Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Joseph's Seer Stone

The seer stone Joseph Smith used to translate most of the Book of Mormon has lain in a vault at Church headquarters for more than 100 years. Joseph gave it to Oliver Cowdery whose wife gave it to Phineas Young who gave it to his brother, Brigham. President Young announced publicly that he possessed one of Joseph's seer stones. It was a symbol of his legitimacy as the Prophet's successor. Following Brigham Young's death in 1877, the stone was included in the part of his estate controlled by his wife, Zina D.H. Young, who served as the third General President of the Relief Society from 1888 until her death in 1901. Sister Young donated the sacred relic to the Church. Wilford Woodruff in 1888 placed this stone on the altar of the Manti Temple as he pronounced its dedicatory prayer. The Church History Department has just published first-ever photos of the stone in the 11th volume of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Vol. 3 Part 1 of the Joseph Smith Papers Project
Edited by Royal Skousen and Robin Scott Jensen
The stone:

One of Joseph Smith's Seer Stones
Eye witnesses to the Book of Mormon translation process described the stone as chocolate-colored and oval-shaped.
Joseph's Egg-shaped Seer Stone Viewed From the Side
This high grade foliated metamorphic rock is gneiss (pronounced 'nice'). Gneiss is characterized by pronounced striations called gneissic banding. Several varieties of gneiss are found in upstate New York where the prophet Joseph lived and worked. The regular shape and lustre of this remarkable specimen probably resulted from natural polishing in a streambed or underneath an advancing glacier. Joseph found this stone while digging a well.

Royal Skousen's methodical research on the original manuscript has shown that Joseph Smith saw approximately 20 - 30 words appear in English on the stone and dictated approximately 10 words at a time to his scribe. After the scribe (primarily Oliver Cowdery) wrote and read back each snippet of text, the display would refresh and different words would appear. Joseph spelled out the first occurrence of unusual proper names letter by letter. Joseph put his seer stone in a hat to exclude ambient light, making the words easier to read. For Jack Welch's insightful comments about Joseph's stone in his hat, see the blog article "English in the Book of Mormon."

Almaprophesied about this stone in his instructions to his son, Helaman1, ca. 73 BC Alma 37:23.