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Joseph Smith Treasure Digging - MS Truth Claims Essay

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As has been discussed in the other thread, Mormon Stories has published a series of "Truth Claims" essays.  MS has chosen to promote one of these essays with an I-15 billboard in the SLC metro area and they are accompanying the essay with some podcasts on the topic as well.  So while this essay isn't the first in their list, it is the one that they have chosen to promote first.  So, for the sake of discussion here, I'm recommending we start with that essay as well.

*** Please use this thread to ONLY discuss the content of this particular essay, let's not have this fall into a discussion of John Dehlin or Mormon Stories in general.  There are plenty of other threads for that including the current active thread here.  Also, I would request that we stick to discussing just this essay and open new threads for others, if desired.***

Here is the link to the essay:  https://www.mormonstories.org/truth-claims/joseph-smith/treasure/  Please read it before joining the discussion.

And here is a question raised by @stemelbow to kick off the discussion:

Quote

If Joseph was not heavily involved in money digging, if, for the most part, the story of his digging is made up after the fact by his hostile and perhaps in some cases friendly or neutral neighbors, then it is a pretty convenient story to tell, after the fact, that he was a con because he was heavily involved in money digging.  Indeed, it seems all the stories that involve him are years after it happened.  Take, for instance, his neighbor,Ann Eaton.  Who was she?  How did she know what Joseph perused or that Joseph considered Kidd his hero?  The problem here is if someone wanted to tell Joseph's story as having been a con or fraud from his early days, then tying him to the commonly known stories of Kidd, and treasure digging lore is rather convenient, no?

This is the direction I'm going to head for this essay, going forward.  Are all the stories that build Joseph up as a treasure digger, hoaxer, really just after the fact convenient stories or exaggerations to debunk him after he claims to be prophetic?  

 

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I am not exactly sure what the issue is here. Is it a question of whether or not Joseph was engaged in these types of activities, a question I think has been answered in the affirmative over and over again or is it simply quibbling about how much he was involved and how it carried over into his religious practices?

Who is claiming that Joseph's involvement in magic, the occult and treasure hunting are just made up lies? 

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The interesting question to me is whether or not someone can use a rock to find hidden treasure.  If that isn't possible is the person selling their treasure seeking services merely self deluded or perpetuating a fraud? 

Phaedrus

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29 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

I am not exactly sure what the issue is here. Is it a question of whether or not Joseph was engaged in these types of activities, a question I think has been answered in the affirmative over and over again or is it simply quibbling about how much he was involved and how it carried over into his religious practices?

Who is claiming that Joseph's involvement in magic, the occult and treasure hunting are just made up lies? 

I'm playing devil's advocate with the essay to see if what is said is reliable and good information.  It's more a practice to determine if the essay is quality, and to identify problematic parts so readers can decide if these essays can be considered reliable in any sense.  

So here's the portion I quoted: 

Quote

Upstate New York and Vermont were meccas of treasure-digging. Poorer families were infatuated with stories of buried wealth, while treasure quests occasionally attracted even prominent and wealthy participants. The Smiths’ Palmyra home was approximately three miles from the Erie Canal. Public intrigue was such that a boat would “move up and down the canal, bearing the riches of science as well as the gifts of fortune” claiming to result from the digs (Wayne Sentinel, Palmyra, NY, June 23, 1824). 

Oak Island, the site of a tremendous amount of treasure speculation, lies just off the coast from New York, not far from the Smith’s Palmyra roots. A treasure lore developed around the infamous Captain William Kidd, a former pirate hunter who turned pirate in the late seventeenth century. Captain Kidd adventure novels were popular in the day, and the Smiths are documented to have enjoyed them. Palmyra resident Ann Eaton noted that Kidd was Joseph’s “hero,” whose work he “eagerly and often perused” (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 3:148).

It seems to me that all of the evidence of Joseph's money digging comes from sources that were recorded years afterwards by people who may or may not be closely involved with the Smiths.  This Ann Eaton may very well be one.  How does she know that Joseph saw Kidd as a hero?  Or that Joseph eagerly and often perused Kidd related material?  

I will say I don't think anyone questions things like, Joseph's involvement with the Stowell affair in 1825.  But I suppose what we can do is question what it meant.  And bring into question the notion that money digging was as big a part of Joseph's life as many have said.  It would be I suppose if we stick with documentation that comes after the fact.  

Well, I guess I"m moving on to more of the essay:

Quote

Many Smith neighbors, including Peter Ingersoll and Willard Chase, confirmed the family’s involvement in treasure digging (Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, 36). Joseph Smith Sr. and William Cowdery, Oliver’s father, were members of the New Israelites, a Congregationalist group that focused on the powers of rod divination. Clients testified that Joseph Jr. followed family tradition, looking into a peep stone in search of buried treasure. Upon hire, Smith would use what was believed to be a gift of “scrying,” or looking into the stone and seeing the location of supposed treasure. However, as was typically the case with such digs, the treasure would “slip away” into the earth or be whisked away by a guardian spirit. The lore surrounding the treasure was that guardians protected the prize with enchantments. Treasure seekers spun tales of spirits or angels who would thwart the dig, sometimes appearing as beings, other times as enchanted animals such as salamanders or toads. Most treasure seekers, including the Smiths, would perform ritual magic in an attempt to counter such enchantments. Joseph Smith Sr. possessed a pointed dagger inscribed with astrological and occult symbols, which his family used to etch circles around digging sites to bind the enchantment or protect the diggers. Regardless, the treasure always remained elusive. As one contemporary observed:

Their digging in several places was in compliance with peeper Smith’s revelations, who would attend with his peep-stone in his hat, and his hat drawn over his face, and would tell them how deep they would have to go; but when they would find no trace of the chest of money, he would peep again, and weep like a child, and tell them the enchantment had removed it on account of some sin or thoughtless word; finally the enchantment became so strong that he could not see, and so the business was abandoned. (J. and H. Lewis in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4:303)

In the context of treasure digging Joseph Jr often gets the sins of his father heaped on him.  If Joseph Sr, the story seems to be, did different types of treasure digging then its quite likely Joseph Jr got such interest from him.  There was a lot claimed here with little reference.  J. and H. Lewis are Emma's relatives and seemed to have things to say decades after it happened.  But, the question is how do we know that any of these stories are reliable?  What contemporary sources are there? 

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2 hours ago, phaedrus ut said:

The interesting question to me is whether or not someone can use a rock to find hidden treasure.  If that isn't possible is the person selling their treasure seeking services merely self deluded or perpetuating a fraud? 

Phaedrus

In the case of Joseph, there is no one left alive to ask that question of, so it actually is moot.

Glenn

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2 hours ago, phaedrus ut said:

The interesting question to me is whether or not someone can use a rock to find hidden treasure.  If that isn't possible is the person selling their treasure seeking services merely self deluded or perpetuating a fraud? 

Phaedrus

If dowsers are any indication, I'm guessing "self-deluded" is the most likely explanation

Although I wouldn't rule out "fraud" in some cases as well..."a fool and his money" and all that.

Edited by cinepro
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I keep getting back to the question:  if his contemporaries did not know that he claimed to have found golden plates in the hill and  believe that to be true, why would anyone be seeking his help with treasure seeking?

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5 hours ago, rockpond said:

As has been discussed in the other thread, Mormon Stories has published a series of "Truth Claims" essays.  MS has chosen to promote one of these essays with an I-15 billboard in the SLC metro area and they are accompanying the essay with some podcasts on the topic as well.  So while this essay isn't the first in their list, it is the one that they have chosen to promote first.  So, for the sake of discussion here, I'm recommending we start with that essay as well.

*** Please use this thread to ONLY discuss the content of this particular essay, let's not have this fall into a discussion of John Dehlin or Mormon Stories in general.  There are plenty of other threads for that including the current active thread here.  Also, I would request that we stick to discussing just this essay and open new threads for others, if desired.***

Here is the link to the essay:  https://www.mormonstories.org/truth-claims/joseph-smith/treasure/  Please read it before joining the discussion.

And here is a question raised by @stemelbow to kick off the discussion:

 

Isn’t there a board rule against linking to overtly anti-Mormon websites? This one certainly qualifies. 

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2 hours ago, cinepro said:

If dowsers are any indication, I'm guessing "self-deluded" is the most likely explanation

Although I wouldn't rule out "fraud" in some cases as well..."a fool and his money" and all that.

When I was a teen, a scientist from the Los Alamos laboratories taught several friends and me how to dowse for buried lawn sprinklers with bent wire coathangers.

Edited by Bernard Gui
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4 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

It isn't only (as stemebow points out) that most of the occult stories told about Joseph are long after the fact, but that in many cases, we are not even given the dates in the accompanying citation.  Vogel at least supplied them in his published source volumes.  Ed Ashment long ago complained that the memories of some of those elderly recollections might not be entirely accurate.

It isn't only that the actual 1826 Bill of Costs is confused with the missing trial transcript (as though they were one document), but all other facts are left out (taking leg bail, for example).

It isn't only that fraudulent items, such as salamanders are inserted into the discussion, and that the term "anti-Mormon" is used of Jerald Tanner (who was not the first, by the way, to recognize the scurrilous nature of the Salamander Letter). 

It isn't only that (like Mike Quinn) a narrow focus on phases of the Moon and the Autumnal Equinox take precedence in coinciding with Joseph's taking of the Plates from that Hill convenient to Manchester, but that the actual coterminus Jewish dates are carefully ignored.  See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Moroni Deliver the Plates on the Jewish New Year? (Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, front of 2013 edition of the Book of Mormon; cf. Joseph Smith—History 1:59),” KnoWhy #193, Sept 22, 2016, online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-did-moroni-deliver-the-plates-on-september-22 .

It isn't only that this essay blames Joseph for improperly calling the Nephite interpreters the Urim and Thummim (others began that mistake before Joseph, and he then followed their usage much later), something which I have been clarifying for years -- even on this board.  Why the prejudicial version instead of an accurate one?

It isn't only that the essay page claims that "Dan Vogel is (in my opinion) the preeminent living scholar on Joseph Smith.” while at the same time more reasonably declaring that "Dr. Richard Bushman, the world’s foremost scholar on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism.”  The latter is certainly called for, the former quite absurd (doesn't anyone know how to edit?). 

It isn't only that those and a host of other ridiculous claims are made, but that Joseph's occult practices have been well-known for many years.  Excellent scholarship is available already. Why not a dispassionate summary of what is known?

What we must deal with here is a continuation of the silly demand that Joseph be infallible.  He was subject to the same human frailties which we all are.  Reminds me of ardent feminists getting terrifically angry with Thomas Jefferson for sleeping with a female slave (who just happened to be his sister in law), following the death of his wife.  Today he would have married her.  In those times he could not.  We need to live in the real world.

How does Hugh Nibley’s The Myth Makers hold up nowadays?

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6 hours ago, phaedrus ut said:

The interesting question to me is whether or not someone can use a rock to find hidden treasure.  If that isn't possible is the person selling their treasure seeking services merely self deluded or perpetuating a fraud? 

Phaedrus

I'd say most likely self-deluded. It is absolutely possible for people to see visions in crystals. Scrying didn't come out of nowhere, made up by frauds, but works through psychological effects that have been scientifically studied in modern times. It's the same thing that makes you see things in mirrors in dim light if you look at it long enough. So I don't doubt that people using seer stones had visions, but I'm very skeptical that it would give any knowledge about the physical world, like where treasure was buried. I think for most people with a pre-modern worldview, however, such experiences would be taken literally.

For me, the more interesting question is whether someone could gain spiritual knowledge through a seer stone. In my opinion, it seems that if you believe that revelation can be received through dream, meditation, or other states of altered perception, then it shouldn't be far-fetched that it could be received through a seer stone. Other people in history have reported receiving spiritual communications through seer stones (for example, John Dee's communications with angels), so I think there's plenty of evidence that seer stones can "work" to induce spiritual experiences.

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4 hours ago, cinepro said:

If dowsers are any indication, I'm guessing "self-deluded" is the most likely explanation

Although I wouldn't rule out "fraud" in some cases as well..."a fool and his money" and all that.

I had a companion on my mission whose dad thought there was something to dowsing and claimed to be conducting experiments to test the effectiveness. His son was skeptical.

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41 minutes ago, The Nehor said:

I had a companion on my mission whose dad thought there was something to dowsing and claimed to be conducting experiments to test the effectiveness. His son was skeptical.

During my faith crisis, I and my husband visited Palmyra and later Nauvoo. While in Nauvoo we visited a cemetary where many of the saints were buried, but because of the mobs throwing headstones down in a gulley many graves were unknown. We arrived and walked up a trail to see a male Senior Missionary with a divining rod. We finally got the courage to ask what he was doing, and he said he was locating bodies with the divining rod. So we watched him for a little bit and then left. He acted like it was no big deal, so I didn't think it was a taboo thing to do. Now when I think about it, I wonder why just a few years ago, this was being done, and why not many years before.

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On 1/25/2019 at 8:08 PM, mapman said:

Unfortunately, this essay seems stuck in the scholarship in the 80s and doesn't bring in any of this useful context that later historians have discovered.

Even some historians in the 80s were providing useful context. I'm thinking particularly of the pioneering work of Ronald Walker (1984) and Alan Taylor (1987). Mark Ashurst-McGee's MA thesis from 2000 is also indispensible on this subject. None of them gets a single mention. I think this speaks to the professionalism of this article.
 

On 1/25/2019 at 1:21 PM, Robert F. Smith said:

It isn't only that the essay page claims that "Dan Vogel is (in my opinion) the preeminent living scholar on Joseph Smith.” while at the same time more reasonably declaring that "Dr. Richard Bushman, the world’s foremost scholar on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism.”  The latter is certainly called for, the former quite absurd (doesn't anyone know how to edit?). 

If you ever get a chance, ask Bushman himself what he thinks about Dan Vogel's work. You might be surprised at his response. I know I was when I heard him heap praise on Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism in the summer of 1999. 

[Edit: Just came across this in Bushman's On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author's Diary: "Dan has devoted himself more completely to Joseph Smith than anyone living, with his long string of scholarly books" (p. 120).] 

Edited by Nevo
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9 hours ago, stemelbow said:

I'm playing devil's advocate with the essay to see if what is said is reliable and good information.  It's more a practice to determine if the essay is quality, and to identify problematic parts so readers can decide if these essays can be considered reliable in any sense.  

So here's the portion I quoted: 

It seems to me that all of the evidence of Joseph's money digging comes from sources that were recorded years afterwards by people who may or may not be closely involved with the Smiths.  This Ann Eaton may very well be one.  How does she know that Joseph saw Kidd as a hero?  Or that Joseph eagerly and often perused Kidd related material?  

I will say I don't think anyone questions things like, Joseph's involvement with the Stowell affair in 1825.  But I suppose what we can do is question what it meant.  And bring into question the notion that money digging was as big a part of Joseph's life as many have said.  It would be I suppose if we stick with documentation that comes after the fact.  

Well, I guess I"m moving on to more of the essay:

In the context of treasure digging Joseph Jr often gets the sins of his father heaped on him.  If Joseph Sr, the story seems to be, did different types of treasure digging then its quite likely Joseph Jr got such interest from him.  There was a lot claimed here with little reference.  J. and H. Lewis are Emma's relatives and seemed to have things to say decades after it happened.  But, the question is how do we know that any of these stories are reliable?  What contemporary sources are there? 

Quoting Vogel?

BEWARE!

Note this:

Quote

Oak Island, the site of a tremendous amount of treasure speculation, lies just off the coast from New York, not far from the Smith’s Palmyra roots. A treasure lore developed around the infamous Captain William Kidd, a former pirate hunter who turned pirate in the late seventeenth century. Captain Kidd adventure novels were popular in the day, and the Smiths are documented to have enjoyed them. Palmyra resident Ann Eaton noted that Kidd was Joseph’s “hero,” whose work he “eagerly and often perused” (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 3:148).

Look it up.

Oak Island is off Long Island, near New York city.   It is over 200 miles from Palymyra as the crow flies and 314 miles as the NY State Thruway runs.  We are talking about a drive at freeway speeds of over 5 hours, and I might guess it was just a tad longer in those days.  I know the geography of NY State having driven from Buffalo - the city in which I was born- past Palmyra - to NY many times.  The route the freeway takes is the most practical due to mountainous geography.  (ok- big hills to Utahns- a couple of thousand feet ;))

It is on the same little spit of land off the coast of Long Island on which Fire Island is located.

It is hardly "not far from the Smith's Palmyra roots"

What kid does not like to read pirate stories??  But the implication that somehow close proximity to Captain Kidd historical sites had anything to do with the Smiths treasure digging- a popular pastime of the age since baseball on TV was not quite yet in vogue- is totally ridiculous.

To me this reveals the polemic nature of what is being said.  He is pulling evidence out of thin air to prove his case- and that is not a scholarly approach to history.  Why would he even say this if he was being impartial??

Edited by mfbukowski
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1 hour ago, Nevo said:

............................If you ever get a chance, ask Bushman himself what he thinks about Dan Vogel's work. You might be surprised at his response. I know I was when I heard him heap praise on Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism in the summer of 1999. 

Richard Bushman is a very kind man, who encourages and appreciates the efforts of the vast array of younger people who gather data -- which he fully utilizes.  He has also been a mentor to many during his summer seminars.  I have found Richard Howard to be much the same among the RLDS.  And I so miss Davis Bitton.  There is a real difference between real historians and those who just wannabe.

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4 hours ago, Bernard Gui said:

How does Hugh Nibley’s The Myth Makers hold up nowadays?

Not as well as No, Ma'am, That's Not History.  He hung Brodie out to dry.  The Myth Makers went too far afield for him, without enough background in some areas.  Anyhow, that is my impression.  I barely recall it from oh so long ago.

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10 hours ago, phaedrus ut said:

The interesting question to me is whether or not someone can use a rock to find hidden treasure.  If that isn't possible is the person selling their treasure seeking services merely self deluded or perpetuating a fraud? 

Phaedrus

I was raised about 90 miles from Palmyra and I remember dowsing to find wells in the 1950's.  And it worked.  I knew a dowser who made his living that way!

Folk magic is VERY deep in NY State- you have to live there to believe it!!  I heard it all the time from the "old timers" all the time- at least I did as a kid in the 1950's

Google "dowsing ny" and see what you get!!  Here is a dowser's website!!   https://getzgoodwater.com/

I had a fever as a kid and the wife of the elderly farmer who lived next door came over to talk to my mom as if on a mercy mission to tell my stupid mom about how to cut a fever.  My mom had several doctors in her family but what did they know?

She whispered, as if telling a secret, "Put a silver knife under his bed and it will cut the fever"

That was in 1960.

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54 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

 

To me this reveals the polemic nature of what is being said.  He is pulling evidence out of thin air to prove his case- and that is not a scholarly approach to history.  Why would he even say this if he was being impartial??

 

You might find this article interesting:

Joseph Smith, Captain Kidd Lore, and Treasure-Seeking in New York and New England during the Early Republic

Quote

What did Joseph Smith know about Captain William “Robert” Kidd and other pirates operating in the East Indian Ocean? How would he have obtained such information? This article examines the transmission of tales and published accounts of Captain Kidd (some of which may have been accessible to Joseph Smith) and the possibility that he appropriated place names that appear in the Book of Mormon and pre-1830 maps, atlases, and geographical texts.

 

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5 hours ago, mapman said:

For me, the more interesting question is whether someone could gain spiritual knowledge through a seer stone. In my opinion, it seems that if you believe that revelation can be received through dream, meditation, or other states of altered perception, then it shouldn't be far-fetched that it could be received through a seer stone. Other people in history have reported receiving spiritual communications through seer stones (for example, John Dee's communications with angels), so I think there's plenty of evidence that seer stones can "work" to induce spiritual experiences.

What do you make of this?

Quote

The process of questioning for Divine aid with the ÔUrim V'Tummim' was done in the following manner: When a question arose whose implications were so consequential that the entire congregation of Israel would be effected-such as, for example, the question of whether or not to go out to war - then, the King of Israel (or the commanding officer of the army) would ask his question before the High Priest. An ordinary person, or someone not representing the entire community would not ask of the urim v'tummim.

The High Priest stands facing the Ark of the Testimony, and the questioner stands behind him, facing the priest's back. The questioner does not speak out loud, neither does he merely think the question in his heart; he poses his query quietly, to himself - like someone who prayers quietly before his Creator. For example, he will ask "Shall I go out to battle, or shall I not go out?"

A Meditative Experience and a Prophetic Revelation

The High Priest is immediately enveloped by the spirit of Divine inspiration. He gazes at the breastplate, and by meditating upon the holy names of G-d, the priest was able to receive the answer through a prophetic vision-the letters on the stones of the breastplate, which would shine forth in his eyes in a special manner, spelling out the answer to the question. The priest then informs the questioner of the answer.

Flavius Josephus writes (Antiquities 3:8:9) that the stones also shone brilliantly when Israel went forth into battle. This was considered as an auspicious sign for their victory.

Another midrashic passage indicates that when the tribes of Israel found favor in G-d's eyes, each respective stone shone brilliantly. But when particular members of any one tribe were involved in a transgression, that tribe's stone would appear tarnished and dimmed. The High Priest would see this phenomena and understand its cause. He would then cast lots within the rank of this tribe, until the guilty person was revealed and judged (Midrash HaGadol).

http://www.templeinstitute.org/beged/priestly_garments-8.htm

Regarding the bolded quote above, I notice an interesting similarity when a Nephite general askied the High Priest for military advice in Ama 43....Alma possessed the Nephite interpreters.

Quote

23 But it came to pass, as soon as they had departed into the wilderness Moroni sent spies into the wilderness to watch their camp; and Moroni, also, knowing of the prophecies of Alma, sent certain men unto him, desiring him that he should inquire of the Lord whither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites.
24 And it came to pass that the word of the Lord came unto Alma, and Alma informed the messengers of Moroni, that the armies of the Lamanites were marching round about in the wilderness, that they might come over into the land of Manti,
that they might commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people. And those messengers went and delivered the message unto Moroni.

 

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19 hours ago, CA Steve said:

I am not exactly sure what the issue is here. Is it a question of whether or not Joseph was engaged in these types of activities, a question I think has been answered in the affirmative over and over again or is it simply quibbling about how much he was involved and how it carried over into his religious practices?

Who is claiming that Joseph's involvement in magic, the occult and treasure hunting are just made up lies? 

It occurs to me that we can take Elder Corbridge's approach to this issue. The primary question is:

Was Joseph Smith involved in treasure hunting, magic and the occult?

If the answer is yes, all other questions are secondary.

😉

 

 

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7 hours ago, Bernard Gui said:

What do you make of this?

http://www.templeinstitute.org/beged/priestly_garments-8.htm

Regarding the bolded quote above, I notice an interesting similarity when a Nephite general askied the High Priest for military advice in Ama 43....Alma possessed the Nephite interpreters.

 

The practice of divination or scrying was pretty universal around the world from what I've read. I don't know much about Biblical scholarship, but I think it stands to reason that they would use seer stones or other reflective surfaces like Joseph in Egypt's chalice. Mesoamerican people used obsidian mirrors for divination.

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9 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

I was raised about 90 miles from Palmyra and I remember dowsing to find wells in the 1950's.  And it worked.  I knew a dowser who made his living that way!

Folk magic is VERY deep in NY State- you have to live there to believe it!!  I heard it all the time from the "old timers" all the time- at least I did as a kid in the 1950's

Google "dowsing ny" and see what you get!!  Here is a dowser's website!!   https://getzgoodwater.com/ ........................................

When I was young, I worked on a water-well drilling rig for a while in the Wichita, Kansas, area.  I recall a farmer who contracted for our services witching the location for the well before we arrived.  Of course we had geologic maps of the aquifer, and we knew where we would hit water.  It didn't matter where we drilled.  So we drilled where he told us to, and it all went just fine.

When I was even younger, I had my little brother (5 years old) witch the location of underground water pipes in our yard in southern California.  He was spot on each time.  I used a straight shooter shovel to check each place in the lawn.  I myself was very skeptical, so didn't think that I would be able to witch freely.  That's why I used my credulous little brother.

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