How did Joseph Smith translate the supposed ancient record he found in the hill? The eye-witnesses to the translation process of the Book of Mormon seem to be describing a magical event. Joseph Smith would put a stone in his hat and then the "translation" of the plates would appear on the stone. Smith's wife, Emma related: "In writing for your father, I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close to him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating [the Book of Mormon] hour after hour with nothing between us."" (as quoted in Creation of the Book of Mormon, by LaMar Peterson, p.25)
The Smith family's involvement with the occult goes back a number of years before the Book of Mormon was "translated" and printed in 1830. Michael Marquardt and Wesley Walters relate the beginnings of the Smith's magical practices:
"When Joseph Smith recalled his money-digging activities for his official history, he wrote only about searching for a lost mine in 1825 for Josiah Stowell. But contemporary records suggest that this had been one of the Smith family occupations in the Palmyra/ Manchester era since the early 1820s. For example, Joshua Stafford of Manchester recalled that he "became acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen. about the year 1819 or 20.
They then were laboring people, in low circumstances. A short time after this, they commenced digging for hidden treasures.. and told marvelous stories about ghosts, hob-goblins, caverns, and various other mysterious matters." Willard Chase, another friend of the family, similarly recalled, "I became acquainted with the Smith family.. in the year 1820. At that time they were engaged in the money digging business."" (Inventing Mormonism, Marquardt and Walters, p.64)
As early as 1822 Joseph Smith was connected with the magic "seer stone" he found while digging a well for Mr. Chase. Joseph and his father later joined with a group of men to search for buried treasures, aided by Smith's stone. In 1825, after hearing of Smith's powers, Josiah Stowell came to Palmyra to hire the Smiths to help him look for a silver mine in Pennsylvania.
Smith's mother relates that Mr. Stowell specifically sought out Joseph Smith due to his special powers. Lucy Smith wrote: "A short time before the house was completed , a man by the name of Josiah Stoal came from Chenango country, New York, with the view of getting Joseph to assist him in digging for a silver mine. He came to Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain means by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye." (Biographical Sketches, Lucy Smith, pp.91-92, as quoted in Early Mormon documents, Vol.1, p. 309)
This subject is further explored in LaMar Peterson's new book, The Creation of the Book of Mormon: "Lucy [Joseph Smith's mother] provided an even more revealing glimpse into the Smith family's involvement in magical abracadabra and other aspects of folk magic: Let not the reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac [,] drawing Magic circles or sooth saying [sic] to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remmember [sic] the service & welfare of our souls.
"As a young man Joseph Smith not only labored on his family's farm, but he also worked "in blessing crops, finding lost articles, predicting future events or prophesying, and using divine rods and seer stones."
"One of the most detailed accounts of Joseph's use of the a seer stone for purposes other than translation is recorded in a pre-trial examination by justice Albert Neely at Bainbridge, New York, in March 1826, where Joseph was charged with being a disorderly person and an imposture.
".. LDS Church writers were extremely reluctant to recognize its authenticity as it seems that such examinations before a justice of the peace were not usually recorded. Also the fact that it was published through the instrumentality of Episcopal Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle did not enhance its value. In 1961 Hugh W. Nibley, professor of history and religion at Brigham Young University, explained the seriousness of the alleged trial.
"You knew its immense value as a weapon against Joseph Smith if its authenticity could be established.. if this court record is authentic, it is the most damming evidence in existence against Joseph Smith.
"Another LDS researcher, Francis W. Kirkham, recognizing the disturbing implications of the report, said: "If any evidence that Joseph Smith had used a a seer stone for fraud and deception, and especially had he made this confession in a court of law as early as 1826, or four years before the Book of Mormon was printed, and this confession was in a court, it would have been impossible for him to have organized the restored Church..
"The first part and conclusion of the alleged court record published by Bishop Tuttle is here reproduced, which indicates that young Joseph admitted to using his seer stone to search for lost property, buried coins, hidden treasures, and gold mines:
People of the State of New York vs. Joseph Smith.
Warrant issued upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposture. Prisoner brought into court March 20 (1826). Prisoner examined. Says that he came from town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowell in Bainbridge most of time since; had small part of time been looking for mines, but the major part had been employed by said Stowell on his farm, and going to school; that he had a certain stone, which was he had occasionally looked at to tell in this manner where gold - mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowell several times, and informed him there he could find those treasures, and Mr. Stowell had been engaged in digging for them; that at Palmyra he pretended to tell, by looking at this stone, where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, while at Palmyra he had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was, of various kinds; that he has occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given up on account its injuring his health, especially his eyes - made them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having anything to do with this business. And thereupon the Court finds the defendant guilty...
"Recent discoveries have confirmed the reality of the 1826 pre-trial examination of 'Joseph Smith The Glass Looker' before Albert Neely, a justice of the peace." (The Creation of the Book of Mormon, LaMar Petersen, Freethinker Press, 1998, pp.29-32)
Another documentary with copies of documents which relate to Smith's hearing and County bills is "Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y. Court Trials," by Wesley P. Walters available from Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1358 South West Temple - Salt Lake City, Ut 84115 - http://www.utlm.org - (Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Issue No. 95 April 1999)
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