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Sevenbak

Seer stones history getting a bad rap

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I would also comment that Joseph Smith never said he used the seer stone.  

I find it remarkable that he could dictate the BoM with his face buried in his hat.  I don't see it.

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The last thing one might expect Joseph Smith to have in common with some Eastern mystics might be an interest in seer stones and treasure seeking as a transitional stage in their spiritual development, but here it is. Craig Miller provided the following quote in an intriguing letter in Sunstone.

"In yogic practices, the crystal plays a very important part. In South India there is a particular science called anajan, meaning not known. It consists of different methods of projecting the illuminating superphysical facility through a crystal. . . . When the illuminating facility is directed towards a person or an object which is missing, it can be immediately known where that person or thing is. Thus, treasures which are buried underground, or objects which are very distant can be directly observed."25

This kind of comparison provides a positive context for Joseph Smith‘s involvement with seer stones and money digging (cf. Joseph SmithHistory 1:56), making the experience a vital preparation, rather than somehow tainting his mission.

Satyananda Paramahansa, Four Chapters on Freedom, quoted by Craig W. Miller in an intriguing letter, ―A Mystical Joseph Smith,‖ in Sunstone12/2 (March 1988): 4.

FWIW,

Kevin Christensen

Canonsburg, PA

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36 minutes ago, Sevenbak said:

With all the seemingly fresh accusation threads of a “coverup” about the seer stone, I think it’s important to provide some historical context and references to church publications and correlated materials that reference said seer stones, head in hat, etc.   When the seer stone is talked about openly in the publication for primary kids, and in the Ensign, by multiple apostles, and a future prophet, so many decades ago, I just don't see such a nefarious coverup as some here do.  While the references aren't prolific, they certainly were not hidden.  Personally, I've known about them as long as I can remember.  I’ll post a few here, anyone else feel free to do the same.  

What do you think of this?

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The earliest speculation on the technique of the oracle is reflected in Josephus (Ant. 3:217), who states that victory was forecast by the shining of the stones in the breastpiece. The talmudists fancied that the oracle was spelled out by the miraculous protruding of letters out of the tribal names engraved on the stones (Yoma 73b; Maim. Yad, Kele ha-Mikdash, 10:11). Rashi takes account of the separate existence of the Urim by making them a document bearing the tetragrammaton, whose presence inside the breastpiece insured the clarity and perfection of the oracle (comment to Ex. 28:30 and Yoma 73a; cf. Samuel b. Meir, who calls the Urim a kind of conjuration by  divine names). Naḥmanides (at Ex. 28:30) combines the various strands of interpretation: the Urim was a text bearing divine names placed inside the breastpiece, by virtue of which various letters out of the tribes' names lit up; the Thummim were other divine names by whose virtue the priest was able to combine the letters perfectly into the divine message.

To the names of the 12 tribes engraved on the breastpiece were added those of the three Patriarchs, together with the word shevet ("tribe") so as to encompass the whole alphabet (Yoma 73b). Interpreting Urim to mean "those whose words give light" and Thummim as "those whose words are fulfilled," the rabbis explain that the oracle was effected by rays of light shining on the letters, or protruding from them and forming themselves into groups (Yoma 73b), so that the high priest could read them. Only priests speaking by means of the holy spirit and upon whom the Shekhinah rested could invoke them. The inquirer had his face directed toward the high priest, who directed himself to the Shekhinah. One did not inquire either in a loud voice or silently in his heart, but like Hannah, who muttered her prayer (I Sam 1:13). Only one question was to be put at a time, and if two were asked, only the first was answered. However, if the occasion required two questions, both were answered. Unlike the decrees of a prophet, those of the Urim and Thummim could not be revoked. Only a king or a head of the Sanhedrin could inquire from the Urim and Thummim (Yoma 73a–b). The division of the land was effected by means of the Urim and Thummim (RB 122a). Saul and David consulted them (Mid. Ps. 27:2). The Urim and Thummim ceased to give oracular answers immediately after the death of the first prophets (Sot. 9:12), i.e., the destruction of the First Temple (Sot. 48b). However according to the Jerusalem Talmud (Sot. 9:14, 24b), the "first prophets" refers to Samuel and David and according to this view the Urim and Thummim did not function in the First Temple period either.

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-urim-and-thummim

 

Edited by Bernard Gui
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1 hour ago, Bob Crockett said:

I would also comment that Joseph Smith never said he used the seer stone.  

Several people who spoke with him and saw him in action seemed to think otherwise:

His friend Joseph Knight Sr recollected in his diary:

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 Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkened his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would apper in Brite Roman Letters.  Then he would tell the writer and he would write it.  Then that would go away the next sentance would Come and so on.  But if it was not Spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite, so we see it was marvelous.  Thus was the hol translated.     BYU Studies, 17:35.

Emma Smith:  Interview by her son, Joseph III, her husband (Major Bidamon), and others, during early 1879: 

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   Q.  What of the truth of Mormonism?
    A.  I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the Church to have been established by divine direction.  I have complete faith in it.  In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.

Saints’ Herald, 26 (Oct 1, 1879), 289-290.

More from Emma Smith:

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Now the first that my husband translated, was translated by the use of Urim and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost.  after that he used a small stone, not exactly black, but was rather a dark color,   Letter of Emma to Mrs. George W. Pilgrim (from Nauvoo, Mar 27, 1870), RLDS Archives P4 f20.

Excerpt from letter, Nov 30, 1881 (SLC), by Edward Stevenson:

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        Martin Harris related an incident that occurred during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  He said that the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone.  Martin explained the translation as follows: By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, “Written,” and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.  Martin said, after continued translation they would become weary, and would go down to the river and exercise by throwing stones out on the river, etc.  While so doing on one occasion, Martin found a stone very much resembling the one used for translating, and on resuming their labor of translation, Martin put in place the stone that he had found.  He said that the Prophet remained silent, unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no traces of the usual sentences appearing.  Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed, “Martin!  What is the matter?  All is as dark as Egypt!”  Martin’s countenance betrayed him, and the Prophet asked Martin why he had done so.  Martin said, to stop the mouths of fools, who had told him that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them, etc.
        Martin said further that the seer stone differed in appearance entirely from the Urim and Thummim that was obtained with the plates, which were two clear stones set in two rims, very much resembling spectacles, only they were much larger.  LDS Millennial Star, 44 (Feb 6, 1882), 86-87; secondary version in Andrew Jenson, ed., Historical Record, VI:216-217 (May 1887).

 

1 hour ago, Bob Crockett said:

I find it remarkable that he could dictate the BoM with his face buried in his hat.  I don't see it.

Yeh, it would be difficult to see anything, unless (as described by Joseph Knight Sr) it had a bright display on it -- kind of like an LED display on a solid state device.

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An excellent source on seer stones, and other remarkable stones, is available in Rabbi Nissim Wernick, “A Critical Analysis of the Book of Abraham in Light of Extra-Canonical Jewish Writings,” doctoral dissertation (Provo: BYU, Aug 1968), online at http://web.archive.org/web/20090829234905/http://geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/2671/WERNICK.html

The LDS Gospel Topics Essays includes this useful information:

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The other instrument, which Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or “seer stone.”18 As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure.19 As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.20

Apparently for convenience, Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather than the two stones bound together to form the interpreters.

* * * *

...many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument.26 The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”27

The scribes who assisted with the translation unquestionably believed that Joseph translated by divine power. Joseph’s wife Emma explained that she “frequently wrote day after day” at a small table in their house in Harmony, Pennsylvania. She described Joseph “sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.”

* * * *

[Martin] Harris later related that as Joseph used the seer stone to translate, sentences appeared. Joseph read those sentences aloud, and after penning the words, Harris would say, “Written.” An associate who interviewed Harris recorded him saying that Joseph “possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone.”30    https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/manual/gospel-topics-essays/book-of-mormon-translation?lang=eng .

 

Edited by Robert F. Smith
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7 minutes ago, the narrator said:

My mission president in 1999 banned FARMS materials in part because "one of their articles claims that the Prophet translated the golden plates by putting a stone in hat, and we know that isn't true because the scriptures teach us that it was translated by the gift and power of God." He later became a 70.

This guy prided himself on being a learned know-it-all gospel scholar and loved to do those Q&A pure doctrine sessions that MPs are prone to do. Now, I don't think "coverup" is a proper description of what was going on, but these kinds of posts reek of being self-promotional borderline gaslighting.

There have always been yokels, some in high places, and you have given us yet another example, Loyd.  Indeed, he thought himself a "scholar," and there are many such narcissistic characters out there.  There is even one who held forth at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday.  8)

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I haven't really been around here the past couple of weeks, so pardon me for not having followed a previous discussion about covering up the use of a seer stone.   As I see it though, I haven't noticed many feeling concerned about not knowing about a seer stone... only.  It's a concern usually  teamed up with a  few other details that seemed  to have escaped their attention.  It's great, or at least adorable, that the use of a seer stone was vaguely alluded to in a couple of publications over the past 50 years.  But I dont' know that means anyone should feel like the Church was all that forthcoming about their use by Joseph.  

I like the narrative that Joseph didn't need to use them anymore after 1830 though.  It seems silly to think he had to stick his head in a hat, exclude the light, in order to see some glowing words on a rock or projected from a rock.  That's not to say when the Church put out a picture of a seer stone and everyone in my ward was like, "huh???What's that about?" that I didn't print out a picture, put it in a hat, stuffed my head in the hat and recited KJV sounding phrases for effect.  They still thought the plates held some significance in the translation.  Oh well, we tried a bit.  

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Posted (edited)
18 minutes ago, the narrator said:

Now, I don't think "coverup" is a proper description of what was going on, but these kinds of posts reek of being self-promotional borderline gaslighting.

I agree with this for the most part. I was never taught the story of the seer stones whatsoever growing up, I only discovered the idea after they released the pictures about a month before my mission. It wasn't a "shake to my testimony" but I was more intrigued that I had never heard of it. Neither had my parents, my grandparents, or my wife.

We were all used to the pictures used that either showed Joseph just dictating with out assistance or the plates just siting openly on the table while Oliver/Martin was writing down the translation as Joseph used his finger to translate. Of course we heard of the Urim and Thummim and breastplate but there weren't a lot of, if any, depictions created for use in Sunday School. Every church published video up till now, including the "big" Joseph Movie, literally just had him using the plates openly right there in front of Oliver like no big deal. 

Never before had we heard any mention of a stone in a hat, treasure hunting, multiple stones, or anything of that matter. The claim could be that it "wasn't important" but then why teach us about the breastplate and spectacles? I know it wasn't some really intense cover up or anything, it just seems like a piece of history a majority of the church leadership/historians wanted to forget or move on from as we entered the modern era. I have no problem with seer stones but I just don't really see why it was such a big deal to have it locked up in the vault for so long.

Edited by SettingDogStar

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16 minutes ago, the narrator said:

My mission president in 1999 banned FARMS materials in part because "one of their articles claims that the Prophet translated the golden plates by putting a stone in hat, and we know that isn't true because the scriptures teach us that it was translated by the gift and power of God." He later became a 70.

This guy prided himself on being a learned know-it-all gospel scholar and loved to do those Q&A pure doctrine sessions that MPs are prone to do. Now, I don't think "coverup" is a proper description of what was going on, but these kinds of posts reek of being self-promotional borderline gaslighting.

Seems like a stupid move.  Most of the kids on the mission probably had no clue about FARMS or the issue.  if he wanted to keep the kids from FARMS, he should have just ignored it.  

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Having stones in a hat that translates gold plates that are no longer there and then changed into another language...that might get a bad rap..I dunno..but think about it.

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You do realize that my use of the term “cover up” in my thread showing the video was sarcastic right? I would hate to think you are trying to refute that thread.

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2 hours ago, stemelbow said:

............................................... 

I like the narrative that Joseph didn't need to use them anymore after 1830 though.  It seems silly to think he had to stick his head in a hat, exclude the light, in order to see some glowing words on a rock or projected from a rock.  That's not to say when the Church put out a picture of a seer stone and everyone in my ward was like, "huh???What's that about?" that I didn't print out a picture, put it in a hat, stuffed my head in the hat and recited KJV sounding phrases for effect.  They still thought the plates held some significance in the translation.  Oh well, we tried a bit.  

We have had General Authorities during Conference actually compare the Liahona to their modern GPS devices, and thirty years ago I was comparing the seerstone Joseph used to a modern solid-state device with an LED screen (silicon is stone).  Today, we never brand a cellphone or television as "magic," and we don't see GPS as demonic.  In fact the comparison never even occurs to most of us, because it is just part of the background of our modern, digital world.  The only reason it seems odd for Joseph to use such a device is because his world was not sufficiently technologically advanced.  To primitive peoples, modern technology does seem like magic.  The hard question is, Why do we not see this with proper perspective?  In terms of modern technology, there is nothing at all strange about Joseph putting his head in the hat.

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4 hours ago, Sevenbak said:

With all the seemingly fresh accusation threads of a “coverup” about the seer stone, I think it’s important to provide some historical context and references to church publications and correlated materials that reference said seer stones, head in hat, etc.   When the seer stone is talked about openly in the publication for primary kids, and in the Ensign, by multiple apostles, and a future prophet, so many decades ago, I just don't see such a nefarious coverup as some here do.  While the references aren't prolific, they certainly were not hidden.  Personally, I've known about them as long as I can remember.  I’ll post a few here, anyone else feel free to do the same.  

 

Children's Friend, 1974 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/friend/1974/09/a-peaceful-heart?lang=eng

"which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in a rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.  Joseph also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating called a seer stone."

 

Ensign, 1977 https://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/09/by-the-gift-and-power-of-god.p41

...the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone....

Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light. And in the darkness the spiritual light would shine.”

 

Ensign, 1993  https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1993/07/a-treasured-testament.p13?lang=eng

"The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote:

Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light;"

 

Ensign, 1997  https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1997/01/by-the-gift-and-power-of-god?lang=eng

"The Prophet Joseph alone knew the full process, and he was deliberately reluctant to describe details. We take passing notice of the words of David Whitmer, Joseph Knight, and Martin Harris, who were observers, not translators. David Whitmer indicated that as the Prophet used the divine instrumentalities provided to help him..."

...Martin Harris related of the seer stone: “Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written"....

..."If by means of these divine instrumentalities the Prophet was seeing ancient words rendered in English and then dictating, he was not necessarily and constantly scrutinizing the characters on the plates—the usual translation process of going back and forth between pondering an ancient text and providing a modern rendering.

The revelatory process apparently did not require the Prophet to become expert in the ancient language. The constancy of revelation was more crucial than the constant presence of opened plates, which, by instruction, were to be kept from the view of unauthorized eyes anyway.

While the use of divine instrumentalities might also account for the rapid rate of translation, the Prophet sometimes may have used a less mechanical procedure...

...We simply do not know the details.Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Joseph Smith told him that he used the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced at translation but that later he did not need it, which was the case in Joseph’s translation of many verses of the Bible (see Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 11 Aug. 1874, 498–99).

So who’s fault is it that the average member had no clue about the history of the stones?  Are you saying the church, it’s leaders, and it’s curriculum has no responsibility for how the average member understands the history around Joseph’s use of stones?  

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I joined the Church in 1993 as an adult and I had heard of the seer stones.

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Could there be a quasi-scientific experiment done on this seer stone in a hat thing. Get 10 guys about the age and size of JS. Put them in separate rooms with a table and a scribe. Give each a hat from the era . Have each memorize a poem like " The Rhyme of  the Ancient Mariner" . Then have each put head in hat and recite line by line while the scribe records using paper and pen. Video each scene. Debrief and ask about the whole process, difficulties etc.  Repeat the experiment but with the narrator recounting a story from their personal life of about a 5-10 minute duration. Same deal, head in hat . Debrief etc. Lets see if we can get a handle on the feasibility ! 

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5 hours ago, stemelbow said:

I haven't really been around here the past couple of weeks, so pardon me for not having followed a previous discussion about covering up the use of a seer stone.   As I see it though, I haven't noticed many feeling concerned about not knowing about a seer stone... only.  It's a concern usually  teamed up with a  few other details that seemed  to have escaped their attention.  It's great, or at least adorable, that the use of a seer stone was vaguely alluded to in a couple of publications over the past 50 years.  But I dont' know that means anyone should feel like the Church was all that forthcoming about their use by Joseph.  

I like the narrative that Joseph didn't need to use them anymore after 1830 though.  It seems silly to think he had to stick his head in a hat, exclude the light, in order to see some glowing words on a rock or projected from a rock.  That's not to say when the Church put out a picture of a seer stone and everyone in my ward was like, "huh???What's that about?" that I didn't print out a picture, put it in a hat, stuffed my head in the hat and recited KJV sounding phrases for effect.  They still thought the plates held some significance in the translation.  Oh well, we tried a bit.  

The issue of Joseph’s use of stones was a major contributing factor in my “faith crisis”.  It was a catalyst for me losing my belief in the supernatural.  

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2 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

We have had General Authorities during Conference actually compare the Liahona to their modern GPS devices, and thirty years ago I was comparing the seerstone Joseph used to a modern solid-state device with an LED screen (silicon is stone).  Today, we never brand a cellphone or television as "magic," and we don't see GPS as demonic.  In fact the comparison never even occurs to most of us, because it is just part of the background of our modern, digital world.  The only reason it seems odd for Joseph to use such a device is because his world was not sufficiently technologically advanced.  To primitive peoples, modern technology does seem like magic.  The hard question is, Why do we not see this with proper perspective?  In terms of modern technology, there is nothing at all strange about Joseph putting his head in the hat.

Related image

I don’t like the comparison with modern technology, it strikes me as insulting to my intelligence and disingenuous.  

The only characterization that even begins to have credibility for me is the idea that Joseph studied things out in his mind and then dictated the text.  

The stones were not advanced tech like a cell phone.  They were literally just regular old rocks, no tech, no supernatural power, just plain old stones.  

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2 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

So who’s fault is it that the average member had no clue about the history of the stones?  Are you saying the church, it’s leaders, and it’s curriculum has no responsibility for how the average member understands the history around Joseph’s use of stones?  

A better question might be Does it really matter?  Most people never get into the historical minutiae, and it is arguable that this applies to LDS history in general, and biblical history in particular.  The only people who understand that sort of thing are professional historians and archeologists.  I am quite certain that most Saints are not going to become PhDs in history or archeology, and that hasn't been the case in the past.  Moreover, there are just not that many jobs in those fields, and most Saints have to put bread on the table and change diapers.  They don't have time for exotic pursuits.  They do go to Sunday School, and perhaps read a book now and then.  There is no time to indulge in detailed historical studies, and it is silly in the extreme to expect everybody to do that.

We ought to have modest expectations for what the official LDS manuals should contain.  For those who want to go deeper, and who have the leisure time for it, the details have always been there for the interested student.  I have never found my path to such knowledge blocked by the Church.  However, I have always found that Church manuals concentrate on the primary lessons of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not on how the Witch of Endor raised Samuel from the dead, nor on how Abraham so matter of factly had lunch with Jehovah and then had a demanding discussion with Him.  Is it a conspiracy by Church leaders to keep those things from us which results in our Elders Quorum and Relief Society meetings not raising those issues?  I think not.  It is rather a sound sense of priorities.

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27 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I don’t like the comparison with modern technology, it strikes me as insulting to my intelligence and disingenuous.  

The only characterization that even begins to have credibility for me is the idea that Joseph studied things out in his mind and then dictated the text.  

The stones were not advanced tech like a cell phone.  They were literally just regular old rocks, no tech, no supernatural power, just plain old stones.  

You will no doubt find many who share those views.  After all, if there is no God, then such advanced tech in Joseph's time is virtually impossible.  If here is a God, then it is a simple matter for Him to make a solid-state device with an LED screen and to activate it with necessary voltage.  In any case, LDS theology rejects belief in the supernatural, and posits a finite, humanistic God who is master of natural law.  It is after all natural law which allows our modern digital electronics industry.  "Silicon Valley" is named after an ordinary rock, silicon, which is a primary ingredient in solid-state devices.  As Pogi just pointed out, how can Jesus spit in the dirt, put the mud on a blindman's eye, and then have him wash it off and be cured?  If Jesus was not the true Son of God, then naturally you must reject claims that He is.   The odd upshot is, however, that you rejected the LDS faith because you mistakenly thought it was a supernatural faith.  Supernaturalism is the primary mistake of the Judeo-Christian mainstream.

Edited by Robert F. Smith
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3 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

So who’s fault is it that the average member had no clue about the history of the stones?  Are you saying the church, it’s leaders, and it’s curriculum has no responsibility for how the average member understands the history around Joseph’s use of stones?  

Yup

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3 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

So who’s fault is it that the average member had no clue about the history of the stones?  Are you saying the church, it’s leaders, and it’s curriculum has no responsibility for how the average member understands the history around Joseph’s use of stones?  

Not 0%, but not mostly.  I was lucky enough to be raised in a house with parents who read gospel books beyond the Sunday School manuals.  Plenty of references available.  So I've known about them forever even if I didn't hear it from my primary teachers (at least I don't remember them mentioning it).

I was speaking just today with the owner of Sam Weller books here in SLC.  He said he'd been in the business of LDS books long enough to see a major change in younger members.  They aren't digging in like our parents did in days gone by.  Very little interest among members in Talmage, McConkie, Widtsoe, Nibley, Roberts, or anything scholarly really.

Most members are either internet blog studiers or Sunday School manuals only.  Is it any wonder the divide is widening between the faithful and the questioning?  Both sides only know and believe what they're told, not from their own studies.

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