For whatever it’s worth, I’m scheduled to participate in Sunday night’s Interpreter Radio Show and, on Monday night, to speak via computer to elders and sisters in the Ukraine Dnipro Mission. Technology is a wonderful thing.
I share here some notes from Ronald E. Romig, Eighth Witness: The Biography of John Whitmer (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2014), on a topic that is briefly addressed in the Interpreter Foundation’s forthcoming Witnesses theatrical film:
In August 1830 or shortly before, Hiram Page began to receive revelations through a seer stone. The Whitmer family (into which Hiram Page had married) and Oliver Cowdery (who would marry Elizabeth Ann Whitmer approximately two years later) were inclined to accept them. Unfortunately, no texts survive, though they evidently had something to do with the “upbuilding of Zion,” and perhaps particularly with its organization and its location.
Ezra Booth, who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in May 1831 and had left it by October 1831 to become a vocal critic, described the episode as follows:
Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses, and also one of the “money diggers,” found a smooth stone, upon which there appeared to be a writing, which when transcribed upon paper, disappeared from the stone, and another impression appeared in its place. This when copied, vanished as the former had done, and so it continued, alternately appearing and disappearing; in the meanwhile, he continued to write, until he had written over considerable paper. It bore most striking marks of a Mormonite revelation, and was received as an authentic document by most of the Mormonites. (79)
In 1856, Emer Harris — Martin Harris’s brother — gave some further details about the incident at a stake conference in Provo, Utah:
Br. Hiram Page dug out of the earth a black stone put it in his pocket when he got home he looked at it it contained a sentence on paper to exce[rpt] it it as soon has [sic] he rote one sentence another sentence came on the stone until he rote 16 pages. (79)
Ron Romig offers an informed speculation and an interesting fact:
This contest of authority could have resulted in a schism before the church was three months old. . . . According to the minutes of this September 26 conference, the church now numbered sixty-two. (81, 82)
So the principle of prophetic leadership vested in the president of the Church had to be established, and it was established very early — in a revelation given in September 1830 and now known as Doctrine and Covenants 28:
1 Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given.
2 But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.
3 And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.
4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;
6 And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;
7 For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.
8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.
9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.
10 Thou shalt not leave this place until after the conference; and my servant Joseph shall be appointed to preside over the conference by the voice of it, and what he saith to thee thou shalt tell.
11 And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that cSatan deceiveth him;
12 For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants.
13 For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.
Hiram Page, the Whitmers, and Oliver Cowdery came to accept this; Page’s “revelations” were destroyed and, according to Emer Harris, his seer stone was ground to dust. It’s interesting, though, to read descriptions of how it functioned. Presumably, Joseph’s seer stones worked, or were thought to work, in much the same fashion.