Ep 203 – De-Romancing The Stone

Written by on August 11, 2015

In order to fill out the complete story of Joseph the Seer and his recently unveiled seer-stone, John, Glenn, Matt, Randy, and Jake dip into the rich historical record and read witness accounts of Joseph’s contemporaries, in a documentary minisode that “De-Romances the Stone.”

  1. Candace   On   August 11, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Oh, wait. That was the anti-Mormon literature some kid at school had mailed to me.
    I need to borrow Randy’s Mo-Side Out Fury cone hat because I AM PISSED.
    Thanks for doing this. I can’t wait for the church to start releasing these stories in their new transparency kick. Then I can be smug and say it was common knowledge because Infants on Thrones had a minisode on it. Except I won’t be at church to hear it.

  2. J.T.   On   August 11, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Prior to the release of Mormonism Unvailed in 1834, does anybody know of any reference to seer stones being used by Smith?
    Here’s a list of the sources in this podcast chronological order:
    1833 – Joseph Capron (in Mormonism Unvailed)
    1833 – Willard Chase (in Mormonism Unvailed)
    1840 – John A Clark
    1859 – Martin Harris
    1867 – Pomeroy Tucker
    1870 – Fayette Lapham
    1877 – William D Purple
    1877 – John H Gilbert
    1881 – Able Chase
    1885 – Christopher M Stafford
    1886 – David Whitmer
    After the publication of the seer stone bits in Mormonism Unvailed, it’s not surprising to find any number of people claiming first-hand knowledge. More interesting is anyone making that claim prior to 1833. Do we know of any?

    • John Hamer   On   August 11, 2015 at 6:03 pm

      I’m not sure if your implication is that friendly witnesses like Emma Smith, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer, only later remembered the stone as being part of the story because they had read “Mormonism Unvailed”? Of course, Joseph Smith’s activities weren’t particularly printworthy before the publication of the Book of Mormon, but there are several references published (or written in manuscripts) prior to 1834.
      For example, there is the 1826 court record for trial of Joseph Smith “The Glass-looker” — which means scryer or seer who looks into glass or stones (e.g., a crystal ball or a seer stone).
      In 1830, Abner Cole published a parody of the “Book of Mormon” entitled the “Book of Pukei.” In Pukei 2:7-8 an old man asks Joseph Smith, “knowest thou not that thou art greater than all the ‘money-digging rabble,’ and art chosen to interpret the book, which Mormon has written, to wit, the gold Bible?” The same parody refers to the magical implements of “Walters the magician” who Cole characterizes as Smith’s predecessor, including: “his book, his rusty sword, and his magic stone…” (1:9). Connections to the money-diggers are frequent in this parody.
      In 1831, the Palmyra Reflector published an article entitled “Gold Bible, No. 3”: which directly connects Joseph Smith Sr. in “money digging transactions”. It explains that the Smiths were part of a local “mania of money digging” and read that this consisted of the use of “mineral rods and balls, (as they were called by the imposter who made them,) were supposed to be infallible guides to these sources of wealth—‘peep stones’ or pebbles, taken promiscuously from the brook or field, were placed in a hat or other situation excluded from the light…”
      In the same year, the same paper published an article “Gold Bible, No. 5” which claimed, “It is well known that Jo Smith never pretended to have any communication with angels, until a long period after the pretended finding of his book, and that the juggling of himself or father, wehtn no further than the pretended facult of seeing wonders in a ‘peep stone,’ and the occasional interview with the spirit, supposed to have custody of hidden treasures…”
      That’s just a few examples I find off-hand. The answer is: yes, Joseph’s use of the seer-stone (peep-stone) as a treasure seer was well known and pre-dates “Mormonism Unvailed”. Other than interpretation (hostile sources call this magic a fraud, friend sources call it genuine), the story is told fairly consistently in both friendly and unfriendly sources.

      • J.T.   On   August 11, 2015 at 8:57 pm

        I think I asked 2 questions, actually.
        1. Do we know of any references to seer stones being used by Smith made prior to 1833.
        2. Do we have any first-hand accounts of Smith using the rocks made prior to 1833.
        I think the answer to the first question is YES: a trial document and second-hand accounts in the paper etc.
        As for the second, I still have not seen a first-hand account recorded prior to 1833. Not saying it doesn’t exist, just that I haven’t seen it if it does.

      • Gabriel von Himmel   On   August 11, 2015 at 8:41 pm

        More Evidence of the Restoration.
        Mormon Seer Stone or gastrolith, Urim thummim or coprolite?
        Seems addition forensic inquiry will disclose the source of this divining tool. With additional inspection the Mormon magic stone will disclose this magic stone to be fossilized feces form some ancient tribals living in the Burned Over District. My father found similar gastroliths in the same region twenty years ago. My father, Gus O. Kahan dated the human coprolite to be between 11 thousand to 14 thousand years old predating the Book of Mormon and Joseph smith. This unique specimen needs additional certification.
        With addition research this magic tool can reveal the source of mormon faith.
        Caca Divination is not new, dating back to the earning stirrings of Human Myth Making
        Gabriel von Himmel

      • J.T.   On   August 11, 2015 at 8:29 pm

        I trust Emma. I just can’t find anything from her until much, much later. I trust Emma’s dad the most. The first I find from him is 1834. I think Martin Harris was full of it, all around. I think David Whitmer had a belief in seer stones that led him to exaggerate their (and his own) importance in the story. I find the Chase story not super credible. (Sure it was YOUR magic rock that produced that book that is at the center of all this attention. Gotcha.)
        I feel no need to accept or reject all these stories as a lot. If one story is true it does not make them ALL true. And vice-versa. The potential biases or problems in some stories should be acknowledged. Most of these stories from 40+ years after the fact just have too much BS potential for my taste. After a while they start to read like fan fiction.
        The 1826 trial documents – “Glass Looker”. Check. So long as the documents are authentic. Weren’t they torn out of the trial book or something?
        Abner Cole – Check. Sounds like he wasn’t making any first-hand claims. The stories were circulating about Smith and magic rocks and he incorporated them into his parody.
        The Palmyra Reflector – Check. Again, the writers don’t seem to be claiming first-hand knowledge, but it confirms that the stories were circulating. “It is well known”.
        So I’m seeing a trial document in 1826 providing evidence of using rocks for treasure hunting. I’m seeing rumors repeated in newspapers of rocks being used for translation in 1830ish, but no first-hand acounts. In 1833/34 I start to see first-hand accounts. Some of those accounts, like Chase, I find less credible than others, like Mr. Hale.

      • John Hamer   On   August 11, 2015 at 9:07 pm

        Cole’s detailed knowledge of the money-digger background shows he must have had some informant beyond hearsay; be that as it may, these publications illustrate that the stories were circulating prior to the publication of Howe’s “Mormonism Unveiled.” In other words, there are multiple reminiscences from friendly and unfriendly sources that tell largely similar stories that are nevertheless independent of each other (i.e., not dependent on a single source like Howe).
        Yes, each of the individual witnesses has to be read for their own biases; and so we read Willard Chase as one of Joseph Smith’s former money-digging partners, disgruntled because Joseph has ended their company; and we read Martin Harris as Joseph Smith’s financier for the Book of Mormon project who had very strong faith in Joseph’s power as a seer, translator, revelator, and prophet. (Read for the biases doesn’t mean that they can simply be dismissed as “full of it” on our own whimsy, especially if their testimony is consistent with the testimony of others who have different biases; we have to instead come up with the best explanation that fits all the evidence.)
        However, taken together, the vast, vast array of sources illustrate Joseph’s early history as a treasure seer, which is why there is more or less a complete historical consensus (everyone from the LDS Church’s “Ensign” article to Quinn to Vogel to Marquardt). As I said at the outset, read Quinn’s “Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview.” If you want the complete register of documents — there’s no sense in listing off the dates from a podcast documentary (whose narratives were chosen for flow, not to prove a proven case); instead read Dan Vogel’s 5 volume series “Early Mormon Documents” which has plenty more where these came from.
        This audio documentary was not an attempt to prove a thesis; the thesis is established elsewhere in academic texts about which there is historical consensus; what we’re doing here in a popular outlet is bring some of that information to the general audience.

      • J.T.   On   August 11, 2015 at 9:34 pm

        And the general audience is presented Martin Harris’s story of Smith finding a needle in a haystack as if it is established, unquestioned, historical consensus, fact. When it was most likely a tale Martin invented out of thin air.
        That’s what makes me uncomfortable.

      • John Hamer   On   August 11, 2015 at 9:58 pm

        Martin’s story is not presented here as “fact”; it is explicitly presented as Martin’s testimony. We are quoting him, in his own words, using a funny voice — which by itself should clue the listener into the need to question a source like Martin Harris. Presenting it as fact would be me saying “Joseph Smith definitely used the stone to find a needle in a haystack for Martin Harris”, which is not what has been said.
        The historical consensus is that prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith acted as seer who used his stone to find lost objects and to search for buried treasures. Martin Harris’s pin story is entirely consonant with that established history. But knowing Joseph’s history as a seer, Martin could (just as easily as not) have made that particular story up in order to argue that he was not merely a credulous person who had been used by Smith — that he had only given all his money after he had sufficient evidence. In the telling of the story, Martin was at pains to highlight his own initial skepticism and to state that no other explanation was possible than the magical one — details which speak to his motives for telling the story.

      • J.T.   On   August 11, 2015 at 10:31 pm

        I must have missed the “explicit presentation” of this as Martin’s testimony only.
        I did hear you say “Because the record isn’t popularly known… We decided to put the story of Joseph the seer and this particular seer stone into context… Where did he get the stone, how he used it as a young treasure seer…”
        And you called it “a documentary reading of the stones historical record”
        So, I thought you were presenting Martin’s testimony as evidence of “how he used it”. But that isn’t what you believe? You think we should question a source like Martin Harris. Of course. My mistake.
        Yet, it doesn’t seem to matter if Martin’s story is credible or obviously made up. It is “consonant”, and thus included with the vast, vast array of other sources that are also “consonant”. Interesting approach.

      • John Hamer   On   August 11, 2015 at 10:54 pm

        Maybe you don’t know what the word “explicit” means? [Google defines the word as “stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt.”]
        When the reader says, “—Martin Harris, 1859” at the end of the passage he is reading, he is *explicitly* stating that the words are 1859 testimony from Martin Harris. In so doing, the reader is stating it clearly and in detail and it should leave no room for confusion or doubt: It is explicitly Martin’s testimony from 1859. [I also stated that these come from Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents series; the complete reference here is “Martin Harris Interview with Joel Tiffany, 1859” (Vol. 2, p. 300-310).]
        Upon review, all the rest of my descriptions that you quote are completely valid as you quote them and don’t require modification; I stand by them. Yes, I agree: it’s apparently your mistake.

      • J.T.   On   August 11, 2015 at 11:30 pm

        So if Martin’s story is completely fabricated, you would include it as evidence of how Smith used the stone? Because it is consonant?
        Do you stand by that?

      • John Hamer   On   August 12, 2015 at 12:08 am

        There is no evidence that Martin’s story is completely fabricated.
        Because there is no evidence that Martin’s story is completely fabricated, and because his story is consonant with what is known about Joseph — that Joseph owned this stone, that he believed it was magical (at least when used by the person to whom it was attuned, i.e., himself), that he used it to find lost objects, that he used it by putting it into his hat and looking into his hat — there is every reason to believe Martin’s story is accurate.
        This conversation leads me to believe that you aren’t familiar with the academic discipline of history. What I’ve called “consonance” here — having multiple independent accounts from different perspectives that cohere — is one of the ways historians determine the most plausible scenario of what happened in the past. The goal is to argue on behalf of the explanation that best fits the evidence (which does not result in proof in a courtroom sense).
        Your approach (as near as I can determine) is not historical. You seem instead to be looking for legal/smoking-gun style arguments — and you seem to be doing everything in your power to avoid finding them by making blanket disqualifications of the sources, presumably in order to defend your preconceived ideas about Joseph Smith. On one of the other posts in IoT you state that you believe that Joseph Smith wasn’t a polygamist. No person who understands the academic discipline of history and is familiar with the historical evidence has come to that conclusion. That conclusion requires a similarly non-academic approach to history (e.g., through blanket disqualification of sources in order to conclude a preconceived conclusion) as you’re displaying here.
        You’re free to have your religious beliefs whatever they are and I don’t have any reason to attack them; but your attacks here are not historical critiques.

      • J.T.   On   August 12, 2015 at 3:28 am

        Honestly. Don’t hide behind academic priestly authority.
        What evidence would possibly prove Joseph Smith did not do something?
        You are correct. I can’t prove Harry Reid is not a pederast. Therefore… what? He is one?
        Think of it this way. Martin Harris is one of many people who lied about their interactions with Joseph Smith to improve their own social standing. There are many, many example of this. There is no evidence they didn’t lie, and because their lies are consistent with the other things we know about the pressures in their lives, there is good reason to believe they lied.
        Is that somehow different from your logic above?
        Yes I know, EVERYONE in the world agrees with you and I’m an odd duck for not being like all the other cool kids. That’s not academics, John, it’s just peer pressure. I’m glad I don’t work with a bunch of conformists like y’all Mormon historians. Heaven forbid anyone pursues a heretical idea.
        I don’t believe Smith was a polygamist because I see no evidence for it. I used to believe it. Until I looked for evidence. I changed my mind. About 2 years ago. I would hardly call that an act of disqualifying sources to reach a preconceived conclusion.
        Sadly, my conclusions along these lines are quite contrary to my religious beliefs. So it’s a bit, what, ironic, that you would say all that.

      • John Hamer   On   August 12, 2015 at 3:50 am

        Yes, your example is completely different from my logic above in that my position is logical and yours is the opposite. Yes, it’s a fallacy to require proof of a negative. I’m not asking for proof of a negative; as we’ve seen, there is an incredible array of proof mustered for the positive thesis that young Joseph Jr. was a treasure seer; that’s not requiring proof of a negative, it’s the logical conclusion to positive evidence. Your thinking is backwards.
        If you think that historians of Mormonism from Dan Vogel to Richard Bushman are conforming to peer pressure together, you’re totally unaware of the field.
        You haven’t expressed a heretical idea here because you haven’t proposed a thesis here at all. What you’ve done is make statements that are methodologically and logically unsound. If you want to do actual history: study the discipline, then study the evidence, and then write a book that explains why Quinn’s book is not the most plausible explanation for the evidence.
        You can have the last word because I’m done.

      • J.T.   On   August 13, 2015 at 2:44 pm

        Okay, last word…
        The super-deluxe professional orthodox historical model of Smith’s polygamy has a 0% accuracy rate in predicting the outcome of DNA testing of Smith’s alleged progeny.
        The super unprofessional silly idea that Smith was not a polygamist has so far been 100% accurate in predicting the outcome of those tests.
        But your model also has the benefit of being fully endorsed by the LDS church. They have a rich history in these DNA testing situations, I understand.
        Now. How do I REALLY feel? Look, if the LDS Church told me the grass is green, I would go out on the lawn and look for myself. I’d dig some grass up and have it tested. If they told me Salt Lake is in Utah, I would get a map to double check, then drive out there to touch the water. I will assume anything and everything they tell me is a lie until I see proof that it’s not. If they tell me Smith was a polygamist and he used seer stones, I say prove it you damn bunch of liars. Prove to me the stupid rock you put on display was ever owned by Smith. Until you do I will assume Brigham Young lied about it. Give me evidence Smith was a polygamist. Every DNA test so far disagrees. Liars. I do not give them one inch of the benefit of the doubt. It’s my own personal little F YOU to all of them.
        It pisses me off that so many people go to such lengths to support the LDS church’s version of all this, patting themselves on the back the whole time for how much they are really sticking it to that darn church. Wake up, morons. The church is perfectly happy for you to agree with their stupid claims. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, Smith was messing with the ladies, hee hee hee. They LOVE when you do that. The church hates it when you raise concerns about BRIGHAM YOUNG’S authority. They don’t give a damn about JOSEPH SMITH being a hideous monster or whatever. Move the damn focus to Brigham Young already. Don’t focus on SMITH’S alleged use of the stone. Focus on why Brigham Young would lie about having it. Let’s get on with this. I’d really like to see all those meeting houses converted to bowling alleys before I die.

      • Randy_Snyder   On   August 12, 2015 at 6:59 am

        This was my favorite of your posts, invoking the Galileo Gambit, or at least hinting to it. But at least you can feel self-satisfaction that you are a rebel and not a conformist to those ivory tower trained historians who, really, just don’t get history.

      • J.T.   On   August 13, 2015 at 2:48 pm

        My conspiracy theory is that a great deal of the historical conclusions are bought and paid for by the LDS church, honestly.

      • Dave   On   August 13, 2015 at 11:07 pm

        So people like Dan Vogel and Michael Quinn are receiving secret checks from the church for their work? That’s a new one…

      • J.T.   On   August 14, 2015 at 12:50 am

        Mormon historians are parasites living off a host. Kill the host and what happens to the parasites?

      • Dave   On   August 14, 2015 at 3:04 am

        Hey, that’s using the “Traitorous Critic” fallacy. Good one! Ergo decedo to you, too!

      • J.T.   On   August 14, 2015 at 2:42 pm

        Yes, obviously. And yet. What happens to Sunstone or MHA if the church dies? Are they building their own separate pipeline of future customers? Michael Quinn is going to sell a lot of books if there’s nobody left becoming disaffected with Mormonism anymore?
        For example. Sunstone’s Lindsey Hansen Park recently did her Year of Polygamy podcast. She said in a comment: “I don’t think it is very difficult, at all, to understand why Emma was completely invested in denying any trace of her husband’s polygamy. Am I saying Emma lied? Yes. And I believe she lied to herself most of all.”
        The position of Lindsey and Sunstone seem to exactly overlay the conclusions the LDS Church wants us to have. That troubles me.
        Why do I never hear Mormon historians asking these two questions?
        1. Did ANY of the polygamous Utah women who provided affidavits stating they were married to Joseph lie because of their investment in polygamy?
        2. Did EVERY woman who claimed to be married to Joseph tell the truth?
        Surely the questions themselves are worthy of exploration. But answering either of those questions the wrong way puts you at odds with the LDS Church. Probably best not to ask them. Kill that article in the editorial meeting.
        I believe there is a bias at the institutional level towards giving the LDS Church what it wants in order to extend its life and thus the life of the dependent institutions.

      • Randy_Snyder   On   August 16, 2015 at 8:40 am

        Yes, Hamer is in the pocket of the Brighamite branch of Mormonism. Or, or you are an amateur Snufferite “historian” that has made your conclusions and don’t have a fucking clue how the experts in this field deal with evidence. Even when one outlines it to you, you persist in your willful defiance of reality to maintain your Snufferite narrative. You are fooling no one here. Best of luck elsewhere in gaining converts J.T.

      • JX   On   August 12, 2015 at 3:19 pm

        “I don’t believe Smith was a polygamist because I see no evidence for it”. Hopefully the Mormon Genome project helps you with this :).

      • J.T.   On   August 13, 2015 at 2:47 pm

        Looking forward to a definitive result. My model predicts negative. So far my model has been 100% accurate. Yours? You agree that a positive result would be very welcome news to the LDS church in Utah, right?

  3. Malachi   On   August 11, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    You all deserve major props for those voices. I felt transported back in time. Randy really impressed and I feel the voices he has found could be the start of something beautiful.
    Am I correct in assuming this is the first John Hamer produced minisode?

  4. Malachi   On   August 11, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    Also, I have to say that content production lately has been off the chain. If the pace of new podcasts suddenly slows down, we’ll start going through withdrawals.

  5. Dave   On   August 11, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    Now listen fellas, ahh say, listen heyaw… Since when did folk from Palmyra talk like Foghorn Leghorn? Folk from Upstate New York don’t talk like thay’s from Kentucky hillbilly hollers. They all have a nauthern accent, mo like miz Sarah Palin and other Canadian folks up thayah.
    Fan who lives in upstate New York doing a hillbilly accent

    • Glenn   On   August 11, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      Hey… don’t forget the Mayor Quimby impression for John Clark! But honestly, that’s what they really sounded like when we listened to them through our own personal peepstones.

  6. Not a Saint   On   August 11, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Ummm, who’s the one who sounds like Mr. Garrison from South Park? “In the month of June of 1827, Joseph Smith, Sr., related to me . . . .” “Joseph observed that if it had not been for the stone . . . .” And somebody’s got, I say somebody’s got a great Foghorn Leghorn goin’.

    • Randy_Snyder   On   August 13, 2015 at 6:13 am

      Mr Garrison is Jake. The Kennedy was Glenn but he was imitating Mayor Quimby who is an imitation of a Kennedy, and foghorn leghorn I think is Matt. I and John apparently dodged obvious imitations in your assessment.

  7. Not a Saint   On   August 11, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    I loved this. If I weren’t a married man, I feel quite sure I’d be feeling some strong Same Sex Attraction for all of you guys.

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