Mormonism and Wikipedia/Golden plates/Origin and historicity

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An analysis of claims made in the Wikipedia article "Golden plates" - Origin and historicity

A FairMormon Analysis of: Wikipedia article "Golden plates", a work by author: Various

An analysis of claims made in the Wikipedia article "Golden plates" - Origin and historicity

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 Updated 9/21/2011

Origin and historicity

Response to claim: Richard Bushman: "For most modern readers, the plates are beyond belief, a phantasm, yet the Mormon sources accept them as fact"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

In the words of LDS historian Richard Bushman, "For most modern readers, the [golden] plates are beyond belief, a phantasm, yet the Mormon sources accept them as fact."

Author's sources:
  1. Bushman (2005) , p. 58

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct per the cited source.


Response to claim: "Most Mormons believe in the golden plates as a matter of faith"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

Because Joseph Smith said he returned the plates to an angel after he finished translating them, their authenticity cannot be determined by physical examination. Most Mormons believe in the golden plates as a matter of faith.

Author's sources:
  1. No citation given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Most believing Mormons accept the existence of the golden plates because Joseph, the Three and the Eight witnesses said that they saw them.


The literal nature of the experiences of the Book of Mormon witnesses

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Response to claim: "Only close associates of Joseph Smith were allowed to become official witnesses to the plates; he invited no strangers, or women, to view them"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

Nevertheless, the golden plates were reportedly shown to several close associates of Joseph Smith,

Author's sources:
  1. Only close associates of Joseph Smith were allowed to become official witnesses to the plates; he invited no strangers, or women, to view them. These witnesses, first a group of three, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, and then a group of eight—five members of the Whitmer family, Joseph Smith's father, and two of his brothers, Hyrum and Samuel—all said they "saw and hefted" the plates. See Jan Shipps, "Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition," University of Illinois Press, pp. 23.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

It is interesting to note the emphasis on the closeness of the witnesses to Joseph Smith. The witnesses were allowed to be witnesses because they believed.


Question: Are the Book of Mormon witnesses unreliable because many of them were related?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of who they are related to is a ad hominem attack

It is claimed that because many of the witnesses are related, this means they are not to be trusted.

Mark Twain made fun of this very issue:

And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but "hefted" them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified. [1]

This is what is known as a "ad hominem" attack on the witnesses' character. The term "ad hominem" is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, as:

  1. appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
  2. marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.

How, exactly, does being related to someone else who is viewing the same thing that you are make one less honest or reliable? This is simply an irrelevant distraction. When you are going to show something sacred to someone, you certainly don't show it to strangers but to those with whom you are familiar and who you can trust. As such, one would not expect anyone but close acquaintances and family to be so trusted. The witnesses, incidentally, had reputations for honesty.

The witnesses would, of necessity, be those who were close to Joseph. Recall the fact that the witnesses eventually had disaffected members among them because of disagreements with Joseph Smith, yet they never denied their witness. This gives credence to their testimony over time.

Relationships among the Three and Eight Witnesses

Three of the witnesses were related to Joseph Smith:

  • Joseph Smith, Sr. [father]
  • Hyrum Smith [brother]
  • Samuel H. Smith [brother]

Five of the eleven witnesses were sons of Peter Whitmer, Sr., who had provided Joseph and Oliver a place to translate:

  • David Whitmer
  • Christian Whitmer
  • Jacob Whitmer
  • Peter Whitmer, Jr.
  • John Whitmer

Two of the witnesses married into the Whitmer family:

  • Oliver Cowdery would marry Elizabeth Ann Whitmer in 1832.[2]
  • Hiram Page married the oldest Whitmer daughter, Catherine, on 10 November 1825.[3]


Response to claim: "Mormon apologists and Mormon critics can debate indirect evidence only"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

and the Book of Mormon exists as its reputed translation. Thus, Mormon apologists and Mormon critics can debate indirect evidence only: they may ask whether the Book of Mormon narrative is consistent with science and history and whether its witnesses are credible.

Author's sources:
  1. See generally Metcalfe (1993) , which outlines the main arguments for and against Book of Mormon authenticity.

FairMormon Response

 Violates Wikipedia: Neutral Point-of-View off-site— All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Actually, Mormon apologists rely upon eyewitness testimony regarding the existence of the plates. Critics discount those statements.

The article fails to mention believing LDS scholars' correction of Metcalfe's critical view the data:


Response to claim: "Among these topics, the credibility of the plates has been, according to Bushman, a 'troublesome item'"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

Mormon scholars have formed collaborations such as Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies to provide apologetic answers to critical research about the golden plates and topics in the field of Mormon studies. Among these topics, the credibility of the plates has been, according to Bushman, a "troublesome item."

Author's sources:
  1. "The Mormon sources constantly refer to the single most troublesome item in Joseph Smith's history, the gold plates on which the Book of Mormon was said to be written. For most modern readers, the plates are beyond belief, a phantasm, yet the Mormon sources accept them as fact." Bushman . Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999) begin a chapter called "The Gold Bible" (259-277) with a question posed by liberal Mormon Brigham D. Madsen, "'Were there really gold plates and ministering angels, or was there just Joseph Smith seated at a table with his face in a hat dictating to a scribe a fictional account of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas?' Resolving that problem haunts loyal Mormons." (259)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Actually, most Latter-day Saints aren't even aware of any research in this area. Note that this is the second time Bushman's quote about the plates being "beyond belief" has been employed.

For an analysis of Richard and Joan Ostling's critical work, see A FAIR Analysis of Mormon America: The Power and the Promise.

Response to claim: "Their script, according to the book, was described as 'reformed Egyptian,' a language unknown to linguists or Egyptologists"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon itself portrays the golden plates as a historical record, engraved by two pre-Columbian prophet-historians from around the year AD 400: Mormon and his son Moroni. Mormon and Moroni, the book says, had abridged earlier historical records from other sets of metal plates. Their script, according to the book, was described as "reformed Egyptian," a language unknown to linguists or Egyptologists.

Author's sources:
  1. Smith (1830) , p. 538. Standard language references such as Daniels (Bright) ; Crystal (1997) ; and Woodard (2004) contain no reference to "reformed Egyptian". "Reformed Egyptian" is also not discussed in Robinson (2002) , although it is mentioned in Williams (1991) .

FairMormon Response

 Violates Wikipedia: Neutral Point-of-View off-site— All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.
Violated by Dougweller —Diff: off-site

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The term "reformed Egyptian" is not the name of a language—it is a reference to the fact that the Egyptian characters used has been "reformed." Yet, the wiki editors attempt to treat it as if it were supposed to be a known language, despite the fact that the Book of Mormon itself states that nobody would know of it. Therefore, it is absurd to state in the footnotes that there is no reference to "reformed Egyptian" or "Reformed Egyptian" in modern language texts. It is also no surprise that such a "language" is "unknown to linguists or Egyptologists." This is simply a transparent attempt by the wiki editors to reinforce the idea that "reformed Egyptian" could not have existed.

It should also be noted that the first sentence is incorrect—the first portion of the Book of Mormon was not abridged by either Mormon or Moroni.


The Book of Mormon and "reformed Egyptian"

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Response to claim: "Historically, Latter Day Saint movement denominations have taught that the Book of Mormon's description of the plates' origin is accurate"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

Historically, Latter Day Saint movement denominations have taught that the Book of Mormon's description of the plates' origin is accurate, and that the Book of Mormon is a translation of the plates.

Author's sources:
  1. Book of Mormon (LDS edition), Introduction (expressing the LDS view that the Book of Mormon "is a record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas", and that the book is a translation of the golden plates "into the English language".)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event


Response to claim: "The Community of Christ, however, while accepting the Book of Mormon as scripture, no longer takes an official position on the historicity of the golden plates"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

The Community of Christ, however, while accepting the Book of Mormon as scripture, no longer takes an official position on the historicity of the golden plates.

Author's sources:
  1. McMurray, W. Grant, "They "Shall Blossom as the Rose": Native Americans and the Dream of Zion," an address delivered February 17, 2001, accessed on Community of Christ website, September 1, 2006 at http://web.archive.org/web/20070817021355/http://cofchrist.org/docs/NativeAmericanConference/keynote.asp ("The proper use of the Book of Mormon as sacred scripture has been under wide discussion in the 1970s and beyond, in part because of long-standing questions about its historicity and in part because of perceived theological inadequacies, including matters of race and ethnicity."). At the 2007 Community of Christ World Conference, President Stephen M. Veazey ruled a resolution to "reaffirm the Book of Mormon as a divinely inspired record" out of order. In so doing he stated that "while the Church affirms the Book of Mormon as scripture, and makes it available for study and use in various languages, we do not attempt to mandate the degree of belief or use. This position is in keeping with our longstanding tradition that belief in the Book of Mormon is not to be used as a test of fellowship or membership in the church." Andrew M. Shields, "Official Minutes of Business Session, Wednesday March 28, 2007," in 2007 World Conference Thursday Bulletin, March 29, 2007. Community of Christ, 2007.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event


Response to claim: "B. H. Roberts, historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), entertained the notion that Joseph Smith was capable of producing the Book of Mormon himself"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

Moreover, even in the more theologically conservative LDS Church, some adherents who accept the Book of Mormon as inspired scripture do not believe it is a literal translation of a physical historical record.

Author's sources:
  1. "In the early 20th century, B. H. Roberts, historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), entertained the notion that Joseph Smith was capable of producing the Book of Mormon himself. In 1999, Richard N. Ostling, a religion journalist, wrote that within "the loyal Mormon community, there is a moderate intellectual group that believes the Book of Mormon does have ancient roots but, as part of the process of revelation properly understood, is expressed through nineteenth-century thought processes....an ancient text mediated through the mind of Joseph Smith" (Osling 1999, 264).

FairMormon Response

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.
    Violated by John Foxe —Diff: off-site

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The citation of B.H. Roberts implies that he did not believe the Book of Mormon to be a literal translation. This is incorrect. Roberts did a study of the Book of Mormon to identify how future critics of the book might approach it.


B.H. Roberts' critical evaluation of Book of Mormon difficulties

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Response to claim: "some liberal Mormons have advanced naturalistic explanations for the story of the plates"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

Non-believers and some liberal Mormons have advanced naturalistic explanations for the story of the plates. For example, it has been theorized that the plates were fashioned by Joseph Smith or one of his associates,

Author's sources:
  1. Vogel (2004) , pp. 98, 600 note 65 (suggesting the plates were made of common tin). To former Mormon Dan Vogel, "construction of such a book would have been relatively easy. There were scraps of tin available on the Smith property and elsewhere in the vicinity, and during the several hours Joseph was separated from Emma the night they went to the hill and on other occasions, he could have easily set up shop in the cave on the other side of the hill or in some corner of the forest. Using a pair of metal shears, it would have been easy to cut a number of 6 x 8 sheets....A book made of tin plates of the dimensions ( 6 x 8 x 6 inches) described by Smith would have weighed between fifty and sixty pounds, corresponding to the weight that was mentioned by eye-witness accounts."

FairMormon Response

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.
    Violated by COgden —Diff: off-site

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

We see no "liberal Mormons" quoted in this or the subsequent sections.


Response to claim: "that Joseph Smith had the ability to convince others of their existence through illusions or hypnosis"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

that Joseph Smith had the ability to convince others of their existence through illusions or hypnosis,

Author's sources:
  1. Riley (1903) , p. 211 (proposing the theory that Smith hypnotized his followers in a way that suggested to them that they had seen the plates).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event


Question: Could Joseph Smith have hypnotized the witnesses to the Book of Mormon?

The Three Witnesses had the opportunity to qualify their testimony, but all of them insisted that their vision was literal and unmistakable

It is claimed that the Book of Mormon witnesses may have been sincere in their testimony, but were actually the victims of 'hallucination' or 'hypnosis' induced in them by Joseph Smith.

The Three Witnesses had the opportunity to qualify their testimony, but all of them insisted that their vision was literal and unmistakable. In addition, they each verified the literalness of the event by stating that their physical ears heard a heavenly voice. Critics twist the historical record in their effort to eliminate the troublesome witnesses but their testimonies cannot be convincingly dismissed.

(Note: All emphasis in the following quotes has been added.)

David Whitmer—like the other witnesses—had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. Joseph Smith III remembered when David was such accused, and said:

"How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height—a little over six feet—and said, in solemn and impressive tones: 'No sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes, and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!'."[4]

Martin Harris used the same qualifying statements to describe his experience in 1829:

"In introducing us, Mr. Godfrey said, 'Brother Harris, I have brought these young men to hear your statement as to whether or not you believe the Book of Mormon to be true.' His face was turned to the wall. He turned and faced us and said, 'Now I don't believe, but I know it to be true, for with these eyes I saw the angel and with these ears (pointing to them) I heard him say it was a true and correct record of an ancient people that dwelt upon this the American continent'."[5]

Oliver Cowdery was asked, “Was your testimony based on a dream, was it the imagination of your mind, was it an illusion”? He responded with the exact same qualifying statements as the other two Witnesses:

"My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testified is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind—it was real."[6]

Only 3% of people are capable of experiencing a visual hallucination, and only 9% of the population can hallucinate a voice speaking to them while under the influence of hypnosis

Research by Ernest Hilgard at Stanford found that only 3% of people are capable of experiencing a visual hallucination, and only 9% of the population can hallucinate a voice speaking to them while under the influence of hypnosis. These statistics just further refute psychological arguments against the validity of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon.[7]



Response to claim: "the plates were mystical and should be understood in the context of Smith's historical era"

The author(s) of Wikipedia article "Golden plates" make(s) the following claim:

or that the plates were mystical and should be understood in the context of Smith's historical era, when magic was an accepted part of reality.

Author's sources:
  1. Metcalfe (1993) , p. 178.

FairMormon Response

 Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.
Violated by COgden —Diff: off-site

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The cited source does not use the words "mystical" or "magical" to describe the plates.


References

Wikipedia references for "Golden Plates"

Further reading

Articles on this subject

FairMormon's Wikipedia Article Reviews

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Martin Harris"

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Oliver Cowdery"

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "First Vision"

Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/17/2011. This article has undergone moderate improvements in its use of sources since our last review. The article still contains a substantial amount of original research based upon primary sources, with the intent to disprove the vision and highlight perceived discrepancies between vision accounts. Believing scholars are labeled "apologists" in an attempt to diminish their credibility.

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Joseph Smith"

Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/3/2011. This article has undergone substantial improvements in its use of sources since our initial review in 2009. Most of the citations are now accurately represented.

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Golden plates"

Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/21/2011. This article has undergone only minor improvements in its use of sources since our last review. The article contains a large amount of original research on the part of the wiki editors.

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Three Witnesses"

Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/28/2011. This article has been constructed in such a way as to discredit the witnesses by emphasizing any perceived contradictions in their various statements regarding their encounter with the gold plates.


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Sites we recommend:


  1. Mark Twain, Roughing It, pages 107-115
  2. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Oliver Cowdery," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 3:338.
  3. Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1997), 208.
  4. Joseph Smith III visited David Whitmer in 1884, along with a committee from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and several onlookers. According to Joseph III's memoirs, one of the non-believers there was a military officer, who suggested the possibility that Whitmer "had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance or hallucination, which had deceived him into thinking he saw" the angel and the plates. Joseph III's recollection of Whitmer's response is quoted above. See Memoirs of Joseph Smith III, cited in Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, Joseph Smith III and the Restoration (Independence, MO: 1952), pp. 311-12. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 88. ISBN 0877478465.
  5. Alma L. Jensen, attested statement, Dayton, Ohio, 1 June 1936, L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
  6. Jacob F. Gates, "Testimony of Jacob Gates," Improvement Era no. 15 (March 1912), 418–419.
  7. Hilgard, Ernest R. (1965). Hypnotic Susceptibility. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.; Stanford Profile Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.