Joseph Smith Seer Stones: The Urim & Thummim

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

It’s interesting what Tyler pointed out – the book refers to plates, the words of the book refer to translation, the translation, the truth that we find here. And you’ll notice that God never said to Joseph, “Read the book.” Joseph couldn’t really read the book. I mean, he could look at it, but he didn’t know ancient languages. What God asked Joseph Smith to do was to read the words of the book.

And what’s interesting is the word “Urim and Thummim.” These are the instruments that God gave—you have much better handwriting than I do; my wife was an English teacher. I didn’t even tell her what my English grades were until after we were married because I didn’t want her to say yes. So, I’ve had to work on my writing. Yerem and Thummim are the instruments that God gave to Joseph Smith, and he actually used them with other ancient prophets in order to read the words.
And it’s interesting that the word “Urim and Thummim” in Hebrew literally means “lights” (plural) and “perfections” or “truth.” In some ways, this word actually describes how the seer stones function—that they reveal, in light, words of truth. And God asked Joseph, “I want you to read the words.” And that may help us understand how that happened. One other little insight on that: A lot of people say, “That’s weird that you guys, as members of your church, could actually believe that Joseph could look at stones—clear stones or the chocolate-colored seer stone—and by some accounts put into a hat, and that it would shine, and that’s weird, that you could believe that there could be such a thing as stones that shine forth in the darkness, and that the writing would appear from time to time. How can you? And if it’s really light outside, or if there’s too much light, and you need to be able to see it more clearly, you put it in a darker place so that it doesn’t strain your eyes, and it’s just easier to read. That’s really weird that you would believe that. Sorry for being facetious, but if man can even figure out how to do that kind of thing, I think God would say, ‘Yeah, I’m able to do my own work, even if it’s through a stone or if it was through a wall or through any means.’ It doesn’t matter; God can use anything to bring forth these words. And we don’t know fully how much Joseph was able to put his own volition, his own thinking into this process, or how much it was just straight reading, or anything in between. We don’t know fully. But we know that the witnesses of this process said Joseph isn’t pouring over the plates; he’s looking at the stones, which implies more reading words that God is giving to him, which, by the way, in antiquity, the high priest, when he would have a major question to be answered, he would wear his high priestly breastplate. And it has the 12 stones on it and, in the twelve tribes of Israel, and he’d have six and six on two stones on his shoulders. So he’s got the House of Israel on his shoulders and on his chest. And inside, behind those stones, it’s a little pocket, and inside, it’s believed that there were the stones Urim and Thummim. And when he had a real question, he would go in, stand before the holy of holies, and raise his hands up with the person asking the question. He would gaze down, and the description is those stones would light up inside of that darker pocket, and they would shine into his eyes, and he would be able to read words on the stone. So, this tradition goes way, way, way back; this didn’t originate with Joseph Smith, but it’s back to the fact that God can do his work. He could have done it a different way. Spent a lot of time debating why did he do it this way? Well, he did it the way that he did it, and so instead of trying to counsel God and tell him you should have done it another way because it would have made me feel a lot better, let’s just spend time understanding God’s work. And he can do his work, and don’t be like I was when I was younger, like, “God, I have a plan; why don’t you do it my way?” Yeah, he has a plan. So, some people make a big deal about Joseph using a chocolate-colored seer stone. The reality is God’s going to work with you according to the things that you’re most familiar with. He’ll stretch you, of course, in the process, but that just doesn’t bother me at all that God chose that particular means. In fact, that’s why we call it a marvelous work and a wonder. Yeah, it’s because we marvel at it; that’s how did he do that, and it’s a wonder we wonder how is that even possible. Well, with God, all things are possible.

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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