On missing plates

The question of the fate of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and more particularly, why the plates have only been made available to perhaps fifteen people (8+3+Joseph Jr+Lucy+Emma+the stray extra) in their history, has vexed Mormons, their critics, and observers since 1830. The possible explanations are myriad.

One particularly intriguing explanation was offered by Parley Pratt in 1842.
In response to a Protestant clergyman inquiring critically about the fate of the plates, Pratt proposed:


What does everyone think? Why are the plates absent, and what would happen if the plates were recovered? Does the current state of the Abraham papyri bear at all on this issue? I have my own views about the meaning of the plates and their absence but am more interested in hearing what others have to say.
P[resumably Parley P. Pratt], “To the Editor,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 21 (Sept 1, 1842): 907.


  1. After 35+ years of struggling in the Church, with questions like this, I have reached my own conclusions about the reason for the controversy you present, but wish to expand the scope of your question.

    If the plates were returned to Moroni, then what become of the stone box in which they were supposed to have buried? I don’t believe any mention is made of Joseph’s having removed the box itself, which presumably would still have been in the ground of the Hill Cumorah. I can make some degree of allowance for the sacredness of the plates necessitating a limited viewing (although this argument is not very compelling), but what of the stone box?

    I think that the Book of Abraham controversy is definitely relevant here, and further undermines the traditional claims made by Joseph and the Church. Similarly, the recent change in the Introduction of the Book of Mormon, Doubleday edition, seems to be yet another example of how the Church has little choice but to change its position because of conflicts with science and reason.

    I really wish it were all otherwise, but in my search for truth, with no pre-conceived notions or prejudices, I find the evidence overwhelmingly against the claims made by the Church with respect to facts and history. I remain open to further evidence and argument, and continually weigh and re-weigh the evidence that is available. But I have come to the point where, for me, the writing is on the wall…

  2. Questions, your bringing up the Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon makes me think you are being disingenuous. I don’t think that you have thought about this issue much our you would likely have realized that it wasn’t a change of the scripture (just the intro which was written in the 1980’s). Your comment smacks of DAMU trollery.

    I haven’t looked specifically into the stone box, but it seems like Whitmer spoke of having seen the box the plates were in before it was washed down the hill by erosion.

    The Abraham thing is significant, but qualitatively different. Perhaps Joseph used the plates like he used the Papyri as a catalyst for revelation, but the methods of translation, as far as I understand them were quite different.

    Why no plates? It is interesting. I wonder if they were in the First Presidency vault if they would show them, or if like the seer stones they would be kept private. Going back to how Joseph translated them, I suspect that any modern analysis of the plates would yield a different result than Joseph’s.

  3. I do love Parley’s reference to the Ark of the Covenant. I can almost see him grinning as he writes it. For Christians of the time, I can’t imagine a more powerful comparison.

  4. Because it is a matter of faith not convincing. The whole reason I think that there are no plates has more to do with the concept of faith. Just like how their is no “evidence” of a Moses and little to no evidence of Israel’s slavery in Egypt.

    The reality is scriptures are always taken on faith. Faith that a document written 2500 years ago actually is what the prophets meant it to be. Faith that a claim made by a poor farm boy and his friends and relatives was the truth.

    Personally I had a personal witness of the reality of the book, all the “evidence” after that is merely nice confirmations.

  5. “I haven’t looked specifically into the stone box, but it seems like Whitmer spoke of having seen the box the plates were in before it was washed down the hill by erosion.”

    Where can the reference be found to this?

    Does anyone know anything about how a stone box which lasted from 421 AD to 1823 AD could be eroded in the span of a few years? I am not an expert on this. Is anyone an expert on stone and how long it takes to erode? If it was washed down the hill wouldn’t there be evidence left of that?

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with Jon. The BoM can only be genuinely ancient if God exists and intevenes in the affairs of men. This is so because, although Joseph surely could have stumbled upon an ancient set of plates in a stone box in a hill near his home, he certainly could not have accurately deciphered them by himself. So if we had the plates, and assuming that we could using the tools of scholarship decipher them and find them to bear some relationship to the BoM, it would be an almost overwhelming evidence for the existence of God. But in my view it is not intended that there should ever be any such overwhelming evidence for the existence of God. There are suggestions and types and shadows, but in the final analysis the just shall walk by faith. Learning to do this is a big part of the whole reason for this mortal sojourn.

    Having said all of that, I certainly understand why a non-believer would view the absence of the plates as eerily convenient. If I weren’t a faithful Mormon I’m sure I’d see it that way myself.

    (And J. is right; David Whitmer saw the stone box, which had washed down to the bottom of the hill.)

  7. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    According to some historic accounts, the plates were about 6 inches wide, 8 inches long, and the ‘book’ of plates were approximately 6 inches deep. Two thirds of the book was sealed with a band of the same metal as the plates, leaving the open portion to be approximately 2 inches thick. From these 2 inches worth of plates came the Book of Mormon. Moroni returned, as I understand, and reclaimed the plates from Joseph at the conclusion of the translation. Joseph was told by Moroni that the plates would be returned at a future time so that the remaining portion could be translated. That portion of the plates were said to contain doctrines and prophesies that the world was not yet prepared to receive but would be given in the very last of the last days before the Saviour’s Return.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    David Whitmer claimed to have visited the hill on three occasions and seen the box each time:

    The Chicago Times Interviews David Whitmer August 1875 S.L. Herald, 12 Aug 1875 in Ebbie Richardson, “David Whitmer,” pp.158

    David Whitmer was married in Seneca County, New York, in 1830, and was for a number of years an elder in the Church of Christ. Today he is the proprietor of a livery stable in Richmond, Missouri, owns some real estate, has a handsome balance in the bank, is universally respected by all who know him, and surrounded by children and grandchildren, is pleasantly gliding toward the gates of sunset, confident that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was also the God of Nephi, whose faithful disciple he has been and is. He does not believe that all believing in the Book of Mormon or all adherents to any other faith will be found among the elect, but that the truly good of every faith will be gathered in fulfillment of prophecy. Neither does he believe that the Book of Mormon is the only record of the lost tribes hidden in the earth, but on the contrary, that the caves hold other records that will not come forth till all is peace and the lion shall eat straw with the lamb. Three times he has been at the Hill Cumorah and seen the casket that contained the tablets and seerstone. Eventually the casket has been washed down to the foot of the hill, but it was to be seen when he last visited the historic place.

    See here.

  9. Has anyone else reported to have seen the casket of stone washed down to the foot of the hill besides David Whitmer? If it was there where is it today? Anyone know?

  10. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    According to some historic accounts, the plates were about 6 inches wide, 8 inches long, and the ‘book’ of plates were approximately 6 inches deep. Two thirds of the book was sealed with a band of the same metal as the plates, leaving the open portion to be approximately 2 inches thick. From these 2 inches worth of plates came the Book of Mormon. Moroni returned, as I understand, and reclaimed the plates from Joseph at the conclusion of the translation. Joseph was told by Moroni that the plates would be returned at a future time so that the remaining portion could be translated. That portion of the plates were said to contain doctrines and prophesies that the world was not yet prepared to receive but would be given in the very last of the last days before the Saviour’s Return.
    As to the brother “Questions”, there is a great deal within the Book of Mormon that offers substantial internal “proof” of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity and veracity. Chiasmus, Hebrew customs, idosyncratic grammatical forms, etc. See Nibley’s works. Hopefully, at some point in a person’s life they can set aside their preconceived prejudices and read the book, then through the exercise of both faith and humility pray for a Divine confirmation of the book. When you receive such a confirmation then it usually occurs to you that the opinions of the greatest mortal minds on this earth are totally irrelevant. I have received such a confirmation and am not troubled by these so called ‘problems’. Lastly, Jon has spoken to the key issue; Faith. Had our Heavenly Father wanted to prove to us that His Firstborn Son, Jesus, was indeed the Christ, He could have engaged in some basic pyrotechnics employing something as simple as electricity (lightning) at various moments in the mortal ministry of the Saviour. Stiking down Judas has he approached in the garden to betray the Saviour, striking the Roman soldiers that mocked Him, incinerating Pilate as he had the temerity to think that he could judge Christ. Such things would have, at least in that and a few generations thereafter, would have entirely negated the need for Faith for all those who witnessed it. But human nature being what it is,successive generations would have eventually called into doubt these ‘miracles’ as well and quite likely labelled the eyewitness accounts of such events as myth and folklore. So there you have it, Faith becomes a necessity because only through it can you gain a personal Divine Witness (Confirmation)of the veracity of what you have read (In the Scriptures, etc.) and taught in the Church. We all should say as it was said in the Scriptures, “Yea, Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief”.

  11. I think it is interesting to note that if David Whitmer did see the casket of stone washed down the hill that once contained the gold plates it might have been in vision only that he saw such a casket, as he related in at least two interviews that the gold plates he saw with his “spiritual eyes” or in “vision.” Just something to consider about both the plates themselves and the casket of stone “washed” down the hill. (See below)

    Later known as “the most interviewed witness,” Whitmer, like Harris (see “Introduction to Martin Harris Collection”), interpreted this experience as visionary rather than literal or materialistic. During his June 1880 interview with Whitmer, John Murphy asked: “Then you had impressions as the quaker [receives] when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?” Whitmer answered, “Just so.” (VI.A.9, DAVID WHITMER INTERVIEW WITH JOHN MURPHY, JUN 1880). Following publication of Murphy’s account, Whitmer responded with a written “Proclamation” in which he reaffirmed his testimony and attached an affidavit attesting to his honesty and standing in the community. Significantly, he stopped short of refuting any specific statement in Murphy’s version of the interview (see VI .A. 11, DAVID WHITMER PROCLAMATION, 19 MAR 1881).

    The subjective aspect of Whitmer’s experience was detailed in an 1885 interview conducted by James Henry Moyle: “Mr D. Whitmer Sen did not handle the plates. Only seen them …. Says he did see them and the angel and heard him speak. But that it was indiscribable[,] that it was through the power of God (and was possibly or at least [visionary]) [.] he then spoke of Paul hearing and seeing Christ but his associates did not. Because it is only seen in the Spirit.” Moyle attempted to ascertain whether “the atmosphere about them was normal.” In other words, did the angel appear in normal surroundings or was the natural world obscured? According to Whitmer, “it was indescribable, but the light was bright and clear, yet apparently,” in Moyle’s words, “a different kind of light, something of a soft haze. …” A recent law school graduate at the time, Moyle noted his disappointment: “I was not fully satisfied with the ex=planation. It was more spiritual than I anticipated” (VI.A.25, DAVID WHITMER INTERVIEW WITH JAMES HENRY MOYLE, 28 JUN 1885).

    Whitmer told Nathan Tanner that those who beheld the plates were first “overshadowed by the power of God and a halo of brightness indescribable” (VI.A.28, DAVID WHITMER INTERVIEW WITH NATHAN TANNER, 13 APR 1886,1). In an interview in 1886, Whitmer further described “a strange entrancing influence, which permeated him so powerfully that he felt chained to the spot” (VI.A.29, DAVID WHITMER INTERVIEW WITH OMAHA [NE] HERALD, 10 OCT 1886). Explaining his experience to Anthony Metcalf in 1887, Whitmer said: “Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, but were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. … A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled [the woods as brightly as] at noon day, and there in a vision or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon” (VI.A.32, DAVID WHITMER TO ANTHONY METCALF,2APR1887).

    An examination of Whitmer’s activities prior to seeing the angel and the plates suggests that he was already sensitive to such experiences. For example, he reported that while he, Smith, and Cowdery first traveled from Harmony to Fayette in 1829, they saw a Nephite on the road who suddenly disappeared. Upon arriving at his father’s house, “they were impressed” that the same Nephite was under the “Shed.” While plowing in his fields on the morning prior to his vision with the other two witnesses, Whitmer saw an apparition of a man who told him: “Blessed is the Lord & he that keepeth his Commandments” (see, e.g., VI.A.5, DAVID WHITMER INTERVIEW WITH EDWARD STEVENSON, 22-23 DEC 1877). One should therefore view his experience in the context of a highly charged period in his life. As Lyndon W. Cook has noted, these accounts of “other supernatural experiences … must be seen in connection with the more frequently printed evidence to fully appreciate this eyewitness’s testimony” (Cook 1991, x). Indeed, given Whitmer’s overall state of mind and the subjectivity of his experience, the possibility of hallucination cannot be ruled out.

    Before moving to Kirtland, Ohio, Whitmer married Julia Ann Jolly, daughter of a neighbor, William Jolly, on 9 January 1831. David had been ordained an elder in New York, but on 25 October 1831 in Ohio, he was further ordained to the high priesthood. In 1832, he moved to Jackson County, Missouri. Two years later, on 7 July 1834, he was ordained Joseph Smith’s successor and president of the church in Missouri even though he had criticized Smith’s leadership and institutional innovations. In the wake of the Kirtland banking crisis of 1837, Whitmer became increasingly outspoken and, in April 1838, was excommuni-cated. Soon after, he moved to Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, where he ran a livery stable and briefly served as mayor. For a short time, he was the leader of a splinter group which included former church apostle William E. McLellin and Book of Mormon witness Hiram Page. Thereafter, he remained separate from any denomination. He died in Richmond on 25 January 1888 (Cook 1981, 24-25; Cook 1991, ix-xxvi).

    Taken from Early Mormon Documents, Vol.5

  12. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    I would love to see a full archaeological/geological study done of the Hill Cumorah and am uncertain whether BYU or anyone else has already done so.

    As for the erosion thing, Joseph relates that the stone that covered the box was partially buried. I’d expect that Moroni covered his box with the large stone Joseph found, and that over the next 1400 years the water flow down the hillside couldn’t dislodge the stone or the box it covered and both became buried in sediments. Once Joseph “removed the earth” covering the stone, however, there was no longer any protection from the elements (JS-H 1:51-52.) The box was washed down the hill quickly over the next few years to lie where D. Whitmer found it.

    Until I first read about this account a few years ago on my mission, I had always assumed we could find a dirt-filled box buried on the side of Cumorah. To be honest, I find the idea that the box would have been eroded out of the hillside so blindingly obvious that I never actually thought about it until presented with the idea; I’m disinclined to doubt that David Whitmer saw the box merely in vision. Unfortunately, the idea that the stone box has also been broken into pieces by the elements and trampled into the ground by tourists also seems likely.

  13. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    While I would love to see the plates be revealed to the world for testing, I’d feel that this would reduce people’s reliance on a confirmation of truth through the Spirit to a reliance on fact through scientific study (I’m also certain that such facts would also astound and annoy LDS as well as non-LDS).

    On my mission I became a little annoyed when the answer to “Why do you believe the Bible to be the Word of God?” was always “Because archaeological evidence proves that the Bible occurred.” Just because we have the Mississippi and countless records of slavery in the ante-bellum South doesn’t prove that Huck Finn actually happened. The physical existence of the plates would provide a shaky foundation for people’s faith in the doctrines they’d (hopefully) contain.

  14. I never tire of folks like Foxjones trying to explain away the experience of the plates as some subjective hallucination. The fact that an angel was present would undoubtedly make this experience different than a mundane experience of setting the table with plates. But that hardly leads me to conclude that Whitmer or Cowdery or Harris or the eight or Lucy or Emma or the the women who also saw them were hallucinating. Somehow if the glory of God is present, the equals halluncination? And if you’ll offer the “possibility” of hallucination, will you also admit the possibility that it wasn’t?

    What you have tried to push into a preconceived explanation doesn’t represent what Whitmer adamantly insisted: he had see, hefted, touched and witnessed an angel who showed him gold plates. Your presentation of Whtimer’s statements is questionable in my view because it doesn’t fairly represent his insistence that it was no hallucination and he was not fooled: “Rather suggestively [Colonel Giles] asked if it might not have been possible that he, Mr. Whitmer, had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived them into thinking he saw the personage-the angel-the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban. How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height-a little over six feet-and said, in solemn and impressive tones: ‘No, sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!'” (Joseph Smith III, et al., Interview, July 1884, Richmond Missouri, in Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 134-35).

    Foxjones also comes off to me as a DAMU troll. As Whitmer himself stated: “In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us three witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say: Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris, you say, called it ‘being in vision.’ We read in the Scriptures, Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God. Daniel saw an angel in a vision; also in other places it states they saw an angel in the spirit. A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon. I am now passed eighty-two years old, and I have a brother, J. J. Snyder, to do my writing for me, at my dictation. [Signed] David Whitmer” (Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 88)

  15. You know, I have the feeling even if the Church did have the plates, the DAMU and anti’s would claim that Joseph had made them himself. There is never going to be any proof- there can’t be.

  16. What interests me is that the Book of Mormon contains a prophecy that the sealed portion of the plates will someday be revealed. Perhaps at that time the plates will also be revealed, along with their contents. Regardless, there is a clear message that there is more sacred scripture on the way – but in God’s due time.

  17. I never claimed that David Whitmer had an halluncination. I am not an anti-Mormon nor a DAMU. I called it a “vision” in Whitmer’s words. The quote about halluncination was not my words.

  18. Tracy: Dan Vogel already admits that Joseph had plates … of tin. And he made them to fool and deceive others. Of course, we don’t need an explanation of what happened to these tin plates. So your prophecy was true before you even made it!

    Let’s assume we had the plates. What would it prove? If they were found in Joseph’s day it would be different than if they were found now. If found in Joseph’s day, I believe we can imagine what would happen. Joseph’s buddies during his New York days would have stolen them or sued claiming that they belonged to them. Possibly they would have been melted down and sold for a handsome price. Most likely scenario.

    If they had been preserved and somehow found their way into a museum, Joseph’s story of finding them and the claim that they were linked to Joseph’s story of the angel would be completely rejected. Since they couldn’t be translated, there would be nothing to support Joseph’s story other than the fact that either he or his associates once had the plates in his possession. Either way, Joseph’s story would be doubted and rejeced. Second most likely scenario.

    Let’s assume that the plates were turned over to a museum and that somehow they could be read, however unlikely. Let’s assume that the translation roughly matched Joseph’s. Then it would be claimed that Joseph somehow learned or feigned an hebrew-like language in egyptian script that he cribbed from newspaper stories showing such characters somewhere in the known world that he had created the language and created the plates to match his story. Third most likely scenario.

    Let’s say that the plates and other artifacts and cities full of similar writings were now found. Let’s say an an exact copy of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated were also found and they could be translated and the translation were more or less like Joseph’s. Then would there be any doubt that Joseph had an extraordinary gift of translation and that he possessed plates that somehow he could read? Not likely. But would it go beyond that? Nope. The scientific method cannot make allowances for angels and divine means of translation since such methods cannot replicated or measured. Yet it would raise the likelihood of Joseph’s story incredibly.

  19. Foxjones: I would like to know what he you deem to be the difference between what you label the “the subjective aspect of Whitmer’s experience” and hallucinations? Why quote someone else’s conclusions about hallucinations if you disagree? You say that Whitmer “interpreted this experience as visionary rather than literal or materialistic.” But in fact that is not Whitmer’s interpretation since he very clearly did not make such an unwarranted distinction. For him, what he experienced was as mind independent as the table in front of him or the chair in which he sat. Your selective and unrepresentative quotes are fashioned to create the idea that Whitmer would agree that it was all in his own mind. That isn’t a fair reading of the evidence from Whitmer as I read the record of his numerous statements.

  20. The quote was not a conclusion of mine or the author’s that Whitmer had a hallucination only the possibility of one. As a possibility anything is possible but that does not mean it is true. David Whitmer had many things to say I think we should balance our views with all of his recorded statements, so I agree with you there. That is to say we need to take the “vision” statements and the “eye witness” accounts both in. There is no real conflict in that. I agree with you that no one has a right to pick and choose which statements of Whitmer are to be used but all of them are important, as to the whole testimony of the man. What we need is balance.

  21. I’m seeing Damu as a Sumerian fertility God and am not sure why he would be bothered about the Book of Mormon.

    Re: #1, I’m sympathetic to your plight, though I don’t find compelling evidence to adopt your position.

    As far as hallucinations, this is an old argument that plays on some of Whitmer’s hesitation about committing to the angelic encounter. His flip flops don’t change the plain sense of the reports of the affidavit the men signed and the use of those affidavits while the signers were living, which was that they believed they had a physical encounter with plates and an angel.

    I think Blake is right about how a “reformed Egyptian” would be interpreted by scholars–Champollion cracked the code in 1822, and Anthon’s characterization of the “Caracters” document displays something like the solution we might offer today.

    If the argument of Blake’s old Dialogue paper is still valid (and for many of us it seems a reasonable solution to some temporal heterogeneity in the text), then even if it were accepted as a valid document, Smith’s inspired expansions would be evidence of his failings.

    As far as Abraham and the plates, notice that as soon as Lucy and Joseph were both dead, his family sold the papyri to raise money. Hard to imagine that some desperate soul at some point in the 1840s would not have absconded with the plates if they had been preserved, or what’s more likely sued to acquire them in the wake of the Kirtland Bank disaster or Smith’s personal bankruptcy.

  22. @21 Sam MB: I am glad to see that I was not the only one that had no idea what “DAMU” was. After a bit of Googling, it appears to be

    “DisAffected Mormon Underground”

    So…. okay then :-)

  23. I am not an expert so please be gentle. I thought it is generally accepted that the original hill where the plates were buried is not the hill in New York where Joseph found them. From that presumption I have thought that the only time the plates (and the stone box) were in the NY hill was when Joseph was instructed to go to the spot. Other wise they and all the other plates etc. are under divine care, either there or somewhere else. Isn’t there reference to a room full of plates, the sword etc. being in the hill at the same time period? Does anyone expect that if we took a backhoe up to the hill we would find them now? I agree with most above: we don’t have the plates because it’s a matter of faith.

  24. I swear in 1968 I buried a jar of pennies, and to this day neither I nor anyone else can find them.

    I didn’t like the Mormons or their church when I secretly took up the challenge to read the BoM and pray to know if it was true. Despite my feelings for the cult, I did love God and duly received my witness. After that I was baptized and never looked back.

    I couldn’t care less where the plates are.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    A couple of people have asked about the archaeology of Hill Cumorah. What we know about this subject is summarized in JBMS 13/1, which is entirely devoted to various aspects of the study of Cumorah.

  26. Particularly from what Kevin reference above that I find fascinating is the paper on Cumorah’s Cave. Especially the statements from Orson Pratt saying the writings of Neum, Zenos and Zenock would be found there.

  27. The existence of the gold plates is curiously irrelevant both in terms of the translation process, but also as a condition of faith for the believer.

    Based on first hand accounts of the eye witness translation process (Emma, Oliver,etc). The plates were often not consulted during the translation process but rather were accomplished by a seer stone in a dark hat through the gift and power of God.

    Therefore, God could have brought forth this scripture and record without the tangible existence of gold plates. Why then did we need golds plates if they were not used in the translation process?

    It seems the plates were more a tangible reminder to Joseph of the reality of the work “he was engaged in.” You can dismiss a vision later by suggesting it was a hallucination of the mind, but golden plates staring back at you are not so easily dismissed.

    So it seems the plates were more for Joseph and those called to bear record of them (as witnesses) than for anyone else. The inner circle needed the witness for the trials they would bear and for the testimony they would record, but for the larger community of believers (then and now), this question of the truthfullness of the restored gospel (and more specifically the book in particular) can only be appealed via faith and a witness by the spirit through prayer.

    I think if Joseph had not been blessed to discover, take custody, and have a select group of others bear witness of their existence, his role and work would have been much more difficult to accomplish.

    I think it is questionable to suggest that if they were available today to be scrutinized by the scientific community, scholars, and religious leaders of our day, that this would lead to greater faith, and greater conversion by the non-believer today.

    There are enough reasons (and excuses) to believe in, or against the Church, and ultimately an appeal of sincere faith is the only reconcilable solution to the dilema.

  28. 22. Thanks for the translation. DAMU. I was reading it as “Damn You!” :)

  29. I have taught the Adult Gospel Doctrine Sunday School class for some years now, and every so often we visit this subject, why just today we discussed the James Ossuary and Pomegranate recently found used to top the high priest’s staff in the temple. There is an ongoing rage about whether those items are authentic or not, ditto the Shroud of Turin. Having the artifact convinces no-one of nuttin. It only distracts from the real issue. Not having the plates around allows us to turn our attention to asking in faith, nothing wavering if the Book of Mormon is true, not worrying about what the plates are actually made of, whether or not the writing is paleo-Egyptian, or if the scribe used a metal awl, and he use his left hand or his right hand, etc., etc.

    Gale Tenney

  30. The plates are in the same place the original Qu’ran resides.

  31. Sam B. “Blake’s old Dialogue paper”

    Ouch, that hurts. What hurts most is that it is old.

  32. George A. Smith may have actually been the first to articulate the I’ll show you my sources if you show me yours argument alluded to by Pratt. Writing of his missionary experiences in 1837 (from Selected Collection of the LDS Church Archives CD 17 Folder 1, “History of George A. Smith” p. 61-2 and reprinted in The Juvenile Instructor 81-82 (1946-47)):

    The schoolhouse was crowded and I preached on the first principles of the gospel and bore testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and invited the people to investigate it. A Lutheran minister arose when I was through and stated that I had told the people that the Book of Mormon was true, and they should all be damned if they did not believe it. “Now,” says he, “We cannot be damned without we have the evidence. As to the Bible, its truth is attested in three ways, first we have a map of all the countries it describes. I challenge this stranger to present a map of the land of Zarahemla spoken of in the Book of Mormon; secondly, we have the original records of the Bible. I challenge these strangers to produce the original records of the Book of Mormon; thirdly, we must have evidence that the translation of the Book of Mormon was rendered by competent persons. We demand this evidence. We are prepared to meet the issue, our evidences are ready as far as the Bible is concerned, and the same evidences must be produced in relation to the Book of Mormon, or we pronounce it an imposition, and its propagators, children of hell.” I replied, “This gentleman cannot be a man of a fair reputation or he would not say in the presence of this congregation as he has said, that I had stated in my discourse that every one of you would be damned if you did not believe the Book of Mormon, when he must be aware that you all know that I said no such thing.” Interrupting me, he cried out, “Show the map of Zarahemla!” I replied, “At any time and place that you will produce the map of the land of Nod spoken of in Genesis I am prepared to meet you and produce the map of Zarahemla.” Says he, “Show us the original plates of the Book of Mormon. I am prepared tonight to exhibit the original of the Bible.” “Bring forward, sir, the original tables of stone upon which God wrote with his own finger the ten commandments, and the original parchment or papyrus upon which Moses wrote the book of the law, the two sticks upon which Ezekiel wrote, and I will exhibit the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated!” The reverend gentleman started for the door exclaiming at the top of his voice, “Fudge! fudge!! fudge!!!” as he passed the door. I quoted from Proverbs 28:1. “The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are bold as a lion!”

  33. The hill was logged off and then plowed. It had been in a natural forested state for some time, but was pretty much logged off and bare about Joseph’s time (it was the logging off of the land that brought in the settlers to farm it).

    That it had significant erosion between when it was logged off and when it eventually was covered with turf doesn’t surprise me in the least.

    Good question about where the tablets of stone from the ark of the covenant are to be found. We know what happened when they were captured in battle.

  34. Come on. As we all know, the tablets of the law turned to sand and are currently in the Ark which is being cared for by top men in a DC warehouse.

  35. a random John says:


    If a record were found today that when deciphered by modern scholars bore any resemblance to the complete Book of Mormon it would spur intense research into the book and the religion and be the focus of a great deal of positive attention. If it also proves your expansion theory correct (which I am fond of) then would you complain?

  36. a random John says:


    Actually, the Ark is in Ethiopia, and no, they won’t let you see it.

  37. Since Moses is most probably a figure of myth, I would propose that the reason there are no tablets is that there never were any tablets.

  38. And ditto for the BOM plates.

  39. How thought provoking, Mr. Biden. I must admit, that conclusion never so much as crossed my mind. I always viewed the absence of plates as prima facie evidence that the plates absolutely, unquestionable existed. This alters my whole paradigm.

    [furiously composes letter asking to have name removed from records of LDS Church…]

  40. Nice, Brad.

  41. Here’s the answer about the location of the golden plates — see opening 2 seconds in this video:

    Moroni’s statute on the LA Temple differs from others in that he appears to hold the golden plates. “Appears,” yeah right: those *are* the golden plates!

  42. Perry Shumway says:

    A personal epiphany earlier this year resolved the long-lived conflict in my mind between taking things on faith and seeking scientific proof.

    A thorough reading of the BoM will yield dozens, if not hundreds, of references to the fact that sinners who have greater spiritual knowledge are more accountable – held to a higher standard – than ignorant ones. It stands to reason, then, that we have to exercise some degree of faith, rather than walking by complete knowledge, because if we had too much knowledge and continued to sin at our current level, the condemnation would be so great as to possibly render the Atonement only partially effective, at best.

    In other words, I now view this earthly life as a delicate, carefully contrived balance between various kinds of proofs (scientific evidences, testimonies of others, the existence of modern scriptures, various miraculous events, etc.) and things which cause doubts (the many imperfections of Joseph Smith, widespread suffering and death in the world, the priesthood before 1978, the missing gold plates, etc.). If the fragile equilibrium of this scale is upset in either direction, God’s plan is frustrated. On the one hand, with not enough faith-promoting things surrounding us, we would all languish in unbelief.

    But as Blake argues (#18), the discovery and subsequent translation of the golden plates would “raise the likelihood of Joseph’s story incredibly,” and would thereby probably upset the delicate balance in the other direction. It would be too easy to believe in Joseph; we would have too much knowledge, and would therefore be held to a higher standard, one which many – perhaps most – of us could not meet. The Atonement would no longer have the power to save us completely, and we would be lost.

    So, my worldview is that God uses various means to preserve the balance between faith and knowledge, so that people like me won’t get in over our heads and sin (as I do all the time) against far greater light and knowledge than that which I now have, thereby making it no longer possible for me to completely repent and return to my Father someday. The question of where the plates are today becomes, as Razorfish so aptly points out in (#27), largely irrelevant, not only for the reasons he (she?) gives, which are valid and compelling, but also simply because God, who has a very good reason to not make them available, is certainly capable of keeping them hidden, whether by the erosion caused by clear-cutting along the side of the hill, or by any other means; it really doesn’t matter.

    This paradigm helps me work through all manner of challenges to my faith; it answers questions in a more fulfilling way than by simply shrugging my shoulders and saying, “I guess I’ll just have to take this particular concern on faith.”

    I sympathize with people like “Question” (#1), who are clearly struggling with the many doubt-inducing barriers we stumble against in mortality. I’m curious as to whether my above-described paradigm makes sense to anyone else, and if it’s as satisfying and as comforting to others as it is to me?

  43. MikeInWeHo says:

    As I read all these comments, I can’t help but think of Occam’s razor:


    I don’t mean to sound DAMU-esque, and I have a tremendous interest in the Restoration. If there have been prophetic voices on the earth, Joseph Smith was one of them. But as for the literal existance of those plates…..

    The Community of Christ made peace with all this. Their membership and even leadership holds a range of views regarding the origin accounts. Some have a fierce testimony of the literal origins of the BoM, while others see it as an important 19th century scripture written by Joseph Smith. Will be interesting to see how long it takes before a Latter-day Saint can hold the second view openly and still hold a TR.

  44. Mike,
    As has already been pointed out in this discussion, several critics of the BoM have stipulated the existence of the plates — tin plates that JS himself fabricated and used to fool people. “Literal existence” is quite a different question from “angels giving books to men.” Whether or not the plates are still around for examination, where they went, who did or did not see or touch or “witness” them at some point — these question are not particular germane to the question of whether or not a resurrected, otherworldly being delivered them to a barely literate dirt farmer in upstate New York two centuries ago.

  45. Nice thoughts, Perry

  46. I tend to agree with Perry. I think the Lord holds things back to prove the faith of his followers. 3 Nephi 26:11 is a perfect example:

    11 Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people.

  47. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 44
    Agreed, Brad. I’m poorly equipped to enter the discussion of whether ANY kind of plates existed (tin-, angelic- whatever), but I find Grant Palmer pursuasive except for all the Golden Pot mumbo jumbo. That seems too speculative. He’s also a little ahead of his time culturally. Bushman is laying the groundwork though, and when Givens then asserts that Mormon origins are too audacious to merit serious scholarly consideration…..you’re just a whisper away from the inspired fiction model being an openly acceptable option among the membership. Give it a decade or two.

    FWIW, I love the BoM and value its message. In this lifetime we will never know the details of its origins. Can one ‘get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book’…..if it is not literally an ancient account? I vote yes. (Hmmmm, I see another BCC poll in there somewhere)

  48. Perry, I liked your comment very much.

  49. I like Nibley’s reasoning on why we don’t have the plates: we’d be forever arguing over the correctness of the translation with people trying to second-guess the Prophet’s choice of words. How many translations of the Bible are there now?

  50. I’m seeing Damu as a Sumerian fertility God and am not sure why he would be bothered about the Book of Mormon

    I’m still amazed that no one used that comment to derail this discussion into another topic.