musings on the sealed plates
by John McDonnell
This study employs LDS chapter and verse numberings of The Book of Mormon.
Grant Hardy is one of my favorite Book of Mormon scholars. His The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition (2003), his
"Introduction" to Royal Skousen's The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (2009), and his Understanding the Book
of Mormon (2010) are all useful to persons interested in the Book of Mormon.
Even his errors are helpful. On page 586 of Hardy's The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition, footnote "a" comments
on Ether 4:1, which, in the 1920 text that Hardy employs, reads:
And the Lord commanded the brother of Jared to go down out of the mount from the presence of the Lord, and write the
things which he had seen; and they were forbidden to come unto the children of men until after that he should be lifted
up upon the cross; and for this cause did King Mosiah ["King Benjamin" in The Earliest Text] keep them, that they
should not come unto the world until after Christ should show himself unto his people.
Footnote "a" states: "Apparently Mosiah [the younger] only gave his people an oral summary, at Mosiah 28:11-18."
The error here is that Hardy assumed that the sealed writings of Jared were included in the 24 gold plates. They were
Here is a chronology concerning the sealed writings of the brother of Jared and the 24 gold plates written by Ether:
1. The Lord showed himself to the brother of Jared (Ether 3:6-20).
2. The Lord gave the brother of Jared two stones, which constitute the Urim and Thummim, showed "all things" to
the brother of Jared, and commanded him to write what he saw and then seal it up with the Urim and Thummim
(Ether 3:21-28). We don't know whether or not the writings were on metallic plates. We only know that they were
written in the language of the Jaredites, which was the unconfounded language of Adam, and that they were in some
manner sealed. Any physical seal could be removed. Translating what would later become a lost language would
require using the accompanying Urim and Thummim.
3. At the end of the Jaredite civilization, Ether produced his summary of it on 24 gold plates (Ether 1:1-6). None of
the 24 gold plates were sealed. Therefore, they did not contain the writings of the brother of Jared that were sealed.
4. Omni 20-22 states: And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah [the elder], there was a large stone brought unto him
with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God. And they gave an account of
one Coriantumr [a contemporary of Ether], and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people
of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons. It also spake a few words concerning his fathers.
And his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people. Mosiah
the elder's ability to interpret the engravings "by the gift and power of God" suggests that he had access to the Urim
and Thummim. Were they given to him by Ether?
5. King Mosiah the elder's son King Benjamin must have been given (perhaps by Ether) the sealed writings of the
brother of Jared, for King Benjamin kept them for revealment "after Christ should show himself unto his people"
6. The 24 gold plates engraved upon by Ether were discovered by a search party sent out by King Limhi and were
taken to King Limhi in the land of Nephi (Mosiah 8:5-19; 21:25-27).
7. King Mosiah the younger, in the land of Zarahemla, translated and published what was engraved by Ether on the
24 gold plates (Mosiah 28:10-20). The only portion of the 24 gold plates not published may have been the secret
oaths and covenants used by wicked Jaredites to gain power over people. For when Alma the younger turned over all
of the sacred records to his son Helaman, Alma ordered that the secret oaths and covenants engraved upon the 24
gold plates be withheld from publication (Alma 37:21-32).
8. Jesus Christ revealed to the surviving Nephites what was written and sealed up by the brother of Jared (3 Nephi
26:3-5 with Ether 4:1-3). Notice especially Ether 4:2: And after Christ truly had showed himself unto his people he
commanded that they [the sealed writings of the brother of Jared] should be made manifest. The act of making them
manifest would have required presenting them in the Nephite language.
9. Mormon's abridgment of the plates of Nephi included two unabridged sets of plates, the smaller plates of Nephi
(1 Nephi through Omni), and a transcription or translation of the writings of the brother of Jared, which Moroni
would later quote from. The transcription or translation of the writings of the brother of Jared was included to
fulfill 2 Nephi 27:10-11: For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall
be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things
from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof. And the day cometh that the words of the book which were
sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be
revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be even unto
the end of the earth. The small plates of Nephi would have been made to conform to the dimensions of the large plates
of Nephi, which are the same dimensions that Mormon used in his abridgment of the large plates of Nephi. Since the
sealed plates included in the Book of Mormon were the same physical size as the other plates, it is unlikely that they
would have been on the same writing material used by the brother of Jared. The sealed plates included with the Book
of Mormon plates are probably a transcription or translation of the original writings of the brother of Jared, which
are probably preserved separately in Hill Cumorah (in Mexico), where other sacred plates are kept.
10. Within Moroni's Book of Ether, which summarizes what was engraved by Ether on the 24 gold plates, Moroni also
quoted from the formerly sealed writings of the brother of Jared, which were not included in Ether's 24 gold plates.
Ether 4:4-5 states: Behold, I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw [Ether
3:6-27]; and there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother
of Jared. Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. Moroni then sealed the
transcription or translation of writings by the brother of Jared and ordered the future translator of the Book of
Mormon not to unseal them (Ether 5:1). As for the 24 gold plates, they were not included in the Book of Mormon
plates found and translated by Joseph Smith. When the sacred records in Hill Cumorah (in Mexico) are discovered, it
will be obvious which among the many engraved plates are the 24 gold plates. Moroni engraved this promise: "whoso
findeth them [the 24 gold plates], the same will have power that he may get the full account" (Ether 1:4), which may
indicate that the finder will be granted a sacred use of the Urim and Thummim in order to translate the account. This
would mean that the one allowed to find them must be accounted worthy of it.
Here is an 1833 description of the Book of Mormon plates published in The Evening and the Morning Star 1:8:
These plates were generally made from the sixteenth to the thirty second part of an inch thick (of metal) and
something like six by eight inches square, and fastened at the back with three rings through which a rod was put to
carry them, or hang them. The word of the Lord, the history of the doings of the children of God, and their
genealogy was engraved in a nice workmanlike manner, upon them, in Hebrew, reformed Egyptian, &c. Such was
the condition of the plates, from which came the book of Mormon. As may be seen by an allusion in the book of
Ether, all that was on them is not translated; wherefore, as they are sacred, when the book of Mormon was
translated from them, they were again hid up to the Lord, to come forth again in his own due time.
Here is Joseph Smith's 1842 description of the Book of Mormon plates published in Times and Seasons 3:707:
These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight
inches long and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters and bound
together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something
near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and
beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art
of engraving. With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called "Urim and Thummim,"
which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.
Here is an 1833 description of the Urim and Thummim published in The Evening and the Morning Star 1:8:
It was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or
spectacles—(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim) ...
Here is a comparison between the beginning of a revelation in the 1833 Book of Commandments and in the 1835
Doctrine and Covenants:
from Book of Commandments (1833)
1 A Revelation given to Joseph, in Harmony,
Pennsylvania, May, 1829, informing him of the
alteration of the Manuscript of the fore part of
the book of Mormon.
Now, behold I say unto you, that because you
delivered up so many writings, which you had
power to translate, into the hands of a wicked man,
you have lost them, and you also lost your gift at the
same time, nevertheless it has been restored unto
you again: therefore, see that you are faithful and
go on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work
as you have begun. Do not run faster than you
have strength and means provided to translate, but
be diligent unto the end, that you may come off con-
querer; yea, that you may conquer satan, and those
that do uphold his work.
from Doctrine and Covenants (1835)
Revelation given to Joseph Smith, jr. May, 1829, informing
him of the alteration of the Manuscript of the fore part of the
book of Mormon.
1 Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up
those writings which you had power given unto you to trans-
late, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands
of a wicked man, you have lost them; and you also lost your
gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened; never-
theless, it is now restored unto you again, therefore see that
you are faithful and continue on unto the finishing of the re-
mainder of the work of translation as you have begun: do
run faster, or labor more than you have strength and
means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent un-
to the end: pray always, that you may come off conqueror;
yea, that you may conquer satan and that you may escape the
hands of the servants of satan, that do uphold his work.
Here is the beginning of a revelation in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants that was not included in the 1833 Book of
from Doctrine and Covenants (1835)
Revelation to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris, June, 1829, given previous to their viewing
the plates containing the book of Mormon:
1 Behold I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do, with full purpose of heart, you shall
have a view of the plates, and also the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given
to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors
which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the red sea; and it is by your faith that you
shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.
Here is the most detailed description of the Urim and Thummim that we presently have:
from Compendium of the Scriptures (1951)
Lucy Smith, Joseph Smith's mother, quotes from him and describes the Urim and Thummim as follows:
" 'Do not be uneasy, Mother, all is right—see here, I have got a key.' I knew not what he meant, but took the article
of which he spoke into my hands, and, upon examination, found that it consisted of two smooth three-cornered
diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows, which were connected with each other in much the
same way as old-fashioned spectacles."—Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors,
Edition of 1880, chapter 23, page 107.
This old logo of Yale University Press has
Hebrew words meaning "Urim and Thummim"
and Latin words meaning "Light and Truth."
The connection between those old phrases and
Yale's 2009 publication of The Book of
Mormon: The Earliest Text is interesting.