Originally published on 12/3/2018 (updated on 8/9/2020)
There’s an interesting video out there that does a good job of quickly summarizing the most recent apologetic arguments surrounding the Kinderhook Plates.
Watch the video, then read my response. Please let me know what you think!
Below is the full transcription of the audio along with my comments.
[transcription]: “In May 1843, six engraved, bell-shaped, brass plates were brought to Nauvoo by people wanting to see if Joseph Smith would translate them.”
*There’s more to the story…
Until the early 1980s, the Mormon Church touted the Kinderhook Plates as authentic evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. This is from an article written in 1962:
A recent rediscovery of one of the Kinderhook Plates which was examined by Joseph Smith, Jun., reaffirms his prophetic calling and reveals the false statements made by one of the finders.
…Joseph Smith, Jun., pronounced them genuine and translated a part of them.
…This much remains. Joseph Smith, Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook Plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well.
The “false statements” that this article refers to turned out to be accurate. They are found in a letter written by Wilbur Fugate, one of the tricksters, thirty-six years later1. In this letter2, he says that he and a few others chemically etched the plates, hid them, and then pretended to find them again in the presence of two Mormons.
Because the official LDS position (until 1981) was that the Kinderhook Plates were authentic, they had to also argue that Fugate was lying. But now that we know that the plates were faked, we also know that Fugate was telling the truth, so the LDS Church has had to completely reverse its position.
[transcription]: “Decades later, however, one of the men involved in digging up what are now known as the Kinderhook Plates, confessed that they were a forgery, perpetrated with the intent of fooling Joseph Smith. Modern scientific testing confirms that they were created using 19th Century methods.”
*There’s more to the story…
With this “modern scientific testing”, the world suddenly knew (137 years later) that the Kinderhook Plates were faked. The fact that Joseph Smith claimed to know how to translate fake plates made the Mormon founder look a lot like a charlatan. So, the LDS Church released a new apologetic article, reversing their previous position by claiming, Joseph never made a translation and was never even very interested in the plates at all:
Joseph Smith did not make the hoped-for translation. In fact, no evidence exists that he manifested any further interest in the plates after early examination of them, although some members of the Church hoped that they would prove to be significant. But the plates never did.
So, when they thought that the plates were real, “Joseph pronounced them genuine and translated a part of them”, but when they realized that the plates were faked, Joseph “…did not make the hoped-for translation” but only made “…early examination of them”.
Today, Mormon apologists have changed their opinion yet again, acknowledging that Joseph did make a translation, but arguing that that fact doesn’t cast a shadow on his character or his ability to translate ancient documents as a whole. That’s the position that this video takes — even though they don’t overtly acknowledge any type of translation except to say that Joseph gave the plates “due consideration”.
[transcription]: “So, did Joseph fall for the hoax? Not quite. He briefly gave these artifacts due consideration but…”
*Ignoring major facts…
They’re omitting the most important part of the story. The “due consideration” they’re talking about is found in this quote from William Clayton, who was Joseph’s scribe:
I have seen 6 brass plates which were found in Adams County by some persons who were digging in a mound They found a skeleton about 6 feet from the surface of the earth which was 9 foot high [tracing of plate] The plates were on the breast of the skeleton. This diagram shows the size of the plates being drawn on the edge of one of them. They are covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found & he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven & earth.
This quote is the foundational problem with the Kinderhook Plates. I’m not sure how the makers of this video could have possibly left it out in good faith.
Apologists used to argue that that statement might not be accurate3 since it wasn’t written by Joseph Smith, but by his scribe, William Clayton. However, that theory is really weak, so most avoid it today4.
For one thing, there was another eye witness who was not Mormon:
…the plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hieroglyphics. They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared, in my presence, with his Egyptian Alphabet…
And Parley P. Pratt was probably another eye witness since this quote from him gives us new information:
Six plates having the appearance of Brass have lately been dug out of a mound by a gentleman in Pike Co. Illinois. They are small and filled with engravings in Egyptian language and contain the genealogy of one of the ancient Jaredites back to Ham the son of Noah. His bones were found in the same vase (made of Cement). Part of the bones were 15 ft. underground.
Joseph’s supposed translation became big news. It was published in the Mormon periodical of the day (Times and Seasons). Newspapers of neighboring towns also carried the story6. It was even found in the New York Herald7. It’s difficult to imagine that if these statements were false, Joseph would allow them to propagate without any correction.
Quite the opposite of being corrected, Clayton’s quote was included in the official History of the Church (where it is still found today8). Not only that but each time that Clayton’s statement was used, it was even modified to Joseph’s voice saying, “I have translated a portion of them…”.
This causes a problem for believers because they only have one bad option left to consider. In other words, this was their original claim:
- Original Claim:
Joseph never made a translation.There’s overwhelming evidence that Joseph made a translation, so apologists have all but abandoned this claim.
So, the only faithful option left is:
- Joseph messed up, but who cares? In other words: Joseph didn’t claim to translate the Kinderhook Plates by the gift and power of God, so he just made a mistake. And Joseph might not have really been fooled since he didn’t really make a big deal about it. So, why should we care?
This video avoids mentioning specifics of what this claim involves, but I address it in detail below.
[transcription]: “…but ultimately did not try to acquire them, retain them…”
What they’re saying here, is that since Joseph didn’t end up with the plates he must not have even tried to acquire them. And if he didn’t try to acquire them he must not have seen much value in them. And if he didn’t see much value in them, he might have seen through the ruse.
But we don’t know whether or not Joseph tried to acquire the plates. In fact, Fugate said that they didn’t want Joseph to keep them:
The Mormons wanted to take the plates to Joe Smith, but we refused to let them go. Some time afterward a man assuming the name of Savage, of Quincy, borrowed the plates of Wiley to show to his literary friends there, and took them to Joe Smith. The same identical plates were returned to Wiley9, who gave them to Professor McDowell, of St. Louis, for his Museum.
So, maybe the plates weren’t even available to Joseph for purchase. Maybe Fugate and Wiley took them from Joseph so that he couldn’t have a closer look.
It’s also possible (and probably more likely) that the tricksters wanted Joseph to dig himself even deeper but balked when Joseph asked to authenticate the plates:
We understood Jo Smith said [the plates] would make a book of 1200 pages but he would not agree to translate them until they were sent to the Antiquarian society at Philadelphia, France, and England
The fact that the Kinderhook Plates ended up in a Museum and not with Joseph, doesn’t mean that the Mormon prophet never tried to acquire them. It certainly doesn’t mean that he didn’t value them — especially when you consider all the evidence together.
Aside: …A Book of 1200 Pages…
Critics call attention to this quote and point out that Joseph was so fooled that he claimed he could translate a 1200 page book from the plates. Apologists use the same quote to argue the opposite: that Joseph wasn’t fooled because he wouldn’t translate further until he had the plates authenticated11.
Personally, I think it’s strange for apologists to say that Joseph wasn’t fooled when he told the world what he thought about the authenticity of the Kinderhook plates, and he never backed away from that statement.
It’s also inconsistent for them to infer that Joseph was questioning the authenticity of the plates by saying he wanted them to be authenticated. When they make this argument, they are forgetting that Joseph also sought documents to authenticate both the Golden Plates12 and his interpretations of the Egyptian papyri13. He did this to garner support from expert and impartial parties14, not because he questioned the source’s authenticity.
Aside: Strange Behavior from the Tricksters
Why would Fugate and the others want to keep their trick from Joseph? Seems a little strange, doesn’t it?
They take the time to create a trap for the Mormons but then refuse to let the Mormons take the bait. And once the Mormon prophet has a chance to examine them (and make a fool of himself in the process), they promptly take them away, stick them in a museum and stay quiet about it for 36 years.
Maybe they figured their trick would work better if they were reluctant to show it to the Mormons. Or maybe they figured that Joseph would uncover their ruse if he had a lot of time to examine them. Or maybe they took them away when Joseph asked if he could authenticate them. Or maybe, they were interested making a buck off their “artifact”15. Any of those scenarios is infinitely more likely than the conclusion that this video jumps to.
But then, why not announce to the world that you just exposed the Mormon prophet?
We don’t know for sure, but the way Fugate describes their plan, it’s possible that they never intended to expose the Mormon prophet as a fraud but instead, just wanted to have a laugh16. I think it’s more likely that they wanted to expose Joseph, but their plan didn’t go as planned when Joseph said that he would only translate after the plates were sent to the “Antiquarian” societies.
And why did they wait 36 years to come out and announce that they had fooled the Mormon prophet? Isn’t this proof that Joseph never really fell for it?
Strangely, this is one of the most common arguments I hear from believing Mormons. It’s misdirection, in my opinion, because it dodges the point. We know what Joseph thought about the Kinderhook Plates because lots of people recorded his opinion. The Mormon Church kept the hype going about the Kinderhook Plates for quite some time in the Times and Seasons.
[transcription]: “…or find them of any value.”
Joseph said that an artifact was found in a Midwestern American Farm belonging to a Native American king who was a descendant of an Egyptian Pharaoh. I think that would be an earth shattering find! And yet, the makers of this video are saying that Joseph didn’t “find them of any value”.
I doubt they really believe that statement.
It’s also important to remember that Joseph behaved in a similar way with the Egyptian papyri (that he claimed was the source for the Book of Abraham). He didn’t “translate” them immediately. Instead, it took him seven years to produce the Book of Abraham. Also, he never produced a complete translation for what he called the Book of Joseph17. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Joseph didn’t find any value in the papyri.
Finally, it makes sense that Joseph wouldn’t prioritize another “translation” at this turbulent time for his religion. This was about a year before his murder. He was in and out of prison and faced almost constant outside threats.
[transcription]: “When the plates were first brought to Joseph, rather than utilize any revelatory tools, such as prayer or a seer stone…”
*Ignoring major facts…
An obvious question might be, Why does it matter what method Joseph used to translate the Kinderhook Plates? Either way, he was fooled. So, he was either faking it or he was diluted enough to believe that he could translate.
The response implied by this video is that Joseph didn’t fake it, and he wasn’t diluted. He was just confused. To them it simply means that Joseph himself didn’t fully understand how his gift to translate worked.
Let’s unpack this argument:
First, it depends upon Joseph making an honest mistake and actually believing that he could translate the Kinderhook characters (even though the characters had no meaning — there was nothing to translate). This is highly unlikely because while his education in Hebrew18 was scant19, he definitely had enough to convince him that he was not qualified to actually translate Hebrew20.
Also, as the video mentions later, Joseph compared the Kinderhook characters to his Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL). This creates big problems because the GAEL itself is one of three things:
- Revealed by God to Joseph: Most apologists avoid this conclusion because the GAEL contains nonsensical words and sounds that are nothing like real Egyptian.
- An attempt by Joseph’s scribes to reverse engineer an Egyptian-to-English dictionary: This theory was first proposed by Hugh Nibley. It is still supported by apologists Gee and Muhlestein, but it has since been discredited by other apologists21. It doesn’t make sense that Joseph would trust a document coming from completely unqualified people22.
- A fabrication by Joseph created to make it look like he was translating Egyptian: Of course, this would destroy any claims that the Book of Abraham comes from a divine source.
There are no good options for believers when the GAEL is brought into the picture, but option #2 is the least bad (even though it requires a serious stretch in reason and doesn’t fit with historical evidence). (Please read more about the GAEL below.)
Here’s another point to consider: Would apologists have conceded that Joseph was fooled if he had claimed to receive the “descendant of Ham” info from God? Of course not. Apologists could simply claim that the Kinderhook Plates were a catalyst for his true revelation just as they now say the Egyptian papyri might have been a catalyst for the Book of Abraham23.
Either way, apologists would find a way to make it work for them. That’s fine. That’s what apologists do (draw conclusions first and then gather the best evidence to support those conclusion — no matter how far-fetched). It’s our job to determine if we believe those arguments24.
[transcription]: “…Joseph sent for his Hebrew Bible and lexicon.”
*Ignoring major facts…
Of course, if Joseph had any skill to translate Hebrew, he would have immediately recognized that the Kinderhook Plates contained no Hebrew. But the question isn’t, Did Joseph know how to translate Hebrew? (He didn’t.) The real question is, Did Joseph believe there was Hebrew on the plates and did he believe that he could translate it?
If Joseph really believed he knew how to translate, then he made a mistake (that’s the kindest way to put it).
If Joseph knew that couldn’t translate, then he was lying.
It’s unlikely that Joseph really thought he saw Hebrew on the Kinderhook Plates. As I mentioned previously, Joseph’s Hebrew education lasted only seven weeks. While this undoubtedly influenced his future philosophies, I think that such a short education would be more likely to convince a person that he was definitely not up-to-the-task of actually translating Hebrew.
So, I think that Joseph was lying.
[transcription]: “An eyewitness remembered him comparing the characters on the plates with his Egyptian alphabet and other said they were being compared to Joseph’s Egyptian papyri.”
*Ignoring major facts…
Since they bring up Joseph’s “Egyptian alphabet” (the GAEL, in other words), I though it would be important to give a little more background into these documents. (Personally, I don’t think it’s honest for the makers of this video to refer to the GAEL in a way that implies that it strengthens their position at all.)
The GAEL is a critical point in apologetics for the Book of Abraham. It’s quite possibly the single biggest problem for literal believers in the BofA because it contains Egyptian characters, as found on Joseph’s papyri, next to nonsensical pronunciations, and translations. It also contains made-up characters in places where the papyrus has worn away. Joseph’s scribes recorded that he and others worked for months on the “translation” of the Egyptian papyri (that he claimed to be the source of the Book of Abraham). These documents appear to be the result of that work. If so, they would appear to be definitive evidence that Joseph was not actually translating Egyptian characters (as he said he was).
Some apologists (mainly Gee and Muhlestein) argue that the GAEL wasn’t used to produce the BofA but that it was an attempt to reverse engineer an Egyptian-to-English dictionary. They argue that Joseph’s scribes acted independent of the prophet, comparing the BofA text with the characters on the papyri25. Aside from the fact that this doesn’t make logical sense26, and that the dates don’t match up27, it also creates problems for the Kinderhook Plates, since one account mentions Joseph comparing the GAEL to the Kinderhook Plates to get his translation.
If the GAEL is just an uninspired attempt to reverse-engineer a dictionary, then there would be no reason for Joseph to have any confidence to use it to translate the Kinderhook Plates. And if the GAEL were part of Joseph’s inspired translation of the BofA, then one must explain why God would reveal ridiculous “translations” and pronunciations to His prophet28.
It’s partly because of the GAEL, that the LDS Church now officially concedes that the Egyptian scrolls might have nothing to do with Abraham:
Alternatively, Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham. … According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.
Since most Mormons are not aware of the serious issues surrounding the GAEL, I don’t think it’s very honest of the makers of this video to passively refer to it as if its existence supports a faithful position.
Aside: Possible Inspiration for Joseph’s Interpretation
Apologists have recently identified entries in the GAEL that might have influenced Joseph in his interpretation of the Kinderhook Plates. You can find a summary here. Also, here’s an interesting infographic summarizing the theory:
The implication is that this is proof of Joseph’s sincerity: that he honestly trusted the GAEL but made a very understandable, sincere mistake.
Of course, this discussion ignores the biggest issue: the fact that Joseph used the GAEL at all29.
But let’s assume for a minute that there’s no inherent problem with Joseph referring to the GAEL, and that the characters identified are the ones that Joseph was looking at when he made his famed interpretation30. That presumption does nothing to indicate that Joseph was being sincere. In fact, if Joseph were just trying to deceive people, it’s likely that he would do something like pick up the GAEL as a prop, and start comparing characters. And if he found some characters that were even vaguely similar, it’s quite possible that he would claim authoritatively that he was actually translating even though he knew he had no ability to translate.
Apologists make a big deal about this find, but it does nothing to prove that Joseph was being sincere. More importantly, it completely dodges the fact that Joseph was referring to the GAEL which is either a fraud itself, or deeply problematic for Book of Abraham apologetics.
[transcription]: “In other words, Joseph took preliminary steps toward an ordinary translation by comparing the squiggles on these plates to other ancient writings he was familiar with.”
*Ignoring major facts…
But Joseph had no ability to translate anything in an ordinary fashion. The Mormon Church itself has said that “Joseph Smith claimed no expertise in any language”31.
But of course this video doesn’t dispute that. Rather, they suggest that, while Joseph’s translation was wrong, he sincerely believed he was correct.
One more problem with that stance is that Joseph did claim to be expert in many languages. In fact, he had a history of exaggerating in this regard:
Were I a Chaldean, I would exclaim, Keed’nauh to-me-roon lehoam elauhayauh dey – ahemayana veh aur’hau lau gnaubadoo, yabadoo ma-ar’gnau comeen tehoat sheamyauh allah (Thus shall ye say unto them: The gods that have not made the heaven and the earth, they shall perish from the earth, and from these heavens.)
An Egyptian, Su-e-eh-ni (What other persons are those?)
A Grecian, Diabolos basileuei (The Devil reigns.)
A Frenchman, Messieurs sans Dieu (Gentlemen without God.)
The “Chaldean” in this quote is actually Hebrew but the “Egyptian” was completely made up. Since no one in America knew what Egyptian sounded like, he was free to make any sounds he wanted to. Of this event Mormon author, Richard Bushman, said that Joseph continued in seventeen languages to imply that he was fluent in all of them. Bushman wrote, “The bragging is so exaggerated and so comical, one wonders what lay behind it”.33
I’ve read some believers claim that Joseph probably never said the quote above, but here’s another, similar-sounding article in Times and Seasons:
Were I an Egyptian, I would exclaim Jah-oh-eh, Enish-go-on-dosh, Flo-ees-Flos-is-is; (O the earth! the power of attraction, and the moon passing between her and the sun.)
Joseph is clearly pretending to know Egyptian in this article. The only other option I can see is that God somehow revealed these strange words to Joseph and told him that they were Egyptian. (If you believe that, please let me know. I’d like to understand your reasoning.)
So, since Joseph had a history of being deceptive about his knowledge of languages, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if he was doing the same with the Kinderhook Plates.
[transcription]: “This apparently produced no findings of any significance.”
It’s worth repeating: imagine if someone had actually found an artifact in a Midwestern American Farm belonging to a Native American king who was a descendant of an Egyptian Pharaoh. I think pretty much anyone would agree that such an artifact would be quite significant.
[transcription]: “If he ever sought out a revelatory translation he evidently never received or claimed to have received one.”
Same comment as before. They’re essentially conceding that Joseph might have made a translation (without actually mentioning it directly) but that it doesn’t matter since he used non-revelatory methods. This assumes that Joseph believed he could actually translate using non-revelatory methods even though it’s unlikely he could have gained this confidence from his minimal education in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. It also assumes that Joseph believed that the document he used to translate (the GAEL) contained accurate translations.
[transcription]: “Despite all the anticipation for a full translation, nothing ever came.”
*Ignoring major facts…
It’s not accurate or fair to say that “nothing ever came” and then conveniently leave out a whole lot of history (especially William Clayton’s quote).
[transcription]: “The historical evidence suggests that Joseph Smith ultimately did not fall for the hoax.”
*Ignoring major facts…
It isn’t good that they claim historical evidence is on their side and then obscure the most important historical evidence.
[transcription]: “He never tried to purchase the plates, hire scribes, and go into translation mode as he did with the ancient Egyptian papyri or the Book of Mormon plates…”
This is misdirection.
We don’t know whether or not Joseph tried to “purchase the plates”. And he didn’t “hire scribes”, or go into full “translation mode” with the Book of Joseph either, yet he gave every indication that he could translate it to.
Joseph told us what he thought about the Kinderhook Plates and he never contradicted that opinion. He definitely never suggested that he thought they were a hoax. For 137 years, the LDS Church proclaimed that Joseph’s opinion of the Kinderhook Plates was that he “pronounced them genuine and translated a part of them”34. Now, they paint the opposite picture.
[transcription]: “…and now you know why.”
I love this ending. It’s said with such confidence — that they’ve resolved all issues with the Kinderhook Plates in under 2 minutes. Simple as that!
Of course, it’s possible that there’s “nothing to see here” with regard to the Kinderhook Plates. Maybe Joseph never made any type of translation, even though William Clayton and at least one other person said they saw him do it. And maybe Joseph just never thought it was important to correct the news that was going abroad among the twelve apostles, and newspapers, and recorded in the official History of the Church.
Or maybe Joseph did fall for the trick, but wasn’t trying to deceive anyone. Maybe he sincerely believed that he had enough “ordinary” knowledge of ancient languages that he could actually interpret the characters that were carved into the Kinderhook Plates (even though his short education in ancient languages was more likely to convince him that he wasn’t an expert). Maybe he actually believed that the interpretations and pronunciations he consulted in the GAEL were correct even though that theory is contradicted by BofA apologetics. Maybe he was being sincere, even though he had a history of being deceptive about his knowledge of languages.
But something like this is by far the most likely scenario: Fugate et al. make the plates in order to poke fun at the Mormons. They never planned on fooling the Mormon prophet (he was more likely to see through their ruse) but one of the people who borrowed the plates took them to Joseph anyway. Joseph put on a show by comparing his fake Egyptian “dictionary” to the metal plates and then simply made something up or tried to make it look legit by finding a character that looked similar and then use it to come up with a partial “translation” for his doting audience. The tricksters were shocked but ambivalent about what to do next. Joseph said that he wanted to translate the entire tome but that he first wanted to get experts to agree with his assessment of authenticity. That effectively ended the trick. For reasons that we can only guess at, they then decide not to share their secret for 30 years.
That explanation fits all of the evidence and is by far the most likely that I’ve heard. The problem is that it means that Joseph Smith was willfully deceiving people into thinking he could translate when he couldn’t.
I don’t blame anyone for finding their way to a faithful explanation of the Kinderhook Plates (or anything else for that matter). Faith is up to every individual. However, I do have an issue when the creators of apologetic stuff, like this video, leave out critical information. Whether intentional or not, that makes it look like they’re hiding something.
Frankly, I think it’s dishonest.
- Some apologists use the fact that Fugate’s letter came thirty-six later to support their arguments. I guess they’re saying that if Fugate, Wiley, and Whitton believed that they fooled Joseph, they would have published their trick immediately. But even if that were so, what the tricksters thought of their trick doesn’t matter. The fact remains that Joseph Smith claimed that the fake plates were authentic and then produced a “translation” (see below). That fact that he was fooled stands apart from the creator’s opinions.
- Here’s an excerpt: “Mr. Cobb: I received your letter in regard to those plates, and will say in answer that they are a HUMBUG, gotten up by Robert Wiley, Bridge Whitton and myself. …We read in Pratt’s prophecy that ‘Truth is yet to spring out of the earth.’ We concluded to prove the prophecy by way of a joke.” (Wilbur Fugate Improvement Era)
- As far as I can tell, Mormon apologists now concede that Joseph made the “translation”, but they used to make arguments like this one: “…Clayton did not quote Joseph directly—he only reported what he thought was happening. Whether Joseph actually told Clayton that he had translated the plates, or whether Clayton was simply reporting what he heard from a variety of sources, is not clear.”. (<a href="source) The LDS official response from 1981 echoes this theory. Of course this argument ignores the fact that William Clayton was assigned to be Joseph’s scribe. As such, he recorded Joseph’s words and actions. It also ignores the fact that others recorded the same event, that it was published in a number of newspapers, and recorded in the official History of the Church.
- Mormon apologists also frequently use the “Joseph didn’t actually write that” tactic to discard disturbing information. The biggest problem with this argument is that he did very little writing himself — scribes did almost all of it for him. This is from a Deseret News article: “…capable men served as [Joseph’s] personal scribes, assistants and secretaries until at the time of his death, he had amassed an entire office staff. In his collection of 10 journals alone, which consist of 1,500 pages, a mere 35 — or 2 percent — are in the Prophet’s own handwriting.” (Deseret News) Apologists use this information selectively. They call into question anything that bothers them (because Joseph didn’t write it) but they don’t apply the same skepticism to information that happens to confirm their beliefs, even though it’s written by the same scribes.
- The entire article can be found here. (Thanks to /u/AmbitiousSet5 for finding it.) This apologetic article discusses this quote a bit.
- The editor of a nearby paper wrote: “…The plates above alluded to were exhibited in this city last week, and are now, we understand, in Nauvoo, subject to the inspection of the Mormon Prophet. The public curiosity is greatly excited; and if Smith can decipher the hieroglyphics on the plates, he will do more towards throwing light on the early history of this continent than any man now living.” (History of the Church Vol. 5, Chapter 19, Pg. 378)
- See the quote above.
- History of the Church Vol. 5, Chapter 19, Pg. 372
- Robert Wiley was another of the people who made the plates.
- I can’t find any content of this letter besides this excerpt. While it would be safer and more thorough to read the “1200 pages” quote in context, I’ll assume that the letter exists (or existed) and that the meaning is self-evident.
- For an example, This article uses the fact that Joseph wouldn’t translate until the plates were authenticated to mean that, “Joseph did not dedicate much time to them”. It’s certainly true that it doesn’t look like Joseph spent much time with the plates — but the implication that he wasn’t fooled is another matter. The article later says, “This may suggest that Joseph was either skeptical about the authenticity of the Kinderhook plates or he simply did not have the time to deal with them, but regardless of the reason, he did not make their translation a priority.” Of course, this argument neglects to consider that a translation of the Book of Joseph was never produced, and it took seven years for Joseph to produce the Book of Abraham. Also, this was a tenuous time for the Mormon Church (one year before the prophet’s murder). Producing new scripture was likely superseded by existential threats.
- Joseph had “Caractors” from the Golden Plates sent to Dr. Charles Anthon for authentication. See Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History 1:64-65
- Joseph obtained this note of authentication from Michael Chandler, the man who sold the artifacts to the Mormon Church: “This is to make known to all who may be desirous, concerning the knowledge of Mr. Joseph Smith, jr, in deciphering the ancient Egyptian hierogliphic characters, in my possession, which I have, in many eminent cities, shown to the most learned: And, from the information that I could ever learn, or meet with, I find that of Mr. Joseph Smith, jr. to correspond in the most minute matters.” Certificate from Michael Chandler, 6 July 1835,” p. , The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed May 20, 2019, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/certificate-from-michael-chandler-6-july-1835/1
- Of course, Michael Chandler was neither an expert in Egyptology nor impartial (since he sold the artifacts to Joseph).
- This article on churchofjesuschrist.org says that Willey “was interested in selling the plates to ‘the National Institute,’”
- Fugate didn’t mention anything about exposing Joseph’s fraud to the world, instead he said that their goal was to confirm the Mormon prophecy that “‘truth is yet to spring out of the earth’ … by way of a joke”.
- The Book of Joseph is absolutely fascinating. I can’t believe I’d never heard of it when I was a Mormon since it’s referenced in History of the Church: “I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.”. (HotC 2:236) Oliver Cowdery recorded the Prophet’s interpretations in the Church periodical, Messenger and Advocate. This blog post does a pretty good job summarizing it. The Book of Joseph is a huge problem because it doesn’t jive with their “long scroll” theory. It is usually ignored by apologists today.
- Of course, there was no Hebrew on the Kinderhook Plates. But the reason, Joseph’s confidence to translate Hebrew is important, is that he reportedly used his “Hebrew lexicon” to examine the Kinderhook Plates. We need to determine how likely it is that Joseph actually believed he could translate Hebrew. Or conversely: how likely it is that Joseph faked it all.
- Here’s an interesting article about Joshua Seixas, their Hebrew teacher: Dialogue — A Journal of Mormon Thought
- Mormon scholar, Brian Hauglid, said in this presentation that Joseph soon stopped his efforts in the GAEL after learning how languages and translation really work. (It should be mentioned that, while Brian is a believing Mormon and has led many important efforts with the JSP project and has authored many faith-centered books on the topic, his recent opinions have diverted from the mainstream apologists. He has even called the “scholarship” of fellow apologists Gee and Muhlestein “abhorrent”.)
- Here’s Brian Hauglid‘s take on the topic.
- Why would Joseph’s scribes have the confidence to reverse engineer such a document without knowing where to begin on the papyri and no basis for a real understanding of how Egyptian worked? Why would they add pronunciations for Egyptian characters if they were just trying to match the BofA text with hieroglyphics? Why would they completely invent characters in places where the papyrus has worn away? And why would Joseph have confidence in such a document?
- The Mormon Church has proposed what is referred to as a “catalyst” theory to explain how the Book of Abraham came to be. Since experts agree that nothing in Joseph’s papyri contain anything about Abraham, and since his Egyptian “translations” are nonsense, they’ve come up with this explanation: “Alternatively, Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham. … According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.” (Official LDS Essay).
- I think it’s important to remember that apologetics, by definition, starts with a conclusion, and then seeks for evidence to support that conclusion. This is a non-scientific approach that will allow you to come to any conclusion that you want. (The mere fact that you can put together an argument that Bigfoot exists, that we never landed on the moon, and that the earth is flat, doesn’t mean that those claims are correct.).
- There’s no justification for this claim except for the fact that it fits with their faithful conclusions. As I mentioned previously, Hauglid, discredits this theory in this presentation.
- Why would Joseph’s scribes have the confidence to reverse engineer such a document without knowing where to begin on the papyri and no basis for a real understanding of how Egyptian worked? Why would they add pronunciations for Egyptian characters if they were just trying to match the BofA text with hieroglyphics? Why would they completely invent characters in places where the papyri had worn away?
- Hauglid agrees that the GAEL predates the BofA text.
- I’ve actually heard some believers go there. They’ve told me that they believe it’s possible that God revealed the Book of Abraham to Joseph through silly words like Zub zool—oan and convinced him that they were actual Egyptian words.
- Remember that if Joseph believed that the GAEL was inspired by God, we must explain why God would deceive him into thinking that incorrect translations, and pronunciations, and made-up characters were actual Egyptian translations. On the other hand, if Joseph believed that the GAEL was an uninspired and uneducated attempt by Joseph’s scribes to reverse-engineer an Egyptian to English dictionary, then it’s a real stretch to believe that Joseph would trust it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
- That’s a very shaky assumption in my opinion. A total of 16 characters listed in the GAEL are associated with “Ham”, God, King, or Pharaoh:
- “Kah ton num: a lineage with whom a record of the fathers was intrusted by tradition of Ham”
- “Ho-e-oop A prince of the royal blood a true desendant from Ham”
- “Ah lish The first Being— supreme intillegence;”
- “Zaol: Sign[i]fying the lineage that lawfully hold the keys of the Kingdom of God by promise.”
- “Beth, The place appointed of God ”
- “Alkebeth, ministers of God”
- “Bethku= …appointed of God”
- “Ahme=as= God without begining or end”
- “Ha e oop hah— honor by birth, kingly power by the line of Pharoah.”
- “Phah ho e oop. Royal blood or pharoah”
- “Zaol: Sign[i]fying the lineage that lawfully hold the keys of the Kingdom of God by promise.”
- “Phah=eh. Kingly or first king”
- “Ho=e-oop=hah: a king”
- “Alkebeth, ministers of God, high priests, kings”
- “Jah=ho=e=oop; An ambassador: one delgated with Kingly power”
- “Ho e oop— A prince of the line of the Pharoahs”
And if you use about as much imagination as apologists are using, you can find just about every character in the GAEL multiple times in the Kinderhook Plates. To determine this for myself, I took three characters from the GAEL that have similar meanings to Joseph’s “translation” of the Kinderhook Plates. I then tried to find similar characters on the plates themselves. (I gave myself a lot of creative license because, in my opinion, so do the apologists when they claim to have matched characters.) Here’s the result.
- See LDS official essay on Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.
- The original document can be found here in the JS Papers Project.
- “Thickets.” Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Lyman. Bushman and Jed Woodworth, Vintage Books, 2007, pp. 484–484.
- Improvement Era