Bill and RFM tell the story of the Kinderhook Plates episode in Mormon history in Mormonism Live fashion. From original Documents to Conspiracy Theories to a honest transparent conversation around the facts. We discuss the history, the tests done to attempt to discern their dating and method of inscription, the Church’s commentary around them, and even their connection to the Book of Abraham. You won’t want to miss this!
A. The setup for the Kinderhook dig
April 16th 1843 – Robert Wiley – excavation of Indian Burial- Kinderhook Illinois
Dream 3 nights in a row to dig there – Playing on Joseph Smith connection?
hired men to dig with him – shaft 10 feet down (RFM indicates that there are multiple reports of varying depths)
discovered skeleton and 6 bell shaped brass plates covered with symbols
One of the men was a Mormon Church member
B.) Joseph hears reports (likely the mormon in the dig) and requests to see the plates
Joseph Smith examines them
States he won’t translate them them until they are sent off to various Antiquarian Societies
There may have been a translation manuscript but if so it has been lost.
Folks are making tracing of the kinderhook plates in Smith’s possession
C.) Joseph attempts some sort of translation
Smith’s private secretary, William Clayton, recorded that upon receiving the plates, Smith sent for his “Hebrew Bible & Lexicon”, possibly suggesting that he might try to translate the plates by conventional means, rather than by use of a seer stone or direct revelation.
On 1 May 1843, Clayton wrote in his journal: and as published in multiple places, “I have seen 6 brass plates … covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. [Joseph Smith] has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth. Joseph Smith planned to translate the plates in their entirety. The editors of the Nauvoo Neighbor (apostles John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff), promised in a June 1843 article that “The contents of the plates, together with a Fac-simile of the same, will be published in the ‘Times and Seasons,’ as soon as the translation is completed.” Page from William Clayton Diary, with tracing of a plate, and Smith’s translation The History of the Church also states Smith said the following- “I have translated a portion of [the plates] and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.”
Joseph interaction with the plates was published as a broadside in the Times and Seasons (Images below)
D.) What the Church and community had to say about the Kinderhook Moment
1.) “Why does the circumstance of the plates recently found in a mound in Pike County, Ill., by Mr. Wiley, together with the ethnology and a thousand other things, go to prove the Book of Mormon true? – Ans. [Answer] Because it is true!” – Times and Seasons, v. 5, p. 406
2.) “The new work which Jo. Is about to issue as a translation of these [Kinderhook] plates will be nothing more nor less than a sequel to the Book of Mormon…” – Warsaw Signal, May 22, 18443.) “The contents of the plates, together with a Facsimile of the same, will be published in the ‘Times and Seasons,’ as soon as the translation is completed.” – The Nauvoo Neighbor, June 1843Sadly the translation portion of the story ends there. Had JS finished this project it would have been as strong an evidence as any that he was a fraud. But he gets a sentence or two in and stops….. For some strange reason. But the story itself still has some telling to be told
The New York herald. [volume], May 30, 1843, Image 2
E.) The moment the accusation of a scam is suggested
April 25, 1856, W. P. Harris, who was one of the nine witnesses to the discovery of the plates, wrote a letter in which he stated that the plates were not genuine: “…I was present with a number at or near Kinderhook and helped to dig at the time the plates were found… I… made an honest affidavit to the same…. since that time, Bridge Whitten said to me that he cut and prepared the plates and he… and R. Wiley engraved them themselves…. Wilbourn Fugit appeared to be the chief, with R. Wiley and B. Whitten.” (The Book of Mormon?, by James D. Bales, pp. 95-96)
James T. Cobb, step-son of Brigham Young, wrote to Wilber Fugate in 1879 (1878?). Fugate responds: “I received your letter in regard to those plates, and will say answer they are a humbug, gotten up by Robert Wiley, Bridge Whitten, and myself. We read in Pratt’s prophecy (a missionary tract written by Parley P Pratt) that ‘truth would spring up out of the earth.’ We concluded to prove the prophecy by way of a joke… Bridge Whitten cut them [the plates] out some pieces of copper Wiley and I made the hieroglyphics by making impressions on beeswax and filling them with acid and putting it on the plates.”
Fugate wrote of their creation: “Bridge Whitton cut them (the plates) out of some pieces of copper; Wiley and I made the hieroglyphics by making impressions on beeswax and filling them with acid and putting it on the plates. When they were finished we put them together with rust made of nitric acid, old iron and lead, and bound them with a piece of hoop iron, covering them completely with rust.”
F.) Church complicates matters by altering the historical record and withholding records back
History of The Church
Adding to the mess was the official publication History of the Church written and complied by several individuals who essentially put words into Joseph Smith’s mouth, after he was dead, and not all of what they wrote was factual. The LDS Church perceived this magnificent translation episode to be so important that, when it tasked B.H. Roberts with preparing its foremost publication in 1930, History of the Church, it converted Clayton’s words into Joseph’s first-person voice. The Church dedicated eight valuable pages to sharing the story of the Kinderhook plates, likely at least in part, because the story bolstered the otherwise unsupported notion that inscribing Egyptian characters onto thin metal plates was a valid method of recordkeeping in the ancient Americas.
Historian D. Michael Quinn explained, “Joseph Smith’s autobiographical “History” was written in large part after his death by clerks and “historians” who transformed third-person accounts by others than Joseph Smith into first-person autobiography of Joseph Smith, and that between the first serialized publication of the history D Michael Quinn D Michael Quinn (1840s-1860s) and the seven-volume edition of the History of the Church in the twentieth century, there have been thousands of deletions and additions not noted in the text or footnotes. This is certainly all true, and as an historian I regret the confusion that such editorial practices have caused. Nevertheless, until quite recently official LDS history was written by men (often of limited education) who were not trained in methods of editing and history.”
G.) A Kinderhook plate surfaces
In 1920 a surviving plate from the set turned up at the Chicago Historical Society.
In 1845, a Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell established a college of medicine in St. Louis. The college had a museum of natural history that contained 3,000 items, among them “Antiquities, &c. of our country.” W. P. Harris, in his letter of 1855, said he had heard from a fellow physician “that R Wiley graduated [from the college] since finding the plates … and that Dr. Professor McDowell on surgery has the plates now in his office.” It is now apparent that Wiley either sold or gave the Kinderhook plates to McDowell for the museum. McDowell was a southern sympathizer who left St. Louis to serve the Confederacy as a physician during the Civil War. This made him very unpopular in St. Louis, and when the U.S. Army seized his college in 1861 for use as a prison, the 2nd Iowa Reserve Regiment sacked it.7 The Chicago Historical Society received one of the plates in 1920 as a gift from Charles F. Gunther, a noted collector of historical artifacts. Gunther had acquired it on 15 July 1889 from F. C. A. Richardson, M.D. (a member of both the St. Louis and the Chicago Academies of Science). Richardson in turn received it from a Dr. J. W. McDowell (not the same man as Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell), who got it from a soldier in the 2nd Iowa Reserve Regiment.
In 1953 it was examined by two engravers who made an affidavit stating that “to the best of our knowledge this Plate was engraved with a pointed instrument and not etched with acid”
Notice the Time Lapse between when it is discovered to be a fraud 1879, when a plate turns up 1920, and when the Church on some level acknowledges the critic’s claim suggesting it is a fraud in 1962. Then notice the Apologetics around it. And notice their conclusion that their experts have determined it to be an engraving and hence the Kinderhook plates are still evidence of JS’s divine mission (Sunken Cost).
A much more rigorous study of the Chicago plate was organized in 1969 by Dr. Paul Cheesman of Brigham Young University. He secured permission from the Chicago Historical Society to bring the plate to BYU for exhaustive non-destructive testing—that is, analytical tests not involving actual damage to the plate. The results of these tests were to be compared with previous tests performed in 1960 and 1966. The plate was examined by physicists, engravers, a jeweler, a metalworker, and several photographers, with mixed results. The physicists concluded that the plate was acid-etched and of non-ancient brass; the others could not agree whether it was etched, engraved, or both. Dr. Cheesman concluded: “It appears we need to have a destructive analysis for further confirmation. Much more testing needs to be done.”
Finally the actual “Conclusive Test” the church accepts as true
Stanley B Kimball – There the matter rested until 1980, when I had the good fortune to secure permission from the Chicago Historical Society for the recommended destructive tests. These tests, involving some very sophisticated analytical techniques, were performed by Professor D. Lynn Johnson of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University. “A recent electronic and chemical analysis of a metal plate… brought in 1843 to the Prophet Joseph Smith… appears to solve a previously unanswered question in Church history, helping to further evidence that the plate is what its producers later said it was – a nineteenth-century attempt to lure Joseph Smith into making a translation of ancient-looking characters that had been etched into the plates…. As a result of these tests, we concluded that the plate… is not of ancient origin…. the plate was etched with acid; and as Paul Cheesman and other scholars have pointed out, ancient inhabitants would probably have engraved the plates rather than etched them with acid. Secondly, we concluded that the plate was made from a true brass alloy (copper and zinc) typical of the mid nineteenth century: whereas the ‘brass’ of ancient times was actually bronze, an alloy of copper and tin.” – Stanley P. Kimball, Mormon scholar, The Ensign, Aug. 1981, pp. 66-70
I.) The Fallout
“The time has come to admit that the Kinderhook plate incident of 1843 was a light-hearted, heavy-handed, frontier-style prank, or ‘joke’ as the perpetrators themselves called it.” – Stanley P. Kimball, Mormon scholar, The Mormon Association Newsletter, June 1981
Adam Worthington couldn’t say for certain how long it took, since he worked on them in his free time. Probably a week? “I ordered 20 gauge brass and traced the outline in sharpie. I cut them out with a Dremel cut off wheel and sanded the edges to remove burrs. Then I traced the symbols in pencil and engraved them with a small diamond bit. I drilled out the hole at the top, and soldered a brass ring around them to keep them together. The original ring was made of wire that had rusted, so the brass ring is not accurate. They also should have been etched with nitric acid, but I thought engraving would be easier and less messy”
K.) Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst McGee and the BOA GAEL (We can Stop blaming William Clayton)
. “The gentlemen15 who found them were / unconnected with this church but have brought them to Joseph / Smith for examination & translation a large number of Citizens / here have seen them and compared the characters with / those on the Egyptian papyrus which is now in this / city. I have no time for particulars but you will hear more soon on this subject. I must now notice your letter. / 2 of the 3 witnesses to the book of Mormon have been cast off / from the church for some misconduct but have never / denied their testimony. we hope they will be restored again / soon. The other (Martin Harris) is still in the church” – Parley P. and Orson Pratt’s May 7th 1843 Letter to John Van Cott (<– LINK)
Analysis from historians Mark Ashurst-McGee and Don Bradley indicate that the translated “portion” mentioned by William Clayton and Parley P. Pratt comes from a single “boat-shaped” character in the Egyptian Alphabet (a vaguely similar character appears on one of the Kinderhook Plates facsimiles).
RFM – Does not the very nature of Joseph Smith using the GAEL to translate the Kinderhook plates run counter to the apologetics surrounding the Book of Abraham held by John Gee and Kerry Muhlstein?
L.) Reasons for not Translating them
The report never came back from the antiquities societies?
“In any case, the translation for which hope had been expressed in the Times and Seasons did not appear. In a letter dated April 8, 1878, Wilbur Fugate recalled: “We understood Jo Smith said [the plates] would make a book of 1200 pages but he would not agree to translate them until they were sent to the Antiquarian society at Philadelphia, France, and England.””
He was deeply busy with other things
The evidence from Joseph Smith’s journal for early May 1843 indicates that, “whatever JS initially thought about the plates, he soon lost interest in them.” The numerous entries in Joseph’s journal indicate that Joseph was busy entertaining several guests, holding court, attending business and religious meetings, overseeing economic transactions, and much more—but only one brief mention of the Kinderhook Plates is made. Some evidence even suggests Joseph wanted them examined by the Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia, so perhaps Joseph even suspected their fraudulence or had concluded that they were not religiously significant.
Joseph’s Death – If in fact he did send off some sort of representation of the plates to various antiquity societies, it would have taken months to get responses back and Joseph Smith died in June 1844
RFM & Bill- If in fact the Book of Mormon was a 19th Century Production, Joseph Smith of course would know that. Any surfacing of metal plates with etchings would have had his suspicion because he has literally written the book on this trick. Sending them off to the Antiquity Socities is another hint at his suspicion that these weren’t ancient. (A Person w/ real metal plates with writing is more likely to believe another set of plates with writing. A person who created a fake story and even set of plates with writing is going to be extremely suspicious of another set of plates surfacing. If he wonders “Are these real and in a language already known?” He can’t afford to translate them under that condition. If he suspects “Are they a scam setup to make me fail?” He can’t afford to translate them under that condition. What if he doesn’t translate at all? Doesn’t he have a gift? He perhaps feels he can’t leave them alone either. He does the only thing he can do. Give them the smallest sort of partial translation as possible and hinge it on a symbol that is real and within a legitimate document that can’t be translated outside of the translation you have provided.
At the End of the Show Don Bradley calls in and seems dumbfounded when asked to reconcile the problem after RFM and Bill decimate the two strongest theories that reconcile the BOA from a faithful perspective. and the Graphic below is the key piece to the catastrophic end of the Catalyst Theory as they demonstrate Joseph Smith’s reliance on a symbol in the Papyrus of Amenhotep which is the “Mouth” Symbol used in both the brief partial Kinderhook Translation as well as the Grammar and Alphabet of Egyptian Language AKA the GAEL connected to the Book of Abraham Sheet from the Papyrus of Amenhotepca. 1427–1390 B.C.