Translation or Divination


“Then the LORD said unto me, the prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart.”   Jeremiah 14:14


“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead.

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:19-20


Sandy colored seer stone apparently used by Joseph Smith.  Smith's widow Emma passed it on to relatives of her second husband, Lewis Bidamon. (Wilford Wood Museum)


“Magic had served it’s purpose in his life. In a sense it was a preparatory gospel.”- Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling, pg.54

“And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.”Alma 37:23




Green seer stone owned by Utah pioneer Philo Dibble. Matches description of stone given to Joseph Smith by Jack Belcher in Pennsylvania in the 1820's.  Dibble family folklore includes story of Philo receiving stone from Joseph.
(Princeton Collection of Western Americana,
Princeton University


"In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us." Emma Smith, Last Testimony of Sister Emma," 3:356,History of the RLDS Church, 8 vols., Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 1951


“When the plates were not in her red morocco trunk, they lay wrapped in a linen table cloth.” -Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, pg. 98


Stone of David Whitmer, who was a special witness to the Book of Mormon.  (LDS Photo Archives)

David Whitmer was one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. The majority of the translation work took place in the Whitmer home.

"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 on that appeared the writing. One character at a time 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."  "I, as well as all of my father's family, Smith's wife, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, were present during the translation. . . . He [Joseph Smith] did not use the plates in translation" David Whitmer, Interview given to Kansas City Journal, June 5, 1881, reprinted in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Journal of History, vol. 8, (1910), pp. 299-300.

Martin Harris, also one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, provided this information to his friend Edward Stevenson, who would later become part of the LDS First Council of Seventy.



"Martin Harris related an incident that occurred during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said that the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone, Martin explained the translation as follows: By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin and when finished he would say "Written," and if correctly written that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used." - Edward Stevenson, "One of the Three Witnesses," reprinted from Deseret News, 30 Nov. 1881 in Millennial Star, 44 (6 Feb. 1882): 86-87.


Oliver Cowdery was Joseph's principal scribe for the Book of Mormon, and another of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

"These were days never to be forgotten — to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, 'Interpreters,' the history, or record, called 'The book of Mormon." (spelling and emphasis preserved from original)  Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate, (Kirtland, Ohio, 1834), vol. 1, no. 1, p.14.

“I have sometimes had seasons of skepticism in which I did seriously wonder whether the Prophet and I were men in our sober senses when he would be translating from the plates through “the Urimn and Thummimn’ and the plates not be in sight at all.”- Oliver Cowdery, Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, pg. 222

“Neither Joseph nor Oliver explained how translation worked, but Joseph did not pretend to look at the “reformed Egyptian” words, the language on the plates, according to the book’s own description. The plates lay covered on the table while Joseph’s head was in a hat looking at the seer stones which by this time had replaced the interpreters.” - Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling, pg.72

If God gave you a tool for the job, why would you replace it with your old Ouija board?

Russell M. Nelson is the only modern Church leader I’ve found who publicly mentions the real method used to translate the Book of Mormon. And that is only in one line of his talk.

Joseph Knight, Sr., an early member of the Church and a close friend of Joseph Smith, wrote the following in a document on file in the LDS Church archives:

 "Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim into his hat and darkened his eyes then he would take a sentance and it would appear in brite roman letters then he would tell the writer and he would write it then that would go away the next sentence would come and so on. But if it was not spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite, so we see it was marvelous. Thus was the hol [whole] translated." (spelling preserved from original) Cited in Dean Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," BYU Studies, vol. 17:1 (Autumn 1976),p. 35

“Joseph looked in the seer stone and the plates lay covered on the table.”- Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling, pg.71

  “The seer stone that Joseph had found several years earlier becomes relevant to the translation process. When Joseph chose not to use the Urim and Thummim, he would simply put this seer stone into a hat. He would then prepare himself spiritually to translate and then would gaze into the hat. The stone itself would light up and he would use the instrument as directed.” Brenton G. Yorgason, Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon

“Reguarding the seer stone itself, we know that it was given to Oliver Cowdery, who died March of 1850. His widow later gave it to Phineas Young, who in turn gave it to his brother Brigham. It is of course, in the possession of the Church today and to my knowledge was last displayed in public during the dedication of the Manti Temple. At that time Wilford Woodruff placed it on the altar of the Temple as he offered the dedicatory prayer.” Brenton G.Yorgason, Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith Jr. never repudiated the stones or denied their power to find treasure. Remnants of the magical culture stayed with him to the end. -Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling, pg. 51

“The Prophet translated the part of these writings which, as I have said contained the Pearl of Great Price, and Known as the Book of Abraham. Thus you see one of the first gifts bestowed by the Lord for the benefit of His people, was that of revelation-the gift to translate, by aid of the Urim and Thummim (He means seer stone, the Urim and Thummim had been taken back by the angel at the time of the Book of Abraham.), the gift bringing to light old and ancient records.” Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol 2:111

“Brigham Young in saying that he did not profess to be a prophet seer and revelator as Joseph Smith was, was speaking of men being born Natural Prophets & seers. Many have the gift of seeing through stones without the priesthood at all. He had not this gift (of using seer stones) naturally yet He was an Apostle and the President of the Church and the Kingdom of God on Earth.”                                                   Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff Journal,5:550


Instead of translating, the seer stone told Joseph and Oliver to go be baptized. The important part is that he thought he was restoring priesthood ordinances with the seer stone. God calls divination an abomination, not “the gift and power of God”.

 “One morning they sat down to their work as usual, and the first thing that presented itself through the Urim and Thummim (seer stone) was a commandment for Joseph and Oliver to repair to the water and attend to the ordinance of baptism.” Lucy Mack Smith, History of the Church. Pg.142

“The Urim and Thummim has occasionally been used to refer to a stone or stones used to translate or impart the word of God.” (See Richard Van wagoner and Steve Walker, “Joseph Smith: ‘The Gift of Seeing,’” Dialogue 15[Summer 1982]:49-48.)-Dean C. Jesse, The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol.1, pg. 233


“We met in the upper room & I set Daniel H. Wells Apart to Preside over the


TempleBefore leaving I consecrated upon the Altar the seers Stone that Joseph found by Revelation some 30 feet under the Earth Carried by him through life.”-Wilford Woodruff,  Waiting For the World’s End, The Dairies of Wilford Woodruff, Edited by Susan Staker, Pg. 378



Joseph Fielding Smith


"We have been taught since the days of the Prophet that the Urim and Thummim were returned with the plates to the angel. We have no record of the Prophet having the Urim and Thummim after the organization of the Church. Statements of translations by the Urim and Thummim after that date are evidently errors. The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim was on the altar in the

Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, however, was the seer stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. This seer stone is now in the possession of the Church." (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, p. 225.)   Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p.818