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Joseph Smith Treasure Digging - MS Truth Claims Essay

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17 hours ago, Dan Vogel said:

The analogy is false, unless you want to concede that JS's work as a treasure seer was delusional. JS used the same stone he pretended to find treasure with to translate the Book of Mormon. 

Also I would add your theory seems quite reasonable, all the more, when you consider the witnesses who suggest that plates weren't used in the translation.  The whole acquiring the plates story amounts to nothing of import at all.  If his dictation of the BoM is to believed, he could have done that without the plates.  Considering they were taken away on a wispy angelic ride into space, well what the heck?  What do metal plates etched with a lost language mean to the angelic hosts?  

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22 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

These folk magic beliefs were part of his world view.  The Smiths and their associates were extremely superstitious when compared to how people operate today.  They not only viewed these beliefs as compatible with their religious beliefs, but the two things were intertwined in a way that you can't separate them.  

I honestly don't think things have changed much. While the secularization of both Europe and more recently the US has received a lot of attention, what hasn't received as much attention is superstitious beliefs. Of course one could be religious and not superstitious and indeed fairly secular as liberal Protestantism demonstrated. However the move towards the Nones and even atheism is more a backlash to organized religion than it is to superstitious beliefs. When you look at polls on prominent superstitious belief even Nones and atheists hold to a lot. Likewise in secular Europe superstitions are common. Astrology is still quite popular and arguably pseudosciences are more popular than ever. Even though the number of people saying astrology isn't scientific has been increasing (50% in 1979 to 65% in 2014 according to a NSF study) that doesn't mean they don't follow it. Even superstitions that seem completely unbelievable such as black cats, 13th floors or so forth are believed by a surprising number of people. Gallup found 13% of people wouldn't stay on the 13th flood. Move from silly superstitions like that to more quasi-religious ones and belief increases. A recent Pew poll found that so-called "New Age" beliefs were common among both the religious and non-religious for example. Belief of "spiritual energy in physical things" included 13% of atheists and 40% of agnostics and a full 61% of those who were generic None. Astrology was 32% of Nones, including 18% of atheists, and a full 47% of those None unaffiliated with any label. 40% of Nones believe in psychics and 41% of all Americans. That includes 7% of atheists and 28% of agnostics and a full 51% of unaffiliated Nones.

Traditions we'd call folk magic are just not disappearing. Some, like dowsing, if they are disappearing are disappearing only because most people live in the city where dowsing for well water isn't really a thing. However go to the country and even to well drillers and dowsing is still popular. 10 of 12 water companies in secular UK dowse

About all that varies are what superstitions people are familiar with. Have a superstition that people aren't familiar with and it appears weird and unbelievable. But that's primarily due to familiarity I'd say and not anything about how secular people are significantly less superstitious. (The exception is atheists who are noticeably less superstitious - but more generic Nones are more so)

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5 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

I honestly don't think things have changed much. While the secularization of both Europe and more recently the US has received a lot of attention, what hasn't received as much attention is superstitious beliefs. Of course one could be religious and not superstitious and indeed fairly secular as liberal Protestantism demonstrated. However the move towards the Nones and even atheism is more a backlash to organized religion than it is to superstitious beliefs. When you look at polls on prominent superstitious belief even Nones and atheists hold to a lot. Likewise in secular Europe superstitions are common. Astrology is still quite popular and arguably pseudosciences are more popular than ever. Even though the number of people saying astrology isn't scientific has been increasing (50% in 1979 to 65% in 2014 according to a NSF study) that doesn't mean they don't follow it. Even superstitions that seem completely unbelievable such as black cats, 13th floors or so forth are believed by a surprising number of people. Gallup found 13% of people wouldn't stay on the 13th flood. Move from silly superstitions like that to more quasi-religious ones and belief increases. A recent Pew poll found that so-called "New Age" beliefs were common among both the religious and non-religious for example. Belief of "spiritual energy in physical things" included 13% of atheists and 40% of agnostics and a full 61% of those who were generic None. Astrology was 32% of Nones, including 18% of atheists, and a full 47% of those None unaffiliated with any label. 40% of Nones believe in psychics and 41% of all Americans. That includes 7% of atheists and 28% of agnostics and a full 51% of unaffiliated Nones.

Traditions we'd call folk magic are just not disappearing. Some, like dowsing, if they are disappearing are disappearing only because most people live in the city where dowsing for well water isn't really a thing. However go to the country and even to well drillers and dowsing is still popular. 10 of 12 water companies in secular UK dowse

About all that varies are what superstitions people are familiar with. Have a superstition that people aren't familiar with and it appears weird and unbelievable. But that's primarily due to familiarity I'd say and not anything about how secular people are significantly less superstitious. (The exception is atheists who are noticeably less superstitious - but more generic Nones are more so)

Yikes, some of those stats are alarming.  I have been aware of some trends towards psuedoscience in recent years, which is concerning for skeptics like myself for sure.  Unfortunately we don't have a clear way to compare these kind of stats to early 19th century beliefs, and I'd love to think that those stats would show a very significant change over that time period.  

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18 hours ago, Bernard Gui said:

The world view when I was a kid in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1955 is far more different....even superstitious.....than today.

When I worked there in the 90's you mention Navajo skin-walkers and a lot of people believed in them.

23 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

These folk magic beliefs were part of his world view.  The Smiths and their associates were extremely superstitious when compared to how people operate today.  They not only viewed these beliefs as compatible with their religious beliefs, but the two things were intertwined in a way that you can't separate them.  

 People today want to dismiss these evidences because they have a bias against folk magic beliefs.  There is too much corroborating evidence from friendly sources to dismiss all of this as antagonistic reconstructions.  I think that the essay is largely accurate from what I've read, even if worded in a somewhat non-neutral way.  

I think there's some truth to that although again I'd say it just gets into the familiar versus unfamiliar. Most members now are suburban or urban with little connection to rural culture. Go to rural Idaho, Albert, or Utah and beliefs we'd still call folk magic are much more acceptable. It's precisely because people aren't as familiar with these things in our tradition that they seem odd. Although I'd argue that since the early 90's that's changed somewhat. I don't think folk traditions of rural 19th century America are perhaps a bit better known.

Honestly folk magic is one of the least controversial issues in our history. I'm constantly surprised people fixate on it.

21 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

Yikes, some of those stats are alarming.  I have been aware of some trends towards psuedoscience in recent years, which is concerning for skeptics like myself for sure.  Unfortunately we don't have a clear way to compare these kind of stats to early 19th century beliefs, and I'd love to think that those stats would show a very significant change over that time period.  

True, I'd assume they were more common then. Although it gets complicated since some religious traditions were very anti-superstition due to their not be included among their dogmas. Also the rise of what I'd call liberal Christianity that demythologized the "magic" aspects of religion was also going on at that time. Recall Charles ****ens well known quip on Mormonism "Joseph Smith, the ignorant rustic, sees visions, lays claim to inspiration and pretends to communion with angels and with the Divinity Himself" and "It exhibits fanaticism in its newest garb - homely, wild, vulgar fanaticism - singing hymns to n***** tunes and seeing visions in the age of railways." The perception by many in the early 19th century was that these folk beliefs were remnants of old beliefs best left as relics in our past. Secular Christianity already was dominating.

My point is that this never really changed. You're right we don't know the numbers, but it was significant then and its significant now.

The details of what is believed change. But many noted that the mad scientist motif and even fear of nuclear power really was old fears of wizards, magic and tampering with God's power transformed into a new form. That was so dominant that by the end of the 70's (partially on the back of Hollywood portrayals) nuclear power was dead. (Something that would have come in handy with the rise of global warming) Fears of nuclear war really are just millennialist and apocalyptic beliefs transformed into a new context. Read the purported John Taylor vision of the last days (sometimes attributed to Wilford Woodruff) and it's really not that different from a modern apocalyptic movie whether Mad Max or a zombie film.

Edited by clarkgoble
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3 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

Go to rural Idaho, Albert, or Utah and beliefs we'd still call folk magic are much more acceptable.

You don't need to drive that far. Just attend any group meeting where snake oil doterra is being sold.

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4 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

I think there's some truth to that although again I'd say it just gets into the familiar versus unfamiliar. Most members now are suburban or urban with little connection to rural culture. Go to rural Idaho, Albert, or Utah and beliefs we'd still call folk magic are much more acceptable. It's precisely because people aren't as familiar with these things in our tradition that they seem odd. Although I'd argue that since the early 90's that's changed somewhat. I don't think folk traditions of rural 19th century America are perhaps a bit better known.

Honestly folk magic is one of the least controversial issues in our history. I'm constantly surprised people fixate on it.

I think folk magic was a hot button topic for me because I was raised in a somewhat smaller community surrounded by people that held some of these beliefs.  When I read about similar but even more extreme versions of these same kind of beliefs from the early church leaders, and how their entire world view including their ideas about God, was shaped by these beliefs, then it mattered to me a great deal as I was questioning what it was that they were experiencing.  

For example, I can understand how Joseph might have felt like his visionary and spiritual experiences represented something literally real to him.  In the same way that when my extended family member tells me that her recently deceased spouse visits her in spirit, and she sees and hears him as he has conversations with her.   I don't believe any of that actually happened in a literal sense.  These are religious experiences that can feel very real to the participants, but they aren't any more factually accurate than someone else's alien abduction experience is factually accurate.  

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7 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

You don't need to drive that far. Just attend any group meeting where snake oil doterra is being sold.

Oil is interesting since there obviously are scientifically established antibiotic features to many of the oils. But the nature of the business model is getting people to sell the oils on their own and they typically don't stick to the science but make lots of dubious claims. Further, oils are themselves tied to traditional healing techniques. As I said a lot of them work particularly as antibiotics. Sometimes better than over the counter cleaning or medicines. But the very nature of things leads people to make more and more outrageous claims for the function of the oils. You then get the backlash that sees all use of oils as pseudoscience at best and more commonly silly folk magic. It's not helped that they are embraced by the alternative medicine crowd which arguably is in many of its forms a modern form of folk magic. (While chiropractors are popular and now normalized, people forget that the theory behind chiropractory is actually a folk magic tradition or at best a pseudoscience. The theory was "vertebral subluxation complex" which was the idea that most diseases were caused by a misaligned spinal column. Mainstream contemporary chiropractors now make clear they don't support this theory - but it's still believed and taught by many chiropractors including often chakra points and beliefs about energy that arise out of Chinese folk magic beliefs and European folk magic views of energy.

So oil and chiropractors are examples of practices that at best cross over with folk magic yet are deemed completely acceptable.

I mentioned anti-nuclear hysteria which I think has its roots in magic thinking typically. Since nuclear power is mostly dead (sadly so given global warming) you see similar types of thinking with regards to anti-GMO fears. The line between pseudoscience and magic is pretty blurry at best. A lot of environmentalist thinking is very much wrapped up in it as well - including types of animism or panpsychism such as gaia beliefs about the earth.

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19 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

For example, I can understand how Joseph might have felt like his visionary and spiritual experiences represented something literally real to him.  In the same way that when my extended family member tells me that her recently deceased spouse visits her in spirit, and she sees and hears him as he has conversations with her.   I don't believe any of that actually happened in a literal sense.  These are religious experiences that can feel very real to the participants, but they aren't any more factually accurate than someone else's alien abduction experience is factually accurate.  

To me it's interesting how Joseph moves beyond his folk magic beliefs. I tend to see them as trappings enabling him to see the work of God. So as time goes on he stops using his seer stone, even though the symbolism of the seer stone remains prominent such as in D&C  130 (1843) and of course in the endowment in a stylized fashion. 

I'd add that people who make a big deal about Joseph's use of magic trappings typically apply a double standard to the pretty blatant use of magic traditions in the Bible including by Jesus. While Morton Smith's Jesus the Magician overstate things a bit, the fact is that many of the things he did can be seen in terms of the popular magic traditions of the era as much as anything Joseph did. Move beyond the New Testament into the Old and most of Joseph's practices are very much at home. So you have numerous versus involving scrying including by Joseph's Old Testament namesake (Gen 44:5) Of course some of Morton Smith's more interesting claims, and claims most paralleling Joseph's later works, are tied to the controversial "secret gospel of Mark" which most consider a forgery or at best a 2cd century gnostic work.

While I completely understand why secular skeptics would dismiss all of this. As a religious believer I'm far less inclined to see the spirit world as fictitious. I rather suspect many of the accounts, even if not the majority, of encounters with spirits actually happened. I've certainly heard enough stories and my own experiences to make me believe. Where such stories are most interesting isn't the nature of the encounter, which as you note might be a dream-like state, but rather the information transmitted. So for example on my mission black converts doing their genealogy work often found it extremely difficult. Older relatives didn't want to talk about it due to the horrors of slavery and even the sharecropper and Jim Crow eras. Yet I had many tell me of pretty amazing encounters where genealogical information was given to them through what some would call supernatural means. Again, I get why people would dismiss such tales. Yet they did find the difficult to find records when listening to such encounters. Including old grave markers long overgrown in forests or original slave records among tens of thousands of decaying papers in old storage facilities. I have a hard time dismissing that.

Edited by clarkgoble
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5 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

To me it's interesting how Joseph moves beyond his folk magic beliefs. I tend to see them as trappings enabling him to see the work of God. So as time goes on he stops using his seer stone, even though the symbolism of the seer stone remains prominent such as in D&C  130 (1843) and of course in the endowment in a stylized fashion. 

I'd add that people who make a big deal about Joseph's use of magic trappings typically apply a double standard to the pretty blatant use of magic traditions in the Bible including by Jesus. While Morton Smith's Jesus the Magician overstate things a bit, the fact is that many of the things he did can be seen in terms of the popular magic traditions of the era as much as anything Joseph did. Move beyond the New Testament into the Old and most of Joseph's practices are very much at home. So you have numerous versus involving scrying including by Joseph's Old Testament namesake (Gen 44:5) Of course some of Morton Smith's more interesting claims, and claims most paralleling Joseph's later works, are tied to the controversial "secret gospel of Mark" which most consider a forgery or at best a 2cd century gnostic work.

I have wondered what all the reasons Joseph stopped using his seer stone as often might be (he never completely stopped though).  I suspect that the negative criticism he received from society had an impact on this, also for the crafting of the narrative in more traditionally Christian terms, away from the terms of folk magic in earlier versions of the narrative.  I'm not sure Joseph actually showed that much evolution away from this kind of thinking.  

I agree that these things in Joseph's day don't look that out of touch with some of the thinking during the life of Jesus, ideas about healing and demons and other beliefs more popular in that culture.  While early Mormon folk magic may present some uniquely problematic issues for Mormonism, I think many of the world religious traditions encounter similar problems while attempting to find relevance in a modern world.  

 

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2 hours ago, stemelbow said:

The whole acquiring the plates story amounts to nothing of import at all. 

When I look at all that happened to Joseph Smith between when he first learned of the plates and when he started translating what we have now as The Book of Mormon, I think the whole acquiring the plates story is of vast importance to Joseph's growth as a prophet.  For those around him, the plates were important in establishing their faith and interest in the work.  And the story of the plates is important in the world today.  Among other things, would we have the Three and Eight Witnesses and what would they have witnessed?

It could be the translating part was the least important aspect of Joseph Smith getting the plates.

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38 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I have wondered what all the reasons Joseph stopped using his seer stone as often might be (he never completely stopped though).  I suspect that the negative criticism he received from society had an impact on this, also for the crafting of the narrative in more traditionally Christian terms, away from the terms of folk magic in earlier versions of the narrative.  I'm not sure Joseph actually showed that much evolution away from this kind of thinking.  

I'd love to see a new paper grapple with the issue of Joseph's late seer stone use. It gets mentioned in passing by various papers but I'm not sure of a full on engagement with all the sources. Certainly there are late claims that Joseph used the seer stone well into the Missouri period and possibly into Nauvoo. Whether those claims are accurate seems a bit more controversial as is how he viewed seer stones. Certainly by 1835 there's a change to refer to seer stones as Urim and Thummim including his brown and white seer stones. Claims about using them though seem open to debate at best. The best paper on the seer stone I've see is in From Darkness Unto LightHowever I know not everyone agrees with the arguments there of use. (As I recall we had a big discussion here about a year or so ago when I first started posting here)

Oliver Cowdery appeared to have had one of Joseph's stones even after he left the Church - the brown one that was in the news a few years ago. That may have been a remnant from his translation work. He returned it to the Church during the process of returning as I recall. Joseph showed Woodruff his white stone in 1841. That same stone was apparently shown to the Twelve and recorded by Brigham Young in Nauvoo. Joseph considered it his stone and said everyone was entitled to it. (Perhaps tying this to D&C 130)

There's some debate about the significance of the stones. The fact he gave the brown one to Cowdury but kept the white one suggests significance. There are accounts suggesting both were used in the Book of Mormon, but it's also possible they are conflating items including the Nephite interpreters. Those who emphasize the brown stone tend to be those who didn't follow Brigham (who had the white stone not the brown one). Emma's the most prominent description of Joseph purportedly using the brown stone although Whitmer did as well.

I know some suggested that parts of the JST (likely the first half of Genesis work) and potentially further revelations were received via the white stone. (We know that various revelations up to D&C 17 came in part by the seer stone) So far as I know there's no convincing evidence he used it with the JST or Book of Abraham though. Claims of use well after the Book of Mormon translation, such as Edward Stevenson's are very late remembrances.

It's also not quite clear what, in Nauvoo, Joseph's thoughts on the matter were. We have brief comments by Woodruff and Young. But of course the latter started suppressing seer stone use seeing it as a conflict with priesthood authority. (Although the main paper on that in Women and Authority is quite dated and I know many historians such as Jonathan Stapley have troubles with it)

38 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I agree that these things in Joseph's day don't look that out of touch with some of the thinking during the life of Jesus, ideas about healing and demons and other beliefs more popular in that culture.  While early Mormon folk magic may present some uniquely problematic issues for Mormonism, I think many of the world religious traditions encounter similar problems while attempting to find relevance in a modern world.  

Secularism in religion is of course a problem. You see even in the Church people who don't want to accept such things as real. Although I'd argue that the Church pretty well presumes that real healings, revelations and other such things are part of the Church today. It's often funny to me to hear one group of people bemoaning that such things are purportedly no longer in the church and other groups bemoaning that people still think they are.

To me it's pretty hard to see the Church as the Church without taking such things seriously.

Edited by clarkgoble
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On 1/25/2019 at 7:18 PM, Bernard Gui said:

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

Not well - ditto with Tinkling Cymbals. They're Nibley's worst works (IMO). Much of it is avoidance without engaging the central questions directly. I think both are interesting only in terms of demonstrating Nibley's familiarity with Roman sophistry rhetoric and playfully using it.

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58 minutes ago, oremites said:

When I look at all that happened to Joseph Smith between when he first learned of the plates and when he started translating what we have now as The Book of Mormon, I think the whole acquiring the plates story is of vast importance to Joseph's growth as a prophet.  For those around him, the plates were important in establishing their faith and interest in the work.  And the story of the plates is important in the world today.  Among other things, would we have the Three and Eight Witnesses and what would they have witnessed?

It could be the translating part was the least important aspect of Joseph Smith getting the plates.

Yeah well, whatever suits you.  And I mean that.  NOt trying to be rude.  

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21 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

I'd love to see a new paper grapple with the issue of Joseph's late seer stone use. It gets mentioned in passing by various papers but I'm not sure of a full on engagement with all the sources. Certainly there are late claims that Joseph used the seer stone well into the Missouri period and possibly into Nauvoo. Whether those claims are accurate seems a bit more controversial as is how he viewed seer stones. Certainly by 1835 there's a change to refer to seer stones as Urim and Thummim including his brown and white seer stones. Claims about using them though seem open to debate at best. The best paper on the seer stone I've see is in From Darkness Unto LightHowever I know not everyone agrees with the arguments there of use. (As I recall we had a big discussion here about a year or so ago when I first started posting here)

Oliver Cowdery appeared to have had one of Joseph's stones even after he left the Church - the brown one that was in the news a few years ago. That may have been a remnant from his translation work. He returned it to the Church during the process of returning as I recall. Joseph showed Woodruff his white stone in 1841. That same stone was apparently shown to the Twelve and recorded by Brigham Young in Nauvoo. Joseph considered it his stone and said everyone was entitled to it. (Perhaps tying this to D&C 130)

There's some debate about the significance of the stones. The fact he gave the brown one to Cowdury but kept the white one suggests significance. There are accounts suggesting both were used in the Book of Mormon, but it's also possible they are conflating items including the Nephite interpreters. Those who emphasize the brown stone tend to be those who didn't follow Brigham (who had the white stone not the brown one). Emma's the most prominent description of Joseph purportedly using the brown stone although Whitmer did as well.

I know some suggested that parts of the JST (likely the first half of Genesis work) and potentially further revelations were received via the white stone. (We know that various revelations up to D&C 17 came in part by the seer stone) So far as I know there's no convincing evidence he used it with the JST or Book of Abraham though. Claims of use well after the Book of Mormon translation, such as Edward Stevenson's are very late remembrances.

It's also not quite clear what, in Nauvoo, Joseph's thoughts on the matter were. We have brief comments by Woodruff and Young. But of course the latter started suppressing seer stone use seeing it as a conflict with priesthood authority. (Although the main paper on that in Women and Authority is quite dated and I know many historians such as Jonathan Stapley have troubles with it)

In the Mackay & Frederick book on Joseph Smith's Seer Stones, there are a couple interesting quotes.  

Quote

[page 125] Some Mormon historians have argued that Joseph Smith used his seer stones as a crutch before he was able to receive revelation directly from God by inspiration without a device to help him. By implication, even though God apparently sanctioned seer stones, they were described as cultural tools, essentially prophetic “training wheels.” This didactic model addresses Joseph Smith’s money-digging experiences by admitting that he used seer stones in a cultural way to find buried treasure, then used the same cultural process to learn how to receive revelation from God.1 Those perpetuating this idea described the use of seer stones as God communicating with mankind in their terms. Joseph is portrayed as a young, gifted prophet who cannot originally focus his mind well enough to receive revelation from God without his seer stones.

…[page 130] In Nauvoo, Emma Smith struggled with the commandment to practice polygamy. Aware of the issue and deeply concerned about her well-being, Hyrum and Joseph Smith walked down the banks of the Mississippi River in the summer of 1843, contemplating how they would help her accept the Lord’s commandment. Hyrum suggessted, “If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of the truth.” Joseph had apparently received the revelation before Hyrum had asked for it and stated, “Well, I write write the revelation and we will see.” Excited about this situation, William Clayton sat ready to record the words that fell from the prophet’s mouth, but before he could do so, Hyrum “urgently requested Joseph to write the revelation with the Urim and Thummim.”15 Joseph Smith’s own brother believed that the seer stones assured them that the revelation came directly from God and not partially from Joseph. His request also demonstrated that they had not devalued the use of seer stones after the Book of Mormon was translated in 1829. John Whitmer and Hyrum Smith both viewed the seer stone as having a crucial function to the revelatory process, a validation of Joseph’s prophetic pronouncements, and their sentiments seriously challenge the didactic model.

Just some interesting things to possibly consider.  

27 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:
1 hour ago, hope_for_things said:

I agree that these things in Joseph's day don't look that out of touch with some of the thinking during the life of Jesus, ideas about healing and demons and other beliefs more popular in that culture.  While early Mormon folk magic may present some uniquely problematic issues for Mormonism, I think many of the world religious traditions encounter similar problems while attempting to find relevance in a modern world.  

Secularism in religion is of course a problem. You see even in the Church people who don't want to accept such things as real. Although I'd argue that the Church pretty well presumes that real healings, revelations and other such things are part of the Church today. It's often funny to me to hear one group of people bemoaning that such things are purportedly no longer in the church and other groups bemoaning that people still think they are.

To me it's pretty hard to see the Church as the Church without taking such things seriously.

For someone like me who doesn't believe in supernatural healing or revelation, you would think this might present a problem.  But I'm increasingly finding a lot of value in what I call a metaphorical approach to religious symbolism and I'm finding this approach increasingly not at odds with the community I'm engaging in.  

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…[page 130] In Nauvoo, Emma Smith struggled with the commandment to practice polygamy. Aware of the issue and deeply concerned about her well-being, Hyrum and Joseph Smith walked down the banks of the Mississippi River in the summer of 1843, contemplating how they would help her accept the Lord’s commandment. Hyrum suggessted, “If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of the truth.” Joseph had apparently received the revelation before Hyrum had asked for it and stated, “Well, I write write the revelation and we will see.” Excited about this situation, William Clayton sat ready to record the words that fell from the prophet’s mouth, but before he could do so, Hyrum “urgently requested Joseph to write the revelation with the Urim and Thummim.”15 Joseph Smith’s own brother believed that the seer stones assured them that the revelation came directly from God and not partially from Joseph. His request also demonstrated that they had not devalued the use of seer stones after the Book of Mormon was translated in 1829. John Whitmer and Hyrum Smith both viewed the seer stone as having a crucial function to the revelatory process, a validation of Joseph’s prophetic pronouncements, and their sentiments seriously challenge the didactic model.

3 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

In the Mackay & Frederick book on Joseph Smith's Seer Stones, there are a couple interesting quotes.  

Just some interesting things to possibly consider.  

I've seen that before. I don't think it works since at best it establishes a view among some of Joseph's followers that saw a more mechanistic/technological revelation process as more trustworthy and less biased. In particular relative to D&C 132 that's a completely understandable concern but also doesn't really say much about their view of Joseph's later revelations that appear unrelated to the seer stone - such as arguably most of the D&C revelations.

So I think there's still a lot to the didactic model. The anti-didactic model at minimum has to explain why there's not clear unambiguous use of the seer stone after say 1831. To say it remains important and remains trusted is not to argue it has "a crucial function to the revelatory process." If anything it appears that its use has transformed into a more masonic context by way of Rev 2:13. (It's the 4th degree of Royal Arch masonry where a connection to Rev 2:17 gets made) That is it becomes a key to enter God's presence. It's interesting contrasting Joseph's use with what was in Clarke's commentary. Clarke's commentary sees it either as a token from winning a Roman game - a tesserae - or else a stone indicating judgment (either white for innocent or black for guilty). Although interestingly I did find some non-Mormon commentary from around 1870s that connect the stone to the Urim & Thummin and a more vague one from the 18th century (and this). Unfortunately Google Books isn't exactly the best corpus for 19th century literature. While it's not in Clarke, it does appear Joseph's use was known.

While his connection to such matters is to late to influence Joseph, many have noted the parallels in some ways between Frederick Hockley and Joseph Smith including both the influence of masonry as well as scrying with stones.  A lot of the later discussions of masonry that many have unfortunately read into Joseph Smith actually arise with him. (Many of the post-1850 masonic interpretations make use of the innovations Hockley makes and thus are anachronistic to getting an idea of how Joseph may have seen various Biblical or masonic ideas) That said reading Hockley's treatise on scrying is interesting both because of how he ties it to the Urim & Thummim but also the other views surrounding it.

Edited by clarkgoble
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On 1/28/2019 at 4:48 PM, mapman said:

When I was reading about the Mesoamerican mirrors, it reminded me of the Whitmer family seer stones that were Indian artifacts. I have seen them described as "gorgets" or "shale pendants," but I wasn't able to find any information whether they were thought to serve any purpose other than decoration. From what I understand, the Mesoamerican mirrors were also worn sometimes. I was wondering if you happen to know whether the Iroquois or Algonquin could have used polished stones in the same way.

Let us remember the strong Mennonite, Brethren, and German Baptist heritage of the Whitmers. It is highly likely that they engaged in brauche folk-medicine, also commonly called pow-wow medicine when I was a boy in rural Pennsylvania. Here in rural Mexico, we call such folks curanderos. Pow-wow medicine made use of objects, rituals, charms, Bible verses, etc. and probably produced the famous hex signs on Mennonite and Amish barns across Pennsylvania. Joseph lived and translated in their home in New York. It is highly likely they had any number of books, inclusive of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and classic works, such as those about Albertus Magnus, cited by a number of authors who wrote about the magical folk view of early Mormonism. I need to read more of the biographies of the Whitmers. They had a fascinating religious history, both before and after the Mormon experiences. My dad, a pastor and Bible teacher had a small pamphlet in his office that was really old. It always fascinated me as a kid in the 50's. It was in German and had diagrams, chants, and assorted inscriptions that fascinated this pre-teen boy. I forget the name of it. He talked about it as containing chants and instructions that old old Mennonite healers used. I may even still have it in a box somewhere. Maybe the Whitmers had a copy! 

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10 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

I honestly don't think things have changed much. While the secularization of both Europe and more recently the US has received a lot of attention, what hasn't received as much attention is superstitious beliefs. Of course one could be religious and not superstitious and indeed fairly secular as liberal Protestantism demonstrated. However the move towards the Nones and even atheism is more a backlash to organized religion than it is to superstitious beliefs. When you look at polls on prominent superstitious belief even Nones and atheists hold to a lot. Likewise in secular Europe superstitions are common. Astrology is still quite popular and arguably pseudosciences are more popular than ever. Even though the number of people saying astrology isn't scientific has been increasing (50% in 1979 to 65% in 2014 according to a NSF study) that doesn't mean they don't follow it. Even superstitions that seem completely unbelievable such as black cats, 13th floors or so forth are believed by a surprising number of people. Gallup found 13% of people wouldn't stay on the 13th flood. Move from silly superstitions like that to more quasi-religious ones and belief increases. A recent Pew poll found that so-called "New Age" beliefs were common among both the religious and non-religious for example. Belief of "spiritual energy in physical things" included 13% of atheists and 40% of agnostics and a full 61% of those who were generic None. Astrology was 32% of Nones, including 18% of atheists, and a full 47% of those None unaffiliated with any label. 40% of Nones believe in psychics and 41% of all Americans. That includes 7% of atheists and 28% of agnostics and a full 51% of unaffiliated Nones.

Traditions we'd call folk magic are just not disappearing. Some, like dowsing, if they are disappearing are disappearing only because most people live in the city where dowsing for well water isn't really a thing. However go to the country and even to well drillers and dowsing is still popular. 10 of 12 water companies in secular UK dowse

About all that varies are what superstitions people are familiar with. Have a superstition that people aren't familiar with and it appears weird and unbelievable. But that's primarily due to familiarity I'd say and not anything about how secular people are significantly less superstitious. (The exception is atheists who are noticeably less superstitious - but more generic Nones are more so)

I can certainly testify that superstitions and folk magic beliefs are alive and well here in rural Mexico! Lechusas, owls and brujas are almost one-in-the-same. La Llorona is ever-present at night down on the banks of the river that runs behind our property. And before you ask, no I have never heard or seen her. Now, lechusas are something else . . .

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On 1/28/2019 at 2:20 PM, Dan Vogel said:

The analogy is false, unless you want to concede that JS's work as a treasure seer was delusional. JS used the same stone he pretended to find treasure with to translate the Book of Mormon. 

No ad hominem there, no siree!

You really should follow at least your own rules.  Consistency is a nice trait and it actually makes you look professional!   Just a tip...

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To me the money digging issue further solidifies Joseph was very confident in his own abilities. This confidence led to the creation of all the later documents.

Whther this confidence is misplaced, is in the eye of the beholder. To me this was practice for when the real/"real" stuff needed to happen.

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17 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

I've seen that before. I don't think it works since at best it establishes a view among some of Joseph's followers that saw a more mechanistic/technological revelation process as more trustworthy and less biased. In particular relative to D&C 132 that's a completely understandable concern but also doesn't really say much about their view of Joseph's later revelations that appear unrelated to the seer stone - such as arguably most of the D&C revelations.

Is there even a way to count the number of D&C sections that we know Joseph used a stone for, and which ones he didn't?  Its not the like scribes recording these events had a box at the top of the page that they checked when Joseph used a stone.   I'm not sure your assertion that most of the D&C revelations are unrelated to the use of a seer stone.  Does the historical evidence actually support this?  

17 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

So I think there's still a lot to the didactic model. The anti-didactic model at minimum has to explain why there's not clear unambiguous use of the seer stone after say 1831. To say it remains important and remains trusted is not to argue it has "a crucial function to the revelatory process." If anything it appears that its use has transformed into a more masonic context by way of Rev 2:13. (It's the 4th degree of Royal Arch masonry where a connection to Rev 2:17 gets made) That is it becomes a key to enter God's presence. It's interesting contrasting Joseph's use with what was in Clarke's commentary. Clarke's commentary sees it either as a token from winning a Roman game - a tesserae - or else a stone indicating judgment (either white for innocent or black for guilty). Although interestingly I did find some non-Mormon commentary from around 1870s that connect the stone to the Urim & Thummin and a more vague one from the 18th century (and this). Unfortunately Google Books isn't exactly the best corpus for 19th century literature. While it's not in Clarke, it does appear Joseph's use was known.

Whether Joseph actually needed a stone to help him get into a revelatory mindset, or whether it was more of a prop used to built trust with his associates is unclear and I'm not sure that we can actually construct a theory on that without being able to read the mind of Joseph.  

Did Joseph increasingly connect religious symbols with masonry over time?  I think Joseph was looking at a whole lot of esoteric ideas over the years, attempting to find parallels with concepts and as some say, borrowing from or being inspired by a multitude of different sources.  Thanks for the comments about the Clarke's commentary, its interesting to consider what might have been in that text now that we know it was utilized so much during the Bible project.  

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22 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

I honestly don't think things have changed much. While the secularization of both Europe and more recently the US has received a lot of attention, what hasn't received as much attention is superstitious beliefs. Of course one could be religious and not superstitious and indeed fairly secular as liberal Protestantism demonstrated. However the move towards the Nones and even atheism is more a backlash to organized religion than it is to superstitious beliefs. When you look at polls on prominent superstitious belief even Nones and atheists hold to a lot. Likewise in secular Europe superstitions are common. Astrology is still quite popular and arguably pseudosciences are more popular than ever. Even though the number of people saying astrology isn't scientific has been increasing (50% in 1979 to 65% in 2014 according to a NSF study) that doesn't mean they don't follow it. Even superstitions that seem completely unbelievable such as black cats, 13th floors or so forth are believed by a surprising number of people. Gallup found 13% of people wouldn't stay on the 13th flood. Move from silly superstitions like that to more quasi-religious ones and belief increases. A recent Pew poll found that so-called "New Age" beliefs were common among both the religious and non-religious for example. Belief of "spiritual energy in physical things" included 13% of atheists and 40% of agnostics and a full 61% of those who were generic None. Astrology was 32% of Nones, including 18% of atheists, and a full 47% of those None unaffiliated with any label. 40% of Nones believe in psychics and 41% of all Americans. That includes 7% of atheists and 28% of agnostics and a full 51% of unaffiliated Nones.

Traditions we'd call folk magic are just not disappearing. Some, like dowsing, if they are disappearing are disappearing only because most people live in the city where dowsing for well water isn't really a thing. However go to the country and even to well drillers and dowsing is still popular. 10 of 12 water companies in secular UK dowse

About all that varies are what superstitions people are familiar with. Have a superstition that people aren't familiar with and it appears weird and unbelievable. But that's primarily due to familiarity I'd say and not anything about how secular people are significantly less superstitious. (The exception is atheists who are noticeably less superstitious - but more generic Nones are more so)

I feel like the word superstition is confusing because it doesn't have a well-defined meaning. From my point of view, things like black cats or 13th floors should be in a separate category from "folk magic." The treasure seekers were involved in practices that included rituals, visionary experiences, and interactions with spiritual beings (and if certain accounts are to be believed, sacred texts and animal sacrifice). There is an implied theology of the spirit world that is derived from pre-Christian European religions. That is just plain old religious beliefs. People like to call it superstition or magic to try to differentiate it from "real" religion or because they think it is weird.

Some atheists have used "superstition" to mean religion and spirituality in general. Some people have used it to mean paganism or Catholicism or whatever religion you don't like. Probably the most common usage refers to old wives' tales. When the word can mean whatever you happen to think is irrational, it has become a meaningless word.

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10 hours ago, Jean-Luc Picard said:

To me the money digging issue further solidifies Joseph was very confident in his own abilities. This confidence led to the creation of all the later documents.

Whther this confidence is misplaced, is in the eye of the beholder. To me this was practice for when the real/"real" stuff needed to happen.

A question that Dan Vogel raised that I heard in his recent MS interview that caused me to think a little more about this, is the idea that Joseph may have been intentionally placing objects around and then using his stone to find those objects, essentially to build up the trust that people would have in his abilities.  If this is correct, and we know many people that practice in deception use these kinds of techniques as part of their act, then this shows that Joseph at some level would have known that what he saw in his stone wasn't real. 

But there is other evidence that he believed in his own abilities.  I like the example of him going to Salem to find treasure.  I think there is definitely evidence to show that he believed in his own abilities to some degree, but I read other evidence to suggest that he also knew that he was being deceptive as well.  I think its a complicated picture for sure, and humans can be very complicated.  

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12 hours ago, Navidad said:

Let us remember the strong Mennonite, Brethren, and German Baptist heritage of the Whitmers. It is highly likely that they engaged in brauche folk-medicine, also commonly called pow-wow medicine when I was a boy in rural Pennsylvania. Here in rural Mexico, we call such folks curanderos. Pow-wow medicine made use of objects, rituals, charms, Bible verses, etc. and probably produced the famous hex signs on Mennonite and Amish barns across Pennsylvania. Joseph lived and translated in their home in New York. It is highly likely they had any number of books, inclusive of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and classic works, such as those about Albertus Magnus, cited by a number of authors who wrote about the magical folk view of early Mormonism. I need to read more of the biographies of the Whitmers. They had a fascinating religious history, both before and after the Mormon experiences. My dad, a pastor and Bible teacher had a small pamphlet in his office that was really old. It always fascinated me as a kid in the 50's. It was in German and had diagrams, chants, and assorted inscriptions that fascinated this pre-teen boy. I forget the name of it. He talked about it as containing chants and instructions that old old Mennonite healers used. I may even still have it in a box somewhere. Maybe the Whitmers had a copy! 

I grew up in suburban California, so I've pretty much only been exposed to these traditions through books. It sounds like you've had some pretty interesting experiences!

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3 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

Is there even a way to count the number of D&C sections that we know Joseph used a stone for, and which ones he didn't?  Its not the like scribes recording these events had a box at the top of the page that they checked when Joseph used a stone.   I'm not sure your assertion that most of the D&C revelations are unrelated to the use of a seer stone.  Does the historical evidence actually support this?  

I was more thinking of the ones we know for sure used a seer stone / U&T. My point was more or less that after D&C 10 we have no clear indication that the seer stone was used for anything which is significant in and of itself. 

But you're right that he may well have been using it. Just that we have no direct evidence for it except late accounts that are untrustworthy in various ways. It's a big deal since I think it'd affect how believers look at say the Book of Abraham process.

5 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

Whether Joseph actually needed a stone to help him get into a revelatory mindset, or whether it was more of a prop used to built trust with his associates is unclear and I'm not sure that we can actually construct a theory on that without being able to read the mind of Joseph.  

I don't think we need mind reading, although it is frustrating that Joseph never really discussed methods. So understanding is difficult. That was partially why I found that account of scrying by Hockley interesting. It's not necessarily how Joseph did it (and it's worth noting that Hockley didn't do his own scrying but brought in young women to do it). However it does provide a cultural context for the practice which may give circumstantial arguments for how Joseph may have used it and the hat.

As I said I think there's still a lot of historical work to do here. In particular I think a paper looking at the approaches to scrying and comparing them to accounts of Joseph's use would be very helpful. I'm surprised more hasn't been done here.

8 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

Did Joseph increasingly connect religious symbols with masonry over time?  I think Joseph was looking at a whole lot of esoteric ideas over the years, attempting to find parallels with concepts and as some say, borrowing from or being inspired by a multitude of different sources.  Thanks for the comments about the Clarke's commentary, its interesting to consider what might have been in that text now that we know it was utilized so much during the Bible project.  

Joe Swick's book is apparently coming out in a year or two after around two decades of work. So I think the conversation will change significantly then. I'm just hoping he approaches it from a more skeptical historical stance rather than the more masonic symbolic/mystic stance. For the latter he tends to read everything through a later masonic lens whereas a historic argument will carefully make use of what masonic traditions he actually had exposure to and when. Arguing for what Joseph was exposed to is tricky and the temptation is to go into Nibley styled parallelism to argue for exposure. That can end up in a vicious type of circularity.

This becomes significant since a big question is whether Joseph Smith was exposed to certain non-standard forms of French masonry. In particular "heretical" rites sometimes called the Egyptian rite by Fabre d'Olivet. This, along with Adoptive Masonry which also arose in France, offer significant parallels to a lot of Joseph's thought particularly in Nauvoo with the Relief Society. The problem is that neither can be established as being anywhere in Joseph's environment. They really only become established in the US after Joseph's death. So the parallels are there but establishing them as an influence is pretty problematic.

There's also the question of when Joseph was exposed to Masonry. Various people like Dan Vogel note that Book of Mormon passages can be read in terms of anti-Masonic fervor in the US. We know that one of Joseph's early plural marriages was to the widow of William Morgan, a well know exposer of Masonry. (And whose death was attributed to Masons in many conspiracy theories) Joseph had family members who were Masons. There's also some indirect evidence that Masons tied to the Royal Arch tradition (which influenced the endowment) were involved in making the Jewish homeland that Don Bradley sees as an influence on the Book of Mormon translation era. (See his thesis - although we discussed it here) None of these necessarily tell us anything about Joseph's view of Christianity through a Masonic lens. I don't think we can reliably establish that until Nauvoo. However they do lend weight to Masonic parallels (whether done by critics or defenders).

 

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17 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

I've seen that before. I don't think it works since at best it establishes a view among some of Joseph's followers that saw a more mechanistic/technological revelation process as more trustworthy and less biased. In particular relative to D&C 132 that's a completely understandable concern but also doesn't really say much about their view of Joseph's later revelations that appear unrelated to the seer stone - such as arguably most of the D&C revelations.

So I think there's still a lot to the didactic model. The anti-didactic model at minimum has to explain why there's not clear unambiguous use of the seer stone after say 1831. To say it remains important and remains trusted is not to argue it has "a crucial function to the revelatory process." If anything it appears that its use has transformed into a more masonic context by way of Rev 2:13. (It's the 4th degree of Royal Arch masonry where a connection to Rev 2:17 gets made) That is it becomes a key to enter God's presence. It's interesting contrasting Joseph's use with what was in Clarke's commentary. Clarke's commentary sees it either as a token from winning a Roman game - a tesserae - or else a stone indicating judgment (either white for innocent or black for guilty). Although interestingly I did find some non-Mormon commentary from around 1870s that connect the stone to the Urim & Thummin and a more vague one from the 18th century (and this). Unfortunately Google Books isn't exactly the best corpus for 19th century literature. While it's not in Clarke, it does appear Joseph's use was known.

While his connection to such matters is to late to influence Joseph, many have noted the parallels in some ways between Frederick Hockley and Joseph Smith including both the influence of masonry as well as scrying with stones.  A lot of the later discussions of masonry that many have unfortunately read into Joseph Smith actually arise with him. (Many of the post-1850 masonic interpretations make use of the innovations Hockley makes and thus are anachronistic to getting an idea of how Joseph may have seen various Biblical or masonic ideas) That said reading Hockley's treatise on scrying is interesting both because of how he ties it to the Urim & Thummim but also the other views surrounding it.

I don't know that I have a strong opinion on the matter, but wouldn't a simpler explanation be that Joseph, from years of practice, had gotten to the point where he could enter into a trance without the aid of a seer stone, and so he simply found it easier to see visions that way? I haven't seen any evidence that he ever changed how he viewed seer stones, and as was pointed out, later revelations still talk about them.

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