If we have eyes to see and hearts to feel and minds to understand, God gives us opportunities to know the validity of His work in every direction we turn. The two sets of Gold Plates and His two sets of witnesses thereto are a case in point, as you will see.
What Ever Happened to the Golden Plates?
I learned from the scholar, Jonathan Neville, there were two sets of gold plates for the Book of Mormon. He has written an amazing and most useful book regarding “Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?” With his useful lawyer skills and intelligent thoroughness, his new book, “A Man That Can Translate” is brilliant. Both books have been great resource books for my research. Jonathan is a great friend and helped me with one of my blog articles Book of Mormon Miracles, documenting the miraculous time-lines in bringing forth the Book of Mormon. The miracles associated with the printing of the Book of Mormon are amazing as well.
“Large Plates” and “Small Plates”
You will see why I call the two sets fo Gold Plates the “large plates” and the “small plates,” for logical and actual reasons. As we look at the new information available from Jonathan and other sources, it helps us clarify the history of really what happened in the Book of Mormon translation process. We will see how the Lord brought into play His Divine Law of Witnesses (2 Corinthians 13:1) to give us maximum validity of this incredible Book of Mormon that has so blessed the world so greatly.
Notice, in your current Book of Mormon the “Title Page” has two paragraphs: Paragraph 1 states. “…it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi…”; and Paragraph 2 states. “An abridgement taken from the Book of Ether, which is a record of the people of Jared.” So, the “Title Page” is not a description of the “small plates, which were not an abridgment. They were translated last even though they are first in the Book of Mormon. Let us add a little bit of geography to help clarify the historicity and some important points regarding the Law of Witnesses.
Translations Locations to Help us Understand the History
The Joseph Smith Farm in Manchester is just south of Palmyra and west of Fayette, NY, about 30 miles.
As the “crow-flies” (signifying a straight line) it is 155 km (96 miles) from Manchester south-east to the “Village of Harmony,” PA, and about 130 km (80 miles) from Fayette to the “Village of Harmony.” Don’t confuse the “Village of Harmony” on the Susquehanna River with Harmony, PA; they are hundreds of miles apart. Joseph married Emma Hale in January 1827, and she helped when Joseph got the “large plates” from the stone box near the top of the Hill Cumorah. This happened the following September with Moroni’s guidance and permission.
Move to the Village of Harmony
Because of persecution they take the plates down to the Village of Harmony, PA, where Emma’s parents live. Joseph has to work to support his family, and finally in 1828 he starts the translation process with Emma and Martin Harris as the main scribes. After 116 pages are translated from the Book of Lehi from the “large plates,” Martin entices Joseph to let him take them to Palmyra to convince Martin’s wife of the divinity of the work, and those manuscript pages are lost.
This is probably the darkest time in Joseph’s life, he is chastened by the Lord and is prevented from translating for a time. Emma is near to dying having lost their first child.
In Answer to Prayer Oliver Cowdery Arrives as Scribe
When Oliver arrives, under the direction from the Lord, they translate from the “large plates” from the Book of Mosiah to the end of Moroni during May and June 1829. Then the Lord instructed Joseph to translate the very last page of the plates which is the “Title Page”. This was written by Moroni and was needed to obtain a copyright.
Because of the 116 lost pages, the Lord had a backup plan, of which we are the enormous beneficiaries, as the Lord is always able to turn bad into good. The backup plan gave us First Nephi through the Book of Omni; which replaced the translation from the Book of Lehi.
The Lord told Joseph He had “other records” (D&C 9:2) to replace those 116 lost manuscript pages. These are the “small plates” Jonathan discusses in his books. These were translated last at the Whitmer Farm Home in Fayette, NY, after Joseph had finished translating Mosiah through Moroni in the Village of Harmony, PA. The LAST became the FIRST!
The Large Plates
According to various observations, the “large plates” apparently contained a compartment for the Urim and Thummim used in translating, and about two-thirds of the plates were sealed, The sealed portion contains, “the revelation… kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord,… for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof.” (2 Nephi 27:10) EXCITING!
After finishing with the “large plates,” before they left the Village of Harmony PA, Joseph gave those “large plates” to one of the three Nephites, who took them to the grand repository in the Hill Cumorah.
The Small Plates
When they got to Fayette, NY, a messenger brought the “small plates” of Nephi from the grand repository to Joseph to translate at the Peter Whitmer Farm Home (First Nephi through Omni).
I had a hint of these “small plates” back in 1955 when I took a Book of Mormon religion class at BYU from Professor Reed Bankhead. He taught that in the Book of Mormon the “small plates” (Jacob 1:1-2) referred to by Nephi’s brother Jacob are often referred to as “these plates” and were separate from the other plates.
After they had finished the translation for the Book of Mormon in June 1829, Joseph knew from the record that there were to be witnesses.
Three First Witnesses
The Book of Mormon explicitly states there are to be three special witnesses. Martin Harris, who had mortgaged his farm to pay for the printing of the Book of Mormon, wanted to be one of the witnesses. He came over to Fayette from Palmyra. Joseph, Oliver, David, and Martin retired to the woods near the Whitmer Farm Home in prayer. At first, their prayers were not answered. Martin felt that it was his fault because he was one of the reasons the 116 manuscript pages from the Book of Lehi were lost. Martin excused himself and went off by himself to seek forgiveness from the Lord.
Moroni then showed the “large plates” to Joseph, Oliver, and David. Then Joseph found the repentant Martin and he gets to see the “large plates” as well. All three of the witnesses saw, “the plates which contain… a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites,… and also of the people of Jared,…” We know that these had to be the “large plates,” since they contained the record of the Jaredites.
Eight Second Witnesses
Shortly thereafter, several of the Whitmers went to the Smith Farm in Manchester where Joseph was given the “small plates” to show to eight witnesses. The eight witnesses testify to the world that “we did handle with our hands;… we have seen and hefted… the plates.” This testimony included three of the Whitmer family members. Joseph Smith, Sr. was also one of the eight witnesses, who said they weighed about 30 lbs. I count him as a reliable witness for “these plates” and their weight.
The Weight of the “Large Plates”
Given the size documented for the “large plates,” if they were solid 14-carat gold, the plates would have weighed about 140 lbs. Clearly, they were a special gold alloy, which apparently contained a special compartment for the Urim and Thummim. From my research, I believe they weighed about 60 lbs. This sealed portion is soon to come forth, and they reveal the end from the beginning. “…the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the housetops, and they will be read by the power of Christ, and all things shall be revealed…” (2 Nephi 27:11)
Two Sets of Plates Comprise the Book of Mormon
So, the Book of Mormon contains God’s word from two sets of Gold plates: the unabridged portion (the small plates), and the abridged portion (the large plates). We have two independent sets of witnesses of the two sets of plates from which we have obtained probably the most miraculous translation of God’s word on the planet – translated only once by the gift and power of God. How valuable is that? The book not only validates the Bible but is the most effective book we now have to bring us to Christ, as it contains the fullness of the gospel. It testifies that Christ came to this Promised Land of America after His resurrection and gave them instructions on how to be an IDEAL Zion society – motivated purely by God’s love. (4 Nephi 15)
2021 Book of Mormon Expo Lecture
In the April presentation that I just gave at the Book of Mormon EXPO, I share what the devil is up to and how God’s word proves the validity of this great book, as well as the Bible while showing a grand harmony between true science and true religion with the title, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” God’s marvelous creation plan to bless our lives is TRUE, and Christ is coming soon!
David W. Allan
PS The Hill Cumorah is very special to my wife and me for that is where we met in 1958 while participating in the Hill Cumorah Pageant.