Seer Stones and the Translation of the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon with seer stone in hatThis podcast, Seer Stones and the Translation of the Book of Mormon, is presented by and the letter B.

Download the podcast episode at this link: Mormon Chronicle Podcast – Seer Stones and the Translation of the Book of Mormon

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In this episode Brian M. and Ezra Taylor discuss how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, as opposed to how the process is often portrayed. They also further discuss the urim and thummim, seer stones, how they work, and whether or not everyone should have a seer stone.

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39 Responses to Seer Stones and the Translation of the Book of Mormon

  1. Ezra, I listened to the pod cast, and I felt really awkward listening to it.

    It didn’t address my concerns about seer stones. Here is the biggest problem I have with the idea of seer stones: I would expect God to give Joseph Smith a tool that allows for a perfect translation. My cell phone does a better job translating documents than Joseph Smith’s seer stone. There are a number of good apps out there for this, but my cell phone can also do a hundred times more than a seer stone, like GPS, track calories, take photos, call a friend, etc.

    I have previously shown the problematic translation errors in the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, but apologists create a number of excuses … (continued)

  2. (continued from above) … but apologists create a number of excuses such as “he was only human”, “we don’t know how he translated”, “translating was hard work, so he had to lift portions of the bible”, and on and on.

    So my questions are:

    1) Why can humans create portable tools that effortlessly translate documents (which are improving every year), while God’s tool does a “mediocre job” at best?

    2) A tool from the gods would obviously be so well engineered that it would have built in error redundancy checking to ensure a proper translation, but this was not the case. … (continued)

    • Who on Earth ever said “translating was hard work, so he had to lift portions of the bible”? That is only a valid argument if you are completely ignorant of the fact that there were actually some differences in the Biblical texts as quoted in the Book of Mormon, and that many of these have been supported over 100 years later by subsequent documentary finds.

  3. (continued from above) … but this was not the case. Since the translation errors in the Mormon scriptures are best explained by “human error”, why would I even consider the theory that the seer stones did anything more than give Joseph Smith confidence in his own creative abilities and imagination?

    3) Joseph Smith used the seer stone in his money digging days, and was unable to find treasure with it, so is there any proof that the seer stone(s) did anything at all?

    • GraceTruth says:

      I believe that the seer stone could be influenced by our Father in Heaven’s spirit and Joseph’s that if Joseph was not being righteous such as when he was upset with his wife Emma and hadn’t yet apologized so couldn’t translate until he repented and had made peace with her, then his gift of translating using the stone would not be operable within him. Again, “Joseph translated by the ‘gift and power of God’.”
      God did not therefore create an imperfect piece of technology (referencing an earlier commentary) but knew that man being imperfect would not always be as effective as other instances so any imperfections Joseph made in translations could be attributed to his being less “in tune” with the spirit of the Lord or perhaps less worthy of revelation at times.

    • GraceTruth says:

      Consider this: Would God allow Joseph to use a Seer Stone for an unsacred purpose such as money digging if he allowed him to find it in the first place for the express purpose of having a seer stone that would be something smaller and more easily stored and carried and transported versus the larger urim and thummin consisting of a breastplate with twelve stones symbolizing each of the twelve tribes of Israel and the bows of metal (much like the rims of eyeglasses) and the stones (which were set between the bows of metal much like lenses today are for regular eyeglasses. It makes sense that Heavenly Father would start out with the ancient original urim and thummin and then graduate Joseph to something smaller once he learned how to use the larger sacred artifacts.

  4. Erik says:

    Chris Johnson, you raise good points. I guess the same could be said of the Liahona or any other ancient spiritual technology. What I think is more important than the precision of the technology in question is the end product of the technologies diligent and prayerful use. Elohim’s ways are not our ways, though it may not seem rational to us, there is much to the mystery of Deity that we do not fathom. BTW, Have you had a chance to read this? Interesting.

  5. Trevor says:

    Chris, we do not have the golden plates here to say that Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon has errors. Please explain any evidence you have of the errors you are referring to. Without the source material for a “second opinion” there is no way to claim his translations are incorrect.

    • steve says:

      9,913 changes have been documented, by actually using the original 1830 copy and the one today. Easy to find changes because the 1830 copy is in the archives of the Mormon church. Names of people, Cities etc, serious changes. Long after smith died. Since they were made, it could not have been translated “correctly” and since the plates were gone, how can any change be validated???

      Here’s the pickle, if it was correct they made it wrong, if it was wrong anywhere they made it worse!!! Bible is copies of copies and most of which are the actual manuscripts. But always something to fall back on to verify any change at all, in order to make sure nothing is put where it don’t belong. It can be validated, but the BOM cannot, yet thousands of changes were made.

      • Your example is ridiculous, since none of the original Bible texts are available, either. In fact, Josephus, who lived only a few decades after Christ, reported that the Old Testament that the Jews had, that was in Herod’s temple, had been altered long before Jesus was even born! On the textual changes in the BoM, Royal Skousen has researched this for decades and released books and even done lectures on the matter, a few of which you can see near the bottom of this page: You also appear to be ignorant of the difficulties that face translators. Without knowing the intent of the original author, translations can take many different “viable” forms, any of which could possibly be correct.

  6. Trevor says:

    You can either believe his account and his translation, or you can refuse to believe his account and thus his translation. But without being able to get a “second opinion” for a more accurate translation, there is no way you can claim his translations are incorrect.

    In claiming his translations of the golden plates are incorrect, you are essentially admitting that his account of the golden plates IS correct. Otherwise, you would simply say that Joseph Smith made up the entire story and did not translate anything.

    • Baura says:

      The problem is that there is a lot of verbatim material from the King James translation of the Bible found in Joseph’s “translation” of the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately this includes translations errors that the King James translators made or perpetuated. Obviously Joseph Smith was plagiarizing the King James Bible, errors and all, and while claiming to be “translating by the gift and power of God.”

      • In answer to your ridiculous accusation, I refer you to the section entitled “Hugh Nibley: “As to the ‘passages lifted bodily from the King James Version,’ we first ask, ‘How else does one quote scripture if not bodily?'”” on this page: You should also know that there are other quotations in the Book of Mormon: “Captain Moroni, for example, reminds his people of an old tradition about the two garments of Joseph, telling them a detailed story which I have found only in [th’ Alabi of Persia,] a thousand-year-old commentary on the Old Testament, a work still untranslated and quite unknown to the world of Joseph Smith.” Lay aside your arguments over the Bible quotes, and explain that one.

    • steve says:

      False, when I witness to Mormons I have to show them how messed up it is because THEY believe there were plates. Can’t just say they were never there. Once they realize all the mistakes THEN will they know the obvious that he never had any.

      • No, you can’t just say they were never there, because there is a TRANSLATION for all to examine! If you actually ever read the book, you would know that there is too much there to have been simply made up. Especially if you actually know anything, as Hugh Nibley, quoted above, did, you soon discover that there are far too many instances of Joseph Smith “accidentally” getting things exactly right, which were completely, or nearly, unknown in his day and time. Egyptian names borrowed from the Hebrews, which no one believed in but have now been proven from finds. Other artifacts no one believed in, such as copper armor, which have now been actually discovered among the Hopewell, a Book of Mormon-era people. Did he “lift” these from the Bible, too?

  7. Connor Carpenter says:

    @ Chris: I’m not gonna say the BoM translation had errors (although I’m open to the possibility), but a possible answer (among many) to your question might be found in Ether 12:12, “For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them.”

    Maybe Joseph Smith didn’t have a PERFECT faith to allow God to give him a PERFECT instrument of translation? Maybe the imperfect seerstone was the best that God could give based on Joseph’s faith?

    Why would God require faith BEFORE a miracle? Because the POINT of this life is to test our faith. If God gave Joseph an iPhone in 1830… don’t you think it would make it much easier to believe Joseph? Thus, people would be denied the harder test of faith.

  8. Dustin says:

    I wonder if the technology matches the times. Maybe TODAY we’d have an iphone, but in J.S. days, a stone was relevant or even common.

    Could I accept seer stone technology today?

    All religions require a bit of faith for them to be relevant. If we knew all, then we wouldn’t need faith. But still, there are things we do know in this world and there are people that test it. Like we all know whales and dolphins are awesome, but there are people still killing them. We know shaking babies really hard can kill them, but people still shake them. Hmm.

  9. Todd says:

    Yeah, so the Ouija Board that Joseph used to con people in finding gold with in his treasure hunting days is the same method used to produce the Book of Mormon? I’m supposed to believe this?

    Oh, and Hill Cumorah was in meso America and Moroni walked all the way up to upstate New York to deposit plates that Joseph never used because he was too busy burying his head in a hat?

    • Baura says:

      Joseph was hired to find buried treasure with his peep-stone. The fact that he never found any buried treasure is what makes him look like a con man, not the fact that he was able to con people. Many con-men today have reputations for being able to communicate with dead relatives of their clients. The fact that they are frauds doesn’t diminish the suckers who come forth and pay for sittings. I would imagine that the people of Joseph Smith’s day were not less of suckers than people today.

      • steve says:

        Oh my children but he DID con people…he fooled millions. Their called Mormons!

        • Mateo Mower says:

          Yup Steve, he certainly did. Fooled me too.
          What an amazing con to create an incredible narrative covering thousands of years with intricate story lines and people. All in under about 100 days! That’s not to mention that he was able to invent names, places, customs and phraseology of near eastern cultures including Egyptian & Arabic. Such material would not be discovered for years! All while scheming on that little farm in early 1800s with little more than 2nd grade education.
          Why he even had the audacity to trick people into joining an organization which practiced charity, love and kindness. Many were so gullible that they suffered every kind of depravity, even death for his con. He, himself, died penniless for the scheme! Pray to God I am fooled rest of my life!

  10. Baura says:

    One interesting sidelight is the fact that not only was the Book of Mormon translated with a seer-stone in a hat, but it was a STOLEN seer-stone. It was found while digging a well for a neighbor, Mason Chase, when Joseph was sixteen. Joseph later borrowed the stone from Willard Chase, Mason’s son, with the proviso that it was Chase’s property and that it be returned to Chase. When Willard Chase later asked for the stone back, Hyrum Smith told him that Joseph wasn’t going to give it back. The Book of Mormon was translated with a stolen seer-stone. Chase’s stone is still in the possession of the First Presidency.

  11. G. Michael Craig says:

    I am frankly appalled by your casual dismissal of the obvious fraud represented here. First, according to those who scribed for Joseph, there was always a cloth covering the plates, such that no one could see them, not even Joseph. Second, they said there was always a curtain between them and Joseph. Third, most of the time, the plates were not even present, but hidden in the woods or somewhere, while Joseph looked at a rock in the bottom of a hat. So, the Church’s artists rendition of the translation process is fraudulent. It shows Joseph seated at a table with one hand on the uncovered plates, while his other hand supports his furrowed brow, and his scribe is in the background writing. Why the deceit? What purpose does it serve? Where else in all of holy writ

    • G. Michael Craig says:

      do we find any mention of plain, ordinary rocks which are found in the bottom of a hole in the ground which are initially referred to by the finder as a peep stone, which later is conveniently called a seer stone, and still later is conveniently called a urim and thumim? Joseph said Moroni told him the urim and thumin found with the plates would enable him to translate the record. So, how did he translate without them. Back in about 1968, a CES Coordinator friend of mine was allowed to see and hold in his hand the peep stone found by Joseph while in Salt Lake one day. He said it is brown, and roughly the size and shape of an egg, nothing peculiar about it. And lest we forget, this is the same rock that Joseph claimed to be able to see buried treasure with, but

      • G. Michael Craig says:

        but never could. Matter of fact, he was successfully prosecuted by the sons of Josiah Stowel for taking their Dad’s money, but finding no treasure as he had promised he would. So, this stone apparently did not work. A related point of fact which is of deep concern to me is that the characters which Joseph copied, and had Martin Harris bring to professor Charles Anthon, which were first reviewed by another professor of ancient languages by the name of Mitchell, turned out to have no connection whatever with anything Egyptian, but in fact, according to these men, were actually ancient Gaelic/Irish shorthand symbols. So again, it doesn’t appear that this so-called seer stone was worth a plug nickel for translating anything. So, where does the Book of Mormon come from?

  12. G. Michael Craig says:

    No Ezra, it was most definitely not a rhetorical question. I do want an answer. Since two different professors of ancient languages testified that the characters from the BOM brought to them by Martin Harris are nothing but ancient Gaelic/Irish shorthand, not even resembling anything Egyptian, while Joseph Smith claimed they were in fact “reformed Egyptian” as is stated in the BOM, WHERE DOES THE BOOK OF MORMON COME FROM? And I said nothing about “motives”. The difference between the Church’s rendition of the translation process and what actually happened is an obvious fraud, regardless of anyone’s intentions. Plus, you say “similar things are all throughout holy writ”. Where? Where have common rocks ever been used to translate languages? The Urim and Thummim

    • G. Michael Craig says:

      mentioned in the Old Testament had no connection whatever with translating ANYTHING! If you read of their use by Jewish High Priests, it is plain that they were only used for determining the will of Jehovah. One rock meant yes. The other one meant no. That’s it. So again, where is the precedent to what Joseph Smith did?

  13. GraceTruth says:

    I really, really enjoyed the podcast my good brothers!
    Thank you so much. I learned some things I had never known and it was so so refreshing to hear you talk about things like the seer stone and the hat which many fear discussing and you put it in the right context with your testimonies of the Prophet Joseph and of the Book of Mormon for another testament of the Savior. Thanks for creating Mormon Chronicle; I love this forum. It is fantastic.

  14. J.Nelson says:

    If the Lord had wanted Joseph to translate looking at a shoe he could have done it. Joseph knew of peep stones as objects for finding hidden things… he used what he knew–brought his best knowledge to bear, and the text was given through the power and inspiration of God. Most see the stone as a simple rock… because it is. But when the Lord needs a task done, even a stick works: Exodus 7:10 KJV: “… and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent.” The same stick turned the Nile to blood, caused hail to rain from the sky, and parted the sea. Joseph, like Moses, was a prophet with a task at hand… and via the available means, a rock, God caused it to be accomplished. Hardly fraud. But very prophet-like.

  15. Eric Lopez says:

    Thanks for the Pod guys. I really enjoyed listen to it.

  16. Pingback: LDS Apologist Undermines the Book of Abraham | Mormon Chronicle

  17. Troy Cunningham says:

    I believe Joseph. I believe the Three Witnesses. I believe the Eight Witnesses. I believe in the manifestation of the Holy Ghost that enlighten my mind. I’m thankful for my testimony. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing.

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