How was Joseph Smith’s seer stone like a smart phone?

I know the headline sounds like a lead-in to a joke, but in fact, Mormon apologist Daniel Peterson wrote a “Defending the Faith” column for Deseret News in which he suggested that, though “some critics of Joseph Smith mock the fact that part of the Book of Mormon translation process apparently involved dictating while looking at a stone that he’d placed within a hat…far from being damaging evidence against his claims and against the Book of Mormon, this fact may strongly support their plausibility.”

Dr. Peterson asks his readers to “consider a smartphone or e-reader, for instance. Their screens are very difficult to read out in the sunlight and need to be shaded. Or consider your personal computer. You probably don’t place it directly in front of a window where bright light will be streaming into your face.” So too, he says, did Joseph Smith need to place his seer stone in a hat in order to better see the words on it, and to reduce eye strain.

Dr. Peterson argues that the fact that Joseph put his face in a hat while dictating the Book of Mormon has “intriguing” implications. Referring to a common charge by critic’s that Joseph Smith may have plagiarized existing documents to write the Book of Mormon, Dr. Peterson points out: “A manuscript hidden in the bottom of a hat would be difficult if not impossible to read.”

The question, of course, is why Joseph Smith needed to look at a stone in a hat in the first place. As the story goes, Joseph had been given tangible metal plates covered with the writings of ancient prophets written in “Reformed Egyptian.” God had supplied Joseph with “interpreters” — two stones in silver bows, called the Urim and Thummim — to enable him to translate the characters into English. But he set the plates and the interpreters aside and resorted to a stone in a hat.

The fact that he used a hat, according to Daniel Peterson, “strongly supports” Joseph Smith’s claims and the validity of the Book of Mormon. But if, in fact, the hat really does powerfully substantiate the plausibility of Mormonism’s claims, why has the Mormon Church largely neglected to include it in its official narratives regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon?

Despite Dr. Peterson’s apologetic, I’m afraid I remain unconvinced.

Listen to today’s Viewpoint on Mormonism where Bill and Eric discuss this particular defense of the Mormon faith as argued by Daniel Peterson.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Book of Mormon, Early Mormonism, LDS Church, Mormon History and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to How was Joseph Smith’s seer stone like a smart phone?

  1. falcon says:

    Oh man! Is Peterson totally bonkers?
    This is the best example of a “true believer” I’ve heard in a long time. My favorite line that I often repeat here: “The more convoluted and preposterous an idea is, the more a cultist loves it.”
    In fact these true believers will defend these bizarre explanations to the point of being totally ridiculous. It seems to be a badge of honor with these people, great spirituality and faith to embrace nonsense. I suppose it gets them status points down at the wards, but to the rest of us, we see it for what it is and it isn’t pretty.

  2. falcon says:

    For a true believer, none of these “revelations” has much of an impact on their belief system. They just make a mental adjustment, come up with some sort of two sentence explanation and then (as we’d say back in the 60s) “keep on truckin”. None of this really matters because the repetitive memorized Mormon testimony and the mental conditioning that results by constant repetition, is true and they “know” it.
    Remember what a bomb-shell it was suppose to be when the court records were found about Smith being a “convicted” treasure hunter via his magic seer stone. The fall back explanation was that he was never “convicted”. I think the way it worked was that charges were brought against Smith and he paid some sort of bail money and never had to appear in court. So in the mind of the true believer Smith was never “convicted”. The fact that he and his merry band of treasure hunters were gallivanting about at night looking for buried treasure by the use of his magic rock, slips right past their mental set.
    What do they call these folks? I believe they are called “chapel Mormons”.
    Grant Palmer actually got to see the rocks I think in the early 60s, in the super secret vault. He talks about it here.

  3. Revynn says:

    Dr. Peterson, the point is back that way. You seem to have missed it.

    No critic is saying that the Stone and Hat account is implausible because the hat would be extraneous. The reason that’s been given for putting his face in the hat since day one, “to exclude the light”, makes perfect sense. Doing that would indeed make it dark enough that any light the seer stone supposedly emitted would be greatly enhanced and much easier to see.

    The criticism is in the fact that putting his face in a hat and reading letters or words that supposedly appear up on the seer stone is not what people define as the process of “translating” a text. It’s in the fact that this practice of using seer stones is a form of folk magic practiced (and looked down upon since Smith was arrested for it) in that area in the 19th century. Deuteronomy 18:10-11 explicitly forbid all sorts of divinations, fortune telling or sorcery which is exactly what this practice of seer stones was: divination. Why would we expect a “Prophet of God” to use a method that God himself has explicitly forbidden in order to bring about this supposed “new revelation”. It’s in the fact that, as Dr. Peterson points out, he never even looked at the plates that he was supposedly “translating” which makes them superfluous in the whole process.

    Dr. Peterson goes on to say in the article:
    “Yet Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon — roughly 270,000 words — in somewhere between 60 and 90 days. That’s approximately 3,000 to 4,500 words each and every day, without rewrites or significant revisions. (Practiced writers will instantly recognize this as a stunning pace.)”

    Yes, that would be a stunning pace if it was all original material. However, as others have pointed out, Smith seems to have pulled large sections of the King James Bible out and simply placed them into the Book Of Mormon wholesale. It’s also been pointed out that the BoM has striking similarities to an unpublished novel by Solomon Spalding. If large sections of the BoM were simply being pieced together from other works, the 3,000 to 4,500 words a day is not all that difficult. In fact, it also makes sense in light of the fact that, as Dr. Peterson says, Smith sometimes could not even pronounce the words he was reading and needed to spell them out.

    It is true that, as Dr. Peterson says, “a manuscript hidden in the bottom of the hat would be difficult if not impossible to read”, but this also ignores the fact that many times while Smith was “translating”, he was out of sight of his scribe; either behind a curtain or, in some instances, upstairs or around a corner. In those cases, the lack of light would not be an issue at all since he could simply read naturally.

  4. falcon says:

    So we know that Smith used his magic seer stone to hunt for treasure prior to becoming a religious entrepreneur. I’d like to ask Peterson if Smith used his rock in the hat technique when searching for treasure. I answered my own question because of course, duh, it was “night”.
    But how do you use a magic seer stone to hunt for treasure? How does that work? We know that in order to get super secret written messages, the rock has to be in a hat. So does the written word appear in/on the rock or do the words sort of float around in the dark of the hat. I think the words “floated” in the air.
    Do these magic seer stones come with written instructions? When treasure hunting, is it like water witching with a green stick? The rock would just sort of lead the person with the rock like a magnet being pulled by a metal object or visaversa.
    But the point Peterson was making is that the rock needs darkness in order to communicate the secret coded messages. Treasure hunting must therefore be done at night. It wouldn’t work to be walking around the countryside at night with your face in a hat. It would sort of be like people walking around texting and not paying attention to where they are going. That’s it! Rock looking is like getting a text message. See, I can think Mormon.
    In a perverse way you have to admire Peterson’s creativity. Pretty dumb, but creative.

  5. falcon says:

    Grant Palmer talks about seeing the seer stones at the twenty-one minute mark of the video linked to above. It’s worth the time to access the video.

  6. falcon says:

    Hay………….is this the same Daniel Peterson that got the hook at FAIR three years ago? Maybe the guy is trying for a come back by publishing something so totally off-the-wall that it will result in him getting a big smooch from the LDS authorities. I would think this would qualify him as a super true believer.

    “After rumors circulated earlier in the week, BYU’s Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship confirmed today that Daniel C. Peterson and his associate editors would be removed from the staff of the Mormon Studies Review, previously the FARMS Review. The periodical, which publishes articles and reviews on LDS-related topics and books, was founded by Peterson 23 years ago. Along with Peterson were also dismissed his associate editors Louis C. Midgley, George L. Mitton, Gregory L. Smith and Robert White…The Review has been criticized in the past for ad hominem attacks in its publication. Reportedly the tipping point for Peterson’s dismissal was a personal 100-page article targeted against John Dehlin, the founder of Mormon Stories, which often focuses on controversial topics within Mormonism such as homosexuality and apostasy……..”

  7. Mike R says:

    Dr Petersen’s comments are of little value , he does’nt speak for Mormon leadership and his attempt to put a good face on an embarrassing episode in Mormon history ( and rescue Joseph Smith ) fails .

    Have Mormon Missionaries through the years told this ” head in a hat ” fact to those they were teaching their lessons ? Have Mormon leadership in Gen Conf and church publications made this fact well known ? It seems only recently because of mounting pressure from LDS for answers because of what non LDS were claiming about this to them , has Mormon leaders given an official clear acknowledgement of it . To many Mormons have been shocked to learn of Joseph Smith using a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon , and now apparently they still are not comfortable and satisfied
    with this issue ( with good reason) because some men like Dr Petersen are having to come up with silly ” answers” to try and reassure them everything is ok .

    It’s difficult to take Mormon leaders seriously when it comes to answering certain questions about some important issues in their history . To many times they sound like polished politicians playing word games in order to deny or downplay these issues to the public .

    Mormon leader Joseph Fielding Smith once stated this about the seer stone and the translation of the Book of Mormon :

    ” Seer stone not used in Book of Mormon translation … While the statement has been made by some writers that the prophet Joseph Smith used a seer stone part of the time in his translating of that record …. The information is all hearsay , and personally I do not believe that this stone was used for that purpose .” [ Doctrines of Salvation , (1956 ) v.3 p225 ] .

    Why would he say that ? Is he being honest ? All I can say is that this whole issue of Joesph Smith placing a seer stone in a hat to read words as part of the translating process of the Book of Mormon is bizzare . It’s been an embarrassment to Mormon leaders for a long time , and with good reason . Maybe one day they will show the world the seer stone they have kept hidden away in the First Presidency’s private vault so all can see what a “sacred ” stone looks and feels like .

    The Mormon people don’t deserve to be treated like they have been by those powerful men who run the religious empire that is the Mormon church .

    Mormonism is not the answer .

  8. Tommeltj says:

    Nice work, Sharon.

    If anyone has particular interests in this area, I found the book by Per Beskow “Strange Tales About Jesus” to be fairly enlightening. He does have a chapter toward the end on the Book of Mormon (which he dismisses as not being even a particularly clever) but the bulk of the work concerns other gospels, including some of the Aquarian and the “Gospel of Barnabas” variety, developing some criteria for spotting “pseudotranslations”, i.e. works which claim to be translated from other languages but fail to have the marks of a true translation. It’s not an especially easy book to find, though it’s available here (central CA) through interlibrary loan.

    When it comes to the BoM, the story I’ve heard (Sharon may know the source) is that while Smith was looking into the hat, the characters in Reformed Egyptian would come before his face, with an appropriate English word appearing beneath (maybe “how is the Book of Mormon like ‘Google translate’?”). The obvious problem is that unless Reformed Egyptian has syntactical structure identical to Jacobean English, this just wouldn’t work. Anyone who has tried to translate anything word-for-word, even in closely related languages, knows this results in very stilted if not outright unreadable prose. Presumably Reformed Egyptian (whatever that was) and Jacobean English aren’t likely to have even vaguely similar syntax. Smith could’ve come up with a better story if he’d saved the story of translation for after he started studying Hebrew.

    Obviously, if I bring this up with the Elders, I usually get blank stares and bearing of testimony, though I did get as high as a stake patriarch bearing his testimony to me in response to this particular issue.

  9. Mike R says:

    Dr Petersen admits that Joseph Smith did put his head in hat staring at a seer stone as part of the process of translation for the Book of Mormon . But the church manual , ” Church History in The Fullness of Times — student manual ” , in chapter 5 : ” Coming forth of the Book of Mormon ” and under the ” process of translation ” section , this manual fails to tell of Joseph putting his head in a hat with a seer stone to translate .

    Did this Manual really leave that information out ? Has’nt this generally been the official m.o. by Mormon leadership for a long time and only because of pressure has it finally been officially changed . If this is correct then that is not a good sign because it’s yet another case of the Mormon leaders being slow to be totally transparent with their followers concerning parts of Mormon history . The question then becomes , why ?

  10. falcon says:

    The fascinating thing to me is that Peterson, who obviously has some intellectual horsepower, would put forth such nonsense. It’s a testament to the degree people will go, regardless of their intelligence, to keep a dream created by a belief, alive. I’ve been watching a tv series lately called “Codes and Conspiracies”. The last episode had to do with cults in America. One of the commentators/experts reported that people who join cults are of above average intelligence and come from good homes. Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

  11. falcon says:

    Now I’m waiting to see if Peterson will connect the magic rock to twitter, texting and perhaps even DVR and Netflix. There are all kinds of possibilities with connections to modern technology.
    The bottom line is, that no matter what Smith was up to with his folk magic, it’s condemned by the Bible as divination. And pretty soon we’ll have a Mormon show-up here trying to make a connection between Smith’s involvement in the occult and something in the Bible. It’s part of their, “See it’s just like _____” strategy.
    Whenever Mormons come up with these excursions into the absurd, I simply ask them who their God is? We can have all sorts of discussions about various aspects of Mormonism in general and Smith specifically, but the one thing that’s going to determine a person’s eternal destiny is who they acknowledge as God. The Mormon god cannot save these folks because first of all he’s a false god and secondly, he doesn’t exist anyway.
    The pathway to salvation is through Jesus Christ and faith in Him alone. Dressing up in costumes and going to faux temples and performing rituals and rites lifted from Free Masonry isn’t going to get it done.
    Mormons need to get their heads out of their…………hats!

  12. cattyjane says:

    I think people of higher intelligence are more curious by nature. They also are looking for a place to fit in since usually being a nerd places a person outside the in circle. I totally understand those things since I’m an Ecologist. Sometimes when I’m talking to friends of mine I see their eyes just glass over and a blank look comes over their faces. I did come from a good home, a baptist home actually, but we didn’t talk about religion in the home. I just remember going to church. I was introduced to Mormonism by my boyfriend when I was 15 and joined at 19. I only knew the basics but I thought it answered questions that I didn’t see making sense in Baptist theology. Of course when I really started studying three years ago things really got messy and I saw the darker side of LDS where nothing lines up. If a person has a good understanding of the first 5 books of the Old Testament they will be able to see how LDS is a restoration of nothing. Its like Joseph Smith tried to copy Judaism so that he could create a special people, with special ceremonies and special titles just like Israel. It doesn’t work like that. Just because a person calls themselves a priest doesn’t make them a priest and just because a person says this is a temple doesn’t make it the temple commanded by God. In order to believe in the LDS temple and priesthood you have to completely throw out the instructions given by God in the Torah that define the lineage of the priesthood and instructions for the building of the temple. If you throw out the Torah, the first five, then you throw out the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. If you do that than you do not have the God of Israel. So what God does that leave a person with since there is only One God over this world? It just leaves them not knowing God at all. Sad.

  13. falcon says:

    I remember your posts from back then and what’s interesting is that once you really started studying there’s no way in your mind that Mormonism could harmonize with the Bible. I’m relieved that you didn’t join the cast of those Mormons who come up with fantastic explanations to rationalize their desire to believe Mormonism.
    I think what got you over the hump was your study of the Bible, not so much the study of Mormonism. One of them has to be right and one wrong. One cannot fit in the other; either way. Your right. Smith simply made-up a religion with temples and a priesthood. But his religion has no resemblance to either the Jewish religion or Christianity. It’s just a weird hybrid.
    Years ago I did a study called “A Bible Walk Through”. The foundation of the study of the call of Abraham and God’s promise to him of land, seed and a blessing. When you fast-forward to the Gospel of Luke and what Catholics call the “Annunciation” we see the Angel Gabriel reiterating those promises/covenants to Mary (see Luke 1:31-33) It’s David’s throne, Jacob’s house, and an everlasting kingdom.
    Jesus took the wine and told the disciples that it was the sign of the New Covenant in His blood. This goes back to the New Heart Covenant in Jeremiah 31:33-34.
    Anyway, having knowledge of the covenants old and new brought God’s promises into focus for me and I understood how Jesus as the Lamb of God was the perfect sacrifice for sin. Mormonism doesn’t even relate to the Biblical promises. It’s a man-made religious system with premises and promises that aren’t just faulty, they’re demonic.

  14. falcon says:

    cattyjane brought up a good point.
    Mormonism claims to be the restoration of original first century Christianity. The problem is, there’s no evidence for this. Mormonism can trace its roots back to the early 19th century and Joseph Smith.
    I recently read an article by Jeffrey Holland tracing the priesthood back to Jesus. The conclusion of course was that the LDS church has the same priesthood that Jesus had. What a sick joke.
    All post the link to the “New Era” publication. The article is on page 32. Only the truly ignorant would believe such a convoluted tale.

  15. cattyjane says:

    I think your right about my understanding coming from studying the bible. It only makes sense to take things back to the origin.
    Well that’s the kicker tho isn’t it. They claim the same priesthood as Jesus. That just shows their lack of understanding. There can only be one high priest at a time. There were many priests who did different things in the temple for the sacrifices and such but only the high priest could enter into the innermost room and he only went in once a year during Yom Kippur to sprinkle the blood of atonement on the holy of holies. The only time a high priest is replaced is upon his death. In order to serve as a priest in the temple a man must be of the tribe of Levi, and by bloodline, not some blessing. Why do you think the Rabbis are searching bloodlines right now? So that they can have priests for when the third temple is built in Jerusalem.

  16. falcon says:

    One of the things that I think gets lost in the fog of debate sometimes is that Joseph Smith was an unusually gifted liar. So much so that I’d say he’d qualify for the diagnosis as a sociopath. Problem is that people get caught up in his lies, even today. Take Peterson of the “magic rock in the hat is just like a modern screen device” explanation. Peterson runs right past the obvious, which is that Smith was an unabashed occultist. He tries to explain why the magic rock had to be placed in a hat. I’d call that a misdirection play on Peterson’s part. His explanation is so absurd that you wonder how any rational person would even propose it.
    It was Dr. Walter Martin who said, “A Mormons are able to think rationally in every area of their lives except when it comes to their religion.” That’s what we have here with Peterson. He seems to have come to accept Smith’s magic rock. Now he has to provide an explanation for how the magic rock actually works. Does Peterson have first hand knowledge of this? Does he have a magic rock?
    To me, it’s really painful to observe someone going to such lengths to keep a fantasy alive that they’d risk appearing totally foolish and dim witted.

  17. Mike R says:

    falcon, I think the fact that so many rank and file LDS in the couple of decades at least have been so surprised to to hear that Joseph Smith used a seer stone in a hat as part of the Book of Mormon process is simply that information was not given wide and consistent exposure in official church sources . You’d think in the front of every Book of Mormon they would have been putting a picture of Smith with his head in a hat reading the seer stone . There’s truly been a reluctance on the part of Mormon leaders to be clear and consistent every time they talk about the Book of Mormon’s entrance into 19th century society . It now looks like finally they have decided to cease their reluctance . Perhaps also they will allow the public to see the seer stone(s) they have stowed away in their private vault . It seems that ever since the Internet( 1990’s? ) gained steam the Mormon hierarchy have had to be offically more transparent with their flock and the general public so maybe more positive things will be coming from the men who run the Mormon corporate empire .

  18. falcon says:

    What the LDS leaders basically tell the devoted followers is to ignore the evidence and just keep believing. A guy like Peterson, with his attempt to explain why Joseph Smith had to put the rock in his hat, just ignores the obvious; what’s the guy doing with a “magic” rock in the first place?
    Also, Peterson can gain a lot of status points by coming up with this absurd tale. There’s nothing better, as I have often pointed out, to develop some convoluted and far-fetched theory to provide the rank-and-file with some comfort and assurance.
    Just think of it, LDS faith is defined by how much nonsense a person will be willing to accept.

  19. Mike R says:

    falcon ,

    BYU professors like Petersen are in a position where they must be careful not say the right things about Mormon doctrine / history or else their bosses ( Mormon hierarchy ) will be upset , and that can be very serious as they can find themselves in the unemployment line . Remember BYU Prof. Bott a few years ago with his comments about Blacks and the priesthood ban ?

    Prof Petersen can’t really admit that the head in a hat reading a seer stone is what it really is — a good clue that Joseph Smith was not translating any scripture but instead playing around with seer stones again .

  20. Mike R says:

    Oops: the word ” not ” in the first line above should be dropped and replaced with the word ” to ” .

  21. RikkiJ says:


    Responded to your post under a different thread – about the ‘HaSatan’. Hope to have your response.


    Essentially the test of translation of the Book of Mormon fails all ancient translation techniques.

    1. Lack of corroborative manuscripts.
    2. Lack of multiple manuscripts.
    3. Translated by various groups, scholars of differing persuasions (to avoid translation bias.)
    4. Lack of minor deviations from the text (this actually proves that the original text exists) – An exact translation goes towards proof that it wasn’t used over time.
    5. Not accepted by either the Jews(Hebrew Bible), Jesus(Luke 11:51) or the scholars who have seen, verified and understood Biblical manuscript copies (Scholastic communities).

    Biblical manuscripts have withstood the test of time. Hence Jesus is real, the only way to God. The Book of Mormon manuscript hasn’t withstood the test of time. Hence, it’s a fraud.

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