Monday, September 21, 2009

Gold Plates in a Stone Box

I would venture to guess that if an unlearned young man came and told me that an Angel from God had given him some gold plates with secret engravings upon them, I would think him some kind of fanciful quack just as many considered Joseph Smith. And I probably don’t blame the ministers of his day who disbelieved and persecuted him; for if it was true they would lose their flock. But there is one thing I have often thought rather amusing, and that is that many times people dogged him and tried to steal those plates from Joseph while, at the same time, they claimed he didn’t possess them in the first place. Yet, time can validate such claims as truth comes to light, and so it is with gold plates in a stone box

The Critics
One of the first charges leveled at Joseph Smith and his “gold bible,” as some called it, was the story of the gold plates. Over thousands of years of recorded history, people used various means to preserve their writings, such as engraving on wood or stone, clay tablets or brick, leather or cloth, as well as the popular papyrus and parchment. But during the days of Joseph Smith, metal plates were little considered, if at all.

For instance, in 1887,one critic who made his conclusions supposedly, after a very careful study of the Book of Mormon, and a very careful study of all the evidences he gathered, was obliged to reject the claims made by Joseph and the Book of Mormon. Said one critic, “ such records, were ever engraved upon golden plates, or any other plates, in the early ages....” (Lamb, p. 11.) And yet another wrote: “It does not seem to have been pointed out to the youth [Joseph Smith] that gold will corrode if left in the earth for the number of years those plates were supposed to have been buried.” (Stuart Martin, p. 27.)

Other critics have had objections concerning the brass plates which Nephi claimed to have taken from Laban: “The book of Mormon purports to have been originally engraved on brass plates.... How could brass be written on?” (Sunderland, p. 44.) And again: “This book [Book of Mormon] speaks... of the Jewish Scriptures, having been kept by Jews on plates of brass, six hundred years before Christ. The Jews never kept any of their records on plates of brass.” (Sunderland, p. 46.)(1)

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 one of the surprises was a copper scroll that was found. But is this copper scroll a unique example of writing on metal? One critic wrote in 1972: “In the sixth century B.C. the most common forms of writing material in Palestine were papyrus and leather (or animal skin); the Hebrew also wrote on wood and potsherds..... It should of course be mentioned that writing on metal was not completely unknown, since a copper scroll has been discovered at Qumran. This scroll, however, was not a plate but a roll, and is dated much later than 600 B.C., being generally ascribed to the first century B.C. In view of the above facts, does it seem likely that brass plates containing a large section of the Old Testament in Egyptian would be found in Palestine in 600 B.C.?” (Hoekema, p. 82-83.)

Metal Plates Discovered
At first the critics said that writing on metal never did occur. However, when some were discovered, they admit that perhaps there were rare instances of writing on metal but only on metal scrolls, and not on metal plates. But since the days of Joseph Smith, archaeology has uncovered many such metal plates.

The most popular discovery, of course, was in the Dead Sea Scrolls (See picture at right), part of which consisted of two copper scrolls rolled up together. The text was inscribed so deeply upon them that the writing stood out in relief on the back.

Sargon, King of Assyria (722 B.C.), states in his “Annals” that he kept his records on plates of gold, silver, bronze, and lead.

Several ancient sites have recently revealed that bronze was used in the form of writing tablets. One plate in particular has been dated to the sixth century B.C., the same period the Book of Mormon states that Lehi took the brass plates of Laban. This bronze plaque was discovered in 1860 near Styria, in Greece. The bronze tablets are currently housed at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

At the end of this chapter, see the examples of many of the writings on metal plates found from ancient times.

The Stone Box
One of the criticisms Book of Mormon believers get is the fact that Joseph Smith said that the gold plates he received were encased in a stone box which was buried in the ground; which was obviously done for their preservation. Before Joseph Smith first saw the gold plates stored in a stone box, in 1823, no one had ever heard of using such a box for the storing of records on metal plates or for other valuables. Why, who ever heard of such a thing? Well, guess what?

George Potter and Richard Wellington, mentioned in their book, Lehi in the Wilderness, that, “The lower canyon [of wadi Tayyib al-lsm] yielded one more interesting surprise — a stone box buried in the floor of the canyon. Throughout Midian the Bedouins build stone boxes for storing items while they rotate between campsites, but this was the first stone box that we had seen buried in the ground, evidently for keeping valuables safe. Perhaps Lehi’s family transferred this practice to the New World.” (LITW, p. 34.) (Above left: Stone box for preserving valuables in Saudi Arabia.)

What is amazing about the picture of the stone box found near the mouth of wadi Tayyib al-lsm, which box was covered by a large stone, is identical to the description of the stone box in which Joseph Smith said the gold plates were found.

"Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth." (History of the Church, Vol.1, Ch. 2, p. 15.)

Another interesting discovery (1933) of ancient records was the gold and silver plates of Emperor Darius I of Persia (518-515 B.C.), inscribed in three languages. (Right: Plates of Darius I.) These plates were found sealed in, of all things, a box of stone.

Also, in 1938, plates of pure gold and silver were discovered buried in a carefully made stone box. Darius the Mede, a ruler during the time of Lehi, had his royal proclamation, for the liberation of the Jews, put on these plates and preserved in this stone box.

Not only have several of the ancient Old World metal plates been discovered in stone boxes, but it is apparent that in the New World stone boxes were also used to store valuables. These New World stone boxes were used to preserve valuables such as jewelry, tapestries, tools, or clothing. What is truly amazing is that some of these stone boxes match Joseph Smith’s description of the stone box in which he said the gold plates were found. (Above left: New World stone box for storing valuables on display in Mexico City.)

Rings Binding the Gold Plates
The eyewitnesses to the Book of Mormon plates said that they were bound by three rings which also appeared to be of gold. Even though it is the gold plates that is of most interest, yet the idea of ring binding those plates may be of interest, especially to the critic.

John Whitmer, one of the witnesses who saw the actual plates, stated that the plates were joined together “in three rings, each one in the shape of a D with the straight line towards the center.”

David Whitmer was one of the Three Witnesses who not only saw the plates but the Angel as well. He verifies his brother, John Whitmer’s detail concerning the rings. In an interview in 1877, at age 72, David Whitmer related that a heavenly messenger had granted his mother, Mary Musselman Whitmer, a view of the plates. In relating the incident, David mentioned that his mother had observed that, "they [the gold plates] were fastened with rings thus," and then he drew a D-shaped ring.

Also, there is a confirming account from William E. McLellin who repeated in 1831 what Hyrum Smith had told him: "The plates were . . . connected with rings in the shape of the letter D, which facilitated the opening and shutting of the book."(2)

The world's oldest multiple-page book - in the lost Etruscan language - has gone on display in Bulgaria's National History Museum in Sofia. Six small gold plates unearthed over 60 years ago in Bulgaria feature D-shaped rings and have been dated to about 600 BC. The gold book contains six bound sheets of 24 carat gold, with illustrations of a horse-rider, a mermaid, a harp and soldiers. The small manuscript, which is more than two-and-a-half millennia old, was discovered in a tomb uncovered during digging for a canal along the Strouma river in south-western Bulgaria. The authenticity of the book has been confirmed by two experts in Sofia and London, museum director Bojidar Dimitrov said quoted by AFP. The six sheets are believed to be the oldest comprehensive work involving multiple pages. The Etruscans – one of Europe's most mysterious ancient peoples – are believed to have migrated from Lydia, in modern western Turkey, settled in northern and central Italy nearly 3,000 years ago, and later wiped out by the conquering Romans in the fourth century BC, leaving few written records. (Above right: Etruscan gold plates.)(3)

Warren P. Aston, an independent Book of Mormon researcher said about the ring:

“For many people the natural assumption, in 1830 as much as today, would easily be that the rings were a circular O-shape, as suggested by the word ring itself. Indeed, many depictions of the gold plates over the years have shown them bound by circular rings. It is only from eyewitness testimony from a few of the small number of people privileged to see the plates that we know the rings were D-shaped. Why is that shape significant? Simply this: the D shape offers stability by allowing the leaves to stack vertically against the straight side of the rings. Although it occupies much the same space, a D-shaped ring also offers a full 50 percent more storage capacity than a circular ring (and 20 to 25 percent more storage capacity than a slanted semicircular shape). To the Book of Mormon prophets who labored to inscribe their records on metal plates, space was clearly an important consideration. D-shaped rings offered them the maximum number of plates that could be kept together.

“The same principle governs the loose-leaf binders used today. Their history is instructive. The first loose-leaf binder patent was not filed until 1854, with the first two-ring binders advertised for sale in 1899. Two improvements to the basic design followed. Within a few decades the use of three rings rather than two proved to be a more stable design and became standard. These early designs, however, used circular or oval-shaped rings. Only in the last few decades has the improved capacity of D-shaped rings been recognized and made available for loose-leaf binders.

“Joseph Smith displayed plates that were securely bound by three rings (not two or four) constructed in what we now know is the most efficient shape. He could not have known either of these facts in 1829 from the materials in his environment or from people who may have had greater familiarity with libraries or materials storage. Nor could he have been informed by the finds of other ancient records, as none were then known to be bound by rings. Perhaps it is not coincidental that the only other ancient metal record bound by rings so far known also has D-shaped rings and dates to about 600 BC.”(4)

Stone Box, Metallic Plates & Unknown Script
The following is taken and edited from Ancient America magazine, which had an article entitled, “Secret Chambers in the Rockies,” by Jared G. Barton. The article points out that a stone box of gold plates, bearing an unknown script, was said to have been discovered in Manti, Utah, by a John Brewer in 1955.

Along with an associate, in search of old arrowheads on a mountainside, Brewer entered a secluded cave. Therein he discovered a set of stone steps carved into the cave floor. Clearing away some debris, he said the steps led to an entrance of a “tomb.” Within its chamber he saw stone boxes; five contained small metal plates inscribed with characters of a unknown language. Nearby were two large stone coffins which held mummified human remains. He said one body had red hair with skin still attached to its bones, while the other was blond. The mummies were excessively large, upwards to about nine feet in length. They were covered with a straw-like cloth. Removing some of the straw-like material revealed their crowns and breastplates, and shields and a sword were among other artifacts within the tomb.

Brewer made a sketch of the tomb, and carefully catalogued the position of each stone box. He preserved some of the plates under glass, which were of various sizes and shapes. Years later he showed the plates (one set having the appearance of gold and the another of bronze) to a group of University scholars who were not familiar with the language upon the plates.

Dr. Robert Heinerman, a Ph.D in Anthropology, was favorably impressed. Probably for his positive attitude, Brewer offered Heinerman an excursion to see the cave. Sure enough, after squeezing through some small passage ways, Dr. Heinerman descended some stairs which led into a chamber approximately twenty feet long and fourteen feet wide. He saw about three dozen stone boxes stacked against one wall and another twenty or so against the other. All were “wrapped with a cover of Juniper bark with pine pitch smeared all around so as to make them literally water proof.” In another small chamber were two mummies entombed in a cement-type sepulcher with a removable lid. They appeared to be about eight or nine feet in length, one being a male and the other female. And littering the cave were various weapons, swords, tools, and copper and metal tablets of various sizes.

Dr. Heinerman said that an illustration on a wall inside the chamber showed the location of other caves in the Manti area. He was able to locate one of those caves which was comprised of several tunnels and chambers. There they also found stone boxes containing metal plates with more unknown script, weighing from sixty to ninety pounds each, along with other metal weapons, tools, and a wall mural depicting a hunting scene, but no mummies. In Heinerman’s words, “the cemented stone boxes were highly decorated with ingenious art work.” A few of these boxes were brought off the mountain, and Heinerman still has some in his possession, along with a large number of the metal plates. (Above right: Stone box with plates; below left: copper plates.)

John Brewer and Professor Heinerman are the only two who know the precise whereabouts of these sites. Some of the scholars that Brewer contacted earlier felt that his claims were a “ridiculous hoax.” Yet, others didn’t discount it. One scholar felt that Brewer “was telling the truth and most likely did not have the capacity to perpetuate such an elaborate hoax.” Until such time as professional investigators are allowed inside his alleged chambers, the authenticity of Brewer’s finds cannot be established. Yet, the items presented strengthens the caves’s legitimacy. Their sheer number of artifacts, and their level of craftsmanship, beyond the ability of Brewer to duplicate, should give critics reason to reconsider. The artifacts appear to be exceptionally well made and very old, but neither belonging to any ancient or modern known culture.

In closing their story on this subject, the Ancient America magazine said, “Other red-haired mummies were said to have been found in the West, most notably at Nevada’s Lovelock Cave. ... If ever validated and deciphered, they [the Manti artifacts] could release a prehistoric legacy far more valuable than the gold plates on which it was written.” (See Ancient America, Vol. 4, Issue 28)(5)

In Summary
During the time of Joseph Smith, people did not believe that, 1) ancient records had ever been inscribed on metal plates; or that 2) some were kept in stone boxes; let alone that 3) they might be bound by D-shaped rings. Today, however, there are hundreds of examples of ancient writings on metal plates, as well as many stone boxes, some dating back as early as 2450 B.C. Could Joseph Smith have had some inside information concerning such things to be bold enough to speak of them years before their discovery?

Today, archaeological discoveries show that both gold plates, and stone boxes that contain them, were used by ancient scribes during the same time period as that of the Book of Mormon, and some had not only rings, but D-shaped rings, as well.

Not only does the find at Manti, Utah, show the existence of ancient stone boxes containing metal plates, but also points to other people upon this American continent long before Lehi. The accounts of records being found on metal plates are so numerous that neither time nor space permit their documentation. A few such examples are:

1. Gold and silver plates from Iran dating 518-515 B.C.
2. Bronze plates from Spain dating 500-100 B.C.
3. Bronze plates from Italy dating 3rd Century B.C.
4. Gold plates from Egypt dating 2,800 B.C.
5. Silver tablet from Egypt dating 1,254 B.C.
6. Gold tablet from Babylon (Iraq) dating 3rd Millennia B.C.
7. Gold tablet from Assyria dating 858-824 B.C.
8. And the list could go on....

There are many more examples that could be given of metal plates or tablets that have been found since Joseph Smith’s publication of the Book of Mormon, but the above should be enough to show that metal plates were used in the ancient old world before, during and after the time of Lehi.

So, in conclusion, is all of this another set of coincidences for Joseph Smith?