Joseph Smith: Treasure-seeker or Prophet

October 10, 2009
By

Today’s post is by Joseph Antley.  One of the most controversial aspects of Joseph Smith’s early life—and one not especially well known among most Mormons—is his adventures as a treasure-seeker.  Joseph’s father was likely a treasure-seeker before the family moved to New York from Vermont, where divining rods were the common medium in the search.  Sometime in the early 1820s, Joseph was introduced to seer-stones, a common scrying device in western New York, and he quickly developed a reputation as a talented seer and was known to peer into his stone to direct fellow treasure-seekers in their hunts.  When Joseph was gaining notoriety as the Book of Mormon was being prepared for publication, local antagonists in Palmyra were quick to ridicule his treasure-seeking activity.  A local newspaper editor, Abner Cole, referred to treasure-seers as clear “impostures” in an article on Mormonism and wrote a piece of satire that mocked the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s treasure-seeking.  The first major anti-Mormon book, Eber D. Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed [sic] (1834), produced numerous affidavits—known as the Hurlbut affidavits—from neighbors in Palmyra who attested to and ridiculed the Smith family’s search for treasure.  Joseph later acknowledged the popular criticism of himself as a “money-digger”—and carefully refrained from denying it.

In the earliest years of Joseph’s prophethood, from Abner Cole to Eber D. Howe, critics of the Mormon prophet have pointed to his being a treasure-seer as direct evidence that Joseph was a fraud.  For modern readers, it can be difficult to imagine how anyone could honestly look into a stone and claim to see buried gold and silver.  In the twentieth century, ex-Mormon Fawn Brodie repeated that credulousness in her landmark biography No Man Knows My History—which considerably shaped the understanding of Joseph Smith for several decades—where she stated conclusively that Joseph Smith was a clear impostor as a treasure-seer and that his prophetic identity evolved as the natural next step.

For most the nineteenth and twentieth century, Latter-day Saint historians have been reluctant to admit that the Smith family was ever deeply involved in treasure-seeking.  That seemed to change in the decades surrounding the production and publication of the Hoffman forgeries in the early 1980s which caused many LDS historians to seriously rethink the story of Joseph’s teenage years.  Originally considered legitimate, two of the forgeries were letters—one from Joseph Smith and another from Martin Harris—which implicated the young prophet as a treasure-seer in Palmyra.

Although the letters were later exposed as forgeries, the damage had been done.  Latter-day Saint historians, it seemed, were more willing to admit that Joseph Smith utilized his seer-stone in the search for buried treasure.  The consensus shifted, but scholars still argued over the implications.  Were Abner Cole, Eber Howe, and Fawn Brodie right that Joseph deceived people using the stone?  Or is it possible that Joseph and other early nineteenth-century treasure-seers were sincere in their belief that they could find treasure through occult means?

Brodie in her biography accused Joseph of being a fraud based at least partly on the statements of neighbors in the Hurlbutt affidavits, most of which portrayed his treasure-seeking in a negative light.  However several of the men who signed these affidavits were treasure-seekers themselves—one, Willard Chase, was a respected Methodist class leader.  Richard L. Anderson has demonstrated that the affidavits show much influence from their collector, Mormon apostate Philastus Hurlbut.  Brodie (and other scholars and critics of Joseph Smith over the last two centuries) has given these clearly prejudiced—and possibly doctored—affidavits too much credence when using them to show that Joseph Smith was a fraud as a seer.

Although of course there were exceptions, many treasure-seekers—including the seers—were honest people who sincerely believed they could find buried Indian or Spanish treasure in the earth.  Treasure-seeking was enormously popular in the Northeast during the Second Great Awakening, and many treasure-seekers were deeply religious.  As mentioned, Palmyra’s Willard Chase led Methodist class meetings.  The New Israelite community led by Nathaniel Wood in Vermont made treasure-seeking through divining rods a key part of their worship and believed the ability was a spiritual gift.  In 1826, Joseph Smith was brought to court as “a disorderly person” and “impostor” by one of the relatives of Josiah Stowell, who had hired him to aid in a search for a Spanish silver mine.  At the trial, Joseph Smith, Sr. testified and was reported to have said that he and his son “were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre.”  Many people in the region saw this ability as a gift from God.  Treasure-seeking did not—in their minds—conflict with orthodox religion.  An honest, hard-working, pious Christian could go on a treasure-hunt—led by either a seer using a stone or a divining rod—without ever considering that the the activity might somehow be antithetical to his religion.

As a spiritual gift, treasure-seeking was actually intricately connected with religion.  Non-Mormon historian Alan Taylor writes of early America as “a context where treasure-seekers were neither fools nor deceivers, where treasure-seeking was part of an attempt to recapture the simplicity and magical power associated with apostolic Christianity.”  Despite the materialistic nature of treasure-seeking, it was also a spiritual search.  The Second Great Awakening that spurred the same revivals that enticed young Joseph Smith to search for the correct church also enticed him to embrace the supernatural in his ability as a treasure-seer.

Is it possible for Latter-day Saints to retain their view of the Prophet of the Restoration as God’s anointed servant and simultaneously understand his treasure-seeking activities as a young man?  Can we see him the same when we realize that during the years after he had his First Vision and in the middle of his yearly interviews with Moroni, he was peering into a seer-stone at night to direct a band of men in the search for buried gold?  Of course we can.  Perhaps part of the struggle comes from our thinking that he immediately understood his prophetic future in 1820, when in reality he was still trying to grasp it as late as the 1829.  Joseph later understood that his future was not in searching for earthly treasures; according to Martin Harris, the angel Moroni later commanded Joseph to “quit the company of the money-diggers.”  But what Latter-day Saints should realize and be thankful for is that, in many ways, treasure-seeking helped prepare the minds of the Smiths for the visions of young Joseph and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.  LDS Historian Richard L. Bushman has actually called this aspect of their lives “a preparatory gospel.”

Latter-day Saints should remember that Joseph of Palmyra was not Jesus of Nazareth.  He was not immune to social, cultural, or religious pressures which inevitably shaped his person, nor should we arrogantly expect him to be.  Because we are so far separated from the culture in which he grew up, we should refrain from passing presentist judgments.  Joseph Smith was a prophet—and both he and God worked with what they had in western New York in bringing about the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tags: , , ,

33 Responses to Joseph Smith: Treasure-seeker or Prophet

  1. Imperfection
    October 10, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    There is certainly nothing wrong with searching for treasure, many continue in that profession today. Their means are a bit more scientific then seer stones and divining rods however.

    And that’s the problem here. Even if you accept that these devices are a means of focusing the unconscious mind, they are not used today and would not be considered by modern Mormons as possessing any kind of divine power. At best they are objects of self delusion, at worst objects of fraud. To suggest that their use is somehow preparatory to being a prophet is an amazing assertion from a believing point of view.

    Now, if your view is that a prophet is a man who only *claims* to speak to god and angels, then such preparation makes perfect sense.

  2. October 10, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    From a believing perspective, it’s not a stretch. If you believe that he had the ability to look into the stone to see where the gold plates were hidden or to see the words that he should translate, why not believe that he could see hidden treasure? According to Lucy Mack Smith, when Joseph received the Urim and Thummim he was most excited because through them he could see anything he wanted.

  3. Justin Skidmore
    October 10, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    In JS-H, Joseph says “I was left to all kinds of btemptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish cerrors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God.” He also said that he was guilty of “levity.” Could this money-digging be what he was referring to? Perhaps he had some inkling of his prophetic calling and felt that he might be able to profit from it to help his poor family financially. If so, it was something he clearly repented of before he received the gold plates.

  4. J.Ro
    October 10, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    If you believe that he had the ability to look into the stone to see where the gold plates were hidden

    Maybe this was an honest mistake. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of Joseph using the Urim and Thummim to see where the gold plates (as well as the Urim and Thummim) were hidden. Joseph’s account of how he came upon both the plates and the Urim and Thummim, in JS-H 1:34-35,42,51-52, clearly states that he knew the place to go from the vision he received during Moroni’s visitations. If you’re talking about him using the seer-stones you mention–not the Urim and Thummim–to find the plates, then that’s a distinction that should be made clear.

    I think Justin’s point is worthwhile. As Joseph Smith was not a person considered to be of great importance by any but the small handful of followers at the time (primarily his immediate family during these years), it’s not surprising that there’s not much of real substance to be found regarding these “foibles,” “temptations,” and “levity” in his youth. It seems the majority of the information comes in others’ accounts (accusatory or not) of what reportedly happened. These accounts amount to one man’s word against another’s, essentially. Shaky ground on which to make some of the claims about him that are made.

    Joseph was certainly not Jesus of Nazareth. But neither were any of the other prophets in any scriptural record who were reported to have done miraculous deeds. I agree that being less than perfect, he was certainly susceptible to all kinds of pressures. I wonder whether it’s just Latter-day Saints who need to remember this and be careful when passing presentist judgments.

  5. October 10, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    I don’t know, Justin (#3). You said: “It was something he clearly repented of before he received the gold plates.” But didn’t the treasure seeking activities continue, even after that time? Joseph A., do you know when the last reported treasure-seeking occurred? I seem to recall a trip to Boston which is mentioned in the D&C was connected with finding money through questionable means. Can someone set me straight on that?

    I sort of like the idea that these folk magic tools were helping Joseph hone his extrasensory skills. Cool post.

  6. October 10, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    @Justin (#3): That’s probably exactly what it referred to. According to Martin Harris, Moroni told Joseph to “quit the company of the money-diggers” and called them wicked men. Oliver Cowdery reported that when Moroni first showed Joseph the gold plates, his mind immediately went to the treasure-digging rituals and what the lore said was required to receive treasure. Moroni’s constant command that Joseph must not look at the gold plates as a treasure for monetary gain reflects his involvement in past treasure-hunts. Richard Bushman presents Joseph as being weaned away from treasure-seeking as he began to understand his mantle as a prophet.

    @J.Ro (#4): It’s difficult to distinguish his seer-stones from the Urim and Thummim in the historical record because Mormons at the time used the terms interchangeably in their accounts. It appears that the Urim and Thummim were only used until 1829 during the translation of the 116 pages with Martin Harris as scribe; afterward, the seer-stone was used for the translation. I’m not sure what difference to distinguish between the two; both were used to receive revelation, to see hidden objects, and to translate the Book of Mormon.

    It should also be clear that Joseph never denied in his involvement in treasure-seeking, and candidly wrote about one experience in his official history that became JS-History in the Pearl of Great Price. Josiah Stowell hired Joseph and others to search for a buried Spanish silver mine, and employed Joseph because of his ability to see hidden treasure in the stone. This is according to Lucy Mack Smith (Joseph’s mother), Stowell himself, and the court records from the 1826 trial mentioned in my original post. Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, the Knights, and other early loyal followers also referenced his involvement (and sometimes theirs). Unlike his antagonists, however, they never did so in a negative way, for treasure-seeking was not necessarily a negative thing.

    @Bored in Vernal (#5), the last expedition appears to have been the one Joseph recorded in his history. When Joseph Smith went with Josiah Stowell and others to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to look for Spanish silver, Joseph was already losing interest in treasure-seeking. On this hunt he met his wife, Emma Hale, when Isaac Hale allowed them to stay with him a short while. When Joseph decided he wanted to marry Emma, her father Isaac demanded that he give up treasure-seeking. It should be noted that Joseph apparently began trying to dissuade Stowell to give up the expedition anyway. One of Stowell’s relatives brought Joseph to trial as a “disorderly person” and an “impostor,” based on an old New York law that forbade someone to pretend to be able to find hidden objects. Joseph was apparently acquitted, and during the trial, as mentioned in my original post, Joseph’s father made a comment about his disappointment that Joseph’s gift was being used in the search of “filthy lucre,” and he hoped that God would soon reveal what he wanted Joseph to do with it. Because of the Hales, being brought to trial, and his family’s apparent realization that his spiritual gift should be used for something greater, this seemed to have been the last year that Joseph Smith was majorly involved in treasure-seeking. This all occurred in 1826, when Joseph was about twenty.

  7. October 10, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    @Bored in Vernal (#5), sorry, I didn’t finish answering your question. Joseph Smith’s personal involvement in treasure-seeking ended about 1826, but treasure-seeking persisted among Mormons in general throughout the early years of the Church, following them well into Nauvoo. Many of the early converts in New York were treasure-seekers, and they carried the lore with them.

    I think the account you’re thinking of is D&C 111, given to them in Salem, Massachusetts. Joseph and others had gone to Salem because they had heard there was money to be had there in the cellar of a certain house. The revelation stated, “I have much treasure in this city for you” (D&C 111:2). While in Salem, Joseph believed that the treasure was physical wealth that the Lord would provide to take care of their growing debts, and he spent time trying to figure out how to either buy or rent the house that was supposed to contain the treasure. No money was obtained, and the men went home to Kirtland. Later, the revelation’s “treasure” was interpreted to mean spiritual treasure–planting seeds for the preaching of the Gospel.

    And I like the idea too. ;)

  8. October 10, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    One more note: D&C 111 and the expedition to Salem occurred in 1836, but this was not a formal treasure-hunt in the same sense as those Joseph practiced before the translation of the Book of Mormon.

  9. October 11, 2009 at 1:38 am

    Has anyone who has ever lost his wallet, or her wedding ring, ever prayed and asked God for divine assistance to find it? Does anyone engaged in business pray for God to bless his work so that he or she might prosper in those business pursuits? In any of these cases, aren’t people believing that God will render divine assistance to obtain something of material value?

    Does the fact that the thing for which you are seeking is buried underground suddenly make this practice evil or scandalous? Does the fact that you believe God sometimes uses natural objects that are part of his creation to assist in transmitting divine inspiration make you a believer in the “occult”? Did not Moses have a staff that he used to dispense divine power? Isn’t it true that the Book of Revelation promises the faithful they will received a “white stone” after they are resurrected?

    It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if Joseph believed all of this. Rather, the only thing that would bother me about Joseph’s use of objects to seek buried treasure is if he did NOT believe in their power, but pretended to believe to make money from it.

  10. Ray
    October 11, 2009 at 7:18 am

    treasure-seeker AND prophet

    I have no problem with that.

  11. Cowboy
    October 11, 2009 at 11:00 am

    About five years ago as I was “losing my faith”, or rather my confidence in my faith, this issue was the point where my thinking finally shifted and I began to become skeptical of “the Church”.

    With that in mind I think that you have failed to connect the dots thoroughly. It seems that this post and many of the rationalizations of FARMS and Fair that it resembles would like to seperate the Treasure Seeking activities of Joseph Smith, from his “later” activities as a Prophet. The general response in this vein is, “well I can accept that Joseph was involved in a silly yet common practice before God straightened him out”. Some, like Bushman, will lightly try and bridge the two periods in Joseph’s life by saying that the treasure seeking days were somehow preparatory in either preparing Joseph’s mind for “spiritual things”, or by allowing him to learn from his youthful stupidity. I however cannot allow my thinking to seperate the two time periods and activities, as the history of the two things is highly interwoven.

    while Church history insists that Joseph translated the Gold Plates using the “urimm & Thummim, which were supposedly buried with the plates, the witnesses on this supposed piece of history are very inconsistent. What they are not inconsistent on is Joseph’s use of the common seer stone, placed into the center of his hat, as the primary means of “seeing”. It should also be noted that on many occassions, prior to the official three witnesses experience, these men regularly saw, and on at least one occassion touched, the Seer Stone. It was strictly forbidden that Joseph show the Urimm & Thummim, or the plates, to anyone prior to the three witnesses experience. All reasonable history suggests that the stone used on those occassions was the Seer Stone employed in all of the treasure seeking activities, and most likely the same found in the well of Willard Chase. Many of the early revelations Joseph recieved came from the Seer Stone. It seems rather unlikely that he lost his belief in the folk magic of the day, rather than just shifting it’s purpose from money to religion. We could go on, but suffice it to say the Book of Mormon hinges somewhat on what we believe about the Seer Stone. Would God reveal things through this rock?

    I think a final point worth noting should be the supposed normalcy of treasure seeking activities. While the mysticism of treasure seeking and water witching were certainly more widely accepted as normal practices in the 1800′s relative to today, I don’t think we can give it a total pass. First off, the whole point of the Hurlbut affidavits is that they show such a practice was in many cases seen as occult practice even in Joseph Smiths day. Next, in 1826 when Joseph was tried as a “glass looker”, he was tried for breaking a law that had been established in 1813 which prohibited “a known idler” from pretending to have abilities to read signs, see through glass, etc, in order to learn of hidden riches. In other words, it was ultimately a socially disfavorable practice – though many people still did it. I think a modern comparison might be the way we generally view Multi-Level Marketing. Overall I think most of society wisely rejects this false buisiness model, yet it seems like there is always someone out peddling the snake oil. Suffice it to say, it was not that acceptable. Remeber that Issac Hales biggest gripe with Joseph Smith marrying his daughter was that he saw his son in law as a fraud.

  12. October 11, 2009 at 11:30 am

    @Cowboy (#11):

    “The general response in this vein is, “well I can accept that Joseph was involved in a silly yet common practice before God straightened him out”.”

    This was not my response.

    “I however cannot allow my thinking to seperate the two time periods and activities, as the history of the two things is highly interwoven.”

    Of course they are interwoven. No one is asking you to think otherwise.

    “while Church history insists that Joseph translated the Gold Plates using the “urimm & Thummim, which were supposedly buried with the plates, the witnesses on this supposed piece of history are very inconsistent. What they are not inconsistent on is Joseph’s use of the common seer stone, placed into the center of his hat, as the primary means of “seeing”. It should also be noted that on many occassions, prior to the official three witnesses experience, these men regularly saw, and on at least one occassion touched, the Seer Stone. It was strictly forbidden that Joseph show the Urimm & Thummim, or the plates, to anyone prior to the three witnesses experience. All reasonable history suggests that the stone used on those occassions was the Seer Stone employed in all of the treasure seeking activities, and most likely the same found in the well of Willard Chase. Many of the early revelations Joseph recieved came from the Seer Stone.”

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the early Saints referred to seer-stones as a “Urim and Thummim.” The interpreters that came with the gold plates were never called a Urim and Thummim until around 1835–previously they were simply the “interpreters,” as they are called in the Book of Mormon. There is no intentional deceit going on, just an inconsistent use of terms that has slightly clouded the historical record.

    “It seems rather unlikely that he lost his belief in the folk magic of the day, rather than just shifting it’s purpose from money to religion. We could go on, but suffice it to say the Book of Mormon hinges somewhat on what we believe about the Seer Stone. Would God reveal things through this rock?”

    Of course he didn’t lose his belief in folk magic. Joseph never repudiated the seer-stone or its effects; he once told Brigham Young in Nauvoo that EVERY person should possess a seer-stone. I see no reason why God would not reveal things through a stone; in ancient Israel he revealed things through a staff and a burning bush. I believe that God uses the materials available in order to bring about his purposes.

    “I think a final point worth noting should be the supposed normalcy of treasure seeking activities. While the mysticism of treasure seeking and water witching were certainly more widely accepted as normal practices in the 1800’s relative to today, I don’t think we can give it a total pass.”

    If you’re skeptical of the commonality of treasure-seeking in the Northeast, I would recommend Alan Taylor, “The Early Republic’s Supernatural Economy: Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780-1830,” American Quarterly 38, no. 1 (Spring, 1986). Taylor, a non-Mormon scholar on the time period, demonstrates well how common and accepted the practice was among rural Americans until about the early 1830s.

    “First off, the whole point of the Hurlbut affidavits is that they show such a practice was in many cases seen as occult practice even in Joseph Smiths day.”

    That is certainly not the purpose of the Hurlbut affidavits. Hurlbut collected them in order to expose Joseph Smith as a fraud–their emphasis is on the fraudulent nature of his treasure-seeking. The men who signed the affidavits weren’t trying to implicate Joseph as an occultist; they were guilty of the occult treasure-seeking as well and saw nothing wrong with it. As I stated in my original post, treasure-seekers saw no contradiction between the activity and their religion.

    “Next, in 1826 when Joseph was tried as a “glass looker”, he was tried for breaking a law that had been established in 1813 which prohibited “a known idler” from pretending to have abilities to read signs, see through glass, etc, in order to learn of hidden riches. In other words, it was ultimately a socially disfavorable practice – though many people still did it.”

    It was a socially unfavorable practice among educated Americans who held towards more Enlightened thinking. For rural peoples settling in New England and New York’s expanding territory, it was looked down upon by a few, but probably not most. The same people who looked down on treasure-seeking also looked down on visions, extravagant spiritual gifts, etc.

    “Remeber that Issac Hales biggest gripe with Joseph Smith marrying his daughter was that he saw his son in law as a fraud.”

    Not just because of his treasure-seeking; Hale believed Joseph was a fraud because of the gold plates. But I’m not sure what you’re point is here. Just because someone thought he was a fraud proves nothing; most Jews thought Jesus of Nazareth was a fraud as well.

  13. hawkgrrrl
    October 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I’ll be honest, growing up in rural PA, notions of treasure-seeking were not so far in the past to be so easily dismissed. It’s easy to dismiss it as greed and superstition, but I agree with Andrew A that it’s just cultural bias. What’s the difference between treasure-seeking and the praying to find your keys or be able to pay rent? If one is superstition, why isn’t the other? Or are they both just faith in action?

    In any case, I tend to think of all religion as “treasure-seeking.” In Matthew 13:44 Jesus says: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” Is it just an analogy? Or is it the same mentality – wanting to discover hidden mysteries to enrich our lives?

  14. Confutus
    October 11, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Regarding D&C 111:
    The Lord labeled some of their conduct as a folly, but then said he was not displeased, and told them not to worry about the church’s debts (which they seem to haave continued to do, anyway).
    However, the last part of the section directed them to inquire regarding the ancient inhabitants and founders of the city, “for there are more treasures than one for you in this city”.
    I have heard that Joseph Smith found records of his ancestry there. This would have been a treasure indeed, one which the genealogists and family historians among us would well appreciate.

  15. sunnofabcrich
    October 11, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    who cares If he searched for treasure, who cares if anyone searches for treasure, I don’t… At least Joseph Smith didn’t get where he got because of nepotism that’s worse than looking for long lost treasure.

  16. Chris
    October 11, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Although I still attend Church and have a testimony, I am troubled by the emphasis on money in the Church from its inception. The creation of a failed bank by Joseph Smith, the building of a billion dollar mall, the emphasis on the wearing of costly apparel in many wards, and the culture of multi-level marketing and fradulent investments that are sometimes heralded by GA’s or former GA’s, including Paul Dunn and Hartman Rector, in Utah,the purchasing of Hoffman’s forgeries by Church leaders–the many ways that the Church emphasizes worldiness over helping the poor, the suffering, the the ill troubles me.

    I would like to see Church leaders serve less as corporate executives and more as humanitarians. I believe there is much more that the Church could do to help suffering people throughout the world than it is presently doing. Perhaps if Church authorities emphasized being in the world but not of the world and inspired us to do that by their personal examples, we might as a Church move to a higher level of consecration and compassion.

  17. J.Ro
    October 11, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Joseph – From my believing perspective, I still have a hard time believing that he used one of these seer-stones to find the gold plates, precisely because of the account which is given in JS-H. Are you saying that the account in JS-H is a description of a treasure-hunting trip?

    As for the use of this other stone: a) I’ve never heard of anything supporting the notion that he used another stone in translating, the way you mention. b) In fairness, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something supporting said notion. c) I’ve also heard descriptions of Joseph both interpreting and receiving revelation through no earthly medium at all, so whether some obscure stone was involved doesn’t seem fully relevant to me.

  18. October 11, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    @J.Ro (#17): I never said that Joseph used the seer-stone to find the gold plates in Cumorah. However, after he had brought them home and hid them, he did look into either the stone or the Urim and Thummim to see that they were safely where he left them.

    Joseph definitely possessed several seer-stones, and they were used in translating the Book of Mormon. The people present, including Martin Harris, Lucy Mack Smith, and David Whitmer described it as such. To make things easier, Whitmer was more careful in distinguishing the seer-stones from the “interpreters” in his later accounts, unlike many others who began referring to common seer-stones as a “Urim and Thummim.”

    You’re absolutely right. After about 1830, Joseph stopped using the seer-stone to receive revelation because he said he had become so close to the Spirit. This was a big beef that David Whitmer later had with him; Whitmer thought only the revelations that Joseph received through the seer-stones were valid, and when he left the Church he rejected the rest.

    Incidentally, one of Joseph’s seer-stones is currently in the possession of the First Presidency. John Taylor actually consecrated it on the altar of the Manti temple.

  19. Mike S
    October 12, 2009 at 10:17 am

    #16 Chris

    I have many of the same feelings as you do. Look at the facts from the Church’s own website:

    http://www.providentliving.org/welfare/pdf/WelfareFactSheet.pdf

    In a 23 year period, they spent around $282 million in cash on humanitarian assistance. Even if you count all of the volunteer time and everything else, that is $833.6 million in the same time period on “value” of aid.

    Per year, this is $36 million annually on aid, and only $12.3 million in actual cash given for humanitarian causes. I don’t know how much the Church takes in each year, but I would assume several billion (I would gladly accept any correction to this number as it’s just a shot in the dark). Even if it’s only ONE billion, the Church gives around 1% of it’s revenues towards humanitarian causes. Yet they spend tens of millions on marble for temples, over $50 million in prescription medicines, and $1 billion for a mall. People may argue that it’s “different” money and comes from a “business”. Well, my income comes from a “business” as well yet I give 10% away.

    Just think what the church could do if it gave away 10% of it’s tithes and business income as well. If it were $2 billion, that would be $200 MILLION given away annually – or nearly the amount it has given away in the past 23 years.

  20. Seldom
    October 12, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Treasure seeking is still alive and well. A friend of mine spends most of his spare time looking for lost Spanish treasure in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. He is not Mormon, but some of his treasure seeking associates are active Mormons. For several of them, the source of treasure they are looking for is Nephite mines that were discovered and worked by Spanish, who were then wiped out by the Ute tribe.

    My grandmother has a certificate for one share of stock in the Dream Mine or Relief Mine, which is supposed to be a Nephite mine located near Salem, Utah. The mine was seen in prophetic vision by John Koyle in 1894. The riches of the mine were supposed to make the share holders rich in a time of world crisis. My grandmother says we should hang onto our share – “just in case.”

  21. October 12, 2009 at 11:10 am

    @Seldom (#20): This might even be a remnant of New England’s treasure-seeking culture. Many of the first converts were treasure-seekers, and they took the treasure-quest westward to Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and eventually to Utah. It seems that many of the supernatural aspects were lost–today we see very few seer-stones, divining rods, magic circles, or incantations to ward off guardian spirits.

  22. Cowboy
    October 12, 2009 at 11:30 am

    1) my point about Joseph Smith using the common seer stone in translation of The Book of Mormon, was first to provide evidence that according to the various witnesses to the translation, Joseph was using the seer stone and not the Urimm & Thummim. These men actually saw the seer stone, and on one occassion Martin Harris tried to “trick” Joseph by swapping his seer stone with an “ordinary” rock. According to the warning of Moroni, Joseph was not to show any of the artifacts of The Book of Mormon to any person until a specified time which had not occured yet. It is very unlikely therefore if that was actually the case, that Joseph would leave the Urimm & Thummim laying casually around. In other words, the same seer stone that was previously employed to search for treasure, was the same stone used for at least part of the translation (that’s a concession I’m willing to give for the sake of argument). This is relevant because it seems strange that God would prepare the Urim & Thummim for translation, and yet he would reveal things through the seer stone. Now what we believe relative to the seer stone and treasure seeking activities becomes more poignant because if you don’t believe that Joseph could actually see lost treasure through this rock, regardless of whether you believe Joseph was a fraud or naive, then it seems problematic that this same rock somehow managed to produce revelations on what is now “some” of The Book of Mormon text. For me this encumbers the believer with a necessity to also believe that Joseph possesed the ability to see lost treasure.

    I am not prone to take every extraordinary claim in the scriptures at face value. So, for me it is not a given that Moses and Aaron participated in a showdown of wizards, causing plagues, illusions, etc. Burning bush, parting the red sea, I am not sure that the authors intend to pass those stories off as real history. Suffice it to say, very little in the observable world gives credence to types of occurences, even 180 years after the windows of heaven were supposed to have been reopened.

    The point of Hurlbut was to discredit Joseph by showing alternate explanations for The Book of Mormon, expose his magical thinking, and ultimately discredit the Church. The individual statements were just that, statements, though he has been accused of only investigating those earlier Smith associates who would serve his bias.

    Again I would compare the social attitudes on scrying to multi-level marketing. There are still plenty of people who do it, but that does not make it legitimate business model. Society was passing laws against it, so there was at least enough will to condemn it. Regardless, the real issue is that today society broadly views those notions and practices as primitive superstition. Why? Because evidence and experience disproves those methods. Yet, the argument is, “can we fault Joseph for being fooled by the common misunderstandings of his time?” Of course not, it is reasonable to expect that he might share in the social misundertandings that prevailed in his day. However, this is what I meant by arguing that his treasure seeking and prophet periods were interwoven. While we might forgive him for being fooled by common superstition, we have to raise an eyebrow when the same mediums of divination used to scry for treasure, now become the “sacred instruments” used to translate a new Christian volume. This is also what I meant when suggesting that you have not connected the dots. I would argue that most people who have issues with Joseph’s treasure seeking, are less concerned with the idea that he was involved in it at all, and more because of it’s direct relationship to key founding events in Mormon history.

    Regarding Isaac Hale, we could split hairs about this, but suffice it to say that his objection to Joseph Smith did not originate with Joseph’s claims regarding The Book of Mormon. Rather, I don’t think he was even willing to give The Book of Mormon a chance because of his disgust with the Smith’s/Stoal & co. form of enterprise. He was willing to shake his head as an outside observer, but when Joseph began pressing him for Emma, he took a more personal objection to what he considered fraudlent labor. It makes Church history look better however, when we paint him as being a religiously stubborn individual who just wasn’t going to believe in miracles, but again his objection wasn’t religion, it was what he felt was dishonesty and laziness.

  23. Dexter
    October 13, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    I sympathize with Emma’s father. How would you all like to have your daughter run off and get married without your consent or your presence to a man who pretended to know where treasure was by looking at a stone in his hat? How many of you would invest money with this type of man who defrauded many? How many wives here would want their husband secretly marrying many others? I am amazed at how he is revered. Many of you are better people than he ever was, in my opinion.

  24. SW Clark
    October 13, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Chris (16) – You might be interested to know that (per our visiting GA in stake conference this past weekend) the three-fold mission of the Church will soon be expanding to a fourth: caring for the poor and the needy. It seems this is an area of higher priority for Pres. Monson that will continue to receive greater attention in the years to come. Our humanitarian efforts outside the faith through LDS Philanthropies are a relatively recent development, and understandably started small. But their scope is still expanding and will likely continue to do so.

  25. Imperfection
    October 13, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    24. I wish this was more then just a response to a P.R. audit. Perhaps food pantries will be added to the 5 new temples just announced.

  26. South Bend Cougar
    October 14, 2009 at 4:24 am

    I am amazed by the “certainty” if so many posters. No matter what one’s opinion of Joseph Smith, prophet or fraud, his life was certainly remarkable. Either the Lord told Joseph in Liberty jail that adversity gives us experience and is for “our good” or Joseph came up with the notion independently. My life pales in comparison to the experiences of Joseph’s and the legacy that has come there from. How many people need to join the church because they read from the pages of the Book of Mormon and felt that they “were touched,” how many temples must be built wherein patrons donate hours of their time for someone else, how many millions must be donated to the poor before eyes and ears are opened? The Savior warned of false prophets. He said, “by there fruits ye shall know them.” I believe that Joseph was and is a propeht of God.

  27. brjones
    October 14, 2009 at 9:09 am

    SBC, I’m guessing that you’re not amazed by the certainty of the posters who believe JS was a prophet, as you do. Elder Holland himself has said that regardless of the good that JS did in his life, if he is not a prophet and if he did not experience the things he said he did, then he is a fraud and an imposter, and is not entitled to even be called a good person. There have been scores of people who have done much good in the world who were also liars, frauds, criminals and otherwise workers of iniquity in other areas of their life. We’re discussing whether or not JS was a prophet, not whether or not he did good things in his life. He didn’t claim to be a great person, he claimed to be the second highest ranking (for lack of a better phrase) human being to ever walk the face of the earth. I think it’s reasonable to put that claim to a little higher scrutiny than just whether or not he said some amazing things or his church gives money to the poor. For what it’s worth, I think those who don’t believe JS was a prophet are equally amazed at the certainty of those who are sure he was one.

    With respect to his fruits, I guess it all depends on what fruits you’re talking about. Clearly there are some who focus on the negative and disturbing things JS did in his life. That’s no different than those who make a judgment based on the good things he did in his life and ignore the bad. Everyone has their own perspective and weighs different values differently. I don’t see any reason for amazement in this.

  28. Holden Caulfield
    October 14, 2009 at 9:38 am

    “How many people need to join the church because they read from the pages of the Book of Mormon and felt that they “were touched,” how many temples must be built wherein patrons donate hours of their time for someone else, how many millions must be donated to the poor before eyes and ears are opened?”

    According to one internet source: Islam 1.5 billion followers, Hinduism 900 million, Buddhism 376 million. Forms of Christianity other than Mormonism 2.1 billion.

    If the world population was an elephant, Mormonism might be a medium-sized fly. The “how many millions” or the “tens of millions” Elder Holland used in his talk is silly (pathetic?).

  29. Cowboy
    October 14, 2009 at 10:30 am

    “prophet or fraud, his life was certainly remarkable.”

    To steal a line from Dexter, so was Hitlers. I mean regardless of what your personal feelings are about the man, just look at what he was able to do for an interally corrupting Germany. He unified it, restored patriotism, albeit through distortion, and led a mostly succesful military campaign. You have to at least acknowledge that, right?

    More to the point, yes, regardless of what you believe about Joseph Smith, he founded a one time decent community, and what can now be termed a “major” American religion. All in all, he made a dent in history. Now as Brjones said, according to Mormons that dent is the big one right next to the hole made by Jesus. The reality is, all of these “great” things done by Joseph Smith, were supported by those who believed his great claims. It is great that he was able to convince the wealthy that he could increase their wealth by digging for treasure in places shown to him through a rock. It is amazing that the he could start a Church which placed him in the ultimate position of authority. It is amazing that he could start a bank under somewhat religious terms, have that bank fail, lose most of the Kirtland membership, and still be considered a Prophet. It’s amazing that a married man and founder of an American Christian religion, could convince women both single and married, to enter into a secret relationship of polygamy by promising salvation to both them and their families (so much for keeping the commandments). So yeah, now that I think about it, he was pretty amazing.

  30. October 14, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    After reading the post and comments it turns out this discussion is like a host of others in the Bloggernacle. The subject in this post is treasure-seeking. The subject could be changed to any number of other critical subjects regarding Joseph Smith. Regardless of the subject the outcome is always the same. There is enough evidence to support whatever intellectual position one chooses–be it pro or con.

    Those who are willing and able can exercise faith to access the Holy Ghost and thereby obtain a testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost regarding the prophet Joseph Smith and his works. That’s the only way to definitely settle the issue.

  31. MisterCurie
    October 17, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    “Joseph of Palmyra was not Jesus of Nazareth. He was not immune to social, cultural, or religious pressures which inevitably shaped his person, nor should we arrogantly expect him to be.”

    This is probably off target, but Jesus was also probably highly influenced by social, cultural, and religious pressures.

  32. October 17, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Holden,

    “According to one internet source: Islam 1.5 billion followers, Hinduism 900 million, Buddhism 376 million. Forms of Christianity other than Mormonism 2.1 billion.”

    And 500 million atheists (according to Elder Oaks). Don’t leave us out.

  33. Mark
    March 14, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Please pour me some more “cool aid” Brother Jones