“Visions in a Seer Stone”?

“Visions in a Seer Stone”? September 4, 2020


The plates, by an artiste
An artist’s representation of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon (LDS Media Library)


Two new book reviews have just appeared in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, one by Brian Hales and the other by Brant Gardner:


“Theories and Assumptions: A Review of William L. Davis’s Visions in a Seer Stone”

A review of William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2020, 264 pp. paperback $29.95, hardcover $90, e-book $22.99, ISBN: 1469655675, 9781469655673.

Abstract: Within the genre of Book of Mormon studies, William L. Davis’s Visions in a Seer Stone presents readers with an innovative message that reports how Joseph Smith was able to produce the words of the Book of Mormon without supernatural assistance. Using oral performance skills that Smith ostensibly gained prior to 1829, his three-month “prodigious flow of verbal art and narrative creation” (7) became the Book of Mormon. Davis’s theory describes a two-part literary pattern in the Book of Mormon where summary outlines (called “heads) in the text are consistently expanded in subsequent sections of the narrative. Termed “laying down heads,” Davis insists that such literary devices are anachronistic to Book of Mormon era and constitute strong evidence that Joseph Smith contributed heavily, if not solely, to the publication. The primary weaknesses of the theory involve the type and quantity of assumptions routinely accepted throughout the book. The assumptions include beliefs that the historical record does not support or even contradicts (e.g. Smith’s 1829 superior intelligence, advanced composition abilities, and exceptional memorization proficiency) and those that describe Smith using oral performance skills beyond those previously demonstrated as humanly possible (e.g. the ability to dictate thousands of first-draft phrases that are also refined final-draft sentences). Visions in a Seer Stone will be most useful to individuals who, like the author, are willing to accept these assumptions. To more skeptical readers, the theory [Page 152]presented regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon will be classified as incomplete or inadequate.


“Oral Creation and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon”

Review of William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020). 250 pages with index. $90.00 (hardback), $29.95 (paperback).

Abstract: Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon introduces a new perspective in the examination of the construction of the Book of Mormon. With an important introduction to the elements of early American extemporaneous speaking, Davis applies some of those concepts to the Book of Mormon and suggests that there are elements of the organizational principles of extemporaneous preaching that can be seen in the Book of Mormon. This, therefore, suggests that the Book of Mormon was the result of extensive background work that was presented to the scribe as an extended oral performance.


Have a great weekend!



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