Of Mountains and Mole Hills: Something is Smoking

Without faith, it’s easy to find reasons to reject the supernatural. There is abundant superficial evidence that God does not exist, that Christ was a fraud, or that modern miracles such as the Book of Mormon are impossibilities. For example, one critic recently guffawed at the idea of Joseph Smith receiving the gold plates and then running through the forest with a 100-pound load under his arm. Actually, the consensus of the most advanced anti-Mormon scholarship puts the mass of the hypothetical gold plates at 200 pounds, making Joseph’s fleet-footed escape from would-be thieves all the more laughable, and providing yet another iron-clad reason for rejecting the faith. Those who reject the faith in response and abandon the more intelligent approach of considering alternatives and conducting further research may never learn that evidence from the witnesses themselves and from sound metallurgical reasoning puts the mass of the golden plates closer to 60 pounds, a much more plausible mass for a strong farm boy to carry on his own. You see, it wasn’t a solid block of gold, but a stack of thin sheets that surely had air spaces between them due to imperfections, and the material itself was likely an alloy of gold and copper such as the tumbaga alloy known in Mesoamerica, which is lighter than pure gold.

While critics are busy spouting out reasons why we should reject our faith and quit exploring the Book of Mormon, often making mountains of mole hills in an effort to provide a smoking gun to prove Joseph Smith was a fraud, they tend to overlook some smoking evidence of the other kind, evidence that may amount to much more than a mere molehill. One piece of smoking evidence most pertinent to the issue of Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon that I’d like to offer your consideration is VOLCANISM in the Book of Mormon. The following is taken from my page of Book of Mormon Evidences.

Volcanism in Book of Mormon Lands

The Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi describes a great disaster that swept over Book of Mormon lands at the time that Christ was crucified in the Old World. This destruction overthrew evil rulers and rocked a society that had become wicked, yet had some righteous people in its midst. The description of the destruction is detailed, mentioning great storms, earthquakes, and risings and sinkings of the land. A terrible storm brought violent wind and whirlwinds, accompanied by unprecedented lightning and thunder. The face of the land was changed and what was once solid rock now was cracked in some places. The violent activity lasted about three hours, though it seemed longer to some. Afterwards, a “thick darkness” was present which could be “felt.” “Vapor of smoke and darkness” choked or suffocated some, and thick “mists of darkness” prevented fires being lit for three days. Many cities had been destroyed by burning (six burned cities are named), by sinking into the ocean (the city of Moroni, near the coast), by being covered with earth, or, in the case of Jerusalem, by being covered with rising “waters”. (Some cities remained, and basic geographical reference points were unchanged, so the great deformation of the land was largely superficial.)

The details about the destruction make excellent sense if volcanic activity was involved. Volcanic ash and fumes can result in thick, tangible, moist mists which can kill people, shut out light for days, and prevent the lighting of fires. (Those who experienced the Mount St. Helens eruption in the United States know about some of this.) Strong volcanic activity can also be accompanied by seismic activity and shifting of earth by either lava flows, ash deposits, mudslides or landslides, and the raising and lowering of portions of the land and by changes in the water levels of nearby lakes. Joseph Smith never experienced a volcano, but the Book of Mormon description is remarkably consistent with modern knowledge of volcanic activity.

Given that the Book of Mormon appears to be describing volcanic activity around 33 A.D. or so, we have an important and readily verified physical detail of great value in assessing the merits of any proposed geography for the Book of Mormon: the Book of Mormon–if it is true history–took place in a region where major volcanic activity occurred around 33 A.D. Is there any place on this continent where something like the destruction mentioned in the Book of Mormon could have occurred? The answer is YES.

Not only is there a location in the Americas where significant volcanic and probably seismic activity occurred near the time specific in the Book of Mormon, but it occurred in the only plausible location for the Book of Mormon based on many other considerations–Mesoamerica. Major lava flows in that area have been dated to about 75 A.D. plus or minus 50 years (one non-LDS scholar, Payson Sheets, said it was at “about the time of Christ”), making the Book of Mormon account entirely plausible. Some of the lava flows from this time buried Mesoamerican cities, such as the city at Cuicuilco in the Valley of Mexico (see Sorenson, p. 320, for a photo). In the area of Chiapas, which may be the land of Zarahemla, according to John Sorenson (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon), important buildings in the major centers there, Santa Rosa and Chiapa de Corzo, were burned around 50 A.D. plus or minus a few decades (Sorenson, p. 128).

Sorenson writes about the plausibility of the great catastrophe in terms of a proposed Mesoamerican setting (Sorenson, pp. 320-322):

These facts in the Book of Mormon should fit the Mesoamerican scene. The same types of natural destructive forces at work in the 3 Nephi account should be familiar in southern Mexico and thereabouts. After all, it was the intensity of nature’s rampage that impressed the Nephite recorder, not the novelty of the phenomena (3 Nephi 8:5, 7). All these kinds of destruction evidently had happened before in the land, but never with such terrifying effect. Not surprisingly, the sorts of natural forces unleashed in that fateful three hours are familiar on the Mesoamerican scene.

That area lies in a zone of intense earthquake activity-the edge of the Pacific basin, along which periodic violent quakes are a fact of life [Manuel Maldonado-Koerdell, “Geohistory and Paleogeography of Middle America,” Handbook of Middle American Indians, ed. Robert Wauchope, Austin: University of Texas Press, Vol. 1, 1964, pp. 22-26; Robert C. West, “Surface Configuration and Associated Geology of Middle America,” ibid., pp. 42-58, 75-78]. Scores of volcanoes are scattered along this particular zone of instability from north-central Mexico to Nicaragua. Many of them have been active within historical times [Felix W. McBryde, Cultural and Historical Geography of Southwest Guatemala, Smithsonian Institution, Institute of Social Anthropology, Publications, Vol. 4, 1947, p. 6]. Antigua, the former capital city of Guatemala, was utterly destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 and hit heavily again in 1917. The great damage done in Guatemala in 1976 by another series of earthquakes is typical of many previous experiences. Traditions and the presence of hieroglyphic signs signifying earthquakes demonstrate the profound effect they had on the pre-Columbian peoples [Maldonado-Koerdell, Geohistory, p. 26].

A description of the eruption of Conseguina volcano in Nicaragua in 1835 hints at the terror and destruction that resulted from the powerful disaster at the time of Christ. A dense cloud first rose above the cone, and within a couple of hours it “enveloped everything in the greatest darkness, so that the nearest objects were imperceptible.” Fear-struck wild animals blundered into settlements, adding to the terror. Then came quakes, “a perpetual undulation.” Volcanic ash began to fall, like “fine powder-like flour.” The thunder and lightning “continued the whole night and the following day.” Dust thrown up into the atmosphere combined with heat from the volcano to trigger the storms. Still later the worst tremor of all hit, strong enough to throw people to the ground. Darkness again came on and this time lasted forty-three hours [Payson D. Sheets, “An Ancient Natural Disaster,” Expedition, 13 (Fall 1971): 27]. These conditions, multiplied in both intensity and territory covered, sound much like 3 Nephi.

In chapter 3, citations were made to scientific literature reporting evidence of volcanism right around the time of Christ. Probably the most spectacular was in El Salvador. Archaeologist and geologist Payson Sheets has worked to clarify the date and extent of the eruption there at “about the time of Christ.” One volcano apparently devastated a 3,000-square mile area; ash falls up to 40 feet deep buried settlement after settlement.

Sorenson goes on to explain, with ample documentation, how more recent historical accounts of volcanic activity in Central America and southern Mexico are also consistent with Book of Mormon descriptions of great thunderings, storms that are triggered by or accompany volcanism, associated mudflows or ash deposits, etc. Of special interest is the reported fate of the city of Jerusalem (the New World Nephite city), which Sorenson’s analysis of Book of Mormon geography places in Guatemala on the shore of Lake Atitlan. Sorensen writes:

The level of this lake has fluctuated as much as 40 feet due to subterranean shifts in the volcanic material that plugs its exit, according to geologists [McBryde, Cultural and Historical Geography, pp. 132, 168, 179-80; Samuel K. Lothrop, in Atitlan, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Papers, 444 (1933), p. 83, reported waterworn potsherds from the site of Chuitinamit well above the water level of that time; these can only be explained by extensive fluctuations]. Earthquakes and eruptions could have stirred the base of the lake to make water “come up in the stead” of Jerusalem (3 Nephi 9:7). The nearby land or valley of Middoni, today probably the location of Antigua, former capital of Guatemala, has been fiercely shaken many times [Maldonado-Koerdell, Geohistory, pp. 25-26]. The entire fault system and volcanic chain extending through highland El Salvador, Guatemala, and Chiapas [Robert C. West and John P. Augelli, Middle America: Its Lands and Peoples, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1976), p. 35] must have been involved simultaneously to create the vast havoc described in the scripture. Other volcanic- and earthquake-prone areas lie in a northern system in the Mexican states of Veracruz, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Mexico. (Sorenson, pp. 322-323)

Sorenson concludes (p. 323):

Unquestionably the kinds of natural forces that produced the devastation reported in 3 Nephi are thoroughly characteristic of Mesoamerica. Nothing is surprising about the story except the scale. That was unprecedented. Our archaeological sources, meanwhile, provide us with some hints that a landmark disaster did in fact occur around the time of Christ. As years go on, we may learn more about it.

Another good review of the volcanic evidence related to the Book of Mormon is available online at the FARMS Website in an article by Matthew Roper, “Unanswered Mormon Scholars,” FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, pp. 87-145. The section of this lengthy article relating to volcanoes is found on pages 112-114, from which the following excerpt is taken:

M. T. Lamb [a prominent anti-Mormon who mentored the Tanners] called the disaster described in 3 Nephi 8-9 one of the most “foolish and physically impossible” stories ever described.57 Recent Book of Mormon scholarship, however, suggests that all the elements of this event can be reasonably explained and best understood in the context of an ancient Mesoamerican volcanic disaster.58

Bruce Warren has discussed evidence for volcanic activity in Mesoamerica around the time of Christ.59 Archaeology provides evidence for such volcanic activity in the Valley of Mexico, where the volcano Xitle is believed to have erupted anciently, covering much of the southern portion of the valley.60 [Jeff’s note: the dating of Xitle is now in dispute – it may have occurred a couple hundred years later.] Cummings, the archaeologist who originally excavated at Cuicuilco, believed that Xitle erupted around 2860 B.C.61 Based on more recent evidence, scholars now know that this disaster occurred nearly 2,000 years ago.62 At that time the site of Copilco was buried under more than thirty feet of lava, as was much of the nearby site of Cuicuilco. Archaeological evidence from the sites indicates that the lava flow was preceded by a heavy rainfall of ash.63 Both of these sites are located on the southwestern end of the Valley of Mexico. About thirty miles northeast is the massive site of Teotihuacan. There a layer of volcanic ash, apparently blown from that eruption, covers structures from the Tzacualli phase (A.D. 1-150). Carbon-14 tests of material directly below the ash layer yielded a date of A.D. 30 ± 80.64

Additional evidence for volcanic activity in Mesoamerica near the time of Christ can be found further south in the Tuxtlas region of southern Veracruz, a region many Latter-day Saint scholars associate with the Book of Mormon “land northward.” In the 1940s archaeologists Matthew Stirling and Phillip Drucker found that a heavy layer of ash covered what appeared to be Late Preclassic pottery and other material at the site of Tres Zapotes. Michael Coe notes that while this pottery has “strong continuities with the Middle Preclassic, . . . in general most resemblances lie with other Late Preclassic phases of Mesoamerica, such as Chicanel of the lowland Maya area, Chiapa IV and V at Chiapa de Corzo, and terminal Preclassic manifestations in the Valley of Mexico. Olmec and other Middle Preclassic phenomena are either absent or very weak.”65 Coe then notes that “the famous Stela C,” found directly below the ash layer in question, “if read in the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson correlation, would read 31 B.C., exactly within the period with which we are concerned.”66 If Coe’s argument holds, then this would place the San Martin eruption some time after 31 B.C.

Archaeologist Payson Sheets has published evidence for several major volcanic eruptions further south in El Salvador over several millennia. One of these probably occurred during the late second century A.D. While this is much later than the event described in 3 Nephi, other evidence of earlier volcanic activity in this region has been found. In 1955 Muriel Porter described several sites in El Salvador that were covered by thirty to sixty-five feet of volcanic ash around the time of Christ.67 In a more recent work Sheets has published additional evidence for a lesser volcanic eruption in the region of Costa Rica “about the time of Christ.”68 While such evidence is very tentative and preliminary in nature, it does lend plausibility to the account of the destruction in 3 Nephi.

References Cited by Roper:
57 M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible, or, the Book of Mormon: Is It from God? (New York: Ward & Drummond, 1887), 83.

58 John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, op. cit., 318-23; Russell H. Ball, “An Hypothesis Concerning the Three Days of Darkness among the Nephites,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 107-23; John A. Tvedtnes, “Historical Parallels to the Destruction at the Time of the Crucifixion,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3/1 (1994): 170-86; James L. Baer, “The Third Nephi Disaster: A Geological View,” Dialogue 19/1 (1986): 129-32; Bart J. Kowallis, “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in Third Nephi,” forthcoming in BYU Studies.

59 Bruce Warren and Thomas S. Ferguson, The Messiah in Ancient America (Provo, Utah: Book of Mormon Research Foundation, 1987), 40-4. [Roper thanks Bruce Warren for providing him with several key sources on this issue.]

60 Byron Cummings, “Cuicuilco and the Archaic Culture of Mexico,” University of Arizona Bulletin (Social Science) 4/8 (15 November 1933): 8-12.

61 Ibid., 14.

62 Copilco-Cuicuilco: Official Guide del Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, 1959), 8, 11-2.

63 Ibid., 12, 18. See also Paul B. Sears, “Pollen Profiles and Culture Horizons in the Basin of Mexico,” in The Civilizations of Ancient America: Selected Papers of the XXIXth International Congress of Americanists, ed. Sol Tax (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), 57.

64 René Millon and James Bennyhoff, “A Long Architectural Sequence at Teotihuacan,” American Antiquity 26/4 (April 1961): 519.

65 Michael D. Coe, “Archaeological Synthesis of Southern Veracruz and Tabasco,” in Archaeology of Southern Mesoamerica, part 2, ed. Gordon R. Willey, Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 3 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965), 694.

66 Ibid., 696.

67 Muriel N. Porter, “Material Preclasico de San Salvador,” Sobretiro de “Communicaciones” del Instituto Tropical de Investigaciones Científicas de la Universidad de El Salvador 4/3-4 (July-December 1955): 105-14.

68 Payson D. Sheets and Brian R. McKee, eds., Archaeology, Volcanism, and Remote Sensing in the Arenal Region, Costa Rica (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 318.

On Dr. Paul Wallace’s page of publications at the University of Oregon’s site, please note that the titles of two of the papers indicate that Xitle erupted 2000 years B.P. (before the present):

  • Cervantes P, Wallace P, Magma degassing and basaltic eruption styles: A case study of the 2000 yr B.P. eruption of Xitle Volcano, central Mexico. Submitted to Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.
  • Wallace P, Cervantes P (1999) Magma degassing and basaltic eruption styles: A case study of the 2000 yr B.P. eruption of Xitle Volcano, central Mexico. EOS v. 80, p. 1089.

An abstract of the latter paper is available online.

However, the date of 2000 years B.P. for the Xitle volcano is challenged by a couple of recent publications discussed at the end of the page http://www.intersurf.com/~chalcedony/FOG11.html, one of which says that radiocarbon dating suggests that Xitle erupted “1670 years BP, some 300 years later than previously thought.” I have not yet seen the studies and don’t know how they affect the above statements on volcanism and the Book of Mormon, but please recall that Xitle is not the only volcanic eruption that LDS writers have tentatively linked to the description in Third Nephi.

For further information about ancient volcanic activity in the Tuxtla Mountains of southern Mexico, see the article, “When Day Turned into Night” in PDF format.

Also of interest, a page on Teotihuacan suggests that some of its early inhabitants may have com from further south in Mexico as a result of the Xitle volcano, “which caused major devastation and forced the survivors in the region to seek a new place to settle.” Teotihuacan is believed to be in the land north of Zarahemla and the narrow neck of land, a place where cement construction became popular, according to Helaman 3.

Information about and photos of volcanoes in Guatemala (part of Mesoamerica, where leading LDS scholars conclude the Book of Mormon took place) are available at
The Volcanoes of Guatemala site at MayaParadise.com.

Further evidence comes from ice core data. Benjamin R. Jordan, while completing a Ph.D. at the University of Rhode Island involving research on volcanic ash layers in Central America, published an article examining evidence for ancient volcanic activity around the time of the death of Christ. The article, “Volcanic Destruction in the Book of Mormon: Possible Evidence from Ice Cores,” was published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2003, pp. 78-87, and is available from farms.byu.edu in PDF or HTML formats. Examining reputable, peer-reviewed publications of ice core data from Greenland and Antarctica, Jordan shows that there are spikes in sulfate content that are consistent with significant volcanic activity around the time of the death of Christ. “There is evidence for large eruptions, within the margin of error, for the period of A.D. 30 to 40.”


Author: Jeff Lindsay

31 thoughts on “Of Mountains and Mole Hills: Something is Smoking

  1. I believe this is what you were referring to in today’s post.

    Jeff: It’s utter silliness to them and provides no compelling reason to believe to anyone who will not read it seriously and ponder.

    Me: Silliness? You mean the I can run and hop over fences with 100 lbs of gold under my arm part? Or the part about the gold plates can only be seen by who God chooses or they will be smitten down, but wait, they have to be kept safe from thieves cause God will not smite them down part?

    60 lbs 100lbs doesn’t matter to you, does it? Everything can be explained away and rationalized anyway. I get the feeling your goal is to just keep that belief system in tact. Makes you feel better about yourself I bet. Like you really found something so special and don’t want anyone to give it a smudge.

    You didn’t say anything about how odd it was that God would only strike down those who viewed the plates without his permission but JS had to keep them safe from thieves. Doesn’t make sense to me.

    Smoking gun? No Jeff. But lots of things just don’t add up and no matter how you package the church, it is all those things that lead one to conclude that something is not right in Zion.

    Can we sing Kumbaya now?

  2. anonymous:
    Why do you find it inconsistant that God requires His prophets to put forth some effort to show their obedience?
    Heavenly Father could have protected the plates without Joseph’s help–He can do everything without our help–except help us grow. We must participate. Joseph had to participate in the care of the plates because he needed to be a responsible person.

  3. Hmm, Anon, does that mean that you don’t have any comments on the issue of volcanism? I appreciate your skills in mocking, but this tactic is becoming rather stale. Why is it that you feel compelled to taunt on my little blog here? Seriously, did you have some kind of highly negative experience with the Church or a Church member that drives you to belittle my beliefs? I’m curious. It does seem like there is an anger of some kind that is driving you. I do have a belief system that is not about to go away because of Ivory League jabs.

    Back to your comments, are you saying that a strong young man in good shape cannot move quickly and escape from danger while carring 60 pounds? You need to hang out more with your local firemen. Ditto for 100 pounds. When we get to 200 pounds, I think it will be a much greater problem for the majority of the buff, but the plates were around 60 pounds – entirely doable, even for some of us middle-aged folks, at least for short distances.

    Why are you so bothered that there may be a rational explanation?

    As for the alleged problem in Joseph taking evasive action, Joseph was charged to protect the plates. There is a principle here: we do all we can to fulfill the commandments of the Lord, and only then rely on His miraculous power to make up the difference, when needed.

    Are you seriously troubled that on day one of receiving the plates, that Joseph was not lackadaisical about protecting them?

    Time for a paradigm tweak, IMO. You’re too set on tearing down the Book of Mormon, when you’d make an eternity of difference for yourself by honestly and thoughtfully reading it. Please, I encourage you to do that.

    Look, you’ve raised some interesting points and helped generate good discussion, and I’m truly grateful for your pointing out the great resources at Cornell for searching many early US documents, but I’m still puzzled about your interest in this blog that annoys you so much. I hope it’s because a part of you is curious to see if there might be something to this laughable faith of ours. If so, yes, there is – and I hope you’ll dig a little deeper.

  4. One other point to Anonymous’s comment. Arguing about Joseph Smith having to keep the plates safe from thieves is a bit like asking why the people of Israel had to have an army (though the Lord could easily fight all of their battles). Or why Noah had to build an ark, when God could have protected his family from the floods.

    The fact is, God is all-powerful, but he leaves a certain amount up to us. Why? Not because he isn’t capable, but because he allows us to show our obedience to his commandments, and when we show obedience he will bless us.

    And what you said about how “everything can be explained away and rationalized anyway”: The important thing to do is to test the promise in the Book of Mormon by which God promises to reveal whether or not the book is true (it’s found in the last two paragraphs of the Introduction, as well as Moroni 10:3-5). After finding out that the book is true, we can consider evidence for or against it in proper context. While we may not know the exact process of how the Book of Mormon was brought forth and translated, we can follow its teachings once we know they’re from God. Does it really matter whether the plates weighed 60 lbs or 200 lbs? Since we have the book today, and since we know it to be true, we can assume that God made up for any human weaknesses on Joseph Smith’s part. Isn’t an all-powerful God perfectly capable of strengthening anyone to the point where lifting that kind of weight requires no human effort, particularly when the task of preserving and translating the plates was an important part of the restoration of His Church on the earth?

    “Doesn’t make sense to me… lots of things just don’t add up…” Nuclear physics doesn’t make any sense to me, but that doesn’t make it any less real. How could I make sense of nuclear physics? By studying it diligently and practicing. How can we make sense of the things of God? By diligently studying the scriptures He gave us and practicing what he commands us.

  5. Anon,

    My wife is fond of telling the story of the time she visited her college roommate’s family farm in Nevada. Her roommate was 5’8″ and around 130 pounds, skinny but a well toned farm girl. They had to feed the animals so her roommate picked up a bag of feed and put it on one shoulder and then put a second bag on her other shoulder and walked off. My wife tried to pick up one bag and found she couldn’t lift it. She managed to get it turned over and read the label. She was shocked to realize that each bag of feed was 100 pounds. So her roommate, raised on a farm, carried 200 pounds of weight without a second thought. Not so silly after all, although the consensus of the witnesses was that the plates weighed between 40 and 60 pounds. I tend toward the 40 because Emma stated she used to move them when cleaning.

  6. A couple of years ago for the 24th of July, we went back to my wife’s childhood ward in a farming town. At the town party, they had a stick-pulling contest. I thought I would do OK, since we had just moved old 70 pound monitors out of my building. I sat down, grabbed the pole, and the farmer across from me pulled me so hard and fast that I went over him. My wife laughed and he said that I don’t even weight as much as the bales he lifts. I will never question how strong a farmer is. We city folks that go to a gym and lift weights have no idea what strength is. BTW, he took second in the contest, his son beat him.

  7. Samuel: … the consensus of the witnesses was that the plates weighed between 40 and 60 pounds. I tend toward the 40 because Emma stated she used to move them when cleaning.

    Was Emma a farm girl?

  8. I have a possible alternate answer to the question, “Why would Joseph Smith have to work so hard to protect the plates if God was going to smite anyone who stole them or took an unauthorized peek ?”

    A couple of possible reasons that haven’t been considered here yet:

    1) I don’t think God prefers to smite people. From reading the words that the Old Testament prophets spoke to ancient Israel, I think he’d rather that people did the right thing, or at least left his servants alone so they could do their jobs.

    If some extra effort on Joseph’s part could avoid people having to be smitten, then that’s a good thing.

    2) Joseph is on record somewhere (in TPJS, I think) saying that he didn’t want to call down vengence from God on his enemies. He wanted them to have the chance to repent. By striving his best to keep the plates out of the hands of the thieves, he was exercising compassion upon them.

  9. Many years ago when I was younger and working construction for a summer job, I grabbed a hundred pound box of rebar tie wire and ran up 2 flights of stairs on my shoulder without breaking a sweat.

    I have no problem with Joseph lighting over field and dell with the Gold Plates. It seems like such a silly thing to worry about, but I guess it’s easier to hack away at strawmen that way.

  10. I’m glad to see everyone pointing out how silly the 100-lbs. plates argument is, but have you noticed how seldom the comments section focuses on the actual topic of the original post? I wonder if anyone’s going to say something about mesoamerican volcanoes.

  11. Is this what the fuss is all about?

    After removing the plates from the stone box, Joseph hid them in a birch log until preparations could be made at home for the plates. then he went to retrieve them.

    “The plates were secreted about three miles from home…Joseph, on coming to them, took them from their secret place, and wrapping them in his linen frock, placed them under his arm and started for home.”

    After proceeding a short distance, he thought it would be more safe to leave the road and go through the woods. Traveling some distance after he left the road, he came to a large windfall, and as he was jumping over a log, a man sprang up from behind it, and gave him a heavy blow with a gun. Joseph turned around and knocked him down, then ran at the top of his speed. About half a mile further he was attacked again in the same manner as before; he knocked this man down in like manner as the former, and ran on again; and before he reached home he was assaulted the third time. In striking the last one he dislocated his thumb, which, however, he did not notice until he came within sight of the house, when he threw himself down in the corner of the fence in order to recover his breath. As soon as he was able, he arose and came to the house.” (Lucy Mack Smith, mother of Joseph Smith, in Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, 1853, pp. 104-105; Comp. reprinted edition by Bookcraft Publishers in 1956 under the title History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, pp. 107- 108)

  12. I have an ant farm, making me a farmer. I have trouble carrying more than 50 pouonds. Therefore, the Gospel is not true. End of story.

  13. Nope, I do not buy the whole story. It sounds too contrived. Also, the plates weighing some 60 to 100 pounds would be too heavy to carry while running so great a distance. Not to mention jumping over logs and fighting with 3 men.

  14. Does anyone notice that there have been two Anon postings recently, one at 8:35 and another at 8:55, neither of which add any new evidence, both of which appear more interesting in inciting an online riot than in discussing the previous claims?

    I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. If so, I will happily correct myself. But if not and Anon, if you’re just trying to stir the pot w/o sound reasoning, just stop. We will be happy to discuss it with you if you show some discussion that actually adds to the discussion.

  15. I’m still a bit confused as to why the parting of the Red Sea is believable, and Samson defeating hundreds–nay thousands–of enemies with nothing more than an animal bone is believable, but Joseph Smith (an extremely strong and fit person) being able to carry a set of plates weighing somewhere between 40 and 100 pounds through the woods as fast as he was able is not believable.

    That is, unless you’re attacking the whole of Christianity and Judaism, not just Mormonism.

    So much for returning to the actual topic of the post…

  16. Anon @ 8:35,

    Seriously, where does this idea that the plates weighed 100 pounds come from? The witnesses who handled the plates reported their estimate for the weight between 40 and 60 pounds. I would love to know where you get the 100 pound figure.

  17. inciting an online riot
    I said that I did not buy the story and that I thought it sounded contrived.

    discussing the previous claims
    I read the story of the 3 attackers and like I said, it does not sound credible.

    if you’re just trying to stir the pot w/o sound reasoning, just stop.
    I have added no info to the discussion. I simply said I do not buy the whole story. It sounds contrived. 3 men jumping out at him in the forest? On at path he had not planned on taking? Fighting with these men while carrying plates of gold.

    It seems that the only sound reasoning you listen to is the reasoning that you agree with. I could be wrong, I have been before, but I have yet to see anywhere where you conceed any point on any subject anywhere.

    We will be happy to discuss it with you if you show some discussion that actually adds to the discussion.
    I like that sentence. But, I was simply stating my opinion. I am not sure what else you can add to the story.

  18. I like that sentence.

    I do too. I compliment you for compliment me with that compliment.

    I said that I did not buy the story and that I thought it sounded contrived.

    As I said, I have been wrong before, quite recently actually. Much of the time, however, it seems that people who make general statements as I saw you do are not interested in reasonable discourse as much as they are in annoying the Mormons, especially when I see two of them within a short time period. Good to hear that there is an exception to this.

    3 men jumping out at him in the forest? On at path he had not planned on taking? Fighting with these men while carrying plates of gold.

    Your questions are valid. Fortunately, this is not the only evidence we have of the incident. Some documentation from his sister also indicates that Joseph had, at the very least, been involved in a brawl of some kind. She notes that the plates were “clasped to his side with his left hand and arm,” and that his “his right hand . . .[was] badly bruised from knocking down at least three men who had leaped at him from behind bushes or fences as he ran.”

    True, this is not conclusive. However, few things are in this kinds of questions. Since we have both mother and sister attesting to the story (and Joseph could not/would not have faked a bruised hand), we can be reasonably certain that some kind of scuffle took place with plates in hand.

    It seems that the only sound reasoning you listen to is the reasoning that you agree with.

    Again, I often read individuals shoot off-hand accusations based on historical simplifications–kind of a pet peeve of mine. It is a very different thing to cite an authority/document in support of your case. Might I still disagree? Certainly. Also, as I said, many folks who simply “disagree” on this post aren’t doing it for knowledge’s sake. Provoking seems to be there game.

    My apologies for misjudging.

  19. The idea that Joseph was going to go out and get gold plates may have been have circulating as gossip – would have been hard to keep that completely secret for four years. The specific date was known well in advance and may have been known by others. If so, some locals may have been waiting for the chance to get whatever loot Joseph was planning on hauling back to his house.

  20. After proceeding a short distance, he thought it would be more safe to leave the road and go through the woods. Traveling some distance after he left the road, he came to a large windfall, and as he was jumping over a log, a man sprang up from behind it, and gave him a heavy blow with a gun. Joseph turned around and knocked him down, then ran at the top of his speed. About half a mile further he was attacked again in the same manner as before; he knocked this man down in like manner as the former, and ran on again; and before he reached home he was assaulted the third time.

    Three robbers hide in the woods so if by chance Joesph would pass by at that particular spot they could grab a loot that would be worth an untold amount of money? I think you are reaching there Anon 6:38

    Running fighting jumping with more than 60 pounds of gold is a stretch as well.
    Whatever, there is no conclusive evidence that any of the story is true. So, pointless to keep posting about it.

  21. “Running fighting jumping with more than 60 pounds of gold is a stretch as well.”

    A lot less of a stretch than it was when it was 100 pounds. Even so, 60 pounds is the upper limit of witness testimonies. 40 pounds is possible, and much easier to believe (though 60 is pretty easy for me to believe given adrenaline, Joseph Smith’s known strength, etc.)

    “Whatever, there is no conclusive evidence that any of the story is true. So, pointless to keep posting about it.”

    No, just several witness testimonies. More than enough for a court of law. Guess that thumb just dislocated itself.

  22. No, just several witness testimonies.

    Witness testimonies to Joseph after the alleged attacks.
    No witness of any attack or report of any robbers in the area. No witness of any attack. Sorry

    More than enough for a court of law.

    It is sufficient for a court of law to testify as to the state of Joseph after the attack. Again, no witness of any attack. Nothing to testify to. Unless you are asserting that the other two witnesses were in the woods as well.

    Guess that thumb just dislocated itself.

    Maybe it did. But as far as I know, a thumb can get dislocated in many ways. But it appears to your thinking there is only one way possible to dislocate a thumb. And a witness of someone out of breath with bruises means he was attacked.

  23. “Witness testimonies to Joseph after the alleged attacks.”

    And your point is? That would be part of the evidence for the attack if it ever came to that.

    “No witness of any attack or report of any robbers in the area.”

    It was Joseph Smith, Sr hearing about a plot from a man named Willard Chase that caused Joseph Jr to get the plates. (JS Sr told Emma to go get JS Jr.) That would be pretty good evidence of at least the possibility of people trying to get the plates. Remember, these plates were supposed to be worth a fortune.

    “No witness of any attack. Sorry”

    Other than Joseph of course. Or perhaps you don’t think he can be a witness to his own attack?

    “It is sufficient for a court of law to testify as to the state of Joseph after the attack.”

    Yes, and the very fact of witnessing and testifying to his condition after the incident would be evidence for the attack, since his condition was consistent with his story.

    “Again, no witness of any attack.”

    Again, other than Joseph himself.

    “Nothing to testify to. Unless you are asserting that the other two witnesses were in the woods as well.”

    Testifying to his condition after the attack (bruises, dislocated thumb, disheveled appearance, shocked state.) Thus being evidence for the attack.

    “But as far as I know, a thumb can get dislocated in many ways. But it appears to your thinking there is only one way possible to dislocate a thumb.”

    Not only one possible way. But getting into a fight sure is a good one.

    “And a witness of someone out of breath with bruises means he was attacked.”

    Well perhaps not. But it is pretty good evidence for an attack when a person in that condition tells you he was just attacked.

    And besides, why would Joseph go to all the trouble of bruising himself???, and dislocating his own thumb (I would not know how to go about doing that one) when he could simply have brought the plates home and told them the Lord had protected him from the robbers? The people at the Smith house already believed that Joseph had the plates; there was no reason to go through all the drama.

  24. Anon:

    Come now, you don’t enjoy the meaningless banter of the blogosphere? I live off of it! 😛 (that’s my tongue firmly in cheek).

    It seems that the standard of evidence for this case is being held a LITTLE too highly. I (speaking for myself) seldom look for set-in-stone truth concerning matters of nearly two centuries ago. It’s simply not realistic. When I do find more than one account that provides a plausible setting in which it would be more difficult to believe an alternative explanation than the one given, I tend towards that explanation. Yes, Joseph could bruised himself in other ways. No, we have discovered no documentation of firsthand witnesses to the attack other than Joseph himself. But as Samuel implied, what motive would JOseph have had to fake the attacks and the bruises when another scenario would have been far more convenient?

    Considering that Joseph was such yarn-spinner (according to some critics), he might have reeled a story off about how a mighty angel of the ALmighty saved him from the hands of infidels. Now THAT would have been an interesting story, far more so than highlighting your own mortality by claiming some guys bruised to get their hands on some gold.

  25. Anonymous, let’s try your methods on another prophet:

    Hiding in the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights? And no witnesses to say that he was receiving laws from God? No one to say where those tablets came from, or if he was just making it all up? Who is this Moses guy, anyway? Why should we trust him to testify of events that he witnessed himself?

    So what if he came back the first time turned white and glowing. That can happen in a lot of ways.

    So what if he actually produced the law he said he was going to produce. So what if it’s available to us all, to read, to put to the test?

  26. Joseph was a yarn spinner? I think more than critics can attest to that.
    Walker, what do you make of his finding and using a seer stone? Do you have any info on what he used it for, how he found it, or what made it special? I would be interested to know what you make of all that.

  27. I asked you this question about the seer stone Walker as you seem to be the most level headed of the bunch here. Certainly you have more manners than others.
    Anyway, just wondered what you thought. I understand if you do not want to touch the question.

  28. Jeff: Hope you’re still watching this one even though you’ve moved on to other posts.

    I’ve been thinking about how well volcanism explains the phenomena occurring at the death of Christ, and I’ve wondered: If there were smoke and ash in the atmosphere so thick that there could be no light, and so that no lights or fires could even be kindled, would the people be able to breathe well enough to live through it? As I understand the text, there were survivors of this darkness (at the start of the year) that lived through to the end of the same year and saw Christ come. I don’t know enough about the science of volcanoes and atmospheric pollution to answer that, but maybe someone does.

    (Of course, this question is based on the theoretical proposition that the Lord brought about volcanic disasters and allowed them to happen in a fully natural way. It’s entirely possible that it happened in unusual and miraculous ways, too.)

  29. Some were overcome by the vapors. But those who go indoors and breathed through cloth, for example, were certainly more likely to survive the intense ashes. But ash can block out the sun without killing you.

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