Note: The following was originally printed in the April 2017 edition of Mormonism Update. To receive this publication every other month, you must be a financial support of $25 or more per month.
An illustration in the February 2017 issue of Friend magazine, an LDS publication geared toward Mormon children. left out an important portion of the gold plates story in the February 2017 issue. Titled the “Golden Plates to Book of Mormon,” it mentions in captions number 1 how “the angel Moroni showed Joseph Smith were to find the gold plates. They were buried in the Hill Cumorah.”
Caption number 2 states, “Four years later, Joseph and his wife, Emma, went in a wagon to get the plates. Caption number 3 says, “People tried to steal the plates many times. Once Joseph hid them under the bricks of the fireplace.”
If anyone had nothing but this illustration, it would be easy to think that Smith transported the plates from their hiding place in the “stone box” to Smith’s home in a wagon. But this is not how the narrative has been explained in Mormon history. It is true that Emma did accompany her husband to the stone box where the plates were allegedly buried by Moroni centuries earlier, but he did not take them home at the time. According to page 44 of the correlated LDS church manual Church History in the Fulness of Times:
Long before sunrise on 22 September 1827, Joseph and his wife hitched Joseph Knight’s horse to Josiah Stowell’s spring wagon and drove the three miles to the Hill Cumorah. Leaving Emma at the base, Joseph climbed the hill for his final interview with Moroni. Moroni gave him the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate. He also gave Joseph a specific warning and promise concerning his responsibilities.
Why Smith would move them from a hiding place that was apparently safe for hundreds of years is unclear; however, in the next paragraph the manual states, “Joseph carefully hid the plates in a hollow log near his home.” How “near” was this log to Smith’s house? The above mentioned manual gives the impression that the stone box was three miles away from the Smith home; however, Joseph Smith’s mother claimed the hollow log was three miles from the Smiths (see pages 107-108 of her History of Joseph Smith: by His Mother):
The plates were secreted about three miles from home in the following manner: Finding an old birch long much decayed, except the bark, which was in a measure sound, he took his pocket knife and cut the bark back with some care, then turned it back and made a hole of sufficient size to receive the plates, and laying them in the cavity thus formed, he replaced the bark; after which he laid across the log, in several places, some old stuff that happened to lay near, in order to conceal as much as possible the place in which they were deposited.
In the next paragraph, Lucy stated that her son took the plates from “their secret place” (i.e. the hollow log). “Wrapping them in his linen frock, (he) placed them under his arm and started for home” (p. 108). Lucy then gave a very detailed account of what followed. She says her son “traveled some distance” with the plates, and as he was “jumping over a log” he was accosted by a man who gave him “a heavy blow with a gun.” Smith “knocked him down,” then “ran at the top of his speed.” About “half a mile farther he was attacked again in the same manner” and “ran again.” Before he reached home he was “assaulted a third time.” A paraphrased account of Lucy’s details can be found on page 45 of Church History in the Fulness of Times. The above details are missing from the graphic, perhaps because this account is one of the more fantastic elements of the story.
The graphic tells young LDS readers that “the plates probably weighed 40-60 pounds…that’s about as much as five bowling balls.” Though I personally see this 40-60 pound weight as nothing but arbitrary, making it difficult to prove, let’s assume that the plates weighed, on average, around 50 pounds. Even 50 pounds makes the story unbelievable since it is difficult to believe a man carrying 50 pounds can outrun an attacker carrying no such weight.
Let’s also assume Lucy was wrong when she said the hollow log was three miles away. The details in her account still place Joseph Smith a considerable distance from his home when she noted that the traveled “some distance” before getting off the well-traveled road, is accosted, and then went another half mile before he was attacked again. Lucy gave the impression that Smith faced three separate attackers. Couldn’t it be assumed that the distance separating these men was considerable, at least out of earshot from the others? Why not? Men who are fighting are often not very quiet about it. If the distance from the hollow log to Smith’s home was only a very short distance, wouldn’t they have heard the scuffle(s) and come to the rescue of the other assailants?
It seems awfully convenient to leave out details that have Smith carrying the plates on foot. Doing so leaves one to falsely assume that they went from the stone box to the Smith home in a wagon, which, as I have shown, is not the case.