Source:Echoes:Ch6:5:Orphic gold plates

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Orphic gold plates

Orphic gold plates

Verifying the authenticity of disputed ancient documents generally entails rigorous comparison of a document with the intellectual, cultural, and social heritage of the civilization it purports to describe. It is generally accepted that no forger of a text claiming to describe an area or time period with which he is not personally acquainted can possibly create a text that accurately describes another society in any detail. Indeed, historians usually have little trouble identifying forgeries of ancient documents, especially when those texts present a large amount of historical information, as does the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon were a nineteenth-century concoction, this would have been easily and convincingly demonstrated a thousand times over. But this has not happened, and the attempts to pin such characterizations on the book have been largely refuted and replaced with a growing realization that the more carefully one examines the text, the more plausible its claimed ancient origins become.

Wilfred Griggs, a professor of classics, history, and ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, has compared Book of Mormon imagery with known Greek and Egyptian texts from around the time of Lehi.21 In particular he has found powerful evidence that visions of the tree of life experienced by Lehi and Nephi share certain symbols and motifs with recently excavated Greek and Egyptian religious texts contemporary with Lehi's lifetime.

Symbols reminiscent of the tree of life visions described in the Book of Mormon are found in the ritual writings (recorded on gold plates) of the Orphic religious movement of Greek society, which became prominent throughout the eastern Mediterranean as early as the seventh century BC. The Orphic plates, buried with the dead, were intended to guide the deceased in the afterworld, where he would encounter, among other items, two paths, one of which led to "a spring, near which is standing a white cypress."22 Griggs explains that scholars have consistently associated the white cypress with the tree of life, and the plates themselves identify the spring as the "Lake of Memory," also symbolic of life. While scholars dispute the exact nature of the plates and the interpretation of the symbolism, there is broad consensus that they were the products of, or heavily influenced by, the ancient Near East.

Egyptian ritualistic funerary texts also contain similar references to a "tree growing by the fountain or spring of living water." Griggs explains that the rituals described in both the Orphic and Egyptian texts also would have been significant to the living, as a method of preparing "the living initiate for his journey into the world of departed spirits."23 Given the ties between Greece and Egypt in this epoch, many scholars assert that the motifs on the Orphic plates have in reality an Egyptian origin. Griggs likewise suggests that the symbols used in the Book of Mormon were also influenced by the Egyptian ties, probably commercial, of Lehi and his family. Thus he suggests that the "most feasible and plausible explanation" for the similarities between the Orphic gold plates and the visions of the tree of life in the Book of Mormon is that "Egypt is the common meeting ground for the two traditions."24 Growing evidence that symbols used in the Book of Mormon were part of the cultural milieu of Lehi's world—and not Joseph Smith's New York—strongly supports the divine and ancient origin of the Book of Mormon.[1]

Notes

  1. Noel B. Reynolds, "By Objective Measures: Old Wine in New Bottles," 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 6, references silently removed—consult original for citations.