Mormons release photos of Joseph Smith’s magical “seer stones”

Well, although the religious often say they don’t need empirical evidence to support their beliefs, they get really excited when such evidence turns up, and tout it widely. Here’s one case: according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Mormon church has released a photo of one of the “seer stones” (also called “peepstones”) used by church founder Joseph Smith to “translate” the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon.

The translation began in 1828, and, according to the Mormonism Research Ministry (which appears to be critical of the church), went like this:

Harris’ description [Martin Harris was one of the scribes who wrote down Smith’s “translation”] concurs with that of David Whitmer, another one of the three witnesses whose testimony appears at the front of the Book of Mormon. Whitmer details exactly how the stone produced the English interpretation. On page 12 of his book An Address to All Believers in Christ, Whitmer wrote,

“I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.”

This of course is dubious, since the plates were written in an unknown language, and nobody takes this as a serious manifestation of the divine save the Mormons themselves.

Be that as it may, here’s the Tribune’s pictures and explanation:

The LDS Church provided a new glimpse of its origins Tuesday by publishing the handwritten “printer’s manuscript” of the Book of Mormon and photos of the “seer stone,” a dark, egg-size polished rock founder Joseph Smith claimed to have used to produce the faith’s sacred scripture.

Both items are included in the just-released “Revelations and Translations: Volume 3,” the 11th publication in the groundbreaking Joseph Smith Papers Project, as part of an effort to be “more transparent” about Mormonism’s past, LDS Church Historian Steven E. Snow said at a news conference.

. . . Smith also used two bound stones — known as the Urim and Thummim — as “interpreters.”

But enough. You’re surely dying to see these items and the stone, so here are some pictures provided by the newspaper. Note that the stones themselves were not displayed, just the pictures and the transcript of the printer’s manuscript:

Screen shot 2015-08-05 at 2.17.26 PM

Screen shot 2015-08-05 at 2.21.42 PM

Screen shot 2015-08-05 at 2.20.56 PM

Presumably the stones are still in the Church’s custody, as color photographs didn’t exist when the manuscript was published. But of course examining them will prove nothing.

The whole story is of course fakery, although 12 witnesses, including Cowdery, signed affadavits testifying that they actually saw the golden plates. Note that this testimony, including identifiable witnesses, should be far more convincing than the simple testimonies of Jesus’s words and deeds given in the New Testament and lacking independent confirmation. But far more people find the words of the Bible more convincing than signed affadavits!

As we all know, the reason for this disparity is that the origin of Mormonism occurred in historical times, and thus is more easily debunked, as it has been, than the historical stories that gave birth to Christianity.


  1. bucksgravitar
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Soooo Coool !! Better than a magic bean!

  2. John Smith
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Cool! A buffed and shined coprolite! You really can polish a turd.

    • sshort
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 2:51 pm | Permalink


    • darrelle
      Posted August 6, 2015 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Mythbusters did that one. Turns out you absolutely can polish turds. And, if I remember correctly, they found that turds from a large cat (lion maybe?) polished the best.

      All Hail Ceiling Cat!

  3. professrcox
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    As a Mormon convert who has studied all major religions, this is notbharder to believe than an angel appearing to a dude in the cave

    • DrBrydon
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I am pretty sure we all agree that both are equally unbelievable. Not sure that was your point, though?

    • Frank
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      There is now abundant, reliable research that allows one to re-create exactly how Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon, especially through his plagiarism of A View of the Hebrews (which has all the made-up nonsense about the origin of Native Americans), The First Book of Napoleon, and, of course, the King James Version of the Bible. For example, even though the Book of Mormon was supposed to have been written a couple thousand years ago, you can see exactly where he copied both the “new” words specifically added to the KJV in the 1600s AND how he naively copied over some of the errors in the KJV.

      Anyone interested in the details of how the Book of Mormon was cobbled together (quite crudely, it seems) should Google: Letter to a CES Director, where a disaffected Mormon summarizes his extensive research.

    • notagod
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 5:32 pm | Permalink


    • eric
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, but with Mormonism we can say “that dude had rocks in his hat.” 🙂

  4. DrBrydon
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I saw this earlier today on one of the UK paper websites. A couple of comments made reference to the Rosetta Stone. I had never thought about it, but I wonder if Smith heard about the Rosetta Stone, and based his translation stones on that?

    • Derek
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      If the peep stones were inscribed with a duplicate of the golden plate text, and also, say, a Greek translation, then you’ve got a good analogy.

      But the amazing thing here is that the golden plates seem totally unnecessary. The peep stones and a hat — that’s all you need for an English translation! Well, Joseph Smith’s imagination, as well.

      • DrBrydon
        Posted August 5, 2015 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t mean to imply the stones were the same. Merely that the idea of a stone used in translation might have translated into Smiths rocks.

        • kevinj
          Posted August 6, 2015 at 2:51 am | Permalink

          From what I understand there was a existing habit for using those sort of stones for treasure hunting in that part of the USA. So they already had some sort of magical ability to find lost things.

          • sensorrhea
            Posted August 11, 2015 at 8:38 am | Permalink

            Joseph was a young con-man who used scrying stones to “help” people find “Indian treasure” on their land.

      • Anonymous
        Posted August 5, 2015 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

        Sorting hat, anyone?

    • frednotfaith2
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

      To my memory, based on Fawn Brodie’s biography, Smith insisted he had successfully translated the Rosetta Stone and was therefore the first person to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. Of course, he had actually done nothing of the sort and at the time he was making that claim, genuine scholars actually had managed to translate it, not that the fools who took Smith at his word were aware of that as there was no internet, tv, radio or even telegraph around yet to get news out quickly in those days, about 180 years ago.

  5. tsbardella
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I had a rock I found that when I held it I felt a real tangible sense of peace.. a good rock in your hand is amazing. It just means that you have something that fits your palm and warms to your body temp and if you needed you could throw or use as a weapon. There are definite reasons why a rock like that is cool as heck and I would keep it if I found it. But could I use it to decipher angelic text.. only only if I was eating mushrooms or if I needed to impress an attractive lady or just not have to work as much. I love that rock.. I mean I would like it. but then I am weird.

    • AdamK
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      I have a very nice polished sphere of jasper sitting right here next to my computer. I agree that stones are very cool with their own intrinsic aesthetic “magic”. Especially when you know a little bit about how they were formed, and contemplate the deep time it took.

  6. Blue
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    And our religionists’ / religions’ mollycoddling by public radio — in y2015 — continues as of just later on yesterday afternoon:

    Actually, I used to find convincingly soothing Mr Tom Gjelten’s voice. No longer do I.

    His in such a tone of normalcy … … as for instance, “And now with more on this ‘important news item’ is So – And – So” was uttered with such a matter – of – F A C Tness that I wanted on my very spot here for AllYa’All to swiftly hand to me our collective, W E I T – embossed BARFin’ Bag.


    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      I note in the transcript that the stone is called the one “likely” used. Therefore, it’s possibly not even the one Smith said he used. It could be that the Church has just come up with a nice stone for the photo.

      This will excite believers, but will remind the rest of us what a load of BS the Book of Mormon is, and how the whole religion is based on the lies of a convicted fraudster.

      • JohnE
        Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        Of course, in reality, no stone whatsoever was actually “used” to translate the supposed golden plates, since the Book of Mormon is not a translation of anything at all, but is instead merely the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination and plagiarism.

        • Blue
          Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

          re “merely the product of … … imagination and plagiarism.”

          … … which is WHY as with any “holy scripture” in our age now of science and its evidentiary knowledge, npr’s “treatment” of this topic into my (one hearing) ear is in m’wee opinion … … just in(s)anity.


          • darrelle
            Posted August 6, 2015 at 8:07 am | Permalink

            You characterize it very well. I hope there are enough barf bags to go around, cause I am feeling distinctly nauseous.

  7. sshort
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    I love the iPad references in the Salt Lake Trbune article.

    Too bad they showed a stupid rock rather than a second generation iPad encrusted in dirt and pollen in a hundred year-old leather bag as verification.

    Or better yet, a fifth generation iPad! That would be a miracle and prove that steve jobs was indeed a god that walked among us. And accelerate his sainthood.

  8. BobTerrace
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    But he burning question is “where is the hard place?”

  9. Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    what — no pics of their magic underpants?


    • rickflick
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:18 pm | Permalink


  10. Vaal
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    I just…I can’t..who could possibly?…

    Sometimes words fail me….

  11. Chris Lang
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    The Mormon Research Ministries is a site by evangelical Christians trying to convert LDS Church members to evangelical Christianity.

    But my question is: what kind of rock or mineral is the seeing stone? Is it even stone? It looks like it’s carved from stained wood.

    • JohnE
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      I agree — it clearly appears to be a piece of wood.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 5, 2015 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        According to legend, it’s a fossilized testicle once owned by some fellow convicted of fraud for confecting get rich quick schemes involving buried gold. The size is consistent with someone with the cahonas required to pull of such a major skam with a straight face.

        • Les
          Posted August 6, 2015 at 8:15 pm | Permalink


    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 6, 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      It looks to me like sedimentary rock (thus the layers) polished by tumbling in water or by a glacier.

  12. Sam
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    As someone raised Mormon, I’m floored by this. And it makes me angry the way they spin it to seem as though a seer stone was always part of church teaching about Smith, and they are only revealing it now because we live in a “visual age.” That is not the case.

    The only stones mentioned in the translation process was the Urim and Thummim. The first time I heard of a seer stone was from a girl I was dating, and I did not believe her. I was also taught that Smith didn’t practice polygamy. It’s absurd the church has sat on this stone for more than a century and only now made it public, since the Internet (and girlfriends) have beat them to it. True, this information was available prior to today, but never said in Sunday School or from the pulpit. As someone now 7 years removed from Mormonism, seeing the stone that bore a thousand lies evokes an odd, dreamy, almost nostalgic feeling.

    Tellingly, the Mormon Church’s Deseret News’ article on the same subject did not have a photo of the stone in their online version, and of course has a different focus for the story. Burying the lede.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      “seeing the stone that bore a thousand lies evokes an odd, dreamy, almost nostalgic feeling.”
      Having never lived within the “thousand lies”, it is odd and dreamy for me to hear a survivors tale in this context. Congratulations, and live long and prosper, free of lies.

    • Posted August 5, 2015 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      I was also raised LDS. When our local authorities would talk about the U&T they described them as crystal orbs that sat in a harness-like device. They rested at chest-level and Smith would look down through them at the plates and thus translated the plates. Those taking dictation were on the other side of a curtain.

      But now this opaque stone/hat business.

      Come on, Mormons. Changing your stories like this is just a dead give away for making shit up. Even if authorities now claim it was always the opaque stone and the other story was “unofficial”, how could church authorities, who “held the priesthood” and “received revelation” and were chosen by god to be authorities in the church – how could they have promoted the false story?

      • rickflick
        Posted August 5, 2015 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        “how could they have promoted the false story?”
        Once people are trained in defending the Truth against Satan at all costs, lying for Jesus, or lying for Joe must come naturally.

        • Posted August 5, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

          That’s very true.

          But I don’t think they were “Lying for Jesus™”. That’s just what they thought. My question is “how could men who are supposed to have a hotline to god, to have been given the job of speaking for god by god himself, gotten the story wrong? Wouldn’t god have given them the real story to begin with?” As usual, I’m sure the best answer any Mormon will be able to offer is: “MYSTERY!”

          • rickflick
            Posted August 5, 2015 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

            I doubt any religion is without church loads of inconsistency. It seems every pope has a different take, and he’s supposed to be the vicar of Christ. They are all scams, and you know how hard it is to keep your lies straight. It’s hard to remember stuff you made up. But they go on trying.

    • Posted August 7, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      And I always thought Urim Thummim was an actress… 


      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted August 9, 2015 at 1:34 am | Permalink

        Now you’re talking through your hat.

  13. Posted August 5, 2015 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on dyke writer and commented:
    the entire point of Mormonism was to do an end run around the “no adultery” and Smith was dragged out of a jail cell and killed by an angry mob. so it’s a bit astonishing that the former eygpt faker snake oil guy’s mushroom trip in the wood has lasted this long, eh?

    • rickflick
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      Accidentally posted below as well:

      “the entire point of Mormonism was to do an end run around the “no adultery” ”

      Is there some evidence of this? I always assumed, from a distance, that the main motivation for Smith was to pull frauds and schemes that would make him a livelihood. At least initially. I would have thought, as he became powerful, he simply wanted more sex and, clever fellow that he was…

      • Posted August 5, 2015 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        marrying your mistress to make her a sisterwife is the go around. 🙂

        • rickflick
          Posted August 5, 2015 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

          I’m beginning to see the wisdom in that. 😎

          • Posted August 5, 2015 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

            really? I got gay divorced because I thought 2 was too many. LOL (canadian, eh!)

      • Posted August 5, 2015 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

        scams can always be run, but to try to get social acceptance of hoarding women at a time where there weren’t enough to go around?

  14. rickflick
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    “the entire point of Mormonism was to do an end run around the “no adultery” ”

    Is there some evidence of this? I always assumed, from a distance, that the main motivation for Smith was to pull frauds and schemes that would make him a livelihood. At least initially. I would have thought, as he became powerful, he simply wanted more sex and, clever fellow that he was…

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    If the bad prose style of the B of M was not enough to discredit Smith’s story, there is the B of M’s ubiquitous mention of Native Americans using Iron Age tools BEFORE the arrival of Europeans for which there is not a shred of archaeological evidence.

    Yes, there were Native Americans who had figured out irrigation and central heating, but nope no metal swords or ploughshares or anything like that.

    Wikipedia normally refrains from in depth criticism of religious beliefs, but they DO in fact have a !*long and copious*! article on “Archeology and the Book of Mormon” (currently tagged as possibly violating WPs mandate against original research).

    Not to mention that DNA evidence doesn’t back up the contention that Native Americans are related to the Lost Tribes of Israel.

    Urim and Thummin were originally objects on the Jewish high priest’s breastplate whose nature is purpose isn’t entirely clear.

    There’s a potential sitcom joke about someone mentioning Urim and Thummin and someone not listening carefully thinking they are talking about this woman.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 6, 2015 at 12:27 am | Permalink

      Well talking of, errm, spheroidal objects, I can imagine all sorts of things looking at her boobs…


    • Posted August 7, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Permalink



  16. Posted August 5, 2015 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    When my Mormon cousin and his wife came to visit, I forgot to tell them there was bourbon in the bread pudding. Oops.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 6, 2015 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Probably not an issue. In my teens I once dated a Mormon girl. I spent a lot of time with her in her world for a year or so. And, WOW, did they know how to have a good time. It was an eye opener for me. Drinking, partying, sexual play were all normal in the large Mormon subculture she was a part of, in my experience.

      I wouldn’t be so naive as to think my experience of Mormons in the Albuquerque NM area circa 1979 or 1980 represents the norm for all Mormons, but I seriously doubt it was atypical of Mormons.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        Interesting. Though I have had no exposure to the faith, I had the impression they were quite pious and restrained.

        • darrelle
          Posted August 6, 2015 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          Oh, I am positive that some are very pious and restrained. But some definitely are not. And I think that the number of those that are not is not insignificant. Like most religions hypocrisy abounds.

          One thing I can say for sure. I’d much rather hang out with the liberal, rule breaking Mormon crowd that I did back then than with the pious and restrained Mormon crowd.

  17. kevinj
    Posted August 6, 2015 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Its a bit boring really.
    I would be more impressed if they found those golden plates which conveniently disappeared.

    Or if they made some decent claims like it could translate any language and set out to prove it.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 6, 2015 at 3:12 am | Permalink

      “like it could translate to any language”

      You mean, like babelfish, translator microbes, the Tardis’ field, C3PO (urrgh!), or the Universal Translator?

      (Oddly, universal translators aren’t all that common in sci-fi, but my 3 fave shows – H2G2, Farscape and Dr Who, all feature them prominently. Coincidence?)


      • darrelle
        Posted August 6, 2015 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        C3P0 wasn’t a universal translator. He had merely been programmed to be “fluent in over six million forms of communication.”

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 6, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          My ‘universal translator’ comment was not meant to be taken literally. 6 million is close enough to what I meant.

          The other approach, of course, is for all galactic races (or foreigners on earth) to magically speak English. Just like Jesus did, how convenient.


        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted August 9, 2015 at 1:39 am | Permalink

          Of course most of those six million involve waggling antennae and a few pheromones. Also Mermish and Troll.

  18. Dominic
    Posted August 6, 2015 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    I just wish they would just stop baptizing my bloody ancestors!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 6, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      I assume this is virtual, symbolic and retrospective, i.e. they don’t feel the need to dig them up for the occasion 😉


  19. Mike
    Posted August 6, 2015 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    They should be called Morons after their Angel Moroni.

  20. Mattapult
    Posted August 6, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    This so-called perfect translation is anything but. Smith and his associates were still revising the draft when it went to press. The typesetter edited the manuscript, and did most of the punctuation, which was nearly non-existent. The typesetter often went to the Bible to figure out how to punctuate the plagerized lines. They corrected errors found after the first few copies a pages were madeErrors discovered after the first few prints of a page were made, but those sheets were still used, resulting in variations in the first Mormon Bibles ever printed. Listen to The Naked Mormonism Podcast for tons of details about the history of the Mormon Church. Wear faceplate protection if you do.

  21. Posted August 6, 2015 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Do Mormons – at least the intelligent and educated ones – really believe all that crap?

  22. Diane G.
    Posted August 7, 2015 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    I wonder what Gwyneth Paltrow thinks about this…

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