Daniel C. Peterson, “Mounting Evidence for the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, January 2000, 19,Excerpt
The Plates, the Translation, and the Witnesses
For a brief period in the late 1820s, the Prophet Joseph Smith did indeed possess the gold plates. That is among the most securely established facts in Latter-day Saint history. In addition to Joseph Smith, 11 official witnesses and several unofficial witnesses testified to the existence of the plates and, in some cases, to dramatic supernatural confirmation of their truth. Meticulous research on these witnesses has confirmed their good character and the veracity of their accounts.
What is more, although the Prophet’s critics found his claim of angelic visits and gold plates ridiculous, we now know that the writing of religious texts on metal plates (sometimes on gold), was an authentic ancient practice. Indeed, the ancient practice now is known to have occurred at precisely the era and place from which Book of Mormon peoples came. In fact, with the Copper Scroll and other materials from the Dead Sea, we have an almost exact parallel: like the ancient Nephite plates, these materials were sealed up in a hillside just prior to military disaster, to preserve them for a future time.
The Book of Mormon claims to have been written in “reformed Egyptian” (Morm. 9:32). Most who have studied the subject conclude that this signifies writing the Hebrew language in modified Egyptian characters. In recent years, we have learned that several ancient documents were written in precisely that fashion.
The title page of the Book of Mormon declares that it was to come forth “by the gift and power of God.” Recent evidence and scholarship indicates that this is exactly what would have had to happen. In addition, the evidence indicates that the translation and dictation of the book were accomplished in roughly 63 working days—a torrid pace that, with neither rewrites nor corrections, produced nearly 8.5 pages (of our current English edition) daily.
Further, there is no evidence at all that Joseph Smith did any scholarly research, or even that he read very much, before the Book of Mormon appeared. In fact, he may not even have owned a Bible at the time of translation. Joseph Smith had spent the bulk of his time as a youth cutting trees, burning brush, clearing rocks, and plowing. He had received at most a few months of formal schooling. His mother later recalled that, even into his late teens, “he seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children.”
His wife Emma reports that, in the late 1820s, Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon. … The larger part of this labor [of translation] was done [in] my presence and where I could see and know what was being done. … During no part of it did Joseph Smith have any [manuscripts] or book of any kind from which to read or dictate except the metalic [sic] plates which I knew he had.” “If,” she said, “he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.”
And, she added, writing to her son: “I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.”
In recent years, rigorous statistical analysis strongly indicates that neither Joseph Smith nor any of his known associates composed the English text of the Book of Mormon. In fact, research suggests that the book was written by numerous distinct authors.
And research shows that the book does not seem to fit the culture of early 19th-century America. There is little of the military romanticism of Joseph Smith’s America. Instead, we see grimly realistic portrayals of war’s devastation and suffering. And in the story of the Gadianton robbers we have a detailed, realistic portrayal of a prolonged guerrilla struggle—lacking any trace of fife and drum, uniforms, or parades—published well over a century before the guerrilla theorists of the 20th century put pens to paper.
As Latter-day Saints, we must never take the Book of Mormon for granted. Its sheer existence is astonishing. That it was produced by an almost completely uneducated young man constitutes a challenge to the entire world. Yet its historical narrative is sober and realistic. Its content is rich, profound, and subtly complex. And though dictated at a rapid pace, it tells a highly consistent and very complex story involving scores of place and personal names and internal quotations.
Persons who choose to dismiss the Book of Mormon must find their own ideas for explaining it and the mounting evidence for its authenticity. And while we will never “prove” the Book of Mormon true, the trajectory of the evidence strongly suggests that it is exactly what it claims to be, a book worthy of our deep study, reflection, and serious personal prayer. Thousands of hours of research have produced the current blossoming of Book of Mormon studies that bless the lives of Latter-day Saints. They cannot be lightly brushed aside.
The conclusion of the matter is that much modern evidence supports the more powerful witness of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith, who translated it, had to be what he said he was, a prophet of God. The Church of Jesus Christ has been restored. Most important, the Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirm that Jesus is the Christ, the divine Savior of the world, and that He will come someday in the future in the manner that the scriptures herald.