Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones

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

Today, I want to talk about seer stones. I find it fascinating that Christians, as well as many other religions, believe in scripture that contains stories of stones, gems, and jewels with special properties. And yet, when the same thing is used in more modern times, many people find it odd or strange.

The Bible has many stories of supernatural stones, including seer stones. My favorite is the one of the Breastplate of Judgment, also called the Breastplate of Aaron. It was worn by the high priest in the tabernacle, starting with Aaron, the brother of Moses. You’ve probably seen paintings of this many times, but did you ever notice the breastplate he’s wearing? The Old Testament is very specific about how it was to be created, with 12 different semi-precious and precious stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel.

The names of the 12 tribes were engraved on the stones, along with other engravings. Additionally, opals were worn on both shoulders, and the high priest also had a Urim and Thummim, which was held in a pocket in the breastplate. According to some sources, the high priest could look through the Urim and Thummim at the breastplate to receive messages from God.

According to the Targums, which are Jewish Aramaic translations of books of the Hebrew Bible, Peter and John both had single stone seership. These traditions make it seem likely that Peter had a single stone seer stone, which John was made aware of. Peter may have discovered the stone on his own or been given it by the Lord at the Mount of Transfiguration.

There are even some interesting changes in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible that further indicate this about Peter and John. Accounts of special stones are in every single book of scripture that we have. In addition to those in the Bible, the Book of Mormon has stories of the brother of Jared not only with the Urim and Thummim but also the famous story of the Lord touching the 16 stones to illuminate the ships as they cross the ocean into the promised land.

Additionally, we know that Mosiah the First and Mosiah the Second, Alma the Younger, Helaman, and Moroni all had seer stones. The Pearl of Great Price also has accounts of seer stones that Abraham had, as well as the one that Moses and Aaron had. Doctrine and Covenants Section 130 talks about a white stone that all the faithful who achieve the celestial kingdom will be given, upon which will be written a new name. This stone is a Urim and Thummim for that person. Scripture also talks about the earth being celestialized as a great Urim and Thummim.

The Doctrine and Covenants also discuss the use of seer stones, as well as other supernatural artifacts, such as the gift of Aaron. There are lots of supernatural artifacts found across scripture, such as the Ark of the Covenant, the staff of Aaron, the brazen serpent, and the Liahona, just to name a few. 

We believe in these books of scripture, we believe these men to be prophets of God, and they used seer stones and other sacred objects. So why is it that when Joseph Smith used a seer stone, people find it odd or feel uncomfortable about it? There is clearly something about our modern-day society that shuns magical objects as fake or fiction. And when those stories are associated with the restoration of the church and the translation of the Book of Mormon, it can unnerve some people’s testimonies.

One reason might be that many in the church today saw pictures like this and naturally assumed Joseph, using the Urim and Thummim, was staring at the characters on the gold plates and seeing an English version of what was written, which he dictated to a scribe. This is, in fact, not how the process worked at all, as many of us now know. Some feel the church was purposefully deceiving people, but I believe the reality is that natural assumptions of people, combined with popular LDS culture, art, and traditions, led to this belief.

With the internet, social media, and other modern technologies, those that did know the truth would share it, and some that heard this for the first time through those mediums felt misled or betrayed. Yet, I think that the church has done everything it can to be transparent. If you look at the books like “The Saints” and “The Joseph Smith Papers,” the church really has tried to provide resources for anyone who wants to learn as much as they want.

So, what do we know about the Joseph Smith seer stone? First, we know that Moroni directed Joseph to a box in the Hill Cumorah where he found the gold plates, a breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim. The idea when Moroni buried them was that he was preserving these things for a future day when somebody would need to translate the plates and that they would need the Urim and Thummim.

Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, described the Urim and Thummim this way: two smooth three-corner diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows connected with each other, much like old-fashioned spectacles are made. According to the record, Joseph found the breastplate burdensome and disconnected the Urim and Thummim from it while he translated. The prophet Joseph Smith used these to translate the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, which is the portion that Martin Harris lost.

Moroni collected the plates and the Urim and Thummim from Joseph when Moroni returned the plates to resume translation. It isn’t clear whether he also returned the Urim and Thummim or not. Emma Smith, the prophet’s wife, later in life described it this way: “Now the first that my husband translated the book was translated by the Urim Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost. After that, he used a small stone, not exactly black, but rather a dark color.”

In other words, Joseph Smith used the Urim and Thummim given to him by Moroni to translate the 116 pages that are now lost, and the rest of the Book of Mormon, the entire book that you have read your entire life, was not translated using the Urim and Thummim, but rather this other seer stone. It can be confusing because even Joseph referred to these and other stones all as Urim and Thummim or seer stones interchangeably.

This is the actual seer stone that Emma is referring to, that Joseph likely used in the translation of the Book of Mormon after the 116 pages. Joseph kept it in a small pouch. In fact, this was one of two main seer stones that Joseph had. The other was semi-transparent. While we know one seer stone or another was used at various times, only that statement from Emma leads us to believe it is the dark brown seer stone that was used for the translation of the Book of Mormon.
Using seer stones or peep stones was a rather common practice in those days and in that area of the country. There are many stories of those who used similar stones for a variety of purposes, often to find lost things. There are a few conflicting stories about how Joseph got the stones, where and which stones from which.

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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