The Beaver Skin Hat: How Joseph Interpreted the Plates

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Popular styles of beaver hats circa 1830

[In homage to Bruce Nielson, I am dictating this post using Dragon dictation.]

Don Bradley wrote an intriguing paper titled Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages. In the final section, Bradley discusses a lost story about how the interpreters, or Urim and Thummim, were found.

According to Fayette Lapham, Joseph Smith related some of the stories that were contained in the book of Mormon prior to publication. In one of these stories, the Liahona led the travelers to a curious set of implements. Unable to determine what these implements were, the man who found them (presumably the high priest of that time), took them into the tabernacle and present them to the Lord. The Lord tells the man  to cover his head with skins. Once he had done so, the high priest was able to see the spiritual. And according to the story, after this point Liahona stopped working.

Now that the high priest (probably Lehi, as this story describes a migrating people before the portion of the plates that described events in the current book of Mosiah) had the interpreters, or the Urim and Thummim, he no longer needed the Liahona. Thus we do not see the Liahona used as a guidance device in the rest of the book of Mormon narrative. Despite this, the Liahona is one of those relics which is passed down along with the sword of Laban and the interpreters.

Don Bradley then talks to us about the Old Testament, about the importance of skins in temple worship. “Badger” skins in particular were used to veil the faces of those who had seen God. One of the veils of the temple was constructed of these skins. [Mary Anne points out that the term translated as “badger” in the Old Testament appears to actually refer to some animal associated with the sea, such as a dolphin or dugong.]

Joseph, having translated the first 116 pages of the book of Mormon, was aware of this: that to truly see with the aid of these interpreters, the Urim and Thummim or even just his seerstone, the process would be aided by covering his face with skins.

In those days, beaver skin was a common commodity. Hunters and trappers exploited the American wilderness specifically to find beaver. The pelts were used for hats, until silk hats became the rage in the 1830s.

I find it interesting to consider where Joseph’s hat came from. Was this merely a yokel’s hat? Or was it a beaver skin continental hat, a simple farmer’s hat, or one of those tall stovepipe things. I can imagine it would’ve taken some sacrifice for Joseph to obtain a beaver skin hat. But if he was attempting to do as the book of Mormon narrative itself instructed, he needed to put the interpreters in a beaver skin hat and place this over his face, as had been done in the initial narrative of the book of Mormon which we no longer have, as had been done in the Old Testament in the tabernacle, as had been done when Moses descended from the mountain and needed to shield his face to hide the glory that remains from his visitation with the Lord.

Recent depictions of Joseph translating the book of Mormon by means of putting his face in a hat are entirely disturbing to modern sensibilities. As I’ve mentioned before, most of these drawings and cartoons make it look like Joseph is vomiting into his hat.

And yet if we even reach only so far as to access the imagery in JK Rowlings’ Harry Potter series and think of the Pensieve, we see that putting one’s face into an implement that allows vision does not have to be a stupid disturbing picture of a man squatting on the step bent over as if in pain.

Further, if we consider that veiling one’s face with skins specifically in order to use interpretive devices was a long-established practice described in both the Bible and lost 116 pages, then to imagine that this is the manner in which Joseph translated the plates ceases to be odd and off-putting.

I would love to see someone depict the scene in a manner that reflects the ancient origin of the practice.

[Update: Pat Chiu, having done her research, determined that Joseph owned a beaver hat with a “top hat” sort of profile, that such hats were used by men both winter and summer. The kind of yokel hat often depicted in other images (South Park, various Dialogue illustrations) would have been a straw hat. Being a cool person, Pat apparently includes this diagram in a tiny replica of the gold plates she originally made for her grandchildren when they get baptized, showing them various scenes from church history, such as how Joseph translated the plates by looking into a hat with the plates at his side covered by a cloth. She also makes them for others at request at goldenplatesreplica.com. Excellent.]

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

35 thoughts on “The Beaver Skin Hat: How Joseph Interpreted the Plates

  1. In the attached article, Bradley states it was badger skin, not beaver skin. The word in the bible translated as badger is also translated as porpoise or dolphin (some say it’s likely referring to the dugong). So, you were going with beaver because it kind of looks like a badger but is related to water? Or is it just because it’s animal skin?

  2. While preparing to create a work of art that featured JospsehSmith I traveled to Nauvoo and saw a hat in the possession of the Community of Christ that most resembled a blend of #6 and #7 in the choices you present. Research at The New York Historical Society in Manhattan indicated that this ‘top hat’ style was popular among all classes throughout the nineteenth century. Farmers sometimes wore straw versions for summer wear but felt hats, with beaver felt preferred, were worn year round by men of all classes. I chose to use this hat in a depiction of Joseph translating the golden plates as one of a series of illustrations for small replicas of the golden plates I give my grandchildren when they are baptized. If Joseph placed the seer stone in such a hat he wouldn’t have to bury his face to benefit from the opaque cylinder that was several inches deep. I like the idea that the fact that the hat was made of beaver felt had some connection to ancient practices.
    http://goldenplatesreplica.com/translate.jpg

  3. HI MaryAnne,

    Thank you for pointing out my error – my knowledge that beaver skin was such a prevalent material for hats in Joseph’s era influenced how I read this.

    However, given that the original in the Bible appears to have referred to a water animal, and beavers live in and about water, the skin of the beaver should clearly “work” for the purpose.

    I also find it interesting that after Joseph had a chance to translate the plates using his beaver skin hat, beaver skin as a hat “fabric” went out of vogue. For those, like me, who see God interacting with mankind on things like this, it is as if He was like, “The work is done. Y’all can go make your hats out of whatever you please now.”

  4. Great post. These are very interesting details to know. Thanks Meg, you always amaze me with your insights.

  5. Great post Meg. Several years ago when my older boys were teenagers, this topic came up at our house. They were nonplussed at the idea of Joseph putting his face up to the brim of a hat with the translators inside. They remarked that when using a gameboy in the bright light, in order to see the screen on the game boy, you have to shield the screen with your hand or shield the screen with a baseball cap. Perhaps the Urim and Thummin work or seerstone worked similarly.

  6. Beautiful thought Meg. What a difference a little context makes. It turns something that seemed quirky and droll into something symbolic and mysterious.

  7. ‘Charash’ translated as badger skin in the KJV is unlikely to have been used by Moses and his people. Modern translators have substitued porpoise skin or dugong skin, both of which were relatively available at that time and place as trade items from the Red and Mediterranean seas. Both had the virtue of being water resistant.

  8. Meg –

    BRILLIANT!

    I don’t know why it’s never occurred to me that Joseph Smith’s hat could have been made of animal skins.

    While the King James Bible text says that one of the Tabernacle veils and the wrappings used for sacred objects were made of “badger skins,” the Joseph Smith, Sr. interview account doesn’t specify what kind of animal skin the finder of the interpreters used to veil his face when he looked into them. Something matching the description of “badger skins” would make good sense, since that’s reportedly what was used in the temple veil, and to cover sacred objects, probably including the Urim and Thummim. But Joseph Smith’s use of any kind of animal skin hat to cover his face while looking into his seer stone would parallel the Nephite seer’s use of animal skins to cover his face while looking into the interpreters.

    Also, as you note, the translation “badger skins” is uncertain, and the term is often thought to refer instead to dugong skins. Since the dugong’s range includes the Red Sea but does not extend anywhere near the New World, it would have been impossible to use dugong skins in New World temples. So it would have been necessary to make a substitution, preferably of the skin of a similar, water-going mammal. The beaver?

    But regardless of whether the Nephite seers should be understood to have veiled their faces specifically with beaver skins, they reportedly did use animal skins, creating a clear parallel with Joseph Smith veiling his face with an animal skin, whether in the form of a beaver skin hat or any other.

    How did you come up with this idea? I absolutely love it.

    Don

  9. Pat,

    I’d love to get more information about this hat. The CoC said it had belonged to Joseph Smith in particular? Where, specifically, is this objected housed?

    Don

  10. I recall that the top hat was in a collection of items belonging to Joseph and Emma which included the string of gold beads depicted in her portrait. It was located in the Community of Christ Visitor’s center and museum. Modern depictions of Joseph usually show him wearing a low crowned, wide brimmed hat usually associated with the Shakers but no such hat is included in the collection. I believe this is a matter of modern artistic prejudice toward a style of hat that has come to be associated with the frontier and against a style of hat that is associated with formal wear in this century. A contemporary (to Joseph’s life) picture of Joseph reviewing the Nauvoo Legion shows him in military uniform but almost all of the ordinary male citizens are wearing cutaway coats and top hats.

  11. Hi Don,

    As I mentioned, I was reading your piece talking about the 116 pages, and the bit about covering the face with skin is in section V of that article.

    I happened to be very aware of how much beaver skin was used for hats in those days – one of the millions of seemingly useless facts that line the corridors of my mind palace.

    One of the thousands of research questions that putter around in my mind palace is this business of Joseph and the method by which he “translated” the plates. That particular research question has been brushed off from time to time, in part because of John Dehlin’s obsession with the “false” nature of how he believes the Book of Abraham came about, compounded by the fact that it was precisely this matter of the translation process that destroyed the testimony of John’s friend, Christine Jeppson Clark.

    The matter of the stupid-looking pictures showing Joseph squatted on steps, head buried in a hat as though he’s about to vomit, have kept that research question in the top few thousand, occupying a relatively prime location in the mind palace, though far behind other more pressing questions, like “what’s for dinner?”

    Now, having read your article and come to understand that covering the face with skins was part of the prescribed method for using these most powerful seer stones, makes it so that now I find “modern” depictions of Joseph translating the plates to seem very strange. When trying to explain it to my husband, I said it would be like seeing an illustration of someone shooting, the bullets headed away from an outstretched hand, but without any gun in evidence.

    I suppose it won’t be a huge surprise to frequent readers of my posts if I indicate that Pat Chiu is a close friend and that I have an early version of one of her golden plate replicas. I forget how the conversation went, but I’m sure I’ve gone on and on about how I really wish someone would come up with a non-stupid depiction of the translation process with the hat covering the face. I may even recall a conversation where Pat told me Joseph probably used sometime much more like a top hat.

    So I’ll simply have to buy me a copy of the new replica, with the new picture of Joseph translating by looking into the hat made from beaver skin, with covered plates on the table next to him.

    For what it’s worth, this same process of coalescing seemingly random facts is what led me to my framework of a Joseph who may not have consummated his plural marriages.

    I can almost imagine the conversation between Joseph and the Angel Moroni:

    “Joseph, I hereby deliver these sacred artifacts into your hands. You are to bring forth the interpretation of this holy record as a seer and revelator, by the mechanism of the Urim and Thummim.”

    [Joseph reverently pulls the golden plates, and Urim and Thummim from the box, leaving the Liahona and hilt of Laban’s sword in place. He then tries to figure out how to set the interpreters into the bow that supports them on the chest.]

    “The interpreters are to be placed so the seer may see that which God presents in them. And then the head of the seer and the interpreters are to be covered with the skin of an animal which is dedicated to this purpose…”

    [Joseph pops one of the interpreters into his hat and places it before his face.]

    [Moroni, perhaps, realizes that a Joseph straddled with a large metal contraption and covered with a large hide might not be the most feasible option in a frontier where there is no temple and no tabernacle, much less a Holy of Holies. So after a moment of shock, to see Joseph do something so not-typical with the interpreters, Moroni recovers his composure.]

    “The Lord, who hast all power, can do whatsoever He wilt for the benefit of man. Canst thou see?”

    Joseph, hat before his face, replies, “I see.”

    Moroni mutters to himself, “OK then.”

    LOL

  12. Second thought, having googled up a scripture passage to put in Moroni’s mouth, was reminded of the clear stones, molten by the brother of Jared to provide light in the vessels. That vessel was created by stretching animal skins taut over a frame. So it occurred to me that if there is this mechanism, by which holy stones can be seen when covered by animal skin, such a mechanism might also have been operative for this instance of the Jaredites traveling through the waters.

    So then a new question poses itself: did the brother of Jared already know of interpreters? Was he perhaps inspired by knowing that there were holy stones that could give forth light in the process of revealing God’s will? Because the idea that he would go to the bother of creating these clear stones without any kind of “prior art” suggesting such a thing might work is a bit incredible, as in not believable.

  13. Looking into a dark place in order to better notice a glow is pretty reflexive, as in shielding the act of starting a fire by cupping a hand over the the place where the sparks from a flint meet tinder, not only to shield the new flame from the wind but to enhance the contrast of light and dark. I feel that it might be straining the issue to insist that there is some necessity that the shield be animal skins or something akin. As for awkward or ridiculous depictions of Joseph Smith, is there any reliable source for the idea that he squatted on a stair instead of sitting on a chair with his elbows propped on a table so as to comfortably hold the hat in front of his face? I have read that as far as can be determined the ‘translation’ appeared line by line in glowing words in the darkness of the hat. Sometimes Joseph paused to make certain the scribe had the correct spelling.

  14. It is not easy to find a substance that provides a shield against light without resorting to a structure of stone or wood. Leather or a thick fur felt are both useful. Joseph would want to be in a situation where he could consult with and correct his scribe. This would make isolating himself in a solid structure such as a box meant to keep out light impractical. The top hat makes more and more sense as a means of providing the darkness needed to clearly see the line of glowing script. In this age of ubiquitous glowing screens which are all too often depleted of meaning in the glare of a sunny day, I could sometimes wish I had a similar shielding device at hand in my car.

  15. I just wanted to make a comment about the link and not the discussion about the hat. Everyone seems to snicker with the single verse “and my father dwelt in a tent,” or come away wondering why even mention it? It should be obvious that the whole family dwelt in tents. Considering the many Exodus archetypes in the journey to the promised land, mixed with what Don Bradley says about sacred objects, it would seem more reasonable to say that Lehi dwelt in a Tabernacle. He was, in my estimation, the new High Priest having been given the calling by God directly through his Visions. Likewise, he passed it on to Nephi as the only righteous son and heir, even while the older brothers claimed the right by seniority. Finally, Nephi was called by the People as King, thus blending the religious and secular ruler as one.

    This High Priesthood Kingship continued for several generations, although it didn’t last forever. My memory doesn’t serve me well, but eventually the Kingship and the High Priesthood did split since at one point a secular leader said they can’t judge religious sins. Perhaps that happened at the time the sons of Mosiah declined the kingship and went off on separate missions. The kingship then became the judgeship, with a new line of priesthood not connected with the government.

    As for the hat . . . sorry, went on a tangent.

  16. Jettboy,

    No, good stuff! You will like my forthcoming book on the lost 116 pages! I deal with that same verse and discuss evidence (both in the available Book of Mormon text and in an external source) that Lehi had a “Tabernacle.” =)

  17. Pat,

    Thank you for that information. It’s so cool to think that is likely the same hat Joseph Smith used in the translation. I didn’t think the hat had survived.

    BTW, what color was the it? Did you get a picture? I’m wondering if the hat’s style could help place specifically when it was manufactured.

    Don

  18. Meg,

    Fascinating! I’m really thrilled that you’ve made these connections. And thank you so much for putting my findings on this to good use and extending them further to where it really starts to make sense of things.

    I’d seen the connection between the veiling of the face in the lost 116 pages story and Joseph using his hat to block out the light, but I hadn’t even guessed that the connection would be so close, and this would have real significance for understanding why Joseph Smith would do something as seemingly strange as putting his face in his hat. Really, he wasn’t “putting his face in his hat” per se. He was covering his face with an animal skin. Covering with animal skins has all kinds of sacred significance–not only in the temple veil and the coverings over the sacred temple relics but also in Adam and Eve being clothed in animal skins, which has other important echoes in sacred clothing.

    The connection you’ve made takes something that seemed just odd and undignified and gives it scriptural meaning having to do with sacred clothing and the veiling of sacred temple objects.

  19. Oh, also, Meg, I’m fascinated with your observation about the Jaredite barges, and I definitely think there’s a connection.

    I’ve seen one other place where someone mentioned the barges being made by stretching animal skins over a frame, and I’ve seen other places where it’s mentioned that the building of Noah’s ark involved a similar process (and the Jaredite barges are said to have been built on the model of Noah’s ark). But I’m not sure where this aspect of the ark’s construction is mentioned in Genesis. Perhaps it’s just not clear in the KJV?

    Don

  20. Most interesting. Has anyone else thought on possible connections between the Urim & Thumim (sp?) and the mythology of the philosopher’s stone? I know it’s thought of now in terms of literal wealth and immortality but I’ve also heard they were considered a source of greater knowledge. That sounds a lot like a world distorted view of the religious stones to me. I know this is a bit of a tangent but the Harry Potter reference reminded me of it.

  21. Knowing that Joseph likely continued to have access to a seer stone and the method of receiving knowledge from the seer stone, it becomes intriguing to wonder how and why Joseph and God interacted as they did regarding events in Nauvoo circa 1840-1844.

    I don;t know about others here, but even though I have had experiences that I felt involved revelation, God hasn’t been my personal “google” for all knowledge. There are many things I have had to figure out myself. And I can imagine this was true also for Joseph. Being a seer could only take him so far. At a certain point, he had to become an agent unto himself.

    I like Pat’s idea, mentioned in person and possibly elsewhere here in comments, that the prophets of the descendants of Lehi worked with the amazing William Tyndale to transform what had been recorded into language that would capture the tone and richness of the prominent English translation of the Bible in those days (and the KJV is apparently still the most-used Bible translation among those who read English).

    Non-sequitur, but understanding more fully this matter of how being veiled is associated with revelation sheds light and understanding on the various instances where women are advised to be veiled (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11). Paul clearly felt that the veil was a matter of subservience, even though his own writings implied that the veil worn by women had to do with prophesy.

    To this I raise another tangent. To whom, ultimately, would the secret of use of the interpreters and the interpreters themselves have been entrusted? Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery, who had assisted in the translation of the Book of Mormon, were no longer part of the LDS community. Emma Hale Smith was another who had been witness to the translation process, and as a woman would be one expected to be veiled. Perhaps it is already well-known what happened to the interpreters, but even if the Urim and Thummim were considered to have been taken away along with the plates, Joseph allegedly had a seer stone that he used for translation, a stone that had come into Joseph’s possession when he was younger (if I recall correctly). What happened to that seer stone? Was it perhaps kept with the hat that is now on display at the Community of Christ museum.

    Shall we say that I find it intriguing to consider that Emma became heir to the seer stone and the secrets of translation. What, then, if some of her decisions after Joseph’s death were informed in some part by use of the seer stone?

    I had a big argument with DD many posts ago about whether it might have served God best for Emma to remain in Illinois, even though it meant that several generations of Joseph’s descendants were cut off from the truths that Joseph taught. I can image a God who tells Emma to remain behind and honor Joseph’s debts, remain behind and allow the Saints to flourish in the wilderness without the woman who knew all their secrets.

    Don, might you be planning to be in the Nauvoo area in a couple of weeks? If so, it would be cool to have lunch.

  22. I seem to recall that the seer stone went West, and was last publicly seen on the St George temple’s altar. IOW, it is in the Church’s possession today.

    Lehi’s tent as Tabernacle is very true. Note that Nephi begins and ends Lehi’s key portion of the story by noting Lehi dwelt in a tent. It becomes the bookends to Lehi’s story.

    Here is what I wrote on it in 2012:
    http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2012/01/book-of-mormon-lesson-5-hearken-to.html

    My father dwelt in a tent

    “Now, all these things were said and done as my father dwelt in a tent in the valley which he called Lemuel” (1 Ne 16:6).

    Nephi has repeated this concept several times. His father dwelt in a tent. It is a significant statement that is often bypassed in our reading the journeys of the Nephites across the desert. In ancient Israel, Moses set up a tent that sat in the midst of the tribes of Israel. This was the center place, where the Presence of the Lord (Shekinah) was experienced, where revelations were received, and where the important decisions of the Israelites were made. Lehi’s tent also is a place of the Shekinah, as Lehi saw Christ in his dream of the Tree of Life. His tent was the center place for his people, where important decisions were made, and where miracles and revelations occurred. Lehi’s tent symbolized the Tabernacle of Moses, or the Temple of Solomon in its purpose.

    Again, in noting that Lehi dwelt in a tent, Nephi then commences to explain what occurred next at the tent.

    “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife” (vs 7).

    His tent becomes the place for weddings. Herein lies a connection with the modern LDS temple, whose highest ordinances and rituals involve returning into God’s presence, and in marrying or sealing families together for the eternities. While we are not told if their weddings at Lehi’s tent were forever or not, the symbolism still is there.

    Again, Lehi receives a commandment “by night” or in his tent that they should depart on the morrow. Upon rising in the morning, Lehi finds a brass item outside his tent door.

    “to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness” (vs 10).

    This is Lehi’s encounter with the Liahona, a compass-like item with interesting capabilities. It uses spindles to point the way forward in the desert. Why would it need two spindles? It is possible that one pointed toward true north (or perhaps at the Jerusalem temple, or some other key landmark), while the other would point in the direction they needed to go. In this way, they could verify and re-verify the direction they were traveling by outward signs (stars, sun’s point in the sky). Later, we find that the wording on it changes from “time to time.” This is highly significant because no other such item is described in ancient scripture. When we compare what is written here with other verses given to Joseph Smith, we find that the Lord gives his seers a “stone” or item that helps them see hidden things.

    “Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
    But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.” (Mosiah 8:13, 17).

    “And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations” (Alma 37:23).

    “Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
    And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word” (D&C 130:10-11).

    In conjunction with the Urim and Thummim, seer stone descriptions, and the Liahona, we find items that contain information on any topic one seeks after. There are some topics a person ought not to look for, as it can pull them down into evil things. It reveals the higher order of God’s kingdom, as well as the secret works of evil men. It can reveal new text for the viewer to read. And it is protected by the new name, a password. Such items, in other words, are special celestial computers designed by God for seers of ancient days. The Liahona was similar to a modern GPS device, which shows a person how to arrive to his/her destination, and can also provide guidance through text on a screen. Just as having an IPhone with internet connection can bring a world of information to one’s finger tips, so too can we see the same things described by Joseph Smith in 1829.

    ==========

  23. My belief on Emma remaining in Nauvoo has to do with her rivalry with Brigham Young. Brigham sent one of the 12 to ask her if she would go west. She said she only would if she retained the power and authority she had as an “elect lady”, a member of the Quorum of the Anointed. Well, Brigham was consolidating power, shutting down many organizations (Council of 50 were assigned a different role, QofA disbanded, Relief Society was shuttered for over a decade and very different when restarted). He was not interested in having Emma, Sidney Rigdon, James Strang, or anyone else challenge his authority.
    You’ll note he also forbid Lucy Mack Smith’s biography of Joseph Smith to be published or sold in the territories out West. Such could have opened the door for JS3 being a challenger. All of this to prevent challenges to Brigham’s authority.

  24. Meg,

    Unfortunately, I’m not going to be in Nauvoo anytime soon. I wish! Will you check out the hat while you’re there? If so, I’d love to learn more. And perhaps we could chat over lunch if you’re in Utah sometime?

    That seer stone was given to Oliver Cowdery, who gave it to Phineas Young (who had married Oliver’s sister), who in turn gave it to his brother Brigham. The church has it in the First Presidency’s Office “vault” now. Joseph’s other, white, stone somehow ended up in Utah too, but I’m not sure how. After his death, it should have been in Emma’s possession.

    Emma was, of course, intimately involved in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Joseph had to take her to the hill with him in order to get the plates. And her testimony indicates that she was his first scribe.

    Build on that partnership between them I’ve looked at their partnership in church leadership in 1830 as “presiding elder” and “elect lady.” I need to finish that and publish it (after my book on the lost 116 pages).

    The parallel of veiling the face between Moses, Mosiah I (the finder, I argue, of the interpreters), and women is VERY interesting.

  25. I do love how the scriptures can be “likened” unto many things. I am okay with the tent being tabernacle but I have other thoughts.

    Once, when subbing as singing time leader in primary (I get asked to do it rather often because I love to sing) I asked if someone would share a favorite scripture. A willing young boy came forward and quoted with a smirk, “And my
    father dwelt in a tent,” to great laughter.

    Little did he know how much I love this scripture.

    I placed my hands on his shoulders, thanked him and quoted this scripture, “Wherefore, let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; therefore let us go down to the land of our father’s inheritance, for behold he left gold and silver, and all manner of riches. And all this he hath done because of the commandments of the Lord.”

    And these,

    “And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property.”

    It is safe to assume that Lehi was a wealthy man of great reputation who lived in a great and comfortable house in Jerusalem.

    “And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.”

    “And when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent…”

    “And my father dwelt in a tent.”

    I imagine Nephi in awe as he painstakingly inscribes these words on sheets of gold, and says more in this one verse about his father’s humility and obedience than all the other verses combined. This is Nephi’s paean of praise and admiration of his father, great man of Jerusalem, now living in a tent, forsaking wealth and position—a wanderer in the desert with only his family and faith in God.

    Sorry for the derail Meg, but I see how hard you have worked to portray a faithful Joseph. But there is a parallel to how women and men of great faith will sacrifice all in the face of scorn and ridicule. Joseph would not care one wit how he may have looked with his head in the hat. But oh what light he saw when blocking out the world and yielding himself to God. There is a richness that can be felt in a faithful reading, believing that Nephi was a real son of a real father that will ever elude the nuanced.

    Thank you for your continued insight so we can more fully appreciate a faithful Joseph in the face of such great resistance even now.

  26. Many purposes were served by Emma remaining in Nauvoo. The genetic evidence of Joseph’s seed was kept isolated and makes it possible to say that his only known living descendents came from Emma’s children. Many important historical sites and artifacts were preserved intact in Nauvoo because Emma stayed behind. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that the Church began to take interest in obtaining significant property in Nauvoo. The line of priesthood authority through the apostles with Brigham Young as their head was kept intact and essentially unchallenged by any possible dynastic claims. It is interesting that the Smith family has been prominent in the Church, but those who served as President of the Church were descended from Hyrum or Joseph’s cousin George A. Smith, not Joseph.
    As for the hat in the C of C museum, it may be of silk plush rather than beaver felt, but although Adam and Eve wore garments made from the skins of animals, the ones I wear are equally efficacious and likely more comfortable in summer.
    Given the previous comment comparing the Liahona to a GPS, I am delighted that many missionaries are being given I-pads to aid in their efforts. Today at our Stake Conference many if not all of the speakers used electronic tablets instead of paper notes and printed scriptures.
    Speaking of veiled women, there is a time each week when I feel it a special privilege to cover my face in an act of holy intimacy.

  27. My understanding is that prior to the loss of the 116 pages, Joseph used the Urim and Thummim with the bow and breastplate, etc., which all came from the stone box; but after the re-start of the translation work, he used the seer stone that he had obtained _apart from_ the contents of the ancient stone box. Is that correct? Can someone please confirm or correct that?

    My thoughts on Lehi’s Liahona are that the gift and use of it was mainly for the sake of the unbelievers of the party: Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael. Lehi and Nephi were prophets and knew how to listen to and follow instructions of the Holy Ghost. They could have gotten to the promised land without the Liahona. But since the unbelievers of the group didn’t accept the prophetic ability/authority of Lehi and Nephi, they needed the tangible divine evidence of the Liahona in order to comply. Sort of like how the Israelites of the Exodus needed the column of smoke/fire to prove to them that Moses was acting under the Lord’s instructions. Moses didn’t need the fire/smoke to tell him where to go. And if the masses had trusted Moses, they wouldn’t have needed it either.

    I used to think that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael should have just been allowed to stay in or go back to Jerusalem. But then I realized that the Lord needed them and their descendants in the New World for at least two reasons: to be a scourge to the Nephites when they forgot God, and also to have a sufficiently sized population of the tribe of Joseph for the Lord’s purposes in the latter days.

  28. Hi Bookslinger,

    I agree – the problem with these physical props (like seer stones, etc.) is that when they aren’t being used, people get all bent out of shape. It’s like, “You can’t really be riding that bike – I don’t detect any use of training wheels!”

    I think Joseph still had the Urim and Thummim, since William Clayton and Hyrum wanted Joseph to us them in delivering the revelation regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant (D&C 132). At the very least, it doesn’t appear that people quite close to Joseph were aware that they had been taken back, if that was the case.

    There was a link to a website that gives information about the various seer stones (a green one, a white one that looked like a baby’s foot that was recovered while Joseph was digging a well, etc.) According to those sources, Emma said Joseph used the seer stone rather than the Urim and Thummim for the portion of the Book of Mormon we currently have.

    Allegedly Joseph dug the well in 1822, but wouldn’t be visited by Moroni until 1823. However the accusation about the well was made in 1833, so I’m not sure I believe the 1822 dating unless there is corroborating evidence. Not that I’d mind Joseph running around looking at seer stones in hats prior to Moroni’s visit (certainly would bolster the self-proclaimed account of his youthful foolishness), but it fits better if he digs the well and retrieves the stone after having visited the plates and artifacts hidden in the Hill Cumorah.

  29. When considering Joseph’s use of the seer stone it’s always interesting to see the progression of how he received revelation. It’s also interesting to look at other people who had folk magic items – either things akin to dowsing rods or other seer stones. They fall out of practice or become ritualized (think of the endowment).

    To our culture this all seems very odd and makes people skeptical. It’s not clear to me why Joseph using a seer stone for a while is bad while casting lots or other methods of discerning the Lord’s will in the Old Testament is fine. I suspect we tend to be less patient with symbols. Certainly we use symbols but culturally the modern world uses symbols ala mathematics rather than more embodied symbols the way people used to. (Even though our language tends to still adopt embodied actions as prime metaphors for lots of acts)

  30. I always have found it strange that people felt his use of seer stones or even the typical image of him staring into a dark hat with light colored stones at the bottom, to be odd. For anyone that has studied meditation practices the similarities between this and say, mandalas, or other images used as a way to stop focusing on ego and the conscience and open a mental pathway to the divine, is not only logical but common prescribed practice. I find the correlation even more compiling when it is considered that even in modern enlightenment practices these tools are just that tools, that the student eventually outgrows as they learn to actively access that pathway and are able over time to let go of the tool, much as Joseph Smith did in his progression of receiving revelation. The fact that these practices where unknown in the place and time that Joseph lived (as with so many other things that caused derision at the time but with greater knowledge have been proven true about the Book of Mormon) for me only adds to my testimony of the truthfulness of him being a Prophet and that it came from God. I also think of modern science showing MRI scans of those who are “experts” in various forms of meditation, having their brains “light up” in ways that are other wise never seen, as instructive. It doesn’t make my testimony, that came directly from the Spirit, it does however, once again show that Truth is always in harmony with truth.

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