Question: What are the Kinderhook Plates?

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Question: What are the Kinderhook Plates?

The Kinderhook Plates are a forged set of metal plates that were given to Joseph Smith to translate

Image of front and back of four of the six Kinderhook plates are shown in these facsimiles (rough copies of even earlier published facsimiles), which appeared in 1909 in History of the Church, 5:374–375. Volume 5 link

A set of small plates, engraved with characters of ancient appearance, were purported to have been unearthed in Kinderhook, Illinois, in April 1843. The so-called "Kinderhook plates" have been something of an enigma within the Mormon community since they first appeared. While there are faithful LDS who take a number of different positions on the topic of these artifacts, most have concluded that they were fakes.

Joseph Smith appears to have had the plates in his possession for about five days.

Joseph Smith's personal secretary, William Clayton said,

President Joseph has translated a portion [of the Kinderhook plates], 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 through the ruler of heaven and earth.

Chemical analysis performed by the Chicago Historical Society on one of the plates in 1981 showed that the plates were fake.[1] Before the release of the CHS' analysis, criticism of the episode from those outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was infrequent.[2] After the release, criticism became much more frequent.[3] All critics have believed that this episode brings into question any claim of "inspiration" that Joseph used to translate the Kinderhook Plates and by extension any other revelations he received.

Joseph Smith "translated" a portion of those plates, not by claiming inspiration, but by comparing characters on the plates to those on his "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" (GAEL)

However, Joseph Smith "translated" a portion of those plates, not by claiming inspiration, but by comparing characters on the plates to those on his "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" (GAEL). (The GAEL was composed in Kirtland about the time of the translation of the Book of Abraham.) Joseph found one of the most prominent characters on the plates to match a character on the second page of characters in the GAEL. Both were boat shaped. The GAEL interpretation of this boat-shaped character included everything that William Clayton said Joseph said.

Corroborating this is a letter in the New York Herald for May 30th, 1843, from someone who signed pseudonymously as "A Gentile." Research shows "A Gentile" to be a friendly non-Mormon then living in Nauvoo by the name of Sylvester Emmons.[4] He wrote:

The plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hieroglyphics. They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared them, in my presence, with his Egyptian Alphabet…and they are evidently the same characters. He therefore will be able to decipher them.

We know that Joseph was interested in languages. He studied Greek, Hebrew, and German in a secular manner. Therefore, we can easily believe that he attempted to translate the Kinderhook plates without assuming prophetic powers, which powers consequently remain credible.

Additional Reading and Visual Content

  • Don Bradley 2011 FairMormon Conference Presentation
  • Saints Unscripted "Do the Kinderhook Plates Prove Joseph Smith Was a False Prophet?"


  1. Stanley B. Kimball, "Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to be a Nineteenth Century Hoax," Ensign 11 (August 1981).
  2. Notable works that mentioned it are William Alexander Linn, The Story of the Mormons: From the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901 (New York: Macmillan, 1902) and Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Modern Microlm, 1969).
  3. Edward J. Decker and Dave Hunt, The God Makers: A Shocking Exposé of What the Mormon Church Really Believes (Eugene, OR: Harvest, 1984), 99–115; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?, 4th ed.(Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987); John Ahmanson, “The Book of Mormon," Ahmanson’s Secret History: A Translation of Vor Tids Muhamed, trns. Gleason L. Archer, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984), 75–102; Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 30–34, 259; Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to My Mormon Doubts (American Fork, UT: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 77–80.
  4. Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-McGee, “‘President Joseph Has Translated a Portion’: Joseph Smith and the Mistranslation of the Kinderhook Plates,” Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith's Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, eds. Michael Hubbard McKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020), 499–502.