What Happened to the Gold Plates?

I knew that Mormon accounts of the plates used to translate the Book of Mormon say that the angel Moroni took the plates back at some point, but I had a hard time finding the source texts for how or when this might have happened. So far, I have three sources:

[1] Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations by Lucy Smith, Lamoni, Iowa, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, p. 167-168. Lucy Smith writes:

In a few days we were followed by Joseph, Oliver and the Whitmers, who came to make us a visit, and make some arrangements about getting the book printed. Soon after they came, all the male part of the company, with my husband, Samuel, and Hyrum, retired to a place where the family were in the habit of offering up their secret devotions to God. They went to this place, because it had been revealed to Joseph that the plates would be carried thither by one of the ancient Nephites….(here follows the testimony of the eight witnesses)
After these witnesses returned to the house, the angel again made his appearance to Joseph, at which time Joseph delivered up the plates into the angel’s hands.

I find it strange that the Nephite carried the plates. Did Smith not have them and was he not able to carry them?

[2] Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1.60 – Smith writes:

But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand. When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day, being the second day of May, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.

[3] Journal of Discourses, Vol.19, p.40, Brigham Young, June 17,  1877. Young’s relates an account from Oliver Cowdery that seems incredibly fantastic and unbelievable.

I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which  the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things  pertaining to that country.  I believe I will take the liberty to tell  you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can  be.  This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not  take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take.  I tell  these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so.  I want to  carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children  also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem  to be entirely hidden from the human family.  Oliver Cowdery went with  the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates.  Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which  you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph  got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the  hill Cumorah, which he did.  Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver  went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which  there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the  time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but  that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it  was a large table that stood in the room.  Under this table there was  a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether  in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were  piled up in the corners and along the walls.  The first time they went  there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again  it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates;  it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words:  “This sword  will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become  the kingdom of our God and his Christ.”

If you are aware of other accounts of this event, please let me know.

Engraven on Brass

Anyone familiar with the story of the Book of Mormon will know the phrase, “plates of brass.” These plates are one of many sets of plates that we read of in the book. We encounter them early on, in I Nephi 3.3:

For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of thy forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.

I came upon one possible inspiration for this idea last night as I read I Kings in the King James Version. In the section describing the building of Solomon’s Temple, I read:

And every base had four brazen wheels, and plates of brass…and also upon the mouth of it were gratings with their borders…For on the plates of the ledges thereof, and on the borders thereof, he graved cherubims, lions, and palm trees…
[I Kings 7]

Now the plates mentioned in Kings are of a very different nature than those in the BOM, but the phraseology is the same, and could easily be the kernel of an idea: the Jews worked in brass, brass would endure unlike scrolls and could preserve an ancient record. Also, the well-known interest of Masons in Hiram of Tyre and Joseph Smith’s interest in temples suggest that he would know this passage of Scripture with some familiarity.

Don’t go in the water!

Doctrine and Covenants Section 61 contains some bizarre stuff. Apparently Joseph Smith and his traveling companions had a rough trip on the Missouri River, so one of them saw a vision of “the destroyer riding in power upon the face of the waters.” This caused Smith to issue another revelation which includes this:

Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters. Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.

This is apparently why Mormon missionaries are not allowed to swim on their missions (no joke). Some interpreters of this passage say that the revelation only refers to the specific waters of the Missouri River, and some of the language does tend toward that view, but the verses quoted above seem to refer to all waters on the earth. The reference to John seems to refer to Revelation, perhaps something like:

and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

Either way, this promise of “no flesh” being safe upon the waters seems like a false prophecy. Next comes a threat to Cincinnati:

And again, verily I say unto you, my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, shall not open their mouths in the congregations of the wicked until they arrive at Cincinnati; And in that place they shall lift up their voices unto God against that people, yea, unto him whose anger is kindled against their wickedness, a people who are well-nigh ripened for destruction.

One would think that if Cincinnati was ripened for destruction in 1831 the time would be up by now, but apparently not.

The Congregations of the Wicked

As previously noted, the attitude of modern Latter Day Saints towards the world is one of near universalism. It is hard to square these beliefs with many statements in LDS Scripture. Today I was reading Doctrine and Covenants, Section 60. In it, God (via Joseph Smith) three times refers to churches that LDS missionaries were to evangelize as “congregations of the wicked.”

This kind of black and white, Abominable Church vs. Pure Church rhetoric is common in the founding documents of Mormonism, but you don’t hear it much from the General Authorities these days. They merely refer to ‘the Apostasy’ which is a catch-all phrase. They generally want to portray modern Protestants and Catholics as well-meaning but mislead. Their attitude is, “we don’t want to take anything you have away, just to come alongside and show you what you are missing in the Fullness of the Gospel.” How this works with our churches being congregations of the wicked is beyond me.

The LDS Church in the Book of Mormon

One of my Christmas presents was the book American Apocrypha, Essays on the Book of Mormon edited by Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe. Much of the book is fascinating reading and I am thoroughly enjoying it. In the essay, Historical Criticism and the Book of Mormon: A Personal Encounter by Edwin Firmage, Jr. there is an assertion that I had not heard before. Firmage writes:

The key to this case is the fact that nowhere in the Book of Mormon’s many detailed prophecies of the last days is anything ever said about the establishment of a new church. The nature of God’s work subsequent to the appearance of the Book of Mormon is very vague, particularly so after the detailed prophecies pertaining to Smith’s involvement in the translation.

It appears that the detailed instructions towards the end of the BoM regarding eucharist and baptism may have been intended as a manual to reform ALL churches, not to establish a brand new church! Firmage discusses infant baptism and says in part:

The matter of infant baptism…is broached for the first and only time in Moroni 8:4ff…This is puzzling since the Nephites have been practicing baptism at least since Alma the Elder’s time (Mos. 18:10ff). How is it that only at the end of the history does the question arise?…Moroni 8 implies that the issue is new: Mormon and Moroni are initially at a loss for a response. Even with his thorough knowledge of Nephite history, Mormon has to go to God himself for an answer (v.7). Mormon’s justification (v.8) is a pastiche of New Testament sentiments taken out of context in a manner not uncharacteristic of the rest of the Book of Mormon.

Both the absence of these issues – the absence of the LDS church from the BoM and infant baptism not becoming an issue until hundreds of years after Nephites had been baptizing – are startling and obvious problems when one performs a close reading of the text. They knock even more holes into the edifice of those who want to maintain that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text.

LDS book changing

This link is tracking the changes to the most recent edition of the LDS book Gospel Principles. You can read more about it here.

Aaron Shafovaloff tells me that the book is “the main introductory book for new converts and for members in general. The Mormon missionaries widely use it, they use it in classes on Sunday morning, and members will use it for family home evening studies.” Given this fact, and the fact that the thrust of the changes seems to be to make the LDS Church seem more vanilla Protestant in its doctrine, this is worth consideration.

Cynics (and I am amongst them) might think that this is simply a PR move to try and hide more objectionable doctrines for those who go ‘further up and further in.’ On the other hand, there is a real possibility that the Salt Lake church is going the way that the former RLDS Church (Community of Christ) went in moving towards a more orthodox Christian position. This would still leave many smaller Mormon sects in the movement that retain the charismatic and radical nature of the early LDS Church out there, but would mean that the Salt Lake church will continue on the path towards blandness, conformity, a business culture and an attempt to be as unobjectionable as possible. It is hard to see how the LDS Church can become orthodox while holding to the Standard Works that it accepts, but I suppose creative leaps could be made. Either way, the tensions with Mormonism are playing themselves out and it seems like the Mormon neo-orthodox have the upper hand in leadership positions.

Mormons and tongues – 2

Writing in the Latter-Day Saints’ Millenial Star, someone (I believe it is Heber Kimball), mentions Brigham Young speaking in tongues:

We received the gift of tongues and interpretation a few days after we were baptized. The brethren who brought the Gospel to us belonged to the first Branch of the Church that received the gift of tongues, and the Branch at Mendon was the next. Brothers Brigham and Joseph Young and myself went to Kirtland, with my horses and wagon, to visit the Prophet, a distance of three hundred miles. We saw brother Joseph Smith and had a glorious time; during which brother Brigham spoke in tongues before brother Joseph, it being the first time he had heard any one speak in tongues; he testified that the gift was from God, and spoke in tongues himself. Soon the gift of tongues became general in the Church in Kirtland. We had a precious season and returned with a blessing in our souls.

Leonard Arrington in his book Brigham Young discusses this same incident:

Still with the Prophet that evening at prayers, Brigham again spoke in tongues. “As soon as we arose from our knees the brethren flocked around him [Joseph Smith] and asked him his opinion concerning the gift of tongues that was upon me.” Joseph told them, “It is of God.” During the course of the evening the Prophet, who had never before heard speaking in tongues, received the gift himself. Those present remembered this event as a modern replication of “the day of Pentecost,” when the early apostles were “filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” That Brigham, a seemingly practical, rather staid person, should have been one of the few who exercised this “gift” is extraordinary.

Young spoke in tongues prior to this. Arrington relates:

One morning, happening upon the Kimballs as they knelt in family prayer, Brigham silently joined them. Serving as voice was Alpheus Gifford, the Pennsylvania missionary who had done most to convert the Youngs and Kimballs. Gifford suddenly began to speak in an unknown tongue. “At the same instant,” said Brigham, “the spirit came on me like an electric shock to speak in an unknown tongue, and though I was kneeling in an opposite direction, the same moment I turned round on my knees towards him and spoke in tongues also.”

Young counseled a branch of the church and:

taught them that when they spoke in tongues the language might be from the Lord, but with that tongue they spoke the things which were in their hearts, whether they were good or evil; the gift of tongues was given for a blessing to the Saints, but not to govern them, nor to control the elders, or dictate the affairs of the church.

In the book Mormon Enigma by Newll and Avery, we read: “The practice became a part of the Saints’ worship-particularly among women-until well into the next century.” Indeed, this tongues-speaking by Mormon women also generated poetry. In her book White Roses on the Floor of Heaven, Susanna Morrill discusses a poem called “Lines” by L.L. Greene Richards:

The circumstances surrounding the composition of the poem are telling, however, because the messages were conveyed through the gift of tongues by Clara H. James, then interpreted by Rida Taylor, and finally put into polished verse by L.L. Greene Richards…In order to most authentically communicate the revelations delivered in the gift of tongues, often identified as the primordial language of the Garden of Eden, or the Nephite language, Greene rendered them into poetic verse, in this way capturing both the message and the mood….

Ian G. Barber has noted that within the LDS community women were seen to be “natural” seers and visionaries who could more easily than men tap into supernatural and divine messages and powers. Women rather than men most often exercised the gift of tongues. While men sometimes attended and headed these meetings where women spoke in tongues, they rarely seem to have joined in the tongue-speaking themselves. As the community settled in Utah and as the practice of tongue-speaking became routinized, this gender separation became even more pronounced, as did a separation based on age and prestige within the church. This is not to necessarily say that those who spoke in tongues were the ones who wrote the poetry. Sometimes this was the case as, for instance, with Zina D.H. Young who was well known to regularly speak in tongues during Relief Society meetings, but who was also a sometime author, poet, and contributor to the Exponent. Rather, it is more accurate to say: the same forces that led to tongue-speaking also led to nature and flower poetry.

July Mulvay Derr notes in her review of The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, that:

In informal gatherings at Winter Quarters, Eliza and other women, many of them plural wives of Joseph Smith, repeatedly received the charismatic gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing. These spiritual outpourings Eliza described as “a glorious time,” “a rejoicing time,” “a refreshing time”.

Mormons and tongues

In a book called “History of Mormonism” published in 1840 and written by Eber D. Howe, we get an interesting look into the use of tongues amongst the early Mormons. It raises questions about why tongues are no longer practiced by Mormons. Howe writes:

On the opening of the year 1833, the “gift of tongues” again made its appearance at head-quarters, and from thence extended to all their branches in different parts…it would appear, from all the facts which we have been able to gather upon this subject, that if this gift were not supernaturally bestowed, it required but a few moments instruction from a priest, to render his pupil expert in various dead languages, which could never be understood by man or beast, except a supernatural power was at the instant given to some one present to interpret it. They sometimes professed to believe that these “tongues” were the same which were “confounded” at the building of Babel.

Some curious particulars are related respecting these blasphemous practices by a Mr. Higby, who was eight months an Elder in the Mormon church, and which he published in a small pamphlet. He says that shortly after he joined them, a Mormon Elder said to him, “you must go to work in the vineyard of the Lord as a preacher of the Gospel. I have viewed your heart by the spirit of discernment; I see what is in your heart and what the will of the Lord is, concerning you all.” Mr. Higby says that he was soon after ordained as an Elder in the said church, and commissioned to preach and baptize, ordain Elders, confirm the churches, heal the sick, in short, that he was ordained to all the gifts of the church, which were the same as given to the apostles of old. He continues – “about the 10th of April following, R. Cahoon and D. Patton came again to the place-a meeting was called, and previous to the meeting, they said that some one would speak with tongues before they left the place. Accordingly he set himself to work at that meeting to verify his prophecy. During the meeting he said, “Father H. if you will rise in the name of Jesus Christ, you can speak in tongues.” He arose immediately, hesitated, and said, “my faith fails me-I have not faith enough.” Said Patton, “you have-speak in the name of Jesus Christ-make some sound as you list, without further thought, and God will make it a language.” The old gentleman, after considerable urging, spoke and made some sounds, which were pronounced to be a correct tongue. Several others spoke in a similar manner, and among them was myself. I spoke as I listed, not knowing what I said, yet it was declared to be a tongue. The sound of the words used by some, in speaking in tongues, was a medium between talking and singing-and all, as I am now convinced, a mere gibberish, spoken at random and without thought. Continue reading “Mormons and tongues”

Mormon disobeys Ammaron

In the book of Mormon – by this I mean the book by that name within the overall Book of Mormon – the record keeper Ammaron chooses Mormon to be the next keper of the plates of Nephi and the other sacred records of his people. Ammaron has hidden these records in a hill called Shim. Ammaron tells Mormon:

And behold, ye shall take the plates of Nephi unto yourself, and the remainder shall ye leave in the place where they are; and ye shall engrave on the plates of Nephi all the things that ye have observed concerning this people.

Ammaron’s command to take the plates of Nephi is obeyed by Mormon, however, Mormon disobeys his command to leave the rest of the records in the place where they are in Mormon 4.23. Instead, he removes ALL of the records during his second visit to the hill. His justification is that the Lamanites were going to overthrow the land, but the same thing happens later when Moroni hides the records and God preserves them until Joseph Smith recovers them in the 19th century. All we know is that Ammaron commanded him to leave the remainder of the the records and Mormon disobeyed that command.