Before he was said to translate the Book of Mormon from a set of golden plates, Joseph Smith was a treasure hunter. He used a “seer stone,” an object that uncovered “ghosts, infernal spirits, and mountains of gold and silver,” to lead his neighbors on expeditions for hidden riches within the wells and Indian burial mounds of his home in western New York. Treasure seeking was not so unusual for men who came from poor families like Smith’s. His biographer Fawn K. Brodie writes: “There is, of course, a gold mine or a buried treasure on every mortgaged homestead. Whether the farmer ever digs for it or not, it is there, haunting his daydreams when the burden of debt is most unbearable.”
The economic windfall Smith prophesied for his neighbors proved false. He turned up no gold or silver. The word treasure, however, comes from the roots of the word thesaurus. The word treasure is a storehouse. The word treasure means more words. So it’s perhaps fitting that the treasure Joseph Smith did find—or, at least, what led to his most successful economic venture—proved not a set of golden plates he claimed to uncover, but the words he said rested upon them.
Issue V will be published in June 2017. To learn how to contribute, read our submissions guidelines.