Seer Stones, the Temple and the Urim and Thummim

The Urim and Thummim

The concept of glasses as a translation mechanism was first introduced in 1825 by Samuel Lawrence.[1]

While the method of translation was clearly understood by many members of the church including Emma, Oliver, Martin Harris, and others, Joseph stopped talking about his use of the seer stone for creation of the Book of Mormon around 1831.[2]  This may be because he was put on trial for the use of this stone.  Using stones to find treasure was against the law in New York.  At the 1830 trial, Oliver Cowdrey testified (falsely) of the use of the Urim and Thummim as the translation means rather than the chocolate colored seer stone.[3]  In December 1830, Joseph Smith received a revelation that the New York church should relocate to Kirtland to be with Sidney Rigdon’s group which had merged with the early church[4].  The Ohio converts, which outnumbered those in the NY church, did not believe in seer stones in the way that those in NY and PA did.  By 1834, the official version of translation including the Urim and Thummim had been published by Oliver Cowdrey.[i]  Joseph Smith confirmed this version of events on at least 3 occasions, including this statement: “through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record through the gift and power of God”[5]  While this would remain the version taught for more than 150 years, there would be a few references to the seer stones by the early church leaders, followed by a few more in the 1970s – 1990s.

Brigham Young stated that there were many who had the natural gift of being able to use seer stone, but that Joseph was special because he was called as a prophet.

Brigham Young stated that he…

did not profess to be a prophet seer & Revelator as Joseph Smith was, was speaking of men being born Natural Prophets & seers. Many have the gift of seeing through seer stones without the Priesthood at all. He had not this gift naturally yet He was an Apostle & the President of the Church & kingdom of God on the Earth and all the Keys of the Holy Priesthood & of Revelation was sealed upon him & the spirit & power of Revelation was upon him daily.[6]

It became a practice to call these seer stones “the Urim and Thummim” in the early church around 1833.[7]  This practice continued into the late 1800s, and the white or chocolate colored seer stone was referred to as the Urim and Thummim by members when it was placed on the Manti Temple alter during its dedication.[ii]

David Whittmer recalled in 1881:

The tablets or plates were translated by Smith, who used a small oval or kidney-shaped stone, called Urim and Thummim… Mr. Whitmer emphatically asserts, as did Harris and Cowdery, that while Smith was dictating the translation he had no manuscript notes or other means of knowledge, save the Seer stone and the characters as shown on the plates…[8]

After Joseph Smith was killed, Brigham Young worked to collect the seer stones but did not use them to receive revelations.  There were very few references to the seer stones in church literature until 2013 when the church first acknowledged their usage in the production of the book of Mormon.[iii]  The 2013 article correctly identifies the brown stone and its use, though it does not preclude the use of the “glasses” or “clear” Urim and Thummim in the production of the Book of Mormon[iv]

In Dec of 2017 the LDS church published its first images showing a hat as part of the translation process[9].  Neither image is entirely accurate (as they do not show Joseph with his face buried in a white top-hat).  Nevertheless this new depiction is more accurate than all previous images published officially by the LDS church.[v]

Uses of Seer stones in mormon theology

The following uses of seer stones are historical or have been taught by Mormon apostles:

  • To find buried treasures[10]
  • To translate or dictate documents, especially those of “ancient origin”.
  • To get revelation from God[11]

Seer stones in the temple and in heaven

Early on May 1st, 1842 Joseph stated the following:

The keys are certain signs and words… which cannot be revealed… til the Temple is completed – The rich can only get them in the Temple…  There are signs in heaven, earth, and hell, the Elders must know them all to be endowed with power…  The devil knows many signs but does not know the sign of the Son of Man, or Jesus.  No one can truly say he knows God until he handles something, and this can only be in the Holy of Holies (bold and italics added).[12]

In Doctrine and Covenants 130:10-11 (Apr 2, 1843) we read:

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.

The ‘new name’ is part of the temple ceremony, and has been since the Nauvoo period.  It is known that Joseph treasured his white seer stone.  Based on these references, it appears that he may have been intended to use it or similar stones as part of the temple ceremony. Shortly after Lyman Wight was endowment into the Quorum of the Anointed on May 14, 1844, Joseph Smith confirmed Wight’s mission to take a group of settlers to Texas.  As part of this ordination, Wight received a white (seer?) stone[13].   As Smith was killed prior to the Nauvoo temple being completed, his exact intentions regarding distribution of white seer stones may have been lost to history.

Later apostles taught that the Urim and Thummim would be used in temples in order to divine the names of past anscestors to allow temple work to be done for them[14].

Among these hidden things that are to be revealed are the books of genealogy, tracing individuals and nations among all people, back to ancient times.

It may be inquired—“How can all this be done?” We answer, by the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord God has ordained to be used in the midst of his holy house, in his Temple.

The Manti temple was dedicated in May 1888, and the “Urim and Thummim” (seer stone) was placed on the alter during the dedication[15].  The holy of holies was located in this temple until the completion of the Salt Lake temple in 1893 and may have housed a seer stones during that period.


[2] “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon.”  Minutes, Church conference, Orange, OH, Oct. 25–26, 1831, in Minute Book 2, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, available at; Welch, “Miraculous Translation,” 121–9.



[5] HC 4:537  See  While this account is in the official History of the Church and it appears to be written in first person by Joseph Smith, it is well documented that this history was rewritten to appear in first person.

[6] Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5:549-550.

[7] “The prophet also had a seer stone which was separate and distinct from the Urim and Thummim, and which (speaking loosely) has been called by some a Urim and Thummim”.  McConkie, Bruce R. (1966), Mormon Doctrine, p. 818.

[8] Notes of a correspondent with Mr. Whitmer on Octber 14th 1881 as published in the Chicago Times and republished in The Myth of the “Manuscript Found” or the absurdities of the “Spaulding Story”, Eleventh Book of the Faith-Promoting Series, by Elder George Reynolds, Pub. Juvenile Instructor Office, SLC, 1883. Pg 83.  NOTE:  Even though this information is correctly given by Whitmer, the book itself calls the information errant on pg 85, “The next error is that the seer stone which Joseph used in the translation ‘was called Urim and Thummim.’ The instrument thus denominated was composed of two crystal stones ‘set in the two rims of a bow.’ The seer stone was separate and distinct from the Urim and Thummim. The latter was delivered to the angel as well as the plates after the translation was completed; the former remained with the Church and is now in the possession of the President.”

[9]   See also:

[10] This was the original use by Joseph from about 1822 to 1827, though no treasure was found.

[11] This includes several sections of the D&C, as well as proposed use by David of the Old Testament as reported by Orson Pratt in GC, in his talk Celestial Marriage (1869).  These revelations are also said to include use in the temple in order to see books which contain genealogies which will allow for temple work to be done for dead people where records are otherwise missing.

[12] Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, comps. and eds., The Words of Joseph Smith:  The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (1980), Provo Utah:  BYU Religious Studies Center), 119.  As quoted in DialogueV34N102_87 pg 89-90.

[13] Quinn, Origins of Power, pp 198-199.

[14] See Journal of Discourses vol 16, pp 260-261 (Orson Pratt, 1873)

[15] The brown seer stone was most probably used, though the church had in their possession the white and brown seer stones at that time.

[i] Oliver Cowdrey’s writings about the Urim and Thummim

These were days never to be forgotten; to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, “interpreters,” the history or record called “The Book of Mormon.”

Letter from Oliver Cowder to W.W. Phelps (Letter I), (September 7, 1834). Published in Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. I. No. 1. Kirtland, Ohio, October, 1834. Published in Letters by Oliver Cowdery to W.W. Phelps on the Rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Liverpool, 1844.


[ii] Joseph Fielding Smiths writings on Seer Stones

SEER STONE NOT USED IN BOOK OF MORMON TRANSLATION. We have been taught since the days of the Prophet that the Urim and Thummim were returned with the plates to the angel. We have no record of the Prophet having the Urim and Thummim after the organization of the Church. Statements of translations by the Urim and Thummim after that date are evidently errors. The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim was on the altar in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, however, was the seer stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. This seer stone is now in the possession of the Church.

While the statement has been made by some writers that the Prophet Joseph Smith used a seer stone part of the time in his translating of the record, and information points to the fact that he did have in his possession such a stone, yet there is no authentic statement in the history of the Church which states that the use of such a stone was made in that translation. The information is all hearsay, and personally, I do not believe that this stone was used for this purpose. The reason I give for this conclusion is found in the statement of the Lord to the Brother of Jared as recorded in Ether 3:22-24.

These stones, the Urim and Thummim which were given to the Brother of Jared, were preserved for this very purpose of translating the record, both of the Jaredites and the Nephites. Then again the Prophet was impressed by Moroni with the fact that these stones were given for that very purpose.  It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the Prophet would substitute something evidently inferior under these circumstances. It may have been so, but it is so easy for a story of this kind to be circulated due to the fact that the Prophet did possess a seer stone, which he may have used for some other purposes.

Doctrines of Salvation Volume 3 pp 254-256.  NOTE:  Section headings were probably added by Bruce R. McConkie and not Joseph Fielding Smith.


[iii]  References to the Seer Stone Between 1880 and 2013

After the late 1800s, the next prominent reference to the seer stone comes in Doctrines of Salvation written by Joseph Fielding Smith, compiled by Bruce R. McKonkie in 1956.  In this volume he states that:

  • Joseph Smith had a seer stone.
  • That this is in the church’s possession.
  • That it was not used in translating the book of Mormon.

The last point is the title of the section, but details are somewhat vague in the text.  It concludes that it simply would not make sense for him to use the seer stone when the Urim and Thumim were available. “It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the Prophet would substitute something evidently inferior under these circumstances”.

Joseph F. Smith served the longest tenure as historian in the history of the church.  He was assistant church historian from 1906 to 1921 and church historian from 1921 to 1970.  He was the grandson of Hyram Smith who borrowed the stone from Chase on behalf of Joseph Smith and failed to return it.  As historian, he had a special vault where he kept materials which he thought might be embarrassing to the church.  He was the president of the quorum of the twelve when Doctrines of Salvation was compiled and would remain so for about 19 years, later becoming the 10th leader of the LDS movement.  By 1970 he had access to the first presidency’s vault and the 2 or more stones contained therein at that time.

Between 1956 and 2013, there are 1000s of references to the Urim and Thummin and about 6-8 to seer stones.  Of these references, most deny the use of seer stones, though a few acknowledge them.  After 2013, a mostly accurate history regarding the use of the brown seer stone in the translation of the Book of Mormon has been available in church literature, though many church members are still unfamiliar with the historically accurate version of the production of the book of Mormon and the use of seer stones.[iii]  The Gospel Topics entry on the Book of Mormon gives a significantly more accurate overview of how the seer stone was used than that told routinely between 1835 and 2010.

[iv] Gospel Topics: Translation of the Book of Mormon – Dec 30, 2013

While the article is not entirely clear and accurate, it does acknowledge the use of the seer stone.  We note one example of misleading the reader in the abbreviated quote provided by Oliver Cowdrey:

Of his experience as scribe, Cowdery wrote, “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven.”[iv]

If we go to the original quote as used by the church extensively in the past, it states:

These were days never to be forgotten; to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, “interpreters,” the history or record called “The Book of Mormon.”

This historical record from multiple sources leads one to conclude that the seer stone was exclusively employed in the translation of what would later be published as the book of Mormon.  This includes the entire period that Oliver acted as a scribe.  Hence, his reference to the use of the Urim and Thummim, with a specific reference to the Nephites and Book of Mormon is fraudulent and may be the reason that this part of the quote was removed.

Another example of deception comes from a footnote (18) which states:

Joseph Smith probably possessed more than one seer stone; he appears to have found one of the stones while digging for a well around 1822. (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984], 69–70.)

Brigham Young placed the total number of seer stones at 5, and this may be a low estimate.  So to say that Joseph Smith “probably possessed more than one seer stone” seems more than a little conservative.

Willard Chase states clearly in his 1833 affidavit that it was he who found the stone and not Joseph.  Joseph had borrowed it on two occasions and on the second refused to return it.  He was still trying to get the stone back as late as 1830 (about 8 years after he had first lent it).[iv]  Other sources state that Willard and/or Alvin were involved in the digging, but that Joseph was not (and as such could not have found the stone)[iv].  Hence, the claim that “he appears to have found one of the stones while digging for a well” is incorrect.

The current online article seems to leave room for both the seer stone and the Urim and Thummim within the story of the translation of the book of Mormon.  The seer stone was used,

“Apparently for convenience, Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather than the two stones bound together to form the interpreters. These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters.

In fact, for the whole book of Mormon (excepting possibly the 118 pages that were lost), the seer stone was the only object used for dictation, as stated by Emma Smith and others.  At least some early church members knew that when one talked of the Urim and Thummim they were actually referring to the (chocolate colored or white) seer stone.  The term Urim and Thummim appears to have been used to describe both of these stones at different times.  It is unclear if it ever referred to any of the other seer stones used by Joseph Smith.  There does not appear to be any record of later church leaders using Josephs or other stones as an instrument to receive revelation.

[v] Opening up about the seer stone – sort of…

The method of producing the Book of Mormon which had been widely denied since at least 1832 was first acknowledged by the church in a substantial way in 2013.  Nevertheless, many members are still unaware of this fact.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that fewer than 20% of adult Mormons and 10% of those under 20 are aware of the usage of seer stones in the production of the book of Mormon.  Curriculum in church classes and art used by the church still depict the translation method taught for more than 180 years and in all images used the golden plates are present, even though witnesses state clearly that the plates were not used.

Photos of the seer stone used in producing the book of Mormon and held by the Church since at least the 1880s were first published in Aug, 2015 (see  In the article, the concept of the seer stone and its used in producing the book of Mormon was more than ½ way through the article which was titled “Joseph the seer”.  Accompanying the article are four artists’ renderings of Joseph translating the book or Mormon by looking at golden plates.   There are no pictures of him looking into a hat in the way that the actual creation of the book of Mormon took place.  Hence, a casual or uninformed reader scanning the article would have not understood how Joseph created the book of Mormon.  See

A commentary regarding the stone was made by a member of the first presidency on their facebook page in June, 2016 as follows (emphasis added):

Dieter F Uchtdorf

June 21 ·

Not long ago, the Church published photos and background information on seer stones. People have asked me, “Do you really believe that Joseph Smith translated with seer stones? How would something like this be possible?” And I answer, “Yes! That is exactly what I believe.” This was done as Joseph said: by the gift and power of God1.

In reality, most of us use a kind of “seer stone” every day. My mobile phone is like a “seer stone.” I can get the collected knowledge of the world through a few little inputs. I can take a photo or a video with my phone and share it with family on the other side of our planet. I can even translate anything into or from many different languages!2

If I can do this with my phone, if human beings can do this with their phones or other devices, who are we to say that God could not help Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration, with his translation work? If it is possible for me to access the knowledge of the world through my phone, who can question that seer stones are impossible for God?3

Many religions have objects, places, and events that are sacred to them. We respect the sacred beliefs of other religions and hope to be respected for our own beliefs and what is sacred to us. We should never be arrogant, but rather polite and humble. We still should have a natural confidence, because this is the Church of Jesus Christ.

In Dec 2017 in the Ensign, an article Joseph Smith: Strength Out of Weakness, discusses the translation process as follows:

Joseph dictated it word by word as he looked into instruments the Lord had prepared for him, including the Urim and Thummim and at times a seer stone, using a hat to shield his eyes from extraneous light in order to plainly see the words as they appeared.

Contemporary sources indicate that the seer stone was used for the entire translation after the lost 116 pages, or all of what is in the current Book of Mormon.


  1. The phrase “Gift and power of God” in reference to the translation of the Book of Mormon was used by Joseph Smith, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. The phrase has been used as titles of Ensign articles in Sept 1977 and Jan 1997.  In at least two of the known quotes, the Urim and Thummim are mentioned in conjunction with the translation and the “Gift and power of God” phrase.
  2. Unlike the seer stone, the current I-phone does not support translating from reformed Egyptian to English.
  3. The use of seer stones was attacked by Apostle Bruce R. McKonkie in his influential work, Mormon Doctrine. [Bruce R. McConkie, p 565+] under the entry “Peep Stones”.