According to Trent Toon, at the Deseret News:
“Images of the seer stone will be placed at the new priesthood restoration site that is being completed in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and will be dedicated Sept. 19 by President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Snow said. Images of the seer stone will also be available in the Church History Museum, which is being renovated and will be opened a week before general conference in October.”
Since that time, many people have either been excited to see the pictures of the stone or have been critical of the Church for keeping this part of the history hidden for nearly 200 years. I’ve heard one person express interest and love for the Church, because as he put it, “I am a very visual person.” Another person, said in disbelief, “I’ve never found a magic stone.” Many others have talked about how the Church has kept this as a secret part of its history.
The Seer Stone and the Urim and Thummin used by Joseph Smith are different things with similar functions. Joseph Smith received an Urim and Thummin that were buried by Moroni with the golden plates, the Sword of Laban and some other Nephite artifacts. The scriptures teach that the Urim and Thummin buried with the plates are the same that the Lord prepared for the Brother of Jared on the mount (Ether 4:5). It’s reported that Joseph Smith found the seer stone while digging a well in upstate New York. Elder B.H. Roberts recorded:
“The Seer Stone referred to here was a chocolate-colored, somewhat egg-shaped stone which the prophet found while digging a well in company with his brother Hryum, for a Mr. Clark Chase, near Palmyra, New York. It possessed the qualities of Urim and Thummim, since by means of it…Joseph was able to translate the characters engraven on the plates.” (Roberts, B.H. Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 1: 129)
One more account by Martin Harris offers more clarification about the Seer Stone versus the Urim and Thummin.
“The Prophet Joseph Smith…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…The seer stone differed in appearance entirely from the Urim and Thummim that was obtained with the plates (which was two clear stones set in two rims, very much resembling spectacles)…After continued translation, we would become weary, and would go down to the river and exercise by throwing stones out on the river, etc. While so doing on one occasion, I found a stone very much resembling the one used for translating, and on resuming our labor of translation, I put in place the stone that I had found…The Prophet remained silent, unusually and intently gazing in darkness…Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed, ‘Martin! What is the matter? All is as dark as Egypt!’ My countenance betrayed me, and the Prophet asked me why I had done so. I said, to stop the mouths of fools, who had told me that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them…” (See Backman, Milton V., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1983, pp. 84-85 (emphasis added). See primary source: Edward Stevenson, “Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,” MS 44 (February 6, 1882): 86-87.)
In this article, I would like to address two myths. The first myth is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has kept the notion of seer stones and urim and thumins secret. The second myth is that the seer stone is fake because the Lord does not need to use an object to perform His work.
The Myth that the Church Has Kept Seer Stones Secret
In his book, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol III, page 225, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
“We have been taught since the days of the Prophet that the Urim and Thummim were returned with the plates to the angel. We have no record of the Prophet having the Urim and Thummim after the organization of the Church. Statements of translations by the Urim and Thummim after that date are evidently errors. The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim was on the altar in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, 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.” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:225). For more on this, see here.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56) 3: 225.)
This book is still in print today and can be purchased through Amazon.com and Deseret Book. Anyone interested in reading could have found out that the Church possesses a seer stone, but that the urim and thumin were returned to Moroni with the gold plates. However, Joseph Fielding Smith has not been the only one to mention either seer stones or the translation device called the Urim and Thummin.
“By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.” (JSH 1:62)
Yet that is not the only record we have of seer stones and translation devices. The Doctrine and Covenants mentions the Urim and Thummin as a translation device used by Joseph Smith to translate The Book of Mormon and given to the Brother of Jared while in the mountain three distinct times.
“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.” (D&C 10:1)
“Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.” (D&C 17:1)
“9 This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.
10 Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
11 And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.” (D&C 130:9-11)
The use of Urim and Thummin is mentioned in the Old Testament seven times.
Exodus 28:30 says, “And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually.”
Numbers 27:21 says that the Priest Eleazar should use the Urim for counsel and judgment before the Lord.
Deuteronomy 33:8 informs us that the Urim and Thummin were given to the tribe of Levi “to be with thy holy one”.
In 1 Samuel 28:6 we learn that the Lord would not speak to Saul even through the Urim, “And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.”
The New Testament mentions the use of a seer stone in Revelations 2:17.
In Abraham 3:1 in the Pearl of Great Price we learn that Abraham had use of an Urim and Thummin.
In The Book of Mormon, we are given a lot more detail about the Urim and Thummin and seer stones. In Mosiah 8:13 we learn that King Mosiah has interpreters and would be able to translate the 24 plates found in the ruins of the Jaredites, and it also discusses the meaning of seer. It says, “Whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.”
Mosiah 28:14-16 teaches us the purpose of the Urim and Thummin:
“14 Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages;
15 And they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people;
16 And whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times.”
In Mosiah 28:20 and Alma 37:21 we learn that the ”interpreters” are passed down from one generation to another so that they may be preserved and be used for future generations who will need them to interpret dead languages and know the works of ancient people.
Ether 3:21-23 and Ether 4: 4-5 teaches that the interpreters were first given to the Brother of Jared after he was commanded to write what was taught to him in the mount when he saw the Lord. These records were sealed and written in a language that the Lord confounded. Moroni was then commanded to seal the records and the interpreters along with the rest of the golden plates. These are the interpreters Joseph Smith called the Urim and Thummin and used to translate the portion of the records that became The Book of Mormon.
The Church has never hidden any of this. From the beginning, Joseph Smith talked about translating through the use of the Urim and Thummin. The history written by Joseph’s own hand gives the history of the exact Urim and Thummin that Joseph used. We know that Joseph Smith had the Urim and Thummin that was given to the Brother of Jared by the Lord. The use of an Urim and Thummin and seer stones have been taught about in scripture beginning with the Old Testament. We know that the tribe of Levi was specifically given charge over the Urim and Thummin in the time of Moses. From newer scriptures we know that Abraham, the Jaredites, and the Nephites had use of an Urim and Thummin. The use of sacred stones has been openly taught since Biblical times. If one wants to know that Joseph Smith used stones to translate The Book of Mormon, one only needs to read his history found in our standard works.
The Myth that Lord Does Not Use Objects to Perform His Work
The notion that one would need stones to translate records or to see what the Lord would have one see is not that unusual when taken in the context of scripture. The scriptures contain numerous examples where a prophet uses an element of the Earth to perform the work of God. Moses used a staff to part the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16). Aaron’s staff turned into a snake to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go (Exodus 7:10). Moses smote a rock for water to come out when the Israelites were thirsty (Exodus 17:6). The Israelites had to look upon a bronze serpent to be healed from poisonous snake bites (Numbers 21:9). The Philistines became sick after they stole the Ark of the Covenant and remained so until they returned it (1 Samuel 5). Naaman was healed from leprosy by washing in the Jordan River seven times (2 Kings 5). The apostle John speaks about an Angel coming and stirring up the waters of Bethesda to heal the people who entered in (John 5:2-9). Christ spat in the mud and made clay to heal a blind man (John 9:6). The Brother of Jared was given 16 glowing stones to give light unto his people while crossing the ocean (Ether 6:2-3). Lehi was given the Liahona to guide his family to the Promised Land (1 Nephi 16:10). The use of sacred alters to perform the ordinances of the Lord has been used since the days of Adam. Latter-day Saints could not receive their endowments or be sealed to their family members without an altar.
Like the Children of Israel in the days of Moses, we have been given many miracles both for our comfort and for the purpose of furthering the work of the Lord. We have the use of many miraculous things all built from the elements of the earth. We have cars, airplanes, satellites, radios, TV, the internet all used by the servants of the Lord as a means of communication to further His work. The knowledge of these things did not come forth until the fullness of the gospel was restored. We also have our very own manna. We have hot running water at the turn of a knob, we have electric light; we have farming technology that produces surpluses of food like never before in the history of mankind; we have modern medication and modern machines that “magically” heal our bodies. All of this knowledge has been given through inspiration to those who seek it.
Yet that is not all. In the latter days the Mormon pioneers were fed on a flock of quail when they were cold and starving. The Saints’ crops in Utah were saved from locusts because the Lord sent seagulls. Many people are miraculously healed every day through faith, and the use of the priesthood. When we could not get my eight-year-old son to a doctor during a severe asthma attack, he was healed by anointing oil through the power of the priesthood, and even after six years, his asthma has never returned. When our modern technological miracles fail, the Lord still gives us His power through our faith both for our comfort and to further His work.
Have you ever read the Bible and wondered how the children of Israel could see so many miracles day after day and still struggle with their faith? We have the same thing today. The Lord parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could establish the priesthood and worship God. The Lord sends missionaries across oceans in airplanes so that all the world can have the priesthood and worship God. The Lord had Moses smite a rock so that they would not be thirsty. The Lord has provided us with the knowledge of pipes and water pressure as well as provided us with the wealth needed so that we might not be thirsty. It was the faith of Moses that parted the Red Sea. It’s the faith of the Latter-Day Prophets and Saints that have brought about the modern machines that fulfill the prophecy to spread the gospel to all of the world.
In General Conference, we have been told that we are living beneath our privileges (President Dieter F. Uchdorf, Your Potential, Your Privilege, Apr. 2011). Faith and the priesthood have power beyond our imaginations. Remember, with faith Enoch had control over the elements to move mountains and change the course of rivers (Moses 7:13), the Brother of Jared moved Mount Zerin (Ether 12:30), and it was by faith that Peter walked on water to go to the Savior (Matthew 14:29). All of that manifests that the power of God over the elements is ours through faith. It will be faith that the sealed portion of The Book of Mormon, the writings of the Brother of Jared, will come forth to the children of men, and it will be translated through the stones that were prepared by the Lord and given to the Brother of Jared in the mount.
The Church has not hidden sacred knowledge. God has not ceased to do miracles among the children of men, nor has God ceased to use the elements of the earth to further His work. If we want to have the knowledge of God and understand the workings of the Lord, then we need to exercise our faith, ask, seek, knock, truly believe, and it will be given unto us (Matthew 7:7).
Update: Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler wrote an article refuting statements made by David Whitmer about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Their arguments are compelling and I am inclined to believe that they are correct. Please read their complete article here.
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