The late Dr. James D. Bales, one of the founding members of the Evangelical Theological Society, and long-time Professor of Christian Doctrine at Harding University, wrote The Book of Mormon? in 1958 (Rosemead, CA: Old Paths Book Club). In this book he tells the story of the Kinderhook Plates.
The Kinderhook Plates were concocted by a few citizens of Kinderhook, Illinois, to demonstrate that the Mormon leader Joseph Smith was not able to read ancient plates like those he claimed to have read in the production of the Book of Mormon.
Bales explains the background of the fraud:
The following is found in Times and Seasons (IV:186-187, May 1, 1843). We quote it as we copied it from the Millennial Star. “On the 16th of April last a respectable merchant by the name of Robert Wiley, commenced digging in a large mound near this place: he excavated to the depth of ten feet and came to rock; about that time the rain began to fall, and he abandoned the work. On the 23rd he and quite a number of the citizens with myself, repaired to the mound, and after making ample opening, we found plenty of rock the most of which appeared as though it had been strongly burned; and after removing full two feet of said rock, we found plenty of charcoal and ashes; also human bones that appeared as though they had been burned; and near the eciphalon a bundle was found that consisted of six plates of brass, of a bell shape, each having a hole near the small end, and a ring through them all, and clasped with two clasps, the ring and clasps appeared to be of iron, very much oxidated. The plates appeared first to be copper, and had the appearance of being covered with characters. It was agreed by the company that I should cleanse the plates. Accordingly, I took them to my house, washed them with soap and water, and a woolen cloth; but, finding them not yet cleansed, I treated them with dilute sulphuric acid which made them perfectly clean, on which it appeared that they were completely covered with hieroglyphics that none as yet have been able to read. Wishing that the world might know the hidden things as fast as they come to light, I was induced to state the facts, hoping that you would give it an insertion in your excellent paper; for we all feel anxious to know the true meaning of the plates, and publishing the facts might lead to the true translation. They were found, I judged, more than twelve feet below the surface of the top of the mound.
“I am. most respectfully, a citizen of Kinderhook,
W. P. Harris, M. D.”
Nine citizens of Kinderhook signed a statement certifying the truthfulness of the statement by Dr. Harris.
Smith agreed that he would translate the plates if they were first submitted to some learned societies for translation. Eventually, after no one was able to translate the Plates, Smith translated them. According to Bales, he said,
I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of Heaven and earth” (Millennial
Star, XXI:41. Extract from Smith’s diary, dated Monday, May 1, 1843).” (Bales, 92-93).
Bales also cites the testimony of the famous Egyptologist James H. Breasted.
James H. Breasted, Orientalist, Historian, Egyptologist, and Professor of Egyptology in the University of Chicago — from 1905 and a number of years thereafter — stated in a letter of R. B. Neal, on April 20, 1914 that the “Kinderhook Plates are, of course, childish forgeries, as the scientific world has known for years.” (Bales, 98)
You may see facsimiles of the Kinderhook Plates in the Salt Lake City Messenger, October, 1981) here, and at a Mormon apologetic site here.
When I first saw the photographs of the ancient lead codices we wrote about in the previous post, I immediately thought of the Kinderhook Plates.
But, maybe I am wrong! Time will tell, and I will be delighted to change my mind.
This should be a good one for April 1.