Part 36: CES Letter Kinderhook Plates/Translation Claims Questions
by Sarah Allen
The Kinderhook Plates and Joseph’s attempt at translating them is something that the critics love to bring up, but when they do, they’re banking on you not knowing what really happened. Once you do understand the actual circumstances, you’re more likely to shrug and move on than you are to lose your testimony. Not only was this event inconsequential to the history of the Church, but it doesn’t even crack the top ten of supposedly controversial things Joseph said or did.
Right off the bat, Jeremy frames this dishonestly, and he either hasn’t read yet another of his own sources or he’s deliberately hiding what it says. He might link to his sources, but I’m pretty sure he’s hoping you’ll be too lazy to read them for yourselves. I’m going to go through the quotes he uses to open this section, and then I’ll talk about what really happened with the Kinderhook Plates.
He begins this section with this quote:
“I insert fac-similes of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook … I have translated a portion of them, 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 SMITH, JR., HISTORY OF THE CHURCH, VOL. 5, CHAPTER 19, P.372
The History of the Church was originally compiled by Joseph’s scribes, secretaries, and friends as The History of Joseph Smith after his death, and then later edited and expanded by B.H. Roberts into a 7-volume series. This quote is taken from volume 5 of Roberts’s series, as Jeremy mentions.
However, what Jeremy gets wrong is that this quote was not given by Joseph Smith. Back in the 19th Century when these were compiled, it was relatively common while writing biographies for things originally in the third person to be changed to the first person as if the subject actually said them when they did not. This quote was originally written by William Clayton, one of Joseph’s scribes, and was taken from his personal journal entry for May 1, 1843. Where it says, “I have translated a portion of them,” the actual quote was, “Prest J. has translated a portion.”
The next quote is the title of an old Ensign article:
“Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to be a Ninteenth-Century Hoax.” — August 1981 Ensign
What Jeremy neglects to mention is that the article also states the following:
Joseph Smith did not make the hoped-for translation. In fact, no evidence exists that he manifested any further interest in the plates after early examination of them, although some members of the Church hoped that they would prove to be significant. But the plates never did.
… Although this account appears to be the writing of Joseph Smith, it is actually an excerpt from a journal of William Clayton. It has been well known that the serialized “History of Joseph Smith” consists largely of items from other persons’ personal journals and other sources, collected during Joseph Smith’s lifetime and continued after the Saints were in Utah, then edited and pieced together to form a history of the Prophet’s life “in his own words.” It was not uncommon in the nineteenth century for biographers to put the narrative in the first person when compiling a biographical work, even though the subject of the biography did not actually say or write all the words attributed to him; thus the narrative would represent a faithful report of what others felt would be helpful to print. The Clayton journal excerpt was one item used in this way. For example, the words “I have translated a portion” originally read “President J. has translated a portion. …”
Where the ideas written by William Clayton originated is unknown. However, as will be pointed out later, speculation about the plates and their possible content was apparently quite unrestrained in Nauvoo when the plates first appeared. In any case, this altered version of the extract from William Clayton’s journal was reprinted in the Millennial Star of 15 January 1859, and, unfortunately, was finally carried over into official Church history when the “History of Joseph Smith” was edited into book form as the History of the Church in 1909.
Jeremy’s own second source contradicts his first source. It says flat out that Joseph didn’t write that quote. It also says the origination of Clayton’s ideas are unknown. This article, as stated, is from 1981. Subsequent research by Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-McGee has shown where his ideas originated, and we’ll get into that shortly. First, though, there’s one more quote to tackle:
“Church historians continued to insist on the authenticity of the Kinderhook Plates until 1980 when an examination conducted by the Chicago Historical Society, possessor of one plate, proved it was a nineteenth-century creation.”* — LDS Historian Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p.490
The footnote attached to this paragraph in Rough Stone Rolling is footnote 27, which reads, in full:
JS, Journal, May 7, 1843, in APR, 376; Clayton, Journal, May 1, 1843. Clayton’s date of May 1 conflicts with [Willard] Richards’s date of May 7. B.H. Roberts was still defending the plates’ authenticity when he edited The History of the Church. See HC, 5:378-79. On the history of the plates, see Kimball, “Kinderhook Plates,” 66-74; Ashurst-McGee, “Kinderhook Plates.”
There are several dates that conflict in these records, since many of them were written down later or copied from other sources and may have copy errors in them. We’ll talk about both of those journal entries later. However, the line of importance here is the one about B.H. Roberts defending the Kinderhook Plates as being authentic. “Kimball” seems to be referring to Stanley B. Kimball, the author of the Ensign article we just quoted from, and Bushman appears to be citing that very article because Kimball apparently never published anything else about the Kinderhook Plates. Again, that was written in 1981, and it was describing the plates as a hoax. It was not defending them. Mark Ashurst-McGee, the other historian mentioned in that footnote, was 12 years old in 1980, so his writings from that time period clearly weren’t being cited, either.
All of that means that B.H. Roberts is the only Church historian Bushman is citing as defending the authenticity of the plates…and Roberts died in 1933. It appears that no other public defense of the plates was made between his death and the testing done in 1980 proving that the plates were fake. At least, Bushman doesn’t mention any and I couldn’t find any when I was researching this post, either. There may well have been others, but they’re apparently somewhat obscure. And again, the fact that there are few, if any, publications about the Kinderhook Plates to be found during that time period by LDS historians means that they’re a pretty insignificant topic in Church history.
Jeremy then shows some copies of the plates. The one with the square around it is the only one of importance to the discussion going forward. Joseph never commented on any of the others.
So, before we address Jeremy’s comments about the plates, what were they and what actually happened with them?
In late April, 1843, near a place called Kinderhook about 75 miles south of Nauvoo, a group of people dug up some small, bell-shaped plates engraved with strange symbols. That group included a few Latter-day Saints who were understandably excited by the find and wanted to take the plates to Joseph to see if he could translate the writing on them.
About a week later, the plates showed up in Nauvoo at Joseph’s house where there was a gathering of some men that included both Saints and non-Latter-day Saints. They all wanted to hear what Joseph had to say about the plates. William Clayton recorded this meeting as taking place on May 1st, while Willard Richards recorded it as taking place on May 7th. Richards further stated that someone was sent for Joseph’s Hebrew Bible and Lexicon (a type of dictionary). However, that seems to be an error, as those were not the only two places that meeting was recorded.
One of the non-members at that meeting, purported to be Sylvester Emmons, wrote an anonymous letter to the New York Herald describing the find and proclaiming that Joseph compared them to his Egyptian alphabet, where he noticed some similar characters. The letter goes on to claim that Joseph might translate a “sequel” to the Book of Mormon in the near future. This is a claim that another non-Latter-day Saint living in Nauvoo, Charlotte Haven, also repeated, though she stated they were like the characters on the gold plates. It was also recorded in a letter, written May 7th, 1843, by Parley Pratt to a John Van Cott. This letter states that they were written in Egyptian and that they were compared to characters on the Egyptian papyrus rolls, then agrees with the Clayton journal that they had belonged to someone of the lineage of Ham.
So, this meeting was fairly well-documented, but a lot of the little details differ between the accounts. Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-McGee wrote a fantastic essay in the recent book Producing Ancient Scripture comparing and synthesizing the accounts into what seems like the likely narrative. [Note: I haven’t had a chance to read the rest of the book yet, so I can’t comment on whether or not the entire thing is worth buying, but that essay is well worth the read if you can find it at a library or something.]
In the quote from the Ensign article above, Kimball hypothesized that Clayton got the details of his account from local rumors. Assumedly before Bradley and Ashurst-McGee’s work over the past decade was published, Ben McGuire wrote an informative article agreeing with him. However, at the 2011 FAIR Conference, Bradley gave a presentation (video here // transcript here) going over the timeline of that day and explaining why Clayton almost certainly got the information straight from Joseph at some point, if not at the meeting itself.
What Bradley and Ashurst-McGee discovered when they compared all of the accounts and studied different documents, trying to figure out what really happened, is that Joseph did not consult the Egyptian papyrus scrolls themselves, and he may or may not have sent for and consulted his Hebrew Lexicon. What we know he definitely did consult, though, was the GAEL—the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language W.W. Phelps and Willard Richards had been writing, likely derived from the Egyptian Alphabet papers Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph himself worked on together. Some of you will remember that particular little book from our discussion on the Book of Abraham.
On the page of the GAEL I linked to, the last symbol looks like a little boat or dish. The definition beside that symbol calls it “Ho-e-oop-hah” and says it means, “honor by birth, kingly power by the line of Pharaoh, possession by birth, one who reigns upon his throne universally — possessor of heaven and earth and of the blessings of the earth.”
If you recall the plate on the graphic I put the square around, the top image engraved on the plate also resembles that little boat or dish, particularly when it’s deconstructed as Bradley does in his FAIR presentation. And when you look at what Clayton says Joseph translated, that the owner of the plates, “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,” you can see many of those phrases in that definition on the GAEL. Abraham 1:21 tells us that the Pharaoh is a descendant of Ham, but the rest comes straight from the GAEL. There’s nothing here that can’t be explained by that one little definition in the Grammar notebook.
So, Joseph didn’t claim to translate anything on the Kinderhook Plates through revelation. All he did was look at the plates, compare the symbols to the ones on the GAEL, and identify one that looked sort of similar. There’s no indication he ever did any more with the plates. He had them in his possession for a few days, about five days total, and then never saw them again. There were no further mentions of them. Whether Joseph prayed for revelation to translate them and didn’t get a response, whether he was warned that they were a hoax meant to entrap him, or whether he was simply curious enough to compare the papers and then never made another attempt after that, we don’t know. But he never said anything more about them and gave them back to the owners shortly afterward.
Several decades later, they were admitted to be a hoax, but it wasn’t until 1980 that tests were done to prove they were etched with acid and not engraved.
Now, the definitions on the GAEL are not accurate, and we still have no idea what it was meant to be or what purpose it served. We can say pretty definitively that it was not the basis for the Book of Abraham, but that’s really all we can say. Clearly, Joseph put some stock in it if he was using it to try to translate the Kinderhook Plates. But what he was originally attempting to do with it, we don’t know. What relationship it has to the Book of Abraham, we don’t know. Where those definitions on it came from, we don’t know. The document is largely a mystery.
What I do think is interesting, however, is that Joseph clearly believed the plates might be real because he knew the gold plates were also real. Why else would he attempt to translate them? If the gold plates were a hoax, he would have immediately suspected the Kinderhook Plates were a hoax too, but he didn’t because he knew that digging up ancient, engraved plates was a possibility.
And if he was faking his revelatory gifts, then why didn’t he come out with a full translation? Why stop after matching up one character? Why not craft an entire narrative around these plates and their owner? That’s what a fraud would do, after all. And it’s exactly what the creators of the plates hoped he’d do.
This segues nicely into something else I wanted to talk about. We throw the word “translate” around pretty loosely in our Church when describing Joseph Smith. But he did not translate any of our scriptures by ordinary translation methods. What he actually did was receive words by revelation. This single image on the Kinderhook Plates was the only thing he ever attempted to translate by normal translation methods—and I think the results speak for themselves. He didn’t know what he was doing, and he only “succeeded” in translating a single symbol which was ultimately incorrect. This is because Joseph was not a linguist. He was a prophet of God. The scripture he produced came by revelation, not by earthly means. When he tried to translate by earthly means, he failed.
This is why I want to touch on part of Bradley’s conclusion to his presentation:
We know exactly how Joseph Smith attempted to translate from the Kinderhook Plates and obtain the content that Clayton says he did. A larger conclusion, then, that we can draw is that Joseph Smith translated from the Kinderhook Plates not by revelation, but by non-revelatory means.
So, we have James D. Bales saying “Only a bogus prophet translates bogus plates,” and we’ve got Joseph Smith saying, “A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such.” And when a prophet is just comparing characters in two documents, he is not “acting as such.”
Last week, Jeremy questioned what it means that a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such. I responded to another part of his question and didn’t answer that part. Reddit user WooperSlim, however, did by citing a quote I want to repeat that he found in the D&C Student Manual:
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “A prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such” (History of the Church, 5:265).
Elder John A. Widtsoe commented on the Prophet Joseph’s words: “That statement makes a clear distinction between official and unofficial actions and utterances of officers of the Church. In this recorded statement the Prophet Joseph Smith recognizes his special right and duty, as the President and Prophet of the Church, under the inspiration of the Lord, to speak authoritatively and officially for the enlightenment and guidance of the Church. But he claims also the right, as other men, to labor and rest, to work and play, to visit and discuss, to present his opinions and hear the opinions of others, to counsel and bless as a member of the Church.” (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1:182.)
This is what Joseph was doing with the Kinderhook Plates, presenting his opinions like other men do. He was not acting as a prophet, he was looking between two sources and comparing them. Revelation played no part in it.
Briefly, I want to go over Jeremy’s comments, and then we’ll move on to yet another Book of Abraham recap, as well as discuss the Book of Mormon a bit. He starts by claiming again that those words of Clayton’s were Joseph’s words, and then repeats that they were proven to be a hoax. He then states:
The plates were named after the town in which they were found – Kinderhook, IL. A farmer claimed he dug the plates out of a mound. They took the plates to Joseph Smith for examination and he translated a portion.
This is mostly accurate. But again, Joseph did not “translate” a portion the way he translated the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, the Book of Moses, or D&C 7. He simply compared two images that looked similar, and gave what he thought the definition might be.
Not only did Joseph not discern the fraud, he added to the fraud by “translating” the fake plates. The LDS Church now concedes it’s a hoax. What does this tell us about Joseph Smith’s gift of translation?
Again, Joseph did not translate the plates, he gave a definition of one symbol on one plate. The LDS Church has “conceded it’s a hoax” since they were proven to be one in 1980. It’s not something they’re only now admitting. And it tells us that Joseph Smith had a gift for translating by revelation, not by ordinary means. When he tried to do it by ordinary means, he failed.
As outlined in the “Book of Abraham” section, Joseph Smith got everything wrong about the papyri, the facsimiles, the names, the gods, the scene context, the fact that the papyri and facsimiles were first century CE funerary text, who was male, who was female, etc. It’s gibberish.
Oh, Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy. Not one thing in this paragraph is true. As we went over twice already, Joseph got a ton of things right. His definitions of the symbols on the facsimiles aren’t “gibberish” at all, and the Book of Abraham itself is beautiful and poetic and nearly identical in places to dozens of other ancient documents about the life of Abraham that were not discovered until after Joseph’s death. Rather than recap all of that again, though, I’m just going to link to the previous recap I did.
There is not one single non-LDS Egyptologist who supports Joseph’s Book of Abraham, its claims, or Joseph’s translations.
Recently, I was incredibly blessed to attend an informal gathering where I had a conversation with John Gee, among others whose research I admire. This is an unofficial source which you should take with a large grain of salt, and please understand that I’m paraphrasing what was said. But one of the things he told me was that Egyptologists—even those who comment on Joseph’s translations of the facsimiles—have, by and large, never read the Book of Abraham. They aren’t commenting on its content, claims, or Joseph’s translation of the actual book itself. Most of them have never even bothered to open the book at all. They’re just looking at the figures on the facsimiles and Joseph’s translation of them.
And, since most of them aren’t trained in the Greco-Roman time period in which the papyri were created, all they can do is guess at what those figures might be. Brother Gee said that the difference between the latest time period they might specialize in and the Greco-Roman time period is about 800 years, or like the difference between our modern English and Middle English.
A prime example of Middle English is The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Do you see how different the language is? Some words are the same, and you can read a fair bit of it by making good guesses at many of the other words even though they’re very different from how they’re written today. There are some words, though, that you simply can’t decipher at all. It’s the same for the Egyptologists trying to decipher the meanings of the figures on the facsimiles. There are some things for which they can make a decent guess, and there are other things on which they’re clueless.
Even LDS Egyptologists acknowledge there are serious problems with the Book of Abraham and Joseph’s claims.
Jeremy’s cited source is an article from 1995 written by Stephen E. Thompson (the footnotes have apparently been updated since, but I don’t know about the content). First of all, he is only one person, not several people trapped in one body. Second, he gets some things wrong, such as claiming Facsimile 1 represents a common embalming scene while completely ignoring the facts that similar scenes are never included with Books of Breathing; there was no sarcophagus; the figure was alive and moving; sacrifice scenes do take place on lion couches in the artwork in the temple at Dendara; and the priest was between the moving figure and the table, which is completely, entirely unique to Facsimile 1. Some of the claims Thompson makes are outdated now, as more scholarship has been done and new evidence has come to light. Regardless, he does know quite a bit more about Egyptology than I do and he’s entitled to his opinions. I don’t share them for many reasons beyond the few I’ve listed here, but he’s allowed to think the Book of Abraham is fake if he wants. That’s between him and God.
Joseph Smith made a claim that he could translate ancient documents. This is a testable claim.
It’s only testable if you have the original documents that were supposedly being translated. As the only extant original document we have today that Joseph translated by revelation is Facsimile 1, that’s the only one we have to compare it with. And, as we’ve gone over several times now, Joseph’s identifications hold up quite well.
Joseph failed the test with the Book of Abraham.
Repeating the same thing over and over again does not make it true. I don’t think anything about the Book of Abraham could be considered a failure, other than maybe that we don’t have the full contents of the book at this time. There seemed to have been more that was translated that has since been lost. Its loss could be construed as a failure. I’d love to be able to read that someday, but other than that, I can’t think of a single thing about this book that fails in any capacity. The doctrine and language are beautiful, the contents align extremely well with other ancient Abrahamic documents, the definitions on the facsimiles hold up quite well, and the scholarship is fascinating and complex. There’s a lot about the book to love.
If you’re going to claim he failed, you have to explain away all of the things he got right. How does Jeremy explain that the Book of Abraham contains ancient Hebraic writing styles and Egyptian wordplay? Or that it aligns with dozens of extrabiblical Abrahamic accounts that weren’t discovered until after Joseph was dead? Or that it contains a genuine ancient Egyptian word that was only used during the time period in which Abraham lived? Or that Facsimile 3 contains a name that was only found in Egypt during the time periods in which Abraham lived and the papyri were created? Why does Joseph’s definition for the falcon of Horus match the definition given by ancient Israelites for the same image? How did Joseph know that genders were regularly confused in Egyptian artwork from the Greco-Roman time period? How did he know that an upside-down cow meant “the sun”? How did he know that ancient Jews and ancient Egyptians equated Osiris with Abraham? How did he name a city that is now known to have existed in the area he said it did during the time period he said it did? Etc. There are too many bullseyes to just wave them away as lucky guesses. Until Jeremy can explain away all of these things and everything else the Book of Abraham gets right, he can’t say that Joseph “failed the test” in regard to its translation. Simply saying it does not make it true. He has to address the evidence.
He failed the test with the Kinderhook Plates.
He never claimed to translate the Kinderhook Plates by revelation. He just compared the symbols on them to ones he already had that he’d already speculated about. That isn’t at all what he did to produce the scripture he gave to us, and the situations are not comparable.
With this modus operandi and track record, how can I be expected to believe that Joseph translated the keystone Book of Mormon? And that he translated with a rock in a hat?
Here we go with Joseph’s “modus operandi” again, and with “a rock in a hat.” The way we can believe that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon is by testing the promise given to us in Moroni 10:4-5:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
The scriptures are replete with this promise: that if we ask in faith, whatever knowledge we seek will be given to us. That’s how you know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. That’s how you know that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift of revelation through His holy power. The Holy Ghost is the arbiter of truth. He will tell us when something is true or not. You only have to get on your knees and ask.
That the gold plates that ancient prophets went through all that time and effort of making, engraving, compiling, abridging, preserving, hiding, and transporting were useless?
They most certainly were not useless. They were a tangible evidence that what Joseph was saying was true. Many people saw and held the plates. Many people touched them and carried them around. Joseph was well-known to have an object that physically resembled the plates. That is not in dispute. There are far too many witnesses to his physically having something heavy and gold he was using in the translation process. Whether he literally read from them the way Jeremy apparently envisioned him doing or not, Joseph had the plates and numerous witnesses back up that statement. They were not a figment of his imagination. He actually had them.
Moroni’s 5,000 mile journey lugging the gold plates from Mesoamerica (if you believe the unofficial apologists) all the way to New York to bury the plates, then come back as a resurrected angel, and instruct Joseph to translate instead using just a…rock in a hat?
Yet again, we don’t have any definition of what an official apologist is and how that differs from an unofficial one. As far as Moroni goes, though, what else would Jeremy have had him do? Teach Joseph reformed Egyptian? Read the text to him while he recorded it? Take hold of Joseph’s hand and write the words for him? I don’t know what he thinks Moroni’s job was, but it was to provide the plates and some initial instruction to Joseph. It was Joseph’s job to figure out how to receive the revelation to translate the words, and he did it in the only way he knew how. First, he used the supposedly stronger stones provided with the plates. Then, once he was more comfortable with the translation process, he used his own stone that he was more familiar with. Then, once he was more comfortable with receiving revelation in general, he no longer needed any stone at all. Heavenly Father was teaching him how to receive revelation by increments until he could stand on his own alongside the Spirit and receive that revelation without a crutch.
That seer stone may be weird to Jeremy, but it was not weird to Joseph. It was something familiar that he already knew how to use. Using that method to teach him gave him the confidence he needed to stretch and grow into his calling as a prophet. Remember, Joseph was born in December of 1805 and he received the plates in September, 1827. Do the math. He was only 21 years old. Most of us don’t know what we’re doing at 21, and the things we’re being asked to do are likely easier than what Joseph was being asked to do. He didn’t know how to be a prophet. He didn’t know how to found a church, or receive sustained, lengthy revelation, or to translate ancient records. He didn’t know what he was doing, and he had to figure it out with the Lord’s help as he went along. Is it any wonder that the Lord used something Joseph was already confident in using to help him learn?
A rock he found digging in his neighbor’s property in 1822 and which he later used for treasure hunting – a year before Moroni appeared in his bedroom and 5 years before he got the gold plates and Urim and Thummim?
Yep, that’d be the one! Heavenly Father and the Savior have a lengthy history of using physical objects to help us channel our faith: Oliver Cowdery’s diving rod; Jacob’s rod of poplars; Moses’s staff; the Urim and Thummim; the Nephite Interpreters; the Liahona; the lots cast by the Apostles; the glowing stones used by the Brother of Jared; etc. It’s not like Joseph is the very first person ever to have been given a physical aid in his spiritual journey.
Joseph Smith claimed to have translated three ancient records. The Book of Abraham: proven a fraud. The Kinderhook Plates: found to be a hoax. The Book of Mormon: the only one of the three for which we do not have the original. I’m sure he was only wrong on two out of three.
Nope, Joseph Smith claimed to have translated two ancient records, and received another two via revelatory vision. We don’t have any firsthand accounts of him claiming to have translated the Kinderhook Plates. All we have record of him doing is comparing symbols from two sources and stating what he believed one symbol to mean. He never claimed to receive revelation on this matter and there’s no indication he ever spent any more time on them than that.
And, again, Jeremy is incorrect in his other statements. The Book of Abraham has not been proven a fraud, no matter how many times he wants to claim otherwise, and we do not have the original source material for its translation. The only thing we have the original source for is Facsimile 1. Personally, I’m sure Joseph was only wrong on the Kinderhook Plates, because that’s the only one he tried to translate by secular means instead of spiritual means. The other two were translated by revelation from God.
And, lastly, in another instance of red, capital letters, Jeremy asks:
AFTER ALL, WOULDN’T YOU BUY A THIRD CAR FROM A MAN WHO HAD ALREADY SOLD YOU TWO CLUNKERS?
No, I wouldn’t. But the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon are not “clunkers,” and all anyone has to do in order to see that is read them. The Kinderhook Plates were a hoax, yes, but yet again, Joseph never claimed to translate them by the power of revelation the way he did with the others. We just spent weeks pointing out that prophets are not perfect. Joseph is no exception; he may not have realized the Kinderhook Plates were a hoax at the time. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t called of God, and it doesn’t mean he didn’t translate other ancient records through revelation. It just means that he didn’t translate the Kinderhook Plates…which we have no record of him ever having claimed to have done in the first place.
And when you look at all of the misinformation in the CES Letter, Jeremy really shouldn’t talk about other people producing “clunkers.” Just saying.
Sources in this entry:
Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.
John Perry says
Thank you for all the work you do to publish these rebuttals. It has become clear to me that Mr. Runnels uses historical data – to paraphrase Andrew Lang – like a drunk uses a lamppost: to support his criticisms and not for illumination.
His insistence on clinging to the Kinderhook Plates incident to support his claims against Joseph Smith actually weakens his case. The facts are simple and easy to understand and so anyone who does any research can easily see how Runnels stretches the truth. He’d be better off focusing on the Book of Abraham where there is much more information spanning a long period of time for which many assumptions must be made and many gaps must be filled. He’ll probably run a survey amongst his supporters like he has done on other weak claims and let them vote on whether to keep the Kinderhook incident or jettison it.
In my experience those who have been negatively influenced by the CES Letter are those who have but a superficial knowledge of the topics that influence them and the Letter must rely on this level of ignorance. The poem on this subject from Alexander Pope has been shared in this and other forums:
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
Pope’s belief was that the more knowledge one gained, the more one’s mind was inclined toward religion (not away from it as critics maintain). I think you and I are in agreement with Pope.
Have a Merry Christmas!
Mark Ashurst-McGee says
The Kinderhook plates were defended as authentic artifacts in: Welby W. Ricks, “The Kinderhook Plates,” The Improvement Era, September 1962.
Mark Ashurst-McGee says
A few more friendly corrections:
“William Clayton recorded this meeting as taking place on May 1st, while Willard Richards recorded it as taking place on May 7th.”
These are two different incidents that take place on the two days.
“He [Joseph Smith] had them [the Kinderhook plates] in his possession for a few days, about five days total”
He had them on May 1 and on May 7 and apparently had them through the intervening days.
“Why not craft an entire narrative around these plates and their owner? That’s what a fraud would do, after all. And it’s exactly what the creators of the plates hoped he’d do.”
There is no indication that this is what the creators of the plates hoped he’d do, and there is some indication that they did not want the plates taken to Nauvoo. It appears to have been intended as merely a little prank on some of the locals.
[All of these points are explained and documented in Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-McGee, “‘President Joseph Has Translated a Portion’: Joseph Smith and the Mistranslation of the Kinderhook Plates,” Chapter 17 in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, edited by Michael Hubbard Mackay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2020).]
Trevor Holyoak says
Thanks, Mark! Your corrections are much appreciated.