Most members of the LDS church accept that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by using his “seer stone,” a rock which he placed inside a hat. Apparently, using this stone, he could see the English translation of the words on the golden plates (which were not physically present during the translation, it seems). Elder Russell Nelson tells us:
The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. 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. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, 1887, p. 12.) – Elder Russell M. Nelson, A Treasured Testament, Ensign, July 1993, 61
But what fascinates me is Joseph’s earlier, pre-prophetic career with the same stone. At the encouragement of his father, Joseph used the stone, which had been discovered while digging a well on a neighbor’s property, to seek buried treasure.
It was in this capacity of “glass-looker” that he was employed by Josiah Stowell to help locate rumored Spanish gold on Stowell’s property. While engaged in this endeavor, he stayed with the Isaac Hale family. Mr. Hale, considering a peepstoner to be a less-than-honest character, refused to allow his daughter, Emma, to marry Joseph Smith, so the couple eloped.
According to Isaac Hale, when they returned a married couple, Joseph swore off “glass-looking.” Peter Ingersoll recounts that Joseph “acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false. He then promised to give up his old habits of digging for money and looking into stones.” Isaac Hale says that “Joseph Smith stated to me, that he had given up what he called ‘glass-looking,’ and that he expected to work hard for a living, and was willing to do so.”
But he hadn’t really given it up. So, the question I have is this: could he really see buried treasure? There is no record anywhere of Joseph having found anything with his seer stone. Yet we are told that this same method is a valid way to translate scripture.
It seems to me that, to sustain Joseph Smith as a prophet, you would need to acknowledge his skill as a glass-looking treasure hunter. Otherwise, you are faced with the unpleasant possibility that his use of the stone was fraudulent in one or the other endeavor.