A Faithful Response to “Debunking Rough Stone Rolling” pt. 2

Hanna Seariac
9 min readMay 3, 2021


Cover for “Rough Stone Rolling” by Richard Bushman, audiobook

I responded to the first part of the Joseph Smith Foundation’s “Debunking Rough Stone Rolling’s Treasure Digging Sources with REAL Data” here, and they have released a second video, which also merits a response. My criteria for critiquing this second part of the vidcast (unsurprisingly) remains the same. Stoddard makes the same errors earlier that I noted, namely that 1) sources are misattributed and misrepresented, 2) the methodology of the videos merits critique, and 3) Bushman’s analysis does not represent a “new progressive interpretation”, but rather is an analysis of historical records.

The video begins with Stoddard speaking about the Smith family farm in attempt to demonstrate how their financial success would not merit Joseph Smith treasure digging. As I mentioned in my previous response, Smith did not claim treasure digging as a primary source of income[1], but neither does Bushman. Bushman describes how the angel Moroni instructed Smith to not seek after his own gain and then return (a clear indication that Smith progressed in this area, 51), but does not assert that it was a main source of income; instead, Bushman details how integrated it was into the culture and village, and how “ordinary people apparently had no difficulty blending Christianity with magic.” (50). Stoddard claims that the Smith family were respected until the First Vision, and then, only following that, he was besmirched. She asserts that this acts as evidence that they did not participate in magic at all. I agree with Stoddard that the Smith family farm was well-developed and that that consumed a lot of their time; I do not think that this pervades participation in magic, because as Bushman summarizes, the Smith family did not abandon farm work for magic — and never claimed that they would do that, but magic and religion were elements of their life (50–51).

Here Stoddard again misrepresents the view of Bushman. Bushman does not claim that the Smiths were constantly involved in treasure-digging and magic, giving up everything for it; in fact, I do not know of a single Latter-day Saint historian who claims that that is the case. Bushman claims that the Smith family had some involvement in it. Stoddard cannot prove her point by saying that since the Smith family had a productive farm, therefore they did not participate in magic, because that is not direct evidence to support her claim. The Smiths certainly were not lazy as the affidavits claimed[2], and Bushman does not claim that they were lazy. Stoddard asserts that Bushman bases “his new narrative” primarily off of the affidavits; this is another false claim.

If one even peruses the endnotes of Rough Stone Rolling, one could see that Bushman cites a variety of different sources. Stoddard’s argument here is that everything in the affidavits must be false, because she argues that the Smith family is hard-working. I agree that the Smith family is hard-working, but as Bushman demonstrates in his endnotes, there are sources of people close to Joseph Smith who corroborate his magical worldview and his participation in magic — sources that I mentioned earlier like Emma Smith, Martin Harris, and even Lucy Smith, indirectly (51); the issue with Stoddard’s argument is that she neglects that many of us accept that Joseph Smith had participation in magic and treasure-digging, because 1) Joseph Smith said himself that he did, 2) sources widely agree on this point, and 3) folk-magic has a biblical precedent.

Stoddard again bastardizes the argument of Bushman by saying that either one accepts Mormonism Unvailed or one accepts the stories from the Smith family. Harris describes how Joseph Smith would use seer stones[3], so does Lucy Mack Smith[4], and others as mentioned in part one of my response. The Stoddards consider the use of seer stones as part of the occult. Sources outside of the affidavits report use of seer stones as well as Smith himself saying that he treasure dug, which renders Stoddard’s claim incorrect. Exclusively focusing on the affidavits misrepresents Bushman’s other sources and creates a dishonest narrative. She says that there is nothing that supports a magical culture, a claim which would be disputed by the sources that I have provided here. Please note that I do not have to provide many sources to dispute these claims; it is that apparent.

She says that the scientific research vindicates Gordon B. Hinckley, Joseph Fielding Smith, Ezra Taft Benson, etc., but completely discounts modern prophets, which is one of my chief issues with the Joseph Smith Foundation generally. President Nelson does not shy away from seer stones, he quotes David Whitmer’s description of the translation process, which involves seer stones.[5] Elder Cook[6] and Elder Uchtdorf[7] have also made this claim publicly. This has also appeared in Church correlated materials such as Saints and the Gospel Topics essays, which have been examined by all members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and First Presidency (hence correlation), as well as asserting that Joseph Smith discontinued treasure digging[8], which aligns with what Bushman claims as well. At the beginning of this series, Stoddard said that all Church prophets agreed with the traditionalist narrative. Well, that’s not true. President Woodruff said, “the seer stone that Joseph Smith found by revelation some 30 feet under the earth [and] carried by him throughout life.”[9] Other Church leaders like George Q. Cannon[10] also have claimed seer stone usage. Stoddard’s claim that all Church leaders before the last decade agreed with them is simply incorrect. President Nelson spoke about it as early as 1992[11] and as was previously cited, much earlier sources corroborate this as well.

Stoddard then claims that “progressive scholars” lobby the same accusations against Smith that people lobbied against Jesus. Here she cites Matthew 12:24 NLT, where states “He gets his power from Satan.” She moves to say that this is the same accusation against Joseph Smith. Well, it’s not. I and others do not claim that Smith used the power of Satan, but rather that folk-magic was a self-conscious Christian practice, as Bushman demonstrates in Rough Stone Rolling and as others have noted too.[12] Stoddard needs to first define magic, prove that seer stones, diving rods, etc. are inherently Satanic, then disprove the reports of many on this matter, however, if she did that, she would run into a massive roadblock. A pericope in the New Testament explains this well; I’ll translate it for you:

“Teacher,” John answering him, “we saw someone driving demons out in your name [who was not following us] and we told him to cease, because he was not following us.” “Don’t stop him,” Jesus said. “In fact, no one who does a miracle in my name will even be able to speak evil of me immediately after. Indeed whoever is not against us, is with us.” (Mark 9:38–40)

Folk-magic operates in this self-conscious Christian realm, which is why it does not fall under biblical condemnation. Biblical condemnation does seem authority-oriented, but again, folk-magic is not inherently Satanic, and was seen by participants as a Christian practice. So in the words of Jesus as reported by the author of Mark, “whoever is not against us, is with us.” She again misrepresents Bushman by saying that he gives preference to the affidavits; I feel like I have said this ad nauseam, but that is simply incorrect because Bushman cites a variety of sources. He does not dismiss the affidavits, but seems to take the details that also corroborate with other accounts outside of the affidavits, some of which I have cited here, which would be good historical practice and not cherry-picking. What Stoddard does is cherry-pick, because there is no interest in corroborating details, but rather an outright dismissal of everything, including “friendly” sources (again cited here) that does not agree with the narrative that is selected.

Quite frankly, the conclusion of this vidcast is condescending. She displays the musical of Alex Boye, the artwork of Anthony Sweat, a video from Saints Unscripted, and a video from Stone XVI and says that “these are just kids and they do not understand the history.” One person in that Saints Unscripted video is David Snell. Snell is not just a kid, Snell is an adult, who is in fact older than Hannah Stoddard. Stoddard’s dismissal of those who disagree with her as “just kids” who “do not understand the history” is both false and condescending. Snell has worked in media production on Church topics for quite a long time. He has provided evidence that he understand the history.

She says that real history supports the traditional narrative as she articulates it. This is false. Her narrative is indeed false. I have provided a fair number of sources here, and there are many sources out there that prove her incorrect, including sources that exist on the Church website. By asserting that Bushman’s view comes exclusively from anti-Mormon literature, she inaccurately portrays both Bushman’s selection of sources as well as grouping in “friendly” sources as anti-Mormon sources.

After concluding the second part of the vidcast, I remain unconvinced by Stoddard’s presentation and quite frankly, more disgruntled with her incorrect narrative of both Bushman and Church history. As I have shown in this essay, there are credible sources, not coming from the affidavits, that support the claims around treasure-digging, seer stones, etc., and that the real scholarly argument is around the extent to which Smith participated in these things. It is a question for another day why Stoddard discounts the historical record and ignores prophets who disagree with her opinion on this, and that is a question I will explore later. But for now, Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling stands as a landmark work, that is accurate in its portrayal of Joseph Smith.

As odd and idiosyncratic as it might be, I’ll conclude with my own testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God. I believe that Joseph Smith really did find golden plates and translate them by the gift and power of God. I believe that he was a rough stone rolling, that he had a magical worldview, that he had true priorities. He was not overly legalistic, he valued charity above all, and he was not elitist in the slightest. I believe that he had a high character, that he was creative, that he was true to his word in translating the Book of Mormon and had integrity in his life. I am a Latter-day Saint because I believe in Jesus Christ, and also, because Joseph Smith focused on who Christ was in a way that I believe is true. I do not feel shame or embarrassment or feel the need to apologize because Joseph Smith participated in folk-magic, on the contrary, I have positive feelings about it.

People’s faith is not harmed because “the new narrative” is true. People’s faith might be harmed if we push the narrative that Stoddard portrays in this vidcast and other places, and then individuals find out from sources that I cited here and other places, that that narrative is not true.

[1] Elders’ Journal, July 1838, p. 43, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[2] Daniel C. Peterson and Donald L. Enders, “Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 286–87.

[3] Joel Tiffany, Tiffany’s Monthly (June 1859): 164.; Mormonism — II,” Tiffany’s Monthly (June 1859): 163.; Martin Harris, as interviewed by Edward Stevenson (1886), in Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” 136.

[4] Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853),91–92.

[5] David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12 in https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1993/07/a-treasured-testament?lang=eng

[6] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2017/04/foundations-of-faith?lang=eng


[8] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/treasure-seeking?lang=eng

[9] May 17, 1888 in Wilford Woodruff journals and papers: https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=8eee1db1-409c-43b2-ac32-1d344bc519c7&crate=0&index=157

[10] https://archive.org/details/lifeofjosephsmit00cann/page/56/

[11] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1993/07/a-treasured-testament?lang=eng

[12] Kerry Muhlestein, “Seeking Divine Interaction: Joseph Smith’s Varying Searches for the Supernatural,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 77–91.; Mark Ashurst-McGee, A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet (master’s thesis, Utah State University, 2000).; Eric A. Eliason, “Seer Stones, Salamanders, and Early Mormon ‘Folk Magic’ in the Light of Folklore Studies and Bible Scholarship,” BYU Studies Quarterly 55, no. 1 (2016): 73–93.



Hanna Seariac

MA in Classics, BYU 2022 | Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) Member | student of ancient Greek, Latin, and Biblical Hebrew