Joseph Smith Seer Stones: Unveiling the Mysteries of the Urim and Thummim (Part 1)

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

There is something about sacred artifacts that is so interesting. These types of things permeate pop culture and become the focal points of many of the most popular books and movies that we have, whether it be swords, seer stones, records, or other items. Artifacts capture our collective imaginations, often due to their rarity, magical properties, or the special ways or circumstances that they were created or used. Movie plots that utilize actual historical sacred artifacts are among my personal favorites. Sacred artifacts are real, and we have accounts of them throughout scripture. And among them, no sacred artifact shows up across more books of scripture, across more geographies, and passes through more hands of more people throughout all of time than the Urim and Thummim.

Traditionally, Urim and Thummim means ‘lights and perfections’ and are instruments of revelation. Each word is a plural that always appears in scripture referencing the instrument and is left untranslated in our scriptures when mentioned in the plural. The singular of ‘urum’ is ‘ur’ and describes the light or flame of a fire. The singular of ‘thummim’ is ‘thum’ and includes the concepts of perfection, completeness, or fulfillment. It is, in short, a stone of Truth. Alternate translations for this phrase include ‘Revelation and Truth’ and ‘Light and Truth’. Biblical scholars have struggled with understanding the Urim and Thummim because the Bible contains no description of their usage or even a description of the object itself. They have come to the consensus that it was likely a binary lot system to give a yes or no answer to the high priest of the temple. With two words, ‘urim’ and ‘thummim,’ and both being plural, scholars feel that there were two objects. And then, in conjunction with the breastplate of judgment, which I discussed in another video, which had the other precious and semi-precious stones in it, leads scholars to believe the Urim and Thummim were stones.

The free Gospel Learning app can be used to search on any subject in the gospel, and you will get a video from the best teacher on that subject explaining it. The app is a brand-new resource for members of the Church to use to better learn and understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I hope you will download and use it. Remember, the Urim and Thummim were stored in the breastplate of judgment, and the entire breastplate, ephod, and the Urim and Thummim were used to receive revelation. This understanding doesn’t come from the Bible but rather Jewish traditions from Josephus and the Targum. But additional scripture and revelation through Joseph Smith has dramatically widened our understanding of this sacred artifact.

If we are to look at this chronologically, so before Joseph Smith seer stones, it is the Brother of Jared that was first given the Urim and Thummim, although we don’t learn about it from the Book of Ether. We learn about it in the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord talks about many of the sacred artifacts, including: ‘Behold, I say unto you that ye must rely upon my word, which, if you do with full purpose in heart, you shall have a view of the plates and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the Brother of Jared upon the mount when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while at the wilderness on the borders of the Red Sea.’

Again, chronologically, it was Abraham who had the Urim and Thummim next. As the Lord taught Abraham astronomy, calendaring, and time, in Abraham 3:1 it says, ‘And I, Abraham, had the Urim and Thummim which the Lord my God had given unto me, and the Lord said unto me by the Urim and Thummim that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons, in the revolutions thereof, that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest.’

Next is Moses and Aaron having a Urim and Thummim. While there are very specific instructions on how to create the high priest clothing, ephod, and breastplate of judgment, there are no instructions about the Urim and Thummim, only that the breastplate was to hold the Urim and Thummim. Exodus 28:30 reads, ‘And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim, and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart when he goeth in before the Lord, and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually.’ This would indicate that the urim already existed and was given to Moses.

Next, chronologically, is in the Americas with Mosiah, the father of King Benjamin. Here we take a little creative license because the Urim and Thummim are not mentioned by name, but Mosiah has the power to interpret the language of the Jaredites, ‘by the gift and power of God,’ which is the same description used by Joseph Smith. Mosiah II, his grandson, has the same gift to translate and specifically states he used, ‘interpreters,’ which is the same term Oliver Cowdery says Joseph Smith used. So, it is likely that both Mosiahs used the Urim and Thummim for translation. Mosiah 28:13 even says, ‘And now he translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow.’

Alma the Younger and his son Helaman appear to both have the German Urim and Thummim. Alma speaks of a stone that shines forth in darkness and delight in Alma 37:23, which he calls interpreters, as he is passing them on to Helaman. It would appear that these Nephite interpreters were handed down to Moroni, which he buried. Ether 4:5 says, ‘Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded me that I should seal up the interpreters thereof; wherefore, I have sealed up the interpreters according to the commandment of the Lord.’
Joseph Smith later unearths them with the gold plates and the seer stones and finds that they are the same ones Mosiah had, but now it has been fastened to a breastplate. Joseph Smith’s history 1 verse 35 says, ‘Also, that there were two stones in silver bows, and these stones fastened to a breastplate constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim, deposited with the plates, and use of these stones were what constituted seers in ancient or former times, and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.’ Joseph Smith’s mother described them as two smooth three-corner diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows connected with each other in much the same way that old-fashioned spectacles are made.

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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