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What's new: Taking a look at 'Joseph Smith's Seer Stones'

"Joseph Smith's Seer Stones" is by Michael Hubbard McKay and Nicholas J. Frederick.
"Joseph Smith's Seer Stones" is by Michael Hubbard McKay and Nicholas J. Frederick.
BYU Religious Studies Center

"JOSEPH SMITH'S SEER STONES," by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Nicholas J. Frederick, BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, $24.99, 256 pages (nf)

Seer stones played an important role in the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of the gospel.

In “Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones,” Michael Hubbard MacKay and Nicholas J. Frederick set out to help laymen and academics alike view seer stones as a theological concept.

This approach provides an opportunity to look at the topic from several different perspectives and multiple periods of time. The authors answer many common questions about Joseph Smith and seer stones, including how many stones he possessed, what they were used for, who had the various stones through the years, and much more.

The authors excel at answering questions that sometimes have no clear answers and which always require placing questions common today in the context of history — and the reality of history in the context of today.

For example, MacKay and Frederick encourage readers not to discount what they learn about Joseph, who translated the Book of Mormon using the seer stones, and seer stones themselves merely because they are accustomed to a different way of seeing things.

The authors explain, “Joseph offered many things to the Latter-day Saints and it is potentially problematic to pick parts to ignore based off our own contemporary cultural expectations.”

The tone of the entire work is also very tactful.

For example, in a foreword written by Mark Ashurst-McGee, the Joseph Smith Papers research and review editor, explains that most responses to seer stones today fall into three categories: acceptance, apprehension and levity. While some of those approaches are clearly more amenable to scholars who write about them, Ashurst-McGee invites people in every group to learn by acknowledging, “Joseph Smith’s seer stones are strange to us in modern Western culture; and they are unfamiliar.”

In addition to the careful analysis of questions common to theme of seer stones as a theological concept, the authors address many related issues in a series of appendices. The book includes a strong annotated bibliography, well-presented charts and maps, photographs and newly commissioned artwork of Joseph and seer stones.

Both MacKay and Frederick are professors at Brigham Young University in the Department of Church History and Doctrine and the Department of Ancient Scripture, respectfully. MacKay holds a doctorate from the University of York and previously worked on the Joseph Smith Papers. Frederick received a doctorate from Claremont University.

Kurt Manwaring is a nonprofit consultant and resides in Taylorsville, Utah. He maintains a personal blog at Email: