Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seer Stones Looking "Small Unto the Understanding of Men"

I was reading the book of Mormon today—yes, I know, I am so righteous—and came across a passage that caught my attention. The Brother of Jared asks God to touch some stones, that they may be used to light the barges he built; two of which were later used as seer stones. The "Brother of Jared" then makes a parapraxis (a Freudian slip of sorts), breaking character, revealing the personal insecurities of Joseph Smith regarding his own use of seer stones.
Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth greater power, which looks small unto the understanding of men. (Ether 3:5)

Surely this wouldn't be the voice of the Brother of Jared. Jared's praise to God in this way would have been a blatant back-handed complement, and therefore out of character. On the other hand, the person of Joseph Smith, who was mocked and even legally prosecuted for the use of seer stones... saying this would have been perfectly understandable and within character.

I have the bad habit of reinventing the wheel, so forgive me if someone else has made this observation before. Frankly, I’d be surprised if nobody has, since it seems so obvious to me now. Your thoughts?


Edit to add: Similar language was expressed about the Liahona—another divining instrument likely inspired by Joseph Smith's treasure seeking activities. After describing its workings, Nephi remarks, "And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things." (1 Nephi 16:29) Coincidence?


Photo from http://mrm.org/mormons-on-pbs


  1. So many jokes come to mind, and none of them appropriate for a public blog...

  2. Ha! Speaking of Freudian slips...

  3. As you know, I believe the Book of Mormon is based on an ancient record. However, part of the working theory that myself and others have concluded is that there are definitely "Smithisms" (to use Campbell's term) in the Book of Mormon text that are not original to the ancient record and are the product of nineteenth century thought.

    That said, I'm not sure I believe this is one. Why do you believe that the BoJ is "breaking character" here? The BoJ's proclamation here seems, to me at least, consistent with his overall character in Ether 3 and the theme of the BoJ's unmatchable faith.

    For example, in the previous verse (3:4), Jared declares, "I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man." Similarly in verse 12 he offers another declaration of his faith: "Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie."

    While I don't discount the possibility that this is a Smithism, I also don't see any strong evidence that this is inconsistent with the rest of the narrative in Ether 3 -- although I think that Joseph Smith would have related to the verse either way.

  4. Hi Joseph.

    I appreciate your comments. Maybe the following comparison would be a helpful illustration of my point:

    You are loosing the championship football game on the opposing team's field. You are heckled by the crowd, called a looser, etc. Then, as the final seconds count down, you score the winning touch-down and the game is won because of your amazing 90 yard run into the end-zone. (Compare this to God’s power revealed by the distruction of the Tower of Babel and the confounding of language—both which the Brother of Jared and his family witnessed)

    Then, later that day your little brother, who previously cheered you on from the stands, walks into your room and says, "Joseph, Even though that crowd thinks you are a looser, you are always a winner in my eyes. I am proud of the small but impactful things you do for the team." You’d probably be thinking, “What game were you watching?? What do you mean ‘small things,’ didn’t you see that freaking epic touchdown I made?!? And who the hell cares about what the crowd thought of me?!? I proved them wrong!!”

  5. Mike,
    Kudos for more of your recondite observations and thoughts.

    BOJ/JS is definitely coaching, even patronizing God. "Behold, oh Lord . . . "

    sigh - I am often more than guilty of this very thing myself when it appears to me God might, or will, or already has "fallen short" on my erstwhile expectations. It's like: "Come on, oh Lord! You can DO this!!"

    (oh, brother)

    Thanks Mike. Great blogging.

  6. I should like to add . . .

    This urging, coaching, demanding 'faith' that Joseph, myself, and many others often 'exercise', might really be anti-faith more than anything.

    Let's contrast this with the Lord's instruction for Prayer.

    Our Father in Heaven:
    Hallowed by Your Name.
    May Your kingdom come,
    And Your will be done,
    on Earth, as it is in Heaven.

    Please feed us with our needs for this day,
    lead us from temptation,
    and deliver us from evil.