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!