Moroni’s Stone Box, Protecting the Golden Plates

image above:  A general view, facing south, of the west side of the Palmyra hill, near the summit. This is the general area where Moroni buried the plates. Large flat-faced rocks, like those shown in the foreground, are common on the hill.

Two geologists published this on the topic in the Interpreter:  The Geology of Moroni’s Box:  the Setting and Resources of Palmyra.  

They discuss the stones available in the region around Joseph’s home.  They also identified the needed components of cement that was used to hold the stones together for 1400 years.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Abstract: The story of Joseph Smith retrieving gold plates from a stone box on a hillside in upstate New York and translating them into the foundational text of the Restoration is well known among Latter-day Saints. While countless retellings have examined these events in considerable detail, very few have explored the geological aspects involved in this story. In particular, none have discussed in detail the geological materials that would have been required by the Nephite prophet Moroni ca. ad 421 to construct a sealed container able to protect the gold plates from the elements and from premature discovery for some fourteen centuries. This paper reports the outcomes from a field investigation into what resources would have been available to Moroni in the Palmyra area. It was conducted by the authors in New York state in October 2017.

Two significant hills near the Smith farm:

Note the many drumlins in Upstate NY and their north-to-south orientations:

In the Palmyra area, most of the drumlins consist of a mix of stratified or layered gravels and sands. However, near the Palmyra hill is one today named Miners Hill, which is an exception: it is predominately formed of clay — something that might well have played an important role in the making of Moroni’s stone box.

Joseph described the box:

Joseph Smith described the box and its location: “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. …

The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them.”

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Oliver Cowdery’s description:

Oliver goes on to describe the relative dimensions of the box, including the fact that it “was sufficiently large to admit a breast-plate, such as was used by the ancients to defend the chest, etc. from the arrows and weapons of their enemy.

From the bottom of the box, or from the breast-plate, arose three small pillars composed of the same description of cement used on the edges; and upon these three pillars was placed the record of the children of Joseph.” For the purposes of this study, however, our focus will remain on the nature of the construction materials: stones and cement.

This image below demonstrates what the box may have looked like and uses Oliver’s account to describe the box:

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The Book of Mormon shares that the Nephites knew how to use cement:

became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell … And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. (Helaman 3:7, 11)

Moroni thus grew up within a culture in which making cement using the abundant limestone of the region was already a common skill or technology.

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Interesting note about clay, a required ingredient in cement:

As clay is almost unknown in the Palmyra area, the clay that Moroni needed was the most challenging ingredient for us to locate.  As noted earlier, however, some 3 km (~2 miles) due north of the Palmyra hill is a smaller drumlin called Miner’s Hill.

Perhaps uniquely in the area, this hill consists almost entirely of fine clay. According to the current land [Page 248]owner, who allowed the New York Highway Department to mine it, it is the only location in the area that serves as a source of clay.

Additional details of the box and location on the hill in this article:  Hill Cumorah.

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What ever happened to the box?

Two surviving accounts are our sources for this likely outcome. The first was General Authority (First Council of the Seventy) Edward Stevenson (d. 1897) who published an account in 1893 about interviewing an “old man” living near the hill:

Questioning him closely he stated that he had seen some good-sized flat stones that had rolled down and lay near the bottom of the hill. This had occurred after the contents of the box had been removed and these stones were doubtless the ones that formerly composed the box. I felt a strong desire to see these ancient relics and told him I would be much pleased to have him inform me where they were to be found. He stated that they had long since been taken away.

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The other is a report in which David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, had stated:

Three times [David Whitmer] has been at the Hill Cumorah and seen the casket that contained the tablets and seerstone.  Eventually the casket has been washed down to the foot of the hill, but it was to be seen when he last visited the historic place.

Read more about David’s account here.

Read this Primary lesson that details the many ways the plates were hidden — decayed part of a tree, in a knapsack, under a fireplace, in a shed, in a barrel of beans — after getting into Joseph’s possession.

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The Maxwell Institute looked at a related topic in 2004:  Cumorah’s Cave.

Kinderhook Plates

Very short summary of the topic:

 

From the Ensign in 1981:  Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to be a Hoax. 

From BYU STUDIES:  Did Joseph Smith Translate the Kinderhook Plates?

Image of front and back of four of the six Kinderhook plates are shown in these facsimiles (rough copies of even earlier published facsimiles), which appeared in 1909 in History of the Church, 5:374–375.

The Kinderhook Plates are a forged set of metal plates that were given to Joseph Smith to translate.

Joseph Smith “translated” a portion of those plates, not by claiming inspiration, but by comparing characters on the plates to those on his “Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language” (GAEL).

 

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Corroborating this is a letter in the New York Herald for May 30th, 1843, from someone who signed as “A Gentile.” Research shows “A Gentile” to be a friendly non-Mormon then living in Nauvoo:

The plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hieroglyphics. They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared them, in my presence, with his Egyptian Alphabet…and they are evidently the same characters. He therefore will be able to decipher them.

We know that Joseph was interested in languages. He studied Greek, Hebrew, and German in a secular manner. Therefore, we can easily believe that he attempted to translate the Kinderhook plates without assuming prophetic powers, which powers consequently remain credible.

Brian Hales responds to claims presented in the most-recent anti-Mormon tract, the CES Letter.

 

2011 FAIR Conference Presentation by Don Bradley. In this presentation Bradley discusses the Kinderhook Plates and sheds new light on understanding what Joseph Smith meant when he supposedly said to have “translated” a portion of the bogus plates.

Book of Mormon Witnesses: 3, 8, and others

From the fun-loving, light-hearted 3 Mormons:

To debunk common comparisons with Bigfoot (nobody has

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Critics frequently compare LDS witnesses to those who claim to see the virgin Mary (or Bigfoot or still others).  Similar?  Nope.

Do 3 people see Mary or Bigfoot simultaneously?  Hear Mary’s voice together?  Videotape Bigfoot in daylight hours? See a table full of Catholic relics, shown to the 3 one by one? Then hear God command them to testify?

No.  From my experience, Bigfoot and Mary witnesses are similar: no lasting evidence.  And testimonies almost always wilt under cross-examination or sustained questioning.

Ditto for the testimony of 8 witnesses.  Did any recent Mary sitings include 8 people holding some of the same Mary objects also seen by the 3?

If Catholics recorded and for the rest of their lives testified of such a scenario it would be much easier to believe in Mary visitations.

Testimony of the 3 Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery

David Whitmer

Martin Harris

 

Testimony of the 8 Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer

Jacob Whitmer

Peter Whitmer, Jun.

John Whitmer

Hiram Page

Joseph Smith, Sen.

Hyrum Smith

Samuel H. Smith

Brett McDonald at LDS Truth Claims YouTube channel created these videos relative to the witnesses.  Brett has done his homework.

Brian Hales debunks the anti-Mormon claims against the Book of Mormon witnesses.

Part II:

Did the witnesses leave the church?  Yes.  Deny their testimony?  No.

 

Book of Mormon Historicity: Evidence from Archaeology, Flora, Fauna, and other Sources

The Historicity of the Book of Mormon

Elder Oaks presented this above-linked paper in 1993 at a FARMs conference and had it published again in 2001.

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Opening key points:

The issue of the historicity of the Book of Mormon highlights the difference between those who rely solely on scholarship and those who rely on revelation, faith, and scholarship.

Those who rely solely on scholarship reject revelation and focus on a limited number of issues. But they can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon through their secular evidence and methods.

On the other hand, those who rely on a combination of revelation, faith, and scholarship can see and understand all of the complex issues of the Book of Mormon record, and it is only through that combination that the question of the historicity of the Book of Mormon can be answered.

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Closing summary:

In this message I have offered some thoughts on matters relating to the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

1. On this subject, as on so many others involving our faith and theology, it is important to rely on faith and revelation as well as scholarship.

2. I am convinced that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

3. Those who deny the historicity of the Book of Mormon have the difficult task of trying to prove a negative. They also have the awkward duty of explaining how they can dismiss the Book of Mormon as a fable while still praising some of its contents.

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4. We know from the Bible that Jesus taught His apostles that in the important matter of His own identity and mission they were “blessed” for relying on the witness of revelation (“the things that be of God”), and it is offensive to Him for them to act upon worldly values and reasoning (“the things . . . that be of men”) (Matt. 16:23).

5. Those scholars who rely on faith and revelation as well as scholarship, and who assume the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, must endure ridicule from those who disdain these things of God.

6. I have also illustrated that not all scholars disdain the value of religious belief and the legitimacy of the supernatural when applied to theological truth. Some even criticize the “intellectual provincialism” of those who apply the methods of historical criticism to the Book of Mormon.

I testify of Jesus Christ, whom we serve, whose Church this is. I invoke his blessings upon you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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Elder Oaks references this essay by world-famous LDS author Orson Scott Card:  The Book of Mormon – Artifact or Artifice?

OSC’s final paragraph:

“Joseph Smith didn’t write the Book of Mormon, though he did translate it, so that his voice is present when we read, including the flaws in his language and understanding.

Those who wrote the original were also fallible human beings who will reveal their culture and their assumptions just as surely as the writers of I Love Lucy did.

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But unlike the writers of that TV show, the prophets wrote and translated under the direction of the Lord, out of love for us. It’s well worth finding out who these men were, the culture from which they wrote, how it’s different from ours, and how it’s also very much the same.”

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By William Hamblin:  Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon
Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon.

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Before getting into the specific evidences, please consider Brant Gardner presentation as it discusses Mormon as editor of the Book of Mormon.  He didn’t simply abridge or chop the volume down from lots to less.  Mormon was active, intentional, and selective in his process.  He was completing his duty as a national scribe.

Brant shares evidence of Mormon having an outline of his work in advance, before he completed the abridging process at age 57 near the Hill Shim.  He got the full collection of plates around the 367th year at age 56.   He chronicled for 22 years on the large plates of Nephi.

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For 13 years Mormon read and digested the collection of plates, preparing an outline or draft.  He wrote the Book by at least 379 (58 years old) and completed writing in 385.  He died between AD  385 and 391, by which time Moroni is writing.

Chapter Head notes:  synoptic headnotes for Helaman and 3 Nephi.  Mormon wrote them prior to their chapters.

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Most head notes are in the beginning of named books.  1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and Jacob had head notes.  Appear at every book Mormon edited, but Mosiah.  The lost 116 pages included at least the first chapter of Mosiah, which book now lacks a head note.  Mormon didn’t edit Mormon, Ether, or Moroni — 3 books which lack headnotes.

Mormon had a clear plan in advance and wrote a summary in advance.  He wrote his own text (Mormon), as he progressed and approached his death.

Brant also points out that books change names, only as changes occur in political lines.  That is, when Mormon sees a newly seeded ruler.

Please also consider this presentation on Book of Mormon “hits.”

Historicity is defined as the historical actuality of persons and events, meaning the quality of being part of history as opposed to being a historical myth, legend, or fiction.

Critics have long cried out that this or that animal and plant — mentioned in the Book of Mormon — was never in the Americas.  Critics claim Joseph’s creative mind made it all up .  We disagree and will describe the evidence in support of Book of Mormon historicity.

Or that a certain plant or animal was introduced after Columbus, but not before.  Over time, more and more evidence has accumulated in favor of the Book of Mormon account.

If Joseph had created the book out of thin air, how did he possibly get more than a few things right?

As an uneducated farm boy how did he even create a coherent narrative with 100s of internally consistent correspondences that actually match much — not just 1-2 things — in Mesoamerica?

Martin Tanner at KSL in Salt Lake City is a good place to start.  Martin discusses the archaeological challenges  associated with the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  He spends most of this podcast discussing Mesoamerica and Book of Mormon evidences.

Matt Roper discusses previous claims — once considered “howlers” or slam dunks against the Book of Mormon.  Current scholarship has rejected many previous, critical claims and greatly strengthened the claims in support of the Book of Mormon.

Robert Boylan’s insight about authentic names in the Book of Mormon:

FAIR Mormon reports on Geology, Archaeology, and Mesoamerican history.

Jeff Lindsay responds here to controversy surrounding previous Book of Mormon historicity statements by the Smithsonian.

More from Jeff Lindsay on criticisms related to wheat, barley, figs, grapes, bees, chicken, turkeys, swine, oxen, horses, elephants and more.

An LDS critic interviewed famed Mesoamericanist, Dr. Michael Coe, about Book of Mormon evidence. There was more than 1 issue with that interview.

Dr. John Sorensen responded here to the Dr. Coe interview. 

Perhaps the newest evidence supporting the Book of Mormon relates to language:

Linguist Brian Stubbs discusses some of his findings of both Hebrew and Egyptian — the two languages mentioned in The Book of Mormon — in the languages of the Native Indians in his 2006 FAIR Conference address.

Another conference with Brian Stubbs in 4/2016:

Brian Stubbs and the linguistic connection at the 2016 FAIR conference:

The Nephites could have set up their first established city in the Guatamalan Highlands.

Brant Gardner, John Sorenson, and others share insight into the use of metals in the Book of Mormon:

Alternate hypothesis that fits with history in Mesoamerica.

Watch the rest of these related Book of Mormon videos here.

Wade Miller spent his career at BYU as a professor of Paleontology and Geology.   He discusses more specific (and in the past controversial) topics below:

I just ordered Dr. Miller’s book (see below):

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Nephi stated that Laban’s sword was of the “most precious steel”. That makes no sense in a 19th century context, but perfect sense in the Bronze Age.

Daggers, axes and jewelry made from rare iron during the Bronze Age are literally out of this world, according to new research finding that ancient artisans crafted these metal artifacts with iron from outer space carried to Earth by meteorites.

Horses in Pre-Columbian America:

More on horses:

Daniel Johnson in his 2010 Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum:

Coins weren’t used.  Instead, weights were.

Dr. Clark discusses the topic for the first 35 minutes of this video:

Progress from 1842 to 2005. Screenshots from Dr. Clark’s presentation above:

Matthew Roper is currently a Research Scholar at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. He received a B.A. in History and a M.A. in Sociology from Brigham Young University.

Joseph Smith gave a wide variety of opinions about the location of the Book of Mormon peoples.   You can read about his many views  here.

In 1842, for the first time, Joseph considered Mesoamerica after reading  a very popular book by John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.  

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1 OCT. 1842: ZARAHEMLA “STOOD UPON THIS LAND” OF CENTRAL AMERICA

NOTE: Page 942 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: “The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH.”

[W]e have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatimala [Guatemala], is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south.-The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land as will be seen from the following words in the book of Alma…

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It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it as Mosiah said; and a ‘large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,’ as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the, (to him,) lost and unknown.

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We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon…

It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens’ ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: light cleaves to light, and facts are supported by facts.(emphasis added)

LDS Truth Claims relative to the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica:

Did the 3 and 8 witnesses only saw plates through a pillow? Why context matters and who is William Smith (Joseph’s complex younger brother)?

A critic just posted a wildly out-of-context and false statement in an online discussion.  An accusation is simple to make, but often takes much time to research and refute.  Here’s what the critic stated:

They claimed to see the plates in a visionary state. Some held them through a pillow, etc. They didn’t claim to actually physically hold them.

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Here’s my response after doing lots of looking around:

I’ll read from you link (he referenced a critical source, which I’ve seen before). Do you ever quote the 3 or 8 witnesses themselves? They didn’t change their stories. Why use other sources? Should I listen to you or go to your detractors or others to understand your side of the story?

Below is a link to quotes from William Smith (JS’s younger brother) the critics often use to claim that the Book of Mormon witnesses only saw the plates through a frock. The issue here is that it’s a fact William Smith never saw the plates. That is because he wasn’t one of the 3 or 8 witnesses. Instead, William only held the plates while they were covered in a frock — soon after Joseph brought the plates down from the hill.

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So, William wasn’t lying. He simply reported the truth: he held them covered (within a frock) during the first few months they were in Joseph’s possession in Palmyra (1827).  But he wasn’t speaking for the experience of others.  He wasn’t speaking for the 3 and 8 witnesses.
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Indeed, William’s testimony was very limited. He was not one of the 3 witnesses who saw the angel along with plates (golden and brass), Liahona, Sword of Laban, etc. in 1829. And he was not present when the Golden Plates were openly displayed for the 8 witnesses who then lifted and inspect these plates. Also in 1829.
 
So, context matters.

https://www.fairmormon.org/evidences/Category:Book_of_Mormon/Plates/Tow_frock

 

A few minutes later I posted this (after doing a quick search for “plates pillow” on FAIR Mormon):

Just found the source for your reference to the pillow. These quotes come from interviews with William Smith in the 1880s and 1890s. William never says that his father & brothers never saw the plates. Your earlier statements are factually incorrect. You and those at Mormon Think take William’s quote out of context.  Far out of context.

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Immediately after securing the plates (Sept of 1827) and entering the Smith home, father Smith put the plates (already wrapped in a frock) inside a pillow. The goal was to further hide them. They weren’t allowed to see the plates at this time. Nobody was. No debate there. This was September of 1827. The witnesses saw the plates in 1829. Two different years, Ken. Very poor scholarship on your part & for those at Mormon Think.

Referring to what occurred after the work of translation (in 1829), William says:

“He then showed the plates to my father and my brothers Hyrum and Samuel, who were witnesses to the truth of the book which was translated from them. I was permitted to lift them as they laid in a pillow-case; but not to see them, as it was contrary to the commands he had received.”

The list of 8 witnesses.  Note that William is not on the list.

  • Hiram Page.
  • Hyrum Smith.
  • Joseph Smith Sr.
  • Samuel H. Smith.
  • Christian Whitmer.
  • Jacob Whitmer.
  • John Whitmer.
  • Peter Whitmer Jr.

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Indeed, this same William whom you quote out of context, clearly reports that his father & 2 brothers were shown the plates by Joseph.

Summary: A frequent claim is that a Book of Mormon witnesses said that he only handled the plates while they were covered in a “tow frock.” However, this report is from William Smith, one of Joseph’s brothers who was not a Book of Mormon witness. In fact, William insisted in the same statement that he was convinced Joseph was not lying about the plates. William also dismissed the Spalding hypothesis as nonsense.

https://www.fairmormon.org/…/Category…/Plates/Tow_frock

Read more about William Smith here:  http://ldsmag.com/joseph-smiths-challenging-brother/

And here:  http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/person/william-b-smith

The Gold(en) Plates

The wonderful 3 Mormons:

BMC Studios and Stephen Smoot:

Richard Bushman’s 2010 Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) presentation is entitled “The Gold Plates in Mormon Culture and Thought.”

Bushman also authored the widely-read biography of Joseph Smith, “Rough Stone Rolling”.  Bushman likely knows Joseph Smith better than any other living human — from an entire career of meticulous research — and is a faithful Latter-day Saint.

Another video about metals and golden plates in MesoAmerica.  Daniel Johnson shares about metal plates in the Old and New World:

The LDS Church made a pamphlet — Gold Plates Used Anciently — in 1963.  You can read the pamphlet here.   The pamphlets shows many photographs & lists the dozens of metal plates found throughout the world.

 

Brother Read Putnam wrote this article for the Improvement Era in 1966: “Were the Golden Plates made of Tumbaga?” Read it here.