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Golden Plates

Golden Plates is the common name used to refer to the metallic plates from which Joseph Smith, Jr said he translated The Book of Mormon.

Table of contents
1 Story of the Plates
2 Physical description of the plates
3 Witnesses of the Plates

Story of the Plates

The Book of Mormon speaks of four records engraved between the time of the Tower of Babel and A.D. 421 on metal plates. In or about the year A.D. 421, The Book of Mormon has a prophet named Moroni (Mormon's son) hiding some records on metal plates "unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed."

Smith said that on September 21, 1823 the same Moroni, then a resurrected angel, visited him and showed him the plates at a hill near his home in Palmyra, New York, USA. Moroni subsequently delivered the hidden plates to him on September 22, 1827. Smith said he had custody of the plates until he finished the translation of The Book of Mormon in 1830, upon which he returned them to the angel Moroni.

All information about the plates comes either from The Book of Mormon or from Smith and his associates who said they handled or saw the plates during that period.

Physical description of the plates

Smith and other witnesses said the plates had the appearance of gold and were sheets of metal about 6 inches wide by 8 inches high and somewhat thinner than common tin. They were bound together with three rings, and made a book about 6 inches thick. Reports from Smith and others who hefted them agree that they weighed about 60 pounds.

The actual metallic composition of the plates is neither known nor asserted, though it was common for the witnesses to say they had the appearance of gold.

In the Wentworth Letter Smith wrote:

"These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin... The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed." These plates are typically referred to as the "gold plates" or other similar phrases.

William Smith (Joseph's brother) wrote in an 1883 account:

"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. They weighed about sixty pounds according to the best of my judgment."

Despite consistent statements from the purported witnesses describing the book as above, the common perception of the plates as a monolith of pure gold has persisted. Critics have compared the 60 lb. reported weight of the plates to the 200 lb. weight of a block of pure gold measuring 6" x 8" x 6". [1]. Opponents of this criticism say it is akin to comparing a stack of aluminum foil with a block of solid steel.

Other cultures have kept records on metal plates, and those found to date have been extremely thin, so as to facilitate their being engraven into with a pointed utensil. For utilitarian reasons alone, to make it both easier and feasible, the plates would need to be thin enough to allow depressions to be made into them simply by applying pressure, rather than having to scratch and dig as thicker plates would necessitate. Michael R. Ash points to the discovery of objects made from tumbaga, a gold-copper alloy in South America. He writes that using this alloy would make the plates lighter and more rigid, as well as lighter. [1].

Witnesses of the Plates

Smith kept the plates at all times concealed at least by being wrapped in a cloth like a cloak or pillow case. Only Smith and 8 others (composed of the Joseph Smith Sr. and Peter Witmer Sr. familes) allegedly viewed and handled the plates uncovered under non-supernatural circumstances. At least four others (Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Mary "Mother" Whitmer) reported seeing the plates in supernatural or visionary experiences (see 'Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses' by Richard Lloyd Anderson).

Smith's parents, brothers and sisters, wife, and others reported seeing and handling some object approximately matching the description of the plates when Joseph Smith had them with him or lying idle in the course of transporting them or translating them. For example, Smith's wife, Emma Smith, reported lifting the "very heavy" plates while dusting. And Martin Harris, after hearing his wife and daughter tell of lifting them and that they were "about as much as [his daughter] could lift", went to the Smith house himself when Joseph was away and "while at Mr. Smith’s I hefted the plates, and I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead” (Joel Tiffany, “Mormonism—No. II,” Tiffany’s Monthly 4 (1859): 168–69. cited in William J. Hamblin, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, p.512).

Apologists assert that though most of the witnesses of the plates were at some time disaffected with Joseph Smith or the Church, none of them recanted their statements about their experience with the plates.

Critics claim that Smith's family and associates were mistaken in identifying the object they saw, lifted, and riffed through as ancient gold plates. They also point out the unstable aspects of the character of Martin Harris.

Spiritual Witnesses

Joseph Smith

Martin Harris

Oliver Cowdery

David Whitmer

Mary Whitmer

Mary Whitmer, the wife of Peter Whitmer, Sr., said she saw the angel Moroni, conversed with him, and was shown the gold plates as a comfort and testimony to her while she kept house for a large party during the translation work (Peterson, H. Donl. Moroni: Ancient Prophet, Modern Messenger. Bountiful, Utah, 1983. pp. 114, 116).


Men of Peter Whitmer Sr. family

Men of Joseph Smith


Emma Smith

Joseph Smith Sr. family

Martin Harris family