NOTE: This article is an edited version of chapter five of the authorís book A Ready Reply: Answering Challenging Questions About the Gospel (Horizon Publishers, 1994).
MORMONISM AND THE OCCULT?
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
Joseph Smith, Seer Stones, and Divining Rods
Anti-Mormons claim that Joseph Smith and other early LDS leaders were involved in occultic practices. As evidence for this assertion, they point out, for example, that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate parts of the Book of Mormon. They also maintain that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery believed in and used divining rods.
Were early Mormon leaders involved in the occult? In large part, the answer to this question depends on how one defines the word "occult." For instance, if one sees Joseph Smith's seer stone as evidence of a connection with the "occult," how does that person explain the Old Testament Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two divining stones carried in a breastplate? (The stones were used to determine God's will.) If we are to reject Mormonism as "occultic" because some of its early leaders might have experimented with divining rods, what do we say about the supernatural rods of Aaron and Jacob?
Anti-Mormon writers don't seem to realize that the charge of occultism can be leveled against several Bible prophets with far more devastating results. In fact, atheistic critics have attacked the Bible precisely on this basis. Ancient pagan and Jewish critics accused the early Christians of using magic and sorcery. When fundamentalist anti-Mormons accuse Mormonism of occultism, they are repeating the same charge that was leveled against the early Christians, and for many of the same reasons.
Occultism in the Bible?
There are numerous biblical items and events which can and have been labeled as "occultic." Here are a few of them:
* Aaron's rod. Among other things, this rod turned into a serpent and consumed the rods of the Egyptian priests (Exodus 7:8-12; see also Exodus 7:17-21).
* Jacob's rods. Jacob used his rods to cause Laban's flocks to produce spotted offspring after merely looking at the rods (Genesis 30:37-39).
* Hebrew wives accused of adultery by their husbands were tested by a rather peculiar ordeal if the husband had no witnesses. The ordeal appears to have involved magic. Mary Chilton Callaway explains:
. . . if a husband suspected his wife of adultery but had no witness, and "if the spirit of jealousy came upon him," he could bring her to the priest, who would test her by an ordeal (Numbers 5:11-31). The ordeal relied on magic. If the woman was guilty, her thigh would be made to swell by a potion she was given to drink. (201)
I can only imagine what anti-LDS critics would be saying if Joseph Smith had devised such a test for Mormon women similarly accused of adultery!
* The Urim and Thummim, a device that was worn by the chief priest to determine God's responses to yes or no questions asked by the leader of the people (Achtemeier 1985:1108). We know from modern revelation that it consisted of two stones carried in a breastplate (B. McConkie 1966:818).
* Joseph of
* Jesus healed a deaf man by putting his fingers into the man's ears and by spitting on a finger and touching the man's tongue with it (Mark 7:33-35). He healed a blind man by touching the man's eyes with spittle mixed with clay from the ground (John 9:6-7). Pagan healers in the ancient world also put their fingers in the ears to heal the deaf, and used spittle to heal the blind (Quinn 4).
* When it came time for the apostles to choose Judas's successor, "they cast lots . . . and the lot fell on Matthias" (Acts 1:26, Revised Standard Version). The casting of lots to discern divine will had long been a pagan custom in the ancient Near East.
These examples illustrate the fact that sometimes the line between "magic" and "divine power," and between the "occult" and "religion," can be very hard to draw. What might appear to be "occultic" to one person could be viewed by someone else as a legitimate manifestation of divine power. God sometimes manifests his might in ways that seem strange to us. He can also choose to adopt contemporary practices as vehicles for performing miracles (such as when the Savior used spittle and clay to heal the blind man).
The charge of "Mormon occultism" evaporates when it is examined in the proper biblical perspective. Early Mormon leaders were no more involved in the occult than were Aaron, Joseph of Egypt, or the apostles.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:†
Michael T. Griffith
holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate
Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University,
a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate
in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.† He also holds an Advanced Certificate of
Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from
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