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“Spurious Revelations,” by Niklas Hietala

May 15, 1933 Brigham City, Utah

Dear Samuel,

It is usually a pleasure to receive a letter from you, but the news you sent has made me worry. As soon as I read your account of the bronze head, I took it to your uncle John for his opinion. He, too, is concerned. Though the sources he is aware of concerning the head in Joseph Smith’s day are all second-hand, he says your description of its reappearance matches those accounts.

If John Widtsoe is right—your mother and I pray he is not, though we fear that he is—it seems that it once again has found an individual whom it can raise to power. It is a wicked thing. It tells its owner appealing half-truths. It can give knowledge and tell things that are true and useful, but at the same time it tells lies and corrupts him who listens to it. If only Joseph Smith could have destroyed it!

You asked about a talk Joseph F. Smith gave shortly before his death. I could not recall it, but John knew it. Like you, he thinks that President Smith was prophesying. What President Smith says, however, is quite vague. He says only, “I have a feeling that the time is close when we will see the bronze head again.” But then, in the same talk he says that revelation might come just as a feeling. President Smith spoke it in October 5, 1918 and it is on page 57 of Conference Report. Let me enclose an excerpt:

I have described how revelation may come through the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost, either in silent inspiration or as an audible voice. I also discussed revelation through dreams, visions, and the visitations of angelic ministers. I wish to say something of one more category of revelation. That is that through holy instruments. God talked to Moses through the ark of the covenant; Lehi’s family found their way in the desert with the aid of the Liahona; Oliver Cowdery received revelations through his rod.

The saints have sustained me, my counselors, and the twelve as seers. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Mosiah, a seer is defined as someone who looks into a seer stone. I wish you all had a seer stone, since it says in the 17th verse of that chapter that through seer stones things can be made known which otherwise could not be known.

The value of seer stones became clear early in the Restoration. When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, a vision opened for him through his seer stone, so that he could see the exact location where the plates were buried (JS-Hist 42).

But let me add some words of caution. Instruments, such as seer stones, may be very helpful in receiving revelation. However, there are great risks in relying only on mechanical revelation. If one trusts solely on an instrument, it is easy to be deceived. 

In Section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants, when the Lord instructed Oliver Cowdery to use his rod, the Lord explained he would speak to Oliver’s heart and mind. Mechanical revelation must be coupled with the whispers of the Holy Ghost. Because Oliver struggled with this, he failed in his attempt to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon.

Early in the restoration, Satan, the great Counterfeit, provided a dark parallel to the experience of Joseph Smith using his seer stone to find the gold plates. Hiram Page received a false revelation through his black seer stone. Satan led him to find a bronze head that talked to him. He received many revelations from this head. In these revelations, truths were mixed with lies. This has been Lucifer’s way of misleading us since the beginning. 

I will add that since you first wrote, Uncle John has researched the history of the bronze head. He believes many rulers and religious leaders consulted it through the ages, but it is only briefly mentioned here and there. The most direct descriptions come from several medieval scholars, whom it helped to gain great scientific knowledge. Among those who seem to have possessed the head are Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, Albertus Magnus and Gerbert of Aurillac, who became the Pope Sylvester II with its help.

The earliest of the scholars who claimed to possess it is Virgil. According to legends, however, the bronze head was already ancient by his time. Uncle John believes that it was forged by Tubal Cain himself.  Somehow it always escapes attempts to be destroyed. It is told that Thomas Aquinas tried to destroy it when Albertus Magnus had it. This pattern is reflected in what President Smith told in the talk:

Because Hiram Page’s spurious revelations were not compatible with the revelations Joseph Smith had received, Joseph inquired of God and received the revelation we now have as Section 28. The Lord told Joseph the things Hiram had written from the bronze head were not appointed of Him. Joseph was told to destroy the head. However, this never happened. Even though Hiram Page did repent, he had already lost the head. What happened to the head is not known.

Later in Nauvoo, Joseph received word that the bronze head had been seen in the office of the Nauvoo Expositor. Joseph ordered the destruction of the printing shop, but the head was nowhere to be found. Eyewitnesses later wrote that they heard Joseph pronounce that the head would appear again and when it will, there will be great turmoil all over the world. I have a feeling that the time is close when we see the bronze head spreading its lies again. 

Son, be diligent in your labor. Dark times are ahead. Amidst this rising darkness, your German brothers and sisters need the light the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring into their lives more than ever. God bless you!


Wilhelm Fredriksen

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