Joseph Smith & the Parable of the Money Digger

HawkgrrrlMormon 7 Comments

Joseph Smith was a money digger, like others in rural upstate New York (and unsuccessful like pretty much all of them were).  Obviously, there wasn’t a lot on TV back then.  Was his money-digging activity a parable to teach him (and all of us) how to find the real treasures of the gospel?

Jesus frequently used parables that were familiar to all to teach gospel principles.  For example, the original twelve apostles were actual fishermen, and Christ used this fact as an analogy:

Matthew 13: 47-48.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:  Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.

Treasure seeking is also a common parable in the Bible.  Consider the following references about the kingdom of heaven:

Matthew 13: 44:   Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Matthew 13: 45-46:  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Another version of the “kingdom of heaven” parable is related to planting:

Matthew 13: 24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field (Parable of Wheat & Tares)

Matthew 13: 31-32  Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:  Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

And another is related to baking, although I’m not aware that any of the 12 were bakers:

Matthew 13: 33  Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
Each of the above parables could be likened to the Book of Mormon coming forth.  The book was planted (like a seed) or hidden (like the leaven) in a hill until a man came along who found it (a treasure or pearl; something of great worth) and sold all he had (even was martyred) to buy it (the field; the gospel).
Finding a treasure is also a common form of recurring dream.  The dreamer discovers he or she has inherited or found something of great value:  historical value, intrinsic value or something more personal.  This may appear in the form of discovering your house has many more rooms than you thought at first, finding a family heirloom that now belongs to you, or discovering something of beauty in nature like a rock or sea shell with special properties that now belongs to you because you discovered it.  These recurring dreams are also a parable for self-discovery or finding a great gift that is internally valuable to you.  Was money-digging popular because people took these types of dreams literally or as divine instruction?
Is Joseph’s money digging an insurmountable stigma?  Or was it an instructive parable for Joseph (and all of us) that he didn’t fully understand?  Is this another example of the Lord accomplishing his work despite the flaws of men or because of them?  What if Joseph had been an accountant or a cobbler?  Would we have different parables?

Comments 7

  1. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith never becomes blind; faith is blind.

    Very interesting post, Hawk. It is quite easy to envision Joseph’s gold digging in a lot of contradictory ways – the two primary ones being as Joe sees it (an example of consistent fraud) and as I see it (an example of a dirt poor, teenage boy who was open to superstition and the miraculous thinking he had a special gift that could help his family). I simply have a hard time holding the kid to a prophetic standard that fully adult prophets didn’t match.

    If we can excuse some very serious teenage (and even early adult) infractions and indiscretions in our highest political leaders, I can’t see a good reason to not excuse them in those who BECAME prophets. Joseph wasn’t a prophet at 14 – and arguably not for years later.

  2. Amen to Joe P’s comments.

    Bushman in “Rough Stone Rolling” intimated that JS’s glass looking and money digging were necessary and preparatory to receiving the gifts of the spirit needed to one day act as a prophet of God. Talk about making excuses.

    Ray said it best: “Joseph wasn’t a prophet at 14 – and arguably not for years later.”

    Or ever. All these years later, and we’re still waiting.

  3. What’s interesting to me about this discussion is not the fact that JS was involved in money digging but that people’s interpretation and perception of the events and motives can be so different. Stu in #3 is dismissive of Bushman’s interpretation of events but Bushman remains arguably the most knowlegable person on JS’s life and yet remains faithful in his interpretation. I don’t think that the reason is that the person on the other side of the argument (whichever side that is) is stupid, blind, superficial, unaware, or worthy of only disdain, derision, or some other disrespect. I’d be interested in people’s opinions or a post in the future about what it is that shapes and influences our opinions.

  4. GBSmith – I find that interesting too. There seems to be a lack of neutrality on the subject of JS.

    I am still intrigued by the thought that JS misinterpreted dreams about finding treasure, taking them as a literal sign to seek for earthly treasure when perhaps the dreams were guideposts for an inner spiritual journey. The physical and spiritual are tough for people to disentangle today, but even tougher when life was so physically trying and the temptation to satisfy temporal needs was even stronger due to want.

  5. Rick – no specific recorded dreams. Just that dreams of finding treasure are common archetypal dreams, and superstitious people sometimes take these things quite literally.

  6. The money digging has been used to paint a picture of a fortune-hunter. Would a later prophet be dismissed because he bought a lottery ticket in his youth among people who did it too?

    I like how you bring out that in Jesus’ parables treasure-seeking comes up as natural. He also advises us to gather treasures in heaven rather than on earth.

    Joseph quit using seer stones relatively early – he learned he could get the same kind of revelations without a “crutch”. I don’t mean the “crutch” as a negative thing here, just trying to express that possibly he initially needed something to prop up his faith. Some people assume he was a mature prophet right after First Vision. But it took 10 years to get to the point where he was ready to organize the Church – he needed the time to grow spiritually as well as intellectually.

    Sorry, I rambled offtopic here…

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