Metal Records in Ancient Texts

Metal Records Mentioned

in Ancient Texts

On the night of 21 September 1823, an angel named Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, a farm lad living in upstate New York. “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants” (Joseph Smith History 1:34). The following day, Joseph went to the site, a hill (later called Cumorah), located near Manchester, Ontario county, New York.

“On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth.  Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger. The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them.” (Joseph Smith-History 1:51-52)

Joseph attempted to remove the plates from the box, but was forbidden by the messenger, who instructed him to return each year at the same time for four years for instruction. During his last visit, 22 September 1827, he took custody of the plates (Joseph Smith-History 1:53-54, 59). Using the translation devices provided by the Lord, he produced the Book of Mormon, first published in 1830. It was “the book to be revealed” (D&C 128:20).

As in other ancient societies, most Nephite records were probably written on perishable materials (parchment, bark, etc.), which could be burned (Alma 14:8, 14), while metal was used only for very important master texts kept by prophets and kings. Only five sets of inscribed metallic plates are mentioned in the Book of Mormon:


  • The plates of brass possessed by Laban and containing “the five books of Moses. . . And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah; And also the prophecies of the holy prophets [including Isaiah], from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah,” along with some genealogical information (1 Nephi 3:3, 12, 24; 4:16, 24, 38; 5:10-14; 13:23; 19:21-22; 22:30; 2 Nephi 4:15; 5:12; Omni 1:14; Mosiah 1:3, 16; 28:11, 20; Alma 37:3; 3 Nephi 1:2). Non-biblical books in the collection included prophecies of Joseph and his father Jacob (2 Nephi 4:2; 3 Nephi 10:17).
  • The 24 gold plates of Ether, which contained the record of the Jaredites, translated by Mosiah2 and later abridged by Moroni2 as the book of Ether (Mosiah 8:9; 28:11-17; Ether preface; 1:1-2; Moroni 1:1).
  • The “large plates” of Nephi, (Title Page; 1 Nephi 9:1-5; 19:1-6; 2 Nephi 4:14; 5:29-33; Jacob 1:1-4; 3:13-14; 7:26; Words of Mormon 1:3; Mormon 3:9-10).
  • The “small plates” of Nephi, prepared by Nephi1 thirty years after Lehi’s party left Jerusalem and passed on to his brother Jacob, whose posterity kept the record (1 Nephi 6:1-6; 9:1-5; 10:1; 19:1-6; 2 Nephi 5:4, 29-33; Jacob 1:1-4; 3:13-14; 4:1-3; 7:26-27; Mormon 3:9-10). This record gave us the books of 1-2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, and Omni, with the later addition of the Words of Mormon. Nephi began by abridging the record of his father (1 Nephi 1:17). Mormon later added the small plates to his abridgment of the record on the large plates (Words of Mormon 1:3-6).
  • The plates prepared by Mormon on which he wrote an abridgement of the “large plates” of Nephi (Title Page, Words of Mormon 1:3, 5, 9; Mormon 5:9). These are represented by the 116 pages lost by Martin Harris (the book of Lehi according to Joseph Smith’s Preface to the 1830 edition) and the books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3-4 Nephi, and Mormon. To this abridgment, Mormon’s son Moroni added his abridgment of the book of Ether and his own book of Moroni. He deposited the plates in a hill in upstate New York and was later sent to Joseph Smith to reveal their location. 

The Book of Mormon is but one ancient source for important records engraven on metallic plates. The practice was fairly widespread, though relatively unknown in Joseph Smith’s day. Some of his critics considered his claim of metallic records to be evidence that the book he translated was nonexistent and that he had made it all up. The more we investigate the subject, the more we see that such is not the case.[i] Here, we shall discuss ancient and medieval texts that speak of metal plates being used for writing.

The Copper Scroll

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls was found a record written on copper, eight feet in length, and known as the Copper Scroll (3Q15). It lists the burial site of treasures, thought by some to have come from the Jerusalem temple, hidden up for future discovery and use. Most of the treasures were buried beneath walls, hidden in tunnels, cisterns, water-channels, and even in tombs and burial-mounds. The list includes various pots, jugs, and vases, along with “sacred vestments” (column 1 line 9; see also column 3 line 9). The document mentions caches of gold and silver, including “a chest of money” (column 1 line 3), “containers with seventy talents of silver” (column 2 line 6), “two jugs filled with silver” (column 4 line 8), “a chest and all its contents and sixty talents of silver” (column 12 line 5), and a cache of silver hidden “bene[ath the] large [stone]” (column 5 lines 2-4). The First six lines in column 6 note the burial place of an amphora containing a book or scroll and, beneath it, forty-two silver talents. The beginning of column 8 states that books had been hidden along with ritual vessels in an aqueduct.

 Of some of the concealed treasures, we read that they were hidden “in the stone . . . under it” (column 8, line 5), “under the large slab” (column 11, lines 6-7), “under the black stone” (column 12, line 2), or near “a stone held in place by two supports” (column 10, line 9)—reminding us of the large stone laid atop the box in which Moroni had concealed the plates of the Book of Mormon. At the end of the text (column 12, lines 10-13), we read that “in the tunnel which is in Sechab, to the North of Kochlit . . . a copy of this text and its explanation and its measurements and the inventory of everything, item by item.”

Although the Copper Scroll describes the hiding of treasures about the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, it seems to have a precedent. The medieval Jewish text Massekhet Kelim (“tractate of the vessels”) describes how the vessels of the Jerusalem temple were hidden away at the time of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587 BC. In connection with this action, “Shimmur the Levite and his associates listed on a copper tablet the sacred vessels and the vessels of the Temple which were in Jerusalem and in every place,” where they would remain hidden “until the advent of a legitimate king for Israel.” The medieval text purports to be a copy of the ancient metallic record.

The Bible

The Bible is a collection of ancient writings by Israelite prophets and historians that has probably had wider circulation than any other ancient text. Though its earliest copies are usually on parchment and papyrus, the oldest Bible passage, dating from the time of Lehi (ca. 600 BC) was found on a thin strip of silver during archaeological excavations in Jerusalem.[iv] But there are other biblical hints for the use of metallic for writing.

The oldest account of Hebrew writing on metal is the engraved plate of pure gold attached to the front of the turban of the high priest, on which was engraven, “Holy to YHWH” (Exodus 28:36), denoting that the high priest was holy or dedicated to the Lord.[v] Eusebius (born ca. AD 260), in his Praeparatio Evangelica 9, cited a passage from Artapanus (2nd century BC)  to the effect that Moses “wrote the name [of God] on a tablet and sealed it.”[vi]

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Moreover the Lord said unto me, Take thee a great roll (Hebrew gillayon, “mirror, shiny tablet”), and write in it with a man’s pen (Hebrew ḥeret, “chisel, engraving tool”) concerning Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isaiah 8:1). Mirrors in Bible times, many of which have been found by archaeologists, were made of a flat piece of polished metal, usually bronze. The translators of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible have mistranslated the Hebrew term in this passage. Incorrectly assuming that the Jews only wrote with ink on parchment, they employed the words “roll” and “pen.”The Lord told Habakkuk, “Write (engrave) the vision, and make it plain upon tables (luach, a polished plate)” (Habakkuk 2:2).

Job declared, “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!” (Job 19:23-24). Printing, of course, did not yet exist, since the first removable type printing press was invented in the 15th century AD. The Hebrew term underlying KJV “printed” really means “engraven.” The mention of an “iron pen” suggests that the book Job had in mind was made of metal plates. The prophet Jeremiah also wrote of “a pen of iron . . . with the point of a diamond” (Jeremiah 17:1).[vii] Jerome (ca. AD 340-420), who translated the Bible into Latin, rendered Job 19:24, “Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book with an iron pen, and on a sheet of lead, that they were graven in the rock for ever!” (Letter to Pammachius Against John of Jerusalem 30).[viii]

In 161 BC, when the Jews of Palestine were being oppressed by the Seleucids of Syria, the Jewish leader Judas Maccabaeus sent an embassy to Rome to enter into a self-defense treaty. “And this is the copy of the epistle which the [Roman] senate wrote back again in tables of brass, and sent to Jerusalem, that there they might have by them a memorial of peace and confederacy: Good success be to the Romans, and to the people of the Jews, by sea and by land for ever: the sword also and enemy be far from them. If there come first any war upon the Romans or any of their confederates throughout all their dominion, The people of the Jews shall help them, as the time shall be appointed, with all their heart; Neither shall they give any thing unto them that make war upon them, or aid them with victuals, weapons, money, or ships, as it hath seemed good unto the Romans; but they shall keep their covenants without taking any thing therefore. In the same manner also, if war come first upon the nation of the Jews, the Romans shall help them with all their heart, according as the time shall be appointed them: Neither shall victuals be given to them that take part against them, or weapons, or money, or ships, as it hath seemed good to the Romans; but they shall keep their covenants, and that without deceit. According to these articles did the Romans make a covenant with the people of the Jews. Howbeit if hereafter the one party or the other shall think meet to add or diminish any thing, they may do it at their pleasures, and whatsoever they shall add or take away shall be ratified. And as touching the evils that Demetrius doeth to the Jews, we have written unto him, saying, Wherefore hast thou made thy yoke heavy upon our friends and confederates the Jews? If therefore they complain any more against thee, we will do the justice, and fight with thee by sea and by land” (1 Maccabees 8:22-32, KJV Apocrypha).[ix] The late first-century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also recounted the writing of the decree, of which a copy was sent to Judea, while the original “was also laid up in the capital, and engraven in brass” (Antiquities of the Jews 12.10.6).

When Judas’s brother Simon was later named high priest and leader of the Jews, the Romans “wrote unto him in tables of brass, to renew the friendship and league which they had made with Judas and Jonathan his brethren: Which writings were read before the congregation at Jerusalem” (1 Maccabees 14:18-19, KJV Apocrypha; for the text, see verses 20-23). Three years later, the Jews honored Simon’s accomplishments by making him king and “wrote it in tables of brass, which they set upon pillars in mount Sion” (1 Maccabees 14:27, KJV Apocrypha; for the text, see verses 27-45). “So they commanded that “this writing should be put in tables of brass, and that they should be set up within the compass of the sanctuary [temple] in a conspicuous place; Also that the copies thereof should be laid up in the treasury, to the end that Simon and his sons might have them” (1 Maccabees 14:48-49, KJV Apocrypha).[x]

Related Texts

A pseudepigraphic text attributed to Baruch, scribe to the biblical prophet Jeremiah, describes how an angel accompanied him on a tour of the heavenly Jerusalem: “Then the angel took me to the east and showed me a golden column on which was engraved an inscription in a thin writing (brighter) than the sun, the moon, and the stars of the sky. I asked him: ‘What is this golden column and what is this writing on it (that has) the likeness of the sun, the moon, and the shining stars?’ He answered me: ‘The names of the just are written for eternal life on this golden column, where they wax not old or corrupt.’ I said to him: ‘Are the names alone engraved upon it; are not the features of the face engraved upon it, too?’ He answered and said: ‘All the features of the faces of the just are engraved for [eternal] life on this golden column, where they neither wax old nor become corrupt. They are engraved with a golden pen; the deeds of the sinners (are engraved) with an iron pen’” (5 Baruch).[xi] Note, again, the iron pen as well as the one of gold.

A similar account is found in the Revelation of Paul 19: “And the angel says to me: Hast thou seen all these things? And I answered: Yes my Lord. And again he said to me: Come, follow me, and I shall show thee the place of the righteous. And I followed him, and he set me before the doors of the city. And I saw a golden gate, and two golden pillars before it, and two golden plates upon it full of inscriptions. And the angel said to me: Blessed is he who shall enter into these doors; because not every one goeth in, but only those who have single-mindedness, and guiltlessness, and a pure heart. And I asked the angel: For what purpose have the inscriptions been graven on these plates? And he said to me: These are the names of the righteous, and of those who serve God. And I said to him: Is it so that their names have been inscribed in heaven itself while they are yet alive?”[xii]

A Manichaean text tells how an angel appeared to Sethel (biblical Seth), son of Adam, and told him secrets that he was to “write upon bronze tablets and store them up in the desert land” (P. Colon, in. nr. 4780, 50-52).[xiii] The story comes from the Apocalypse of Enosh (biblical Enos), in which an angel instructs the patriarch to write “hidden things upon bronze tablets and deposit (them) in the wilderness . . . for the subsequent generations.”[xiv] Hugh Nibley noted the Jewish tradition recounted by Bin Gorion, that Adam had received a golden book from the archangel Michael and “hid it in the crevice of a rock.”[xv]

Sextus Julius Africanus (ca. AD 160-240), an early Christian historian, wrote that “Christ first of all became known from Persia. For nothing escapes the learned jurists of that country, who investigate all things with the utmost care. The facts, therefore, which are inscribed upon the golden plates, and laid up in the royal temples, I shall record; for it is from the temples there, and the priests connected with them, that the name of Christ has been heard of. Now there is a temple there to Juno, surpassing even the royal palace, which temple Cyrus, that prince instructed in all piety, built, and in which he dedicated in honor of the gods golden and silver statues, and adorned them with precious stones,—that I may not waste words in a profuse description of that ornamentation. Now about that time (as the records on the plates testify), the king having entered the temple, with the view of getting an interpretation of certain dreams, was addressed by the priest Prupupius thus: I congratulate thee, master: Juno has conceived . . . The king then, without delay, sent some of the Magi under his dominion with gifts, the star showing them the way. And when they returned, they narrated to the men of that time those same things which were also written on the plates of gold, and which were to the following effect” (Events in Persia). He then went on to recite the rest of the story, noting that the report of the Magi (KJV “wise men”) concerning their visit to the newborn Messiah was “also written on the plates of gold.”[xvi]

About AD 426, the Christian scholar John Cassian reported that “as ancient traditions tell us, Ham the son of Noah, who had been taught these superstitions and wicked and profane arts, as he knew that he could not possibly bring any handbook on these subjects into the ark, into which he was to enter with his good father and holy brothers, inscribed these nefarious arts and profane devices on plates of various metals which could not be destroyed by the flood of waters, and on hard rocks, and when the flood was over he hunted for them with the same inquisitiveness with which he had concealed them, and so transmitted to his descendants a seedbed of profanity and perpetual sin” (Second Conference of the Abbot Serenus on Principalities, 21).[xvii]

John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople (ca. AD 347-407) reported that the ordination of Aaron as high priest of Israel was recorded on “plates of brass” so future generations might not question the facts (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and Epistle to the Romans, Homily 54 on Acts 20:1).[xviii] Latter-day Saints might wonder if these were the same brass plates held by Laban and his ancestors.

When Abraham bought the field and cave of Machpelah, from the sons of Heth, he covenanted that the Jebusites could remain in the city of Jerusalem as long as there remained alive a descendant of Abimelech, king of Gerar. The agreement was engraven on plates of brass and mounted atop the wall of the city. When David came to take Jerusalem, the inhabitants pointed out the plates, whose engraving was still legible (Yalkut Reubeni, 44c; a midrash quoted by Rashi [1040-1105] and David Kimhi [1160–1235] on 2 Samuel 5:6).[xix]

The Babylonian Talmud informs us that Queen Helena of Adiabene, who converted to Judaism about AD 30, ordered for the Jerusalem temple “a golden tablet made, on which the portion touching the suspected adultress [Numbers 5:11-31] was inscribed” (TB Yoma 37a-b; see also Gittin 60a). One passage even speaks of writing a divorce document on a “plate of gold” (Gittin 20b).

The Hebrew ritual magic and ascension text Sefer ha-Razim (late 3rd century AD) contains numerous references to writing on metal plates or amulets (Heb. tzitz) and specifically mentions various metals: gold (1.136; 2.125; 5.20; 74; 6.30), silver (2.56; 2.100; 2.127; 2.126; 2.139; 3.38), copper/bronze (1.203, 207; 2.32; 2.117; 2.139; 2.153), iron (2.114), lead (2.63), and tin (1.145).[xx]

Other Near Eastern Texts

The practice of exchanging treaties written on metal plates in the Near East dates at least to the thirteenth century BC, when the treaty between the Hittite king Khattusili and the Egyptian king Ramses II, ca. 1254 BC, was engraved on silver plates, one in Egyptian, the other in Akkadian. The originals are missing, but copies in both languages have been found and translated and each mentions the original silver plates. Fragments of the Akkadian original text, copied onto clay tablets, were found at Boghazköy, Turkey (Winckler, MDOG, XXXV, 12 ff.), and the Egyptian translation was carved on the walls of the Temple of Amon at Karnak and at the Ramesseum.[xxi] (translation in F. S. Harris 101.2; see also translation of an Egyptian text by Breasted on p. 101.2). A translation of the Egyptian text was published by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, 3:165-74. The closing paragraph of the Egyptian text of the parity treaty of Hattusilis III and Ramses II is a description of the seal, called “What is in the middle of the tablet of silver” (James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 201).

Occasionally it happened that a king came to the conclusion that he had been in the wrong. Mursili of Hatti thought that the plague that afflicted his people was the result of Suppiluliuma, his father, not honouring the treaty with Egypt. Mursili tried to make amends by freeing Egyptian prisoners. The gods were supposed to punish anybody in breach of a treaty and to reward those who upheld it: “They who observe the words that are in the silver tablet the great gods of the country of Egypt and the great gods of the country of Hatti shall allow them to live and prosper in their houses, their country and with their servants . . . They who do not observe the words that are in this silver tablet, the great gods of the country of Egypt as well as the great gods of the country of Hatti will exterminate their houses, their country and their servants.”

Papyrus Harris I was found in a tomb near Medinet Habu, Egypt, and was purchased by collector Anthony Charles Harris in 1855, entering the collection of the British Museum in 1872. One of the largest (133 feet long) and most important ancient Egyptian documents, it was written during the time of the 12th century BC pharaoh Ramses IV. Sections 317-318 mention metallic records: “I made for thee great tablets of silver, in beaten work, engraved with the great name of thy majesty, carved with the graver’s tool, bearing the decrees and the inventories of the houses and temples which I made in Egypt, during my reign on earth; in order to administer them in they name forever and ever. Thou are their protector answering for them. I made for thee other tablets of copper in beaten work, of a mixture of six [parts], of the colour of gold, engraved and carved with the graver’s tool with the great name of they majesty, with the house regulations of the temples;  likewise the many praises and adorations, which I made for thy name.  They heart was glad at hearing them, O Lord of gods.”

A text from an ancient Egyptian temple archive that calls itself “the tenth (?) Hidden [Book of] _____`” (PGM XIII 734-1077) describes how to inscribe a text on a gold or silver lamella (plate) and place it “in a clean box.”[xxii]

Sargon II, king of Assyria (722-705 BC), in various records, mentions burying engraved tablets of gold, silver, bronze, lead and tin.

Greek Texts

Sir John Maundeville reporting his visit to Constantinople in AD 1322, wrote, “And within the church of St. Sophia, an emperor once would have buried the body of his father when he was dead; and, as they made the grave, they found a body in the earth, and upon the body lay a fine plate of gold, on which was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, letters that said thus, ‘Jesus Christ shall be born of the Virgin Mary, and I believe in him.’ And the date when it was laid in the earth was two thousand years before our Lord was born. The plate of gold is still preserved in the treasury of the church. And they say that it was Hermogenes, the wise man,”[xxiii] who was a philosopher of the late 5th– to early 4th-century BC, a follower of Socrates mentioned by his contemporaries Plato (ca. 429–347 BC) and Xenophon (ca. 430–354 BC).

Herodotus of Halicarnassus, a Greek historian of the fifth century BC, mentions a map of the (known) world engraven on a bronze tablet (The Histories 5.49). The Greek philosopher Plato wrote that the people of Atlantis wrote the laws of their city on a pillar made of a metallic alloy called orichalcum and decisions made by the judges were inscribed on golden tablets (Dialogue of Critias 116-119). Plato is also credited (perhaps falsely) with writing the dialogue Minos, which claims that Minos, first king of Crete, inscribed his laws on tablets of brass, which were taken annually to each town and displayed to the people.

The Lapethos inscription from Cyprus (ca. 275 BC), which is not on metal, contains an important reference to h-dlt h-nchst, Phoenician for “the bronze plate,” indicating that writing on bronze plates was known in Cyprus in the third century BC.[xxiv] The late 2nd century AD Greek lexicographer Julius Pollux defined deltos chalkos (bronze plate) as referring to “ancient sacred law” (Onomasticon 8.128).[xxv] The Greek term was borrowed from Phoenician, which is in the same language family as Hebrew.

Around 370 BC, Pausanius recorded the story of Epiteles, the son of Aeschines, who had a dream in which he was told where to dig to rescue the Great Goddess, who was “shut in her brazen chamber.” Epiteles dug at the designated spot, discovering a bronze vessel in which was “some tin foil, very thin, rolled like a book. On it were inscribed the mysteries of the Great Goddesses” (Description of Greece 4.26.6-8).[xxvi] Pausanius also claimed to have seen a copy of Hesiod’s Works and Days written on lead plates and preserved at Helicon in Boeoia (Description of Greece 9.31.4),[xxvii] of which the modern Oxford printed edition occupies 30 pages. Pausanias also informs us that the Thirty Years’ Peace that terminated the so-called First Peloponnesian War (between Lacedaemon and Athens) was inscribed on a bronze monument [stele chalke] and displayed at Elis before an image of Zeus.

Agesilaos II, king of Sparta (444–360 BC), opening a tomb at Haliartos, found an inscribed bronze tablet.[xxviii] Plutarch (ca. AD 46-120), a Greek historian who became a Roman citizen, told how, when the tomb of Alcmene, mother of Hercules, was excavated, there was found “a bronze tablet with a long inscription . . . the characters had a peculiar and foreign conformation, greatly resembling that of Egyptian writing” (Opera Moralia, “De Genio Socratis,” 577e-f).[xxix] In another of his works, he notes how a Lycian spring on the outskirts of Xanthus boiled up and overflowed in the presence of Alexander the Great, leaving a bronze writing tablet on the ground before him. The ancient inscription on the plate foretold that the Greeks would overthrow the kingdom of the Persians—a prophecy that Alexander proceeded to fulfill (Life of Alexander 17. 4-5). According to the same author, a “golden book” containing the poetry of Aristomache of Erythrae was deposited in the Treasury of the Sicyonians at Delphi (Opera Moralia, “Quaestiones Convivales,” 5.2, 675b), citing as his source Polemo of Ilium’s On the Treasures at Delphi.[xxx] If, as some have suggested, Aristomache was one of the prophetesses known as Sibyl (third century BC or earlier), we evidently have here a book of prophecies on gold plates, kept in a temple. For another mention of an inscription on metal, see Plutarch, De genio Socratis 577E-F.

The Christian scholar Jerome (ca. AD 347-420) wrote, “Search through the coast of Italy which used to be called Magna Graecia, and you will find there various doctrines of Pythagoras inscribed on brass on their public monuments” (Apology in Answer to Rufinus 3.39).[xxxi] Pythagoras lived ca. 570-495 BC and was thus partly contemporary with Nephi, who wrote the first part of the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 5:28-31).

Roman Texts

Following the Greek precedent, the Romans kept large numbers of documents on bronze plates, some of which were sent to various important cities, while others were kept in storage in Rome. Many of these were treaties with other peoples, while others were votive offerings to various deities and discharge papers and transfers of property to retiring soldiers. Many of these have been found. Here, we shall discuss only those texts mentioned in other early texts, while actual finds are discussed elsewhere.

Early tradition traces the development of the Roman practice to the fifth century BC. Prior to that time, only patricians and priests had access to the Roman law code, which put the plebeians at a disadvantage in legal matters. About 450 BC, the plebeians, led by the plebeian tribune Gaius Terentilius Harsa, demanded that the laws be written and displayed for all to see, so leaders could not apply them arbitrarily. Consequently, they were inscribed on ten bronze tablets, to which two others were soon added, becoming known as the Law of the Twelve Tables. Like the U.S. constitution, these became the basis for all future Roman law. The original tablets were hung for all to see in the Roman Forum, but were destroyed when the Gauls under Brennus burnt Rome in 390 BC, and were replaced by a second set.[xxxii] Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (died AD 258), mentioned the Roman legal system, saying that “although the laws are carved on twelve tables, and the statutes are publicly prescribed on brazen tablets” (Epistle 1 to Donatus, 10).[xxxiii]

The late first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, writing of the “decrees of the Romans,” recorded: “for they are laid up in the public places of the cities and are extant still in the capitol, and engraven upon pillars of brass; may, besides this, Julius Caesar made a pillar of brass for the Jews at Alexandria.” He then cites various decrees by Julius Caesar (died 44 BC) and others (Antiquities of the Jews 14.10.1) and quotes six such decrees regarding the high priest Hyrcanus and his family and one to the Parians, establishing Jewish rights in that region. We here extract from those decrees that also mention brass plates. For example, he wrote to the rulers and people of the Phoenician city of Sidon:

“I have sent you a copy of that decree, registered on the tables, which concerns Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, the high priest and ethnarch of the Jews, that it may be laid up among the public records; and it may be laid up among the public records; and I will that it be openly proposed in a table of brass, both in Greek and in Latin. It is as follows:—I, Julius Caesar, imperator the second time, and high priest, have made this decree, with the approbation of the senate: Whereas Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander the Jews, hath demonstrated his fidelity and diligence about our affairs, and this both now and in former times, both in peace and in war, as many of our generals have borne witness, and came to our assistance in the Alexandrian war, with fifteen hundred soldiers; and when he was sent up by me to Mithridates, shewed himself superior in valour to all the rest of that army; for these reasons I will that Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, and his children be ethnarchs of the Jews, and have the high priesthood of the Jews forever, according to the customs of their forefathers, and that he and his son be our confederates; and that besides this, everyone of them be reckoned among our particular friends. I also ordain that he and his children retain whatever privileges belong to the office of high priest, of whatsoever favors have been hitherto granted them; and if at any time hereafter there arise any questions about the Jewish customs, I will that he determine the same; and I think it not proper that they should be obliged to find us winter quarters, or that any money should be required of them” (Antiquities of the Jews 14.10.2).

Another decree concerning Hyrcanus and his offspring from Julius Caesar mentions “that a table of brass, containing the premises, be openly proposed in the Capitol, and at Sidon, and Tyre, and Askelon, and in the temple, engraven in Roman and Greek letters: that this decree may also be communicated to the quaestors and praetors of the several cities, and to the friends of the Jews: and that the ambassadors may have presents made them, and that these decrees be sent everywhere” (Antiquities of the Jews 14.10.3). A decree of the Roman Senate at the instigation of consuls Marcus Antonius and Publius Dolabella reads:

“The decree of the senate, copied out of the treasury, from the public tables belonging to the quaestors, when Quintus Rutilius and Caius Cornelius were quaestors, and taken out of the second table of the first class, on the third day before the ides of April, in the temple of Concord. There were present at the writing of this decree, Lucius Calpurnius Piso of the Menenian tribe; Servius Papinias Potitus, of the Lemonian tribe; Caius Caninus Rebilius of the Terentine tribe; Publius Tidetius, Luciu, Apulinus, the son of Lucius, of the Sergian tribe; Flabius, the son of Lucius, of the Lemonian tribe; Publius Platius, the son of Publius, of the Papyrian tribe; Marcus Acilius, the son of Masrcus, of the Mecian tribe; Lucius Erucius, the son of Lucius, of the Stellatine tribe; Marcus Quintus Plancilus, the son of Marcus, of the Pollian tribe; and Publius Serius. Publius Dolabella and Marcus Antonius, the consuls, made this reference to trhe senate, that as to those things which, by the decree of the senate, Caius Caesar had adjudged about the Jews, and yet had not hitherto that decree been brought into the treasury, it is our will, as it is also the desire of Publius Dolabella and Marcus Antonius, our consuls, to have these decrees put into the public tables, and brought to the city quaestors, that they may take care to have them put upon the double tables. This was done before the fifth of the ides of February, in the temple of Concord. Now the ambassadors from Hyrcanus the high priest were these:—Lysimachus, the son of Pausanias; Alexander, the son of Theodorus; Patroclus, the son of Chereas; and Jonathan, the son of Onias” (Antiquities of the Jews 14.10.10).

When Tiberius Caesar became emperor of Rome in AD 14, he decreed that copies of the Res Gestae of Augustus (his predecessor) be incised on stone tablets erected in various provinces of the empire, where portions remain. Much of the Latin text and a Greek translation are still found on the walls of a mosque at Ankara, Turkey, which once served as a Roman temple. According to the inscription, the original was incised on “two bronze pillars” in Rome, evidently in front of Augustus’ mausoleum.[xxxiv]

The fourth-century Christian historian Eusebius wrote that “The [Roman] memorials against us [Christians] and copies of the imperial edicts issued in reply to them were engraved and set up on brazen pillars in the midst of the cities.” He cited examples of some recent edicts favorable and unfavorable to Christians (Ecclesiastical History 9.7-9).[xxxv]

Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56-117), a renowned Roman historian, in Book 4 of his Annals of Imperial Rome (covering AD 23-28), mentioned a legal case that came up during the reign of Tiberius Caesar concerning the ownership of the temple of Diana in the Marshes. He wrote that there was record of some of the ownership of the land written on both stone and bronze. In Book 12 (covering AD 48-54), he noted that “A decree of the Senate was publicly inscribed on a bronze tablet.” In Book 3 (covering AD 20-22), he mentioned a senate decree ordering the setting up of bronze tablets in certain temples.

The Roman philosopher and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) noted that the Sicilians honored Sthenius by erecting a bronze tablet in the senate-house at Thermae, engraved with an account of his services to the people (De Praetura Siciliensi 2.46.112). The historian Polybius (ca. 203-122 BC) wrote of the treaties between Rome and Carthage, “The treaties being such, and preserved as they are on bronze tablets beside the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in the treasury of the Quaestors.” (The Histories 3.26).[xxxvi]

The belief in heavenly tablets that determined the destiny of mortals was widespread in the ancient Mediterranean basin and is even found in Jewish texts. The Roman poet Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso, 43 BC-AD 17/18) reported the tradition that Jupiter had told Venus that the fate of each mortal was recorded on tablets of bronze and iron and that he had read them all (Metamorphoses 15.808-819). The heavenly tablets are known from Jewish tradition as well, though the early texts do not state of what material they were made.

Curses and Magical Texts

The Greeks and Romans typically engraved curses on lead tablets, but they also used other metals (e.g., gold) for magical texts. St. Jerome (ca. AD 340-420), best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate),  wrote, “There was a youth in the neighborhood of the same market-town of Gaza who was desperately in love with one of God’s virgins [nuns]. After he had tried again and again those touches, jests, nods, and whispers which so commonly lead to the destruction of virginity, but had made no progress by these means, he went to a magician at Memphis to whom he proposed to make known his wretched state, and then, fortified with his arts, to return to his assault upon the virgin. Accordingly after a year’s instruction by the priest of Aesculapius,[xxxvii] who does not heal souls but destroys them, he came full of the lust which he had previously allowed his mind to entertain, and buried beneath the threshold of the girl’s house certain magical formula: and revolting figures engraven on a plate of Cyprian brass” (The Life of Saint Hilarion 21).[xxxviii]

Jews also copied magical texts onto small metal plates. Tradition holds that the teraphim of Genesis 31:19, 34 (KJV “images”) were magical devices prepared in a special way. Ginzberg explains, “They took a man who was first-born, slew him, and took the hair off his head, then salted the head and anointed it with oil, then wrote The Name upon a small tablet of copper or gold, and placed it under his tongue. The head with the tablet under the tongue was then put in a house where lights were lighted before it, and at the time when they bowed down to it, it spoke to them on all matters that they asked of it, and that was due to the power of the Name which was written upon it.“[xxxix] One Jewish tradition holds that Solomon came across a building full of idols inhabited by evil spirits. From the throat of a lifelike statue, he withdrew a silver plate inscribed in Greek, “I, Shadad ben Ad, ruled over a thousand thousand provinces, rode on a thousand horses, had a thousand thousand kings under me, and slew a thousand thousand heroes, and when the Angel of Death approached me, I was powerless.”[xl]

Hippolytus of Rome (AD 170-235), an early Christian theologian, described how magicians, trying to make it appear that demons were teaching mortals, would make “the attendant lie down (upon the couch), head foremost, and placing by each side two of those little tablets, upon which had been inscribed in, forsooth, Hebrew characters, as it were names of demons, he says that (a demon) will deposit the rest in their ears. (Refutation of All Heresies 4.28).[xli]

Medieval European Texts

It is said that when St. David, Welch bishop of Menevia, added a new church at Glastonbury, Somerset, ca. AD 546 he erecred a stone between the new edifice and the old (thought to have been constructed by Joseph of Arimathea and his companions) and placed on it a brass plate explaining his actions.[xlii]

The Elder Edda, an Old Norse text, contains a prophetic utterance known as the Völuspâ, in which the gods met “on Ida’s plain, and of the mighty earth-encircler speak, and there to memory call their mighty deeds, and the supreme god’s ancient lore. There shall again the wonderous golden tablets in the grass be found, which in days of old had possessed the ruler of the gods, and Fiölnir’s race.”[xliii]

During the mid-13th century AD, brothers Nicolas and Maffeo Polo of Venice and Marco, Nicolas’ son, traveled throughout the eastern regions, going as far as China and nearby lands. Metal plates were still being used for important official documents in some of these areas, and Marco’s account mentions some of them. The Chinese emperor Kublai Khan gave his father and uncle a tablet of gold inscribed with an order that they should be given everything needed in all the countries where they would pass.[xliv] Years later, he gave the three men two more gold tablets engraven with similar instructions.[xlv] Traveling by sea through the Indonesian islands and the Indian Ocean, they received four more such gold tablets from a local leader named Kaikhatu.[xlvi] Polo also noted that the Khan gave inscribed gold silver tablets (according to rank) when appointing various officers in his realm.[xlvii]

From the twelfth and thirteenth centuries come two stories of angels delivering metallic plates. The first of these stories was recapped in 1876 by John William Draper: “About the close of the twelfth century appeared among the mendicant friars that ominous work, which under the title of ‘The Everlasting Gospel,’ struck terror into the Latin hierarchy. It was affirmed that an angel had brought it from heaven, engraven on copper plates, and had given it to a priest called Cyril, who delivered it to the Abbot Joachim. The abbot had been dead about fifty years, when there was put forth, AD 1250, a true exposition of the tendency of his book, under the form of an introduction, by John of Parma, the general of the Franciscans, as was universally suspected or alleged. Notwithstanding its heresy, the work displayed an enlarged and masterly conception of the historical process of humanity. In this introduction, John of Parma pointed out that the Abbot Joachim, who had not only performed a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but had been reverenced as a prophet, received as of unimpeachable orthodoxy, and canonized, had accepted as his fundamental position that Roman Christianity had done its work, and had now come to its inevitable termination. He proceeded to show that there are epochs or ages in the Divine government of the world.”[xlviii]

This account parallels that of Joseph Smith in two respects. The first is the delivery of metallic plates by an angel. These plates are said to contain the “everlasting gospel.” Similarly, D&C 27:5 speaks of “Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel” (cf. D&C 109:65; 135:3). One need not read into this that the Lord really called Cyril and Joachim as he later called Joseph Smith. Joachim’s declaration, like D&C 27:5, draws on the imagery of the angel bringing the “everlasting gospel” in Revelation 14:6. The second parallel element in this story is that Joachim of Floris announced the beginning of a new dispensation of the gospel. But his concept was different from that of Joseph Smith, for he taught that there were but three dispensations, represented by the Old and New Testaments and the new book brought by the angel. The first dispensation was governed by God the Father, the second by God the Son, and the third would be governed by God the Holy Ghost.

The other medieval story that draws our attention is that of Nicholas Flamel, a thirteenth-century French alchemist, which has been translated and published in various places.[xlix] Living before the invention of printing, Flamel was a copyist. His story has been summarized by Arthur Waite:

“Now tradition informs us that, whether his application was great, his desire intense, or whether he was super-eminently fitted to be included by divine election among the illuminated Sons of the Doctrine, or for whatever other reason, the mystical Bath-Kôl appeared to him under the figure of an angel, bearing a remarkable book bound in well-wrought copper, the leaves of thin bark, graven right carefully with a pen of iron. An inscription in characters of gold contained a dedication addressed to the Jewish nation by Abraham the Jew, prince, priest, astrologer, and philosopher. ‘Flamel,’ cried the radiant apparition, ‘behold this book of which thou understandest nothing; to many others but thyself it would remain for ever unintelligible, but one day thou shalt discern in its pages what none but thyself will see!’ “At these words Flamel eagerly stretched out his hands to take possession of the priceless gift, but book and angel disappeared in an auriferous tide of light. The scrivener awoke to be ravished henceforth by the divine dream of alchemy; but so long a time passed without any fulfilment of the angelic promise, that the ardour of his imagination cooled . . . in the year 1357, an event occurred which bore evidence of the veracity of his visionary promise-maker, and exalted his ambition and aspirations to a furnace heat.”[l]

In Flamel’s story, there are a number of parallels to the story of how the Book of Mormon came into Joseph Smith’s hands. The use of metal is common to both records, as is the fact that both were engraven. The fact that the book could not be readily comprehended, but would ultimately be intelligible to the recipient, is found in both accounts. Just as Flamel was told that no others would see the original record, so, too, Joseph Smith was commanded not to show the plates to others except when commanded by God. In both cases, the record was delivered by an angel of light, who took the record away again. Though Flamel had been shown the book by an angel, he later recovered it by rather ordinary means, having found it for sale. He wrote:

“There fell by chance into my hands a gilded book, very old and large, which cost me only two florins. It was not made of paper or parchment, as other books are, but of admirable rinds (as it seemed to me) of young trees. The cover of it was of brass; it was well bound, and graven all over with a strange kind of letters, which I take to be Greek characters, or some such like. This I know that I could not read them, nor were they either Latin or French letters, of which I understand something. But as to the matter which was written within, it was engraven (as I suppose) with an iron pencil or graven upon the said bark leaves, done admirably well, and in fair and neat Latin letters, and curiously coloured.”[li]

Again, some of the parallels with the Book of Mormon are evident, including the “strange kind of letters” in which the record was written. See, for example, the Testimony of Eight Witnesses at the beginning of the Book of Mormon, in which we read of “the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work; and of curious workmanship.”

Flamel set about trying to understand the book. He copied “as much to the life or original as I could, all the images and figures of the saith fourth and fifth leaves. These I showed to the greatest scholars and most learned men in Paris, who understood thereof no more than myself: I told them they were found in a book which taught the philosophers’ stone. But the great part of them made a mock both of me and that most excellent secret, except one whose name was Anselm, a practiser of psychic and a deep student in this art. He much desired to see my book, which he valued more than anything else in the world, but I always refused him, only making him a large demonstration of the method.”[lii] Again, we are reminded of the transcript from the plates taken by Martin Harris to scholars in New York.

At length, Flamel went to Leon, Spain, carrying “the extract or copy of the figures or pictures.” There, he consulted with a Jewish physician converted to Christianity named Canches, who, upon examining Flamel’s copies, became very excited at the prospect of a translation, which he began to provide. Anxious to see the original, which Canches declared to be “a thing which was believed to be utterly lost,” the two set out for France. Unfortunately, Flamel’s companion died before reaching Paris, so Flamel was obliged to provide his own translation, which he published as divinely-inspired.

Renaissance Europe

In the early sixteenth century, a story arose that the judgment of Jesus, written in Latin (Hebrew, according to some versions), had been discovered in a box in Vienne, southern France. Several decades later, in 1580, a new version was published, said to have been found at Aquila (also called Aquill, Aguila, or Abruzzi), in the kingdom of Naples (Italy), anciently called Amiternum (or Amitorum) and said to be the birthplace of Pontius Pilate. Though both were published and circulated, they were denounced by some sixteenth-century scholars. The 1580 story has the document in Hebrew on a copper plate, enclosed in three boxes (of marble, iron, and the innermost of stone), in a ruined wall. In 1839, the story resurfaced in France, having Napoleon’s men, during the French occupation of the kingdom of Naples (1806-1815) finding the brass or copper plate in an ebony box kept in the sacristy of the Carthusian charterhouse, near Naples. Dominique Vivant Denon, who had charge of removing art treasures to France, left the copper plate in the chapel of Caserta, probably the royal chapel of the Neopolitan kings, but brought back a translation and a copy of the plate. It was sold to a Lord Howard after Denon’s death.[liii]

John Dee (1527-1608) was an English mathematician and astrologer who made many contributions to the scientific knowledge of his time, but also dabbled in the occult and alchemy, as did many other sages of his time and before. He spent much of his time in royal service both in England and abroad (notably Poland and Bohemia). Dee was fascinated by Bible stories of the patriarchs and prophets, especially by the fact that they had been visited by angels. He also pondered on the “Shewstone,” by which the Israelite high priests were able to receive revelation from God (evidently the urim and thummim). In the 1580s, he teamed with one Edward Kelly, a scryer well-versed in hermetic literature, who claimed to be able to see angelic apparitions in Dee’s crystal ball. In 1582, Kelly claimed to have seen successive sets of seven angels, each carrying a tablet with his name written on it.

In 1735, Rabbi Abraham Eleazar wrote a book entitled Uraltes Chymisches Werck (Age-Old Chemical Work), in which he noted that he had possession of a “secret writing on copper tablets [written] by Samuel Baruch of our race, in figures, in Chaldaic, Syriac, and Arabic language,” which he copied onto tree bark and translated. Parts of Rabbi Abraham Eleazar’s story resemble that of Joseph Smith. When Martin Harris took a transcription made by Joseph Smith from the Book of Mormon plates to Professor Charles Anthon in New York City, Anthon characterized the writing as “Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic” (Joseph Smith History 1:64).

An old Irish song also mentions gold plates:

some were buried in the barrows of the dead :—There Gollah sleeps—the golden band

About his head is bound ; His javelin in his red right hand,

His feet upon his hound. And twice three golden rings are placed

Upon that hand of fear; The smallest would go round the waist

Of any maiden here. And plates of gold are on his breast,

And gold doth bind him round ; A king, he taketh kingly rest

Beneath that royal mound.[liv]

The circumstances attending the finding of some of these monuments of the “gold age” are very remarkable. Thus on one occasion “the Bishop of Deny happening to be at dinner, there came in an Irish harper, and sung an old Irish song to his harp. The substance of it was that in such and such a place a man of gigantic stature lay buried, and that over his breast and back were plates of pure gold, and on his fingers rings of gold, so large that an ordinary man might creep through them. The place was so exactly described that two persons there present were tempted to go in quest of the golden prize which the harper’s song had pointed out to them.”[lv]

Arab Traditions

Al-Thaclabi, an 11th–century AD Arab historian, wrote of a book sent to the biblical King David from heaven, sealed with gold and containing thirteen questions to be asked of David’s son Solomon.[lvi] He also mentioned gold tablets containing the history of a vanished empire that were found in a cave in the Hadramaut region of southern Arabia, the text of which no one could decipher until a traveling artisan was consulted.[lvii]

Writing about AD 1226, the Arab writer Idrīsī, reported a treasure-hunting expedition of a few year earlier in which a group of Arabs dug into the pyramid of Mycerinus at Giza, Egypt. After six months of hard labor, they found the decayed remains of a man with some golden tablets inscribed in a language none of them understood. The tablets were taken for their gold content, suggesting that they were probably melted down.[lviii]

Some of the best studies of the Arabic traditions of the “companions of the cave” have come from Professor Hugh Nibley.[lix] He has suggested that the companions, often identified with the Sleepers of Nejran, may have been the people of the Qumran community near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. He further points out that the companions sealed up in a cave something called in Arabic al-Raqim, which some scholars have interpreted as engraved metal plates,[lx] one of them suggesting that they were sealed in a copper box. Al-Qurtubi (1214-1273) held that the term denoted a golden tablet (Tafsir 10). Of particular interest is the tradition Nibley cites from the Arab writer Baidawi, who wrote that the apostle Peter had discovered the al-Raqim documents and hid them near Jerusalem.[lxi] He also notes that “Tabari tells of a shepherd who discovered inscribed tablets that no one could read but an old holy man of the desert-like the Copper Scrolls, these tablets contained lists of buried treasure.”[lxii]

Oriental Accounts

Chang Tao-ling (157-178 AD), the founder of the Yellow Turban Taoists, is said to have received the Ling-pao (“spiritual Treasure”), scripture written on five golden tablets, from two deities. Another  tradition makes the tablets quite old. The king of Wu is said to have found a writing on golden tablets that he could not read, so he sent it to Confucius (551-479 BC). It was a text of Ling Pao (Ling Bao), given by celestial beings to the early sage and dealt with the method of obtaining a long life.[lxiii]

A seventh-century AD Chinese Buddhist monk named Xuanzang went to India on a lengthy pilgrimage (16 years) to obtain Buddhist documents that might help in preparing a better translation into Chinese. He learned that King Kanishka of the Kashmiri district of Jalandar, had summoned a council of 500 Buddhist scholars, each of whom was called upon to spend a day teaching the monarch about Buddhism. Their instruction varied considerably, which worried the king. A monk named Parsva explained to him that with the passage of time, the Buddha’s teachings had given rise to various schools. In order to stop the process, King Kanishka ordered that the treatises containing the sutras (sayings) of Buddha be written out on copper plates and enclosed in a strongbox, which he deposited in a stupa [a religious monument, often containing relics] made for that purpose.[lxiv]

In AD 847, King Mim-Yin-Phru of the kingdom of Rakhine (in Burma) assembled a Buddhist council at which two sacred texts, the Tripitaka and the Atthakatha were inscribed on a golden plate and enshrined. The Tripitaka comprises sayings of Buddha that were passed down orally until the first century AD and chanted by Buddhist monks.

The northern group of India’s St. Thomas Christians claim that their forbears at one time held inscribed copper plates, grants from the local rajah, giving them lands, servants, and privileges. A Portuguese friar claimed to have seen the metal plates in the sixteenth century, but somehow they got “lost” while in the “safekeeping” of the Portuguese authorities.

[i] For a discussion, see my book The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness Unto Light (Provo: FARMS, 2000).

[ii] The English translation used here is taken from Florentino García Martínez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, 461-463.

[iii] Translation from John C. Reeves, Heralds of That Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnosis and Jewish Traditions (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 152-53.

[iv] John Gee and I wrote an article (“Ancient Manuscripts Fit Book of Mormon Pattern,” Insights: An Ancient Window  19/2 [February 1999]), in which we noted that some of the most ancient manuscripts containing Bible passages fit the Book of Mormon pattern in being 1) written on metallic plates (ca. 600 BC), 2) written in either Aramaic, the language the language with which the Jews replaced Hebrew, using Egyptian characters (4th century BC), and 3) hidden up to be found by later generations (3rd century BC through 1st century AD). I subsequently wrote a book describing these and other features of ancient texts that parallel the story of the Book of Mormon; see Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness Unto Light (Provo: FARMS, 2000).

[v] The KJV rendering “Holiness to the LORD” is incorrect; the word used is an adjective meaning “holy.” YHWH is the name generally rendered “the LORD” in KJV, though sometimes “Jehovah.”

[vi][vi] Artapanus 26, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983), 2:901.

[vii] Jeremiah noted that “silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish” (Jeremiah 10:9), but does not describe the use of such plates.

[viii] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series (reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 6:439.

[ix] The twelve books known as the Apocrypha were included in KJV Bibles into the 19th century AD. Indeed, it was not until 1826 that the British and Foreign Bible Society decided to never again include the Apocrypha in its Bibles, though one can still purchase the KJV version under separate cover. No monarch of Great Britain has ever taken the oath of office on a Bible lacking the Apocrypha.

[x] Like the brass plates of Laban (1 Nephi 4:20), important documents were often kept in the treasury. See the discussion in “Books in the Treasury,” chapter 9 in John A. Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books (Provo: FARMS, 2000).

[xi] 5 Baruch is known among Ethiopian Christians, but the version quoted here is from the Falasha or “Black Jews” of Ethiopia and was published in Wolf Leslau, Falasha Anthology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951), 68.

[xii] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers (reprint Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 8:577. For names written in heaven, see Luke 10:20; D&C 76:68.

[xiii] Rod Cameron and Arthur J. Dewey, The Cologne Mani Codex (Missoula, MT: Schcolars Press, 1979), 39-43.

[xiv] John C. Reeves, Heralds of that Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnosis and Jewish Traditions (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 142. Reeves’s translation and commentary on the Apocalypse of Enosh comprises chapter 5 of his book.

[xv] Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1986), 151, citing M. J. Bin Gorion, Die Sagen der Juden (Frankfurt: Kütter & Loening, 1913) 1:263. According to Zohar Genesis 117b-118a, Adam hid in a cave a book in which he wrote of the coming of the Messiah.

[xvi] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers (reprint Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994),  6:129-30.

[xvii] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 11:383. See the discussion in John A. Tvedtnes, “Hiding the Secret Plans,” FARMS Update 159, in Insights: An Ancient Window 22/8 (2002).

[xviii] Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series (reprint, Peabody, Ma: Hendrickson, 1994), 11:322.

[xix] Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 4:92; 6:254.

[xx] Michael A. Morgan, Sepher ha-Razim: The Book of the Mysteries (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983).

[xxi] James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3rd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 199-203. For general discussion and bibliography, see Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 190.

[xxii] Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (University of Chicago, 1986), 191.

[xxiii] Thomas Wright, Early Travels in Palestine (reprint, New York: Ktav, 1968; orig. 1848), 135.

[xxiv] Herbert Donner and Wolfgang Röllig, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1966—69), 1:10 #43.12, commentary in 2:60. The word dalet for “writing tablet” is also used in the Lachish letter 4, line 3. Donner and Röllig, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften, 1:35, #194.3; cf. Graham I. Davies, Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions: Corpus and Concordance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 1:2, #1.004.3; Harry Torczyner, Lachish I: The Lachish Letters (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), 79—81.

[xxv] Pollucis Onomasticon, ed. Eric Bethe (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1967), 2:141.

[xxvi] W. H. S. Jones and H. A. Ormerod, trans. Pausanius, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), 2:317.

[xxvii] W. H. S. Jones, trans., Pausanius, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935), 4:309.

[xxviii] Lillian H. Jeffery, The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), 55-56, cited by Wright, “Ancient Burials of Metal Documents,” 278 of Metal Documents,” 278-*.

[xxix] Phillip H. De Lacy and Benedict Einarson, trans., Plutarch, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), 7:389, 391.

[xxx] Paul A. Clement and Herbert B. Hoffleit, trans., Plutarch, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969), 8:387, 389.

[xxxi] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series 3:538.

[xxxii] See Livy (Titus Livius, 59 BC-AD 17), Ab Urba Condita 3.31-37, 57; Dionysus of Halicarnassus (born ca. 60 BC) , Roman Antiquities 10.55-60; Diodorus Siculus (fl. 60-30 BC), Biblioteca Historica 12.26. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BC), Catiline Orations (Against Catiline) 3.8.19.

[xxxiii] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers 5:278.

[xxxiv] Though the text has been widely published, its most well known English translation is by Frederick W. Shipley, Velleius Paterculus and Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Loeb Classical Library, 1924).

[xxxv] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 1:360-364.

[xxxvi] W. R. Paten, transl., The Histories of Polybius, Loeb Classical Library, 6 volumes (Harvard University Press, 1922-1927), 2:63.

[xxxvii] Greek and Roman god of healing, a physician who was deified.

[xxxviii] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 6:307.

[xxxix] Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 1:371, citing Yashar wa-Yaze 58b-59a, Targum Yerushalmi Genesis 31:19.

[xl] Ibid., 4:165.

[xli] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, 5:35.

[xlii] Rev. C. C. Dobson, “Did Our Lord Visit Britain, As They Say in Cornwall and Somerset?” Destiny: The Magazine of National Life, December 1944.

[xliii] Benjamin Thorpe, trans., The Elder Edda of Saemund Sigfusson, published with I. A. Blackwell, trans., The Younger Edda of Snorre Sturleson (London: Norroena Society, 1907), 8.

[xliv] Travels of Marco Polo, Prologue.8.

[xlv] Ibid., Prologue.18.

[xlvi] Ibid.,Prologue.18.

[xlvii] Ibid., 2.7, 25.

[xlviii] John William Draper, History of the Intellectual Development of Europe (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876), 77-78. I am indebted to Ron Myatt for bringing this text to my attention.

[xlix] See, for example, Laurinda Dixon Nicolas Flamel, His Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall Figures (1624) (New York and London: Garland, 1994).

[l] Arthur Edward Waite, Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers (London: George Redway, 1888), 96-97.

[li] Ibid., 99.

[lii] Ibid., 102-3.

[liii] The story is told in chapter 4, “The Copperplate from Aquila,” in Per Beskow, Strange Tales about Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983). In chapter 6, Beskow tells the story of the coming forth of the book of Mormon. The story of the Aquila document is also told in chapter 12, The Death Warrant of Jesus Christ, in Edgar J. Goodspeed, Famous “Biblical” Hoaxes (originally Modern Apocrypha) (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1956).

[liv] The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, etc. 19/954 (2 May 1835): 276.

[lv] C. R. Smith, Collectanea Antigua, hi. 149.

[lvi] Al-Thaclabi, Qisas al-Anbiya’ (Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa-Awladuhu, 1340 AH), 202.

[lvii] Ibid., 102. Hugh Nibley was the first to bring this information to the attention of Latter-day Saints. I am grateful to Brian Hauglid for confirming details of the story from the Arabic text.

[lviii] Sir Ernest A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead (New Hyde Park, NY: Univeersity Books, 1966), 15 n. 5.

[lix] Hugh W. Nibley, “Qumran and the Companions of the Cave,” Revue de Qumran 5 (April 1965): 177‑98; reprinted as chapter 11, “Qumran and the Companions of the Cave: The Haunted Wilderness,” in Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies (Salt Lake City: FARMS and Deseret, 1986), 253‑84. Also reprinted in Ibn Warraq, Koranic Allusions: The Biblical, Quranic, and Pre-Islamic Background to the Koran (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013).

[lx] The Arabic term raqq, deriving from raqīm, “thin,” usually refers to paper or parchment on which one writes, and is sometimes used of the writings of Moses or the Qur’an.

[lxi] Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, 255-56.

[lxii] Ibid., 267.

[lxiii] Journal of the American Oriental Society 106 (1986): 72 ff.

[lxiv] Thomas Watters, transl., On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India (London, 1904, rpt. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1961), 1:270, reported in  Sally Hovey Wriggins, Xuanzang (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996), 70-71. I am indebted to Jeffrey Lindsay for this information. See his posting at