The Miraculous Plates of Voree Examined

On September 13, 1845, four Mormons acting at the call of the prophet James J. Strang went to a certain hill near Burlington, Wisconsin, and, at a spot beneath a great oak that showed no signs of having been disturbed, they dug and found an earthenware box containing a set of three plates of brass. Beyond the four witnesses, the plates were viewed by hundreds of curious spectators including a local non-Mormon newspaper reporter.

The plates were covered with writing of curious workmanship. Strang, who had assumed Joseph Smith’s titles of “Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator” (the last of these has been dropped in the LDS tradition), was able to translate them via revelation. According to Strang, an ancient inhabitant of Wisconsin named “Rajah Manchou of Vorito” had engraved the plates. Strang rendered the text as follows:

My people are no more. The mighty are fallen, and the young slain in battle. Their bones bleached on the plain by the noonday shadow. The houses are leveled to the dust, and in the moat are the walls. They shall be inhabited.

I have in the burial served them, and their bones in the Death-shade, towards the sun’s rising, are covered. They sleep with the mighty dead, and they rest with their fathers. They have fallen in transgression and are not, but the elect and faithful there shall dwell.

The word hath revealed it. God hath sworn to give an inheritance to his people where transgressors perished. The word of God came to me while I mourned in the Death-shade, saying, I will avenge me on the destroyer. He shall be driven out. Other strangers shall inhabit thy land. I an ensign there will set up. The escaped of my people there shall dwell when the flock disown the Shepherd and build not on the Rock.

The forerunner men shall kill, but a mighty prophet there shall dwell. I will be his strength, and he shall bring forth thy record. Record my words, and bury it in the Hill of Promise.

Thus like the Book of Mormon’s prediction of Joseph Smith (LDS 2 Nephi 3:6-7, RLDS 2 Nephi 2:11-12), the Voree Plates predict Joseph Smith (“the forerunner”), his martyrdom, and the “mighty prophet” (James Strang) who would succeed Smith.

For a large number of Mormons, including the brother and mother of the prophet, the surviving witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and other early leaders, the Voree Plates and the other evidences of Strang’s calling were convincing, at least for a time. Although Aaron Smith, the most prominent of the Voree Plate witnesses, eventually renounced Strang as a fallen prophet, he continued to affirm his testimony of the plates.

Few, if any, of Strang’s followers had any training in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions. This is a shame, because the content of the Voree plates is, if anything, much more remarkable than the story of their origin.

The Alphabet

Although the Voree plates were lost in the generations after Strang’s martyrdom, a good facsimile survives. From it, we can see that text is written in an unknown language using an unknown alphabet, both of which I will term “Vorite.”

The words are separated by punctuation ( . ) for word break ( : ) for a sentence break, and ( :: ) for a paragraph break. Using Strang’s translation, a clear correspondence of words can be established. The word “and” appears nine times; “are” appears seven times; “I” five times; “there,” “of,” and “they” four times each; “to,” “their,” “in,” “my,” and “shall dwell” three times each; and “word,” “people,” “have,” “fallen,” “on,” “God,” “but,” “me,” “with,” “record,” and “death-shade” twice each. The fact that these words correspond so precisely with the translation leaves no doubt that we are dealing with an actual text and not just scribbles.

It is also clear that the Vorite alphabet is not merely a cipher for English. In addition to the punctuation, there appear to be approximately 14 letters, plus two logograms and one case marker. For convenience, I am rendering the letters here using the closest Roman alphabetic equivalent: I, F, N, J, S, E, Y, b, P, T, q, 7, ~, and k. (These signs represent the form of the characters and should not be viewed as relating in any way to the sounds of Vorite.)

The small number of letters could indicate that Vorite, like Hebrew, does not include vowels. A single cartouche on the plates appears to include a word written in the Hebrew alphabet (possibly reading Ts-L-Q-V-T ). This is apparently the equivalent of the Vorite EPNT, which Strang translates as “death-shade.” The fact that Hebrew requires five characters for Vorite’s four is one of many signs that the text is not merely Hebrew written in the Vorite alphabet (another is that Vorite appears to lack the articles “a,” “an,” and “the”).

Despite the seemingly small number of letters, it is possible that the vowels are inscribed and that Vorite is merely sparing of sounds (like Hawaiian) or that the alphabet uses multiple sounds for each character.

In addition to the alphabetic characters, there are two logograms. A plus sign +, not otherwise used as a letter, coincidentally corresponds to the conjunction “and.” There is also a circular sign that looks like a pie graph which Strang translates as “the sun’s rising.” In addition a marker dot, not otherwise appearing as a letter, indicates the difference between the word “I” ( N~ ), and its accusative form “me” ( N•~ ).

Startlingly, the Voree plates are not written left-to-right (as in English) or right-to-left (as in Hebrew), but using boustrophedon. This is an ancient and rare way of writing in which the direction of reading shifts line by line, i.e., the first line of the plates begins right-to-left, the second line is read left-to-right, then the third line is right-to-left again and so forth.

The Language

In addition to the above, Vorite has a number of interesting characteristics.

The word for “word” ( FbIIb ) takes its plural ( FbIb ) “words” from an internal shift rather than adding a suffix (cf. woman > women, vs. girl > girls). Also the word for “prophet” ( FbIPIY ) is a combination of the words “words” ( FbIb ) and “God” ( IPIY ).

Some words have case endings. “People” is twice rendered ( FNLY ), but “his people” is ( FNLSb ).

The word for “flock” ( NIIF ) seems related to the word for “shepherd” ( NIITF ), just as “transgression” ( PEIIS ) seems related to “transgressors” ( PEIN~ ).

“Are” ( IE ), a form of the verb “to be,” can be used as a prefix to create the future tense, as in IEFPIF, IEFYqI, IEISII, IETb, and IEYIF, or “shall bring forth,” “shall inhabit,” “shall be driven,” “shall kill,” and “shall dwell,” respectively. “Will” alone as a helping verb is a variant bIE.

Like Latin, Vorite contains no articles, e.g. “a,” “an,” and “the.” The only potential exception is where the text for “the plain” ( NEPTI ) is broken by a line and might be read “the” ( NE ) “plain” ( PTI ). Although only a handful of words are continued from one line to the next, there are no other examples of NE for “the” or any other potential articles, indicating that it is most likely just a portion of the word for plain.

Decipherment

A complete decipherment is problematic because we have no primer. Although there is a single Hebrew word, the Voree plates is not a multilingual inscription like the Rosetta stone. We have the English translation, which gives us the meaning of the Vorite words, but not their sounds. Normally in these circumstances epigraphers can bridge the gap using proper names: if we know a word is a proper name, we can often use assign sounds to the letters of an unknown language. For example, the names “Ptolemy” and “Cleopatra” on the Rosetta stone allowed scholars to determine the sound values of a number of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Unfortunately, there are no proper names in Strang’s translation of the text. We have “Hill of Promise,” “God,” “the destroyer,” “death-shade,” and “people,” but no names. Hill of Promise in Vorite ( IISqI ) is a single word and therefore seems to be a proper name, but we do not know what that name might sound like, since the English is a euphemism.

There is one exception. The text on the plates actually begins two and a half lines before the initiation of Strang’s translation “My people are no more…” The preceding lines seem to read:

SPNE~IIq . I . FIYI . NJFb . I . NbYIb :

SPNE~IIq elsewhere is translated “[thy] record” and the character I alone translates as “of.” Therefore it looks like we have the phrase: “[the] record of Rajah Manchou of Vorito.” The problem is that this translation does not work. If I is the sound “a” in “Raja,” then the second letter of “Manchou” ( NJFb ) should be I and not J. Likewise if F is the “r” in Rajah, we should have an F in “Vorito” ( NbYIb ) and not in “Manchou” ( NJFb ). Unfortunately these lines are among the least clear on the facsimile, and my rendering may be the problem.

It seems that unless these correspondences can be resolved or unless Vorite can be shown to be a known language, a complete decipherment is unlikely.

Conclusion

The antiquity (or lack thereof) of the Voree Plates can be viewed as a faith question, the same as the Book of Mormon, which I do not consider here. Regardless of their origin, the Voree Plates are a remarkably sophisticated artifact. It’s little wonder that so many early Mormons saw them as an additional sign that God was continuing to reveal scriptures in the Latter Days.

Comments

  1. Wow. John, this is beyond brilliant.

    What happened to the plates of Rajah Manchou of Vorito?

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Amazing stuff to read. Thanks John. Wow, quite the harvest on BCC today.

  3. John Hamer says:

    Thanks — If I recall the story correctly, Betsy McNutt, one of James Strang’s widows, ended up in possession of the plates. She later moved to Davis City, Iowa (just east of the RLDS center of Lamoni). Davis City became a hotbed of Whitmeritism and Betsy seems to have affiliated with the Church of Christ (Whitmer). Meanwhile someone (I believe the rumor is that it was an LDS elder) around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries borrowed the plates from Betsy and never returned them. Whatever the details, their whereabouts are still unknown.

  4. Genius. Are you going to publish these findings someplace real?

  5. Mark IV says:

    Also to note –

    The annual meeting of the John Whitmer Historical Association will be held September 25-28 at Voree, Wisconsin.

  6. John Hamer says:

    TT (#4): I plan to write this up in detail, yes, and make it available in one of the journals. I’m not the person who discovered that these word correspondences can be made. But the other papers I’ve seen referenced (for example on Wikipedia) have not been published and I don’t have access to them. As a result I can’t tell how much of my examination has already been observed by previous writers. I’m hoping some of my Strangite friends can give me copies of these unpublished papers.

  7. Very, very interesting – on multiple levels.

  8. #4: BCC is virtually real.

  9. Nice, John. This stuff animates both the Mormon and the linguistic anthropologist parts of my brain.

  10. Is this for real? Awesome.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Awesome, John. I love this kind of stuff.

    Let me help you a little bit with your Hebrew word in the cartouche. It’s not Ts-L-Q-W-T, but Ts-L-M-W-T. With vowels, this word is tsalmaweth. It appears in the OT 18 times, always rendered “shadow of death” in the KJV. It’s a compound of tsel shadow and maweth death. It can mean shade of death, and can be figurative for the grave (or calamity) or very thick darkness. So your proposed equation of the Hebrew word with “death shade” is certainly correct.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    For a well known example, consider Psalm 23:4:

    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

  13. larryco_ says:

    This is what I call “pay day”, for using my work break to come to lds blogs. Excellent stuff.

  14. Fascinating, John.

    You aren’t just trying to hype more people for JWHA’s Voree conference, are you? ;)

  15. Very cool. Thanks.

  16. So fascinating! Thanks!

  17. Carlos U. says:

    Is this post for real? I mean, it’s not April’s fool’s day on June or anything like that, rigth?

  18. Very cool stuff, John.

  19. John Hamer says:

    CTJ (#10) and Carlos U. (#17): Yes, this is absolutely for real. Like I say, the word correspondences are pretty conclusive.

    Kevin Barney (#11-#12) Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou. I’d hoped I might get some help with the Hebrew here, but that’s absolutely fascinating! That really makes a lot of sense.

    Ben (#14): Actually, the reverse. The fact that the conference will take place in Voree got me to take another look at the Voree Plates. However, if this lil’ post gets people excited about the conference, so much the better.

  20. Brilliant work. I’ve long thought that Strang was Joseph Smith’s most successful mimic in the nineteenth century. You may want to situate this, rather broadly in John Dee’s Enochian and perhaps in the KEP as interpretive document. I have a paper on KEP interpretation broadly that touches on some similar themes that I’m trying to finish up, though the presence of a novel language is quite interesting.

    I wonder whether any American Kabbalists ever invented their own ciphers? You may also want to consider comparing your letters to the glyphs used in the KEP or the Abraham vignettes. I would also consider using the Hebrew primers from Kirtland to look at some of the proto-Hebrew languages as they were then understood to be formed (Moses Stuart and J. Seixas are the authors). CS Rafinesque also has some volumes on mesoamerican glyphs that might be worth mining. Shalom Goldman has a collection of essays on uses of Hebrew in American including the most famous two, Ezra Stiles (Yale president and Kabbalist) and Jonathan Edwards (figurehead of the First Great Awakening).

    (I mean no disrespect by assuming that the language is not ancient; I try to start with the statistically most likely assumptions and move forward from there.)

    And no offense to any other publishing outlets, but I suspect that both JMH and Dialogue would fall over themselves trying to get to publish your paper once it’s ready.

  21. May also be worth comparing the phrasing to Moroni’s Lamentation, a hymn interpreting Lucy Mack’s glossolalia that enjoyed reasonable popularity in the 1830s or so.

  22. Joe Geisner says:

    This is absolutely wonderful John. For those who are interested in this subject I would suggest picking up Vickie Speek’s book “God Has Made Us a Kingdom”. She has done a great job explaining the history of the brass plates that John has detailed and gives a great history of Strang’s other plates that he translated along with a photocopy of Joseph Smith’s letter of appointment. Strang is a fascinating person and much more like Joseph Smith, I would would call them two peas in a pod, than any of the others who claimed succession rights. The intermingling of all the restoration movements and Strang is equally interesting. John has sold me on JWHA’s conference. I already have my tickets.

  23. Great stuff.
    I know you don’t want to consider the antiquity of the plates beyond the faith question, but I wonder what your personal opinion is?
    It seems a lot less is at stake here compared with asserting the antiquity of the Book of Mormon, I mean, everyday LDS people haven’t heard of the Voree plates (have they?).
    Still, this is one of the few threads I’ve forwarded on to family and friends. Really cool, let us know where you publish.

  24. Jess,

    I can’t say what John’s opinion is, but in general, the Voree plates are not regarded as scripture or as divinely given by anyone except for members of the Strangite breakaway movement. The Strangites were one of the more significant breakaway groups immediately following Joseph Smith’s death, and remained important as a group for several decades. However, the movement declined after Strang’s death, and today has dwindled to only a few hundred members. Their website is at http://strangite.org/ .

    There are some well-regarded books about Strang. _God Has Made Us a Kingdom_ is well-regarded. Also, there’s a book by John Hamer about the various offshoots (including the Strangites, and many others), called _Scattering the Saints_.

  25. The wikipedia article says

    The Voree Plates seem to be definitely written in an unknown alphabet. James Strang authored a personal diary during his youth, parts of which were written in a secret code which was not deciphered until over one-hundred years later (ironically, by Strang’s own grandson). Comparison of the script used in the coded portions of Strang’s diary[22] and the script used on the Voree Plates[23] shows remarkable similarities between the two.

    I don’t know if you have any access to Strang’s diary, but do you know if this claim has any merit?

  26. Her AMun says:

    If the Prophet Joseph died in Carthage Illinois on June 27, 1844 and Strang “found” his plates on September 13, 1845 then how could Martin Harris, Lucy Mack Smith and others have any knowledge of the Voree plates? As far as I know, they never went to Wisconsin. Also, the Voree plates measured approximately 2.5 inches long, and between 1.25 and 1.5 inches wide[1]. Thats a big diffference from the 7″ by 8″ dimensions for each plate, plus the 6″ thick dimension of the combined plates, plus the 40- 60lbs wieght described by the BoM witnesses. Given that none of the Smiths or witnesses went to Wisconsin, plus their experience with Moroni’s plates, its hard to see how they could have been impressed by the Voree.

    Wrote Daniel C. Peterson in an unpublished manuscript posted to the FAIR message boards:

    Forgery is the virtually certain explanation for the two sets of inscribed metal plates that James Jesse Strang said he had found in Wisconsin and Michigan (between 1845 and 1849) and translated. Strang, who claimed to have a letter of appointment from Joseph Smith, announced himself as Joseph Smith’s successor and was clearly seeking to imitate the Prophet. That his plates really existed is beyond serious dispute. The first set, the three “Voree” or “Rajah Manchou” plates, were dug up by four “witnesses” whom Strang had brought to the appropriate site.
    Inscribed on both sides with illustrations and “writing,” the Rajah Manchou plates were roughly 1.5 by 2.75 inches in size—small enough to fit in the palm of a hand or to carry in a pocket. Among the many who saw them was Stephen Post, who reported that they were brass and, indeed, that they resembled the French brass used in familiar kitchen kettles. “With all the faith & confidence that I could exercise,” he wrote, “all that I could realize was that Strang made the plates himself, or at least that it was possible that he made them.”
    One source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies. (However, the credibility of this source is suspect, since it also asserts that the Book of Mormon witnesses repudiated their testimonies, which is demonstrably false). The eighteen “Plates of Laban,” likewise of brass and each about 7 3/8 by 9 inches, were first mentioned in 1849 and, in 1851, were seen by seven witnesses. Their testimony appeared at the front of The Book of the Law of the Lord, which Strang said he translated from the “Plates of Laban.” (Work on the translation seems to have begun at least as early as April 1849. An 84-page version appeared in 1851; by 1856, it had reached 350 pages.)
    The statement of Strang’s witnesses speaks of seeing the plates, but mentions nothing of any miraculous character, nor did Strang supply any second set of corroborating testimony comparable to that of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. One of the witnesses to the “Plates of Laban,” Samuel P. Bacon, eventually denied the inspiration of Strang’s movement and denounced it as mere “human invention.” Another, Samuel Graham, later claimed that he had assisted Strang in the fabrication of the “Plates of Laban.”
    The well-read Strang had been an editor and lawyer before his brief affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his subsequent career as a schismatic leader.[2]
    Thus, Strang’s plates were much less numerous than those associated with Joseph Smith, his witnesses saw nothing supernatural, his translation required the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months, and, unlike the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, Strang’s witnesses did not remain faithful to their testimonies. Milo Quaife, in his early, standard biography of Strang, reflected that “It is quite conceivable that Strang’s angelic visitations may have had only a subjective existence in the brain of the man who reported them. But the metallic plates possessed a very material objective reality.” If we are unwilling to accept The Book of the Law of the Lord as authentically divine, he says, “we can hardly escape the conclusion . . . that Strang knowingly fabricated and ‘planted’ them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers” and, accordingly, that “Strang’s prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture.” [3]

    [1] http://www.strangite.org/Plates.htm

    [2] Daniel C. Peterson, “Case of the Missing Golden Plates,” FAIR message boards, Posted on: Jan 22 2006, 02:12 PM. FAIR link; formatting altered for readability from the FAIR posting, emphasis added.
    [3] Peterson here cites See Roger Van Noord, King of Beaver Island: The Life and Assassination of James Jesse Strang (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 33–35, 97, 102, 163, 219; Doyle C. Fitzpatrick, The King Strang Story: A Vindication of James J. Strang, the Beaver Island Mormon [sic] King (Lansing, MI: National Heritage, 1970), 34–38; Milo M. Quaife, The Kingdom of Saint James: A Narrative of the Mormons [sic] (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), 2–8, 16–19, 92–93, 185–189.

  27. Her AMun says:

    It would sem to me that the Smith’s and Martin Harris were impressed by Strang’s supposed “letter of appointment”, a letter the Prophet supposedly wrote from Carthage jail. That and his claim to being ordianed by an angel at the death of the Prophet. How these early saints would have been impressed by the Voree plates, before Strang ever “found” them in Wisconsin is beyond me.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Any one got some other facts?

  28. John Hamer says:

    Austin S. (#25): Cool idea, I hadn’t thought of that. (Long ago, I actually wrote the original Wikipedia article you’re refering to, but as with all things wiki, it has grown and evolved and is now full of interesting new stuff.)

    I have the transcription of the whole diary including the coded parts, but I only have a handful of facsimiles of the actual code. From these, I can see that the cipher is a new alphabet, with a one-character for one-character substitution of Roman letters. The underlying language is English and it’s clear that this would be a very easy code to break, if it hadn’t already been broken. (If I do say so, it’s a fair amount harder to break the coded portions of my own high-school diary, which is actually a phonetic syllabary rather than an alphabet.)

    I would say that the diary cipher characters bear no resemblance to the Vorite characters. There are 26 cipher characters, a number of which include dots and harsh right-angles (both lacking the Vorite characters). Unfortunately, I don’t think the diary helps us decipher the Voree Plates at all.

  29. At the risk of a threadjack, what is the opinion of the historians here of the claim by the Strangites that Brigham Young ordered the Nauvoo temple burned?

  30. John Hamer says:

    Her AMun (#27): how could they have been impressed before Strang found them? They weren’t. They were impressed after Strang found them. The statement of the Voree Plate witnesses and the translation were published by Strang’s organization of the Church in January of 1846, Volume 1, Issue 1 of the Voree Herald (published near Burlington, Wisconsin Territory). The Letter of Appointment, which was published in the same tract, was dated June 18, 1844. Joseph was incarcerated in Carthage more than a week later on June 25. On June 18, the LDS HC (6:504) says that Joseph was in Nauvoo and gave his farewell address to the Nauvoo Legion. Quite a logical time to be wrapping up his affairs and appointing his successor.

    By the time the first issue of the Voree Herald was published, Apostle John E. Page was already affiliated with Strang. In March of 1846, Page met with Patriarch/Apostle William Smith and shared the published tracts. William, who had already begun to form his own church organization, was impressed by the account of the Voree Plates and the other published signs of Strang’s calling. William immediately wrote to Strang and recognized him as his brother’s successor to the presidency, adding that all the remaining Smith family “do believe in the appointment of J.J. Strang” (Voree Herald 1:7). Although William likely overstated his case, (there’s no evidence that Emma was convinced by Strang’s tracts), negotiations began to move Lucy Mack Smith to Voree.

    William met with Strang at a church conference in Kirtland in August of 1846, where Strang was recognized as president of the church and William was recognized as presiding patriarch. William later did travel to Wisconsin Territory for a conference at Voree in April of 1847. However, by this time it was discovered that William had been practicing plural marriage — a practice Strang’s church had not yet embraced — and he was disfellowshiped. By September, William was no longer affiliated with Strang and was again trying to reorganize his own church. (See “William Smith’s Quest for Ecclesiastical Station: A Schismatic Odyssey, 1844-93″ in Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism.)

    David Whitmer and the other Book of Mormon witnesses were impressed by the same Strangite tracts and sent encouraging messages to Strang; however, they also changed their minds.

  31. John Hamer says:

    Her AMun (#26): The Plates of Laban are different from Plates of Voree, despite Peterson’s conflation here where he asserts that it “require the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months.” It took less than a week to translate the tiny Voree Plates. Strang did not begin to translate the much larger Plates of Laban until 1849 and seems to have been finished with the resulting “Book of the Law of the Lord” (336 pages long) by 1850. But what of it? How long did it take Joseph to translate the Book of Abraham? How long to produce the JST of the Bible? Is Peterson implying that the JST isn’t of God because it took longer than 2 months to produce? The seven witnesses to the Plates of Laban are different from the four witnesses to the Voree Plates (there is no overlap); I’m only considering the Voree Plates here.

    Milo Quaife, whose conclusion Peterson cites, was an admitted skeptic. About Mormons in general Quaife writes:

    One can hardly read extensively in the literature of early Mormonism without becoming impressed with the thought that he is dealing chiefly with this lunatic fringe. Men who had broken with the established order, both of government and religion; who believed implicitly in a Prophet, supposed to be in direct daily communion with God on subjects, often times, of the most trivial character…could hardly be noted for stability of judgement or conservatism of character (Quaife 47).

    Although Peterson is willing to turn the harshest, skeptical lense of scholarly scrutiny on the beliefs of others and conclude that “forgery is the virtually certain explanation,” that same scrutiny is utterly lacking in his own work with the Book of Mormon. It hardly needs to be said that all non-Mormon scholars consider “forgery is the virtually certain explanation” for the Book of Mormon.

    Jessawhy (#23): Because Strangite Mormons are few in number today, their beliefs are typically given short shrift, as by Peterson. In this post, I’m interested in looking at the remarkable contents of this sophisticated document, not in attacking someone’s faith.

    Kaimi (#24): Strangite.org is the website of an independent Strangite believer in Independence, Missouri, who is not in communion with the last active congregation of Strangite Mormons who meet each Saturday in Voree (Burlington), Wisconsin.

  32. John Hamer says:

    Sam MB (#20): Thanks. None of the Vorite characters bear much resemblance to the glyphs down the lefthand margins of the KEP. I would be surprised if there were any relationship between the KEP and the Voree Plates. The translation of the Voree Plates was one of Strang’s earliest works and at the time he had little contact with the Mormon elite — and so I’m not sure how he would have had access to the KEP. If he had back issues of the Times & Seasons, he would have access to the facsimiles and the Book of Abraham text. (In Strang’s later years, he was surrounded by members who had been part of the Nauvoo elite; and his works at that point show more awareness of Nauvoo practice.)

    In terms of Kabbalists, I have a diagram of “Celestial Alphabets” produced by Kabbalists in 1675 (Johanna Drucker, The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination, 137). The same book lists a wealth of ciphers, alphabets, syllabaries and other writing systems invented in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Inventing alphabets and even languages was certainly something that people were doing.

    (#21): Interesting — the text of Moroni’s Lamentation (revealed to Lucy in the Nephite tongue in 1833) does bear some resemblence to the lament of Rajah Manchou. None of the phrasing jumps out at me implying that there is any dependence.

  33. John,

    Excellent analysis, thank you for posting this. I am wondering if anyone can say something about Mac Tonight showing up on the first plate. Do pictures like that moon with a face show up on other ancient docs?

  34. LOL re: Mac Tonight. I LOVE IT.

  35. Thank you for this fascinating contribution, John. Thanks, particularly, for your usual urbane but sympathetic handling of your topic, inviting us to study with appropriate preparation, tools and demeanor –to dissect without bruising.

    Reading Strang’s rendition from the plates which you quote, I was struck immediately and quite forcibly by their sympathy with the tone and linguistic feel of James Macpherson’s Ossian poems of the later mid-1700s which exerted so much influence upon European and American expectations of translated, supposedly ancient texts, well into the nineteenth century. The correlation which I perceive lies not so much in measurable text elements as in the over-all, quite particular Ossian feel, which I suppose would be the most compelling potential popular-level correlation to explore. Here is a brief sampling, taken from a lament for the people of Morven (ostensibly British Isles, ca. third century A.D.) . . .

    “Come to battle,” said the king, “ye children of echoing Selma. Come to the death of thousands. Comhal’s son will see the fight. My sword shall wave on the hill, the defence of my people in war. But never may you need it, warriors: while the son of Morni fights, the chief of mighty men! He shall lead my battle, that his fame may rise in [p. 88 ends] song! O ye ghosts of heroes dead! ye riders of the storm of Cromla! receive my falling people with joy, and bear them to your hills. And may the blast of Lena carry them over my seas, that they may come to my silent dreams, and delight my soul in rest? Fillan and Oscar, of the dark-brown hair! fair Ryno, with the pointed steel! advance with valour to the fight. Behold the son of Morni! Let your swords be like his in strife: behold the deeds of his hands. Protect the friends of your father. Remember the chiefs of old. My children I will see you yet, though here ye should fall in Erin. Soon shall our cold, pale ghosts meet in a cloud on Cona’s eddying winds?” [James Macpherson, A New and Complete Edition of Ossian’s Poems. Translated by James M’Pherson, Esq., With an Additional Poem. To which is Prefixed the Life of the Translator, by a Gentleman. In Two Volumes. . . . (Morristown [New Jersey]: Published by Peter A. Johnson. J. Seymour, printer, 1823) II:88-89; from the epic poem, “Fingal,” an Ossian narrative segment which was first published in London, 1762.]

    The is only one example, and to some readers, I expect that my suggestion may sound too generic, particularly if they are not heavily read in early to mid-nineteenth-century folk texts (just like, to some Latter-day Saints who do not have the benefit of broad music training or classical exposure, all large choruses sound like the Tabernacle Choir). However, I am thinking primarily of broad cultural/literary influence here, and I have seen enough from that period that I don’t want to discount my first impression out of hand.

  36. Daniel C. Peterson says:

    The hairs on the back of my neck began to tingle.

    In self-defense: When my finished comments on Strang’s witnesses eventually appear in their full context — which will not happen for quite some time — I trust that it will be recognized that they don’t operate on the basis of the painfully obvious double standard that John Hamer attributes to me here.

  37. Steve Evans says:

    Daniel, looking forward to it! It’s such an interesting topic.

  38. John Hamer says:

    Hey Dan (#36): I’m sure that it will be recognized that you don’t & I’ll look forward to your article when it appears.

    Quaife’s quote that “Strang knowingly fabricated and ‘planted’ them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers” struck me as the kind of insensitive criticism that LDS believers find offensive when applied by outsiders to their own faith claims. Knowing as many Strangite Mormons as I do, I tend to get defensive for them.

  39. Aaron Brown says:

    Great stuff.

    AB

  40. Vickie Speek says:

    Interesting thread, John.

    Although I did a lot of research for my book about the Strangites, God Has made Us A Kingdom, I have never tried to decipher the Voree Plates, Strang’s diary or the coded letters he and his followers exchanged. It’s very intriquing to see that the writings were not simply scribbles, that there must have been a written key.

    Just by chance, I was reading some Strang materials today and found a letter (not to me) dated Sept. 1990 from Bob Morrison, the “High Priest of the Halcyon Order/Order of the Illuminati founded by James Jesse Strang.”

    Morrison, writing from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, claimed to be the current head of the Restored Church of St. James/Mormon. He said his group had several important Strang relics including the original ciphered manuscript for Strang’s book the Law of the Lord; a ciphered manuscript account of the finding of the three Voree plates and the two other plates which were not publicized but were intended for the High Priesthood only. Morrison wrote he had a manuscript of the translation of the fifth Voree plate and had researched the plate and translated it on his own. His translation agrees with the translation performed by Strang.

    I have never heard of the existence of two additional Voree plates or the existence of the group in Canada. Has anybody else heard of this group? The Strangites in Burlington don’t seem to know much about them either.

    By the way–let ME put in a shameless plug for the JWHA conference in Voree. I’ve seen the program and it is fantastic! The trip to Voree (and sidetrip to Beaver Island) will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

    Vickie Speek

  41. Vickie Speek says:

    Morrison also claimed to have James Strang’s coronation robe, his coronation scepter and his SEER STONE. He also had Strang’s knife which supposedly had a cipher inscription to Moroni on the blade. He said the knife is exactly the same as Joseph Smith’s knife as pictured in Quinn’s book, “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View.”

    I’ve never heard of the seer stone or knife, either. Interesting, but not likely.

  42. John Hamer says:

    Hey Vicki (#40-41): Thanks for chiming in! I have not heard of Bob Morrison or his group — they aren’t in Divergent Paths of the Restoration. Strang’s scepter is in the Community of Christ Archives, which is one problem for the letter’s assertions.

    From your research, do you know if Strang continued to convene the Halcyon Order after Bennett’s expulsion? I had the impression that it became defunct by the Beaver Island period.

    By the way, Morrison’s talk about the knife had me looking at the plates in Quinn’s book. A page identified as “Oliver B. Huntingdon’s astrological symbol” (Figure 19) includes a key to a cipher that is very much like Strang’s diary cipher — the characters look almost the same, but they don’t correspond to the values Strang assigns them.

    (Thanks for plugging the conference too.)

  43. Left Field says:

    Just curious, John: What do you know about the New Mexico Strangites? I remember reading about them years ago in the Ensign, and I always wondered about them whenever I drove through Artesia.

  44. John Hamer says:

    LF (#43): The Strangites in New Mexico are part of the same church organization as the ones in Wisconsin: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). Vernon Swift is the president of the high priesthood of the whole church and he lives in Artesia, New Mexico. Apparently there aren’t enough members in Artesia for regular meetings.

  45. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was on my mission in Colorado in the late seventies, there was an article in the Ensign that mentioned the Strangites, and where the then pockets of them lived. One that was mentioned was in Pueblo, which is where I happened to be serving at the time. So I called the family mentioned in the note to chat. That was perhaps presumptuous of me, and they were very cautious and didn’t want to get together. I understood; I’m sure lots of Mormons over the years have tried to convert them, and here I was actually a missionary.

    At the time I really didn’t know much about the Strangites, but I was fascinated by what little I did know.

  46. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m pretty sure the article I read on my mission:

    Russell C. Rich, “Nineteenth-Century Break-offs,” Ensign (September 1979).

  47. KEPA is a fairly restricted set of glyphs. KEPE contains several more. Some do overlap as I give it a quick look, though you’re right that Joseph Smith did not circulate KEPE 1 very much.

    The Voree conference sounds like great fun.

    People should check out Matt Bowman’s MHA piece on the Gillites in terms of situating Joseph-like prophets within the Mormon tradition.

  48. Oh, and the burning of the Nauvoo temple and Brigham Young–haven’t seen much by way evidence to support it.

    as for the Ossian epics, the problem is that it’s one minor example of a broader milieu by the nineteenth century. Bryant’s Thanatopsis is a far more proximate representative of the milieu, and Cooper’s novels are a more likely point of contact.

  49. Vickie Speek says:

    I don’t know for sure that the Halcyon Order of the Illuminati continued on Beaver Island. I suspect it did, however, it was not as necessary to keep it secret on Beaver Island as it was in Voree, due to the lack of persecution from pseudos (ex-Strangites).

    Basically the same wording used in the Illuminati is in the Oath and the Covenant, used to swear allegiance to Strang as King of Beaver Island.

    Incidentally, a form of the LDS temple ceremony was used during meetings of the Order of the Illuminati, and some of the original wording was printed in cipher. I have no doubt that John C. Bennett carried the wording, the signs and the tokens from his days in Nauvoo.

    Vickie

  50. 49, I’m used to thinking that Bennett had few of the details right. He certainly didn’t know them in 1842, when he was last in contact on friendly terms with Joseph Smith and the inner circle. His depiction in 1842 of the endowment got it confused with polygamy and frank (rather than “reformed”) Masonic inductions, of which he had intimate knowledge. I suspect we’re looking for someone else to bring the endowment to Beaver Island.

  51. Vickie Speek says:

    50, You are correct. I should have said Masonic ceremonies rather than the temple endowment, although the two are very similar. Bennett was absolutely the developer of the Halcyon Order of the Illuminati at Voree. He even suggested Strang make up diplomas for those who joined.

  52. 51, is there a published version of Bennett’s modifications of Masonic rites? Interesting to think through how the two different people reformed those rites. Bennett loved a little melodrama and mighty honorifics.

  53. Vickie Speek says:

    52, Look in appendix C of my book, God Has Made Us A Kingdom: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons, Signature Books, 2006, for dialogue, tokens and penalties.

    Vickie Cleverley Speek

  54. Ross Eldridge says:

    In 1978 I spent three or four days camping on Beaver Island, once the “Kingdom” of James Strang. It’s certainly not much of a kingdom nowadays, a very few tumbled-down buildings and some stunted fruit trees might go back to the mid-1800s. Strang seems to have “seen” it as something bigger. I thought his “Mount Pisgah” was a large sand-dune. He must have been going for symbolism, don’t you think?

    I couldn’t help but think he was trying to out-Joseph the dead Prophet. And … I suppose there was some attraction in that … Who wants a lesser man? A lesser figure? A lesser Prophet? (Even Jesus would have known that Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel were tough acts to follow.)

    Still, walking across Beaver Island, the ghosts seemed pretty thin, pretty pale. Not one turned up at midnight with a crown, sceptre and robe … much less a handful of plates with clever marks on them.

    Perhaps the plates included the words: For what it matters, you might just as well chuck these in Lake Michigan!

  55. john rickard says:

    Is there anyone out there that might think that the voree plates were buried back on the hill of promise and not taken by Betsy McNutt to Iowa? I live only a few miles form Voree and and have a strong belief that the plates were returned back somewhere on the hill of promise. John Rickard

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