Urim and Thummim of LDS Tradition — Rich Kelsey

Urim and Thummim LDS faithful history.
Illustration by Robert T. Barrett @ LDS.org

Urim and Thummim / LDS (Mormon) Faithful History:

In this article accounts of the Urim and Thummim from LDS (Mormon) Church tradition are documented:

(1) The words Urim and Thummim were not recorded in any LDS Church publications until 1833. Yet, the official LDS Church account of Joseph Smith’s 1823 vision has the angel Moroni telling Joseph Smith about the Urim and Thummim a whopping 10 years earlier.

(2) The LDS Church claims that many of the first 17 revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were given through the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph Smith actually used a stone in a hat to receive the revelations.

And,

(3) Joseph Smith sometimes applied the term Urim and Thummim to other stones he possessed, called ‘seer stones’ because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer.[1]

Let’s start with claim (1):

Church Publications Before 1833 Did Not Contain The Words Urim and Thummim:

In Joseph Smith’s 1838 history, speaking about Moroni’s visit to Joseph Smith’s bedroom in 1823, it is written:

“Again, he [Moroni] told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates, the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it.” (Joseph Smith 1838 History, 1:42)

While the term Urim and Thummim is recorded in Smith’s 1838 history, The Evening and Morning Star magazine published by the Church in 1833 spells out:

“The book of Mormon … was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles-(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim)” (The Evening and Morning Star, Vol. 1 p. 57, Jan. 1833)

It wasn’t until 1833 that W.W. Phelps suggested the Interpreters, or spectacles used to translate the Book of Mormon, might ‘perhaps be the Urim and Thummim from the Old Testament.

This means that all of the accounts of the angel Moroni telling Joseph Smith about the Urim and Thummim, including the 1823 bedroom dream account, are later revisions, which have been backdated into official LDS Church History, as we shall soon see.

Example: Adding the Words Urim and Thummim to an Earlier Revelation:

The words Urim and Thummim are not found in the following 1829 revelation:

1833 Book of Commandments
1833 Book of Commandments

This 1829 revelation was later revised to include the words Urim and Thummim:

Doctrine and Covenants 10:1 "... power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim."
1981 Doctrine and Covenants

One might wonder why the words Urim and Thummim were added[2] to this foundational revelation?

Would You Believe This?

“Indeed, at the time of compilation, the Prophet was inspired in several instances to write additional sentences and paragraphs to the earlier revelations.” (LDS.org, Ensign, 1984, The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants By Robert J. Woodford)

Claim (2):

The LDS Church claims that Doctrine and Covenants sections 3, 6, 7, 11, 14, 15, 16, and 17 were given in answer to an inquiry through the Urim and Thummim.

Here is an example:

“This revelation and the two following (sections 15 and 16) were given in answer to an inquiry through the Urim and Thummim.” (Section 14, Doctrine and Covenants, Introduction)

Section 17, Problems With the Introduction:

As spelled out in the Introduction to Section 17, the following revelation was also given in answer through the Urim and Thummim:

Doctrine and Covenants 17 given through the Urim and Thummim
Doctrine and Covenants 17:1

Yet according to the LDS Church, by the time this revelation was given, the angel had taken the golden plates along with the Urim and Thummim from Joseph Smith:

“… the Urim and Thummim were returned with the plates to the angel.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Fielding Smith, 3, p. 225)

That explains why the Three Witnesses were about to see the golden plates by faith, along with the other sacred items, including the Urim and Thummim:

“And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.” (Doctrine and Covenants 17:2)

The problem: seeing that the Urim and Thummim was no longer in Joseph Smith’s possession, how was it possible that Joseph Smith was given this June 1829 revelation through the Urim and Thummim?

The Answer to Mormonism’s Biggest Riddle:

According to David Whitmer, a few of the early revelations were given through the same means that the Book of Mormon was translated; a stone in a hat:

“… God had given us the Book of Mormon, and a few revelations in 1829 by the same means that the Book [of Mormon] was translated…” (An Address To All Believers In Christ, David Whitmer)

The real Urim and Thummim.
Illustration of Joseph Smith gazing at a stone in a hat from LDS.org

By quoting David Whitmer’s landmark work, “An Address To All Believers In Christ.” Elder Russell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how the Book of Mormon was translated:

“David Whitmer wrote: ‘Joseph Smith would 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.'” (Ensign Magazine, July 1993)

David Whitmer Witnessed What Took Place:

When Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery felt it would be best to leave Harmony, Pennsylvania, due to persecution, they found sanctuary at the Peter Whitmer home in Fayette, New York. David came to Pennsylvania and provided transportation for Smith and Cowdery to the Whitmer family home in late May, 1829. It was at the Whitmer family’s log home that the Book of Mormon translation was completed.

David Whitmer was the third person baptized into the church, he was confirmed and ordained an Elder in the Church by Joseph Smith. Both Smith and Oliver Cowdery were the only two people baptized before David Whitmer. So, David was part of the inner circle right from the start; he witnessed what took place during the days leading up to and after the Church was born. His family home is known today as the cradle of Mormonism.

A Few Examples of Joseph Using a Stone In a Hat:

“At times when Brother Joseph would attempt to translate, [the Book of Mormon] he would look into the hat in which the stone was placed …” (An Address To All Believers In Christ p. 30)

Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation …” (An Address To All Believers In Christ p. 31)

“… [Joseph] enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone …” (An Address To All Believers In Christ p. 31)

The stone in question is not the Urim and Thummim of Mormon tradition, it was the brown seer stone which was displayed in court during Joseph Smith’s 1826 Glass Looking Trial.

Pictures of the stone were released to the world during a Press Conference at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church History Library, in Salt Lake City, on Tuesday August 4th, 2015:

seer stone
Joseph Smith’s brown seer stone

When Did It Start & When Did It End?

In both the first reference of Joseph Smith being given a revelation through the Urim and Thummim from the Doctrine and Covenants (section 3), and the last reference (section 17), David Whitmer claimed the revelations came through the stone.

Here is an example:   

I quote from a revelation which came through the stone, July, 1828. It is a revelation to Brother Joseph, chastising him for his errors after he had commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, telling him how often he had erred and transgressed the commandmants (sic) and the laws of God; telling him that if he was not aware, he would fall, and have his gift to translate taken from him.” (An Address To All Believers In Christ p. 36) 

The revelation spoken of by Whitmer in the above quote is Section 3 of the Doctrine and Covenants:

1981 Doctrine and Covenants Section 3
1981 Doctrine and Covenants

Yet, instead of admitting that this early revelation came through the stone, today the LDS Church is claiming this revelation was given through the Urim and Thummim.

Perhaps It’s Time To State The Obvious:

If the LDS Church is interested in offering a more accurate history, the LDS Church should remove references in the Doctrine and Covenants stating that several of the revelations were given through the Urim and Thummim and admit that the revelations in question were given through a stone in a hat.[3]

Articles of interest:

■ Joseph Smith Stone In Hat Routine — Rich Kelsey

■ A Meeting With Two LDS Elders — Rich Kelsey

■ Cognitive Dissonance and the LDS Faith — Rich Kelsey

■ Joseph Smith on Trial — Rich Kelsey

LDS Series

Endnotes:

[1] “He [Joseph Smith] also sometimes applied the term [Urim and Thummim] to other stones he possessed, called ‘seer stones’ because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer. The Prophet received some early revelations through the use of these seer stones … Records indicate that soon after the founding of the Church in 1830, the Prophet stopped using the seer stones as a regular means of receiving revelations.” (Ensign Magazine, Jan. 2013, Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God By Gerrit Dirkmaat, Church History Department)

[2] “Some of the revelations as they are now in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants have been changed and added to. Some of the changes being of the greatest importance as the meaning is entirely changed on some very important matters; as if the Lord had changed his mind a few years after he gave the revelations …” (An Address To All Believers In Christ p. 56)

[3] Further Reading:

One problem with the Urim and Thummim of LDS tradition being the same as the Urim and Thummim from the bible: the Urim and Thummim of LDS tradition is described as a pair of glasses with seer-stones as lenses. The biblical Urim and Thummim is never once described as a pair of glasses. Prophets in biblical times did not wear glasses with seer-stones as lenses.

Also, the bible’s Urim and Thummim was mostly used to determine the innocence or guilt of an individual, whereas the LDS Urim and Thummim was supposedly used to translate languages and receive revelations.

When Joseph Smith first spoke of the glasses (Urim and Thummim) that he found with the plates, he said:

“I can see anything; they are Marvelus.” (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History) 

That statement is very similar to what Joseph Smith said in court about one of his seer stones:

“… that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye.” (1826 Glass Looking Trial of Joseph Smith)

Perhaps the most glaring problem with accounts of the Urim and Thummim, as found in the Doctrine and Covenants, have to do with saying it was used to receive revelations, because a seer-stone was used instead.

Also, even LDS apologists admit that the entire 1830 Book of Mormon manuscript was brought forth by Joseph Smith using a stone in a hat. It was only the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon that were supposedly brought forth using the Urim and Thummim.

One might wonder why the LDS Church puts such emphasis on Joseph Smith using the Urim and Thummim of LDS tradition, when Joseph Smith actually used a seer-stone?