Question: Was the reported weight of the plates too heavy for Joseph to run with?

Question: Was the reported weight of the plates too heavy for Joseph to run with?

Witnesses were united in estimating the weight at 40-60 lbs

The witnesses of the plates (both official and otherwise) consistently said that the plates were between 40-60 lbs in weight.

Joseph was a pre-modern farmer, well used to heavy and strenuous work

Joseph Smith was a pre-modern subsistence farmer used to heavy labor. Unlike modern readers, he did not have electricity or the internal combustion engine or a variety or machines to help with his work.

He and his family cleared heavily wooded lands, dug wells, and otherwise exerted themselves physically.

Neighbor Orlando Sanders recalled that "Young Joe (as we called him then), has worked for me, and he was a good worker; they all were."[1]

John Stafford didn't think much of the Smith's management abilities, but said that Joseph "would do a fair day's work if hired out to a man...."[2]

Joseph Knight, Jr., reported that his father said that at twenty years of age "Joseph [Smith] was the best hand he ever hired."[3]

Real world testing

The producer and associate producer of a film about Joseph and the Book of Mormon witnesses described their actor repeatedly doing what Joseph did:

Filming “Joseph Smith” with the plates, and running from and interacting with the attackers, took a considerable amount of time.

Knowing that filming the scene of Joseph running with the plates would require several hours, Paul Wuthrich was presented with the option of going with something lighter as a prop. He opted to use the two prop sets of plates that metallurgist Dave Baird had created, based on Baird’s careful research. Somewhat amusingly, one set came to be called the “non-hero set.” They weighed somewhere between thirty (30) and thirty-five (35) pounds. We’re more certain of the weight of the other set — unsurprisingly labeled the “hero set” — because Russell Richins weighed them himself. They came in at forty-five (45) pounds. In other words, at roughly the weight of the historical plates themselves.

During the relevant filming day, the two sets were switched out at various times. Sometimes the secondary or “non-hero” prop was used, and sometimes the “hero set.” “At all times,” comments Russell Richins, “when you see Paul Wuthrich running or using the plates in the scenes, he is using one of these two sets. Bottom line, Paul was in very similar circumstances that Joseph Smith faced except for this one exception – – Paul Wuthrich did it over and over and over again throughout the day. Yes, he was exhausted, but he did it. A whole crew witnessed it.”

Those who have not been involved with filming of this sort would, I think, be astonished at how many takes and re-takes need to be done for even relatively simple indoor scenes.

Paul Wuthrich ran down the hill repeatedly, carrying the plates, jumping over rocks and logs, trying to avoid low branches. He did it many times, for different takes, so that filming could be done from a variety of angles. He had to run down the hill with the plates, then climb up the hill once more with the plates, then run down the hill, then climb up the hill again.

I like Russell Richins’s summary statement:

Whether they want to accept it or not, people are going to have to face the fact that Joseph Smith, used to day labor and a very fit individual known for his strength, was fighting for his and the plates’ safety, perhaps even his life. Additionally, this claim would have been quite achievable for many young men of his time.

Even Martin Harris lifted the plates, as did eight other rural Americans. People must remember that Martin Harris was older, but a farmer used to working physically. This was very common.

Another interesting tidbit is that Annie Passman, about 16 years of age and playing Joseph Smith’s sister Katherine, lifted the hero, 45 pound, set of plates from the floor to the table throughout the entire day as we ran that scene many, many times while filming. Was it tiring? Yes. Was it doable? I think we have proven that clearly, in both cases.

And we’re not even invoking supernatural or divine aid.[4]

Those who question the ability of Joseph to run carrying a 60 pound object say more about their own relatively limited physical abilities and perspective than they do about Joseph's or others' in the early 19th century.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


  1. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," 309; cited by Matthew Roper, "Review of The Truth about Mormonism: A Former Adherent Analyzes the LDS Faith by Weldon Langfield," FARMS Review of Books 4/1 (1992): 78–92. off-site
  2. William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:121.
  3. Joseph Knight, Jr., Folder, Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 1.
  4. Daniel C. Peterson, "Running through the forest with the Book of Mormon plates," Sic et Non, 12 January 2021; original citation here.