Thursday, February 11, 2010

Golden Plates

According to the theology of Latter Day Saint movement churches, the golden plates (also called the gold plates or in some 19th century literature, the golden Bible) are a book of bound and engraved metal plates that Joseph Smith, Jr. said was his source for the Book of Mormon. Some followers and relatives of Smith testified that they saw the plates, and Smith said he returned them to an angel after translating them. Therefore, if they existed, they are not available for researchers to examine. Although most outside of the Latter Day Saint movement dismiss Joseph Smith's story of the golden plates as "beyond belief," to Latter Day Saints their existence is a matter of faith.

Joseph Smith said he was guided to the plates on September 22, 1823 on Cumorah Hill, Manchester, New York, in a buried box. Smith said they had been protected there for centuries by the angel Moroni, once a mortal prophet and the book's final author, and the one who guided him to the plates. According to Smith, the angel told him he could not take possession of the plates until he obeyed certain commandments, which included making four annual visits to the spot.

Smith's 1827 announcement that he had uncovered an ancient golden book brought him local notoriety. The curious came to see the wooden chest where they were told the plates were stored; but Smith said that the angel had commanded him not to show the plates to anyone else until a later date. After moving near his wife's parents in northern Pennsylvania, Smith dictated to scribes what he said was an English translation of the inscribed characters on the plates, a language he described as reformed Egyptian. This reputed translating took place sporadically between 1827 and 1829 and consisted, according to most accounts, of Smith's looking into a hat containing a "seer stone" in which he said he could see the translated words and characters.

During this period, Smith also began dictating written commandments in the voice of God, including a commandment to form a new church and to choose eleven men who would join Smith as witnesses. These men declared, in two statements attached to the 1830 published Book of Mormon, that they had seen the plates. Some of these witnesses gave descriptions of the plates, not entirely consistent with one another. According to Smith, he then returned the plates to the angel Moroni. Many adherents of the faith believe that Moroni retains them or that they are hidden in the hill Cumorah.

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