This story comes up every now and again: in Bainbridge, New York on March 20, 1826, Mormon Founder Joseph Smith, Jr. was declared “a disorderly person and an impostor” in a Court of Law in what is recorded as the case of “Joseph Smith, the Glass Looker”. This week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints revealed photographs of the stone connected to the question that earned Smith a misdemeanor in a Court of Law that amounts to fraud.
There is a lot of confusion as people mull around what “stone” this is given that most Mormons believe that the stones used for translating The Book of Mormon were the Urim and Thummim provided by the Angel Moroni with the buried Gold Plates.
Also, there are other stones that Smith was purported to use for finding lost treasures, which traditionally is called “scrying” but at the time was referred to as “Glass Looking” by skeptics.
So, to clear up the confusion, there are five stones purported to have been had by Joseph Smith: three stones used for remote viewing and/or translations, and then the “Urim and Thummim” or “interpreters” buried with the Gold Plates. According to the Mormons, these last two stones were returned to the Angel Moroni. The rest of the story of Smith’s three seer stones has mostly been folklore until now that the Church has confirmed that Smith’s other principal translating stone is, indeed, in their possession. It is likely that the other stones, pictured below, are also in the Church’s hands by now unless they remain with Smith’s descendants and the Community of Christ Church (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
“That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at.”
The Bainbridge arrest warrant that survives describes Smith’s remote-viewing by use of a peepstone like so:
“That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times, and had informed him where he could find these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them. That at Palmyra he pretended to tell by looking at this stone where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds; that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account of its injuring his health, especially his eyes, making them sore.”
Which stone is spoken of here is not entirely certain. But the warrant continues with the account of two witnesses, Arad Stowel and Cyrus McMaster:
“Arad Stowel sworn: says that he went to see whether prisoner could convince him that he possessed the skill he professed to have, upon which prisoner laid a book upon a white cloth, and proposed looking through another stone which was white and transparent, hold the stone to the candle, turn his head to book, and read. The deception appeared so palpable that witness went off disgusted.
“McMaster sworn: says he went with Arad Stowel, and likewise came away disgusted. Prisoner pretended to him that he could discover objects at a distance by holding this white stone to the sun or candle; that prisoner rather declined looking into a hat at his dark coloured stone, as he said that it hurt his eyes.”
That at least two stones are spoken of here is apparent and one of them, the one that Smith claims would shine so brightly that it hurt his eyes if he peeped at it in the darkness of his hat, was a “dark-coloured” stone like the one that the Church has published photos of. That it could be used, also, for translations like the other stone is insinuated and the curiosity of the story that he placed this dark-coloured stone into a hat should be immediately interesting to anyone who knows of the revised account of the translation of The Book of Mormon.
The Urim and Thummim, on the contrary, were much more consistent with accounts that flattered Smith’s claim that an Angel named Moroni had instructed him to recover the Gold Plates that should be used to translate The Book of Mormon. According to Smith, these stones were set to a breastplate in silver wiring like a pair of “spectacles” that he could use for translating The Book of Mormon while wearing the breastplate.
The reason why this was useful for Smith to apply his early occult practices to his new claims as a Christian prophet was the connection to the “Urim and Thummim” that the Bible said were set into the breastplate of the Levite priests that worked in the Temple:
Some accounts say that he could remove the Urim and Thummim from the breastplate for portability.
Mormons believe that Smith was temporarily ordered to return the Interpreters after losing The Book of Lehi, the first 116 pages of manuscript of The Book of Mormon. Here is a refresher.
“A chocolate-colored, somewhat egg-shaped stone which the Prophet found while digging a well.”
Before losing the interpreters for a season, Smith is said to have translated with his chief financier, Martin Harris acting as scribe and with a curtain separating Harris from Smith and the Plates and the “Interpreters” and so the commencement of the translation was reported to have been done with these stones. After the return to translating work began, Smith is said to have kept the plates wrapped in a linen on the table (very curious given the account from Bainbridge that translation sometimes happened by placing a book on a special cloth and then peeping into the “white” stone). Mormon historian B.H. Roberts says that from thereon Smith might have used a different stone from the interpreters for at least part of the translation:
“The Seer Stone referred to here was a chocolate-colored, somewhat egg-shaped stone which the Prophet found while digging a well in company with his brother Hyrum,… It possessed the qualities of Urim and Thummim, since by means of it — as described above — as well by means of the Interpreters found with the Nephite record, Joseph was able to translate the characters engraven on the plates.” (Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 1, page 129)
David Whitmer, one of the Witnesses of The Book of Mormon and a close associate of Smith’s says that this means of translation was common when Oliver Cowdery took over as scribe:
“I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (Whitmer, David. An Address To All Believers In Christ, p. 12)
Similar accounts are given by Martin Harris and Emma Smith, who also acted as scribes for Smith.
Again, this stone matches the description of the stone released by the Church. This was apparently given to Oliver Cowdery at around the time that the Doctrine and Covenants begins to speak of Cowdery receiving “the gift of translating”. Before acting as Smith’s main scribe in The Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery had also worked as a scryer and dowser and he claimed similar abilities to Smith’s throughout his life both in and out of the Church. The Church claims that this stone was a gift from Cowdery to Brigham Young when Cowdery was re-baptized in the Church after being estranged from Smith in the events surrounding the 1838 Mormon War. It is possible that Cowdery invented this stone but there is no reason to presume that such is the case as it is very likely that Smith did give it to him and that it would have been treasured by him and a very persuasive gift for Young as a bribe to return Cowdery to a place of honor in the Church, considering that he had besmirched Smith after their falling out over Smith’s affair with a teenage girl named Fanny Alger and Cowdery’s refusal to fully participate in the Law of Consecration, Smith’s experiment in Christian Communism.
“I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth.” (Joseph Smith – History 1:28)
Since the earliest reports of documents in New York that accounted for Smith’s trial at Bainbridge, the Mormon Church’s officials have bucked against the claims that he was found “guilty” of the midemeanor of “being a disorderly person and an impostor” but over time, they have come to accept that even if it is true, it is unfair, given that no modern law against any such practice would stand in a Court of Law, today. When i was a Mormon, we were frequently told in Church that while Smith had “legal troubles” and “financial problems” he never was convicted of a crime. This did not account for the fact that he also frequently never saw trial because he was allowed to escape.
Indeed, what Joseph Smith did was not only common to the practices of the time and place where he lived, they are common in ours, where people sell remote-viewing powers, scrying and dowsing all the time! There was no jury to judge Smith according to his Fourth Amendment rights and there was no prosecutor. In fact, the whole matter resembles more of a civil suit than anything else except that fines were paid to instead of damages. This was the practice of law in the early days of America, when she was still trying to find her feet on how to practice a constitutional form of law enforcement that worked.
That Smith was perhaps persecuted and wrongfully tried is a point to be debated. That it was unethical is not only obvious but practically confessed to by Smith, himself. In his account of the night that the Angel Moroni appeared to him, Smith recalls calling upon God to forgive him of his sins as a young man between his First Vision and the receiving of the Gold Plates.
“Having been forbidden to join any of the religious sects of the day, and being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me—I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament.
“In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.”
Smith continues to give his own account of the events that surround the money-digging fiasco in Bainbridge:
“In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stoal, who lived in Chenango county, State of New York. He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards in Harmony, Susquehanna county, State of Pennsylvania; and had, previous to my hiring to him, been digging, in order, if possible, to discover the mine. After I went to live with him, he took me, with the rest of his hands, to dig for the silver mine, at which I continued to work for nearly a month, without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money-digger.
“During the time that I was thus employed, I was put to board with a Mr. Isaac Hale, of that place; it was there I first saw my wife (his daughter), Emma Hale. On the 18th of January, 1827, we were married, while I was yet employed in the service of Mr. Stoal.
“Owing to my continuing to assert that I had seen a vision, persecution still followed me, and my wife’s father’s family were very much opposed to our being married. I was, therefore, under the necessity of taking her elsewhere; so we went and were married at the house of Squire Tarbill, in South Bainbridge, Chenango county, New York.” (Joseph Smith – History 1:56-58)
And now the Church affirms that the chocolate-coloured stone does exist and tacitly verifies the claims of the Bainbridge trial: that Joseph Smith was a disorderly person and an impostor.
However controversial in a court of law, a forger’s shoes certainly do fit on Joseph Smith and as far as this writer is concerned, this “disorderly person and an impostor” should wear them.