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Joseph Smith said he found the plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon hidden in a stone box buried in the ground and covered by another large stone (see Joseph Smith—History 1:51–52). Though the claim seemed incredible to critics of the day, such discoveries are now considered almost commonplace. In 1945 several leather-bound volumes of gnostic Christian writings from the fifth century AD were found at Chenoboskion, Egypt, also known as Nag Hammadi. Their contents included books purportedly composed by some of the early apostles. Like the Book of Mormon, these books had been hidden away in the ground (though they were buried in a large pottery jar instead of a stone box).
Two years later a larger set of documents was found concealed in caves near the Dead Sea. Some of them had been placed inside fired clay pots. In all, fragments of approximately eight hundred separate scrolls were found. These Dead Sea Scrolls included multiple copies of all of the books of the Old Testament except Esther, along with many other ancient religious texts. The scrolls had been written two thousand years ago. The text of one scroll, inscribed on a long copper plate that had been rolled up, described where other books and various treasuries had been hidden.Over the last few years, I have found dozens of stories of ancient records hidden away for future discovery and have recently published a book on the subject.1 H. Curtis Wright has noted that the burial of metallic records in stone boxes was common in ancient times, particularly in the ancient Near East, where Lehi lived.2 In addition, hundreds of other metallic records have been found in other circumstances.3 Moreover, a number of ancient texts speak about records kept on metallic plates. These sources include 1 Maccabees 8:22, the Cologne Mani Codex,4 the Apocalypse of Enosh (cited in the Cologne Mani Codex),5 and the accounts of the eleventh-century Arab historian al-Tha'labi6 and the thirteenth-century Arab historian Idrs.7 With hundreds of examples of ancient texts hidden away for future discovery and hundreds more written on metallic plates, many of them buried in stone boxes, it seems clear that the story of the Book of Mormon has abundant precedent in documents of its time and earlier.