Mormon ‘magic stone’ revealed
Following its bid to demystify its ‘magic underwear’, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints this week revealed for the first time the ‘magic stone’ that allegedly enabled its founder, Joseph Smith, to translate sacred texts that were to become the Book of Mormon.
It seems from this report that the Internet has forced the Mormons’ hand.
Richard Bushman, a Mormon historian and emeritus professor at Columbia University, said that the church had paid a price for its past decisions to stay silent on certain topics or keep “key artifacts” hidden.
Their faithful members would stumble on information on the Internet. Not having heard about them, they were shocked and disillusioned. They felt they had been lied to and got pretty angry.
He added that publication of the pictures of the stone are important because some speculated that it was buried in the archives and never to be seen.
They probably won’t persuade non-believers who don’t buy the story, but they offer another indication the church is moving toward opening up.
The church has always possessed the stone, which was transported across the country during Mormon pioneers’ trek from Illinois to Utah in the mid-1800s, but it decided to publish the photos now to allow people who “prefer visuals to words” to better understand the religion’s roots, said Richard Turley, assistant church historian.
The picture brings a kind of tangibility to something that has been previously been talked about just in words. That helps people connect with the past. We’ve discovered that artifacts and historical sites are a way to give a sense of reality to things that are otherwise somewhat ethereal.
Mormons believe that 185 years ago, Smith, above, found gold plates engraved with writing in ancient Egyptian in upstate New York. They say that God helped him translate the text using the stone and other tools, to concoct the Book of Mormon.
This latest revelation is is part of a church campaign to release books containing historical documents that shed light on how Smith invented the religion.
It has also issued a series of in-depth articles that explain or clarify some of the more sensitive parts of its history that it once sidestepped, such as the faith’s past ban on black men in the lay clergy and its early history of polygamy.
Church historian Steven E Snow said:
The Internet brings both challenge and opportunities. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share much of collection through the use of the Internet.
The church’s new transarency seems aimed at preventing current members from leaving, and showing non-Mormons that they aren’t hiding anything, said Terryl Givens, professor of literature and religion and the James Bostwick chair of English at the University of Richmond.
As an American-born religion much younger than most world religions, the origins of Mormonism have come under greater scrutiny and put pressure on the church to prove their stories, Givens said.
The other churches’ origins are concealed by the mist of history. Mormonism is the first world religion in which the origins were exposed to public view, to documentation, to journalists and newspaper reporting.