THE GOLD PLATES
Are They Real or Imaginary?
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith
Not everyone has the gift of faith. Faith enables the believer to know and experience things not accessible to the unbeliever. The opposite of faith is unbelief which may present as scepticism. Scepticism can be a healthy attitude towards new situations and information. But if it is the only instrument through which new information is judged it is unlikely that truth will be recognised when it is encountered. In the realm of the spiritual, no less than in other fields, scepticism demands rational, non-metaphysical, explanations of the unfamiliar whether in the material or spiritual realms. Some will only believe that for which physical proof is available.
Joseph Smith has been criticised because he did not produce the gold plates to all who wished to see them. Some have concluded that he did not show them because he did not have any gold plates, presuming that the story was a post-publication invention. Is the gold plates story a fabrication composed to account for the sudden appearance of the Book of Mormon, or was it concurrent with the announcement that the ancient volume was in course of production? There is evidence that the gold plate story was widely known as early as the autumn of 1827. It is paradoxical that a man who became an influential enemy of Mormonism should provide persuasive testimony to the Gold Plate story.
When I was a student in Brookville, in the fall of 1827, the Brookville Enquirer was laid upon my table, when my eyes fell upon a paragraph, credited to some Eastern paper, of the finding of a book of metallic plates, called the "Golden Bible." It was found by a young man by the name of Joe Smith.
The testimony of former governor of Utah who was both antagonistic to the Mormon cause and the author of much of the defamation Brigham Young and the Saints, and their avowed enemy in the Territory of Utah until his removal from office in 1863 due to sexual and administrative misconduct establishes the date of the gold plate story to be exactly as Joseph Smith claimed. Having been responsible for untrue and malicious reports which prompted United States President Buchanan to send an army to quell the "Mormon uprising," Harding had no interest in proving the foundations of Mormonism. Therefore, his statement which supports the Church's claim must be regarded as reliable.
But it is not to Harding alone that we look to establish the chronological intervention of the "gold plates story." Other con¬temporary accounts are available which establish that a gold plate origin of the Book of Mormon was claimed long before the book was pub¬lished as Joseph Smith's asserted.
At length the time arrived for obtaining the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the Breastplate. On the twenty-second day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me.
His version of events is corroborated in newspaper reports, some of which were published as early as 1829, of which the following are representative.
The Gold Bible, by Joseph Smith, Junior, author and Proprietor, is now in press and will shortly appear. Priestcraft is short-lived.
The Book of Mormon is expected to be ready for delivery in the course of one year. Great and marvellous things will 'come to pass' about these days.
The New Jerusalem states that the building of the temple of Nephi is to be commenced about the beginning of the first year of the millennium. Thousands are already flocking to the standard of Joseph the Prophet. The Book of Mormon is expected to astonish the natives.
THE GOLDEN BIBLE
The Palmyra Freeman says - The greatest piece of superstition that has come within our knowledge now occupies the attention of a few individuals of this quarter. It is generally known and spoken of as the "Golden Bible." Its proselytes give the following account of it.
In the fall of 1827, a person by the name of Joseph Smith, of Manchester, Ontario county, reported that he had been visited in a dream by the spirit of the Almighty and informed that in a certain hill in that town was deposited this golden Bible, containing an ancient record of a divine nature and origin. After having thus been thrice visited, as he states, he proceeded to the spot, and after penetrating "mother earth" a short distance the bible was found, together with a huge pair of spectacles. He had been directed, however, not to let any mortal examine them, "under no less penalty than instant death." They were therefore, nicely wrapped up and excluded from the "vulgar gaze of poor wicked mortals." It was said that the leaves of the Bible were plates of gold, about eight inches long and six inches wide, and one eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved characters of hyrogliphics. By placing the spectacles in a hat, and looking into it, Smith could (he said so at least) interpret these characters.
An account of this discovery was soon circulated. The subject was almost invariably treated as it should have been-with contempt. A few, however, believed the "golden" story, among them Martin Harris, an honest and industrious farmer of this town (Palmyra). So blindly enthusiastic was Harris, that he took some of the characters interpreted by Smith and went in search of some one, besides the interpreter, who was learned enough to English them; but all of whom he applied (among the number was Professor Mitchell of New York) happened not to be possessed of sufficient knowledge to give satisfaction! Harris returned and set Smith to work at interpreting the Bible. He has at length performed the task, and the work is soon to be put to press in Palmyra. Its language and doctrine are said to be far superior to those of the book of life.
Whilst expressing the cynicism common to reports of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the report nevertheless affirms the main details of the widely known story of the gold plates having contained an "ancient record of a divine nature." It confirms autumn of 1827 as the time the plates were delivered to Joseph Smith. Another article appeared in another Rochester paper less than a week later which, whilst showing a remarkable degree of literary dependency on the former, confirms the date of the reception of the plates, and all other significant details.
A GOLDEN BIBLE
A man by the name of Martin Harris was in this village a few days since endeavoring to make a contract for printing a large quantity of work called the Golden bible. He gave something like the following account of it.
In the autumn of 1827, a man named Joseph Smith of Manchester, in Ontario County, said that he had been visited by the spirit of the Almighty in a dream, and informed that in a certain hill in that town was deposited a Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of divine origin. He states that after the third visit from the same spirit in a dream he proceeded to the spot, removed the earth, and there found the Bible, together with a large pair of spectacles. He had also been directed to let no mortal see them under the penalty of immediate death, which injunction he steadfastly adhered to. The treasure consisted of a number of gold plates, about eight inches long, six wide, and one-eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved hieroglyphics. By placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it, Smith interprets the characters into the English language.
Harris states that he went in search of someone to interpret the hieroglyphics, but found that no one was intended to perform the all-important task but Smith himself. Smith has interpreted the whole, and it is now in press in Palmyra, Wayne County. The subject attracted a good deal of notice among a certain class and as it will be ere long before the public, we shall endeavor to meet it with the comment it may deserve.
The Painesville Telegraph confirmed that the deliverance of the gold plates had been widely reported "two or three years since," which marks the period between autumn 1827 and spring 1828.
The Golden Bible - Some two or three years since, an account was given in the papers, of a book purporting to contain new revelations from Heaven, having been dug out of the ground, in Manchester in Ontario County, New York. The book, it seems, has made its appearance in this vicinity. It contains about 500 octovo [sic] pages, which is said to be translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics, on metal plates, by one Smith, who was enabled to read the characters by instructions from angels.
An unlikely source of confirmation is Howe's Mormonism Unvailed which contains an affidavit of Willard Chase.
In the forepart of September (I believe) 1827, the Prophet requested me to make him a chest, informing that he designed to move back to Pennsylvania and expecting soon to get his gold book, he wanted a chest to lock it up.
The Reverend Clark, who lived in Palmyra in 1827, testifies that Martin Harris told him about Joseph getting the plates at that time.
It was early in the autumn of 1827 that Martin Harris called at my house in Palmyra, one morning about sunrise. His whole appearance indicated more than unusual excitement, and he has scarcely passed the threshold of my dwelling before he inquired whether he could see me alone, remarking that he had a matter to communicate that he wished to be strictly confidential.
He said he verily believed an important epoch had arrived-that a great flood of light was about to burst upon the world, and that the scene of divine manifestation was to be immediately around us. In explanation of what he meant, he then proceeded to remark that a Golden Bible had recently been dug from the earth, where it had been deposited for thousands of years, and that this would be found to contain such disclosures as would settle all religious controversies and speedily bring on the glorious millenium.
The Methodist Episcopal Church commissioned a book on the Latter Day Saint Church in 1842. This book also confirms the entry of the gold plate story into history
In the year 1827 it began to be rumoured that a "Golden Bible," or, in other words, a new revelation, recorded upon pages of gold, had been found in Ontario County, New York, by one Joseph Smith.
The foregoing provide testimony to Joseph Smith's claim that he received the plates in September 1827, and satisfy the demands of evidence that allegations that the gold plate story was an invention dated after the publication of the book are false.