In September 2015, photographs of one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones were published in the Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations: Volume 3.To go along with this, an article was published in the October 2015 Ensign  that gave a brief overview of seers, seer stones, and the translation of the Book of Mormon, and also included one of the photographs. This was significant because prior to that, it had been unseen, locked away in the First Presidency’s vault. As it turns out, there were many that were unaware that a seer stone had been used in the translation of the Book of Mormon, and for some this caused some surprise and confusion.
This book goes much further than the Ensign article to “provide a friendly introduction to seer stones,” as well as to “provid[e] an introduction to the historical sources in an accessible style for Latter-day Saints and others.”  In doing so, they include sources both friendly and unfriendly to the church (but unfortunately do not always differentiate between them for readers that may not be familiar with some of them). This is an important book in that it is the first fully devoted to the topic.
The introduction talks about “Mormon Paradigm Shifts.” This is for those that were taken by surprise to find out about seer stones, in spite of a multitude of references in church literature throughout the years. “With so many Latter-day Saint scholars acknowledging and studying Joseph Smith’s use of seer stones, it is clear that the Church has not been hiding this information. And yet, as with many historically specific topics, without direct references provided in Church teaching materials and curriculum, the average Latter-day Saint would not necessarily encounter the seer stones in the course of their devotional study. …That is why the latest appearance of the topic in the October 2015 Ensign (and Liahona) was so important: it underscores how, even while keeping a sacred relic private, the Church continues to be open about the miraculous process of the translation of the Book of Mormon.” 
The first chapter explains that while a divide has been created between magic and religion, to Joseph Smith and those around him, there was no divide. The word “occult” is used several times, which I found jarring, as it is usually critics that use that term in a pejorative way, and the authors do not explain what they mean by it.
In chapter two, money digging is addressed. There were many people in the area that used seer stones and divining rods to find buried treasure, and Joseph likely became interested through their influence. “Modern historians studying the use of seer stones in the Book of Mormon translation process often look at Joseph’s money-digging days for answers or clues to understand the translation process better. The decision to make this comparison, though, is structured around a division: the idea that money digging was a nonreligious endeavor, while the translation of the Book of Mormon was decidedly religious in nature. However, these labels are imposed by the modern perspective, and they ignore that both treasure seeking and translating were likely perceived by Joseph’s early converts as supernatural events.” 
Chapter three addresses the question of where Joseph Smith found his seer stones, of which he had at least three. Research done by D. Michael Quinn is compared with that of Mark Ashurst-McGee, and found to be conflicting in some details. Various historic accounts from both believers and critics are compared. It is determined that the brown stone may have been found on the shore of Lake Erie, after looking through someone else’s stone and being shown where to find it, while the white stone was probably found either while digging a well or looking for treasure. “…It is clearly acknowledged that the stones were found in the New York landscape and under the influences of money-digging culture, yet that context does not seem to conflict with the idea that God guided Joseph Smith to find the seer stone. Decades later, Mormons had disconnected other ideas and emphasized the idea that it was a revelatory process, similar to Joseph Smith’s future prophetic role.” 
In the fourth chapter, the use of seer stones in the translation of the Book of Mormon is discussed. Several different theories of translation are compared, including those of Royal Skousen, B. H. Roberts, Dan Vogel, Richard Bushman, Blake Ostler, Brant Gardner, and Grant Hardy. “Some of these translation theories and scholarly approaches require readers to disregard Joseph Smith’s miraculous claims about the Book of Mormon, while others try to find a common ground between faith and skepticism.”  Joseph Smith does not seem to have left a record describing what he saw on the seer stones, although it is possible that something may yet be uncovered. According to witnesses, the Nephite interpreters that came with the gold plates were eventually replaced by a single seer stone (there are conflicting reports over whether it was the brown or white one), either of which were also referred to as the Urim and Thummim. Joseph put the stone in a hat to block out light and according to several different accounts, words appeared on it and stayed until they had been transcribed. This was a new use for seer stones – when searching for treasure people saw visions rather than words. “The process of translation provides convincing evidence that Joseph was explicitly doing something fundamentally different while translating than he had done as a money digger.” 
The next chapter attempts to trace ownership of the white and brown stones after the church was established. “It examines the evidence we have about each of the seer stones and their custodial history, while admitting that there is not enough evidence to assure ourselves that we know exactly what happened to them at every point over nearly two hundred years.”  The brown stone appears to have been given away to Oliver Cowdery after the Book of Mormon was translated. According to Emma, it was the stone used for the translation. It was then given to Phineas Young, who gave it to his brother, Brigham. Zina Diantha Huntington Young then got it after Brigham died, and then passed it on to her daughter who apparently gave it to John Taylor. At some point Wilford Woodruff had it but then Joseph F. Smith retained it in the Smith family and Joseph Fielding Smith eventually put in the First Presidency’s collection. The white stone seems to have been carried by Joseph Smith throughout his life, and may have been valued above the brown stone, which he had given away. The authors believe it may have actually been the stone that was used in the Book of Mormon translation. It is supposed that the white stone travelled with the brown stone after Joseph’s death, and was the seer stone that Wilford Woodruff consecrated on the altar of the Manti Temple.
Chapter six talks about seer stones in the Book of Mormon. “Like Joseph Smith, prophets in the Book of Mormon use sacred objects and ancient relics to translate old records and uncover new revelation from God. In particular, two characters, the brother of Jared and Mosiah II, demonstrate a propensity for receiving revelation linked to unknown languages, often with the assistance of sacred objects.”  When the brother of Jared wrote down his vision and sealed it up, he included two stones to be used for future interpretation. There is discussion about whether the seer stones that Mosiah II (it is assumed we understand that the designation means Mosiah the grandson of Mosiah, as it is not explained until later in the chapter) possessed are the same or a different set, and an argument is given for there being only one, which was passed down from generation to generation. The possibility is then raised that these same stones were given to Joseph as the Nephite interpreters, or if there had been two sets, they could have been those of Mosiah II. There is also some discussion over the name Gazelem that appears in Alma 37:23, and several theories are given as to who or what it referred to.
Chapter seven talks about questions raised by the Book of Mormon, which it also answers. The topic of the presence of King James Bible language and content is discussed, and it is concluded that “Nephi’s varied forms of borrowing demonstrate his belief that close association with biblical characters and text actually provides evidence for the truthfulness of his record.” And that “many nineteenth-century readers, particularly those involved in the Restorationist movement, would have expected any word from God to sound like the words from God they already had.”  One of the more interesting things in this chapter is the idea that the Liahona was a seer stone. “Similar to the Liahona, Joseph Knight and David Whitmer claimed that words would appear on Joseph’s seer stone and then disappear after he had dictated the words to a scribe. Furthermore, just as the Liahona functioned by faith and righteousness, so did the seer stones Joseph used to translate the Book of Mormon.” 
In chapter eight, the authors mention the currently common theory that Joseph started translating with the Nephite interpreters, then switched to his own seer stone, then finally was able to receive revelation without any aids. It is proposed that he never actually stopped using a seer stone, as he apparently carried the white one with him throughout his life, and there are accounts of him using it on many occasions, including possibly for the translation of the Book of Abraham. “In addition to translating at least a portion of every scriptural text of the Restoration with a seer stone, it is significant that at least some of Joseph’s contemporaries believed that revelation through a seer stone was the surest way of receiving revelation from God.”  Indeed, Joseph taught in D&C 130 that “the place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim” and that we may each receive a white stone “whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known.” 
There are also interesting appendixes which cover information such as which of Joseph’s neighbors owned a seer stone, Joseph’s other stones (including the supposed green one), Hiram Page’s seer stone, when exactly Joseph got his seer stones, mentions of the Urim and Thummim in the Old Testament, and the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17. There is then an annotated biography for seer stone sources, which includes 52 pages of statements from different people regarding the stones.
The book has many illustrations, photos, charts, and diagrams, including illustrations of what the translation process may have actually looked like when using seer stones, with Joseph looking into a hat. The diagrams and charts seem to be meant to clarify sequences of events or compare statements, but some of them are actually a little confusing. And in some places the book seems a bit disorganized, repetitive, or confusing. There are also a distracting number of typos. These things may be because of multiple authors, or a short production time, but it could have used more editing.
Overall, the book is a very interesting read for anyone wanting to know more about seer stones. In some ways, it leaves more questions open than it answers, but it is a good starting point for further research. And perhaps there is yet more information waiting to be uncovered.
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