Mormon Church Artwork Often Omits Joseph Smith's Use of Seer Stones

Many Mormons have been unaware of the fact that Joseph Smith found and used seer stones and in particular they did not know that he used seer stones to translate the Book of Mormon. Much of the art from the Mormon Church that depicts Smith translating the Book of Mormon does not show Smith using seer stones. The art favors depictions of Smith translating with the Nephite interpreters, often called the Urim and Thummim. Some Mormons feel that they have been deceived by this artwork.

Many Mormons agree that the artwork that shows Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon is not a purposeful deception. Firstly, because the accounts of Smith’s translation that most artists have access to are in Mormon scripture. These scriptures share Smith’s and Oliver Cowdery’s accounts of the translation of the Book of Mormon. Smith never recorded the manner of his translation (JS-H 1:62). Cowdery, however, states that Smith “translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’” Since these are the translation accounts that most artists have access to, it is logical that their art would reflect these accounts.

The records that discuss Smith using a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon have not always been readily available. However, with the advent of the internet, many more Mormon church historical records can be accessed by the public. Today, these accounts can be found on Mormon Church websites, as well as many other places. Emma Hale (Joseph Smith’s wife) and David Whitmer recorded that Smith used a seer stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris recorded that Smith used both seer stones and Urim and Thummim to translate.

  • References
    1. Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate 1 (October 1834), pp. 14–16 as recorded in Joseph Smith-History.
    2. One example is “Joseph Smith Translates the Gold Plates,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed January 29, 2024, https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/joseph-smith-translates-the-gold-plates?lang=eng.
    3. Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, “Firsthand Witness Accounts of the Translation Process,” in The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, ed. Dennis L. Largey and others (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2015), 65–71.