Monday, May 8, 2017

Urim, Thummim, and Joseph Smith's Hat

I will never, never understand why some people get so excited about the idea that Joseph Smith may have sometimes kept the Urim and Thummim in his hat, including sometimes while he was using it.

(1) Like it or not, 19th century gentlemen apparently kept things in their hats in a way similar to how modern women keep things in their purses. I remember one account in particular involving a wild horse, and documents come flying out of Joseph's hat. This custom may seem weird to you, but regardless, he did it. So what?

(2) The Urim and Thummim were detachable from the breastplate. Lucy Mack Smith's account makes clear that the first time Joseph ever showed her the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, it was while they were detached from the breastplate. Joseph showed her an object and told her it was "a key", and it wasn't until later that he identified it to her as the Urim and Thummim and showed her the breastplate which came with it. So they were detachable--so what?

(3) Joseph had a another seer stone which, yes, he acquired earlier than the Urim and Thummim which came with the plates. It had some interesting properties, and Martin Harris tells an interesting story about a prank he played on Joseph, replacing that stone with a common river stone. (Joseph apparently panicked a little because the stone had apparently stopped working--"all is dark as Egypt!", at which point Martin fessed up to his prank.) Joseph was clearly far more impressed with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates though, so there were qualitative differences between them... but he eventually stopped needing either and relied upon direct inspiration. To me this is congruent with his identification of the tool as "a key"--once you've unlocked the door and gone through to other side, who needs the key any more? In any case, if Joseph had more than one tool, so what?

(4) Joseph said that he translated the book "by the gift and power of God." We know from the Doctrine and Covenants that this included a requirement to "study it out in your mind" and then seek for confirmation. Who cares if the way Joseph channeled the power of God doesn't conform to your preconceptions of how you think it should have happened?

I see some people get really exercised over this issue like it's some kind of big disappointment to them, but I can't understand why. It's interesting, yes, just like any other factual detail about a miraculous event. You can learn things from it, which may help you better understand revelation in your own life. But the doctrinal significance of this factoid is strictly limited.


If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

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