Home The Catalog of Accusations

Did Ancient people ever write on plates?
by Woody Brison

Accusation: Ancient people never wrote on plates, therefore the Book of Mormon story is a ridiculous invention.

The discovery of 4 cuneiform plates - two gold, two silver - in a stone box in Iran in 1938 effectively deflated this objection. They were cached by Darius I of Persia around 515 BC.

In 1945, six gold plates dating to 600 BC were discovered in Bulgaria. They were held together by two rings and written in Etruscan characters.

Cave 3 near Qumran yielded the Copper Scroll in 1952. It was written in Hebrew around AD 100 and gives the hiding places of treasure.

People who made this claim, even before these discoveries, weren't too well versed. Exodus 28:36 gives instruction for making a plate of gold and engraving sacred writing on it. Ex. 39:30 details how they carried out those instructions. Ex. 39:3 explains how gold wire was made, by first making gold plates, then cutting them into wire. 1Kings 7:36 talks about how Solomon's workers engraved brass. Jer. 10:9 talks about plates being made from silver and gold. 1Maccabees 8 tells how a treaty between the Jews and Romans was engraved on tablets of brass. The chronology of these passages ranges from the Exodus thru the time of Nephi to almost the time of Christ.

In 1964, three gold plates were found in Pyrgi, Italy. They are dated to 500 BC, written in Etruscan and Phoenician, and have edge holes indicating they were bound together in some way.

I have seen the argument made that these are just short inscriptions, "banners" if you will; that ancients never wrote long texts on metal. The Copper Scroll effectively refutes this argument.

1979 excavations at Ketef Hinnom near Jerusalem yielded two small silver scrolls. Dated to 600 BC, they were inscribed with text similar to Exodus 20:6 and Numbers 6:24-26.

It's really an endorsement for the Limited Geography Theory. Some people suppose that the Nephites and Lamanites occupied the whole of North and South America. The LGT posits they lived in Central America. This would mean that writing on leather and paper materials would not last long due to the high humidity. So naturally they'd use metals. Gold is simply a good candidate because it's very malleable (can easily be made into thin sheets) and it does not corrode. In contrast, the Middle East is very dry, things written on papyrus and animal skin last thousands of years.

The Dead Sea Scrolls (including the Copper Scroll) and the Nag Hammadi Library were all hidden in the ground in response to military and religious threats.

There is a temptation to look at behavior of ancient humans as so mechanistic they can't have done anything unless it's common practice. People are clever. They can improvise unique solutions. Honest!

From these examples, and there are others, it's clear that ancient people around the time Lehi (600 BC) did write on metal plates, including gold, silver, and copper; bound them with metal rings; and cached them in times of war and political emergencies, sometimes in stone boxes.

Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon plates were in a box made of flat stones.

Notes

1. Woody Brison is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but this website is not affiliated with the church. It may be thought of as an additional, somewhat independent witness.

2. I want this page to be as accurate as I can make it. If you have a correction, please email me.

3. All biblical quotations are from the King James unless otherwise noted.

Copyright 2013 Woody Brison. All rights reserved.