Joseph's Seer Stone
Pho­to­graph by Welden C. Ander­sen and Richard E. Tur­ley Jr.

For­mer LDS Church his­to­ri­an D Michael Quinn has quot­ed the fol­low­ing remarks giv­en to him dur­ing the course of an inter­view with Elder Boyd K Pack­er, then an Apos­tle of the LDS Church; “I have a hard time with his­to­ri­ans… because they idol­ize the truth. The truth is not uplift­ing; it destroys. His­to­ri­ans should tell only that part of the truth that is inspir­ing and uplift­ing.”[1]

In a “per­son­al memo” anoth­er Apos­tle, J Reuben Clark is quot­ed as say­ing the fol­low­ing: “If we have truth, it can­not be harmed by inves­ti­ga­tion. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed”.[2]

Truth even­tu­al­ly reveals itself. In my ongo­ing search for truth in Mor­monism, I came across an arti­cle in The Improve­ment Era of August 1946, writ­ten by Apos­tle John A Wid­stoe, titled “Evi­dences and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tions – What Man­ner of Boy and Youth was Joseph Smith[3]. Elder Wid­stoe begins the arti­cle by back­ground­ing the ear­ly life of Joseph and recall­ing events in Joseph’s life, his leg oper­a­tion, and state­ments made by local Palmyra cit­i­zens as to the char­ac­ter of Joseph and his fam­i­ly. Obvi­ous­ly, these were pos­i­tive state­ments that show Joseph and the fam­i­ly as ‘God fear­ing, hard work­ing coun­try folk’. The sec­ond half of the arti­cle is devot­ed to “anti-Mor­mon” state­ments that Wid­stoe advis­es, shouldn’t be relied upon as truth­ful. Widstoe’s the­sis can be sum­ma­rized in the fol­low­ing quote:

The result­ing mass of anti-Mor­mon lit­er­a­ture did not hes­i­tate to black­en and malign the Prophets ear­ly years. These effu­sions of hate may be reduced to three charges: 1, The Smith fam­i­ly were unwor­thy peo­ple, 2, Joseph Smith, the Prophet, was a mon­ey dig­ger, and 3, he was a user of peep­stones.”[4]

Wid­stoe doesn’t inform us as to what the ‘unwor­thy’ accu­sa­tions were of the Smith fam­i­ly, only that some affi­davits were col­lect­ed to show how the Smith’s, were regard­ed in their com­mu­ni­ty. Per­haps Wid­stoe alludes to the accu­sa­tions of being ‘mon­ey dig­gers’ and ‘peep­stone users’.

To refute the charge of the Smith fam­i­ly being ‘unwor­thy peo­ple’, Wid­stoe intro­duces us to an unsa­vory char­ac­ter P. Hurl­but, who had col­lect­ed those affi­davits from local Palmyra cit­i­zens that paint­ed Joseph and the Smith fam­i­ly in a neg­a­tive light.[5] In an attempt to show how evil Hurl­but was, Wid­stoe men­tions that Hurl­but was cast out from the Church for adul­tery. It is inter­est­ing to note that most ex mem­ber ‘anti-Mor­mons’ are charged with being adul­ter­ers or sin­ners, oth­er­wise why would any­one leave the so called ‘True Church’. Wid­stoe tries to deflect the impact of these affi­davits by stat­ing, “Com­pe­tent stu­dents [of His­to­ry] have refused to accept the val­ue of these affi­davits; or have ignored them”. He also attempts to fur­ther sul­ly the char­ac­ter of Hurlbut/Howe[6] by insin­u­at­ing that the affi­davits may not be truth­ful and that “Even a casu­al exam­i­na­tion of them [affi­davits] shows that they were writ­ten by one hand in oppo­si­tion to Joseph Smith and his claims. It was easy to secure sig­na­tures.”[7]

Wid­stoe then defends the mon­ey dig­ging accu­sa­tions, by con­firm­ing that Joseph was once employed to dig for a lost sil­ver mine by a Josi­ah Stoal, but which did not last long.[8] Wid­stoe gives the read­er the impres­sion that it was a one time only event and that the mon­ey digging/treasure seek­ing claims have been entire­ly exag­ger­at­ed. Wid­stoe con­tin­ues by stat­ing; “Hon­est his­to­ri­ans can­not safe­ly make the charge that Joseph Smith was a pro­fes­sion­al mon­ey dig­ger”.[9] There­fore any his­to­ri­ans that don’t agree with him would be, in fact, dishonest.

Widstoe’s last defense is of the charge that Joseph was a ‘peep­stone user’. He writes; “Anti-Mor­mon writ­ers are prone to sug­gest that the Prophet spent his time in lead­ing peo­ple into many a fruit­less chase for lost mon­ey sup­posed to be revealed by peep­stones”[10]. This is con­firmed by ‘hon­est’ his­to­ri­ans today. Of the many ‘trea­sure seek­ing’ attempts by Joseph, not one piece of sil­ver or gold or any oth­er trea­sure was ever found.

Wid­stoe con­cludes his remarks by stat­ing, “Care­ful­ly exam­ined, the charges against the Smith fam­i­ly and Joseph Smith… fail to be proved. There is no accept­able evi­dence to sup­port them… Joseph Smith was not a mon­ey dig­ger, nor did he deceive peo­ple with peep­stone claims. It is almost beyond belief that writ­ers who val­ue their rep­u­ta­tions, would repro­duce these sil­ly and untrue charges. It sug­gests that they may have set out to destroy “Mor­monism”, rather than to detail true his­to­ry”[11].

So to all you mod­ern day his­to­ri­ans: you’ve been warned.

Lets now com­pare Elder Widstoe’s arti­cle with the more recent Ensign Octo­ber 2015 arti­cle titled, “Joseph the Seer”.[12]

Here are a few excerpts:

“See­ing” and “seers” were part of the Amer­i­can and fam­i­ly cul­ture in which Joseph Smith grew up…

…The young Joseph Smith accept­ed such famil­iar folk ways of his day, includ­ing the idea of using seer stones to view lost or hid­den objects…

…Joseph and oth­ers assumed the same for their day… Joseph’s par­ents, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, affirmed the family’s immer­sion in this cul­ture and their use of phys­i­cal objects in this way, and the vil­lagers of Palmyra and Man­ches­ter, New York, where the Smiths lived, sought out Joseph to find lost objects before he moved to Penn­syl­va­nia in late 1827.”

It would now appear, that the cur­rent lead­ers of the Church, accept that Joseph was very well known for his use of ‘peep­stones’, which is con­trary to the words of Apos­tle Wid­stoe, or per­haps these writ­ers don’t ‘val­ue their reputations’?

The Ensign arti­cle fur­ther states:

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.”

Again, I state that of the many ‘trea­sure seek­ing’ attempts by Joseph using the ‘peep­stones’, not one piece of sil­ver or gold or any oth­er trea­sure was ever found. How­ev­er, it was by the use of these same ‘instru­ments’ (peep­stones or seer stones) that Joseph trans­lat­ed the entire Book of Mor­mon as we have it today. Per­haps the stones were only meant for trans­la­tion and not for trea­sure seeking/money dig­ging. We can only speculate.

We have come a long way since August 1946. I don’t blame Elder Wid­stoe for not under­stand­ing or hav­ing a thor­ough knowl­edge of the truth about Joseph and his fam­i­ly. Per­haps he was just like me, and all cur­rent mem­bers of the Church today. We were taught a his­to­ry that wasn’t based on fact; a san­i­tized ver­sion of his­tor­i­cal facts that our lead­ers told us was true and any­thing else was deemed false and “anti-Mor­mon”. I won­der what Elder Wid­stoe would say today. Would he be ‘inspired and uplift­ed’ by this truth or would he be harmed by it.

[1] Apos­tle Boyd K. Pack­er, as relat­ed by D. Michael Quinn, “Pil­lars of My Faith,” talk deliv­ered at Sun­stone Sym­po­sium, Salt Lake City, August 19, 1994.

[2] J. Reuben Clark, D. Michael Quinn: The Church Years. Pro­vo, Utah: Brigham Young Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1983, 24.

[3] John A. Wid­stoe, “Evi­dences and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tions,” The Improve­ment Era, August 1946.

[4] Ibid, 542.

[5] Wid­stoe names P. Hurl­but in the col­lec­tion of affi­davits, how­ev­er these affi­davits were pub­lished under the name of E D Howe. See E D Howe, Mor­monism Unveiled: Or, A Faith­ful Account of That Sin­gu­lar Impo­si­tion and Delu­sion, from Its Rise to the Present Time (1834).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Wid­stoe, “Evi­dences and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tions,” 542.

[8] Ibid, 542.

[9] Ibid, 543.

[10] Ibid, 543.

[11] Ibid, 543.

[12] Richard E. Tur­ley Jr, Robin S Jen­son, & Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Joseph The Seer,” The Ensign, Octo­ber 2015.

Notify of

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Erica Peeler
Erica Peeler
February 7, 2022 5:43 pm

The truth is the bride of God, the Word of God or the Bible. It was Emma Smith, who was set with all the Jospeh’s a mil­lion of them who then all killed when she deliv­ered the new men to buikt uo the daugh­ter or the old seed and turn them into his harem. This destroys the sin and Rhen we go through all this agin. Since last Joseph Smith Jr. or Prince Har­ry David, now we have had a new Jospeh the Holy Ghost Ben who even took her design for her new city Gem City. Then he arose with his harem and left left her behind dur­ing her great tribu­la­tion. So now she is upset and she will be restored as the cen­ter sun with con­trol of her own Uni­verse again , and then throw David’s lit­tle stone the moon into the Earth he stole and then gath­er… Read more »