Imagine yourself exactly 7 years in the past. July 2010. You’re chatting with co-workers at the water cooler. A guy you don’t really know is going on about a digital currency he just spent $1,000 on. Half of the crowd is curiously asking about what digital money is and the other half is making fun of him.
“Sounds like a pretty quick way to get scammed out of a quick grand.”
“Did you send it to that Nigerian prince who emailed you?”
He’s laughed out of the room. Digital currency – hah! There’s a sucker born every minute, right? Anyone who is dumb enough to invest real money into a worthless string of digits deserves to be scammed.
Was digital currency “a thing” in July of 2010? No, not really. But just 7 years later, your odd co-worker’s $1,000 bitcoin investment is now worth around $35,000,000.
Now imagine yourself a couple hundred years ago in upstate New York. Do you see where this is going? A strange young man is talking about a “gold bible” he found buried in a hill. Yikes. You’ve heard about all kinds of weird things going on in town lately, but this one might take the cake. Yeah, thanks but no thanks, Joe. I’m not sure how you came up with the idea of an ancient record written on metal plates, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing. In 1827 you’d have been right, it wasn’t really a thing. At least no one knew it was a thing then.
But archaeologists have learned a lot about buried metal plates since 1827.
It’s hard to say how much Joseph knew as a young man in the early 1800s, but it’s fairly easy to use dates to determine what he didn’t know about buried metal plates. He for sure didn’t know about the Pyrgi Tablets, which weren’t discovered until 1964. The Pyrgi Tablets were discovered just outside of Rome, and are described as “three golden leaves that record a dedication made around 500 BC.” This is interesting for several reasons, one of them being that people close to the Prophet Joseph’s plates described them as leaves as well. The words on the golden leaves were inscribed in a Phoenician text, which is very similar to ancient Hebrew.
What about the Etruscan plates, which weren’t discovered until the early 1940s? These plates are 24 carat gold, and bound together by two gold rings and date back to 600 BC. They were discovered in a tomb during digging for a canal along the Strouma river in south-western Bulgaria. You can see these plates today in Bulgaria’s National History Museum.
The Iguvine tablets contain religious inscriptions on sheets of bronze, and they are likely from 300 BC. The general knowledge of these bronze sheets weren’t widely known about until they were published in London in 1863. These were discovered in central Italy.
One cannot discuss metal plate discoveries without referencing Edward Herbert Thompson’s gold plate discoveries in the early 1900s. While excavating at Chichén Itzá in 1904 Edward found jade, tools, gold ornaments, copper axes and yes, golden plates.
I’d love to get into the finer details of all of these examples, but that’s not what this article is about.
The Prophet Joseph didn’t know, nor did he care to know if buried metal plates were a realistic archeological reality at the time. I imagine that his feelings about the reality (and absurdity) of the plates was similar to his feelings about the first vision when he said, “For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it.”
The plates were real. It didn’t matter if it sounded weird, because it was real.
A 1992 Ensign article states: “Although Emma Smith never saw the gold plates in the same way the other witnesses did she did have close contact with the plates and the work of her husband. In response to a question from her son, Joseph Smith III, as to the reality of the plates, she responded:
“The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him [Joseph Smith, Jr.] to fold them in. I once 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. … I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. … I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.”
I’m so thankful that the plates found in the Hill Cumorah are no longer around. If they appeared today it would absolutely not change a thing. Critics would be quick to cry forgery and faithful Saints would take interest, but it wouldn’t convince anyone.
The most powerful witness of the Book of Mormon is that witness given by the third member of the Godhead, even the Holy Ghost. It’s fun to talk about things such as other buried plates, but faith in things unseen is what will ultimately draw us closer to our Savior and help us through the hardships of this life.