Home The Catalog of Accusations

Would a Gold Book be too Heavy to Carry?
by Woody Brison

Accusation: Joseph could not have carried a set of gold plates like he described; they'd weigh about 200 pounds. Joseph Smith's mother said that soon after Joseph got the plates he had to carry them, running from men chasing him. (History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith, p. 108 in the 1958 edition)

Joseph said the plates were about 6 x 8 inches, in a stack about 6 inches high. That equals 288 cubic inches. Pure gold weighs 0.70 pounds per cubic inch, so a block of gold of that size would indeed weigh slightly over 200 pounds.

I've seen this claimed as 400 pounds. I have no idea where that number would come from.
However, three factors need to be considered. First, ancient metal was never 100% pure anything. The finest quality gold was only about 75% gold, the rest various metals such as copper, tin, zinc, lead, and silver (these metals generally occur near each other, and somewhat mixed together, in rock formations.) Metalsmiths had simple methods of separating them a little, but nothing like we do today. These other metals range in density from zinc, at 0.26 lb/in3, to lead, 0.41; and alloys weigh somewhat proportionate to their composition. Spanish conquistadores found the natives of Mexico using a gold-copper alloy they called tumbaga. I found somewhere a density for it, around 0.35 lb/in3, about half that of pure gold. So the stack might be down to something like 100 pounds.

Tumbaga can be made to look like gold, by dissolving the copper and other metals out of the surface.

Second, the book was not a solid metal block, but a stack of plates made in primitive shops of some kind. The plates must have been somewhat irregular and didn't lay flat against each other; I estimate the stack was only 65% to 90% metal, with the rest of the volume being air spaces between plates. This would bring the stack down to 65-90 pounds. The only witnesses that mentioned a weight for the stack said it was 60 or 70 pounds.

Most of the plates were made by Mormon around AD 383, a fraction by Nephi about 570 BC. 3Nephi 5:11-12, Words of Mormon 3-6, 1Nephi 9:3.



Third, city kids today rarely tote around irrigation pipes, sacks of grain, calves, bales of hay, lumber, etc. but farm kids do it all the time. A farm kid could easily carry a 200 pound sack of grain a fair distance; a 60-pound bundle wouldn't be a problem, and running with it wouldn't be impossible. And Joseph Smith was not only a farm boy, his family homesteaded a farm, cutting down big hardwood trees to clear about 80 acres for crops (about 100 trees per acre, no power saws) built two houses and other buildings, and carried rocks out of fields, piling them up to make fences. Not to belabor the point, but Joseph and his brothers also hired out to neighboring farmers, digging ditches and wells and cellars.

For comparison, a typical car battery weighs around 40-60 pounds. I once carried one over a mile from the store because, you see, my car wouldn't go to it. It got a little tiresome but I just kept going.

There's also adrenaline, which enables people to lift a car off their kid, etc. When Joseph was running from those men, he decked three of them, dislocating his thumb, not noticing it at the time. I think we could say that adrenaline must have been a factor there.

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.

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