Joseph Smith Seer Stones: Unveiling the Mysteries of the Urim and Thummim (Part 2)

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

Based on the description by Joseph Smith’s mother, some have theorized meanings behind the symbols, but this is speculation but certainly interesting to think about. In my video on Joseph Smith Seer Stone, you learned that the Urim and Thummim were used to translate the first 116 pages of The Book of Mormon that were lost by Martin Harris. The angel Moroni collected the plates and the Urim and Thummim at that time, and then later returned the plates, but no mention is made of the Urim and Thummim being returned. It seems that maybe they weren’t returned to Joseph Smith, and he used the other seer stone to complete the translation of The Book of Mormon.

The easiest way to find that video is by using the free Gospel Learning app. That all of this does beg the question of how many Urim and Thummims are there? While no one knows the answer to this question, there are several theories. The first is that each time someone needed a Urim and Thummim, the Lord delivered it to them. Some also look at this as a dispensational theory, in that each dispensation had its own Urim and Thummim. Under this theory, it could be the same Urim and Thummim or any number of different ones. They could have been delivered and recovered by angels or delivered and lost over time.

Another theory states that there is a single Urim and Thummim that is passed around throughout time, sometimes in a patriarchal lineage and sometimes through angelic deliveries. In this theory, the single Urim and Thummim could have followed this path throughout time. The Brother of Jared was the first to get one that we know, which was shortly after the time of the Tower of Babel. It would have been collected by an angel, either before they left for the promised land or sometime after, even possibly through a descendant of the Brother of Jared. Either way, Abraham ends up with it. He says the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim, but that could be through an angel or through the priesthood line. It seems most likely that he would have gotten it about the time he left with the records of the Patriarchs, as recorded in Abraham 1 verses 31. It could have been passed down from generation to generation to Moses and Aaron, although one has to ask who Moses would have gotten it from. Perhaps Jethro, his father-in-law, who was not part of the House of Israel but did have the priesthood. Jethro was a descendant of Abraham, or could it have been through some other person within the house of Israel, meaning the Urim and Thummim were passed down through Isaac, Jacob, Joseph for another 400 plus years until Moses arrives on the scene. It could have been collected by an angel from Abraham and then later given to Moses as well. However, Deuteronomy 33:8 states that the Urim and Thummim should be handed down from high priest to high priest through the generations, so perhaps that is how it was received by Moses. It was stored in the breastplate of judgment and taken through the Wilderness to Jerusalem and remained there until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

As you will recall, Lehi and his family left about 13 years before this, but the Mulekites leave after the destruction of Jerusalem. The leader of the Mulekites was Mulek, the only surviving son of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah after the Babylonian Conquest. He could have had the Urim and Thummim and taken it to the promised land where it could have been given to Mosiah the First when they appointed him King. The Urim and Thummims are then passed down through King Benjamin, Mosiah II, through Alma’s line, down to Mormon and to Moroni, who buries them with the gold plates. Then 1400 plus years later, after passing through the global apostasy and as an angelic being, Moroni directs Joseph Smith to the place where they were buried, who uses them in the translation of the first portion of The Book of Mormon before being returned to Moroni.

The third theory states that there are two Urim and Thummims that are referred to as Continental Urim and Thummims. In this theory, the Brother of Jared is given one, which he takes to the promised land, and Abraham is given a different Urim and Thummim. Abraham’s Urim and Thummim gets passed down to Moses, Aaron, and through the Old Testament until it is lost sometime during or after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. The Brother of Jared’s Urim and Thummim are passed down through the generations until their destruction as a nation when it is discovered alongside Coriantimer’s Stone by Mosiah the First. It is passed through the generations to Moroni, who buries it, later to be found by Joseph Smith.

You can decide for yourself which theory you believe and how many Urim and Thummims there are. But what we haven’t spoken about in this video is how the Urim and Thummim were used. I go into this in more detail in my other video on the Joseph Smith Seer Stones. Human imagination seems to immediately associate the Urim and Thummim and their design to something that would be looked through, like glasses. And as you peer at the ancient writings, you will see the translation in your own language. It would seem, from what we know about the translation process with Joseph Smith, that this wasn’t exactly the case. It probably doesn’t help that much of the artwork we saw early in our life helped lead us to this conclusion. In fact, Joseph looked at the Seer Stone whereupon the words would appear while the gold plates lay nearby, usually wrapped in a cloth napkin. Some might say that the plates weren’t needed at all, although I would disagree. It seems that the object for the translation did need to be nearby, although not required to look at. I mean, what good would it have done for Joseph Smith to look at them? He can’t read reformed Egyptian. Isaiah told us exactly how Joseph would be able to read the plates, as seen in 2 Nephi 27:20, which says, ‘Then shall the Lord God say unto him: The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore, thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.’

If you are interested in how the ancient high priest in the Tabernacle and later in the temple in Jerusalem used the Urim and Thummim specifically to receive revelation, I would encourage you to watch my video on the breastplate of judgment where I go into that in a lot of detail.

Now, stop and think about why the Urim and Thummim are given. In fact, Mosiah 28:13-16 tells us. It says, ‘And now he translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the rim of a bow. Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages; and they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people; and whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times.’ So, the express purpose of the Urim and Thummim is to translate records as a warning to the current covenant people on the promised land of the fall of the previous covenant people.

I think it also goes without saying that the Lord loves us so much he goes to great lengths to ensure this warning is given to everyone. In my mind, this goes back to why Urim and Thummim are translated ‘lights and perfections’: light, glory, gospel perfections, completeness, and truth. The gospel truth is what is provided through the Urim and Thummim. No wonder Joseph Smith said The Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on Earth and the keystone of our religion. A man could get near to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book. While it would be super cool to have at your momentum, we don’t need one right now because those warnings, truths, and light are found in our scriptures, especially The Book of Mormon, which is one main reason it is the keystone of our religion. This is why it is so important that we study and apply the teachings of The Book of Mormon to our lives.
And if you really want your own Urim and Thummim, if you are true and faithful according to Doctrine and Covenants 130, those that are exalted in the Celestial Kingdom will receive a white stone, which is probably your own personal Urim and Thummim or seer stones. Additionally, those that inherit the Celestial Kingdom will live on a great Urim and Thummim, as the celestial Earth will become such.

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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