There’s a terrible video out there that attempts to explain a faithful perspective of the Kinderhook plates. Incredibly, there are problems with almost every sentence.
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.
Of course, it’s possible that there’s “nothing to see here” with regard to the Kinderhook plates. Maybe Joseph never really claimed to “translate a portion” of the plates after all. (This would mean that multiple accounts that state otherwise would have to be wrong. Of course, this isn’t very likely; but it’s possible.) Or maybe Joseph was just “speaking as a man” (not a prophet) when he said that the Kinderhook plates were the record of a “descendant of Ham…” and that he was being honest and he actually thought he saw similar characters in Hebrew or Egyptian, and really thought that he knew what they meant (but didn’t).
But something like this is by far the most likely scenario: admiring followers and interested observers came to Joseph Smith with some ancient-looking, metal plates with awesome writing on them and ask him to interpret them. Joseph then put on a show by comparing his fake Egyptian dictionary18 to the metal plates and then he simply made something up or tried to make it look legit by finding a character that looked similar and then using it to come up with a partial “translation” for his doting audience. Any other explanation requires a lot of strange and highly unlikely scenarios or disregard of the facts.
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 really important information (like William Clayton’s quote). 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 creators of thought of their trick doesn’t matter. Those around the Mormon prophet were clearly under the impression that Joseph believed he was handling ancient artifacts and that he produced a partial “translation”. Those facts stand 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)
- A non-Mormon eyewitness wrote what he saw in an article found in the New York Herald, May 30, 1843: “…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…” (fairmormon.org — cited on 10/29/2018)
- Parley P. Pratt wrote: “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” (lds.org)
- History of the Church Vol. 5, Chapter 19, Pg. 372
- 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)
- Apologists are left with little choice here. William Clayton’s statement is so damning that they have to throw doubt on it (or leave it out of their accounts altogether). I’ve written quite a bit about this topic here.
- Robert Wiley was another of the people who made the plates.
- Joseph only got a hold of them because another person (who borrowed them) then took them to Joseph without Fugate’s permission.
- Fugate didn’t mention anything about exposing Joseph’s fraud to the world, instead he said that their goal was to prove a Mormon prophecy that “truth is yet to spring out of the earth” by way of a joke. This makes it sound like they just wanted to have something to laugh at with their friends and family. We can only guess at the real reason why they didn’t make the plates available to Joseph Smith, but the point is that it seems their goal was never to give them to Joseph.
- 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: “…Joseph’s translation [might not have been] a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts [might have] provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They [might have] 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).
- At least that’s what the official LDS Essay on Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham says, but it’s not true. Joseph claimed to be an expert with languages many times through out his life. There are accounts like this one where he tries to convince people of his linguistic prowess: “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.)” (Larson, Charles M. By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: a New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri. Inst For Religious, 1992.) Of course, he only ever demonstrated a few phrases, the Egyptian was made up, and the Chaldean is actually Hebrew, but the point is that he fooled people into thinking he was an expert in languages. I couldn’t do that. Could you?
- There are records that Joseph studied Hebrew throughout his lifetime, but his understanding of the language was pretty low.
- The History of the Church mentions, that “I [Joseph] 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.,–a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.” Interpretations of “the writings of Joseph of Egypt” come from Oliver Cowdery. His notes were published in the Mormon Church’s Messenger and Advocate. He said that it was “…beautifully written on papyrus with black, and a small part red ink, or paint, in perfect preservation.”. He described a few pictographs along with their interpretations: “The representation of the god-head—three, yet in one, is curiously drawn to give simply, though impressively, the writers views of that exalted personage” also “The serpent, represented as walking, or formed in a manner to be able to walk, standing in front of and near a female figure” finally: “Enoch’s Pillar, as mentioned by Josephus, is upon the same roll …Enoch wrote a history or an account of the same, and put into two pillars one of brick and the other of stone; and that the same were in being at his (Josephus’) day.” These descriptions make it an almost certainty that Oliver was referring to this papyrus that’s found in the Joseph Smith Papers archive. This article has a fairly good summary of the Book of Joseph.
- “In the summer of 1835, an entrepreneur named Michael Chandler arrived at Church headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio, with four mummies and multiple scrolls of papyrus… A group of Latter-day Saints in Kirtland purchased the… artifacts for the Church.” (lds.org)
- Joseph and his scribes wrote a little bit during the same summer that the scrolls were purchased (1835) but didn’t complete and publish anything until the spring of 1842. (lds.org)
- Kind of in the same way that it’s possible that the earth is flat, I guess.
- It’s impossible for me to call it anything else. Joseph’s GAEL contains real Egyptian characters alongside made-up pronunciations and translations. Apologists shrug their shoulders when it comes to the GAEL. I don’t have a problem calling it fraudulent.