Urim and Thummim (Latter Day Saints)

In the Latter Day Saint movement, the term Urim and Thummim (/ˈjʊərɪm ...ˈθʌmɪm/;) refers to a descriptive category of instruments used for receiving revelation or translating languages.[1] According to Latter Day Saint theology, the two stones found in the breastplate of Aaron in the Old Testament, the white stone referenced in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, the two stones bound by silver bows into a set of spectacles (interpreters) that movement founder Joseph Smith said he found buried in the hill Cumorah with the golden plates, and the seer stone found while digging a well used to translate the Book of Mormon are all examples of Urim and Thummim.[1] Latter Day Saint scripture states that the place where God resides is a Urim and Thummim, and the earth itself will one day become sanctified and a Urim and Thummim, and that all adherents who are saved in the highest heaven will receive their own Urim and Thummim.[2]

An 1893 engraving of Joseph Smith receiving the Golden Plates and the Urim and Thummim from the angel Moroni. The sword of Laban is shown at the bottom.

While the term is ubiquitous and well ingrained in modern Latter Day Saint theology, it was not initially applied to the spectacles or seer stone used in translating the Book of Mormon, and "Urim and Thummim" does not appear within the Book of Mormon or early versions of the Doctrine and Covenants.[3] It has been argued that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery adopted the term in the early 1830s as part of a larger effort to distance the church from early folk magic practices.[4][5][6]

History Edit

Joseph Smith said that in 1827 he was led by an angel to dig up golden plates containing a record of ancient inhabitants of the American continent, along with "spectacles", or interpreters, that the Lord had prepared to translate the record.[7] Smith also had in his possession a brown seer stone. He used both devices to produce the record, which is called the Book of Mormon.[8]

The earliest source that expands the term "Urim and Thummim" outside the biblical context is a reverse association William W. Phelps made on Hosea 3:4 in July 1832, stating that the children of Israel "were even to do without the Teraphim, [Urim & Thummim, perhaps] or sacred spectacles or declarers."[5] The first known explicit connection between the spectacles and the term "Urim and Thummim" occurred in 1832.[9] Prior to this, and even frequently afterwards, they were always referred to as "spectacles" or "interpreters".

By 1833, Joseph Smith and his associates began referring to the Smith's seer stone as well as the interpreters with the Biblical term "Urim and Thummim".[10][5][1][11] In January 1833 W. W. Phelps wrote about a possible connection: "It [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)".[5] Similarly, Oliver Cowdery wrote in September 1834, "[Smith] translated, with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, 'Interpreters'".[5] In 1838, Smith simply stated, "I obtained [the plates], and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the Book of Mormon."[12]

No mention of the term "Urim and Thummim" exists in the 1833 version of the Book of Commandments, or in early transcriptions of Joseph Smith's revelations. In the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, revelations were modified and the term was added.

Verse 1833 Book of Commandments 1835 Doctrine and Covenants
Chapter 9:1 (1833)
Section 36:1(1835)
Section 10:1 (1981)
Now, behold I say unto you, that because you
delivered up so many writings,
which you had power to translate,

into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them,
and you also lost your gift at the same time ...[13]
Now, behold I say unto you, that because you
delivered up those writings
which you had power given unto you to translate,
by the means of the Urim and Thummim,
into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them;
and you also lost your gift at the same time ...[14]
Section 42:1 (1835)
Section 17:1 (1981)
[Not Present in 1833 Book of Commandments] Behold I say unto you, that you must rely upon my
word, which if you do, with full purpose of heart,
you shall have a view of the plates, and also the
breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim,
which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount,
when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the
miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in
the wilderness, on the borders of the red sea; 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.[15]

Apostle Orson Pratt gave an expansive definition in 1851 stating: "The Urim and Thummim is a stone or other substance sanctified and illuminated by the Spirit of the living God, and presented to those who are blessed with the gift of seeing."[16] Emma Smith, Joseph Smith's wife and scribe for part of the Book of Mormon, made a clear distinction between the two in an 1870 letter, "The first that my husband translated, was translated by the use of the Urim, and Thummim [i.e. spectacles or interpreters], and that was the part that Martin Harris lost, after that he used a small stone, not exactly, black, but was rather a dark color."[17]

Artistic depiction of interpreters based on J.W. Peterson's influential 1921 recollection of an 1890 interview with Joseph Smith's brother William.

By the beginning of the 20th century, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) grew to see the "Urim and Thummim" as completely dissociated from seer stones, a distinction that persists today among many members of the church.[18][19] This disassociation is typified by church leader Bruce R. McConkie who wrote: "the Prophet had a seer stone which was separate and distinct from the Urim and Thummim."[20][21]

Reasons for adoption of the term Edit

The motive for adopting the term 'Urim and Thummim' is the subject of continued debate and ongoing study.

The general consensus is that it was part of a larger effort to de-emphasize early folk magic practices, and bring them into the mainstream.[22] Joseph Smith was put on trial in 1826, and twice in 1830 for practicing folk magic and being a "stone gazer". Fear of further litigation, and shifting cultural attitudes towards the acceptability of folk magic in 1830 American society, led Smith to remove allusions to folk magic elements in his early life (such as magical treasure-seeking activities, divining rods, magic circles and seer stones)[5][6]

Some apologists within the LDS Church argue that Smith never used the seer stone in the translation, that the term 'Urim and Thummim' is not a later development, and accuse those who make a distinction of being revisionist historians.[23]

Recent publications by the LDS Church acknowledge the shift in terminology occurring in the early 1830s, but do not speculate on reasons for doing so.[24] Unaffiliated apologetic site FairMormon attributes the change to early Latter Day Saints noticing similarities between the biblical devices and the Nephite interpreters, the term naturally entered the vernacular over time, and that "use of the term Urim and Thummim has unfortunately obscured the fact that all such devices belong in the same class of consecrated revelatory aids and that more than one were used in the translation."[25]

Interpreters (Spectacles) Edit

In 1827, Smith said that he had been visited again by the angel who had previously revealed the location of the golden plates, along with other items such as the Urim and Thummim, and that these objects were buried in a nearby hillside. After Martin Harris lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript in June 1828, Smith said that the Angel Moroni took back the plates and interpreters. Later, the plates and interpreters were returned. Several accounts have him translating exclusively with the seer stone from that point on.[26][27] David Whitmer was asked in 1855 the role of the Interpreters in the translation of the Book of Mormon and responded:

"[Joseph Smith] used a stone called a 'Seers stone,' the 'Interpreters' having been taken away from him because of transgression. The 'Interpreters' were taken from Joseph after he allowed Martin Harris to carry away the 116 pages of Ms of the Book of Mormon as a punishment, but he was allowed to go on and translate by the use of a 'Seers stone' which he had, and which he placed in a hat into which he buried his face, stating to me and others that the original character appeared upon parchment and under it the translation in English."[28]

Smith said that after translating the Book of Mormon, he returned the plates and the Urim and Thummim to the angel, whom he identified as the resurrected Moroni. Smith reportedly told Orson Pratt that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was an inexperienced translator but that as he grew in experience, he no longer needed such assistance.[29]

What the interpreters looked like, and how they were used has been the source of debate, as there are several conflicting descriptions. These different descriptions, and Smith's silence on the mode of translation, has led to a wide range of artistic interpretations.[30][31] How the interpreters were used in the translation is also unknown. Joseph Smith answered when asked on the particulars of translation, "It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon."[32] The majority of the descriptions of the translation with the interpreters have Smith looking through transparent, glass-like stones at the text, and it being converted into English words. Confusing the matter, are a few accounts that have Smith putting the spectacles in a hat and reading words off the surface of the stones as they would appear, although this could be a conflation with the seer stone, which Smith did put into a hat and read from.[5]

Notable Descriptions of the Interpreters
Person Source Eyewitness Note Description
Martin Harris September 5, 1829 Newspaper[33] Yes The earliest known description[34] "Martin Harris states that after the third visit from the same spirit in a dream he proceeded to the spot, removed the earth, and there found the Bible, together with a large pair of spectacles"[35]
Oliver Cowdery Report in a magazine on 1830 trial Yes Source is antagonistic, but the only detailed description Cowdery gave[36] "Oliver Cowdry, one of the three witnesses to the book, testified under oath, that said Smith found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the formed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates."[37]
Joseph Smith 1838 History of the Church Yes First mention of being connected to the breastplates "...there were two stones in silver bows and these (put in <stones fastened> to a breast plate) which constituted what is called the Urim & Thummin deposited with the plates, and <the possession and use of these stones> that was what constituted seers in ancient or former times and that God <had> prepared them for the purpose of translating the book."[38]
Joseph Smith March 1842 Church History Yes "With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God."[39]
Lucy Mack Smith 1853 History No Carried on Joseph Smiths person not attached to a breastplate, showed "with no covering but a silk handkerchief." "It consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows, which were connected with each other in much the same way as old-fashioned spectacles."[40][41]
Martin Harris Interview with Periodical Yes Most accounts refer to them as clear, not opaque. "The two stones set in a bow of silver were about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the centre; but not so thick at the edges where they came into the bow. They were joined by a round bar of silver, about three-eighths of an inch in diameter, and about four inches long, which, with the two stones, would make eight inches. The stones were white, like polished marble, with a few gray streaks."[42]
William Smith 1921 recollection of an 1890 J.W. Peterson interview No Only source for a rod holding the interpreters out from the breastplate[5] "Explaining the expression as to the stones in the Urim and thummim being set in two rims of a bow he said: A silver bow ran over one stone, under the other, around over that one and under the first in the shape of a horizontal figure 8 much like a pair of spectacles. That they were much too large for Joseph and he could only see through one at a time using sometimes one and sometimes the other. By putting his head in a hat or some dark object it was not necessary to close one eye while looking through the stone with the other. In that way sometimes when his eyes grew tires [tired] he relieved them of the strain. He also said the Urim and Thummim was attached to the breastplate by a rod which was fastened at the outer shoulde[r] edge of the breastplate and to the end of the silver bow. This rod was just the right length so that when the Urim and thummim was removed from before the eyes it woul<d> reac<h> to a pocked [pocket?] on the left side of the breastplate where the instrument was kept when not in use by the Seer."[43]
A 21st-century artistic representation of the golden plates, Urim and Thummim, Sword of Laban, and Liahona

Beliefs Edit

Many Latter Day Saints believe that the Urim and Thummim of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were the functional equivalent of the Urim and Thummim mentioned in the Old Testament.[44][45]

In the Book of Mormon, the prophets the Brother of Jared and Mosiah both used devices called "interpreters" to receive revelation for their people.[46] In the Doctrine and Covenants, it states that the Urim and Thummim Smith originally possessed was the same one possessed by the Jaredites.[47][48][46] In the Book of Abraham, which Smith said he translated from Egyptian Papyri, the prophet Abraham used a Urim and Thummim given to him in the city Ur to receive a revelation from God about astronomy.[49]

In 1841, apostles Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith confiscated several seer stones and grimoires from convert William Mountford in Staffordshire, England. The grimoires were destroyed and seer stones were sent to Nauvoo. Joseph Smith examined the stones and stated that they were "Urim and Thummim as good as ever was upon the earth" but that they had been "consecrated to devils."[50]

In 1842 Joseph Smith taught that the Nephites would use a Urim and Thummim during times of war to gain an advantage over the Lamanites.[51]

In 1843, William Clayton wrote in his journal a theologically significant discussion he had with Smith that later became canonized as Section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants[52]

"The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord. The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim. This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s. Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known; and a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom"[53][54]

Apostle Orson Pratt taught that the biblical Noah had a Urim and Thummim, and used it to obtain direction for building the ark.[5]

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. ^ a b c Davis, W. L. (2020). Visions in a seer stone: Joseph Smith and the making of The book of mormon. The University of North Carolina Press.
  2. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 130:8–11
  3. ^ Skousen, R. (2010). The Book of Mormon: the earliest text. New Haven: Yale University Press. page xi
  4. ^ D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), pp. 43–44.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Joseph Smith's Magic Spectacles - Dan Vogel" – via www.youtube.com.
  6. ^ a b Persuitte, D. (2000). Joseph Smith and the origins of The book of mormon. McFarland. e-book location 4251 of 6290
  7. ^ "History, circa Summer 1832, Page 5". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  8. ^ "Seer stone – Glossary Topic". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  9. ^ Missionaries Orson Hyde and Samuel H. Smith were interviewed by a newspaper the Boston Investigator in August 1832:

    "Q.-In what manner was the interpretation, or translation made known, and by whom was it written?

    A.-It was made known by the spirit of the Lord through the medium of the Urim and Thummim; and was written partly by Oliver Cowdery, and partly by Martin Harris. Q.-What do you mean by Urim and Thummim?

    A.-The same as were used by the prophets of old, which were two crystal stones, placed in bows something in the form of spectacles, which were found with the plates."

    . Brown, S. M. (2012). In Heaven as it is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the early Mormon conquest of death. New York: Oxford University Press. page 327
  10. ^ Morris, L. E. (n.d.). A documentary history of the Book of Mormon. New York (N.Y.): Oxford University Press. page 250
  11. ^ "I had the privilege of seeing for the first time in my day the URIM & THUMMIM." Wilford Woodruff journal, Dec. 27, 1841
  12. ^ "Elders' Journal, July 1838, Page 43". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  13. ^ "Book of Commandments, 1833, Page 22". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  14. ^ "Doctrine and Covenants, 1835, Page 163". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  15. ^ "Doctrine and Covenants, 1835, Page 171". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  16. ^ Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," M.A. thesis, Utah State University, 2000 pg. 41
  17. ^ MacKay, M. H. (2016). Joseph Smiths seer stones. Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center.
  18. ^ Stapley, J. A. (2018). The power of godliness: mormon liturgy and cosmology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. page 118
  19. ^

    "In current LDS usage, "the Urim and Thummim" (Yur' •im and Thum' •im) usually refers only to the seeric spectacles that Smith discovered with the golden plates"

    Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," M.A. thesis, Utah State University, 2000, page 40
  20. ^ Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966).
  21. ^ See also comment in 1956 by Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith:

    "The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim was on the altar in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, however, was the seer stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. ... The Urim and Thummim which were given to the Brother of Jared, were preserved for this very purpose of translating the record. ... It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the Prophet would substitute something evidently inferior under these circumstances. It may have been so, but it is so easy for a story of this kind to be circulated due to the fact that the Prophet did possess a seer stone, which he may have used for some other purposes. "Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956), 3:225, quoted in 2009 LDS Church Book of Mormon student manual

  22. ^ Quinn, D. Michael (1998), Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (2nd ed.), Salt Lake City: Signature Books, pp. 171–173, ISBN 1-56085-089-2
  23. ^ "The progressive historians who propound the “seer stone in a hat” narrative—may attempt to construe Joseph Smith’s use of the phrase “Urim and Thummim” as vague and undefined. They might ask, “Joseph Smith used the term ‘Urim and Thummim’ rather ambiguously. Could the ‘Urim and Thummim’ not simply be a dark seer stone?" Stoddard, L. H., & Stoddard, J. F. (2019). Seer stone v. Urim & Thummim: Book of Mormon translation on trial. Salem, UT: Joseph Smith Foundation.
  24. ^ "Urim and Thummim – Glossary Topic". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  25. ^ "Book of Mormon/Translation/Urim and Thummim - FAIR". www.fairlatterdaysaints.org.
  26. ^ Bushman, R. L., & Woodworth, J. (2007). Joseph Smith: rough stone rolling. New York: Vintage Books. e-book location 1718 of 17510
  27. ^ Vogel, D. (2004). Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet. Signature Books. e-book location 4772 of 19201
  28. ^ Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15:2 (Summer 1982): 59–63.
  29. ^ "Two Days' Meeting at Brigham City," Millennial Star 36 [1874]:498–99).
  30. ^ MacKay, M. H. (2016). Joseph Smith's seer stones. BYU Religious Studies Center. e-book location 130 of 4471
  31. ^ "Depiction of spectacles separate from breastplate".
  32. ^ "Minute Book 2, Page 13". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  33. ^ "A Golden Bible" The Gem, of literature and science Vol I. No 9. September 5, 1829 Rochester New York.
  34. ^ Lancaster, James E. “The Method of Translation of the Book of Mormon.” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, vol. 3, 1983, pp. 51–61. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43200719. Accessed 25 Jan. 2020.
  35. ^ "Uncle Dale's Old Mormon Articles: Rochester Area, 1829-1831". www.sidneyrigdon.com.
  36. ^ Spencer, Stan (September 6, 2019). "What Did the Interpreters (Urim and Thummim) Look Like? | The Interpreter Foundation".
  37. ^ March 1831 letter of A.W.B. [Abram W. Benton], in Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate (April 9, 1831) 2:120. (Concerning the 1830 trial of Smith in South Bainbridge, New York)
  38. ^ "History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]," p. 5, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 23, 2020
  39. ^ ""Church History," 1 March 1842, Page 709". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  40. ^ Smith, Lucy Mack (1853). The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother. p. 101.
  41. ^ "Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, Page [1], bk. [1]," p. [7], bk. 5, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 24, 2020
  42. ^ "Interview with Martin Harris in Tiffany's Monthly 1859". www.utlm.org.
  43. ^ "Statement of J.W. Peterson Concerning William Smith," 1 May 1921, Community of Christ Library-Archives, Independence, MO.
  44. ^ Spencer, Stan. "Seers and Stones: The Translation of the Book of Mormon as Divine Visions of an Old-Time Seer" Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 24 (2017): 27-98
  45. ^ There are seven references to the Urim and Thummim in the Masoretic Text (the basis of most English translations of the Old Testament): Exodus 28:30, Leviticus 8:8, Numbers 27:21, Deuteronomy 33:8, 1 Samuel 28:6, Ezra 2:63, Nehemiah 7:65. The Septuagint version (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament) and some English translations of 1 Samuel 14:41 also references them.
  46. ^ a b Doctrine and Covenants 17:1
  47. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 10:1
  48. ^ See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), pp. 818–19.
  49. ^ Abraham 3
  50. ^ Stapley, Johnathan. The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology. Oxford University Press, 2018: page 110.
  51. ^ Meeks, Priddy. Journal, vol. 10, October 1842, 180. Found in MacKay, Michael Hubbard. Joseph Smith's Seer Stones . Deseret Book and RSC BYU
  52. ^ Spencer, Stan. "Seers and Stones: The Translation of the Book of Mormon as Divine Visions of an Old-Time Seer" Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 24 (2017): 27-98
  53. ^ "Appendix 2: William Clayton, Journal Excerpt, 1–4 April 1843, Page 68". www.josephsmithpapers.org.
  54. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 130

References Edit

Van Wagoner, Richard S. (Summer 1982), "Joseph Smith: The Gift of Seeing", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 15 (2): 48–68, doi:10.2307/45225078, JSTOR 45225078, S2CID 254395171.