Question: Is it inconceivable that anybody could run carrying a 50 lb. set of metal plates, jumping over logs and such and be able to outrun three men?

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Question: Is it inconceivable that anybody could run carrying a 50 lb. set of metal plates, jumping over logs and such and be able to outrun three men?

The critics' claims

One anti-Mormon website claims that even at 40-60 lbs, the story of Joseph running with the plates is impossible.[1]

The critics claim:

It's inconceivable that anybody could run carrying a 50 lb. set of metal plates, jumping over logs and such and be able to outrun three men for some 1 to 2 miles that were bent on taking the plates from Joseph.

Nobody claims that Joseph "outran" the men

First, Lucy does not say that Joseph "outran" the men—in each case, a man tried to ambush him alone, and Joseph struck them and ran on. So, the key question would seem to be, "Was Joseph physically capable of incapacitating someone with a blow?" His well-known skill at wrestling and stick-pulling would suggest that he was. He does not have to outrun three men trying to trap him simultaneously.

Lucy also says that at least one of the men had traveled sixty miles the day and night before

Second, Lucy also says that at least one of the men had traveled sixty miles the day and night before. This suggests that he, at least, would not have been at his peak by the time he accosted Joseph, and probably more ill-suited to a long chase than the prophet.

Others have demonstrated such abilities

Third, this type of thing is not "inconceivable" at all:

  • God could well have blessed him beyond his own abilities. That said, Joseph was well-known for his strength and ability to do serious amounts of physical work, as well as wrestle and pull sticks—maybe he's in better physical shape than MormonThink wants to grant?
  • In a culture and time when all work is done by either human or animal muscle power, frontier farmers like the Smiths were likely in far better physical condition than most twenty-first century westerners.
  • Several people testified of the plates' weight, and they all knew Joseph Smith. None of them found the story inherently impossible. None of them challenged Joseph's tale—including his family who both knew him best and handled the plates.
  • Did you know that traditional Chinese martial artists recommend training in "hilly terrain" to build strength, and running with a rucksack containing 56 lbs for men, for a distance of at least 5 miles? (They emphasize that farmlife made such things doable anciently.)
  • During World War II, a Canadian infantry sergeant carried his friend on his shoulders for half a mile, while under continuous enemy fire. A wounded man weighs considerably more than fifty pounds, and he probably didn't loiter while under severe fire.
  • Hitler's SS trained to run 3 km (1.87 miles) in twenty minutes with full gear.[2]
  • Israel Defense Force officer candidates must past the "Loren test"—"scaling a two-meter wall, climbing a three-meter wall, completing an obstacle course, running two miles, and then target-shooting — all in under 22 minutes," and done in full battle gear.

While such feats are not easy, and are tiring (and Joseph had to rest a bit before even asking his mother to go get help), they are well within human ability, then and now.

Joseph's limp didn't hinder his physical ability

The critics claim:

And all this from a young man that had a slight limp and would have difficulty running at a high speed for a long distance - especially carrying a 50 lb. weight.

What evidence is there that Joseph's "slight limp" made it hard for him to run at high speed? Joseph managed fine during the Zion's Camp march of nearly a thousand miles on foot at 25-40 miles per day.[3] He'd had the limp since his boyhood operation, and was likely well-adjusted to it.

It also didn't seem to stop Joseph from competing well in footraces and high jumping:

. . . All of the Henrie boys were of the rugged athletic type and all were fairly big fellows. Daniel being the smallest, but he was strong and wirey. They loved to wrestle, run and jump and often did it in the less tense moments when they had time. The prophet also loved and excelled in these sports and one day Daniel related he walked up to one of their high corral gates—it came up to his chin as he measured it—then he walked back a little way, took a running jump, and cleared the gate easily. Daniel related that he often beat the Prophet racing and also at the high jump, but when the prophet thought it was his turn to win and he really tried, he could out them all.[4]

This doesn't sound like a man whose limp is crippling him--and Joseph was younger and likely more fit during the Book of Mormon translating period, when he was focused almost entirely on farming, rather than splitting his attention as required for Church administration.

Critics of the Church claim that the story of Joseph running with the plates is merely a "tall tale" simply because the believe that it can't be done

The critics claim:

If the story is but a 'tall tale', regardless of its origins, it should not be taught in church as a true, historical account, as we have been taught growing up in the church, just to provide another faith-promoting event.

We have no reason to think the story of Joseph running with the plates is a "tall tale" save MormonThink's "argument from incredulity"—they don't believe it can be done, so therefore it's a tall tale. But, people clearly can and do do what Joseph claimed he did, especially when the story which his mother actually told (three separate attacks by individual men) is considered.

Notes

  1. MormonThink.com website (as of 29 April 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/runningweb.htm
  2. Christopher Ailsby, SS: Hell on the Eastern Front: The Waffen-SS War in Russia, 1941-1945 (Osceloa, WI: MBI Publishing Co., 1998), p. 18
  3. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 239.
  4. Mark L. McConkie, Remembering Joseph: Personal Recollections of Those Who Knew the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 2003), Henrie, William account citing Callie O. Morley, "History of William and Myra Mayall Henrie, Pioneers of 1847 and 1847," Delta, West Millard County, Utah, October 1955, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah, 4-5..(print version) ISBN 978-1570089633 GL direct link