OK guys, so we’ve done one other Faith and Beliefs video about seer stones. If you haven’t seen that, check it out. Now, a lot of people are concerned about the fact that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon. People just think it’s weird, which I totally get. In this episode, I just wanted to share some of the things I’ve been learning related to seer stones, but I want you to understand that these are just observations, it’s not doctrine by any means and not something you’re gunna hear in Sunday school. So with that preface, let’s jump in.
Alright guys, so just keepin’ it real: The Bible is full of examples of prophets practicing folk magic and divination. Joseph of Egypt practiced hydromancy with his divining cup. The apostles practiced cleromancy by casting lots to determine who Judas’ replacement should be. “…most scholars believe [the Urim and Thummim] to be two sticks or stones, perhaps precious stones, that God used in a miraculous way to reveal His will.” Which certainly sounds like divination.
But we do this weird thing where if it happens in the Bible it’s a miraculous revelation from God, but if the same thing happens somewhere else it’s all lies, blasphemy, dark magic, and dabbling in the occult. Really, these are just terms with negative connotations some religious people employ to discredit religious traditions they don’t believe in, except when it happens in the Bible. It’s heavily ironic, and oftentimes just a tad bit hypocritical.
So it’s important to remember that context when approaching this subject. But today I really wanted to talk about some ancient Jewish extra-biblical mysticism about the story of a glowing stone or jewel called in Hebrew a tzohar. You might remember we talked about this in a recent episode as it applied to Noah’s ark, so check that out if you haven’t. But to learn more about this legend we’re going to tap into a book by non-Latter-day Saint author Howard Schwartz.
Now, to be clear: I’m not saying this legend is true. It may be fact, fiction, or a mixture of both. I just think the connections we can draw from it are cool. So, according to the legend, the original tzohar was a glowing jewel that Adam received from an angel when he and Eve left the garden of Eden, which was passed down from generation to generation. Eventually, Enoch inherits it, and check this out:
“Enoch peered deeply into the jewel and saw that the flame burning in it formed itself into Hebrew letters, and by reading those letters he was able to read the Celestial Torah, which was imprinted in the flame of that glowing jewel.”
Eventually, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob inherit the stone. Jacob gives it to his son, Joseph. “Now when [Jacob] gave it to [Joseph], the stone was dark, and Jacob did not reveal its power, for he wanted Joseph to discover this for himself. And because Joseph’s brothers did not know how precious the stone was, they did not take it from Joseph when they stripped him of the coat of many colors and cast him into the dark pit.”
As legend has it, this dark pit was a well, and in the darkness, light came from the stone. Eventually, Joseph is found by Midianites and sold into Egypt. At some point, Joseph obtains his divining cup, which we referenced earlier in this video. As the story goes,
“Joseph placed the glowing stone of the Tzohar inside his silver cup, and discovered that by peering into it he could read the future and interpret dreams. That is how he interpreted the dreams of the butler and baker, and later the dreams of Pharaoh that prophesied the seven years of famine. It was that same cup that Joseph hid in the saddlebags of Benjamin, about which his servant said, “Is this not the cup from which our master drinketh, and with which he divineth?” (Gen 44:5).
OK, so, did anything in that story sound familiar? We have the story of Enoch peering into the stone and reading scripture from it. Joseph of Egypt discovers that the stone shines in darkness, and would put the stone in his cup and then look into it to receive revelation. Compare all this stuff to David Whitmer’s description of Joseph Smith’s seer stone;
“Joseph Smith 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. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing.”
The connection between Joseph Smith and Joseph of Egypt is fascinating. For example, in 2 Nephi 3, we read that among Joseph of Egypt’s descendants would be “A choice seer” whose name would also be Joseph.
If that prophecy refers to Joseph Smith, Joseph and Joseph have many things in common. Same name. Same lineage. Both seers. And coincidentally, Joseph Smith even discovered his chocolate-colored seer stone while digging a well, similar to the story of Joseph of Egypt.
As weird as it sounds to us today, in my view, Joseph’s use of a seer stone falls right in line with ancient Jewish mysticism, also known as Kabbalah, and right in line with other revelatory tools in the Bible. Thus I’m not too worried about this method of revelation. The real question on everyone’s mind should be about the authenticity of the revelation Joseph received. That’s really where the rubber meets the road. And I’ll let you and God figure that one out, though a good place to start might be by reading The Book of Mormon.