If people knew you during your teenage years, would they say you were a lot different from how you turned out to be as an adult? Well, the same is kind of true for Joseph Smith. After the first vision, Joseph Smith had a period of time where he knew he was called of God but hadn’t received any further instructions. In his 1838 history, he recorded that between the ages of 14 and 17, he mingled with all kinds of society, frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth and the foibles of human nature. “I was guilty of levity and associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who has called of God, as I had been,” he wrote.
This period in Joseph Smith’s life might seem puzzling, but understanding the cultural environment he lived in sheds light on it. Joseph grew up in a community that believed God could interact with individuals through miraculous means and objects. For instance, in the 1825 Wayne Sentinel, the newspaper produced in Palmyra, Joseph Smith’s hometown, it was reported that buried treasure had been found “by the help of a mineral which becomes transparent when placed in a hat and the light excluded by the face of him who looks into it.” People in Joseph Smith’s world believed in seer stones, divining rods, and saw this folk magic as part of their cultural milieu, not as a contradiction to Christianity.
During his teenage years, Joseph Smith was seen as a person with prophetic gifts and was employed by certain individuals to use these gifts. For instance, he assisted Josiah Stoll in digging for a silver mine using a seer stone. While this might sound unusual to us, it was not strange to Joseph or his contemporaries. Joseph was open about this part of his life, acknowledging his involvement in money digging during a question and answer session in 1838. He admitted to being a money digger but emphasized that it was never a very profitable job for him.
Additionally, Joseph Smith’s possession and use of a seer stone were known during his lifetime. Descriptions of the seer stone, like the chocolate-colored somewhat egg-shaped stone found while digging a well, were documented in the early 20th century by B.H. Roberts in the Comprehensive History of the Church. This seer stone played a role in the translation of the Book of Mormon. In 2015, the Church published a photograph of the seer stone as part of the Joseph Smith Papers project, but it’s essential to note that knowledge of the seer stone predates this publication.
In conclusion, Joseph Smith’s teenage years were influenced by the cultural and religious context of his time. He engaged in activities that might seem peculiar to us today, such as using a seer stone for money digging. However, understanding this context helps us appreciate that these behaviors were not viewed as strange or contradictory within the cultural milieu of Joseph’s youth. Recognizing this broader perspective enables a more nuanced understanding of Joseph Smith’s formative years.
By Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert
Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and the YouTube host of the Gospel Learning YouTube Channel. With over 41,000 subscribers and 4.5 million views, his channel has become a significant platform for exploring religious topics. Additionally, Mr. Prince is the creator of the Gospel Learning App, a reliable resource that provides trustworthy answers to religious questions, drawing from insights shared by some of the world’s best teachers.
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