There are 30 thoughts on ““Idle and Slothful Strange Stories”: Book of Mormon Origins and the Historical Record”.

  1. Pingback: Are the Accounts of the Golden Plates Believable? | Meridian Magazine

  2. As interesting as all of this is it really does not matter. All anyone needs to do is to put Moroni’s promise to the test. I have done so and state irrevocably that I know that the book of Mormon is an accurate translation of writing of ancient prophets, prepared for us today by men who were not only commanded what to write but also saw us and understood the issues we would face. The four men who wrote the majority of the text all had the same four things in common.
    1. They each claim that they saw and talked to Jesus Christ
    2. They each claim to have seen us in vision
    3. They were told what to write (at least in part)
    4. They each promise to meet us personally some day
    Actual physical evidence is interesting only to the person who has not heard the voice of God declare it to be true. Once you have that experience you do not need anything else.

  3. Well-done, and good points. The article above twice mentions the stone in the hat, but does not mention the interpreters that came with the plates as a method of translation.
    Yet, as far as I have been able to trace, neither Joseph Smith nor Oliver Cowdery, who did the vast majority of the translating, ever mention the stone in the hat, but repeatedly mention “interpreters” and “spectacles”.
    I’m aware that others somewhat involved in witnessing and translating small portions suggest the stone in the hat, especially many decades after the fact. However, it seems inaccurate to mention only the stone and to leave out the way Joseph and Oliver described it.
    Do you have a primary source from any of the translators-Oliver, David Whitmer, Emma Smith, within 30 years of 1830 that suggest the stone in the hat?

  4. Neal, I just want to offer a pure and simple pat on the back. In my opinion, this is the best article you have written thus far.

  5. (In a respectful tone)…
    To those of you who have disparaged the research, witnesses, “gold” aspect of the book, I ask…why do you care??? You clearly don’t believe it anyway.
    I wish you would put your noble efforts into something that will benefit yourself or mankind, rather than attempting to tear down the beliefs of people who have found joy, peace and happiness within the structure of the church and yes…the pages of the Book of Mormon.
    I personally don’t care about the weight of gold. There’s NO WAY to know exactly what the plates were made of, is there? What we do know is that there were people who saw and/or carried them. Lots of people. Period.
    God is not required to give us all the answers before he gives us the test. He has leaked a few answers (NHM, for example. NO WAY could JS have known about that place!).
    We love you. You are our son…our parent…our sister. We pray for you every day and night, but we look forward to the time when you can find your OWN happiness in what YOU have chosen. Go for it! Don’t waste another minute trying to convince those of us who believe to follow you. We’ve made a decision we’re happy with. Now, go do the same. God and all of us love you, even if you have opted out. That’s the gospel truth!

  6. Shouldn’t it strike one as convenient that the plates were supposedly taken up by the angel or spirit Moroni? Wouldnt it be a slam dunk if the BofM translation were verified? Also, whether one believes that the plates were real, why didn’t JS use the supposed plates in his supposed translation? One would think that God would have intended their use given the amount of time it supposedly took to manufacture the plates.

    • Joseph Smith had no particular knowledge that would have allowed him to read the engravings on the plates and formulate the English equivalent. As such, the plates need not be used in that way. However, having the plates themselves did serve an express purpose in being an actual source record of that which Joseph Smith was transmitting to his scribes, something likely far beyond his ability to manufacture. As described in the the essay, a number of people were shown the plates, but in particular the Three Witnesses who were shown the plates by and angel who told them this was a real record and that the English translation given by Joseph Smith was true to that record.

  7. Actually, the objection raised by Robert — a classic strawman argument that (as Brant and Stephen point out) ignores or is ignorant of the very real scholarship that has been published regarding the likely physical composition of the plates — underscores precisely why most Book of Mormon criticism is so profoundly unconvincing: to give a naturalistic explanation of the Book of Mormon, you have to establish the historical framework for it. And as Neal has so well pointed out, the historical evidence that we do have — including from hostile contemporaneous sources — is remarkably consistent with the ‘official’ story. Bluntly put, there is little or no evidence for any ‘alternative’ historical explanation of how the Book of Mormon came to be.
    And that doesn’t even begin to touch explaining the text itself. My wife and I do more-or-less nightly joint reading from the scriptures. And at least once a week when we’re going through the Book of Mormon, I’ll finish reading a chapter out loud and say, “Yep. That sounds exactly like something a 23-year-old farm boy with only a few years of education, living in the early 18th century, would write.” I have a college degree (and did graduate work), scored in the 99th percentile on the English portion of the GRE (lo! some 40 years ago), actually made my living as a writer for a few years, have published four books and well over 100 articles, own over 3600 books (I counted during our last move), and I _still_ marvel at the complexity and sophistication of the Book of Mormon narrative. And, as Brett said, the real miracle is its ability to bring us unto Christ.

  8. Thank you for this essay. While not the subject of your essay, something that amazes me (perhaps humbles is a better word) is that for over 180 plus years, across diverse geographical boundaries, cultures and languages, the Book of Mormon SPEAKS to people old and young, black and white, male and female, rich and poor regarding Jesus Christ, His gospel and His way. It is a marvelous work and wonder.

  9. Robert’s analysis and conclusions do not address the evidences claimed in Rappleye’s discussion. Robert selects instead another objection that cannot be proven or disproven, given the absence of the actual plates. We do not know how much the plates weighed. The exact composition of the metal cannot be presently known, only speculated. The number of “gold” leaves cannot be known by any current measure.
    Given the contemporary descriptions of the translation process, and recognizing that the plates were, of course, not in the hat into which Joseph is said to have peered when translating, the weight of the plates, the total volume of the bound plates, the number of leaves, etc., has a very uncertain relationship to the volume of the translated or revealed text. To conclude that the weight of gold plates made transporting them difficult or impossible assumes facts that are not known, and ignores facts that are known.
    Robert is correct that apologists, like their critics, have been found to be wrong at times. That is not an evidence for or against the Book of Mormon. It only demonstrates the reliable fact that men are often fallible, even when they believe their own intentions are good.

  10. Well, there is an easy way to settle this, and surely the Church has the resources to perform the required task.
    Using only tools and techniques that would have been available before 400 AD, make plates having the required dimensions and characteristics described in the Book of Mormon as well as firsthand eyewitness accounts from Joseph’s day. Gold can be beaten very thin, but with those tool and technique constraints, and given the greater warping effect of engraving the thinner the plates are, can it be beaten very flat? And, just for the heck of it, since we don’t know whatever script “reformed Egyptian” was, why not use a Hebrew version of The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text to engrave upon the experimental plates, with a resonable amount of repeated material to represent the lost contents of the 115 pages?
    You know, nothing stops the critics from performing this test either.
    Instead of arguing airy abstractions, let’s see some experimentation.

    • Ah, yes, and we can add more repeated material to simulate the sealed portion as well.
      Let’s settle the argument once and for all – after all, if a reasonable facsimile of the plates, according to the descriptions, weighs on the order of 50 lbs, let’s get an Amish farmboy to simulate Joseph as well, and see how he gets on over a three-mile course, sprinting for part of it.

    • “Using only tools and techniques that would have been available before 400 AD,”
      Um, well since we don’t know everything there is to know about archaeology and they keep finding new and amazing things that we didn’t think were possible in ancient times (like an electrical battery) then how exactly do you expect us to use only tools available before 400 AD when we don’t know what they were?
      “why not use a Hebrew version of The Book of Mormon:”
      Because the Book of Mormon wasn’t written in Hebrew that’s why.

    • While this is not exactly the experiment you suggest, my grandfather read Robert’s comment, and, being an accomplished metallurgist, decided to do some tests:
      “First, I would like to ask Robert if he has ever actually seen or handled sheets of gold, as his note tends to suggests that gold would have more the characteristics of clay or wax than those of a soft metal.
      I have, and the following is the result of some rather simple measurements and calculations. I have a small sheet of 24k gold purchased probably 40 years ago and since stored in a drawer next to samples of 14k and 18k gold used in jewelry making. My sample of 24k was 1.6” x 1.6” for a total area of 2.56 sq. in. To make a 7” x 8” sheet, it would take 21.87 of my small squares. My small sample (of a thickness of .006”) weighed .155 oz. Multiplied by the number needed to make a sheet 7” x 8”, the per-sheet weight would be 3.39 oz.
      The sample was rumpled, as you would expect if handled for scissor cuts and then stored in a small box with other items that were more frequently handled. It had no creases or sharp bends. It was further flattened for this experiment by being placed between two flat steel plates, with a weight on top that would come out to be 51.41 lbs. if extended over a per “full-sized” sheet. Keep in mind here that a stack of gold leaves 4-6 inches thick wouldn’t have the total weight on each sheet, but a fraction of that determined by its location within the stack. Now with the “flattening” done, the distance between the steel plates was measured using a gapping tool – one measurement on each corner and averaged. The .006 thick sheet took up .021 inches of vertical space when in a natural “flattened” condition.
      Now by a little simple math, it would take 190.46 sheets weighing a remarkable 40.36 lbs. to reach the 4″ thick estimate given by Martin Harris. It would take 287.71 sheets weighing an equally remarkable 60.55 inches to reach the 6″ estimate by Orson Pratt. These numbers are remarkable because Martin Harris estimated that the plates weighed “from forty to sixty pounds.”
      A couple of notes:
      If it every dimple and imperfection was identical in every sheet, there would be less space between sheets and would require more sheets to make up the book. If, on the other hand, each sheet had just a few bumps or imperfections that exactly matched up in a tip to tip relationship, it would require significantly fewer sheets to make up the book. Also, my sample was a sheet of uniform thickness gold rolled out between precision rollers to a uniform thickness. The variation was simply natural distortion from handling rather than variation in thickness due to hammering to achieve the desired thickness. With my sample a larger weight could have reduced it to its .006 rolled dimension, which would be impossible with a hammered sheet of variable absolute thickness. That would not happen if the variations in thickness were primarily hammered peaks and valleys. Unfortunately, I only had the one small sample, but suspect strongly that if two equally sized sheets of gold were stacked, the combined thickness would easily exceed twice the dimension measured between the two steel plates.
      Regarding sacks of concrete, I am an old guy and recently poured a foundation for a shed and poured a sidewalk as well. I know from recent experience how difficult it is to heft a sack of concrete, let alone run with it. Put that same 60 lbs. in a package 7” x 8” x 6” – the size of a small car battery – and it would be much easier to handle, but certainly far less dramatic in a debate type discussion.”

  11. Gold weighs 1,204 pounds per cubic foot, so if we use the dimensions given by Smith we can correctly conclude that the plates were 1/6 of a cubit foot. In other words, if the plates were made of gold (as the angel Moroni claimed them to be), they would have weighed 200 pounds. This becomes problematic since no one believes that it is physically possible to carry such a weight for any considerable distance, much less be able to run away from thieves bent on stealing the plates.
    In response to this dilemma, proponents argue that the plates would have been considerably lighter due to “air space” between the uneven, hand-made plates. While this may seem plausible to some, this rebuttal becomes tenuous given the soft nature of gold. Plates of gold stacked in the manner described by Smith would easily flatten out, thus displacing any arbitrary “air space” suggested by LDS apologists.
    By assuming the plates had an air gap of 50% (a capricious percentage to be sure), Mormon metallurgist Reed Putnam estimates that if the plates were made of pure gold, they would have probably weighed around 100 pounds. Still, this is not at all a reasonable weight that can be carried by even the strongest of New York farm boys. In perspective, that would be like carrying a bag of Portland cement under one’s arm.
    The possibility of the plates being too heavy for Smith to carry has not escaped the notice of LDS apologists. To credit their founder with the ability to carry such a weight while running at “the top of his speed” would seem to conclude that Smith had no idea how heavy gold really was, thus making it appear that he fabricated this story.
    Still, Putnam insists that “the plates were not so heavy that a man could not carry them.” In a September, 1966 article in the Improvement Era magazine, he states, “we are not led to believe that the weight of the plates was a great hindrance” (p.789). However, in drawing such a conclusion Putnam and many modern Mormon apologists reject the notion that the plates were made of pure gold. Putnam surmises that the plates were probably composed of a copper/gold Central American alloy called tumbaga. Though there is no standard for the copper/gold ratio in tumbaga, Mormon apologists naturally insist on a ratio that allows for the plates to be the lightest, presumably 8K gold and copper. In other words, the plates would have been primarily composed of 66% copper and only 33% gold.
    Mormon apologists feel that plates made of a stronger alloy makes more sense since plates of pure gold would be too soft and not practical. However, if that is really so, why does Mosiah 8:9 in the Book of Mormon specifically mention 24 Jaredite plates that were “filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold“?
    This argument also fails to take into account a photograph in earlier editions of the Book of Mormon that showed a “gold tablet found in Persia in 1961, dating to the time of Darius II (Fourth century B.C.), covered with cuneiform engravings.” The caption went on to say, “This tablet is about the size of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon.” In his book titled An Approach to the Book of Mormon, Dr. Hugh Nibley also mentioned this parallel as evidence that Smith had plates of gold. If the plates deposited by Moroni were really an alloy made primarily of copper, why go to such lengths?
    By insisting that the plates had an air gap of 50%, Putnam concludes that 8K tumbaga plates could have weighed as little as 53 pounds. In other words, it would be like carrying a sack of redi-mix concrete. Given the details of how Smith retrieved the plates, this lighter weight only comforts those who really want (and need) to believe such a fantastic story.
    It appears that the tumbaga theory is not always the generally accepted conclusion. For example, the May 15, 1999 issue of the LDS Church News ran an article titled “Hands-on opportunity.” Speaking of Joseph Smith, the fourth paragraph read, “He had also been instructed by an angel, Moroni, who had met with him each year for four years. On his last visit, he was entrusted with plates of solid gold, which he had been translating by the power of the Spirit.” It should be noted that the electronic version of this article has been revised and now reads that Joseph Smith was “entrusted with gold plates. . . .”
    A common response by faithful Latter-day Saints is that God gave Joseph Smith supernatural strength to carry the plates. If that is really the case, why have Mormon apologists gone to great lengths to reconstruct the story in such a way as to get the weight of the plates down to what they feel is a manageable level? If God really intervened, why reinvent the tale? Why not believe Smith could have supernaturally carried 200 pounds under his arm and be done with it? The fact is, no Mormon apologist or LDS leader argues that God gave Smith supernatural strength to carry the plates. And Smith certainly never gave God any glory for such an alleged miracle.
    Keep this in mind the next time you stop at a hardware store. Pick up a bag of cement, tuck it under your arm, and imagine yourself carrying it for a distance of three miles running as fast as you can at least part of the way. For added effect you could jump over a display or two.

    • Robert:
      There is information here that is worth discussion. However, a common problem on both sides of any discussion is to have a tone that is conducive to conversation and analysis of data rather than suggest some form of ridicule as part of the post.
      For all who might respond, please attempt to keep to discussions of the facts and not allow the overtones. That is difficult, I know, and we will all err from time to time. Please try to make the times fewer.

      • Brant, are you sure you aren’t mistaking disagreement with tone? I think mormon apologists are nice people and smart too, but so wedded to a conclusion that they simply cannot look at the facts in an objective manner. Is the tone satisfactory?

        • Toomis, you have identified the most difficult problem in online discussions. Tone is incredibly subjective, and people who are in disagreement are most sensitive to it. It seems that if someone agrees with what is being said, they tolerant much more than if they disagree.
          Unfortunately, that leads some to tolerate more in their own posts than what sounds like a reasonable disagreement. I don’t have any solution that is going to assure that everyone will feel that all disagreements are civil and reasonable. We can only try–and remind ourselves to keep trying.
          If we use your statement that “they simply cannot look at the facts in an objective manner,” the emotional impact differs if the subject is “Mormon apologists” or “Mormon critics.” Even the very label stirs the emotion depending upon the original position of the reader. It is possible that “Mormon apologists” might be seen as value-neutral, but it is seldom used that way. Those who are tend not to use the label, and those who use the label don’t do so favorably–or very neutrally. On the other hand, we also don’t have a good label for those on the other side of the question, those who might use the term “Mormon apologist.” Even the “Mormon critics” that I used isn’t a good opposite descriptor as it still evokes a non-neutral response.
          Online discussions should require all of us to desensitize ourselves somewhat so that we don’t see offense where non is intended–giving a charitable reading to all. We should also be as sensitive as possible to what we write so that we are at least making the attempt to have a reasonable and objective discussion. I do understand that is is almost by definition that “they simply cannot look at the facts in an objective manner” describes opinions with which we disagree. If we agreed, then of course we would be looking at the facts in an objective manner.

    • Nice review of apologists’ positions. But regardless of the composition of the plates, the questions still stand, “Did Joseph actually have the plates?” “Did the witnesses actually see the plates?” “Why did they maintain their testimonies throughout their lives if they were part of a conspiracy?” “What would have been their motive?”
      Their testimonies were unwavering. Logic dictates that those embittered or at odds with the Prophet would have “fessed up,” and admitted to being duped. This would have been much less embarrassing than stubbornly clinging to a story of having seen heavenly messengers from God, which they knew to be false. Simply, logical conclusion: They did see the plates, they did see the angel, and they were not part of a conspiracy concocted by Joseph Smith. Now, all that remains is for nonbelievers to explain how an unlearned, harassed farm boy, struggling for temporal survival, could produce a record that has survived the withering academic analysis of scholars like the author and those mentioned in the article.

      • The witnesses saw the plates with their spiritual eye, e.g., they weren’t real but merely more like an hallucination. They didn’t recant because maybe of a fear of being ridiculed? Anyway, there are many stories of people holding onto false beliefs throughout their lives. How would you explain an evangelical that believes in his religion until he dies? Isn’t yours the one and only? Aren’t the witnesses like the misinformed evangelical, counsel?

    • Robert, a couple of observations. I, who rarely lift much more than my laptop, would certainly find your bag of cement quite heavy. Someone used to physical labor would be much more accustomed to the work. I suspect Joseph Smith was much more used to physical labor than I.
      As for for your analysis of the metal, you are using a lot of assumptions which are not required nor historically supported. The early comments were about “appearance of gold” or “golden.” That this morphed into pure gold is certain, but you are making a requirement of the later development and ignoring the earliest comments.
      As for the analysis, you are also behind on that. Before coming to any such severe conclusions as you have, you might want to look at the much more detailed metallurgical analysis in Jerry D. Grover, Jr. Ziff, Magic Goggles, and Golden Plates: Etymology of
      Zyf and a Metallurgical Analysis of the Book of Mormon Plates.
      You will probably be unsurprised that his results do not match yours, but provide the context to understand the composition of the plates that provides the historically listed weight.
      The “apologists” are not resting on very old studies, and it is important to keep up with the current work if you are going to criticize apologetic responses to your issue.

    • It’s interesting you mention the “pure gold” reference in Mosiah. When I read through Mosiah Chapter 8, I am really curious about why the purity of the gold was mentioned given the difficulty of determining it. If we look at the description of the plates, excepting the purity of the gold, it’s all easily verifiable to someone with the plates. It’s easy to count 24 plates, it’s easy to see engravings filling the plates, and for a person familiar with metals it might even be easy to identify gold (though I could be easily fooled). I just can’t imagine how they would have known the plates were made of “pure gold” though, rather than something naturally occurring alloy like electrum, or even a man-made alloy, or why they would mention the purity if they couldn’t determine it.

    • Robert refers to Mosiah 8:9 in the Book of Mormon that mentions the Jaredite plates that were “of pure gold“. He uses this to support the assertion that pure gold was a suitable surface for engraving, and thus the use of a gold alloy was unnecessary as a material to make engraving by the Book of Mormon writers more permanent.
      Robert’s use of this verse, however, actually lends support to the assertion that the plates were NOT of “pure gold”.
      The only other uses of the description “pure gold” in the Book of Mormon are used to 1) describe the hilt of Laban’s sword, and 2) describe the ornamentation of the seats of the priests in King Noah’s court in the Land of Nephi. No Book of Mormon author, or its abridger Mormon, ever described the plates upon which their own record was engraved as being of “pure gold”. I think this is important.
      What about the use of the term “golden” plates in the Book of Mormon? “Golden” can mean “made of gold”. It occurs twice, but both are in the 2 Nephi Isaiah chapters describing items entirely unrelated to the composition of the plates upon which the Book of Mormon record was engraved.
      And the term “plates of gold” in the Book of Mormon? It is used only in reference to the Jaredite plates.
      Then there is the term “gold plates”. Joseph recorded this description of the plates as having come from Moroni during one of his night time visits. Of course, gold is also a color. This definition is further confirmed by the 8 witnesses when they stated that the plates had the “appearance of gold” (they looked like gold, at least in color).
      I really think that the choice of Mormon to describe (or keep the description of) the Jaredite plates as being of “pure gold” is important. Neither he nor any other author or record keeper in the Book of Mormon uses this term to describe the plates upon which the Nephite record was kept. There is a distinction there. They were familiar with the term “pure gold”, had ample opportunity to use it to describe their own records, but never did.
      I believe this pattern of descriptions of the various plates represents strong evidence that the Book of Mormon plates were NOT made of pure gold.

  12. Neal Rappleye has fashioned a fine essay that both cites and also engages the entire range of relevant literature on his topic.

  13. I believe Arthur Henry King also picked out Joseph Smith’s restraint and sincerity in his own accounts. If I recall correctly I think he mentioned it as an aspect in his own conversion, that as someone trained in the English language he was impressed that Joseph wasn’t telling it in some fanciful or overly emotive way.

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