Source:Echoes:Ch10:5:Expectations and nineteenth century writing materials

Writing Materials: Nineteenth century expectations

Writing Materials: Nineteenth century expectations

The Book of Mormon describes its principal writing surface as being plates of metal, for "whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away" (Jacob 4:2). This is in direct contradiction to the view of Ethan Smith [in a work entitled View of the Hebrews, which claimed an Israelite connection to the Amerindians, and claimed by some to have been relied upon by Joseph for the Book of Mormon's creation], who wrote that the Native Americans were "destitute of books and letters"38 (probably an accurate assessment of the tribes in the area of New England and New York). The Reverend Spaulding, on the other hand, fancied, according to common nineteenth-century notions, that an ancient record would be written according to Western European conventions for Latin manuscripts upon "sheets of parchment."39 Thus Spaulding's fictional Ohons tribe "generally wrote on parchment"40 formed into "Roll[s]." [Spaulding's manuscript was claimed by nineteenth critics of the Book of Mormon to be a source for the Book of Mormon]

Like his contemporaries, Spaulding thought that an ancient manuscript from the Americas should be "written in an eligant [sic] hand with Roman Letters & in the Latin Language,"42 while native languages were written with "characters which represent words—& all compound words had each part represented by its apropriate [sic] character. The variation of cases moods & tenses was designated by certain marks placed under the character."43 The characters were written "beginning at the right . . . from the top to the botton [sic], placing each character directly under the preceding one."44 The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, describes itself as being engraved on plates (see Jacob 4:1–3; Mormon 1:4) and written "in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian" (Mormon 9:32), although the language seems to have been based on Hebrew (see 1 Nephi 1:2; Mormon 9:33). Thus both the medium and the language of the Book of Mormon plates match the two earliest texts of biblical passages known, the oldest being written on metal plates and the next oldest being written in a form of the Egyptian script with the underlying language being Semitic.[1]


  1. John Gee, "The Wrong Type of Book," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 10, references silently removed—consult original for citations.