How Do the Witnesses of the Gold Plates Compare to the Witnesses of the Resurrection? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In this final post in the series, we will review apologist Rob Bowman’s final thoughts on Joseph Smith’s golden plates.  Bowman writes:

Whereas the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances were obviously miraculous, supernatural occurrences, there is nothing supernatural or miraculous about a set of metal plates with engravings on them.  Showing skeptics the metal plates should not have been any more problematic than showing skeptics the Great Isaiah Scroll today is.  Joseph had no hesitation or reluctance to show people the Egyptian papyri on which he claimed were the writings of Abraham and Joseph, even to complete strangers. Yet someone could be in a room with Joseph, with the plates supposedly sitting right there on the table under wraps, and Joseph would not allow them to look at the plates.  If we’re going to compare the Resurrection appearances with the gold plates, it’s a bit like Peter telling Thomas, “Jesus is right behind that wall over there—Hi, Lord!—but I’m sorry Tom, you’re not allowed to see him now.”

So what are we to make of the golden plates?  Were they real or were they fake?  According to Bowman,

It isn’t clear how many people actually saw the plates or closely inspected them.  The three witnesses say they saw the plates, but give no details, and evidently did not even touch them.  The testimony of the eight witnesses appears to have been written out for them to sign; it claims they handled the plates and saw the engravings, but there are reasons to find this claim dubious.

The simplest explanation for Joseph’s behavior is that he had something, perhaps metal plates of some kind, but not gold plates with modified Egyptian characters.  I don’t think we have enough information to determine if Joseph found the plates somewhere or if he made them, or what. But the best explanation for why he didn’t show the plates openly was that they weren’t what he claimed they were.  That explains why the only people who testified to seeing the plates were a small group—people in his family and a few others, people who were either invested in the project in some way or were easy to manipulate or convince or both—such as Martin Harris.

Here are some additional thoughts I have about the resurrection vs. the golden plates.  As Bowman suggests, coming up with a plausible natural explanation of the golden plates is trivial.  Smith could have made the plates, bought the plates, or even found the plates.  There is nothing supernatural about golden plates.

None of the witnesses of the plates appeared to be in a position to understand the Reformed Egyptian language allegedly engraved on the plates, including Smith himself.  None of the witnesses saw an angel telling Smith where the plates were.  Nobody was with Smith when he allegedly found the plates.  Nobody can know if Smith correctly translated the Book of Mormon from the plates.  In fact, Mormon historians have carefully documented that the plates were rarely even around when Smith was dictating the Book of Mormon.  Much of the material in the Book of Mormon can be directly traced from the King James Bible and contemporary sources that Smith borrowed from – hardly miraculous.

By contrast, the public execution and subsequent resurrection of Jesus, who was then seen by both friends and enemies, over many days, in many different places, screams for a supernatural explanation, especially because Jesus predicted, before he died, that these things would happen.  Skeptics have attempted for 2,000 years to explain what happened without invoking the supernatural, and have utterly failed.

There is simply no comparison between the resurrection of Jesus and the golden plates of Joseph Smith.  Any attempts to claim that they are similar, are, in my opinion, foolish.  My special thanks to Rob Bowman for making his comments available to me.  I think you would all agree that they were quite helpful!

  • None of the witnesses saw an angel telling Smith where the plates were.

    Actually, three of the witnesses claimed that the angel showed them the plates.

    Of course the story of the Golden Plates is absurd, but if the Mormons are allowed to cherry pick a set of minimal facts in the same way that Christian apologists do for the resurrection, there are a number of oddities for which an explanation is not obvious. Moreover, the Mormons’ minimal facts would be supported by first person contemporaneous accounts from identifiable witnesses as opposed to anonymous accounts written decades after the fact based on unknown sources which are themselves removed an indeterminate number of times from the original events.

  • I’ll have to check on the three witnesses and the angel. I had not heard that before. In any case, there are multiple, plausible naturalistic explanations for the plates. There are no such explanations for the resurrection. The skeptical crowd is so desperate for a naturalistic explanation of the resurrection that the most popular theory today is still multiple group hallucinations, which the psychological community has said probably cannot occur.

  • Bill

    I hope I can find a way to say this without violating your comment policy, but I think this really highlights the problem with your methodology: Your understanding of what non-Christians think is based solely upon the writings of Christian apologists.

    The “Testimony of the Three Witnesses” which appears in every copy of the Book of Mormon is only a paragraph long and unequivocally states that an angel showed the witnesses the plates. That you were unaware of this can only mean that you wrote all these posts without even making the effort to read for yourself what the Mormons are actually claiming. It appears that you have only read Christian apologists’ criticism of the Mormon claims and that those apologists presented an incomplete picture.
    In a similar vein, you go on to assert that multiple group hallucinations is the most popular explanation of the resurrection among skeptics when it is actually just the most popular straw man among Christian apologists. While I am aware of many skeptics who think that group hallucinations are more likely than a supernatural physical resurrection, most think that the most likely explanation is that the stories of the resurrection appearances began with a small number of individual experiences and that over time the stories were exaggerated to include group appearances. As Dagoods has pointed out recently ( ), apologists are notorious for attributing arguments to skeptics which few, if any, skeptics ever actually make.

    I believe that the naturalistic explanations for the resurrection stories are precisely the same as the naturalistic explanations for the Golden Plates stories: a combination of the usual human foibles of ignorance, superstition, wishful thinking, gullibility, and prevarication. The propensity of these foibles to give rise to fantastic supernatural tales is well documented throughout human history.

    If I were to base my opinion of Christian’s claims entirely on the writings of atheists who sought to debunk them and never read any of them for myself, I think you would be entirely justified in dismissing anything I had to say. It is similarly difficult for me to take the writings of Christian apologists seriously when it is apparent that their only source of information is other Christian apologists.

  • darrellboan

    Yes, the testimony of the three witnesses does say that an angel appeared and showed them the plates. However, what they meant by “showed” and “appeared” is highly debatable. Martin Harris freely admitted that he did *not* see the plates or the angel with his naked eye, but did so with a “spiritual eye”. In “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”, Grant Palmer does a wonderful analysis of this fact and concludes (as MANY do) that it was not a literal appearance. Seeing spiritual visions with ones spiritual eyes was not unknown in upstate New York in the early 19th Century. There were many in that area around that time who claimed to see “visions” and more than one “ancient book” was produced from such visions and experiences (e.g., James Strang and the Voree Plates). It is also noteworthy that Grant Palmer wrote this book while an active, believing Mormon. He worked for CES department of the LDS Church for years as an Early Morning Seminary Teacher. Unfortunately, the LDS Church did not appreciate his work and subsequently disfellowshiped him.

  • I agree that what the three witnesses saw is highly debatable, but the only first person report we have of a resurrection appearance also leaves us scratching our heads. In 1 Cor 15, Paul gives us no details of what he saw or what he thought the other witnesses saw.

  • Boz

    Bill Pratt said: “There are no such[plausible naturalistic explanations] explanations for the resurrection [of jesus].”

    Skeptics do not need to explain how a ressurection occured naturally.

    Skeptics need to explain how (e.g.) Papyrus 52 arrived in an Egyptian market in 1920. And they need to explain how (e.g.) Papyrus 66 arrived at Jabal Abu Mana in 1952. etc.

  • Boz

    That’s an intersting suggestion.
    Bill Pratt, you often write posts that say: “so and so writes X, and I agree because xyz.” What do you think about writing posts that say: “so and so writes X, and I disagree because xyz.” ?

  • I did not re-read the Book of Mormon for this blog series, and so I forgot that the witnesses claimed to see an angel. In addition, Bowman did not make the claim about the angels; I did, and I was mistaken.

    With regard to my methodology, I read Christian authors that I trust (like Rob Bowman), and go with their research until I see that they get something wrong, and then I try to correct what they got wrong.

    I also read and listen to anti-Christian sources. I allow anti-Christian commenters like yourself free reign to write on my blog, in the hopes that I can learn from you.

    I am not an expert on Mormon origins, although I just finished reading a thorough treatment written by Grant Palmer, a former Mormon who Darrell mentioned in his comment. But I don’t have to be an expert to show people that Mormon accounts of the golden plates are not in the same league as Jesus’s resurrection.

    You say that what I write does not persuade you, but what you write comparing the resurrection to the golden plates is especially unpersuasive to me, and to Darrell, who was a Mormon for many years. It seems that there is little persuasion happening between us.

  • darrellboan

    If we had accounts of Paul saying, “No, I didn’t really see Jesus with my physical eyes. Only with my spiritual eyes.” I might agree with you, but we don’t.

  • Bill,

    You don’t have to be an expert to show people that Mormon accounts of the golden plates are not in the same league as the accounts of the resurrection, but surely you have to know what the Mormon accounts are to do so.

  • Paul doesn’t tell us whether he saw Jesus with any sort of eyes. He merely says he appeared. For all we know, he appeared to Paul in a dream like the angel who appeared to Joseph and told him to take Mary as his wife. Matt. 1:20.

  • If you agree that the two accounts don’t compare, then why do you keep comparing them and implying they are the same kind of thing?

  • Bill,

    Sorry if I was unclear. I do believe that there are valid comparisons that can be made. I simply agree that one does not necessarily have to be an expert in order to make them.

  • darrellboan

    If he says “appeared” and does not clarify it in the manner that Joseph did, i.e., in a dream, then to say that it wasn’t simply an “appearance” is reading into it. However, we have evidence that the 3 witnesses did not have a geniune “appearance”, so your comparison of these two events, zealous as you are to make it, is still bunk.

  • Simply an appearance? Is a supernatural appearance such a common run-of-the-mill thing that it’s nature and details are self-evident?

  • darrellboan

    You are sooo reaching at straws to make you point Vinny. I realize you are struggling to manufacture some type of similarity between these stories, but the facts just won’t allow for it. The fact is we have evidence from the BOM witnesses that says it was not a geniune appearance. It was a “spiritual” one. We have no such evidence for the Biblical stories. Lack of evidence, as much as you would like it to be, is NOT evidence.

  • I fully agree that there is a lack of evidence concerning what Paul thinks he saw. That is my point.

  • darrellboan

    No, what you are trying to do is read INTO what Paul said. He simply said he “saw”. If I say I saw an apple, you have no reason to read into my words. You would simply say, “Okay.” But if I say I saw an apple with my spiritual eyes, there is a big difference. You are trying to equate the two, and it doesn’t work. You are showing a severe bias here that is not allowing you to be honest or fair in your evaluation.

  • No, that is not what I am trying to do.

    If you tell me that you “saw” an apple, I have no trouble understanding exactly what you mean because I have seen many apples myself. On the other hand, if you tell me that a supernatural being “appeared” to you, it is not at all clear to me what experience you are claiming to have had since I have never experienced the appearance of a supernatural being myself. If you gave me no other information about the nature of your experience, the best way I know of to get an idea of what you might mean is to look at the way other people have described the experience of such an appearance. If other people’s “appearance” experiences sound like dreams or visions or hallucinations, I would have to allow for the possibility that your experience was of a similar nature.

  • Ggodat

    Vinny, do you believe in the summit of Mt. Everest? I bet you have never seen it personally so how do you know it exists? Maybe the hunders of people also claiming to have seen the summit were lying….
    I bet you believe in aliens even though you haven’t seen them and you surely believe in evolutionary transitional createures even though they dont exist either…

  • I’ll tell you what I don’t believe in; wasting my time arguing with trolls.

  • Ggodat

    See, that’s why I like you so much Vinniy, when given a tough question you shut down and hurl insults. I’ll take it to mean that you either cannot answer the question logically or see that it puts you in a dichotomy knowing that if you answer the question you will look silly.

  • Life is far too short for me to worry about how you take things.

  • Ggodat

    You are correct! What you should be worring about is what comes after this life ends….

  • It’s also too short to worry about what you think I should be worrying about.

  • Ggodat

    But you do seem to be worried about it now don’t you?

  • If it comforts you to think so, go ahead.

  • Ggodat

    I know so, you keep replying…

  • Ah yes. The ultimate apologetic argument: If I stand on the street corner and scream at the top of my lungs until someone tells me to shut up, that will be proof that the Holy Spirit is convicting them.

  • Ggodat

    No, but if you stare into the heavens and have a clue about physics, a creator God is the ONLY conclusion you can come to (at least rational conclusion).


    Right, that’s why physics scientists are less likely to be theists than the general population, because none of them have a clue about physics.

  • Ggodat

    Ok Creed….

  • Personally I believe Joseph Smith invented Mormonism. He had many reasons, pedophilia included.
    I want to thank Bill Pratt & Darrell for all their hard work in putting together this outstanding 4-part series on the witnesses of the gold plates vs. the witnesses of the Resurection. Please continue your work as apostles of Christ.

  • Christian07

    Well said ! I agree .

  • Christian07

    That’s it, hold his feat to the fire !

  • Which of these two stories has a higher probability of having occurred:

    Jesus of Nazareth is crucified in Jerusalem in circa 30 AD. As he draws his final breath, the entire earth goes dark for three hours, a violent earthquake shakes dead people awake in their graves, and rips the Temple veil down the middle. Jesus’ body is taken down off the cross and placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body which the previous night had voted unanimously to execute Jesus. The tomb is sealed with a large stone and Roman guards placed in front of it. Three days later, a second great earthquake shakes Jerusalem, causing the dead who had been shaken awake in the first earthquake to now come out of their tombs to roam the streets of Jerusalem and reconnect with old acquaintances; an angel (or angels) comes and rolls away the great stone in front of the tomb, causing the soldiers to faint, and testifies to one, several, or many women that Jesus’ tomb is empty; that he had risen from the dead. Jesus later appears to the Eleven, and eight days (or forty days) later, ascends into heaven from a mountain in Bethany (or Galilee, or from the Upper Room in Jerusalem). The resurrection appearances of Jesus so emboldened the previously easily-frightened, doubting disciples that they now boldly preach the gospel of Jesus in the temple, Judea, and the world, dying martyrs deaths, refusing to recant their eyewitness testimony that they had seen the resurrected, walking/talking body of Jesus. These same disciples soon write the Gospels and several epistles which would soon become the New Testament of the Bible. The Gospel of Jesus spreads like wildfire, furiously persecuted by both the Jews and Romans, to become the dominant faith of the Western World for two thousand years.

    Or, is this what happened:

    Jesus of Nazareth is crucified. He dies. His body is left on the cross for days, as was the Roman custom, to warn any other “King of the Jews” pretender to think twice about stirring up trouble. After a few days have passed and the birds, dogs (Roman crosses were low to the ground), and other carrion have ravaged the body, the remains are taken down at night and tossed into an unmarked common grave—a hole in the ground— with the bodies of other criminals executed that week. The location of this common grave is known only to a few soldiers, as the Romans do not want to give the “King of the Jews” a proper burial nor do they want a known grave to become a national shrine where Jews can later come to pay homage to their “King”, possible inciting more trouble. Jesus disciples who were already in hiding, go home to Galilee to take up their prior professions—fishing and collecting taxes. The small band is devastated. Their beloved leader is dead; their hopes of reigning over the New Kingdom on twelve thrones with Jesus are dashed to pieces; there will be no overthrow of the hated Romans after all. All hope seems lost. Then…months or a few years after Jesus’ death…a couple of women disciples see a man in the distance, at sunset, and in the silhouette of the fading sun…he looks like Jesus. Is it Jesus? He turns to them, waves with his hand, and then disappears behind a hill. “It was Jesus!” they exclaim. They run and tell the disciples. Soon other disciples are “seeing” Jesus. “He is risen, just as he said he would!” The disciples are ecstatic! They WILL reign in the New Kingdom after all! They begin to preach the Gospel of Jesus, telling everyone how he has risen from the dead, as he had promised.

    …and forty years later, after Jerusalem has been destroyed and most of the disciples are dead, a Greek speaking Christian in Rome writes down the story of Jesus. However, the version of the oral story that this man hears circulating in Rome at the time tells of an empty tomb, the tomb of a member of the Sanhedrin…so “Mark” writes down the story. A decade or so later, “Matthew” in another far away location and “Luke” in another, write down the story of Jesus. They borrow heavily from “Mark’s” story, from another common source (Q), and from other sources that they do not seem to have shared. For instance, “Matthew’s” story contains incredible supernatural tales, such as an earthquake occurring when Jesus died, causing dead people to come back to life…but they don’t come out of their graves until three days later when Jesus walks out of his grave! One wonders what they were doing in their tombs for three days!

    And two thousand years later, every Christian on earth believes that the stories written by “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” are the historically accurate accounts of the life, death, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus, when all they are are legendary stories. No one lied. No one made anything up. It’s a legend. Now, dear Christian, how many supernatural events such as dead people coming out of their graves to walk around town chatting with friends and family have you seen in your life? Not many, have you? And how many times have you seen a simple story about a missing person or someone’s mysterious death, evolve within days, into the wildest tale, with all kinds of bizarre details and claims?

    So, honestly, friend: Which of the above two stories about Jesus is more probable to be true?