Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife)/Chapter 2

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Response to "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 2 - The Translation (Book of Mormon)

A FairMormon Analysis of: For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife), a work by author: Anonymous
Chart LTMW translation BoM.png

Response to claims made in "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 2 - The Translation (Book of Mormon)

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Response to claim: "Contrary to general Church teachings, Joseph did not read the gold plates like an open book at all. Rather, during the entire translation process he buried his face in a hat that contained a common rock"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Contrary to general Church teachings, Joseph did not read the gold plates like an open book at all. Rather, during the entire translation process he buried his face in a hat that contained a common rock. The gold plates were either covered by a cloth where no one, including Joseph, could see them or they were in a different location altogether.

Author's sources:
  1. Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament". Ensign, July 1993, quoting David Whitmer’s Address to All Believers In Christ, 1887, p.11

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph did not consider it a "common rock": Like the Nephite interpreters, the stone that Joseph used was considered by him and others to be a "seer stone." The use of the stone was not "contrary to general Church teachings," since it has been mentioned a number of times in Church publications, although infrequently. In fact, there is no "general Church teaching" that Joseph read the plates like "an open book". The only thing that gives such an impression of artwork which shows him doing this, yet that artwork doesn't show the "Urim and Thummim" either. It is also odd that the author claims that the Church does not teach about the stone being used, and then immediately follows that statement with a quote from Russell M. Nelson talking about it in the July 1993 Ensign.



Question: Did Joseph Smith use the Nephite interpreters to translate? Or did he use his own seer stone?

Joseph Smith used both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone, and both were called "Urim and Thummim"

Joseph Smith used both the Nephite Interpreters and his own seer stone during the translation process, yet we only hear of the "Urim and Thummim" being used for this purpose.

  1. He described the instrument as ‘spectacles’ and referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim.
  2. He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed, called ‘seer stones’ because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer. The Prophet received some early revelations through the use of these seer stones.
  3. Records indicate that soon after the founding of the Church in 1830, the Prophet stopped using the seer stones as a regular means of receiving revelations. Instead, he dictated the revelations after inquiring of the Lord without employing an external instrument.

Emma Smith confirmed that Joseph switched between the Nephite interpreters and his own seer stone during the translation

Emma Smith Bidamon described Joseph's use of several stones during translation to Emma Pilgrim on 27 March 1870 (original spelling retained):

Now the first that my <husband> translated, [the book] was translated by use of the Urim, and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost, after that he used a small stone, not exactly, black, but was rather a dark color.”[1]

Joseph Smith's small, egg-shaped seer stone. Emma said that "he used a small stone, not exactly, black, but was rather a dark color." Photograph by Welden C. Andersen and Richard E. Turley Jr. Copyright © The Church Historian's Press.


Gospel Topics: "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," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013):

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.” ....

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.[2]


Question: Why would Joseph Smith use the same stone for translating the Book of Mormon that he used for "money digging"?

Would God approve the use of a "magic peep stone" in translating a sacred record?

Joseph was given a set of Nephite interpreters along with the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was produced. In addition, Joseph already possessed and utilized several seer stones. Although Joseph began translating the Book of Mormon using the Nephite interpreters, he later switched to using one of his seer stones to complete the translation. Critics (typically those who reject Mormonism but still believe in God) reject the idea that God would approve the use of an instrument for translation that had previously been used for "money digging."

Regardless of the perspective (believing or non-believing) from which we tell the story of the translation, the essential fact of the translation is unchanged

The conclusion that Joseph used a "magical" or "occult" stone to assist in the translation of the Book of Mormon is entirely dependent upon one's own preconception that the use of such an instrument would not be acceptable by God. Believers, on the other hand, ought not to take issue with a distinction between one set of seer stones versus another. As Brant Gardner notes: "Regardless of the perspective from which we tell the story, the essential fact of the translation is unchanged. How was the Book of Mormon translated? As Joseph continually insisted, the only real answer, from any perspective, is that it was translated by the gift and power of God." [3]

  • The point is not necessarily that the stone had the same ability, but that it provided a means for Joseph to exercise his spiritual abilities.
  • If one stops assuming that Joseph was a liar and deceiver, we can consider the matter from Joseph's point of view:
    • He's being called upon to reveal things that are hidden, and to translate an ancient record.
    • Joseph is painfully aware that he cannot do these things.
    • How could Joseph know that he wasn't going crazy or being delusional? Tying his early prophetic work to something with which he had already had objective success (the use of the seer stone) allowed Joseph to trust both God and himself.
    • The Lord seems to have used Joseph's preexisting beliefs about how the world worked (including seer stones to reveal hidden things) to help Joseph gain confidence in his own abilities.
    • The Nephite interpreters had been blessed and dedicated for the purpose of translating the Book of Mormon—this would have increased Joseph's faith, and they did help him receive revelation more effectively, initially. This is what excited Joseph more than even the plates themselves—he was able to do more with the Nephite stones.
    • With time, Joseph was able to translate with his "original" stone—thus, his own ability had increased, because he no longer needed the "stronger" Nephite stones.
    • Eventually, he did not require the "prop" or "crutch" of the stone at all—his faith and experience had grown.
  • Critics of the Church often act as if the stone or Urim and Thummim were a type of "magic translator" that anyone could have looked through. They weren't. Joseph always insisted he was only able to do what he did "by the gift and power of God." It is probable that anyone else examining the stones would have found nothing unusual or different about them.
  • The power to translate or reveal hidden things came from God—as Joseph's experience and spiritual maturity increased, his reliance upon a physical instrument became less and less.


Response to claim: "If the Church knew the true method Joseph used to dictate the Book of Mormon, why would they commission works of art and film and use the education system to teach otherwise?"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

If the Church knew the true method Joseph used to dictate the Book of Mormon, why would they commission works of art and film and use the education system to teach otherwise?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Back when the author was a believing Latter-day Saint, did he ever see a piece of Church artwork that depicted the Nephite interpreters (a.k.a. the "Urim and Thummim) in use during the translation process? Certainly not, unless he happened upon one single depiction in a 1970s edition of the Book of Mormon Reader. Otherwise, every piece of art depicting the translation process that he saw while a believing member was just as inaccurate as he claims they are now - yet Church manuals and lessons clearly indicate that the Urim and Thummim was used. So the author had no problem with clearly inaccurate artwork prior to his deconversion, but he has a problem with it now. This indicates that the issue of accuracy in Church art is simply a reflection of one's current perspective of the Church: if you are a believer, the artwork doesn't matter. On the other hand, if you are an unbeliever, it suddenly takes on importance in the arsenal of items that can be used against the Church in an effort to portray it as dishonest.The facts: The inaccuracy of this artwork doesn't seem to bother active Church members - they know that the Urim and Thummim were used, yet they know that they aren't seeing it in the artwork. The truth is that depicting the translation instrument, whether it be the Nephite interpreters or the seer stone, would appear equally awkward, and the artists simply choose not to portray it. The "traditional" portrayal would show Joseph looking into a pair of "spectacles," while an alternate portrayal would show Joseph looking at a stone in the bottom of his hat. One is hardly more culturally "uncomfortable" than the other.



Question: Does Church art always reflect reality?

All art, including Church art, simply reflects the views of the artist: It may not reflect reality

Samuel the Lamanite Prophecies from the City Wall by Arnold Friberg

It is claimed by some that the Church knowingly "lies" or distorts the historical record in its artwork in order to whitewash the past, or for propaganda purposes. [4] For example, some Church sanctioned artwork shows Joseph and Oliver sitting at a table while translating with the plate in the open between them. Daniel C. Peterson provides some examples of how Church art often does not reflect reality, and how this is not evidence of deliberate lying or distortion on the part of the Church:

Look at this famous picture....Now that’s Samuel the Lamanite on a Nephite wall. Are any walls like that described in the Book of Mormon? No. You have these simple things, and they’re considered quite a technical innovation at the time of Moroni, where he digs a trench, piles the mud up, puts a palisade of logs along the top. That’s it. They’re pretty low tech. There’s nothing like this. This is Cuzco or something. But this is hundreds of years after the Book of Mormon and probably nowhere near the Book of Mormon area, and, you know, and you’ve heard me say it before, after Samuel jumps off this Nephite wall you never hear about him again. The obvious reason is....he’s dead. He couldn’t survive that jump. But again, do you draw your understanding of the Book of Mormon from that image? Or, do you draw it from what the book actually says?[5]


Question: Why are people concerned about Church artwork?

As the critics point out, there are potential historical errors in some of these images

One of the strangest attacks on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an assault on the Church's art. Now and again, one hears criticism about the representational images which the Church uses in lesson manuals and magazines to illustrate some of the foundational events of Church history.[6]

A common complaint is that Church materials usually show Joseph translating the Book of Mormon by looking at the golden plates, such as in the photo shown here.

Artist's rendition of Joseph and Oliver translating the Book of Mormon.[7]

Here critics charge a clear case of duplicity—Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith are shown translating the Book of Mormon.

But as the critics point out, there are potential historical errors in this image:

  1. Oliver Cowdery did not see the plates as Joseph worked with them.
  2. For much of the translation of the extant Book of Mormon text, Joseph did not have the plates in front of him—they were often hidden outside the home during the translation.
  3. Joseph used a seer stone to translate the plates; he usually did this by placing the stone in his hat to exclude light, and dictating to his scribe.

The reality is that the translation process, for the most part, is represented by this image:

Joseph Smith prepares to translate using the seer stone placed within his hat while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat. (11 May 2015)


Question: Is the Church trying to hide something through its use of artwork?

The manner of the translation is described repeatedly in Church publications, despite the inaccurate artwork

The implication is that the Church's artistic department and/or artists are merely tools in a propaganda campaign meant to subtly and quietly obscure Church history. The suggestion is that the Church trying to "hide" how Joseph really translated the plates.

On the contrary, the manner of the translation is described repeatedly, for example, in the Church's official magazine for English-speaking adults, the Ensign. Richard Lloyd Anderson discussed the "stone in the hat" matter in 1977,[8] and Elder Russell M. Nelson quoted David Whitmer's account to new mission presidents in 1992.[9]

The details of the translation are not certain, and the witnesses do not all agree in every particular. However, Joseph's seer stone in the hat was also discussed by, among others: B.H. Roberts in his New Witnesses for God (1895)[10] and returns somewhat to the matter in Comprehensive History of the Church (1912).[11] Other Church sources to discuss this include The Improvement Era (1939),[12] BYU Studies (1984, 1990)[13] the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (1993),[14] and the FARMS Review (1994).[15] LDS authors Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler also mentioned the matter in 2000.[16]

Neal A. Maxwell: "To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark"

Elder Neal A. Maxwell went so far as to use Joseph's hat as a parable; this is hardly the act of someone trying to "hide the truth":

Jacob censured the "stiffnecked" Jews for "looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4:14). We are looking beyond the mark today, for example, if we are more interested in the physical dimensions of the cross than in what Jesus achieved thereon; or when we neglect Alma's words on faith because we are too fascinated by the light-shielding hat reportedly used by Joseph Smith during some of the translating of the Book of Mormon. To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark.[17]

Those who criticize the Church based on its artwork should perhaps take Elder Maxwell's caution to heart.


Question: Why doesn't the art match details which have been repeatedly spelled out in Church publications?

The simplest answer is that artists simply don't always get such matters right

Why, then, does the art not match details which have been repeatedly spelled out in LDS publications?

The simplest answer may be that artists simply don't always get such matters right. The critics' caricature to the contrary, not every aspect of such things is "correlated." Robert J. Matthews of BYU was interviewed by the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and described the difficulties in getting art "right":

JBMS: Do you think there are things that artists could do in portraying the Book of Mormon?

RJM: Possibly. To me it would be particularly helpful if they could illustrate what scholars have done. When I was on the Correlation Committee [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], there were groups producing scripture films. They would send to us for approval the text of the words that were to be spoken. We would read the text and decide whether we liked it or not. They would never send us the artwork for clearance. But when you see the artwork, that makes all the difference in the world. It was always too late then. I decided at that point that it is so difficult to create a motion picture, or any illustration, and not convey more than should be conveyed. If you paint a man or woman, they have to have clothes on. And the minute you paint that clothing, you have said something either right or wrong. It would be a marvelous help if there were artists who could illustrate things that researchers and archaeologists had discovered…

I think people get the main thrust. But sometimes there are things that shouldn't be in pictures because we don't know how to accurately depict them…I think that unwittingly we might make mistakes if we illustrate children's materials based only on the text of the Book of Mormon.[18]

Modern audiences—especially those looking to find fault—have, in a sense, been spoiled by photography. We are accustomed to having images describe how things "really" were. We would be outraged if someone doctored a photo to change its content. This largely unconscious tendency may lead us to expect too much of artists, whose gifts and talents may lie in areas unrelated to textual criticism and the fine details of Church history.

Even this does not tell the whole story. "Every artist," said Henry Ward Beecher, "dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures."[19] This is perhaps nowhere more true than in religious art, where the goal is not so much to convey facts or historical detail, as it is to convey a religious message and sentiment. A picture often is worth a thousand words, and artists often seek to have their audience identify personally with the subject. The goal of religious art is not to alienate the viewer, but to draw him or her in.


Question: How do non-Mormon artists treat the Nativity?

A look at how other religious artists portray the birth of Christ

The critics would benefit from even a cursory tour through religious art. Let us consider, for example, one of the most well-known stories in Christendom: the Nativity of Christ. How have religious artists portrayed this scene?

BRUEGEL Le dénombrement de Bethléem.png   A personal favorite of mine is Belgian painter Pierre Bruegel the Elder. In his Census of Bethlehem (1569, shown at left) he turns Bethlehem into a Renaissance Belgian village. The snow is the first tip-off that all is not historically accurate. But the skaters on the pond, the clothing, and the houses are also all wrong. However, it's unlikely that anyone would suggest Bruegel's tribute was an attempt to perpetuate a fraud.

An Italian work from the thirteenth century gives us The Nativity with Six Dominican Monks (1275, shown at right). There were surely no monks at the Nativity, and the Dominican order was not formed until the early thirteenth century. But any serious claim that this work is merely an attempt to "back date" the order's creation, giving them more prestige would certainly be dismissed by historians, Biblical scholars, and the artistic community.   Nativity with 6 Dominicans.png

Bellini Madonna 1.png  

Renaissance Italian Madonna

Even details of no religious consequence are fair game for artists to get "wrong." Giovanni Bellini's portrait of Mary might seem innocuous enough, until one spots the European castle on the portrait's right, and the thriving Renaissance town on the left.

Non-European cultures

Other cultures follow the same pattern. Korean and Indian artists portray the birth in Bethlehem in their own culture and dress. Certainly, no one would suspect that the artists (as with Bruegel the Elder) hope we will be tricked into believing that Jesus' birth took place in a snow-drenched Korean countryside, while shepherds in Indian costume greeted a sari-wearing Mary with no need for a stable at all under the warm Indian sky?
  Korean Nativity 1.png Indian Nativity 1.png

Jesus mafa 1.png  

African example

For a final example, consider an African rendition of the Nativity, which shows the figures in traditional African forms. If we were to turn the same critical eye on this work that has been turned on LDS art, we might be outraged and troubled by what we see here. But when we set aside that hyper-literal eye, the artistic license becomes acceptable. Clearly, there's a double standard at work when it comes to LDS art.


As the director of Catholic schools in Yaounde, Cameroon argues:

It is urgent and necessary for us to proclaim and to express the message, the life and the whole person of Jesus-Christ in an African artistic language…Many people of different cultures have done it before us and will do it in the future, without betraying the historical Christ, from whom all authentic Christianity arises. We must not restrict ourselves to the historical and cultural forms of a particular people or period.[20]

The goal of religious art is primarily to convey a message. It uses the historical reality of religious events as a means, not an end.

Religious art—in all traditions—is intended, above all, to draw the worshipper into a separate world, where mundane things and events become charged with eternal import. Some dictated words or a baby in a stable become more real, more vital when they are connected recognizably to one's own world, time, and place.

This cannot happen, however, if the image's novelty provides too much of a challenge to the viewer's culture or expectations. Thus, the presentation of a more accurate view of the translation using either the Nephite interpreters (sometimes referred to as "spectacles") or the stone and the hat, automatically raises feelings among people in 21st Century culture that the translation process was strange. This type of activity is viewed with much less approval in our modern culture.


Question: What message does the Book of Mormon translation painting convey?

The translation was carried out openly—Joseph had no opportunity to hide notes or books

What religious message(s) does the Del Parson translation picture convey?

Artist's rendition of Joseph and Oliver translating the Book of Mormon.
  1. The translation was carried out openly—Joseph had no opportunity to hide notes or books. This was confirmed by Elizabeth Ann Cowdery and Emma Smith.[21]
  2. The plates had a physical reality, and Oliver Cowdery was convinced of this reality. Unlike some of the other Three Witnesses, who spoke only of seeing the angel and the plates, Oliver Cowdery insisted that "I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters. That book is true…I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet."[22] Oliver is also quoted in one account as describing Joseph "as sitting at a table with the plates before him, translating them by means of the Urim and Thummim, while he (Oliver) sat beside him writing every word as Joseph spoke them to him. This was done by holding the "translators" over the hieroglyphics..."[23] This alternative technique was confirmed by John Whitmer, who said of Oliver that "[w]hen the work of translation was going on he sat at one table with his writing material and Joseph at another with the breast-plate and Urim and Thummim. The later were attached to the breast-plate and were two crystals or glasses, into which he looked and saw the words of the book."[24]
  3. The translation was not a weird, esoteric exercise.

The hat detail causes problems for the critical theory that Joseph cheated with notes while dictating. With a curtain in place, it is much easier to postulate that Joseph used notes or a Bible in the translation process. With the stone and the hat, however, witnesses were able to view the entire process, thus highlighting the total lack of notes or Bible in the translation process. Note also that in Parson's painting, with it's open setting, the cheat-notes theory can't get any traction.

One needs to consider the impressive witness testimonies of the plates' reality, and the fact that the use of a seer stone in a hat is not intrinsically less plausible than the use of two seer stones mounted in a set of "spectacles" attached to a breastplate. In fact, there are even accounts which effectively mix the two methods, with Joseph purportedly removing one of the stones from the "spectacles" and placing it in a hat.

Efforts to diminish the miracle of the translation effort by emphasizing the substitution of one seer stone for another seems to convey something to a modern audience that it never portrayed to the participants—that the Book of Mormon was uninspired and uninspiring.


Response to claim: "David Whitmer mentions a seer stone, but other than this more than 20 year-old Ensign article, the existence of this method using a stone in a hat has never been mentioned"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

David Whitmer mentions a seer stone, but other than this more than 20 year-old Ensign article, the existence of this method using a stone in a hat has never been mentioned. In December, 2013 the Church released an essay addressing the translation of the Book of Mormon. Finally the seer stone is again mentioned for a new generation of members.

Author's sources:
  1. Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign, July 1993, quoting David Whitmer’s An Address to All Believers In Christ, 1887, p.11

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The stone, and sometimes the hat, have been mentioned, although infrequently, at other times in Church publications in addition to the July 1993 mention by Russell M. Nelson.
  • In 2005, Opening the Heavens was published jointly by the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History and Deseret Book. As part of this book, at least twenty-nine references to the stone (often with the hat) are included, from both friendly and hostile sources: p. 112, 129, 130, 135, 136, 137, 138, 142, 146, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 164, 166, 168, 178, 184, 185, 187, 192, 193, 196.
  • January 1997 Ensign: "Martin Harris related of the seer stone: 'Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin.'" [25]
  • July 1993 Ensign: (the quote mentioned by the author): "David Whitmer wrote: '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.'" [26]
  • 1988 book by Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine: "Jacob censured the "stiffnecked" Jews for "looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4:14). We are looking beyond the mark today, for example, if we are more interested in the physical dimensions of the cross than in what Jesus achieved thereon; or when we neglect Alma's words on faith because we are too fascinated by the light-shielding hat reportedly used by Joseph Smith during some of the translating of the Book of Mormon. To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark." [27]
  • January 1988 Ensign: "Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them."[28]
  • September 1977 Ensign: There he gave his most detailed view of 'the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated: 'Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light.'"[29]
  • September 1974 Friend: "To help him with the translation, Joseph found with the gold plates 'a curious instrument which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in a rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.' Joseph also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating called a seer stone."[30]

Question: What Church sources discuss either the use of the seer stone or the stone and the hat as part of the Book of Mormon translation process?

2016

Translation display at the Church-owned Priesthood Restoration site in Pennsylvania

A translation display at the Church-owned Priesthood Restoration historical site in Pennsylvania showing the hat, the plates (covered with a cloth) and writing instruments

2015

"Joseph the Seer," Ensign (October 2015)

In fact, historical evidence shows that in addition to the two seer stones known as “interpreters,” Joseph Smith used at least one other seer stone in translating the Book of Mormon, often placing it into a hat in order to block out light. According to Joseph’s contemporaries, he did this in order to better view the words on the stone.
—Richard E. Turley Jr., Robin S. Jensen and Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Joseph the Seer," Ensign (October 2015)

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. This stone passed from Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery and then to the Church through Brigham Young and others.
—Richard E. Turley Jr., Robin S. Jensen and Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Joseph the Seer," Ensign (October 2015)

A picture of Joseph Smith's seer stone from the October 2015 Ensign. Photograph by Welden C. Andersen and Richard E. Turley Jr.

From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)

Joseph Smith prepares to translate using the seer stone placed within his hat while the plates are wrapped on the table. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)
Joseph Smith prepares to translate using the seer stone placed within his hat while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)
Joseph Smith translates using the seer stone placed within his hat while Martin Harris acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)
Joseph Smith translates using the seer stone placed within his hat while Emma Smith acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)
Joseph Smith translates using the seer stone placed within his hat while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)

2013

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013

The Urim and Thummim was “an instrument prepared of God to assist man in obtaining revelation from the Lord and in translating languages” (Bible Dictionary, “Urim and Thummim”). Joseph Smith used the Urim and Thummim to aid in the translation of the Book of Mormon. In addition to the Urim and Thummim, the Prophet used a seer stone in the translation process.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the following about the translation process and Joseph Smith’s use of the Urim and Thummim and the seer stone:

“The Prophet Joseph alone knew the full process, and he was deliberately reluctant to describe details. We take passing notice of the words of David Whitmer, Joseph Knight, and Martin Harris, who were observers, not translators. David Whitmer indicated that as the Prophet used the divine instrumentalities provided to help him, ‘the hieroglyphics would appear, and also the translation in the English language … in bright luminous letters.’ Then Joseph would read the words to Oliver (quoted in James H. Hart, “About the Book of Mormon,” Deseret Evening News, 25 Mar. 1884, 2). Martin Harris related of the seer stone: ‘Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin’ (quoted in Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 6 Feb. 1882, 86–87). Joseph Knight made similar observations (see Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17 [Autumn 1976]: 35).
"Lesson 10: Joseph Smith—History 1:55–65," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013 (available online at LDS.org)

"Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on lds.org

Two accounts of the translation process, including the use of a seer stone, have been written by members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and published in Church magazines. Historians have also written about the seer stone in Church publications, both in the Ensign and in The Joseph Smith Papers. (See Neal A. Maxwell, “‘By the Gift and Power of God,’” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 36–41; Russell M. Nelson, “A Treasured Testament,” Ensign, July 1993, 61–63; Richard Lloyd Anderson, “‘By the Gift and Power of God,’” Ensign, Sept. 1977, 78–85; and Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, xxix–xxxii.)
—"Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on lds.org off-site

Ensign

Gerrit Dirkmaat (Church History Department - January 2013 Ensign):

Those who believed that Joseph Smith’s revelations contained the voice of the Lord speaking to them also accepted the miraculous ways in which the revelations were received. Some of the Prophet Joseph’s earliest revelations came through the same means by which he translated the Book of Mormon from the gold plates. In the stone box containing the gold plates, Joseph found what Book of Mormon prophets referred to as “interpreters,” or a “stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light” (Alma 37:23–24). He described the instrument as “spectacles” and referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim (see Exodus 28:30).2

He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed, called “seer stones” because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer. The Prophet received some early revelations through the use of these seer stones. For example, shortly after Oliver Cowdery came to serve as a scribe for Joseph Smith as he translated the plates, Oliver and Joseph debated the meaning of a biblical passage and sought an answer through revelation. Joseph explained: “A difference of opinion arising between us about the account of John the Apostle … whether he died, or whether he continued; we mutually agreed to settle it by the Urim and Thummim.”3 In response, Joseph Smith received the revelation now known as section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which informed them that Jesus had told the Apostle John, “Thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory” (D&C 7:3).

Records indicate that soon after the founding of the Church in 1830, the Prophet stopped using the seer stones as a regular means of receiving revelations. Instead, he dictated the revelations after inquiring of the Lord without employing an external instrument. One of his scribes explained that process: “The scribe seats himself at a desk or table, with pen, ink, and paper. The subject of inquiry being understood, the Prophet and Revelator inquires of God. He spiritually sees, hears, and feels, and then speaks as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”
Gerrit Dirkmaat (Church History Department), "Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God," Ensign, January 2013. (emphasis added) off-site

2005

In 2005, Opening the Heavens was published jointly by the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History and Deseret Book. As part of this book, at least twenty-nine references to the stone (often with the hat) are included, from both friendly and hostile sources:

  • p. 112, 129, 130, 135, 136, 137, 138, 142, 146, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 164, 166, 168, 178, 184, 185, 187, 192, 193, 196.

1997

Ensign

"Martin Harris related of the seer stone: 'Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin'"
—Neal A. Maxwell, “‘By the Gift and Power of God’,” Ensign, January 1997, 36 (emphasis added) off-site

1993

Ensign

"David Whitmer wrote: ' 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.'"
—Russell M. Nelson, “A Treasured Testament,” Ensign, Jul 1993, 61. (emphasis added) off-site

1988

Not My Will, But Thine

"Jacob censured the "stiffnecked" Jews for "looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4:14). We are looking beyond the mark today, for example, if we are more interested in the physical dimensions of the cross than in what Jesus achieved thereon; or when we neglect Alma's words on faith because we are too fascinated by the light-shielding hat reportedly used by Joseph Smith during some of the translating of the Book of Mormon. To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark."
—Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 26.

Ensign

The scriptures indicate that translation involved sight, power, transcription of the characters, the Urim and Thummim or a seerstone, study, and prayer.
After returning from a trip to Palmyra to settle his affairs, Martin began to transcribe. From April 12 to June 14, Joseph translated while Martin wrote, with only a curtain between them. On occasion they took breaks from the arduous task, sometimes going to the river and throwing stones. Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them." —Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (Jan 1988).

1977

Ensign

"There he gave his most detailed view of 'the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated': “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light."
—Richard Lloyd Anderson, "‘By the Gift and Power of God’," Ensign (Sep 1977), 79, emphasis added. off-site

1974

Friend

"To help him with the translation, Joseph found with the gold plates “a curious instrument which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in a rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.” Joseph also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating called a seer stone."
—“A Peaceful Heart,” Friend, Sep 1974, 7 off-site

1882

  • Millennial Star 4 (1882).

Others

  • Hyrum Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, Personal Glimpses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Covenant, 2009), 26, 44.
  • Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, the Man and the Seer (Deseret Book, 1960), 12, 101.


Response to claim: "For nearly 200 years the Church has had this object in their physical possession, yet has never shown it or actively taught about its existence"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

On August 4th, 2015, LDS.org published an article titled, Joseph the Seer. It contains the first ever, official image of one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones. It is the very same stone Joseph found while digging a well on the property of Willard Chase in 1822. For nearly 200 years the Church has had this object in their physical possession, yet has never shown it or actively taught about its existence.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The claim that the Church has not "actively taught" about the seer stone's existence is correct. Lesson materials mention the "Urim and Thummim" without noting that the term applied to both the Nephite interpeters and the seer stone. This is, however, changing dramatically. In addition to the Gospel Topics essay "Book of Mormon Translation" and August 2015 Ensign articles mentioned by the author, a display on the role of the seer stone has been added to the redesigned Church History Museum in Salt Lake City.



The display showing Joseph Smith's seer stone at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City (photo taken in August 2017)

Response to claim: "Apparently seer stones were a common item used in folk magic in the New England. The Smith family’s use of these stones does not appear to be a unique practice"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Apparently seer stones were a common item used in folk magic in the New England. The Smith family’s use of these stones does not appear to be a unique practice.

Author's sources:
  1. Smith, Joseph, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
  2. Joseph Smith in Harmony, Elder Steven E. Snow, Church Historian, Ensign, September 2015.
  3. Isaac Hale, father of Emma Hale Smith, History of the Church, Vol.1. Ch.2.
  4. Walker, Ronald W. (1984) "The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting," BYU Studies Quarterly: Vol. 24: Iss. 4, Article 4. Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/byusq/vol24/iss4/4

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event





Question: How did Joseph Smith use his seer stones as a youth?

Joseph as the village seer: the use of the seer stone prior to the Restoration

Brant Gardner clarifies the role that Joseph and his stone played within the community of Palmyra,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society. He exhibited a talent parallel to others in similar communities. Even in Palmyra he was not unique. In D. Michael Quinn's words: "Until the Book of Mormon thrust young Smith into prominence, Palmyra's most notable seer was Sally Chase, who used a greenish-colored stone. William Stafford also had a seer stone, and Joshua Stafford had a 'peepstone which looked like white marble and had a hole through the center.'" [9] Richard Bushman adds Chauncy Hart, and an unnamed man in Susquehanna County, both of whom had stones with which they found lost objects. [10] [31]

During his tenure as a "village seer," Joseph acquired several seer stones. Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably that belonging to Palmyra seer Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[32]

The second seer stone was reportedly found while digging a well on the property of William Chase in 1822

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The second seer stone was reportedly found on the property of William Chase in 1822 as Chase described it:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.[33]

Joseph Smith locates a seer stone while digging a well. Image copyright (c) 2016 by Anthony Sweat.


Response to claim: "Josiah Stowell requested Joseph's assistance in a mining operation looking for old coins and precious metals. This effort was fruitless and ended in charges being brought against Joseph by the Stowells for being a 'glasslooker'"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Josiah Stowell requested Joseph's assistance in a mining operation looking for old coins and precious metals. This effort was fruitless and ended in charges being brought against Joseph by the Stowells for being a "glasslooker.”

Author's sources:
  1. "Trial Bill of Albert Neely, circa 9 November 1826 [People v. Smith, 1826], Joseph Smith Papers.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author's wording of this claim makes it sound like Josiah Stowell brought charges against Joseph after he failed to locate "old coins and precious metals." In reality,
  1. It was Joseph who discouraged Stowell from continuing this effort, because he told Stowell that it was fruitless.
  2. It was relatives of Josiah Stowell (whom the author refers to as "the Stowells") who brought Joseph to court because they felt that he was defrauding Josiah Stowell.
  3. Josiah Stowell defended Joseph at this hearing.
  4. Joseph was released by the judge without being fined or found guilty of anything.



Response to claim: Joseph Smith was "taken to court for defrauding those he promised fortunes"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith was "taken to court for defrauding those he promised fortunes"

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

There is no record of Joseph having "promised fortunes" to anyone: The author appears to have added his own speculation. Joseph did indeed appear in appear before a judge in 1826 in South Bainbridge at the behest of relatives of Josiah Stowell, whom they believed that Joseph was defrauding. The charges were that Joseph was a "disorderly person." However, Stowell defended Joseph, and Joseph was ultimately released without being fined or found guilty of any crime.



Question: What is Joseph Smith's 1826 South Bainbridge "trial" for "glasslooking"?

Joseph Smith appeared at a pre-trial court hearing in 1826 for "glasslooking"

In 1825 Josiah Stowel sought out the young Joseph Smith, who had a reputation for being able to use his seer stone to locate lost objects, to help him to locate an ancient silver mine. After a few weeks of work, Joseph persuaded Stowel to give up the effort. In 1826, some of Stowel's relatives brought Joseph to court and accused him of "glasslooking" and being a "disorderly person." Several witnesses testified at the hearing.

Joseph was released without being fined or otherwise punished - there was no verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty" because this was only a hearing rather than a trial

Joseph was ultimately released without being fined and had no punishment imposed upon him. Years later, a bill from the judge was discovered which billed for court services.

Gordon Madsen summarized:

"The evidence thus far available about the 1826 trial before Justice Neely leads to the inescapable conclusion that Joseph Smith was acquitted." [34]

A review of all the relevant documents demonstrates that:

  1. The court hearing of 1826 was not a trial, it was an examination
  2. The hearing was likely initiated from religious concerns; i.e. people objected to Joseph's religious claims.
  3. There were seven witnesses.
  4. The witnesses' testimonies have not all been transmitted faithfully.
  5. Most witnesses testified that Joseph did possess a gift of sight

The court hearing was likely initiated by Stowel's relatives as a concern that he was having too much influence on Stowel

It was likely that the court hearing was initiated not so much from a concern about Joseph being a money digger, as concern that Joseph was having an influence on Josiah Stowel. Josiah Stowel was one of the first believers in Joseph Smith. His nephew was probably very concerned about that and was anxious to disrupt their relationship if possible. He did not succeed. The court hearing failed in its purpose, and was only resurrected decades later to accuse Joseph Smith of different crimes to a different people and culture.

Understanding the context of the case removes any threat it may have posed to Joseph's prophetic integrity.


Question: What events resulted in Joseph Smith's 1826 court appearance in South Bainbridge?

Josiah Stowell requested Joseph Smith's help in locating an ancient silver mine

In the spring of 1825 Josiah Stowell visited with Joseph Smith "on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye." [35] Josiah Stowell wanted Joseph to help him in his quest to find treasure in an ancient silver mine. Joseph was reluctant, but Stowell persuaded Joseph to come by offering high wages. According to trial documents, Stowell says Joseph, using a seer stone, "Looked through stone and described Josiah Stowell's house and out houses, while at Palmyra at Sampson Stowell's correctly, that he had told about a painted tree with a man's hand painted upon it by means of said stone." [36]

Joseph ultimately persuaded Stowell to give up looking for the mine

Joseph and his father traveled to southern New York in November of 1825. This was after the crops were harvested and Joseph had finished his visit to the Hill Cumorah that year. They participated with Stowell and the company of workers in digging for the mine for less than a month. Finally Joseph persuaded him to stop. "After laboring for the old gentleman about a month, without success, Joseph prevailed upon him to cease his operations." [37]

Joseph continued to work in the area for Stowell and others. He boarded at the home of Isaac Hale and met Emma Hale, who was one "treasure" he got out of the enterprise.

The following year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely

In March of the next year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely. The supposed trial record came from Miss Pearsall. "The record of the examination was torn from Neely's docket book by his niece, Emily Persall, and taken to Utah when she went to serve as a missionary under Episcopalian bishop Daniel S. Tuttle." [38] This will be identified as the Pearsall account although Neely possessed it after her death. It is interesting that the first published version of this record didn't appear until after Miss Pearsall had died.

Stowell's relatives felt that Joseph was exercising "unlimited control" over their father or uncle

William D. Purple took notes at the trial and tells us, "In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, ...were greatly incensed against Smith, ...saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire... They caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood." [39]

Whereas the Pearsall account says: "Warrant issued upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman, [Josiah Stowell's nephew] who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter...brought before court March 20, 1826" [40]

So, we have what has been called "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith", even though the records show that this wasn't actually a trial. For many years LDS scholars Francis Kirkham, Hugh Nibley and others expressed serious doubts that such a trial had even taken place.


Response to claim: "Josephsmithpapers.org displays one of the trial bills for Joseph’s court hearings in Bainbridge, New York where he was charged for fraud, a misdemeanor in 1826"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Josephsmithpapers.org displays one of the trial bills for Joseph’s court hearings in Bainbridge, New York where he was charged for fraud, a misdemeanor in 1826.

Author's sources:
  1. "Trial Bill of Albert Neely, circa 9 November 1826 [People v. Smith, 1826], Joseph Smith Papers.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph was accused of fraud, but not convicted. The "trial bills" were to cover court costs: There was no fine issued. Noting that this was a "misdemeanor" is irrelevant and is included simply to bias the reader, since Joseph was never found guilty.



Question: Why was Joseph fined if he wasn't found guilty of anything?

Joseph was never fined - the bills from Judge Neely and Constable DeZeng were for court costs

The court did not assess a fine against Joseph. There were bills made out by Judge Neely and Constable DeZeng, but these were for costs. Those bills were directed to the County for payment of witnesses, etc., not to Joseph.


Response to claim: "Members have always been taught that Joseph’s times in court were because Satan was stirring up the hearts of those who would stop Joseph from the Lord’s work"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Members have always been taught that Joseph’s times in court were because Satan was stirring up the hearts of those who would stop Joseph from the Lord’s work

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

In general, the Church teaches that Satan wished to stop the work of the Lord. However, the mention of Joseph Smith's 1826 court appearance in the June 1994 Ensign says nothing about "Satan" being responsible.



Ensign (June 1994): "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life 20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York

Ensign (June 1994):

Highlights in the Prophet’s Life 20 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. [41]


Response to claim: "Joseph was using the same tool to defraud people as he later used to write the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Joseph was using the same tool to defraud people as he later used to write the Book of Mormon.

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author simply assumes that because Joseph used the stone to help people find things, that he was defrauding people."



Logical Fallacy: Begging the Question—The author presents a circular argument in which the starting assumption requires the conclusion to be true.

The author assumes that Joseph was defrauding people and then moves forward from that initial assumption.

Response to claim: "He used a seer stone to sell treasure hunting services and when that didn’t turn out well for him, he used the same stone to sell religious services"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

He used a seer stone to sell treasure hunting services and when that didn’t turn out well for him, he used the same stone to sell religious services.

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author presents no evidence that Joseph ever used his seer stone to "sell religious services." This appears to be an attempt to negatively bias the reader.



Notes

  1. "Emma Smith Bidamon to Emma Pilgrim, 27 March 1870," Early Mormon Documents, 1:532.
  2. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  3. Brant A. Gardner, Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, 2009 FAIR Conference presentation.
  4. Accusations of the Church lying because of inaccurate artwork are offered by the following critical sources: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 8. ( Index of claims ); MormonThink.com website (as of 8 May 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/moroniweb.htm; MormonThink.com website (as of 28 April 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/transbomweb.htm; Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 1. ( Index of claims )
  5. Daniel C. Peterson, "Some Reflections on That Letter to a CES Director," 2014 FairMormon Conference.
  6. Note: Most of the images used in this paper are centuries old, and so are in the public domain. I have tried to indicate the creator each of these works of art. No challenge to copyright is intended by their inclusion here for scholarly purposes and illustration. Click each photo for title and author information.
  7. Del Parson, "Translating the Book of Mormon," © Intellectual Reserve, 1997. off-site
  8. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign (September 1977), 83. off-site
  9. Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign (July 1993), 61. off-site
  10. Brigham H. Roberts, "NAME," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:131–136. ISBN 0962254541.
  11. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:130–131. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  12. Francis W. Kirkham, "The Manner of Translating The BOOK of MORMON," Improvement Era (1939), ?.
  13. Dean C. Jessee, "New Documents and Mormon Beginnings," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984), 397–428.; Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 1 (Winter 1990), 51–52.
  14. Stephen D. Ricks, "Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 201–206. wiki
  15. Matthew Roper, "A Black Hole That's Not So Black (Review of Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism of the Book, vol. 1 by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 156–203. off-site
  16. Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2000), commentary on D&C 9.
  17. Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 26.
  18. Anonymous, "A Conversation with Robert J. Matthews," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/2 (2003): 88–92. off-site wiki
  19. Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, 1887.
  20. P. Pondy, "Why an African Christ?" jesusmafa.com. off-site
  21. Cowdery: “Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe” [John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon: Basic Historical Information,” F.A.R.M.S. report WRR–86, 25.] Emma: Joseph translated "hour after hour with nothing between us." [Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (October 1879).]
  22. Reuben Miller Journal (21 Oct. 1848), LDS Church Historian's Office; Richard L. Anderson, "Reuben Miller, Recorder of Oliver Cowdery’s Reaffirmations," Brigham Young University Studies 8 no. 3 (Spring 1968), 278.
  23. Oliver Cowdery; as cited by Personal statement of Samuel W. Richards, 25 May 1907, in Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Special Collections, cited in Anderson, "By the Gift and Power of God," 85.
  24. John Whitmer, in S. Walker, "Synopsis of a Discourse Delivered at Lamoni, Iowa," 26 Saints' Herald 370 (15 December 1879).
  25. Neal A. Maxwell, “‘By the Gift and Power of God’,” Ensign, January 1997, 36. off-site
  26. Russell M. Nelson, “A Treasured Testament,” Ensign, Jul 1993, 61. off-site
  27. Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 26.
  28. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (Jan 1988).
  29. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "‘By the Gift and Power of God’," Ensign (Sep 1977), 79, emphasis added. off-site
  30. “A Peaceful Heart,” Friend, Sep 1974, 7 off-site
  31. Brant A. Gardner, Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, 2009 FAIR Conference presentation. Gardner references [9] D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 38. and [10] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 70.
  32. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–215.
  33. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 2 (Summer 1982), 48–68.
  34. Gordon A. Madsen, "Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 2 (1990), 106.
  35. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  36. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:252–253.
  37. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  38. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (Salt Lake City, Utah: Smith Research Associates [distributed by Signature Books], 1994), 227.
  39. Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 1:479. ASIN B000HMY138.
  40. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:248–249..
  41. Anonymous, "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life," Ensign (Jun 1994), 24. off-site