The discovery of metal plates in the ancient world lends some significant credibility to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon narrative, which describes a variety of metal plates used in the Old World and the New. However, in a few ways there is still room to question whether what has been found fits especially well with what was described in relation to the Book of Mormon.
Current parallels with the ancient world are lacking
Current parallels with archaeological finds from the ancient world are at least somewhat lacking in substantiating the way plates are used with the Book of Mormon1:
Ancient metal plates with writing have generally been small and contained very limited amounts of writing and this contrasts with the much larger scope (and sometimes size) of the various plates described in association with and in the Book of Mormon. Ryan Thomas discusses known use of metal plates in the ancient eastern world and concludes:
Although metal was undoubtedly used as an epigraphic medium in Israel-Judah from early times, there is no evidence to support the assumption that it figured in an established scribal tradition of lengthy literary composition or archival storage.
While there are some examples of symbols and designs carved into gold disks, no metal books have ever been found associated with an ancient American culture (records were kept on media like paper, skins or painted plaster).
Joseph Smith’s cultural milieu
In addition, there are some reasons to believe that the idea of scripture recorded on metal plates was previously known to Joseph Smith or already considered in his day.
The Art of Writing Short Hand Made Easy, Being a Concise and Complete System of Stenography, Etc, published in England in 1818, discusses a book made out of lead which contained “Egyptian Gnostic figures” (emphasis added):
… From Job, chap. 19, v. 24, it appears to have been usual in his day, to write or engrave upon plates of Lead, which might easily be done with a Pen, or Graver, or Style of Iron, or other hard metal. Montfaucon assures us, that in 1699 he bought at Rome a book entirely of lead about four inches long by three inches wide: it contained Egyptian Gnostic figures and unintelligible writing. …
- Job 19:24 can be read as an an indication that lead can be inscribed with an iron pen (see above book for an example).
- Jeremiah 17:1 alludes to carving tables or tablets (albeit metaphorical) with an iron tool.
If we are to believe Peter Ingersoll’s affidavit (there are good reasons to doubt it since late and from antagonistic source), then Joseph Smith Sr. had already been referring to a “golden bible” some time before the creation of the Book of Mormon (see pg 232 here) (emphasis added):
One day he came, and greeted me with a joyful countenance. – Upon asking the cause of his unusual happiness, he replied in the following language: “As I was passing, yesterday, across the woods, after a heavy shower of rain, I found, in a hollow, some beautiful white sand, that had been washed up by the water. I took off my frock, and tied up several quarts of it, and then went home. On my entering the house, I found the family at the table eating dinner. They were all anxious to know the contents of my frock. At that moment, I happened to think of what I had heard about a history found in Canada, called the golden Bible; so I very gravely told them it was the golden Bible. To my surprise, they were credulous enough to believe what I said. Accordingly I told them that I had received a commandment to let no one see it, for, says I, no man can see it with the naked eye and live. However, I offered to take out the book and show it to them, but they refuse to see it, and left the room.” Now, said Jo, “I have got the damned fools fixed, and will carry out the fun.” Notwithstanding, he told me he had no such book, and believed there never was any such book..
- The Western Farmer, a Palmyra paper, reported in 1821 that “diggers on the Erie Canal had unearthed ‘several brass plates’ along with skeletons and fragments of pottery.”2
The idea of ancient metal plates or tablets containing writing appears to have been suggested in Joseph Smith’s cultural milieu.
Other similarities from the early 1800s cultural milieu echo other aspects of the metal plates—both the story of their retrieval and descriptions within the Book of Mormon itself.
- Manuscript Found, written by Solomon Spaulding in the early 1800s, begins with a description of stone boxes, caves, and “earthen” boxes containing ancient documents that echoes aspects of the metal plates.
- Anachronisms: The Metal Codex and the Etruscan Gold Book (by ImTheMarmotKing)
- Are There Other Ancient Records Like the Book of Mormon?
- Is the Book of Mormon Like Other Ancient Metal Documents? (an acknowledgement of the problem and attempt to reconcile with the data by appealing to later books and other calculations)