Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Early Christian Books on Metal Plates Discovered—Some Sealed, Like the Book of Mormon

A post this morning on The Lookout, a Yahoo! news blog, reported that a team of British archaeologists was investigating a collection of seventy small books, or codices, made out of lead plates, possibly dating back to the first century of the Christian era, discovered in Jordan. (One such codex is pictured above.) The story was originally reported in the online edition of the Daily Mail (United Kingdom). Some of the codices were completely sealed (as pictured below), a fact which led the archaeologists to recall “the book ... sealed with seven seals” mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation (New Testament, Revelation, chapters 5 and 6).

Mindful of a string of recent frauds involving supposed archaeological artifacts, some specialists are urging caution and careful authentication before claims are made on the basis of these codices. All that is as it should be. For the sake of discussion, let us assume that the codices are ultimately found to be authentic.

For Latter-day Saints (LDS), there are all sorts of interesting things to talk about here. First of all, there is the matter of sacred writings on metal plates, in relation to the Book of Mormon. Then there is the matter of some of the codices being sealed, also in relation to the Book of Mormon. Finally, there is the matter of LDS prophecies concerning the coming forth of “other books” than the Bible and Book of Mormon.

Books on Metal Plates

It has often been noted that the validity of the LDS faith stands or falls on the validity of the Book of Mormon, a uniquely LDS scripture. Joseph Smith wrote that an angel had been sent by God to tell Smith about an ancient book written on golden plates, and that he, Smith, later obtained the book, and translated it as the Book of Mormon that we have today. (A brief LDS description of the Book of Mormon and its production may be found here.)

The mainstream Christian world has long condemned the Book of Mormon as anathema: there are no valid prophets, let alone valid written prophecy, after the New Testament, they say. Many have then gone on to criticize the Book of Mormon on its formal characteristics, including its seemingly exotic format: a book, supposedly written on metal plates, bound by rings of metal, with some of the plates actually sealed because Joseph Smith was not permitted to read them. Who had ever heard of such a thing?

Well, pretty much no one, in 1830, when Joseph Smith first published the Book of Mormon. However, as noted in a 2007 article by William J. Hamblin, in the years since the publication of the Book of Mormon, a number of archaeological finds have been made involving sacred writing on metal plates in the area of the Mediterranean.

Up until the 1950s, one could criticize all of that research on the grounds that no such metal books had emerged from the context of ancient Judaism, which supposedly formed the matrix from which the Book of Mormon emerged. The 1952 discovery of the Copper Scroll among the Dead Sea Scrolls put that criticism to rest; the Copper Scroll is written, of course, on metal. (See the Hamblin article’s link above for other examples of ancient Jewish writing on metal plates.)

Yet, the criticism could still be made that there were no examples of Christian literature on metal plates. If found to be authentic, the lead plates described in today’s news articles changes that situation altogether: it is clear that someone in at least one ancient Christian community created Christian books written on metal plates, and quite a few books at that.

Sealed Plates

Another ground of criticism of the Book of Mormon is the matter of the supposedly sealed part of the plates. Joseph Smith stated that about one-third of the plates of the Book of Mormon were sealed, and that he had been instructed to leave those plates sealed, and not to attempt to read them or translate them. He also stated that he had been required to deliver the plates back to the angel after Smith had translated the unsealed section of plates; presumably this was, in part, to ensure the security of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon.

The critics’ judgment is that this is awfully convenient. They say that Smith invented an excuse so that he would not have to produce the plates of the Book of Mormon for the public. The idea that some of the plates were sealed, they say, is merely a contrivance stolen from the story of the book sealed with seven seals, mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation (as noted above).

If found to be authentic, the lead plates described in today’s news articles changes that situation altogether, as well: it is clear that someone deliberately sealed some of the codices, as illustrated above. This was therefore not necessarily some practice invented by Joseph Smith, or stolen from the Book of Revelation, but rather represents a continuation of a heretofore little-known practice concerning, perhaps, especially sacred literature.

The Coming Forth of “Other Books”

The Latter-day Saints have long been told that there are still sacred records to come forth, records that will be of worth to us in the latter days. In the Book of Mormon, the ancient prophet Nephi is shown a vision of what was, to him, the far future. As he described the vision, he say that after the publication of the Book of Mormon itself, in our day, “other books”—presumably ancient books long lost—would come forth to provide evidence of both the Bible and the Book of Mormon (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13:39).

Even if found to be authentic, the recently discovered lead plates may not be the prophesied “other books.” However, their mere existence and discovery serve to remind all the Saints that the prophecies are still valid, even though yet to be fulfilled. If anything, this should inspire the Saints to study carefully the sacred records that we have now; only then will we be eligible to receive more.

Copyright 2011 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Readers are invited to become “followers” of this blog through the box in the upper-left-hand corner of this webpage, just under the title of the blog. Readers are also welcome to comment--civilly--below.

[The images of the codices were taken by David Elkington for Rex Features. The images can be found on the website of the Daily Mail, a newspaper in the United Kingdom.]


  1. woooooo! this is awesome! the time of the second coming is at hand. im truly blessed to be part this restored gospel.

  2. @Anonymous: This is one of the few occasions where the word "awesome," used in casual conversation, is truly justified. Thank you for commenting.

  3. It is wonderful to be able to transcend faith and move right to knowledge. Thank you for writing this post...Another Saint from Canada living in Costa Rica.

  4. This is absolutely ridiculous that Mormons would use this as a way to legitimize their false beliefs. Even these recently discovered books are NOT scripture, and can't be used to legitimize ANY faith, especially Mormonism.

  5. The 1830 edition of the book of Mormon contained over 10,000 gramatical errors. Along with other errors that completely change the doctrine of the text. How could someone inspired by a perfect God make countless mistakes in translation? Besides this, there is absolutely 0% archaeological evidence for the book of Mormon. We should be stepping on countless artifacts all over South America that would account for the iron clad weapons and other pieces that would attest to such great wars taking place. Turn to the God of the Bible who loves you, not the fabricated gods of the book of Mormon.

  6. Captain James C. GreenApril 5, 2011 at 1:05 AM

    Thanks Mark for making us aware of interesting historic finds such as this. Many facts concerning the coming forth of The Book of Mormon and the countless archeological findings in the Americas (which "do" exist, BTW), lending authenticity to it... will never convince non-believers. But it is very fascinating for us.

    I have a couple of friends who are extremely critical of the book, which we revere along with the Bible to be the Word of God, yet they amazingly refuse to "read it." I find that quite telling as to their real intent.

    We invite all the world to read, study, and pray about the Book of Mormon, as we have done, to discover its truthfulness.
    Thanks for your work!

    Kind regards,
    Bishop Jim Green

  7. I live in Ireland,North. and have been to many church/chapels in my day From Presbyterian,Free presbytrian Baptist, Methodist, plymouth Bretheren; from I was a child until untill my late twentys... I was not happy, I looked at my hands and wondered why I exsisted non could answer or satisfy because they all taught different doctrine But! I was told to stay away from the Mormons Guess What?

    I requested a visit to see Missionaries they came and there was something special a feeling of Joy and Goodness in thease people and I cryed when they taught Heavenly fathers Plan. I could not deny the good feeling I was recieving when they where teaching me the purpose of Life I knew it was true and that feeling of goodnes can only come from one Source Heavenly Father The Holy Ghost and Jesus The Christ. As Christ said, As I Love You Love One Another and for those who hate the church even with spite Love them Because they will never find truth because of PRIDE I Recieved every answer you could ever want even unto death. Now I know why I exsist In the name of JESUS CHRIST Amen. Kind Regards N.L.Reid

  8. Ever heard of "Lead Books of Sacromonte" or the "Sinaia lead plates"? look it up.

  9. Nice article, Mark. I believe that the Urantia Book, published in 1955 and no known group or author claiming it, is that 'greater things to come' as prohesied in the BofM ... it discloses all the pieces proscribed that it would contain... the beginnings of time, the universe and its origin, earth and its origin, the greater Teachings of Jesus (almost a day to day accounting of Jesus' life ... 700 of the 2100 pages).


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