A holy relic!

One thing I do not miss at all about living in Salt Lake City was the bland, totally credulous way the television news would report on all things Mormon. No claim was too ridiculous if it was said by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and all the officials of that organization were treated as revered and unquestionable sources of authority. I just had to keep the television off and shun the newspapers every year at the time of the General Conference.

So this news story gave me horrible flashbacks: smiling Mormons announcing new lunacy to the straight faces of reporters. The church is going to let the peons view the sacred Seer Stone of Joseph Smith! Stand back in awe!


That’s the rock that Smith used to translate the invisible golden plates of Moroni into pseudo-King James English. Here’s how it worked:

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.

So the Mormon Church is now proud to announce the viewing of a prop used by a treasure-hunting con man in the early 19th century. I can picture the pious gasps of delight even now, and am glad I’m no longer anywhere near Utah.


  1. says

    Why did the Holy Spirit write English subtitles for Joseph Smith? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to instantly impart to him the understanding of ancient Hebrew? And why is the Holy Spirit’s English so terrible?

  2. Larry says

    So with a dusty rock picked up off of a path somewhere in New York, and a magic hat, thus a long con was begun. Just goes to show you, kids, it doesn’t take much to be successful.

  3. says

    Meh. I’ve got little stone talismans in my pocket that are shinier than that drab thing. Haven’t those people ever heard of tiger’s eye?

  4. says

    Well, at least they’re publicly exhibiting the weirdness. That sort of honesty gives them one up on the Scientologists which I’ve always felt is one of life’s great necessities.

  5. borax says

    Well, it is a pretty rock. Its not as pretty as the lump of pink quartz sitting on my book shelf, but my quartz won’t translate anything I put in my hat.

  6. Big Boppa says

    But which house did the hat place him in? My money’s on Slytherin but they say the hat works in mysterious ways.

  7. Saad says

    The 1800s? You call that a relic? This is a relic. That shit dates back to Adam and Eve, and then to Abraham, and then to Muhammad who had it put into the Kaaba wall where it still is to this day. You kiss it and god likes you a bit more than he would if you didn’t kiss it.

  8. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I seem to remember hearing a story about he did that “hat trick” twice cause the first copy got lost so to replace it he went an watched again to be restenographed. When the first copy was found and compared to the second, they were completely different. To which Joseph just thumbed his nose and said something like ask. God. yourself.
    maybe I’m misremembering, why would God let me misremember such a holy story? Some kind of test for me? oh no ! me fails.

  9. Larry says

    but my quartz won’t translate anything I put in my hat.

    You need to release that inner grifter in your soul, borax. Once you’ve done that, the words will flow and the rubes will follow.

  10. komarov says

    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.

    Not bad. Since he was just ‘reading it off’ it would have been very embarassing for Smith to have to constantly change the first draft writing revealed unto him with the scribe present. I bet the scribe made a lot of “mistakes” – unless writing holy books just came naturally to Smith. Who knows? And the process does add a thin veneer of authenticity to the text. Mormonism might have fallen a bit flat if Smith just turned up one day saying, “Look, I wrote a holy book!”

  11. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    It looks kind of nice. As a large pebble, I mean.
    As a holy relic, it’s pretty weak, though.
    I prefer my self-made papier-mâché Cthulhu idol.

  12. borax says

    @13Larry. I heeded your advice and that bean and cabbage soup recipe apparently reads ,”Borax is the totally one true prophet. Heed him as he leads all ya’ll to making soup into stew. For stew is most awesome, even better than soup. But soup is also awesome. Also Borax wants your money”.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    Finally we have a tool to translate the Ogham script, the Indus valley glyphs and the Olmec inscriptions!

  14. ah58 says

    The part you won’t hear mentioned is that Joe actually stole it. It was found while he was digging a well for a “client” who wanted to keep it for himself. Smith talked him into letting him borrow it and then refused to return it.

  15. says

    Huh. For some reason I always assumed it would be one of those stones with a hole in it… Any chance they’ll finally cough up the “Golden Plates”?

  16. says

    Oh. I was worried there for a moment. So that’s Joseph Smith’s seer stone. I thought it might have been a piece of debris from the Devil Machine that contained a surviving shard of Giygas’s insanity since it has his screaming face on top. But I guess we don’t have to worry about that.

  17. shaneevans says

    I was raised a devout Mormon but didn’t learn about the seer stones or peep stones as they were sometimes called, until I took a Church History course at BYU. At the time, BYU required 14 credits of religion (2 credits per course) so I ended up taking quite a few religion classes. Our professor explained the process to us. He told us that there are a few Mormons out there with their own hats and peep stones. He said he tried it once and only saw the dark interior of the hat. I left the church and religion a few years later. During my exit I read a wonderful book by Dan Vogel, a Mormon scholar, all about peep stones called “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View”. He describes how Joseph Smith would use the same method earlier on to hunt for buried treasure.

  18. brett says

    So they’re basically admitting that he dictated the Book of Mormon, not “wrote it”? You can tell, too, that it was dictated when you read it. There is tons of repetition in it within chapters, like he’s going over the same phrasing and words again to remember what’s going on.

    In any case, hopefully this won’t lead to the same type of embarrassment that happened when they found the Egyptian burial scroll that Smith claimed to translate in the Pearl of Great Price.

  19. says

    @slithey tove #11 – One of Smith’s early financial backers was Martin Harris, who also served as his first scribe. Harris’ wife Lucy was rightly pissed at all the money being spent on Smith, and demanded to see the work-in-progress. Without Smith’s knowledge, Harris took home the 116 page manuscript, which Lucy immediate confiscated and hid, telling her husband that Smith should translate everything again: the two manuscripts could then be compared, which would show if Smith was the fraud she knew him to be. When he found out what had happened, Smith had a “vision” and declared that the previously translated Holy Word of God would be withheld from humanity in punishment for Harris’ lack of faith.

  20. Larry says

    But does it work on IKEA instructions?

    Yes, but, unfortunately, the words come out in Chinglish.

  21. christinerose says


    Why did the Holy Spirit write English subtitles for Joseph Smith? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to instantly impart to him the understanding of ancient Hebrew? And why is the Holy Spirit’s English so terrible?

    Because the plates weren’t written in Hebrew–they were written in reformed Egyptian. Reformed Egyptian is indistinguishable from undeciphered, pre-Rosetta stone hieroglyphic Egyptian, but bears no resemblance to actual ancient Egyptian. There are some historic texts that have a Smith-supplied reformed Egyptian reading which is completely unlike their actual Egyptian reading. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Abraham for more.

  22. says

    As noted by shaneevans @23, to a lot of mormons this seer stone or peepstone will come as a big surprise. There are mormons all over the world with WTF looks on their faces.

    Steve Benson, ex-mormon and grandson of one of the dead prophets, Ezra Taft Benson, wrote a good piece on this:

    […] An increasingly worried Mormon Cult–against all of its dishonest instincts–has been forced to release increasing amounts of evidence about inconvenient historical realities that it long has sought to minimize and deny. […]

    The latest example of this dawninig situtional awareness involves Joseph Smith’s occult-magic peepstone which–as history informs us–he plopped into a hat, into which he then stuck his face and squinted in order to purportedly “translate” the Book of Mormon by reading its English translation as it appeared on the top of the rock.

    What a bummer for the believers. All these years they’ve been told by the Cult that Smith and his scribe worked together–with Joseph uttering the “translated” words without being having to be bent over face-first inside a hat. […]


  23. says

    One mormon’s reaction:

    Unlike the story I’ve been taught in Sunday Schools, Priesthood, General Conferences, Seminary, EFY, Ensigns, Church history tour, Missionary Training Center and BYU . . . , Joseph Smith used a rock in a hat for translating the Book of Mormon.

    In other words, he used the same “Ouija Board” that he used in his days treasure hunting where he would put in a rock–or a peepstone–in his hat and put his face in the hat to tell his customers the location of buried treasure. He used the exact same method while the gold plates were covered, or put in another room, or buried in the woods during translating the Book of Mormon. […]

    I’m now supposed to believe that Joseph has the credibility of translating the keystone Book of Mormon? With a rock in a hat?

    That the gold plates that ancient prophets went through all the time and effort of making, engraving, compiling, abridging, preserving, hiding, and transporting were useless? […]

    What happens when a member [ comes across . . . Nelson’s obscure 1992 talk where Nelson quotes and endorses David Whitmer’s rock-in-a-hat Book of Mormon translation? . . . I confirmed Nelson’s rock-in-the-hat endorsement from his 1992 talk buried on LDS.org.

    That’s right. I’m not sure if it is still easily found, but the rock-in-a-hat story was on the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As is often the case, it is their own history that trips up the mormons and causes many of them to resign.

    […] Boyd K. Packer gave an eye-opening talk to Church Education System Instructors and faculty at a CES Symposium on the Doctrine & Covenants and Church History on August 22, 1981 entitled ‘The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect.’

    [PZ will remember that one since he blogged about it.]

    There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful. […]

    Why is it that I had to first discover all of this–from the Internet–at 31-years-old, after 20 years of high activity in the Church? I wasn’t just a seat-warmer at Church. I’ve read the scriptures several times. I’ve read hundreds of ‘approved’ Church books. I was an extremely dedicated missionary who voluntarily asked to stay longer in the mission field. I was very interested in, and dedicated to, the gospel. […]

    That’s a quote from a letter written a few years ago — the story of the seer stone was known, just not widely distributed to members of the mormon church.

  24. says

    Wait a minute, I was raised Mormon, and they taught us that there were two seer stones, the (and I’m probably misspelling them) the Urum and Thunnim. Secondly, that the angel Moroni took them back when he took the plates. How could they have one of the stones (and not the other) when they were supposedly taken back up to heaven?

  25. says

    jason @35: The Urim and Thummim are not the only problem(s) associated with this seer stone/peepstone story. A descendent of Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith complicated the issue. The excerpt below is courtesy of Steve Benson

    Before becoming the 10th president of Mormon Inc., Joseph Fielding Smith had been its official historian for 50 years. He denied flat-out that Smith used a rock in a hat to figure out the Book of Mormon.

    From his book, “Doctrines of Salvation,” vol. 3, pp. 225-26:

    While the statement has been made by some writers that the Prophet Joseph Smith used a seer stone part of the time in his translating of the record, and information points to the fact that he did have in his possession such a stone, yet there is no authentic statement in the history of the Church which states that the use of such a stone was made in that translation. The information is all hearsay and, personally, I do not believe that this stone was used for this purpose.

    The reason I give for this conclusion is found in the statement of the Lord to the Brother of Jared, as recorded in Ether 3:22-24. These stones–the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the Brother of Jared–were preserved for this very purpose of translating the record, both of the Jaredites and the Nephites. Then again, the Prophet was impressed by Moroni with the fact that these stones were given for that very purpose.

    It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the Prophet would substitute something evidently inferior under these circumstances. It may have been so but it is so easy for a story of this kind to be circulated due to the fact that the Prophet did possess a seer stone, which he may have used for some other purposes.

    Joseph Fielding Smith had something to hide–namely, that magic peepstone. He knew of its existence but emphatically denied that Founding Joe had found it, then used it to “translate” the Book of Mormon:

    [The] seer stone was not used in [the] Book of Mormon translation. We have been taught since the days of the Prophet that the Urim and Thummim were returned with the plates to the angel. We have no record of the Prophet having the Urim and Thummim after the organization of the Church. Statements of translations by the Urim and Thummim after that date are evidently errors.

    No consistency whatsoever. For those not familiar with mormon history, Joseph Fielding Smith also testified before Congress that mormons were not practicing polygamy, when in fact many of them still were polygamists. JFS was supposedly an infallible prophet of god. He was the Prophet/Seer/Revelator of the time.

    What is consistent is the ongoing scam nature of the mormon cult. It started as a scam, and it is still a scam.

  26. says

    @35, jason the cripple

    Wait a minute, I was raised Mormon, and they taught us that there were two seer stones, the (and I’m probably misspelling them) the Urum and Thunnim. Secondly, that the angel Moroni took them back when he took the plates. How could they have one of the stones (and not the other) when they were supposedly taken back up to heaven?

    That’s “Urim and Thummim”. They’re mythological relics stolen from Judaism, as anyone knows who read books by John Bellairs as a child. But, as the Wikipedia article says, they weren’t for translating; they answered yes-or-no questions.

  27. says

    Some of you may be wondering what Joseph Smith ended up with for all his trouble with the hat and the rock. Quotes below are from the Book of Mormon.

    And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.

    And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever.

    And thus did the thirty and eighth year pass away, and also the thirty and ninth, and forty and first, and the forty and second, yea, even until forty and nine years had passed away, and also the fifty and first, and the fifty and second; yea, and even until fifty and nine years had passed away.

    Literary fail.

  28. Dark Jaguar says

    I’m going to have to be the one to say it, aren’t I? I mean, just look at that stone, the joke wrote itself. I am but it’s vessel.


  29. Pierce R. Butler says

    What happened to the historic Hat?

    Maybe the LDS Church will allow mere mortals to see it – after another 180 years!

  30. busterggi says

    “And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land”

    True that, just ask the Spanish conquistadors – no gold, silver or gemstones at all in the Americas, total waste of their time.

  31. llewelly says

    I learned about the seer stone when I was quite young. Because I read a great deal of LDS material young people – or even adult Mormons – rarely read. It’s interesting what people will loan you when they assume you will interpret it in a believing manner.

    At first – I was doubtful of it, but, after a time it seemed that those who asserted the Seer Stone version of events was false were like Joseph F Smith – which is to say, demonstrably unreliable.

    Nonetheless … as with any religious artifact, I cannot help but have some curiosity about its provenance. What evidence do we have for provenance, other than the say so of the LDS church?

    Given that they credulously purchased a number of forged documents (in several cases against the advice of historians and archaeologists) from Mark Hoffman in the 1970s and early 1980s – how do we know this is the original stone from the original con artist, rather than a stone picked up and sold to the church by some later con artist?

    At the very least some independent comparison of the stone’s mineralogy and isotope ratios with the mineralogy and isotope ratios of stones collected from various representative streams in Utah and upstate New York should be made.

  32. says

    llewelly @43, I like the point you made about the provenance of the seer stone. It would be nicely ironic if the stone proved to be a scam of a scam.

  33. paganeng says

    I always wondered why they are not called Morons after the giver of the golden plates. Jesus, how gullible do you have to be to buy into to this crock of shit. I also hear that JC is returning to Independence MO, instead of Jerusalem. That will really mess with all of the evangelicals.

  34. says

    Not too sure where you live, but in the US all episodes are available through http://southpark.cc.com/ as well as Hulu (they are the same, as the CC.com is powered by Hulu). Last I checked you did not need to be a Hulu+ member (ie, it’s free to watch with Ads), but since I’ve been a Hulu+ member for years I can confirm

    Direct Link

  35. says

    And now I feel dumb, that is one of the episodes not available on SouthPark studios anymore (I believe this one , “Super Best Friends” that has Mohammad depicted and the Scientology episodes are have been pulled)

  36. raven says

    Now for the more interesting question.

    Came up on the Singham blog.

    What kind of rock is that? It’s supposedly from upper state New York.

    I have it as metamorphic. Schist or maybe Gneiss. It’s smooth and polished because it is glacial till most likely although it could be a river rock as well.

  37. militantagnostic says

    Lynna #38

    Literary Fail

    According to Bryce Blankenagel’s Naked Mormonism Podcast, the manuscript delivered to the printer was lot worse. It was devoid of punctuation and paragraph breaks which had to be inserted by the printer. This podcast is an in depth (20 episodes so far and he hasn’t made it to Navoo yet) look at the history of Mormonism by an ex Mormon.

    If you want to hear the book Mormon read by someone who is reading it for the first time, I recommend David Michael’s My Book of Mormon Podcast. The BOM is childishly ridiculous and egregiously racist and misogynist. You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of women who are mentioned by name. HEALTH WARNING – Do not play the associated drinking game if you value your liver.

    Some of it must be historically accurate however, since I work next door to The Ammonite Factory.

  38. anielsen says

    Actually this sounds like progress. Let me explain.

    Most Mormons have never even heard the story of Joseph Smith dictating the Book of Mormon with his face in a hat staring at his seerstone, even though it is well documented in the historical record that this is how he “translated” the book. It reminds Mormons too much of the one (completely true) story they have all heard and dismissed about how a young Joseph got in trouble and even went to court for defrauding people with his claims to be able to use magic powers to find buried treasure.

    Growing up in a Mormon family, the only images I had in my head of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon were of him sitting with the golden plates on a table, using a seerstone of some kind to help him as he perused the contents of the pages, with a screen between him and his scribe so the scribe did not see the golden plates as Joseph dictated the contents of the book, even though this image is completely different from what the actual historical record shows..

    Scholars of Mormonism and Mormon history (yes, they exist) have been clamoring for decades for the Church to be more honest and up-front about its history, and publicly displaying Joseph’s seerstone instead of hiding it away in a vault might show that they are actually paying attention.

    I don’t think many Mormons will care about this rock, because they have probably never even heard of the rock in a hat story of how the Book of Mormon came to be.

  39. Trebuchet says

    What kind of rock is that? It’s supposedly from upper state New York.

    Calling Dana Hunter! Actually, I have a piece of Dana’s Holy Schist which is more impressive than that thing.

  40. footface says

    This all makes religion look, oh I don’t know. A little silly almost, I guess.

  41. thebookofdave says

    but my quartz won’t translate anything I put in my hat.

    Cheer up, borax #6. At least you can use your crystal to channel universal energy and to harmonize and balance your environment.

  42. John Harshman says

    I will hazard a guess that the stone is quartzite. It’s certainly neither gneiss nor schist.

  43. loopyj says

    I’ve just never understood why the Holy Spirit wouldn’t provide the interpretation/translation of the plates into the American English spoken at the time of Joseph Smith. Seriously, that’s just lazy Holy Spiriting.