[Paleopsych] Wiki: Golden Plates

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Mon Aug 8 04:49:54 UTC 2005

Frank, I am not sure why you sent this, but it is a fair and balanced 
(Fox? <grin?) outline. The discussion on the weight omits the 
consideration that thin leaves of metal do not weigh nearly as much for 
the space displaced as solid metal; hence, Vogel's criticism is 
irrelevant. The estimate of around 60# would fit with a book of gold 
alloy of leaves, not a solid mass.

FYI, the arguably best pages for Book of Mormon apologetics are:


Farms: foundation for ancient research and mormon studies


Premise Checker wrote:

> Golden Plates - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Plates
> [Links omitted for readability.]
>    The Golden Plates is the name most frequently used to refer to the
>    "gold plates" that Joseph Smith, Jr. said he received from the angel
>    Moroni and used as the ancient source for the English translation of
>    The Book of Mormon. In reference to the plates, the Book of Mormon was
>    commonly known as the "Golden Bible" during the 1830s. Smith later
>    became the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.
> Contents
>      * 1 Story of the plates
>           + 1.1 Joseph obtains the plates
>           + 1.2 Palmyra, New York
>           + 1.3 Harmony, Pennsylvania
>           + 1.4 Translation
>           + 1.5 Special witnesses
>           + 1.6 Other spiritual witnesses
>           + 1.7 Plates returned to Moroni
>      * 2 Physical description
>      * 3 Other plates in the Latter Day Saint tradition
>           + 3.1 Criticisms
>      * 4 Plates outside of the Latter Day Saint tradition
> Story of the plates
> Joseph obtains the plates
>    In the 1820s, Joseph Smith, Jr. lived with his father and mother
>    Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack on a farm on the edge of Manchester Township
>    near Palmyra, New York. For a number of years prior to 1827, he
>    reported visitations from either an angel or a spirit, later
>    identified as a resurrected angel Moroni. According to Smith, Moroni
>    had been a Nephite, a member of one of the nations detailed in The
>    Book of Mormon. Moroni indicated that a record of his people, engraved
>    on gold plates, was deposited in a hill not far from the Smith farm
>    and that Smith would one day receive and translate them.
>    In successive years, Smith would travel to the hill, now known as the
>    Hill Cumorah, but was forbidden to obtain the plates. Finally in late
>    September of 1827, at the age of 21, Smith claimed that he had finally
>    been allowed to receive the antique history. According to various
>    reports, he brought a "60-lb." object "wrapped up in a tow frock" into
>    his father's home (William Smith, "Sermon in the Saints' Chapel,"
>    Deloit, Iowa June 8, 1888, Saints Herald 31 (1884):643-44). Besides
>    Joseph Jr., six of Joseph's siblings lived at home. According to
>    Joseph's brother William's account, their father put the plates into a
>    pillow case and asked "What, Joseph, can we not see them?" Joseph Jr.
>    replied, "No. I was disobedient the first time but I intend to be
>    faithful this time. For I was forbidden to show them until they are
>    translated, but you can feel them." Again, according to William's
>    account:
>           "We handled them and could tell what they were. They were not
>           quite as large as this Bible. Could tell whether they were
>           round or square. Could raise the leaves this way (raising a few
>           leaves of the Bible before him). One could easily tell that
>           they were not a stone hewn out to deceive or even a block of
>           wood. Being a mixture of gold and copper, they were much
>           heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood."
> Palmyra, New York
>    Shortly after Smith claimed to receive the plates, rumors of their
>    presence began to circulate among the residents of Palmyra. Several of
>    Smith's neighbors made attempts to find and seize the plates, leading
>    Joseph, Jr. (the translator) to keep them hidden and to operate in
>    great secrecy.
>    Smith's associate, Josiah Stowell, later claimed that he was the first
>    person to receive the plates from Smith's hands. Stowell handled and
>    lifted the plates which remained wrapped in a cloth that resembled a
>    cloak or a pillow case. Other associates of Smith who reported that
>    they handled the plates through the cloth included Smith's mother,
>    Lucy Mack Smith, and his brothers Hyrum and William.
>    Soon after acquiring the plates, Smith locked them in a box he
>    procured from his brother Hyrum. Some of Smith's neighbors discovered
>    the box's hiding place and smashed it. Meanwhile, however, Smith
>    claimed a premonition had previously caused him to move the plates to
>    a safer spot. (Joel Tiffany, Tiffany's Monthly 5 (1859): 167). Smith
>    then acquired a wooden "Ontario glass-box". The plates were placed
>    into this second box which was then nailed shut. Several witnesses
>    reported lifting the plates while the were sealed in the box. Martin
>    Harris recalled that his wife and daughter had lifted them and that
>    they were "about as much as [his daughter] could lift". Harris then
>    went to the Smith house himself while Joseph was away. Harris later
>    recalled:
>           "While at Mr. Smith's I hefted the plates, and I knew from the
>           heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had
>           not credit enough to buy so much lead." (Tiffany's Monthly 5
>           (1859): 168-69).
> Harmony, Pennsylvania
>    Excitement around the Palmyra area and growing opposition encouraged
>    Smith to relocate to his father-in-law's farm in Harmony,
>    Pennsylvania. According to Smith's brother-in-law, who helped Smith
>    and his wife Emma move, the box containing the plates was placed "into
>    a barrel about one-third full of [dry] beans"; after the plates were
>    so secured, the barrel was filled up with more beans.
>    Residents of Harmony also reported encounters with the plates, either
>    sealed in the box or covered by a cloth. Smith's brother-in-law Isaac
>    Hale recalled that he was "shown a box, in which it is said they were
>    contained, which had, to all appearances, been used as a glass box of
>    the common sized window glass." Hale said that he "was allowed to feel
>    the weight of the box, and they gave me to understand that the book of
>    plates was then in the box -- into which, however, I was not allowed
>    to look." (Isaac Hale Statement, reprinted in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon
>    Documents IV:286.)
> Translation
>    Emma later recalled that "she often wrote for Joseph Smith during the
>    work of translation..." (Joseph Smith III to James T. Cobb, Feb. 14,
>    1879, Letterbook 2, pp. 85-88, RLDS Archives, courteously shared with
>    Richard Lloyd Anderson by Smith family scholar Buddy Youngreen). By
>    her account:
>           "The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at
>           concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth, which I had
>           given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates as they
>           thus lay on the table tracing their outline and shape. They
>           seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a
>           metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one
>           does sometimes thumb the edges of a book." (Saints' Herald 26
>           (1879):290)
> Special witnesses
>    As Smith and his associates neared the end of their translation of the
>    plates, Smith revealed that a number of special witnesses would be
>    called to testify of the reality of the Golden Plates. There are two
>    sets of witnesses: the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses. Both
>    sets of witnesses signed joint statements in June of 1829 which were
>    subsequently published along with the text of the Book of Mormon.
>    The Three Witnesses -- Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin
>    Harris -- claimed to have seen an angel descend from heaven and
>    present the plates. They claimed to have seen the plates but not touch
>    them. They heard a voice from heaven declaring that the book was
>    translated by the power of God and that they should bear record of it.
>    The Eight Witnesses were members of the families of Joseph Smith and
>    David Whitmer. Like the Three Witnesses, the Eight signed a joint
>    statement in June 1829. Many of these men had previously handled the
>    plates either when they were in one of the boxes or wrapped in a
>    cloth. According to their statement, they also saw and hefted the
>    plates, "the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of
>    which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many
>    of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our
>    hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the
>    appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship."
> Other spiritual witnesses
>    Mary Whitmer, the wife of Peter Whitmer, Sr., also reported seeing the
>    plates in supernatural or visionary experiences (see Investigating the
>    Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard Lloyd Anderson). She said she saw
>    the angel Moroni, conversed with him, and was shown the gold plates as
>    a comfort and testimony to her while she kept house for a large party
>    during the translation work (Peterson, H. Donl. Moroni: Ancient
>    Prophet, Modern Messenger. Bountiful, Utah, 1983. pp. 114, 116). Most
>    of her immediate family was directly involved with Joseph Smith and/or
>    the translation.
> Plates returned to Moroni
>    After the work of translation was complete and after the visionary
>    experiences of the Special Witnesses, Smith reported that the plates
>    were returned to Moroni in the summer of 1829. Many Latter Day Saints
>    believe that Moroni returned the plates to the Hill Cumorah and that
>    other ancient records lie buried there.
> Physical description
>    Smith said Moroni used the term "gold plates" rather than "golden
>    plates." Smith's brother William believed that the plates were "a
>    mixture of gold and copper." Other witnesses said the plates had the
>    "appearance of gold" and were sheets of metal about 6 inches wide by 8
>    inches high and somewhat thinner than common tin. The plates were said
>    to be bound together with three rings, and made a book about 6 inches
>    thick. Reports from Smith and others who lifted the plates (while
>    wrapped in cloth or contained within a box) agree that they weighed
>    about 60 pounds.
>    In his famous letter to Chicago Democrat publisher John Wentworth
>    ([1]), Smith wrote:
>           "These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance
>           of gold, each plate was six inches [150 mm] wide and eight
>           inches [200 mm] long, and not quite so thick as common tin...
>           The volume was something near six inches [150 mm] in thickness,
>           a part of which was sealed." These plates are typically
>           referred to as the "gold plates" or other similar phrases.
>    William Smith (Joseph's brother) wrote in an 1883 account:
>           "I was permitted to lift them as they laid in a pillow-case;
>           but not to see them, as it was contrary to the commands he had
>           received. They weighed about sixty pounds [22 kg if troy
>           pounds, 27 kg if avoirdupois] according to the best of my
>           judgment."
> Other plates in the Latter Day Saint tradition
>    In addition to the Golden Plates, there are several other mentions of
>    ancient records recorded on metal plates in the Latter Day Saint
>    tradition.
>    The text of the Book of Mormon itself refers to several other sets of
>    plates:
>      * The brass plates -- originally owned by Laban, containing the
>        writings of Old Testament prophets up to the time shortly before
>        the Babylonian Exile, as well as the otherwise unknown prophets
>        Zenos and Zenoch, and possibly others.
>      * The plates of Nephi (sometimes the "large plates of Nephi") -- the
>        source of the text abridged by Mormon and engraved upon the Golden
>        Plates.
>      * The small plates of Nephi -- the source of the First Book of
>        Nephi, the Second Book of Nephi, the Book of Jacob, the Book of
>        Enos, the Book of Jarom, and the Book of Omni, which replaced the
>        lost 116 pages.
>      * The twenty-four plates found by the people of Limhi containing the
>        record of the Jaredites, translated by King Mosiah and abridged by
>        Moroni as the Book of Ether.
>    In addition to plates relating to the Book of Mormon, Smith acquired a
>    set of 6 plates known as the Kinderhook Plates in 1843.
>    James J. Strang, one of the rival claimants to succeed Smith also
>    claimed to discover and translate a set of plates known as the Voree
>    Plates.
> Criticisms
>    A criticism involves the descrepancy concerning the weight of the
>    plates. If the plates were of pure gold, 60 pounds would be a very low
>    for an estimate of its weight.
>    Dan Vogel writes:
>           A block of solid tin measuring 7 x 8 x 6 inches, or 288 cubic
>           inches, would weigh 74.67 pounds. If one allows for a 30
>           percent reduction due to the unevenness and space between the
>           plates, the package would then weigh 52.27 pounds. Using the
>           same calculations, plates of gold weigh 140.50 pounds; copper,
>           64.71 pounds; a mixture of gold and copper, between 65 and 140
>           pounds. (Vogel, The Making of a Prophet, 600)
>    While this does not cast doubt on the existence of the plates, it
>    challenges the assumption that they were pure gold. Referring to
>    Smith's statement that the plates "had the appearance of gold," some
>    have speculated that the metal of the plates was tumbaga, the name
>    given by the Spaniards to a versatile alloy of gold and copper which
>    could "be cast, drawn, hammered, gilded, soldered, welded, plated,
>    hardened, annealed, polished, engraved, embossed, and inlaid."
>    Tumbaga can be treated with a simple acid like citric acid to dissolve
>    the copper on the surface. What is then left is a shiny layer of
>    23-karat gold on top of a harder, more durable copper-gold alloy
>    sheet. This process was widely used by the pre-Columbian cultures of
>    central America to make religious objects.
>    Tumbaga plates of the dimensions Joseph Smith described would weigh
>    between fifty-three and eighty-six pounds.
>    With the lack of physical evidence today, the Golden Plates remain
>    solely an article of faith rather than an actual artifact or religous
>    relic.
> Plates outside of the Latter Day Saint tradition
>    Other cultures have kept records on metal plates, and those found to
>    date have been extremely thin, so as to facilitate their being
>    engraven into with a pointed utensil. For utilitarian reasons alone,
>    to make it both easier and feasible, the plates would need to be thin
>    enough to allow depressions to be made into them simply by applying
>    pressure, rather than having to scratch and dig as thicker plates
>    would necessitate. Michael R. Ash points to the discovery of objects
>    made from tumbaga, a gold-copper alloy in South America. He writes
>    that using this alloy would make the plates more rigid and lighter.
>    [2] This claim is congruent with William Smith's idea (cited above)
>    that the plates might be part gold and part copper. Orichalcum, the
>    legendary metal of Atlantis and the Temple of Solomon, is held by many
>    to match this same description. In 500 B.C (concurrent with the Book
>    of Mormon), Darius the Great of Persia inscribed his history on a gold
>    plate and sealed it in a stone box in the temple at Persepolis. [3],
>    [4].
>    The BBC wrote a news story about a six page gold book on display in
>    Bulgaria. This is claimed to be the world's oldest multiple-page book.
>    The book is written in the lost Etruscan language. Unique book goes on
>    display.
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