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According to Latter Day Saint belief, the golden plates (also called the gold plates or in some 19th-century literature, the golden bible) are the source from which Joseph Smith said he translated the Book of Mormon, a sacred text of the faith. Some witnesses described the plates as weighing from 30 to 60 pounds (14 to 27 kg), golden in color, and composed of thin metallic pages engraved with heiroglyphics on both sides and bound with three D-shaped rings.
Smith said that he found the plates on September 22, 1823, on a hill, near his home in Manchester, New York, after the angel Moroni directed him to a buried stone box. He said that the angel prevented him from taking the plates but instructed him to return to the same location in a year. He returned to that site every year, but it was not until September 1827 that he recovered the plates on his fourth annual attempt to retrieve them. He returned home with a heavy object wrapped in a frock, which he then put in a box. He allowed others to heft the box but said that the angel had forbidden him to show the plates to anyone until they had been translated from their original "reformed Egyptian" language. Smith dictated the text of the Book of Mormon, stating that it was a translation of the plates. The only eyewitnesses to the process said Smith translated the plates, not by looking at them, but by looking at a seer stone in the bottom of his hat. Smith published the first edition of the translation in March of 1830 as the Book of Mormon, with a print run of 5,000 copies at a production cost of $3,000 (or 60 cents per book).
Smith eventually obtained testimonies from 11 men who said that they had seen the plates, known as the Book of Mormon witnesses. After the translation was complete, Smith said that he returned the plates to the angel Moroni, so they could never be examined. Latter Day Saints believe the account of the golden plates as a matter of faith, and critics often assert that either Smith manufactured them himself or that the Book of Mormon witnesses based their testimony on visions rather than physical experience.
Origin and historicity
In the words of Mormon historian Richard Bushman, "For most modern readers, the plates are beyond belief, a phantasm, yet the Mormon sources accept them as fact." Smith said that he returned the plates to the angel Moroni after he finished translating them, and their authenticity cannot be determined by physical examination. They were reportedly shown to several close associates of Smith. Mormon scholars have formed collaborations such as Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies to provide apologetic answers to critical research about the golden plates and topics in the field of Mormon studies. The credibility of the plates has been a "troublesome item", according to Bushman.
A reputed transcript of reformed Egyptian characters which Smith said were copied from the golden plates in 1828. The characters are not linked to any known language, although several appear in many alphabets.
The Book of Mormon itself portrays the golden plates as a historical record, engraved by two pre-Columbian prophet-historians from around the year AD 400: Mormon and his son Moroni. Mormon and Moroni, the book says, had abridged earlier historical records from other sets of metal plates. Their script, according to the book, was described as "reformed Egyptian", a language unknown to linguists or Egyptologists. Scholarly reference works on languages do not acknowledge the existence of either a "reformed Egyptian" language or "reformed Egyptian" script as it has been described in Mormon belief, and there is no archaeological, linguistic, or other evidence of the use of Egyptian writing in ancient America. Historically, Latter Day Saint movement denominations have taught that the Book of Mormon's description of the plates' origin is accurate, and that the Book of Mormon is a translation of the plates. The Community of Christ, however, accepts the Book of Mormon as scripture but no longer takes an official position on the historicity of the golden plates. Some adherents accept the Book of Mormon as inspired scripture but do not believe that it is a literal translation of a physical historical record, even in the more theologically conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
Non-believers and some liberal Mormons have advanced naturalistic explanations for the story of the plates. For example, it has been theorized that the plates were fashioned by Smith or one of his associates, that Smith had the ability to convince others of their existence through illusions or hypnosis, or that witnesses were having ecstatic visions.
An 1893 engraving depicting Joseph Smith's description of receiving artifacts from the angel Moroni. The artifacts include the golden plates and a set of spectacles made of seer stones, which Smith called the Urim and Thummim. The sword of Laban and an ancient breastplate are shown nearby.
The story of the golden plates consists of how, according to Joseph Smith and his contemporaries, the plates were found, received from the angel Moroni, translated, and returned to the angel before the publication of the Book of Mormon. Smith is the only source for a great deal of the story because much of it occurred while he was the only human witness. Nevertheless, Smith told the story to his family, friends, and acquaintances, and many of them provided second-hand accounts. Other parts of the story are derived from the statements of those who knew Smith, including several witnesses who said that they saw the golden plates.
During the Second Great Awakening, Joseph Smith lived on his parents' farm near Palmyra, New York. At the time, churches in the region contended so vigorously for souls that western New York later became known as the "burned-over district" because the fires of religious revivals had burned over it so often. Western New York was also noted for its participation in a "craze for treasure hunting". Beginning as a youth in the early 1820s, Smith was periodically hired, for about $14 per month, as a scryer, using what were termed "seer stones" in attempts to locate lost items and buried treasure. Smith's contemporaries described his method for seeking treasure as putting the stone in a white stovepipe hat, putting his face over the hat to block the light, and then "seeing" the information in the reflections of the stone.
Smith did not consider himself to be a "peeper" or "glass-looker", a practice he called "nonsense". Rather, Smith and his family viewed their folk magical practices as spiritual gifts. Although Smith later rejected his youthful treasure-hunting activities as frivolous and immaterial, he never repudiated the stones themselves, denied their presumed power to find treasure, or ever relinquish the magic culture in which he was raised. He came to view seeing with a stone in religious terms as the work of a "seer". Smith's first stone, apparently the same one that he used at least part of the time to translate the golden plates, was chocolate-colored and about the size of a chicken egg, found in a deep well he helped dig for one of his neighbors. The LDS Church released photographs of the stone on August 4, 2015.
Finding the plates
According to Smith, he found the plates after he was directed to them by a heavenly messenger whom he later identified as the angel Moroni. According to the story, the angel first visited Smith's bedroom late at night, on September 22 in 1822 or 1823. Moroni told Smith that the plates could be found buried in a prominent hill near his home, later called Cumorah, a name found in the Book of Mormon. Before dawn, Moroni reappeared two more times and repeated the information.
However, the angel would not allow Smith to take the plates until he obeyed certain "commandments". Smith recorded some of these commandments but made it clear the main thrust of Moroni's message was that he had to keep God's commandments in general. Some contemporaries who later claimed he told them the story said there were others, some of which are relevant to the modern debate about whether or how closely events of early Mormonism were related to the practice of contemporary folk magic. Smith's writings say that the angel required at least the following: (1) that he have no thought of using the plates for monetary gain, (2) that he tell his father about the vision, and (3) that he never show the plates to any unauthorized person. Smith's contemporaries who claimed to have heard the story, both sympathetic and unsympathetic, generally agreed that Smith mentioned the following additional commandments: (4) that Smith take the plates and leave the site in which they had been buried without looking back, and (5) that the plates never directly touch the ground until they were safe at home in a locked chest. Some unsympathetic listeners who allegedly heard the story from Smith or his father recalled that Smith had said the angel required him (6) to wear "black clothes" to the place where the plates were buried, (7) to ride a "black horse with a switchtail", (8) to call for the plates by a certain name, and (9) to "give thanks to God."
An 1841 engraving of "Mormon Hill" (looking south), where Smith said he found the golden plates on the west side, near the peak.
In the morning, Smith began work as usual and did not mention the visions to his father because, he said, he did not think his father would believe him. Smith said he then fainted because he had been awake all night, and while unconscious, the angel appeared a fourth time and chastised him for failing to tell the visions to his father. When Smith then told all to his father, he believed his son and encouraged him to obey the angel's commands. Smith then set off to visit the hill, later stating that he used his seer stone to locate the place that the plates were buried but that he "knew the place the instant that [he] arrived there."
Smith said he saw a large stone covering a box made of stone (or possibly iron). Using a stick to remove dirt from the edges of the stone cover and prying it up with a lever, Smith saw the plates inside the box, together with other artifacts.
Unsuccessful retrieval attempts
According to Smith's followers, Smith said he took the plates from the box, put them on the ground, and covered the box with the stone to protect the other treasures that it contained. Nevertheless, the accounts say that when Smith looked back at the ground after closing the box, the plates had once again disappeared into it. When Smith once again raised the stone and attempted to retrieve the plates, he said that he was stricken by a supernatural force that hurled him to the ground as many as three times.
Disconcerted by his inability to obtain the plates, Smith said he briefly wondered whether his experience had been a "dreem of Vision" [sic]. Concluding that it was not, he said he prayed to ask why he had been barred from taking the plates.
In response to his question, Smith said the angel appeared and told him he could not receive the plates because he "had been tempted of the advisary and saught the Plates to obtain riches and kept not the commandments that I should have an eye single to the Glory of God" [sic]. According to Smith's followers, Smith had also broken the angel's commandment "not to lay the plates down, or put them for a moment out of his hands," and according to a nonbeliever, Smith said, "I had forgotten to give thanks to God," as required by the angel.
Smith said the angel instructed him to return the next year, on September 22, 1824, with the "right person": his older brother Alvin. Alvin died in November 1823, and Smith returned to the hill in 1824 to ask what he should do. Smith said he was told to return the following year (1825) with the "right person" but the angel did not tell Smith who that person might be. However, Smith determined after looking into his seer stone that the "right person" was Emma Hale, his future wife. For the visit on September 22, 1825, Smith may have attempted to bring his treasure-hunting associate Samuel T. Lawrence.
Smith said that he visited the hill "at the end of each year" for four years after the first visit in 1823, but there is no record of him being in the vicinity of Palmyra between January 1826 and January 1827, when he returned to New York from Pennsylvania with his new wife. In January 1827, Smith visited the hill and then told his parents that the angel had severely chastised him for not being "engaged enough in the work of the Lord," which may have meant that he had missed his annual visit to the hill in 1826.
Receiving the plates
The next annual visit on September 22, 1827 would be, Smith told associates, his last chance to receive the plates. According to Brigham Young, as the scheduled final date to obtain the plates approached, several Palmyra residents expressed concern "that they were going to lose that treasure" and sent for a skilled necromancer from 60 miles (96 km) away, encouraging him to make three separate trips to Palmyra to find the plates. During one of the trips, the unnamed necromancer is said to have discovered the location but was unable to determine the value of the plates. A few days prior to the September 22, 1827 visit to the hill, Smith's loyal treasure-hunting friends Josiah Stowell and Joseph Knight, Sr. traveled to Palmyra, in part, to be there during Smith's scheduled visit to the hill.
Another of Smith's former treasure-hunting associates, Samuel T. Lawrence, was also apparently aware of the approaching date to obtain the plates, and Smith was concerned that he might cause trouble. Therefore, on the eve of September 22, 1827, the scheduled date for retrieving the plates, Smith dispatched his father to spy on Lawrence's house until dark. If Lawrence attempted to leave, the elder Smith was to tell him that his son would "thrash the stumps with him" if he found him at the hill. Late at night, Smith took a horse and carriage to the hill Cumorah with Emma. While Emma stayed behind kneeling in prayer, Smith walked to the site of the buried plates. Some time in the early morning hours, he said that he retrieved the plates and hid them in a hollow log on or near Cumorah. At the same time, Smith said he received a pair of large spectacles he called the Urim and Thummim or "Interpreters," with lenses consisting of two seer stones, which he showed his mother when he returned in the morning.
Over the next few days, Smith took a well-digging job in nearby Macedon to earn enough money to buy a solid lockable chest in which to put the plates. By then, however, some of Smith's treasure-seeking company had heard that Smith had said that he had been successful in obtaining the plates, and they wanted what they believed was their share of the profits from what they viewed as part of a joint venture in treasure hunting. Spying once again on the house of Samuel Lawrence, Smith, Sr., determined that a group of ten to twelve of these men, including Lawrence and Willard Chase, had enlisted the talents of a renowned and supposedly talented seer from 60 miles (96 km) away, in an effort to locate where the plates were hidden by means of divination. When Emma heard of that, she rode a stray horse to Macedon and informed Smith, who reportedly determined through his Urim and Thummim that the plates were safe. He nevertheless hurriedly rode home with Emma.
Once home in Manchester, he said he walked to Cumorah, removed the plates from their hiding place, and walked home through the woods and away from the road with the plates wrapped in a linen frock under his arm. On the way, he said a man had sprung up from behind a log and struck him a "heavy blow with a gun.... Knocking the man down with a single punch, Joseph ran as fast as he could for about a half mile before he was attacked by a second man trying to get the plates. After similarly overpowering the man, Joseph continued to run, but before he reached the house, a third man hit him with a gun. In striking the last man, Joseph said, he injured his thumb." He returned home with a dislocated thumb and other minor injuries. Smith sent his father, Joseph Knight, and Josiah Stowell to search for the pursuers, but they found no one.
Smith is said to have put the plates in a locked chest and hid them in his parents' home in Manchester. He refused to allow anyone, including his family, to view the plates or the other artifacts that he said he had in his possession, but some people were allowed to heft them or feel what were said to be the artifacts through a cloth. A few days after retrieving the plates, Smith brought home what he said was an ancient breastplate, which he said had been hidden in the box at Cumorah with the plates. After letting his mother feel through a thin cloth what she said was the breastplate, he placed it in the locked chest.
The Smith home was approached "nearly every night" by villagers hoping to find the chest, where Smith said the plates were kept. After hearing that a group of them would attempt to enter the house by force, Smith buried the chest under the hearth, and the family was able to scare away the intended intruders. Fearing the chest might still be discovered, Smith hid it under the floor boards of his parents' old log home nearby that was then being used as a cooper shop. Later, Smith told his mother he had taken the plates out of the chest, left the empty chest under the floor boards of the cooper shop, and hid the plates in a barrel of flax. Shortly thereafter the empty box was discovered and the place ransacked by Smith's former treasure-seeking associates, who had enlisted one of the men's sisters to find the hiding place by looking in her seer stone.
Translating the plates
Smith said that the plates were engraved in an unknown language, and he told associates that he was capable of reading and translating them. The translation took place mainly in Harmony, Pennsylvania (now Oakland Township), Emma's hometown, where Smith and his wife had moved in October 1827 with financial assistance from a prominent, though superstitious, Palmyra landowner Martin Harris. The translation occurred in two phases: the first, from December 1827 to June 1828, during which Smith transcribed some of the characters and then dictated 116 manuscript pages to Harris, which were lost. The second phase began sporadically in early 1829 and then in earnest in April 1829 with the arrival of Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher who volunteered to serve as Smith's full-time scribe. In June 1829, Smith and Cowdery moved to Fayette, New York, completing the translation early the following month.
A 21st-century artistic representation of Joseph Smith translating the golden plates by examining a seer stone in his hat.
Smith used scribes to write the words he said were a translation of the golden plates, dictating the words while peering into seer stones, which he said allowed him to see the translation. Smith's translation process evolved from his previous use of seer stones in treasure-seeking. During the earliest phase of translation, Smith said he used what he called Urim and Thummim, two stones set in a frame like a set of large spectacles. Witnesses said Smith placed the Urim and Thummim in his hat while he was translating.
After the loss of the first 116 manuscript pages, Smith translated with a single seer stone, which some sources say he had previously used in treasure-seeking. Smith placed the stone in a hat, buried his face in it to eliminate all outside light, and peered into the stone to see the words of the translation. A few times during the translation, a curtain or blanket was raised between Smith and his scribe or between the living area and the area where Smith and his scribe worked. Sometimes, Smith dictated to Harris from upstairs or from a different room.
Smith's translation did not require the use of the plates themselves. Though Smith himself said very little about the translation process, his friends and family said that as he looked into the stone, the written translation of the ancient script appeared to him in English. There are several proposed explanations for how Smith composed his translation. In the 19th century, the most common explanation was that he copied the work from a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding. That theory is repudiated by Smith's preeminent modern biographers. The most prominent modern theory is that Smith composed the translation in response to the provincial opinions of his time, perhaps while in a magical trance-like state. As a matter of faith, Latter Day Saints generally view the translation process as either an automatic process of transcribing text written within the stone or an intuitive translation by Smith, assisted by a mystical connection with God, through the stone.
Smith's dictations were written down by a number of assistants, including Emma Smith, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery. In May 1829, after Smith had lent 116 unduplicated manuscript pages to Harris, and Harris had lost them, Smith dictated a revelation explaining that Smith could not simply retranslate the lost pages because his opponents would attempt to see if he could "bring forth the same words again." According to Grant Palmer, Smith believed "a second transcription would be identical to the first. This confirms the view that the English text existed in some kind of unalterable, spiritual form rather than that someone had to think through difficult conceptual issues and idioms, always resulting in variants in any translation."
Location of the plates during translation
When Smith and Emma moved to Pennsylvania in October 1827, they transported a wooden box, which Smith said contained the plates, hidden in a barrel of beans. For a time, the couple stayed in the home of Emma's father, Isaac Hale, but when Smith refused to show Hale the plates, Hale banished the concealed objects from his house. Afterward, Smith told several of his associates that the plates were hidden in the nearby woods. Emma said that she remembered the plates being on a table in the house, wrapped in a linen tablecloth, which she moved from time to time when it got in the way of her chores. According to Smith's mother, the plates were also stored in a trunk on Emma's bureau. However, Smith did not require the physical presence of the plates to translate them.
In April 1828, Martin Harris's wife, Lucy, visited Harmony with her husband and demanded to see the plates. When Smith refused to show them to her, she searched the house, grounds, and woods. According to Smith's mother, during the search Lucy was frightened by a large, black snake and so was prevented from digging up the plates. As a result of Martin Harris's loss of the 116 pages of manuscript, Smith said that between July and September 1828, the angel Moroni took back both the plates and the Urim and Thummim as a penalty for his having delivered "the manuscript into the hands of a wicked man." According to Smith's mother, the angel returned the objects to Smith on September 22, 1828, the anniversary of the day that he first received them.
In March 1829, Martin Harris visited Harmony and asked to see the plates. Smith told him that he "would go into the woods where the Book of Plates was, and that after he came back, Harris should follow his tracks in the snow, and find the Book, and examine it for himself." Harris followed the directions but could not find the plates.
In early June 1829, the unwanted attentions of locals around Harmony necessitated Smith's move to the home of David Whitmer and his parents in Fayette, New York. Smith said that during this move the plates were transported by the angel Moroni, who put them in the garden of the Whitmer house, where Smith could recover them. The translation was completed at the Whitmer home.
Returning the plates
A 21st-century artistic representation of the Golden plates, Urim and Thummim, Sword of Laban, and Liahona
After translation was complete, Smith said he returned the plates to the angel, but he did not elaborate about this experience. According to accounts by several early Mormons, a group of Mormon leaders, including Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and possibly others accompanied Smith and returned the plates to a cave inside the Hill Cumorah. There, Smith is said to have placed the plates on a table near "many wagon loads" of other ancient records, and the Sword of Laban hanging on the cave wall. According to Brigham Young's understanding, which he said that he had gained from Cowdery, on a later visit to the cave, the Sword of Laban was said to be unsheathed and placed over the plates and inscribed with the words: "This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ."
Smith taught that part of the golden plates were "sealed." The "sealed" portion is said to contain "a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof." Many Latter Day Saints believe that the plates will be kept hidden until a future time, when the sealed part will be translated and, according to one early Mormon leader, transferred from the hill to one of the Mormon temples.
David Whitmer is quoted as stating that he saw just the untranslated portion of the plates sitting on the table with the sword (and also a breastplate). Apparently, Whitmer was aware of expeditions at Cumorah to locate the sealed portion of the plates through "science and mineral rods," which, he said, "testify that they are there."
Descriptions of the plates
Smith said the angel Moroni had commanded him not to show the plates to any unauthorized person. However, Smith eventually obtained the written statement of several witnesses who saw the plates. It is unclear whether the witnesses believed they had seen the plates with their physical eyes or had seen them in a vision. For instance, although Martin Harris continued to testify to the truth of the Book of Mormon even when he was estranged from the church, at least during the early years of the movement, he "seems to have repeatedly admitted the internal, subjective nature of his visionary experience."
According to some sources, Smith initially intended that the first authorized witness be his firstborn son; but this child was stillborn in 1828. In March 1829, Martin Harris came to Harmony to see the plates, but was unable to find them in the woods where Smith said they could be found. The next day, Smith dictated a revelation stating that Harris could eventually qualify himself to be one of three witnesses with the exclusive right to "view [the plates] as they are".
By June 1829, Smith determined that there would be eight additional witnesses, a total of twelve including Smith. During the second half of June 1829, Smith took Harris, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer (known collectively as the Three Witnesses) into woods in Fayette, New York, where they said they saw an angel holding the golden plates and turning the leaves. The four also said they heard "the voice of the Lord" telling them that the translation of the plates was correct, and commanding them to testify of what they saw and heard. A few days later, Smith took a different group of Eight Witnesses to a location near Smith's parents' home in Palmyra where they said Smith showed them the golden plates. Statements over the names of these men, apparently drafted by Smith, were published in 1830 as an appendix to the Book of Mormon. According to later statements ascribed to Martin Harris, he viewed the plates in a vision and not with his "natural eyes."
In addition to Smith and the other eleven who claimed to be witnesses, a few other early Mormons said they saw the plates. For instance, Smith's mother Lucy Mack Smith said she had "seen and handled" the plates. Smith's wife Emma and his younger brother William and younger sister Katharine also said they had examined and lifted the plates while they were wrapped in fabric. Others said they had visions of the plates or had been shown the plates by an angel, in some cases years after Smith said he had returned the plates.
Described format, binding, and dimensions
Full-scale model of the golden plates based on Joseph Smith's description
The plates were said to be bound at one edge by a set of rings. In 1828, Martin Harris, is reported to have said that the plates were "fastened together in the shape of a book by wires". In 1859 Harris said that the plates "were seven inches [18 cm] wide by eight inches [20 cm] in length, and were of the thickness of plates of tin; and when piled one above the other, they were altogether about four inches [10 cm] thick; and they were put together on the back by three silver rings, so that they would open like a book".David Whitmer, another of the Three Witnesses, was quoted by an 1831 Palmyra newspaper as having said the plates were "the thickness of tin plate; the back was secured with three small rings ... passing through each leaf in succession". Anomalously, Smith's father is quoted as saying that the plates were only half an inch (1.27 centimeter) thick.Smith's mother, who said she had "seen and handled" the plates, is quoted as saying they were "eight inches [20 cm] long, and six [15 cm] wide ... all connected by a ring which passes through a hole at the end of each plate".
Hyrum Smith and John Whitmer, also witnesses in 1829, are reported to have stated that the rings holding the plates together were, in Hyrum's words, "in the shape of the letter D, which facilitated the opening and shutting of the book". Smith's wife Emma and his younger brother William said they had examined the plates while wrapped in fabric. Emma said she "felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book".
--> William agreed that the plates could be rustled with one's thumb like the pages of a book.
Smith did not provide his own published description of the plates until 1842, when he said in a letter that "each plate was six inches [15 cm] wide and eight inches [20 cm] long, and not quite so thick as common tin. They were ... bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book, with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches [15 cm] in thickness".
Described composition and weight
The plates were first described as "gold", and beginning about 1827, the plates were widely called the "gold bible". When the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, the Eight Witnesses described the plates as having "the appearance of gold". The Book of Mormon describes the plates as being made of "ore". In 1831, a Palmyra newspaper quoted David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses, as having said that the plates were a "whitish yellow color", with "three small rings of the same metal".
Smith's first published description of the plates said that the plates "had the appearance of gold", and Smith said that Moroni had referred to the plates as "gold." Late in life, Martin Harris stated that the rings holding the plates together were made of silver, and he said the plates themselves, based on their heft of "forty or fifty pounds" (18-23 kg), "were lead or gold". Joseph's brother William, who said he felt the plates inside a pillow case in 1827, said in 1884 that he understood the plates to be "a mixture of gold and copper ... much heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood".
Different people estimated the weight of the plates differently. According to Smith's one-time-friend Willard Chase, Smith told him in 1827 that the plates weighed between 40 and 60 pounds (18-27 kg), most likely the latter. Smith's father Joseph Smith, Sr., who was one of the Eight Witnesses, reportedly weighed them and said in 1830 that they "weighed thirty pounds" (14 kg). Smith's brother William, who had lifted the plates, thought they "weighed about sixty pounds [27 kg] according to the best of my judgment". Others who lifted the plates while they were wrapped in cloth or enclosed in a box thought that they weighed about 60 pounds [27 kg]. Martin Harris said that he had "hefted the plates many times, and should think they weighed forty or fifty pounds [18-23 kg]". Smith's wife Emma never estimated the weight of the plates but said they were light enough for her to "move them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work". Based on some of the descriptions of the plates' dimensions, one scholar speculates that, had the plates been made of 24-karat gold (which Smith never claimed), they would have weighed about 140 pounds (64 kg), while LDS writers have speculated that the plates were made of a copper-gold alloy like tumbaga, which would have weighed significantly less.
According to Smith and others, the golden plates contained a "sealed" portion containing "a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof." Smith never described the nature of the seal, and the language of the Book of Mormon may be interpreted to describe a sealing that was spiritual, metaphorical, physical, or a combination of these elements.
The Book of Mormon refers to other documents and plates as being "sealed" to be revealed at some future time. For example, the Book of Mormon says the entire set of plates was "sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord" and that separate records of John the Apostle were "sealed up to come forth in their purity" in the end times. One set of plates to which the Book of Mormon refers was "sealed up" in the sense that they were written in a language that could not be read.
Smith may have understood the sealing to be a supernatural or spiritual sealing "by the power of God" (2 Nephi 27:10), an idea supported by a reference in the Book of Mormon to the "interpreters" with which Smith said they were buried or "sealed." Oliver Cowdery also stated that when Smith visited the hill, he was stricken by a supernatural force because the plates were "sealed by the prayer of faith."
Several witnesses described a physical sealing placed on part of the plates by Mormon or Moroni. David Whitmer said that when an angel showed him the plates in 1829, "a large portion of the leaves were so securely bound together that it was impossible to separate them," that the "sealed" part of the plates were held together as a solid mass "stationary and immovable," "as solid to my view as wood," and that there were "perceptible marks where the plates appeared to be sealed" with leaves "so securely bound that it was impossible to separate them." In 1842, Lucy Mack Smith said that some of the plates were "sealed together" while others were "loose." The account of the Eight Witnesses says they saw the plates in 1829 and handled "as many of the leaves as Smith has translated," implying that they did not examine untranslated parts, such as the sealed portion. In one interview, David Whitmer said that "about half" the book was unsealed; in 1881, he said "about one-third" was unsealed. Whitmer's 1881 statement is consistent with an 1856 statement by Orson Pratt, an associate of Smith's who never saw the plates himself but who had spoken with witnesses, that "about two-thirds" of the plates were "sealed up".
The golden plates were said to contain engravings that the Book of Mormon describes as reformed Egyptian. Smith described the writing as "Egyptian characters ... small, and beautifully engraved," exhibiting "much skill in the art of engraving."
John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, said the plates had "fine engravings on both sides," and Orson Pratt, who did not see the plates himself but who had spoken with witnesses, understood that there were engravings on both sides of the plates, "stained with a black, hard stain, so as to make the letters more legible and easier to be read."
Significance in the Latter Day Saint tradition
The golden plates are significant within the Latter Day Saint movement because they are the reputed source for the Book of Mormon, which Smith called the "most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion." However, the golden plates are just one of many known and reputed metal plates with significance in the Latter Day Saint movement. The Book of Mormon itself refers to a long tradition of writing historical records on plates, of which the golden plates are a culmination (see List of plates (Latter Day Saint movement)). In addition, Smith once believed in the authenticity of a set of engraved metal plates called the Kinderhook plates, although these plates turned out to be a hoax by non-Mormons who sought to entice Smith to translate them in order to discredit his reputation.
Some Latter Day Saints, especially those within the Community of Christ, have doubted the historicity of the golden plates and downplayed their significance. For most Latter Day Saints, however, the physical existence and authenticity of the golden plates are essential elements of their faith. For them, the message of the Book of Mormon is inseparable from the story of its origins.
Hugh Nibley said in 1957 that proof of the actual existence of the golden plates would not settle disputes about the Book of Mormon and the story of its origin.
^Use of the terms golden bible and gold bible by both believers and non-believers dates from the late 1820s. See Harris (1859, p. 167) (use of the term gold bible by Martin Harris in 1827); Smith (1853, pp. 102, 109, 113, 145) (use of the term gold Bible in 1827-29 by believing Palmyra neighbors); Grandin (1829) (stating that by 1829 the plates were "generally known and spoken of as the 'Golden Bible'"). Use of those terms has been rare since the 1830s.
^Critics question whether Martin Harris physically saw the plates. Harris continued to testify to the truth of the Book of Mormon even when he was estranged from the church, at least during the early years of the movement. He "seems to have repeatedly admitted the internal, subjective nature of his visionary experience." Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2: 255. The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris "used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and 'seeing with the spiritual eye,' and the like." Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867) p. 71 in EMD, 3: 122. John H. Gilbert was the typesetter for most of the book, and he said that he had asked Harris, "Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" Harris "looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, 'No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.'" John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum," 8 September 1892, in EMD, 2: 548. Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with "the eye of faith" or "spiritual eyes." Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828 in EMD, 2: 270; Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 December 1833, in EMD, 3: 22. In 1838, Harris told an Ohio congregation that "he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination." Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 April 1838 in EMD, 2: 291. A neighbor of Harris in Kirtland, Ohio said that Harris "never claimed to have seen [the plates] with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision." Reuben P. Harmon statement, c. 1885, in EMD, 2: 385.
^Vogel, 98: "His remark that a plate was not quite as thick as common tin may have been meant to divert attention from the possibility that they were actually made from some material otherwise readily available to him. Indeed, his prohibition against visual inspection seems contrived to the skeptic who might explain that the would-be prophet constructed a set of plates to be felt through a cloth."
^Only close associates of Smith were allowed to become official witnesses to the plates; he invited no strangers to view them. The first witnesses were a group of three: Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer; then a group of eight: five members of the Whitmer family, Smith's father Joseph Smith, Sr., and of his brothers Hyrum and Samuel. They all said that they "saw and hefted" the plates. See Jan Shipps, "Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition," University of Illinois Press, p. 23.
^"The Mormon sources constantly refer to the single most troublesome item in Joseph Smith's history, the gold plates on which the Book of Mormon was said to be written." Bushman (2005, p. 58). Ostling & Ostling (1999) begin a chapter called "The Gold Bible" (pp. 259-77) with a question posed by liberal Mormon Brigham D. Madsen: "'Were there really gold plates and ministering angels, or was there just Joseph Smith seated at a table with his face in a hat dictating to a scribe a fictional account of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas?' Resolving that problem haunts loyal Mormons." (at p. 259).
^See Metcalfe (1993), which outlines the main arguments for and against Book of Mormon authenticity.
^Book of Mormon (LDS edition), Introduction expressing the LDS view that the Book of Mormon "is a record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas", and that the book is a translation of the golden plates "into the English language".
^Bushman (2005, pp. 50-51). Lucy Mack Smith later remembered that the family did not abandon its labor "to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles, or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remember the service of & the welfare of our souls."
^Bushman (2005, pp. 50-51) Smith "never repudiated the stones or denied their power to find treasure. Remnants of the magical culture stayed with him to the end;" Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, University of Illinois Press, p. 11.
^Joseph Fielding Smith (an apostle of the LDS Church): "The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim was on the altar in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, however, was the seer stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. This seer stone is currently in the possession of the Church." (Doctrines of Salvation 3: 225).
^Smith referred to the visitor as an "angel of the Lord" at least as early as 1832 (Smith 1832, p. 4), and possibly as early as 1829 (Early Mormon Documents 1:151-52). Some early accounts related by non-Mormons described this angel as a "spirit" (Hadley 1829; Harris 1833, p. 253; Chase 1833, p. 242) or a "ghost" (Burnett 1831); see also Lewis & Lewis (1879, p. 1) (a later-published account using the "ghost" terminology). In 1838, however, Smith later said that the "angel" was a man who had been "dead, and raised again therefrom" (Smith 1838b, pp. 42-43).
^Smith et al. 1835, p. 180; Smith 1838b, pp. 42-43. In distinction from his other accounts, Smith's 1838 autobiography said that the angel's name was Nephi (Smith 1838a, p. 4); nevertheless, modern historians and Latter Day Saints generally refer to the angel as Moroni.
^September 22 was listed in a local almanac as the autumnal equinox, which has led D. Michael Quinn to argue that the date had astrological significance in Smith's worldview Quinn 1998, p. 144; however, that astrological significance was never mentioned by Smith or his contemporaries.
^Smith's first mention of the angel in later histories is an appearance on the eve of September 22, 1823 (Smith 1838a, p. 4); however, other accounts say or imply that the angel may have appeared a year earlier in 1822. Smith's first history in 1832 said that the angel's first visit was on September 22, 1822, although he also said he was "seventeen years of age" (Smith 1832, p. 3), which would have made the year 1823 (he turned 17 in December 1822). In 1835, after Oliver Cowdery initially dated the angel's visit to the "15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr.'s, age", Cowdery changed the statement to read the 17th year of his age (16 years old, or 1822)--but he said this visit in Smith's "17th year" occurred in 1823 (Cowdery 1835a, p. 78). Smith's father is quoted by an inquirer, who visited his house in 1830, as saying that the first visit by the angel took place in 1822 but that he did not learn about it until 1823 (Lapham 1870, p. 305). A neighbor who said Smith told him the story in 1823 said the angel appeared "a year or two before" the death of Joseph's brother Alvin in November 1823.
^Smith (1838a, p. 6) (saying the angel told him to obey his charge concerning the plates; "otherwise I could not get them"); Clark (1842, pp. 225-26) (the angel "told him that he must follow implicitly the divine direction, or he would draw down upon him the wrath of heaven"); Smith (1853, p. 83) (characterizing the angel's requirements as "commandments of God" and saying Smith could receive the plates "not only until he was willing, but able" to keep those commandments).
^Smith (1832, p. 5) (saying he was commanded to "have an eye single to the glory of God"); Smith (1838a, p. 6) (saying the angel commanded him to "have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God.")
^Smith's mother Lucy Mack Smith said he was commanded to tell his father during the third vision (Smith 1853, p. 81), but he disobeyed because he thought that his father would not believe him, and the angel appeared a fourth time to rebuke him and reiterate the commandment (p. 82). Joseph Smith and his sister Katharine said the angel gave him the commandment in his fourth visit, but they did not say whether he had received the commandment earlier that night (Smith 1838a, p. 7; Salisbury 1895, p. 12). Smith's father is quoted by a skeptical interviewer to say that in 1830, Smith delayed telling his father about the vision for about a year (Lapham 1870, p. 305). Smith's brother William, who was 11 at the time, said the angel commanded him to tell his entire family (Smith 1883, p. 9), but he may have been remembering Smith tell the story that night after he visited the hill, according to their mother's recollection (Smith 1853, p. 83).
^This commandment is described in the account of Joseph Knight, Sr., a loyal Latter Day Saint friend of Smith (Knight 1833, p. 2), and Willard Chase, an associate of Smith's in Palmyra during the 1820s (Chase 1833, p. 242). Both Knight and Chase were treasure seekers, but while Knight remained a loyal follower until his death, Chase was a critic of Smith by the early 1830s.
^Chase (1833, p. 242) (an affidavit of Willard Chase, a non-Mormon treasure seeker who believed Smith wrongly appropriated his seer stone). Chase said he heard the story from Smith's father in 1827. Fayette Lapham, who traveled to Palmyra in 1830 to inquire about the Latter Day Saint movement and heard the story from Joseph Smith, Sr., said Smith was told to wear an "old-fashioned suit of clothes, of the same color as those worn by the angel", but Lapham did not specify what color of clothing the angel was wearing (Lapham 1870, p. 305).
^Chase (1833, p. 242) (affidavit of Willard Chase, relating story heard from Smith's father in 1827). A friendly but non-believing Palmyra neighbor, Lorenzo Saunders, heard the story in 1823 from Joseph Smith and also said that Smith was to required to ride a black horse to the hill (Saunders 1884b).
^Chase (1833, p. 242) (affidavit of the skeptical Willard Chase).
^Saunders (1893) (statement of Orson Saunders of Palmyra, who heard the story from Benjamin Saunders, who heard the story from Joseph Smith).
^Smith (1853, p. 82); Smith (1838a, p. 7). Smith's brother William, who was 11 at the time, said he also told the rest of his family that day prior to visiting the hill (Smith 1883, pp. 9-10), but he may have been remembering Smith tell the story the night after he visited the hill, according to their mother's recollection (Smith 1853, p. 83). Smith's sister Katharine said that Joseph told his father and the two oldest brothers Alvin and Hyrum the morning before visiting the hill, but Katharine was too young (10 years old) to understand what they were talking about (Salisbury 1895, p. 13).
^Harris (1833, p. 252) (statement by Henry Harris, a non-Mormon Palmyra resident); Harris (1859, p. 163) (statement by Martin Harris, a Latter Day Saint who became one of the Three Witnesses of the golden plates). According to one hearer of the account, Smith used the seer stone to follow a sequence of landmarks by horse and on foot until he arrived at the place that the plates were buried.Lapham (1870, p. 305).
^Most accounts, including those written by Smith, say the plates were found in a stone box (Cowdery 1835b, p. 196; Smith 1838a, pp. 15-16; Whitmer 1875, calling it a "stone casket," and stating that Smith had to dig down for the box "two and a half or three feet"); according to two non-believing witnesses, however, Smith said they were buried in an iron box (Bennett 1831, p. 7; Lewis & Lewis 1879, p. 1).
^Knight (1833, p. 2) (account by Joseph Knight, Sr., a loyal lifelong follower who had worked with Smith in treasure expeditions); Smith (1853, p. 85) (account by Smith's mother, saying this occurred on Smith's second visit to the hill); Salisbury (1895, p. 14) (account of Smith's sister, saying this occurred on Smith's third visit to the hill but that it happened prior to their brother Alvin's death, which was in November 1823); Cowdery (1835b, p. 197) (account by Smith's second-in-command Oliver Cowdery, stating that when Smith was looking in the box for other artifacts, he had not yet removed the plates).
^Writing with Smith's assistance for a church periodical, Oliver Cowdery said that Smith was stricken three times with an ever-increasing force, persisting after the second blow because he thought that the plates were held by the power of an "enchantment" (like hidden-treasure stories he had heard) that could be overcome by physical exertion (Cowdery 1835b, pp. 197-98). Smith's mother said that he was stricken by a force but did not say how many times (Smith 1853, p. 86). Willard Chase, who heard the story from Smith's father in 1827, said that Smith was stricken at least twice by a toad-like creature (Chase 1833, p. 242). Account of Benjamin Saunders, a sympathetic nonbeliever who heard the story from Smith in 1827 Saunders (1884a). Fayette Lapham, who said he heard the story in about 1830 from Smith's father, said Smith was stricken three times with ever-increasing force (Lapham 1870, p. 306). Two neighbors who heard the story from Smith in Harmony in the late 1820s said Smith was knocked down three times (Lewis & Lewis 1879, p. 1). Smith himself said he made three unsuccessful attempts to take the plates that day but he did not mention his being stricken (Smith 1832, p. 3). Smith's sister Katharine stated that three times, "he felt a pressure pushing hom [him] away" (Salisbury 1895, p. 14). David Whitmer said that the angel struck Smith three times with such force that he was knocked off the hill onto the surrounding plain and had to reascend it (Whitmer 1875).
^Smith (1832, p. 3); Knight (1833, p. 2) (saying Smith exclaimed, "why Cant I stur this Book?"); Cowdery (1835b, p. 198) (saying that Smith exclaimed, without premeditation, "Why can I not obtain this book?"); Salisbury (1895, p. 14) (saying Smith asked, "Lord, what have I done, that I can not get these records?")
^Smith (1832, p. 5); Knight (1833, p. 2) (saying the angel said "you cant have it now," to which Smith responded, "when can I have it?" and the angel said "the 22nt Day of September next if you Bring the right person with you".); Cowdery (1835b, pp. 197-98) (stating that although Smith "supposed his success certain," his failure to keep the "commandments" led to his inability to obtain them). In Smith's 1838 account he said the angel had already told him that he would not receive the plates for another four years (Smith 1838a, p. 7). Smith's brother, who was 11 at the time, said "upon his return [he] told us that in consequence of his not obeying strictly the commandments which the angel had given him, he could not obtain the record until four years from that time" (Smith 1883, p. 10). Smith's sister Katharine (who was 10 at the time) said that Moroni told Smith, "You have not obeyed the commandments as you were commanded to; you must obey His commandments in every particular. You were not to lay them out of your hands until you had them in safe keeping" (Salisbury 1895, p. 14).
^Saunders (1893) (statement of Orson Saunders, who heard the account from his uncle Benjamin Saunders, who heard it from Smith in 1827).
^Knight (1833, p. 2) (account of Joseph Knight, Sr., a lifelong follower of Smith); Lapham (1870, p. 307) (account of Fayette Lapham, who became a skeptic after hearing the story from Smith's father in 1830); Salisbury (1895, p. 14) (account of Smith's sister Katharine).
^Salisbury (1895, p. 14). Smith (1853, p. 85) (account of Smith's mother). About the time of the scheduled September 22, 1824 meeting with the angel that Alvin was to attend, there were rumors in Palmyra that Alvin's body had been dug up and dissected. To quell such rumors, Smith's father brought witnesses to exhume the body three days after Smith's reported meeting with the angel (September 25) and then ran a notice in a local newspaper, stating that the body remained undisturbed, except, of course, by Smith, Sr., and the witnesses. (Smith 1824).
^Knight (1833, p. 3) (Saying Knight went to Rochester on business and then passed back through Palmyra so that he could be there on September 22); Smith (1853, p. 99) (Smith's mother, stating Knight and Stowell arrived there September 20, 1827 to inquire on business matters but stayed at the Smith home until September 22).
^Knight (1833, p. 3) (saying Lawrence was a seer, had been to the hill, and knew what was there).
^Chase (1833, p. 246); Smith (1853, p. 104) (Smith had cut away the bark of a decaying log, placed the plates inside and then covered the log with debris); Harris (1859, p. 165); Salisbury (1895, p. 15) (saying Smith "brought them part way home and hid them in a hollow log").
^Smith (1853, p. 101). Smith's friend Joseph Knight, Sr., said that Smith was even more fascinated by the Interpreters than the plates (Knight 1833, p. 3).
^Smith (1853, pp. 104-06) (mentioning the dislocated thumb); Harris (1859, p. 166) (mentioning an injury to his side); Salisbury (1895, p. 15) (mentioning the dislocated thumb and an injury to his arm).
^The local Presbyterian minister, Jesse Townsend, described Harris as a "visionary fanatic." An acquaintance, Lorenzo Saunders, said, "There can't anybody say word against Martin Harris... a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But he was a great man for seeing spooks." (Walker 1986, p. 35).
^Smith et al. (1839-1843, p. 5). Early followers of Smith used the term Urim and Thummim to refer to both the large spectacles and Smith's other seer stones, most notably one that was commonly called the "Chase stone" and found by Smith in a Palmyra well in the early 1820s(Van Wagoner & Walker 1982, pp. 59-62); Quinn (1998, p. 171). Tucker (1867, p. 35) (referring to the Urim and Thummim as "mammoth spectacles").
^Quinn (1998, pp. 169-70). Martin Harris, one of Smith's scribes, is reported to have said that the spectacles were made for a giant and could not have been worn by Smith (Anthon 1834). David Whitmer, another scribe, also said that the spectacles were larger than normal spectacles and indicated that Smith placed them in his hat while translating, rather than wearing them (Whitmer 1875). However, a man who interviewed Smith's father in 1830 said that Smith did at least some of the translation while he wore the spectacles (Lapham 1870).
^Hale (1834, p. 265); Smith (1879, pp. 536-40); (Van Wagoner & Walker 1982, pp. 59-62) (containing an overview of witnesses to the translation process); Quinn (1998, p. 171) (Whitmer said that the angel had taken the Urim and Thummim after Smith lost the first 116 pages of manuscript but allowed Smith to continue translating with the brown stone); Van Wagoner & Walker (1982, p. 53);Givens (2003, p. 34); Quinn (1998, p. 172): "Most of Smith's disciples did not emphasize the fact that he was now using for religious purposes the brown seer stone he had previously used for the treasure-quest." Smith's father-in-law, Isaac Hale, said that the "manner in which he pretended to read and interpret was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods!" (Hale 1834, p. 265).
^Whitmer (1875) ("Having placed the Urim and Thummim in his hat, Joseph placed the hat over his face, and with prophetic eyes read the invisible symbols syllable by syllable and word by word."). Michael Morse, Smith's brother-in-law, stating that he watched Smith on several occasions: "The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph's placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face." (Van Wagoner & Walker 1982, pp. 52-53, quoting W. W. Blair, Latter Day Saints' Herald26 (15 November 1879): 341, who was quoting Michael Morse). Smith's wife, Emma, stated that she took dictation from her husband as she sat next to him and that he would put his face into a hat with the stone in it, dictating for hours at a time. (Smith 1879, pp. 536-40).
^Cook (1991, p. 173). However, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer, later to be the wife of scribe Oliver Cowdery, said that she had never seen a curtain raised between Smith and Cowdery or her brothers while translation was taking place in the Whitmer home (Van Wagoner & Walker 1982, p. 51).
^Bushman (2005, p. 72) (arguing that this transcription method is the only one consistent with the historical record).
^Quinn (1998, pp. 479 n.302, 482 n.335) (expressing his personal view shared by several other Mormon apologists and noting that while that view might pose problems because of the historical record, it helps to explain the origin of the Book of Mormon's grammatical mistakes).
^Clark (1842) ("Although in the same room, a thick curtain or blanket was suspended between them, and Smith concealed behind the blanket, pretended to look through his spectacles, or transparent stones, and would then write down or repeat what he saw, which when repeated aloud, was written down by Harris."); Benton (1831) ("Oliver Cowdery, one of the three witnesses to the book, testified under oath, that said Smith... translated his book [with] two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates.").
^Smith (1853, p. 125) (stating that the angel took back the Urim and Thummim but referring to the revelation, which stated the plates were taken too); Smith (1832, p. 5) (referring only to the plates); Phelps (1833, 9:1, p. 22) (a revelation referring only to the plates and to Smith's "gift" to translate).
^Young (1877, p. 38) (mentioning only Smith and Cowdery); Packer (2004, pp. 52, 55) (including David Whitmer in the list and describing Whitmer's account of the event and citing William Horne Dame Diary, 14 January 1855, stating that Hyrum Smith was also in the group).
^Packer (2004, p. 55) (citing reporter Edward Stevenson's 1877 interview with Whitmer).
^Packer (2004, p. 55). At least one Mormon scholar doubts the existence of a Cumorah cave and instead argues that early Mormons saw a vision of a cave in another location.Tvedtnes (1990)
^Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2: 255. The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris "used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and 'seeing with the spiritual eye,' and the like." Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 71 in EMD, 3: 122. John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the book, said that he had asked Harris, "Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" According to Gilbert, Harris "looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, 'No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.'" John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum," 8 September 1892, in EMD, 2: 548. Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with "the eye of faith" or "spiritual eyes." Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828 in EMD, 2: 270; Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 December 1833, in EMD, 3: 22. In 1838, Harris is said to have told an Ohio congregation that "he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination." Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 April 1838 in EMD, 2: 291. A neighbor of Harris in Kirtland, Ohio, said that Harris "never claimed to have seen [the plates] with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision." Reuben P. Harmon statement, c. 1885, in EMD, 2: 385.
^Chase (1833, p. 246) (citing Martin Harris as stating in 1829 that Smith's unborn son would translate the plates at the age of two (this son was stillborn), and thereafter, "you will see Joseph Smith Jr. walking through the streets of Palmyra, with the Gold Bible under his arm, and having a gold breast-plate on, and a gold sword hanging by his side."); Hale (1834, p. 264) (stating that the first witness would be "a young child").
^In March 1829, Martin Harris returned to Harmony and wanted to see the plates firsthand. Smith reportedly told Harris that Smith "would go into the woods where the Book of Plates was, and that after he came back, Harris should follow his tracks in the snow, and find the Book, and examine it for himself"; after following these directions, however, Harris could not find the plates (Hale 1834, pp. 264-265).
^To qualify as a witness, Harris had to "humble himself in mighty prayer and faith" (Phelps 1833, pp. 10-12).
^(Phelps 1833, pp. 11-12). Smith's dictated text of the Book of Ether (chapter 2) also made reference to three witnesses, stating that the plates would be shown to them "by the power of God" (Smith 1830, p. 548).
^In June 1829, around the time these eleven additional witnesses were selected, Smith dictated a revelation commanding Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer (two of the eventual Three Witnesses) to seek out twelve "disciples", who desired to serve, and who would "go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature", and who would be ordained to baptize and to ordain priests and teachers (Phelps 1833, p. 37). According to D. Michael Quinn, this was a reference to selecting the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who would be a leading body of Smith's Church of Christ.. Mormon religious and apologetic commentators understand this revelation as referring to the eventual (in 1835, six years later) formation of the first Quorum of the Twelve.
^Roberts (1902, p. 57). Though the Eight Witnesses did not refer, like the Three, to an angel or the voice of God, they said that they had hefted the plates and seen the engravings on them: "The translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship" (Smith 1830, appendix).
^This is the conclusion of Palmer (2002, pp. 195-96), who compared "The Testimony of Three Witnesses" to part of the Doctrine and Covenants written in 1829 (first published at Smith et al. (1835, p. 171)), and concluding that they show "the marks of common authorship". Palmer also compares a letter from Oliver Cowdery to Hyrum Smith dated June 14, 1829, quoting the language of this revelation (Joseph Smith letterbook (22 November 1835 to 4 August 1835), 5-6). Commentators generally agree that this letter refers to the revelation. See Larry C. Porter, "Dating the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood", Ensign, June 1979, 5.
^Gilbert (1892) (during the printing of the Book of Mormon, when asked whether Harris had seen the plates with his bodily eyes, he replied, "No, I saw them with a spiritual eye."); Burnett (1838) (Burnett "came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave away"); Parrish (1838) ("Martin Harris, one of the subscribing witnesses, has come out at last, and says he never saw the plates, from which the book purports to have been translated, except in vision, and he further says that any man who says he has seen them in any other way is a liar, Joseph not excepted."; Metcalf in EMD, 2: 347 (quoting Harris, near the end of his long life, as saying he had seen the plates in "a state of entrancement"). Harris was resolute, however, as to his position that he had seen the plates in a vision. See Letter of Martin Harris, Sr., to Hanna B. Emerson, January 1871, Smithfield, Utah Territory, Saints' Herald22 (15 October 1875):630, in EMD 2: 338 ("No man heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates; nor the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the administration of Joseph Smith Jr."). See also Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 118.
^For instances of people testifying to having seen the golden plates after Smith returned them to the angel, see the affirmations of John Young and Harrison Burgess in Palmer (2002, p. 201). In 1859, Brigham Young referred to one of these "post-return" testimonies: "Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who handled the plates and conversed with the angels of God, were afterwards left to doubt and to disbelieve that they had ever seen an angel. One of the Quorum of the Twelve, a young man full of faith and good works, prayed, and the vision of his mind was opened, and the angel of God came and laid the plates before him, and he saw and handled them, and saw the angel." Journal of Discourses, June 5, 1859, 7:164.
^Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 27:7. The "sealing" of apocalyptic revelations in a book has precedents in the Bible. See, for example, Isaiah 29:11, Daniel 12:4, and Revelation 5:1-5. The Book of Mormon states that this vision was originally given to the Brother of Jared, recorded by Ether on a set of 24 plates later found by Limhi, and then "sealed up". Book of Mormon, Ether 1:2. According to this account, Moroni copied the plates of Limhi onto the sealed portion of the golden plates.
^i.e. that the book was "sealed" in the sense that its contents were hidden or kept from public knowledge
^David Whitmer interview, Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1888, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 221. Near the end of his life, Whitmer said that one section of the book was "loose, in plates, the other solid". Storey (1881).
^Bushman (2005, p. 490);Brodie (1971, p. 291): "The whole of Nauvoo soon buzzed with the discovery. The Times and Seasons published full reproductions as further proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and the printing office sold facsimiles at one dollar a dozen." The original source is William Clayton's Journal, May 1, 1843 (See also, Trials of Discipleship -- The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon, 117): "I have seen 6 brass plates ... covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth." The information was deemed important enough to be republished in the first person (as if Smith had said it) in the History of the Church: "I insert facsimiles of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook ... I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth." More than six pages of History of the Church, 5:372-79 discuss the Kinderhook plates, and Smith directed Reuben Hedlock to make woodcuts of the plates. Palmer (2002, p. 31) "Church historians continued to insist on the authenticity of the Kinderhook plates until 1980 when an examination conducted by the Chicago Historical Society, possessor of one plate, proved it was a nineteenth-century creation." Bushman (2005, p. 490)
^Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 489-90.
^The Voree plates were alleged to have been written by an ancient inhabitant of what is now Burlington, Wisconsin, while the Book of the Law of the Lord was alleged by Strang to be a translation of the Plates of Laban mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Neither of these alleged discoveries by Strang is accepted as authentic outside of the Strangite community.
^Ostling & Ostling (1999, p. 259): "'Were there really gold plates and ministering angels, or was there just Joseph Smith Seated at a table with his face in a hat dictating to a scribe a fictional account of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas?' Resolving that problem haunts loyal Mormons. The blunt questioner quoted is Brigham D. Madsen, a liberal Mormon and onetime history teacher at Brigham Young University."
^Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon: "Critics of the Book of Mormon often remark sarcastically that it is a great pity that the golden plates have disappeared, since they would very conveniently prove Joseph Smith's story. They would do nothing of the sort. The presence of the plates would only prove that there were plates, no more: it would not prove that Nephites wrote them, or that an angel brought them, or that they had been translated by the gift and power of God; and we can be sure that scholars would quarrel about the writing on them for generations without coming to any agreement, exactly as they did about the writings of Homer and parts of the Bible. The possession of the plates would have a very disruptive effect, and it would prove virtually nothing. On the other hand, a far more impressive claim is put forth when the whole work is given to the world in what is claimed to be a divinely inspired translation--in such a text any cause or pretext for disagreement and speculation about the text is reduced to an absolute minimum: it is a text which all the world can read and understand, and is a far more miraculous object than any gold plates would be."