New York Times recently reported that Mormons are “grappling with a wave of doubt and disillusionment among members
who [have] encountered information on the Internet that sabotaged what they were taught about their faith.” (“Some
Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt,” July 21, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/us/some-mormons-search-the-web-and-find-doubt.html?smid=pl-share.)
If they don’t
want their confidence shaken further they should avoid the historical account of Joseph Smith’s activities when he lived
in northern Pennsylvania.
Few of today’s Pennsylvanians are probably even aware
that Smith, the founder of Mormonism, resided in Harmony (now Oakland Township) in Susquehanna County roughly between 1825
and 1829, prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830.
The Times story cited one of the questions believers found disturbing: “Why does the church
always portray Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon from golden plates when witnesses described him looking down into
a hat at a ‘peep stone,’ a rock that he believed helped him find buried treasure?”
According to the Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania
published in 1887, Smith bought a “seeing stone”—described as a smooth stone about the size of a goose egg,
green in color with brown spots—from a man who reputedly had used it to search for salt deposits in New York State.
Rather like using a dowsing rod to find water, I would suppose.
“Joe Smith conceived
the idea of making a fortune through a similar process of ‘seeing,’ bought the stone and then began his operations
in directing where hidden treasures could be found,” the Centennial History reported.
The strangely named author of the Centennial History, Rhamanthus M. Stocker, a politician, lawyer, and newspaper
editor, noted that “at first Smith made no pretensions touching religion, nor was anything said about the golden Bible.”
Rather, Smith claimed he could use the stone “to reveal … hidden things,” such as buried gold and silver.
But the powers of the stone apparently faltered, at least insofar as buried treasure was
concerned. According to Stocker, Smith began digging near a place called Red Rock “but because his followers broke the
rule of silence the enchantment removed the deposits.” Or so Smith said.
named Eliza Winters Squires who was “often at Smith’s house and much in Mrs. Smith’s company” was
quoted as to Mrs. Smith’s story of the origin of the so-called golden Bible. “Mrs. Smith said that it was found
in the woods, near Palmyra, N.Y. According to revelations that Smith received, they … went on horseback into the woods.
At a certain place her horse stopped, and Smith told her to go no farther. But he continued until after getting her out of
sight, when his horse put its nose against a tree; and here he alighted, and at the roots of the tree, a little beneath the
surface, he found the ‘golden Bible.’ ”
According to the wife’s
quoted account, Smith brought the “golden Bible” to Oakland concealed in a barrel of beans and then hid it in
the woods on a hill beside his house. “It was written in an unknown language; hence its translation became necessary.
A man named Joseph McCune described how Smith employed the seeing stone
in the translation process: “… Smith’s hat was a very large one … what is commonly called a ‘stove
pipe.’ The hat was on the table by the window [in Smith’s house] and the stone in the bottom, or rather in the
top, of the hat. Smith would bend over the hat with his face buried in it so that no light could enter it, and thus dictate
to the scribe what he should write.”
Smith claimed that an angel named Moroni
later took back the golden plates. (If you want to know more about Smith and the content of his “revelation,”
check out the rather thoroughly documented entry on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith.)
Stocker wrote, “From the testimony of several persons
now living in Oakland it appears that on several occasions Smith was led to acknowledge that he was a deceiver, and that his pretended revelations had no foundation.” Stocker tisk-tisked that Smith’s schemes “seemingly
so absurd to rational persons” nevertheless had “brought him many followers and given him worldwide notoriety.”