Mormonism and Wikipedia/Golden plates/Significance

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An analysis of claims made in the Wikipedia article "Golden plates" - Significance

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

An analysis of claims made in the Wikipedia article "Golden plates" - Significance


 Updated 9/21/2011

Section review

The significance of the golden plates in the Latter Day Saint tradition

Response to claim: "the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith, Jr. called the "most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion"

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

The golden plates are significant within the Latter Day Saint movement because they are the reputed source for the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith, Jr. called the "most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion."

Author's sources:
  1. Roberts (1908) , p. 461.

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: Why did Joseph Smith say that the Book of Mormon was the "most correct book"?

Joseph Smith: "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth"

In the History of the Church, the following entry is recorded as having been made by Joseph Smith on November 28, 1841.[1]

Sunday, 28.--I spent the day in the council with the Twelve Apostles at the house of President Young, conversing with them upon a variety of subjects. Brother Joseph Fielding was present, having been absent four years on a mission to England. I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.

Critics of the Church assert that the phrase "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth" means that the Prophet Joseph Smith was declaring the Book of Mormon to be without error of any kind. Since each edition of the printed Book of Mormon since 1829 (including editions published during the life of Joseph Smith) has included changes of wording, spelling, or punctuation, critics declare Joseph Smith's statement to have been demonstrably false, thus proving that he was a false prophet.

Joseph Smith referred to the Book of Mormon as the "most correct book" because of the principles it teaches

When Joseph Smith referred to the Book of Mormon as the "most correct book" on earth, he was referring to the principles that it teaches, not the accuracy of its textual structure. Critics of the Book of Mormon have mistakenly interpreted "correct" to be synonymous with "perfect," and therefore expect the Book of Mormon to be without any errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, clarity of phrasing, and other such ways.

But when Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon was the "most correct of any book," he was referring to more than just wording, a fact made clear by the remainder of his statement: He said "a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." When read in context, the Prophet's statement refers to the correctness of the principles it teaches. The Book of Mormon is the "most correct of any book" in that it contains the fulness of the gospel and presents it in a manner that is "plain and precious" (1 Nephi 13:35,40).


Response to claim: "the golden plates are just one of many known and reputed metal plates with significance in the Latter Day Saint movement"

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

However, the golden plates are just one of many known and reputed metal plates with significance in the Latter Day Saint movement. The Book of Mormon itself refers to a long tradition of writing historical records on plates, of which the golden plates are a culmination. See List of plates (Latter Day Saint movement). In addition, Joseph Smith once believed in the authenticity of a set of engraved metal plates called the Kinderhook Plates,

Author's sources:
  1. Bushman (2005) , p. 490;Brodie (1971) , p. 291: "The whole of Nauvoo soon buzzed with the discovery. The Times and Seasons published full reproductions as further proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and the printing office sold facsimiles at one dollar a dozen." The original source is William Clayton's Journal, May 1, 1843 (See also, Trials of Discipleship — The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon, 117): "I have seen 6 brass plates... 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 and 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 and earth." The information was deemed important enough to be republished in the first person (as if Smith had said it) in the History of The Church: "I insert facsimiles of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook...I have translated a portion of them, and find 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 and earth." More than six pages of History of the Church, 5:372-79 discuss the Kinderhook plates, and Smith directed Reuben Hedlock to make woodcuts of the plates. Palmer (2002) , p. 31 "Church historians continued to insist on the authenticity of the Kinderhook plates until 1980 when an examination conducted by the Chicago Historical Society, possessor of one plate, proved it was a nineteenth-century creation." Bushman (2005) , p. 490

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

 Violates Wikipedia: Undue weight off-site— Neutrality requires that the article should fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by a reliable source, and should do so in proportion to the prominence of each....articles should not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more widely held views; generally, the views of tiny minorities should not be included at all.

The importance of "many known and reputed metal plates" is given undue weight in the article. In reality, most Latter-day Saints are not familiar with the Kinderhook plates, which have never occupied a position of any significance within Latter-day Saint thought. Other plates mentioned in the Book of Mormon are simply elements of the narrative, and do not hold any special "significance" in the Latter-day Saint "movement." None of the other plates mention even approach the importance and significance of those used in the production of the Book of Mormon.

 Violates Wikipedia: No Original Research off-site— Do not use unpublished facts, arguments, speculation, and ideas; and any unpublished analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position.
Violated by Visorstuff —Diff: off-site

The phrase "The information was deemed important enough..." is original research, and it leads the reader to conclude that there was something particularly special about the Kinderhook plates that it would be "republished in the first person." This is incorrect. Everything in History of the Church was written in the first person, as if Joseph himself had written it. This was according to the standards of documentation of the time.


Question: Why is History of the Church written in first-person, as if Joseph Smith himself wrote it?

The common nineteenth-century format of writing was chosen by Joseph Smith, who directed his clerks to write a first person

Jessee described the differences between historical writing as practiced by a modern writer, and those practices in place in Joseph Smith's day:

Since none of the manuscript of the history is in Joseph Smith’s handwriting, and apparently not much of the text was actually dictated by him, why did those employed on the work write in first person, as though the Prophet himself were writing? That common nineteenth-century format was chosen by Joseph Smith, who directed his clerks to write a first person, daily narrative based upon diaries kept by himself and his clerks. In addition, since Joseph Smith’s diary did not provide an unbroken narrative of his life, the compilers of the history were to bridge gaps by using other sources (diaries, Church periodicals, minute and record books of Church and civic organizations, letters and documents kept on file, and news of current world happenings), changing indirect discourse to direct as if Joseph Smith had done the writing himself. Not uncommon according to the editorial practices of the day, this method of supplying missing detail had the effect of providing a smooth-flowing, connected narrative of events.

Many examples from other works of the period show that this was the historical standard of the time. Nineteenth-century American methods of historical writing and editing were very different from those of today. In 1837, for example, Jared Sparks—regarded as “the first great compiler of national records”—edited in twelve volumes the Writings of George Washington. When his work was later compared with original manuscripts, it was found that he had rewritten portions of letters, deleted or altered offensive passages, and changed irregularities in style and awkward modes of expression.

In his review of historical editing in the United States, Lyman E. Butterfield has noted that changing text and creating text faithful to the ideas of the writer were not uncommon in early years, and that seldom were original texts left to speak for themselves. [2] The History of the Church was written in the general literary and historical climate of its time.

New Testament parallels

Dean Jessee noted that this 19th century approach to historiography matches more ancient practices, such as those used by some Biblical authors:

New Testament writers apparently used a similar method in writing the Gospels. One Bible commentary records that Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark (Interpreter’s Bible, 7:235–36) and omitted or altered what seemed to be critical of the Apostles. For example, Mark records that James and John came to the Savior and asked that he give them whatsoever they desired; whereupon, the Savior heard their plea that each might sit by his side when he came in glory. (Mark 10:35–37.) When Matthew recorded the event, he said that it was the mother of James and John who desired this privilege for her sons (Matt. 20:20–21.) This difference in recording the circumstances, presumably to place the Apostles in a better light, does not destroy the credibility of the Savior’s mission, nor may we believe that there was dishonesty in making the change.

Challenges with direct citation

Jessee cautions:

One of the challenges facing those who compiled the history was that of presenting the Prophet’s sermons and teachings. Since none of Joseph’s clerks had mastered shorthand during his lifetime, reports of what he said were made longhand. Many of these were smooth-flowing, well-connected summaries and were copied into the history almost as recorded. In some instances, however, it was necessary to reconstruct an address from brief notes and disconnected ideas. George A. Smith’s editorial work was careful, and when he was finished, each discourse was read to members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, some of whom had also heard the original address. Their input proved invaluable. These measures no doubt guaranteed the doctrinal accuracy of such reporting of Joseph Smith’s discourses, but the result obviously would not reflect his personality and speaking style as accurately as a verbatim report would have done.

An analysis of the History reveals those portions obtained from material written personally by Joseph Smith. These clearly reflect his loving and warm spirit. For example, the following is an entry from the History stemming from a portion of Joseph Smith’s 1835 diary written by himself:

“September 23. I was at home writing blessings for my most beloved brethren, but was hindered by a multitude of visitors. The Lord has blessed our souls this day, and may God grant to continue His mercies unto my house this night, for Christ’s sake. This day my soul has desired the salvation of Brother Ezra Thayer. Also Brother Noah Packard came to my house and loaned the committee one thousand dollars to assist building the house of the Lord. Oh! may God bless him a hundred fold, even of the things of the earth, for this righteous act. My heart is full of desire today, to be blessed of the God of Abraham with prosperity, until I shall be able to pay all my debts, for it is the delight of my soul to be honest. O Lord, that thou knowest right well. Help me, and I will give to the poor.” [3]


Question: What are the Kinderhook Plates?

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

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. Volume 5 link

A set of small plates, engraved with characters of ancient appearance, were purported to have been unearthed in Kinderhook, Illinois, in April 1843. The so-called "Kinderhook plates" have been something of an enigma within the Mormon community since they first appeared. While there are faithful LDS who take a number of different positions on the topic of these artifacts, most have concluded that they were fakes.

Joseph Smith appears to have had the plates in his possession for about five days.

Joseph Smith's personal secretary, William Clayton said,

President Joseph has translated a portion [of the Kinderhook plates], and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found; and he was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom through the ruler of heaven and earth.

The Kinderhook plates were fakes, thus bringing into question any claim of "inspiration" that Joseph used to translate them and by extension any other revelations he received.

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)

However, 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). (The GAEL was composed in Kirtland about the time of the translation of the Book of Abraham.) Joseph found one of the most prominent characters on the plates to match a character on the second page of characters in the GAEL. Both were boat shaped. The GAEL interpretation of this boat-shaped character included everything that William Clayton said Joseph said.

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.


Response to claim: "these plates turned out to be a hoax by non-Mormons who sought to entice Smith to translate them"

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

although these plates turned out to be a hoax by non-Mormons who sought to entice Smith to translate them in order to discredit his reputation.

Author's sources:
  1. Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 489-90.

FairMormon Response

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


Response to claim: "Two other sets of alleged plates, the Voree Plates and the Book of the Law of the Lord, were purportedly translated by James J. Strang"

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

Two other sets of alleged plates, the Voree Plates and the Book of the Law of the Lord, were purportedly translated by James Strang, one of three major contenders to succeed Joseph Smith and the eventual leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite).

Author's sources:
  1. The Voree Plates were alleged to have been written by an ancient inhabitant of what is now Burlington, Wisconsin, while the Book of the Law of the Lord was alleged by Strang to be a translation of the Plates of Laban mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Neither of these alleged discoveries by Strang is accepted as authentic outside of the Strangite community.

FairMormon Response

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

Question: Who was James Strang?

Photo of James J. Strang, 1856, taken just before his death by one of those who plotted his murder.

James Strang claimed that Joseph wrote a letter appointing him as president of the Church after Joseph's death

James Jesse Strang was a Latter-day Saint leader in Nauvoo who established a breakaway Mormon sect after the murder of Joseph Smith, Jr.

After Joseph Smith was murdered, there were several claimants to his role as leader and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see Succession in the Presidency of the Church). One of these was James Strang, a recent convert to the church. Several prominent families, including many members of Joseph's family accepted Strang's claims, which were based on a letter which Strang said Joseph had written appointing him as President of the church should Joseph Smith be killed.

Strang's group is formally called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (no hyphen, different capitalization) but Strang's church and his followers are commonly called "Strangites."

Strang and his associates settled for several years on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, where he was pronounced king. Strang, who was an almost pathological overachiever, was also a lawyer, land developer, news correspondent for the New York Tribune, and a scientist for the Smithsonian Institution.

Strang was killed in 1856 by some of his disaffected followers at Beaver Island. Following his death his movement started to disband. Today there are less than 500 Strangite members, living mostly in Michigan and Wisconsin.


Response to claim: "Some Latter Day Saints, especially those within the Community of Christ, have doubted the historicity of the golden plates"

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

Some Latter Day Saints, especially those within the Community of Christ, have doubted the historicity of the golden plates and downplayed their significance.

Author's sources:
  1. W. Grant McMurray, "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 (referring to "long-standing questions about [the Book of Mormon's] historicity" which has provoked "discussion in the 1970s and beyond" about the proper use of the book in the religion); Ostling (1999) , p. 259: "'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. The blunt questioner quoted is Brigham D. Madsen, a liberal Mormon and onetime history teacher at Brigham Young University."

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: "For most Latter Day Saints, however, the physical existence and authenticity of the golden plates are essential elements of their faith"

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

For most Latter Day Saints, however, the physical existence and authenticity of the golden plates are essential elements of their faith. For them, the message of the Book of Mormon is inseparable from the story of its origins.

Author's sources:
  1. Givens (2003) , p. 37.

FairMormon Response

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


References

Wikipedia references for "Golden Plates"

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Sites we recommend:


  1. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:461. Volume 4 link
  2. L. H. Butterfield and Julian Boyd, Historical Editing in the United States (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1963), 19, 24–25.
  3. History of the Church, 2:281. Volume 2 link