Behold the magic stone!

The origins story of the Mormon church, like all religion origins stories, is a real riot. Founder Joseph Smith claimed to have been led by the Angel Moroni to gold plates buried in a field containing strange writing that he called ‘reformed Egyptian’ but was able to interpret and translate into English by peering into a hat and using a magic stone that he called a ‘seer stone’. This document became what is called the Book of Mormon, their bible.

Unfortunately for scholars but fortuitously for the myth, Smith gave the gold plates back to Moroni after translating them and they were never seen again. But the church has the copy of the translation sent to the printer and the seer stone and after keeping both locked away, they have decided to allow the public to at least see images of them for the sake of transparency.

In a recent essay, the LDS Church explained how Smith, according to some accounts, used the seer stone. He peered into a hat, to block out exterior light, and “read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument.”

“As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure,” the essay said. “As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.”

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

Here is the egg-sized rock. I don’t know what happened to Urim and Thummim.

Mormon seer stone

Doesn’t look that magical to me. I guess you had to be there.


  1. says

    What intrigues me is the printer’s copy of the Book of Mormon. Smith proclaimed that his “translation” was “the most correct book on earth.” And yet, almost 4,000 changes in the text have been made since it was first published, including some that altered basic doctrines (1 Nephi 11:18 originally described Mary as the mother of God; 1 Nephi 11:21 originally said Jesus was the Father; 2 Nephi 30:6 originally said converting to Mormonism would turn dark skinned people into white [changed in 1981]; 2 Nephi, ch. 5 and Mormon, ch. 5 said that dark skin was a curse from God [changed in 2010]; Alma 29:4 originally said that God’s decrees were eternal and unalterable.)

    It will be interesting to see if anyone in the media points out these major inconsistencies.

  2. raven says

    1. Thanks to Joseph Smith, Elron Hubbard, and Reverend Sun Myung Moon, we know where religions come from. People just make them up.

    2. Most of the religion creators in recent historical times have been wackos and not nice people. Joseph Smith was a convicted conman and overaged adolescent. Hubbard was really strange and some claim he eventually started believing his religion and died a frightened man. Moon was a cold, greedy authoritarian. David Koresh got his cult by killing the leader. Warren Jeffs of the FLDS is in prison.

    3. Which makes one wonder about the old ones. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Mani, and all the rest of them.

    Were they the Elron Hubbards and Joseph Smiths of their day?

  3. Dunc says

    There’s an even better bit to the story… Smith’s wife got hold of the first “translation” and hid it, and challenged him to retranslate the text -- after all, if it really was a translation, he should have no trouble in reproducing exactly. He then claimed that the angel had replaced the original text with a different version…

  4. machintelligence says

    Any guesses about what sort of rock that may be? With the banding I lean toward petrified wood (which could be found in Mississippi.)

  5. mr.ed says

    The beauty of Utah is wasted on this group. They would do just fine in the bowels of the earth, far away from reality.

  6. raven says

    Any guesses about what sort of rock that may be? With the banding I lean toward petrified wood (which could be found in Mississippi.)

    Good question.

    Smith did his creating in upper New York.

    I’m guessing some sort of metamorphic rock. Schist or maybe Gneiss. Its smooth and polished because it is most likely glacial till.

  7. says

    @Dunc #4 -- It was the Lucy Harris, wife of Martin Harris. Mr. Harris had been one of Smith’s early backers, and Lucy was royally pissed at how much of the family fortune was being squandered to fund the charlatan. At the time, Martin was working as Smith’s scribe while he “translated” the Book of Lehi, so Lucy coaxed him to borrow the transcript overnight. Once she had the 116 pages in hand, she hid them and told her husband to have Smith retranslate the work so the transcripts could be compared. When Smith found out, he was… irate. Quite conveniently, God spoke to Smith and told him that, in punishment for Martin’s lack of faith, the Book of Lehi was being withdrawn from humanity and Smith was to begin translating what would become First Nephi.

  8. Holms says

    @ raven
    Minor correction: the name of the founder of scientology is not “Elron” Hubbard, but L. (short for Lafayette) Ron. (short for Ronald) Hubbard.

  9. raven says

    Minor correction: the name of the founder of scientology is not “Elron” Hubbard, but L. (short for Lafayette) Ron. (short for Ronald) Hubbard.


    Fail!!! That was his earth name. Elron Hubbard was actually an alien which is how he knew all about Xenu and Thetans.

  10. lanir says

    Got curious about Urim and Thummim so poked around a little online. The names very vaguely made me think of Odin’s ravens (Huginn and Muninn) but those don’t appear to be an influence. Instead it appears that particular bit was lifted directly from a Jewish tradition. I didn’t dig too deep because honestly it’s not that important to me, but it did at least pop up on several sites (wikipedia is better used to organize and present information rather than verify it).

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