Question: Didn't Joseph's 1826 Bainbridge appearance before a judge prove that he had previously been using his stone for nefarious purposes?

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Question: Didn't Joseph's 1826 Bainbridge appearance before a judge prove that he had previously been using his stone for nefarious purposes?

The actual evidence indicates a favorable outcome for Joseph Smith

Even Joseph himself noted that he was sought out by Josiah Stowell ("Stoal") to use the stone to find hidden valuables. (JS-H 1:55-56) Stowell "came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye."[1]

Stowell eventually joined the Church; some of his family and community religious leaders[2], however, brought charges against Joseph in court for events related to this treasure seeking effort. This led to what is commonly referred to as Joseph's 1826 Bainbridge "glasslooking trial." Although this proceeding was used to accuse Joseph of being a "disorderly person" and attempting to defraud Stowell, it should be noted that Stowell actually testified in Joseph's defense. The report of the result of this proceeding varies depending upon who is telling the story. Some say that Joseph was found "guilty," or "condemned." Others indicate that he was "discharged." Constable De Zeng indicated that the proceeding was "not a trial." A synthesis of all the evidence indicates a favorable outcome for Joseph Smith.[3]

Gardner concludes that "[t]he implication is that since Joseph used a peep stone, he must be seen in the same category as those who ran a scam with one. Clearly the 1826 court appearance tells us that some contemporaries considered him in that category....However, the fact that the communities would be willing to follow the confidence scheme simply tells us that there was an existing belief system in which seer stones were considered effective and acceptable."[4] More recent critics, notably Dan Vogel, have suggested that Joseph belongs in the category of a pious fraud,[5] a model that others have found incoherent and inadequate[6] to explain Joseph's successes and failures as a village seer (and later prophet) and his tendency to polarize acquaintances into believers or debunkers.


Notes

  1. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853),91–92.
  2. David Keller, The Bainbridge Conspiracy, Fair Blog, March 23, 2008
  3. David Keller, Not Guilty, Fair Blog, Dec. 17, 2008.
  4. Gardner, Joseph the Seer
  5. Trevor Luke, "The Scandal in the Practice: Joseph Smith as a Religious Performer" 2009 Sunstone Conference
  6. David Keller, Seer or Pious Fraud, Fair Blog, May 5, 2008