Joseph Smith's Jupiter Talisman

Timeline of Events

1844

Joseph Smith[BIO] is martyred.[1]

1885

Joseph's attorney, James W. Woods,[BIO] publishes the items Joseph had "upon his person" at the time of his death.[2] It doesn't include a talisman-type object.[3]

1902

Apostle Henry D. Moyle[BIO] and Apostle John Henry Smith[BIO] independently report a man in Nauvoo showing off a metal coin with Latin writing on it that Joseph reportedly owned.[4]

1937

Charles Bidamon,[BIO] a stepson of Emma Smith,[BIO] sells a "silver pocket piece" that he says was Joseph's to Wilford C. Wood. [BIO][5]

1974

Reed Durham,[BIO] a Latter-day Saint historian, identifies the item as a "Jupiter talisman" and as owned by Joseph Smith.[6]

1989

Reed Durham expresses regret for his original statements, calling the idea that Joseph had a Jupiter talisman "highly questionable."[7]

Did Joseph Smith own a Jupiter talisman?

Probably, but the evidence is circumstantial. The earliest historical reference was 58 years after Joseph died,[8] but there are other corroborating accounts as well.[9]

What is a Jupiter talisman?

A Jupiter talisman is a metal coin-like object with engravings of sayings and symbols on it.[10] It's named after "Jupiter" because the symbols on it relate to the Roman god Jupiter.[11]

The particular type of Jupiter talisman that Joseph possibly owned originated in an 1801 book about occult philosophy, magic, and Christianity.[12] The one Charles Bidamon[BIO] said belonged to Joseph Smith was probably a silvery, metal disc[13] with a Hebrew number table on one side and astrological symbols on the other.[14]

An example of what a Jupiter Talisman looks like[15]—picture from Gilbert, W. Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society, 1938, p. 274.

What evidence is there that Joseph owned it?

There's a thirdhand account that claimed Joseph had the Jupiter talisman with him when he died.[16] But a legal declaration of things Joseph had on him when he died doesn't mention anything like the talisman.[17]

Joseph never mentioned anything related to the Roman god Jupiter or the talisman. Joseph did have an interest in Hebrew, Latin, and God though[18]—and the rumored talisman has religious inscriptions in Hebrew and Latin.[19]

There's not really a consensus on whether Joseph actually owned it.[20]

Where is the Jupiter talisman today?

According to Reed Durham,[BIO] it is in the Church-owned Wilford Wood Collection, where he examined it in 1974.[21]

How did it get there?

In about 1937, Charles Bidamon responded to a want-ad in the Nauvoo Independent newspaper looking for Mormon documents and relics.[22] He said he had several items, including the "silver pocket piece."[23] He said that he received this from his father, Lewis Bidamon,[BIO] who was the second husband of Emma Smith.[BIO][24] That same year, Latter-day Saint collector Wilford C. Wood[BIO] purchased the "silver pocket piece."[25]

Other items obtained from Bidamon included part of the Pearl of Great Price manuscript, a credit statement from 1839, and several other authentic documents.[26]

So does it matter if he did have a Jupiter Talisman?

Maybe. For modern people, this may seem weird.[27] To Joseph Smith, revelation, spiritual gifts, and powers came from God.[28]

Wasn't Joseph Smith sometimes referred to as "Baurak Ale" in meeting minutes and in some revelations? And couldn't that be a variant of Barchiel, which is the traditional archangel of guardian angels that also oversees Jupiter? Or Baraq’el which means "lightning of god" which is possibly referring to Zeus, the Greek version of Jupiter?

Possibly. Baurak Ale is also a name from the Book of Job (Barachel).[29] In some revelations, Joseph Smith was referred to as Baurak Ale, which meant "God bless you" in Hebrew.[30]

Some People Say . . .

"Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and had nothing to do with strange occult items."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • A Jupiter talisman is a metal coin-like object that is named after the Roman god Jupiter because of the symbols on the coin.

  • The earliest account of Joseph Smith owning a Jupiter talisman is from 1902.

  • There are no records of Joseph Smith talking about the talisman.

  • In 1937, Charles Bidamon produced an object that matched the 1902 description of the talisman.

  • Wood purchased the "silver pocket piece," known as the talisman from Bidamon in 1937.

  • The Jupiter Talisman was last seen in the Church-owned Wood collection in 1974.

Our Take

The idea that Joseph Smith could have connections to things we view as occult or weird can be uncomfortable. Joseph Smith and his revelations are a central part of Latter-day Saint beliefs. If he believed in supernatural objects, like the Jupiter talisman, doesn't that affect his claim of being an inspired prophet? Aren't supernatural magic and priesthood power opposites?

Many early Latter-day Saints, and nineteenth-century Christians, saw no conflict between their religious faith and “supernatural” beliefs and practices. Joseph probably owned the talisman, though it’s not entirely clear from the documentary record. Joseph himself never wrote or talked about a Jupiter talisman, so it's unclear what it meant to him.

The best metric for what was important to Joseph as a revelator is what he taught about most—the revelations he received from God. While some of Joseph's interests may seem strange today, we can rely on a spiritual witness and faith that Joseph was a prophet of God.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Nathan C
    Joseph was curious about lots of things that had nothing to do with being a prophet. He was a human and had a separate life outside of his prophetic life.
  • Ray B
    It would be awesome if Joseph Smith had a Jupiter Talisman. It wouldn't bother me at all. I mean, he used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, so why care if he had a Jupiter Talisman. We believe a resurrected native guy gave him gold plates, why not this?
  • Grayson K
    I recognize past Church Leaders might not like the idea, but I think occult stuff is cool. I don't mind if Joseph was into folklore or folk magic—to me that doesn't have much to do with whether he was a prophet. Let people have their weird hobbies, sheesh.
Footnotes
  • BIOJoseph Smith, Jr.

    Joseph Smith (1805-1844) was the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Born in Sharon, Vermont, he began to experience visions at a young age of deity and angels, including one who revealed to him the location of gold plates with an account of ancient Americans. He translated this record and published it as The Book of Mormon. He also received a series of revelations throughout his life which serve as the foundation for the Church's doctrine today. He led the Latter-day Saints across the country from New York to Illinois. In 1844, he was martyred while awaiting trial in Carthage, Illinois.

  • BIOJames W. Woods

    James Weston Woods (circa 18001–1886) was born near Boston, in Middlesex Co., Massachusetts. He was a respected lawyer in Iowa in the 1840s. He provided legal counsel for Joseph and Hyrum Smith in June 1844. Woods gave a detailed description of the events leading up to the martyrdom that was published in Times and Seasons published on July 1, 1844. He died in Steamboat Rock, Iowa.

  • BIOHenry D. Moyle

    Henry D. Moyle (1889–1963) served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency. Born in Salt Lake City, Moyle received an education outside of Utah, studying law at the University of Chicago and Harvard University. He became an apostle in 1947. Shortly after his appointment, Moyle established the Church's first cattle ranch in Florida. Moyle expanded the Church's building program.

  • BIOJohn Henry Smith

    John Henry Smith (1848-1911) was the son of apostle George A. Smith. John Henry Smith served as an apostle and First Presidency member in the Church from 1880 until his death.

  • BIOCharles Bidamon

    Charles Bidamon (1864–1943) was Emma Smith's adopted son who provided various artifacts attributed to Joseph Smith. His father, Lewis Bidamon, a lieutenant in the Illinois militia, provided assistance to Latter-day Saints while defending themselves against mobs during the 1846 attacks on Nauvoo. Charles Bidamon sold the infamous "Jupiter talisman" to Wilford C. Wood in 1930, who then donated the talisman (and several other items) to the Church.

  • BIOEmma Hale Smith

    Emma Hale Smith (1804-1879) was an early leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Born in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Emma received a boarding school education in Boston, Massachusetts. She met Joseph Smith while he was working as a manual laborer and, occasionally, as a treasure-hunter in Harmony. They married, and she followed Joseph Smith throughout his life. Emma served as the first Relief Society President, and she navigated Joseph Smith's implementation of plural marriage with mixed responses: either supporting or opposing it at various times in her life. Emma married Lewis C. Bidamon, a non-Mormon resident of Nauvoo, after Joseph's death. Later in life, she affiliated with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is now called Community of Christ, where her son Joseph III became president.

  • BIOWilford C. Wood

    Wilford C. Wood (1893–1968) was a Latter-day Saint businessman, book and manuscript dealer, collector, and antiquarian. In addition to dealing in rare books and manuscripts, Wood also worked in acquiring and preserving historical sites, including the original site of the Nauvoo Temple.

  • BIOReed C. Durham

    Reed C. Durham (1930–) served as an administrator for the Church Educational System, with terms of service at Institutes of Religion throughout Utah.

  • BIOLewis Bidamon

    Lewis Bidamon (1806-1891) was the second husband of Emma Hale Smith. Born in Smithfield, Virginia, Bidamon moved to Ohio as an adolescent and later, to Canton, Illinois. He served as a member of the Illinois militia in support of the Latter-day Saints during the conflicts leading to their expulsion from Nauvoo. At the time of his marriage to Emma Smith, he had two previous marriages and five children, one of whom was born out of wedlock. He continued to serve in the Illinois militia during the American Civil War. In 1864, Bidamon fathered an additional child out of wedlock with Nancy Abercrombie, a recent migrant to Nauvoo; Emma Smith raised the child as her own. After Emma Smith died in 1879, Bidamon married Nancy and remained with her until his death in 1891.

  • Joseph Smith was martyred on June 27, 1844. At about 5 p.m., a mob came into Carthage Jail and shot both Joseph and Hyrum, resulting in their deaths.

  • James W. Woods published the list in the Times and Seasons.

  • The items on the list included:

    One hundred and thirty five dollars and fifty cents in gold and silver and receipt for shroud, one gold finger ring, one gold pen and pencil case, one penknife, one pair tweezers, one silk and one leather purse, one small pocket wallet containing a note of John P. Green for $50, and a receipt of Heber C. Kimball for a note of hand on Ellen M. Saunders for one thousand dollars, as the property of Joseph Smith.
  • Henry D. Moyle recorded a man showing him "a peice of metal found in the pocket of the prophet when killed" with a Latin phrase on it.

    Two days later, John Henry Smith wrote in his diary of a similar experience and identified the man as Charles Bidamon.

  • Charles Bidamon claimed to have a number of items that belonged to Joseph Smith, including "a silver pocket piece which was in the Prophet's pocket at the time of his assassination."

    The Improvement Era reported on the purchase, noting that Wilford Wood and two others went to examine the items Bidamon had. Wood purchased the items, including the "silver pocket piece" for "very fair and modest consideration."

  • Reed Durham said:

    After months of research, the talisman, presently existing in Utah, (in the Wilford Wood Collection, D. C. M.) was originally purchased from the Emma Smith Bidamon family, fully notarized by that family to be authentic and to have belonged to Joseph Smith, can now be identified as a Jupiter talisman.
  • In an interview, Reed Durham explained:

    I now wish I had presented some of my material differently,” he replied. “For instance, at the present time, after rechecking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter talisman. The source for my comment was a second-hand, late source. It came from Wilford Wood, who was told it by Charlie Bidaman, [sic] who was told it by his father, Lewis Bidaman, [sic] who was Emma’s second husband and a non-Mormon not too friendly to the LDS Church. So, the idea that the Prophet had such a talisman is highly questionable!
  • A 1902 journal entry from Apostle Henry D. Moyle said he was visiting Nauvoo where a man showed him a metal coin that had Latin writing on it. The man said it was in the pocket of the Prophet when he died.

  • Two days after Henry Moyle's journal entry, Apostle John Henry Smith recorded that he had a similar encounter and identified the man as Charles E. Bidamon.

    In 1937, Charles E. Bidamon produced an object that matched Moyle's and Smith's descriptions. It was later identified as a Jupiter talisman.

  • In 1938, the Royal Numismatic Society described one Jupiter talisman as "a circular engraved talisman of silver, pierced at the top for suspension" and noted the Hebrew numbers and "the magic square of Jupiter."

    The Royal Numismatic Society society catalogs items like charms, amulets, talismans, and coins.

  • For example, the symbol similar to a "4" is the astrological symbol of Jupiter.

  • Francis Barrett's multi-volume book was a mix of philosophy, magic, Christian theology, and occult traditions. At the end of his first volume, he describes signs and symbols related to various planets, including Jupiter, and used a diagram with inscriptions that match with what the Royal Numismatic Society identifies as a "Jupiter Talisman."

  • Wilford C. Wood, who bought the talisman from Bidamon, described a "silver pocket piece" with "hieroglyphics" that Wood translated as "Make me, Oh God all-powerful." The actual translation is "Strengthen me, O God most powerful."

    This matches the description of a Jupiter Talisman according to the Royal Numismatic Society.

  • The left image contains a Hebrew number table in the center, where each row and column adds up to 34. Directly above the table is the Hebrew "El Ab," while the astrological symbol for Jupiter is beneath it. Underneath that, in the bottom of the outer ring, is the number 136. In the left of the outer ring is "Jophiel" spelled out in Hebrew. On the right of the outer ring, "Aba" is spelled, also in Hebrew.

    On the right, the outer rim is inscribed with the Latin phrase "Confirmo O Deus potentissimus," meaning, "Strengthen me, O God most powerful." In the inner ring, on the right is the sigil of the planetary intelligence of Jupiter. On the left is the planetary seal of Jupiter. At the bottom of the image is the astrological symbol of Jupiter again.

  • In 1937, the Improvement Era printed the letter from Charles Bidamon reporting that he had possession of many papers from Joseph Smith, which later proved to be authentic. He also reported having "a silver pocket piece which was in the Prophet's pocket at the time of his assassination."

    Bidamon also claimed that Emma had told him Joseph had carried the talisman at the time of his death.

  • Joseph Smith's attorney didn't include an item like that in his statement of what Joseph had "upon his person" at the time of martyrdom.

    It is possible that Joseph simply didn't have the talisman in his possession at the time or that it was left off the inventory list. It is also possible that Charles was mistaken and that Joseph Smith never actually owned it.

  • BYU Religious Studies Studies Center published a collection of essays on "Joseph Smith’s fascination with the ancient Americas, his interaction with the Bible, his study of Hebrew and Greek, his reading of Jewish and Christian apocryphal writings, and his work with the Book of Abraham in the context of nineteenth-century Egyptology."

  • Wilford Wood's tried to translate the Latin phrase on the talisman, and thought it said "Make me, Oh God all-powerful." The correct translation is "Strengthen me, O God most powerful."

  • William J. Hamblin, a Latter-day Saint historian, said he believed that Joseph Smith likely owned the talisman. Reed Durham, another Latter-day Saint historian, thought Joseph did but then changed his mind after re-examining the evidence.

  • In 1974, Reed Durham attested the Wilford Wood collection's silver pocket piece matches with what the Numismatic Society identified as a Jupiter talisman.

  • Bidamon indicated that he had several items that relate to Joseph including documents and material objects. He wrote, "I saw your advisement in the Nauvoo Independent in regard to deeds, documents, letters, etc., pertaining to Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet."

  • Bidamon claimed that the "silver pocket piece," was on Joseph's person at the time of his death.

  • Charles E. Bidamon attested:

    These papers came into my possession through Emma Smith, the Prophet's widow, whom my father, Major L. C. Bidamon, married.
  • Wilford Wood appeared convinced of the value and authenticity of the Jupiter talisman. In 1953, he said:

    He still kept a silver piece that was Emma's most priceless possession that was taken from the pocket of the Prophet--from his dead body.
  • In the July 21, 1937 edition of the Deseret News it was reported that:

    In addition to the manuscript of the book of Abraham, there were many other interesting documents. Included in the handwriting of Joseph Smith are a writ of habeas corpus, prepared by the Prophet while he was incarcerated in Liberty Jail. Another is the history of Joseph Smith's incarceration in the jail, a facsimile of the Book of Abraham, an inventory of the Prophet's property, his credit statement on Nov. 8, 1839, and an objection to Joseph Smith's discharge in bankruptcy.

    A similar list was reported in the September 1937 edition of the Improvement Era.

  • In the nineteenth century, belief in the supernatural and the occult was more common. Aaron C. Willey, in a book from 1812, described how widespread belief in the supernatural was:

    It is truly surprising to see what an ascendancy of these absurd and superstitious notions have gained over the human mind. They seem to have prevailed, in a greater or less degree, in all ages, and among all nations.
  • Elihu, a possible friend of Job from the Old Testament, was the son of "Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram."

  • In 1873, Orson Pratt explained that Joseph Smith was referred to sometimes referred to as Baurak Ale and other times Enoch:

    And when the Lord was about to have the Book of Covenants given to the world, it was thought wisdom, in consequence of the persecutions of our enemies in Kirtland and some of the regions around, that some of the names should be changed, and Joseph was called Baurak Ale, which was a Hebrew word; meaning God bless you. He was also called Gazelum, being a person to whom the Lord had given the Urim and Thummim. He was also called Enoch.

    Certain sections of the Book of Commandments referred to land purchases by the Church and the intent was to obfuscate these financial arrangements to prevent people from taking advantage of the Church.