[Paleopsych] Wiki: Golden Plates

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Golden Plates - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[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.


      * 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

           "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

           "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.)


    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

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

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

    The text of the Book of Mormon itself refers to several other sets of
      * 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

      * 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


    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

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],

    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

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