LDS Discussions Blog
About That Gold Plates Video (June 18, 2020)
On April 13, 2020, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released another video in their "Now You Know" series, this time focusing on the 'gold plates' containing the Book of Mormon. We have covered some of the other recent "Now You Know" videos including the Word of Wisdom, Masonry and the Temple, Seer Stones, and Joseph Smith.
It's a short video and we're not going to spend a ton of time here rehashing it, but just as we did with the other videos, I want to point out some of the ways that it feels like the church is still dodging and skirting difficult issues while inoculating members about topics that don't add up.
Just like the Saints book, the church continues to use fluffy language and very misleading imagery to avoid giving any real details of why the story of the gold plates simply does not add up historically. In addition, this video continues a pattern of using Book of Mormon reformed Egyptian "caractors" that are 100% made up, which is because the real "caractors" document that has actual Book of Mormon characters is simply modified English letters and numbers. We will cover that below, but it is a really obvious area they do not want members to look to closely at.
Below is the text of the video with some comments about why the church is still being misleading about the gold plates even in 2019 when the information is so readily available. We have not previously written about the gold plates in a separate piece, it is a big part of our annotated essay on the Book of Mormon translation, which I highly recommend for so much more detail on the translation process. From the video:
"You may have heard members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints talk about the gold plates. So what are the gold plates? What were they like, and why do we still talk about them?
In 1820 a young boy named Joseph Smith prayed to know which church he should join. In response, Joseph was visited by God and Jesus Christ. God later called Joseph Smith to be his prophet on the Earth. A few years after God and Jesus Christ visited Joseph Smith, an angel named Moroni also appeared to him. Moroni told Joseph about an ancient record buried in a hill near Joseph's house. The record, written on gold plates, contained the writings of prophets who lived in the Americas centuries earlier. The plates were similar to other ancient metal records that have been discovered by archaeologists in recent years."
The video starts off with Joseph Smith's First Vision, which we document extensively in our First Vision Overview. Historically speaking, Joseph Smith's First Vision could not have happened in 1820, but in 1824.
And you can see here why that is such a problem. If the First Vision happened in 1824 as Joseph Smith's details would indicate, than Joseph claiming to be visited by Moroni in 1823 is a problem. We see a lot of these kinds of chronological issues that get backdated and retrofitted in church history:
-The church needs to date the revelation on polygamy back to 1831 because Joseph Smith had a sexual relationship with Fanny Alger in the mid 1830s, but the only revelation in 1831 is for the early church leaders to take on Native American wives to make their children "white and delightsome." To put it another way, even if we claim the 1831 is real (it has a source in both a faithful member and a critic who left the church), it would not help to rationalize the Fanny Alger affair.
-The church needs the Melchizedek priesthood restoration to have been in 1829, but you can see through historical documentation that it wasn't developed until 1831. That means that Joseph Smith's claimed vision of Peter, James, and John (which was added to the original revelation years later in 1835) could not have happened since the idea of a higher priesthood wasn't even developed yet.
Put another way, this video starts off with a historical problem that will only get compounded as we go through church history. And the timeline does not even get into the bigger problem of this video: Joseph Smith's original account of his First Vision is clear that he only sees one personage - not two. Again we detail all of this in the First Vision Overview, but the problem with trying to make such a cute, simple video for church history - it becomes really easy to show how they are being misleading and why they are being misleading.
One last point on this first part - the church very quickly drops this line in before transitioning away: "The plates were similar to other ancient metal records that have been discovered by archaeologists in recent years."
This is something apologists like to cite in order to give the Book of Mormon credibility, but there is no finding that bolsters the Book of Mormon's case in any reasonable way.
The ancient metal "records" are typically one sheet of metal and will have just a few sentences worth of material on them. Any idea that there are long form records on ancient metal plates is simply non-existent, and the church knows this or you would see this proof in every Ensign. I don't know how else to say it - the church is being intentionally dishonest here by dropping this line to add credibility when they know full well that this is simply not an accurate statement.
A very common example of ancient writing on metal plates is the Pyrgi Tablets. You can look at them on Wikipedia, and take a look at how little text is on those three plates. If anything, the Pyrgi Tablets show how implausible the Book of Mormon is when you take a step back and think of the implications. And not only that, but these plates have been seen by people who are not close to Joseph Smith and in a language that has a historical basis.
In other words, the apologetics to show that there was ancient writing on metal opens up more problems for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, which is why the church wants to just casually drop that line and run before you actually take a look at their claims.
Back to the video:
"Four years after Moroni first told Joseph about the plates, Joseph retrieved them from the hill and translated them by the gift and power of God. It was the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. Several people, including members of Joseph Smith's family as well as his friends, handled the gold plates. They describe what they saw and felt. The plates measured eight inches in length and about six or seven inches wide. All together, the plates were around 4 to 6 inches thick. And they were pretty heavy. According to people who held the plates, they likely weighed somewhere between 40 and 60 lbs. The plates were bound together with three large D shaped rings. The individual plates were as thin as parchment paper, and they were slightly flexible. A part of the plates was sealed together so Joseph couldn't translate that part."
There are a few details being left out here. First, Joseph Smith attempted to get the plates four times - each time on the Autumnal equinox, which is a very important date for folk magic. This is because Joseph Smith's family was into folk magic, and Joseph Smith himself was a treasure digger. He used to charge people to look for hidden objects using a stone in a hat.
We cover this in our annotated Book of Mormon translation essay, but this is very important because Joseph Smith will use the same stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon that he used to (unsuccessfully) look for buried treasure. The gold plates were not used in the translation process, which was a shock for me since the missionaries testified of Joseph Smith translating the plates and I in turn received a confirmation that this is how the Book of Mormon came to be.
In fact, Joseph Smith used this same stone in a hat to claim to locate the gold plates in the Hill Cumorah, which is again problematic because he never once found treasure using this method. This is also why other treasure diggers believed Joseph Smith when he claimed to find the plates, even going to the Hill Cumorah to try and steal them before Joseph Smith could fully dig them out. We will get to that a bit more in a few paragraphs.
Another problem here is that the church mentions that those gold plates would weigh up to 60 lbs. This is a problem because Joseph Smith tells the story of running from the other treasure diggers who want a piece of Joseph's claimed treasure. From the 2001 Ensign:
"As he was jumping over a log, a man sprang up from behind and gave him a heavy blow with a gun. Joseph turned around and knocked him to the ground, and then ran at the top of his speed. About half a mile further, he was attacked again in precisely the same way. He soon brought this one down also and ran on again, but before he got home, he was accosted the third time with a severe stroke with a gun." Joseph struck this third and final attacker with such force that he dislocated his own thumb. He continued running, "being closely pursued until he came near his father's house," at which time his assailants, "for fear of being detected," broke off the chase. Reaching a fence corner, he "threw himself down … to recover his breath," then rose and continued running until he reached the house."
Now just think about this story combined with the idea that Joseph Smith was carrying a SIXTY pound book while doing this. It defies all logic, reason, and physics to think that Joseph Smith could run at "top speed" with a 60 pound book while fighting off attackers.
While this story certainly adds to the legend of the Book of Mormon's creation, it also creates a lot of other problems. For example, Joseph Smith told others that they could not look at the plates and live. If that was truly the case, why not let the attackers look at them? They would die and Joseph could continue on. This story is full of holes once you look at the bigger picture against the accounts and evidence we have.
One theory that historian Dan Vogel has stated is that Joseph Smith was creating a "prop" set of plates so that he could cover them and witnesses could hear the plates rustling, and that he dislocated his thumb when he was finishing the "D rings" on the book as they would need a lot of force from that part of the hand to finish them into the correct shape.
The Book of Mormon does have the statement of the witnesses to build testimony for its authenticity, but again the witness statements become problematic when you take a deep dive into them. I would refer you to Dan Vogel's YouTube video series on the witnesses as he covers in great detail (and with careful sourcing) the problems regarding the reliability with the witness statements.
From the video:
"Ancient prophets etched their records on similar plates and a language they call "reformed Egyptian." They recorded the history of their people and the teachings they received from God. The greatest event recorded in the Book of Mormon is the personal visit of the Lord Jesus Christ, after his resurrection to the ancient people of the Americas. He established his church, healed the sick, and taught people his gospel. About 300 years after the visit of Jesus Christ to the Americas, a prophet named Mormon made the gold plates and condensed hundreds of years of prophets' writings onto his pages. That's why it's called the Book of Mormon - after the name of the prophet editor."
This is the part I mentioned at the beginning, where the church shows a cartoon of an ancient prophet writing in reformed Egyptian. If you look at the video, you'll see characters that look like an ancient language. But take a look at the Book of Mormon symbols from the "caractors" document above - they do not match what the video uses.
You'll notice that while the video shows what appears to be an ancient record, the actual symbols that we do have look like crudely modified English letters and numbers. Why would the church make up symbols for the video when they have their own document showing what the characters would have actually looked like? In other words, why make up material in order to avoid using the actual historical document? They include these same made-up symbols on their Now You Know video for the Seer Stone, and it is very sad that they are so embarrassed by their actual historical documents that they will literally make up new characters to avoid showing them.
As was illustrated by Sandra and Jerald Tanner, the "caractors" from the Book of Mormon are not reformed Egyptian, but deformed English:
Back to the video:
"He gave the gold place to his son, Moroni. Yes, that Moroni, who buried them in a hill to protect and preserve them. The plates lay hidden underground for over 1,000 years until Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and told him to retrieve them. On the title page of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Mormon wrote that the Book of Mormon was written to show the entire world that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations. And after translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith testified that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book."
I don't have much to add to this, but I would just note that when you look at all of work that was supposed to have happened to preserve the plates, doesn't it seem a bit odd that Joseph Smith never even looked at them to translate the book?
The idea that Joseph Smith used a "prop" set of plates was laughed off by apologists for years, but now that even the church admits that Joseph Smith translated the book with a stone in a hat, it seems more than likely that the plates were not ancient since they usually not even in the same room as Joseph Smith.
In other words, we are to believe that all of the Book of Mormon prophets wrote down their history in an unknown language, preserved these plates with their lives, had those records abridged into another set of plates in an unknown language, carried them all the way to the Hill Cumorah, and then buried them at the Hill Cumorah (which was believed to be the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah until science and archaeology proved that impossible) all so Joseph Smith could use a rock in a hat to translate the book?
A last note on this section is the idea that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on Earth. We can show where Joseph Smith borrowed parts of Isaiah that were written after Lehi left for America (Deuetero-Isaiah), we show where Joseph Smith changed the Book of Mormon to match his idea of the godhead, and the Book of Mormon is full of anachronisms both of items (horses, steel, silk, elephants, etc) and concepts (knowing of Jesus Christ before even the Israelites did, a literal global flood, a literal Tower of Babel, etc). There is absolutely no way that the Book of Mormon is historical when it couldn't even identify the Lamanites which Joseph Smith claimed through revelation were the Native Americans, which makes this claim of being the most correct book simply false.
And now the last section of the video:
"Once the work of translation was finished, Moroni again appeared to Joseph and took back the gold plates. So why do we talk so much about the gold plates? The gold plates came to us by the power of God. Written on the plates was the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. Multiple witnesses saw and handled the gold plates. For the rest of their lives, they testified that the plates were real. The plates are tangible evidence linking the translated Book of Mormon to the ancient prophets who wrote it. And by reading the Book of Mormon, we can draw closer to Jesus Christ and learn more about his gospel. We talk about the gold plates because their story shows us how much God loves us and how he wants us to know his truth.
Now you know."
There's not much to say here that was not already covered above. We are told Joseph Smith gave the plates back after the witnesses saw them, but again the witness statements have huge problems as does the idea that the plates were taken back since the Hill Cumorah has been scanned and there's nothing inside.
The video ends by saying the plates are "tangible evidence," yet even the few people who claimed to see them had massive contradictions in their recollections after signing the witness statement. As I mentioned above, please give the Dan Vogel YouTube series on the witnesses a watch if you want a detailed history of the witness accounts along with incredibly detailed sourcing.
These "Now You Know" videos all follow the same pattern that began with Saints. That is to address a problem without actually saying what the evidence is behind the problem, cover it with fluffy language, and then tell members that everything is OK.
But even in this 4 minute video, you can see the problems it opens up with the First Vision, the idea of gold plates, the problem with the translation of the Book of Mormon, and even the witnesses.
And every time you research one of these problems, you can see the patterns that tie them together. As we mentioned above, the timeline of the First Vision is a deeply problematic one, because if it happened in 1824 as the history would suggest, then Joseph Smith's claimed vision from Moroni could not have happened. It's the same issue with the polygamy revelation and the priesthood restoration - so much of the church's history was retrofitted as the ideas evolved, and once you start to see the pattern, the unmistakable conclusion becomes clear.
Put another way: Why would the gold plates be so sacred that no one else could even see them that was not close to Joseph Smith? We could all see the Book of Abraham papyri, we can all see ancient scrolls for books of the Bible, but we can't see the evidence of an ancient civilization that wrote in a language never known? It just doesn't pass the smell test, and when you look at the evidence, it becomes simply impossible. We can see that by looking at the timeline of events, the history of the Americas, migration patterns, DNA studies, and a textual analysis of the Book of Mormon itself.
One of the patterns I have encountered since researching church history is that every time an apologists explains away a problem, their reasoning opens up ten more issues. In this case, there is no common sense reason that Joseph Smith would use a rock in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon with the same method he used to never find anything while a treasure digger. It's not as if he had a track record of success and realized it would be easier - the idea that this was out of "convenience" papers right over all of the effort, lives lost, and importance of the actual gold plates.
I think this image from the Now You Know video sums up exactly what I'm getting at. They show Joseph Smith sitting at a table with the gold plates just as the church's history has done in order to continue the idea that Joseph Smith actually used the plates in translation. Yet in the seer stone video that was released last June they admit that Joseph Smith used a rock in a hat to translate it, as you can see below.
Why in the world would the church release a video in June 2019 that clarifies that Joseph Smith actually used a rock in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon just to contradict it 10 months later? The reason is actually quite simple: The gold plates simply do not make sense if Joseph Smith never actually used them. Put aside for a second all of the manuals, missionary discussions, and artwork depicting Joseph Smith using the gold plates for a second and just think about what purpose the gold plates have if Joseph Smith could just do it with a rock in a hat?
Of course the apologetic argument is that the gold plates served as a witness of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. But if that is the case, why would only a few close friends and family members of Joseph Smith be allowed to see them? Why not a few skeptical people in the town? A local newspaper? The reason is quite obvious when you look at all of the evidence, and the reason that the church still works so hard to make the gold plates relevant, even if it contradicts a video that just released ten months ago.
If you've read this far, I hope you will take some time to read a few more resources that relate to this issue. They are not fun to read as a believing member, but no matter how much we want something to be true, if it can not stand up to scrutiny it is not worth our time, identity, and obedience.
As we mentioned above, there are a lot of sources to get into much more detail on the gold plates and Book of Mormon translation:
Our annotated Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Mormon translation - we cover in much more detail the translation process, including how Joseph Smith obtained the plates and what he did with them
Dan Vogel's video on Joseph Smith bringing the gold plates home
John Hamer's Mormon Stories episodes where he discussed how the Book of Mormon was produced
Mormon Think's article about Joseph Smith running wit the gold plates
We've mentioned on many other posts how difficult it is to take in this new information, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey.