Monday, July 4, 2022

The seer stone in Harmony

Several times I've visited the Priesthood Restoration Site in what was once Harmony, Pennsylvania. We actually visited there the day before the official opening and went on the first "live" tour with the local ward members and the missionaries serving there.

The visitors center has wonderful displays, including awesome artwork.

But it also has a display about the translation, shown below.

The display nudges visitors toward accepting SITH, even to the point of misrepresenting what both Joseph Smith and Lucy Mack Smith actually wrote. 

Because it's an overview display, we can't expect it to relate the entire history in any detail. But visitors should be able to rely on the display being at least accurate, instead of teaching the opposite of what the sources tell us.

(Click images to enlarge)



Caption: Joseph Smith was inspired by God in his effort to translate the ancient record. At times when exercising the gift of revelation, Joseph used sacred objects to translate. He used the translation instruments buried with the record. And at other times, he used a seer stone, which he placed inside a hat to block out light.

At first Joseph copied characters from the plates before trying to translate them. Over time he often worked without referring to the plates, which were covered or hidden close by.


Caption: Pictured here is Joseph Smith's seer stone (not actual size), described by Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer as an "oval-shaped, chocolate-colored stone the size of an egg, only more flat." According to Joseph's mother Lucy, this instrument gave Joseph the ability to "discern things" that could not be seen by the natural eye." There are no photographs of the translation instruments buried with the plates.
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Let's look at these line-by-line, starting with the upper left panel.

Joseph Smith was inspired by God in his effort to translate the ancient record. 

So far, so good, although he did not describe it as an "effort to translate." He explained, "I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon." https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/elders-journal-july-1838/11 

At times when exercising the gift of revelation, Joseph used sacred objects to translate.

Now it's a "gift of revelation" instead of translating by the gift and power of God. There is a trend toward reframing the Book of Mormon as a revelation instead of a translation of an ancient record, and this display nods in that direction. Using "sacred objects" is accurate, at least so far in this narrative.

He used the translation instruments buried with the record. 

At least here the display acknowledges that "translation instruments" were buried with the record. Notice how the terminology doesn't track what Joseph and Oliver said--the spectacles, the Urim and Thummim and the Nephite interpreters--but adopts a modern phrasing that accommodates the seer stone.

And at other times, he used a seer stone, which he placed inside a hat to block out light.

Now the "seer stone" enters the narrative. What the display doesn't explain is that the SITH sayers, primarily David Whitmer and Emma Smith, said Joseph never used the Urim and Thummim after he lost the 116 pages. Now it's just "at other times" he used SITH.

At first Joseph copied characters from the plates before trying to translate them.

Of course, Joseph didn't say he "tried" to translate them. He said he did translate them, with the Urim and Thummim. "I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them." (Joseph Smith—History 1:62)

Over time he often worked without referring to the plates, which were covered or hidden close by.

This is according to the SITH sayers. Neither Joseph nor Oliver said or implied any such thing. None of the SITH sayers reported what Joseph actually dictated while they observed SITH, so can't even say whether what Joseph dictated is in the Book of Mormon. 
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Small center panel.

Pictured here is Joseph Smith's seer stone (not actual size), described by Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer as an "oval-shaped, chocolate-colored stone the size of an egg, only more flat."

There is a reasonably reliable chain of custody of this stone from Joseph to Oliver to Oliver's wife Elizabeth (upon Oliver's death) to Phineas Young to Zina Young to Brigham Young down to the current First Presidency. 

This cannot be the "seer stone" Joseph showed to members of the Twelve as noted in the journal of Brigham Young because at the time, Oliver Cowdery had that stone. Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that he saw the Urim and Thummim on that occasion, but he did not mention a stone. Nevertheless, scholars infer that Woodruff used the term to refer to a seer stone--just not the stone Joseph used, according to the SITH sayers. 

According to Joseph's mother Lucy, this instrument gave Joseph the ability to "discern things" that could not be seen by the natural eye." 

This quotation is taken out of context and contradicts the plain meaning of what Lucy actually wrote. Instead of Lucy claiming the unspecified "certain means" gave Joseph that ability, she said that Josiah Stoal "having heard" that Joseph could discern things not seen by the natural eye. 

She proceeded to explain that Joseph tried to divert Stoal from the project and eventually prevailed upon him to cease the operations. 

IOW, Lucy said the exact opposite of what this display claims.

A short time before the house was completed, a man by the name of  came from , New York, to get Joseph to assist him in digging for a silver mine. He came for Joseph from having heard, that he was in possession of certain means, by which he could discern thingswhich that could not be seen by the natural eye. Joseph endeavered to divert him from his vain project; but he was inflexible, and offered high wages to such as would dig for him; in search of the mine; and was [2 words illegible] still very anxious [4 words illegible] to have Joseph work for him; consequently, he returned with the old gentleman; besides several others that who were picked up in the neighborhood, and commenced digging. After laboring about a month without success, Joseph prevailed on his employer to cease his opperations. It was from this circumstance, namely, his having working worked by the month at digging for a silver mine, that the very prevalent story arose, of his having been a money digger.
There are no photographs of the translation instruments buried with the plates.

This makes sense, because Joseph was commanded not to show the Urim and Thummim to anyone. He never related any such commandment regarding any "seer stone" or "peep stone," which is why it's not surprising that people reported seeing the stones and passed them along until now the photographs are publicly available, including in this display. 

And, of course, we have the SITH exhibit of the table with the hat and the covered plates. I've spoken with missionaries who served there who have never even looked under the cloth to see what the plates look like.



The SITH fun never ends...



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The seer stone in Harmony

Several times I've visited the Priesthood Restoration Site in what was once Harmony, Pennsylvania. We actually visited there the day bef...