For six weeks in the summer of 2012, eight student scholars from all over the United States and from Europe met daily in the Maxwell Institute library to discuss and research the topic “The Cultural History of the Gold Plates.” This seminar was hosted by the Maxwell Institute and directed by Richard Bushman. The Summer Seminar Papers 2012 are the result of the research done by the students and were presented at a BYU symposium on June 23, 25, and 26, 2012.

Sacred Materiality and the Holy Past: Christian Relics, and the Gold Plates
By Ruth Eldredge

Christian relics enjoy a rich, if underreported, place in historical and religious discourse. Relic veneration constitutes the locus of material religious culture in Catholic and other Christian traditions. The practice of relic veneration, and the definition of what constitutes a relic, has changed drastically over the centuries of Christian history, but the theme of people seeking out material objects to bolster their faith and connect them with divinity enjoys remarkable continuity, even through periods of severe questioning, culminating in the Reformation and the catastrophic destruction of iconoclasm. In this paper I argue that Mormon’s gold plates, miraculously handed down to Joseph Smith for safekeeping, then returned, presumably, to a heavenly home, fit into the narrative of Christian relics in a way that combines both Catholic and Protestant sensibilities of material religion, Catholic, in that the object itself is of divine power and origin, and thus intrinsically valuable, and Protestant, in that the best witness of a holy life is the power of its ideas.

The plates’ provenance, usage, and symbolism, marked especially in Joseph Smith’s own relationship with them, are comparable to other relic histories. A comparison of the stories themselves, and the theology and rhetoric behind them, will illuminate the history and theology of the gold plates, and, I hope, move toward a framework for further academic discussion of sacred objects. To this end, I will briefly introduce the concepts and practices surrounding Christian relics, then offer parallels and aberrations from this tradition found in the story of Joseph Smith and the Gold plates.

Catholic relics play a large part in the “concretizing” of faith: i.e., of using material objects to define, instruct, and solidify one’s understanding and faith.[1] Material objects localize spiritual experience, the feeling of divine presence, to a place or object that can be consumed by the corporal senses: it can be seen, touched, and that may require physical exertion or travel to encounter.[2] Providing a common object or place where this presence can be felt embodies the religious experience, rendering sacred experience and material experience equal.[3] Sacred objects also open sacred experience from the personal realm to the community because they allow that all people can have the same experience by using their own bodies to interact with the material objects, in the same sacred places.

The term ‘Relic’ refers to a subcategory of sacred objects – objects of religious importance and historical curiosity, unearthed and displayed for public consumption. Strictly speaking, Christian relics are the material remains, or close personal belongings, of a saint: a person “whose divine supernatural gifts have earned them eternal life.”[4] Sacred relics, or the bodies of others, render the embodied spiritual experience even more potent, because the bodies of the saints are already manifest as objects of power.[5] According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, after death, saints “reign with God in the heavenly fatherland as His chosen friends and faithful servants.”[6] Though the identity of the saint lies most completely with the spirit, their bodies left behind are considered “temples of the Holy Ghost” and its powers.[7] Since they held that function during the saint’s mortal life, and will hold it again in the resurrection, Catholic relic theology holds that they will also hold that function in the period between death and resurrection. This divine power of the Holy Ghost, of which the relics are a conduit, is still made manifest, usually in the form of miracles of healing and salvation for those who visit, venerate, or touch the relics.

In broad strokes, relic veneration traces its origins to the second century CE. It underwent fundamental changes in the Carolingian Era (the mid-eighth century), and flourished throughout Medieval Europe until it received heavy, if not unified, pushback from Reformation thinkers. The Iconoclastic sensibilities of many Reformers damaged the practice, literally and conceptually, causing something of a bifurcation in attitudes toward sacred objects: the Catholic Church held fast to relic veneration, which embodied many of its fundamental claims about the connection between life, death and the afterlife. Meanwhile, especially within Reformation countries, such as England, relics were largely considered a money-making device of the church, and a superfluous, not to mention ineffectual, conduit for divine involvement in religious life. However, official church stances about sacred objects did not abolish interest in finding and using material tools to access the supernatural. Well into the nineteenth century, in Europe and Early America, seekers for knowledge, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, continually turned to magical, supernatural material objects with questions that their powers of reason and observation still could not answer.[8]

Death and life

Relics inherently turn the mind to the holy past, a time, embodied in a person’s remains, which had a connection to God was greater than one’s own present connection. Relics certainly aided memory and motivated piety, but they also connected the present to the past in a more literal way that effectively conflates the corporal and spiritual, and life in the past, present, and future. This idea is manifest in the earliest forms of relic veneration. Despite an edgy relationship with Roman law, second-century Christians visited the graves of martyrs – often their own loved ones – whose death for Christianity’s sake had earned them a place in Paradise immediately upon their death, instead of having to await the blowing of the final trumpet like the common Christian. Familial visitations turned to sharing Eucharistic feasts at the graves, which, after the Edict of Milan in 313 and the legalization of Christianity, was encouraged by the construction of altars and shrines over the graves.

With the elaboration of the grave sites came a confirmation of the idea that the saints were not only to be remembered as examples of a pious life, but that they were to be communicated with –not just communed with – and sought out as mediators between Heaven and Earth. The types of supplications brought to the saints also conflated the physical and spiritual: solutions to earthly troubles, such as famine, disease, and death – mixed with requests for salvation from sin, access to heaven, and ultimately, life after death.[9] After all, a saint who had already trod the path to heaven could show the way to others; he could also open the gates for those who came afterward. The price of this heavenly connection was service to the bodily remains of the saint, in addition to prayers to its spirit: thus making a pilgrimage to the shrine of a saint, and bringing food, money, and gifts to bestow on it, promised both deliverance from earthly suffering, and an ally in the afterlife.

Because of the need to pay respects directly to the corpse or grave of a saint, early relic veneration was limited to a privileged few who had the resources to make a pilgrimage to Rome, or perhaps Constantinople, where the remains were interred.[10] Cultural and political forces changed this attitude in the wake of increased threats from warring Germanic tribes across the Roman Empire. By the 760s, sustained attacks on Rome left the burial grounds, most of which lay outside the city, in ruins. Additionally, farther flung cities and villages submitted increasing requests for relics to be sent to them as a protection from the dangers of marauding tribes. Failed efforts to protect the bodies of the holy dead, and an increase in demand for them, prompted the Carolingian popes to slowly lift bans on moving relics from their original resting places. By the eleventh century, literally thousands of relics, some partial, some full sets of remains, were disseminated across the Roman Empire to monasteries and churches where they could be given proper attention. The process of moving and reinterring the relics of a saint, which is interestingly called translation, brought the privileges and protection of the holy past to the average local Christian in an unprecedented way; pilgrimages were no longer necessary to ensure blessings, and the increased availability of the saint made for a more constant dialogue between heaven and earth. Believers could bring more banal concerns to the relics of their local saint. The saint, with power embodied in his relics, became the feudal patron, or in Latin the Patronus, of the village or monastery where it was kept. Literally the spiritual and physical protector of the common people, the saints could reach from beyond the grave and invoke unearthly powers on behalf of their subjects, bringing rain, sunshine, protection from attack, and health from plagues, injury, and disease. The story of the relics of St Gaugerik, a fifth-century saint from Cambray, on the northern tip of modern France, illustrate the spiritual authority of the patronus, embodied in its relics: in 1030, five hundred years after his own death, St Gaugerik was unearthed and placed in the bishop’s throne, to preside over the consecration of the cathedral of the Virgin Mary.[11]

Safety, security, and health brought by the patronus ensured a people, constantly plagued by the vagaries of agriculture and danger of mortality, of their good standing before God. But the increased availability of relics and the spiritual communication they brought, worked both ways. The patronus, a protector, could warn against misdeeds and punish them. People who perjured near the grave of a saint were liable to drop dead on the spot; hence the tradition of swearing over relics. Some saints were heard knocking from the inside of their tombs during the Eucharist to call people to repentance.[12] Though the infallibility of saints was assumed, they also could be held liable for unduly withholding blessings: inattentive patron were known to have been disinterred and their bones broken during the medieval Mass.

Public ownership, Visibility, and Authenticity

The legalization of relic translation and the deeper level of communication it facilitated opened relics to the general public. From this time, relics are considered to be public items, usually displayed in places where they can be visited by the believer and skeptic alike, but appropriate veneration was an especial expectation of the faithful. In 829 the Council of Paris issued a criticism against people who passed by churches without entering to pay respects to their relics.[13] In 1140, The Abbot Suger’s main concern for rebuilding the abbey of St Denis was to facilitate the crowds of pilgrims coming to see the famous relics held in his Paris church. But for being public symbols, meant to be seen and communed with, few people actually saw the relics themselves, and if they did, the sanctity of the relics would be unrecognizable by sight alone: they were, after all, usually rather non-descript objects to look at: bones, pieces of cloth, pieces of petrified wood, nails, chains, and so on. Seeing an object was no immediate help to confirmation of its authenticity, or of the miracles it had performed or could perform.

Concern with authenticity is a constant concern for relics because their power rests in the continuity of the literal object. Relic translation brought with it a flurry of fraudulent relics dealers who sold their wares across the empire that threatened the power of the relics and destroy the faith of the people.[14] In addition, with no reliable medieval equivalent to infrared sensors and alarm systems, to see a relic was also to be able to steal it, destroy it, or sell it. The uniqueness or intrinsic value of the objects was not the point of a relic: more important was the fact that relics were “unsubstitutable signs … whose physical relationship to its origin was a necessary part of its meaning” and power.[15]

These threats incited a series of papal responses. Buying and selling relics was completely outlawed by the eleventh century, though long after much damage had been done. Further, Papal authorities took recourse to several forms of authenticating relics: initially, relics could be thrown into a fire; true relics would come out unscathed and profane objects would be burned. This method died out, however, with increasing discoveries of pieces of the True Cross, Christ’s crib, and other items of petrified wood, which is of course not susceptible to fire. This left the church three major means of authentication: establishing visual uniqueness, and calling on authoritative claims, and divulging the historical narrative surrounding the object.

Establishing visual uniqueness meant to place known relics in unique containers, whose visual aspect could not be easily replicated. Usually highly ornate, and intrinsically valuable, these reliquaries were custom built to fit their relic. Their decadence was the prime method of establish uniqueness. Reliquaries varied in size from a small container into which the relic fit, to an altar or shrine. Even church whole churches were built as colossal reliquaries, which housed the smaller containers inside them – a gold box, inside a shrine, inside an altar, inside a church, ensured the relic’s protection and asserted its holiness. Reliquaries distinguished the holy objects from their profane counterparts, but it also invariably shielded them from view: no commoner, and only a few privileged clergy, if any, would ever see the relic once placed in its reliquary.

Recourse to authority and historical narrative often accompanied a reliquary, and especially accompanied the translation or acquisition of a new relic. Authoritative statements, inscriptions on tombs, affidavits from church authorities, and seals of authenticity, rested the burden of proof on the church leader and were effectively unquestionable, at least to the believer. Erasmus and Calvin were not the first, but might have been the most effective, dissidents to this branch of papal authority.[16] The most effective form of authentication, however, was the historical account of the discovery, provenance, and movements of the relic, interspersed with the miracles it had performed along the way. This often the hagiography of the saint himself: a record of the miracles he performed during his own blessed life. The recourse to historical narrative fit the nature of the relic, which is itself discursive. Relics naturally derive their power from their passage through time, from a holy past, where they were living instruments of salvation and protection, to the present, where they perform the same function. For most clergy and pilgrims, the legitimacy of the object, and the message it propagated, depended on its literal provenance from a holy past, and upon the manner, usually miraculous in itself, in which it has been brought to the present.

Knowledge of the relic, then, rarely involved actually seeing the item, or if it did, then seeing was not enough to believe. Relics occupy places in both supernatural and ordinary, even banal, life. They are the effective property of the public, who have recourse to them for their own well-being. They but are brought forth and legitimized by private testimony, and are depended on ultimately to connect past, present, and future, life, death, and resurrection, by performing physical miracles and providing the way to salvation. Joseph Smith, and questions of the plates.

The gold plates occupy many of these same spaces. They were private objects, seen by only a few, but meant to be believed and followed by all. They had aspects of the supernatural: discovery by direction from an angelic apparition, and protection from the same source. But plates were also subject to everyday life: threats of theft, resulting in them being hidden under beds, in barns, barrels of beans, and rotting logs. Both their angelic guardians and the plates themselves come up from the ground, resurrection-style, and claim an inroad in the quest for salvation. That the plates could effect physical miracles is true of a sort, but this point provides the greatest contrast from traditional relic discourse.

Public and private

Joseph’s method of authentication of the plates, and their relationship between the public and private spheres, mirrors that of many relics. Barred from showing them to even his closest supporters without divine authorization, Joseph’s response to “the many reports which [had] been put in circulation”[17] by his detractors, was essentially a narrative, a telling of his own story of obtaining and translating the plates. (As Richard Bushman points out, the Book of Mormon prophets themselves also follow with this preoccupation of telling the story of the plates – where they came from, how they were made, who kept them, and where.)[18] As an authorized servant through his claims to lineal priesthood authority (another Catholic parallel), Joseph’s witness also functioned as an affidavit of authenticity. In this he shared his burden of proof, or the burden of witness, with a small group of other individuals, also ‘authorized’ through his priesthood line. Two groups of official witnesses – the three and eight - saw the plates under separate circumstances; the three witnesses, accompanied by Joseph Smith, were shown the plates by “an angel of God [who] came down from heaven.”[19] The eight witnesses testified that Joseph Smith himself “ha[d] shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken,” which they saw and handled devoid of any angels or other supernatural events.[20] Joseph’s own experiences with the plates, and the contrasting experiences of the witnesses represents the plates as both divine objects, complete with angelic custodians, and as ordinary objects of everyday life, shown by Joseph in decidedly terrestrial, “sober” circumstances.

Consequently, unofficial witnesses to the plates report experiences that span the same spectrum of divine and banal. Mary Whitmer, a long-time supporter of the cause of the plates, both spiritually and materially, reported that an angel had shown her the plates in a vision.[21] Emma Smith never claimed to have seen the plates, but did report hefting the plates, felt and heard the rustle of the metallic leaves, as she moved them around to clean her home.[22]

The expectation of public appreciation of the private object was also apparent. Material objects, and especially those endowed with supernatural powers, have immediate currency in the public sphere, either because people want to partake in their blessings or be protected from their curses, or to confirm or refute their power. Relics incited public interest through promises of salvation and protection embodied in the invisible object. They also legitimized the history of their faith: the bones of St Peter evidence that he existed, and the miracles they perform evidence that he was holy, still is holy, and will be so on the day of judgment.

But the real manifest power of relics, and the lasting authentication, is propagated by the miracles it produces in the present. The comparison of the miracles of the plates and those of the medieval Christian relics is the most problematic in this study.

Though the plates enjoyed the company of divine manifestation of angels, no great miracles of healing or any other outside the translation of the record itself, seem to have been reported. Though possession of the plates surely evidenced a connection between mankind and the divine, or at least Joseph Smith and the divine, no physical ailments were cured, and no lives were saved or brought back because of the plates. In fact, Joseph’s possession of the plates seemed to produce the opposite results: increased threats on life and limb, and no appreciable increase in economic prosperity plagued the between 1823 and 1829. Judging from their actions, early visitors to the plates were hardly pious pilgrims: their visits, usually incognito, resulted ransacked homes, beatings, and destroyed property.[23] The plates even proved a divisive issue amongst Joseph’s in-laws: Isaac Hale, Emma’s father, famously barred the plates from being held on his property, a decision he recanted only partially later on.

Even if the translation of the plates’ engravings is considered to be the ultimate miracle of the plates, being accomplished by the “gift and power of God,” this defies strong comparison with relics. By most accounts, the plates themselves were ancillary to the translation process. Even from the early days, translations were effected more through the Urim and Thummim, the spectacles Joseph unearthed with the plates, and the seerstone he had discovered at least five years before he knew about the plates.[24] The plates may not even have been present during parts of the translation: though the source is questionable, one account tells of Joseph translating in a tavern, the plates nowhere in sight.[25] The conspicuous returning of the plates to their heavenly home also limits their prolonged use as a miracle-working connection between earth and heaven.

Some may argue that the Book of Mormon, a replicable, propagatable artifact resulting from the gold plates, covers some of the miracle working tasks of the gold plates, like an icon or image of a saint might do for a relic. Here too, the comparison is limited. While both the Book of Mormon and personal relics, i.e., those meant for private possession and consumption, both have power associated with them, the Book of Mormon is conspicuous for being a text, in addition to being a sacred object. While converts in the early church as much as today have varied contact with the Book of Mormon, i.e., some claim to want to read it, while others feel a converting power from the presence of the book itself, the book by its nature contains dual sources of power: first, as an object with divine provenance and a connection to a holy past, and second, as a text to be read and studied. The faith-promoting miracle of either of these treatments, however, was most often spiritual more than it was physical, even though both were ultimately meant to lead a person to Christ.[26]

An exception to this trend of spiritual over physical might be found in Joseph Smith’s relationship to the plates. His contact with them plates was the most material, the most personally intimate, and the most typological of death and resurrection, and often indicative of his own standing with God.

It was a young Joseph Smith who the plates from their earthly grave, typifying a resurrection that was completed in the translation, or the record’s return to life. Like the translation of relics, this process transferred the plates from the private, privileged realm, to the public for consumption and judgment. Joseph’s role in the raising and translating of the plates makes him also as a type of Christ, with power to give life, a detail that was not lost on early believers. Yet simultaneously with Joseph’s prophetic, even Christ-like actions, the plates gauged his own standing before God. Joseph’s own record of his times with the plates display an attitude more of personal suffering and penance than of joyous miracles. The angel Moroni’s first visit to Joseph, in which he learns of the plates for the first time, comes after a night of supplication for forgiveness “of all my sins and follies,” and a desire to know his standing before God.[27] The four years between this first contact with the plates and his obtaining them were a time of instruction,[28] but also of repentance and spiritual preparation. Joseph’s 1832 accounting for the Book of Mormon lays out the raw emotionality of this time. When Joseph visits the plates for the first time in 1823, he admitted having sought them out for money. Though he is allowed to see the plates, Joseph is denied access to them at this point. “Therefore I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul, why can I not obtain them? Behold, the angel appeared unto me again and said … you have not kept the commandments of the Lord … therefore repent and call on the Lord [and] thou shalt be foregiven and in his own due time thou shalt obtain them.”[29]

The translation process was equally harrowing: when Joseph oversteps his bounds and delivers the 116 pages to Martin Harris, he is “chastened for my transgression… wherefore the Plates was taken from me by the power of God… and it came to pass after much humility and affliction of Soul I obtained them again.” Joseph does receive the plates in return, but remains in his own mind an “unworthy servant,” dependent on the mercy of the Lord to complete the work given him.[30] Joseph’s own experiences with life and death also surround the time of his contact with the plates. Alvin Smith, Joseph’s brother and perhaps greatest ally in his quest for the plates, died of mercury poisoning two months after Joseph’s first visit to the plates. In the days surrounding his second visit to the plates, a year later, Joseph Sr., and presumably Joseph Jr., exhumed Alvin’s body to ensure that it not been stolen or desecrated, an act they published in the local newspaper to allay rumors.[31] Likewise, around the time that Martin Harris failed to return the 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript, Emma and Joseph lost their first child, also called Alvin, a few hours after its birth; Emma also nearly lost her life in the delivery.[32] If anything, the plates exacted a firm line of obedience for Joseph, with disastrous consequences for deviation. Threats of death, his own and that of his loved ones, seemed more conspicuous than promises of life while Joseph had the plates. Between the loss of family and threats to his own life associated with the plates, Joseph might well have been relieved to be released from the burden of their possession.

The narrative on the plates, as transferred into the Book of Mormon, contained their own connection to Christ, much like a relic was meant to point a believer, through the intermediary of the relic, to belief in Christ. But instead of focusing on one individual, the Book of Mormon functioned through the story of a handful of civilizations who claimed prophetic knowledge of Christ and membership in the house of Israel. The proclaimed purpose of the Book of Mormon, set out on its first title page, was to record the history of the people but also to “the convincing of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ,” tasks that were accomplished by an accounting of their experiences with Christological doctrines, including a prolonged post-resurrection visitation. For those who made a study of the text, the connections to Christ were two-fold, first, through their own experience and the accounts of those of a lost civilization, a mysterious, but still holy, past; and second, through the prophetic powers of Joseph Smith, purveyor of the witnesses of others, and himself a provider of physical healings, an intermediary for revelation and blessings, and, according to early sealing ordinances, an ally in heaven for those sealed to him. Connection, by birth, marriage, or adoption, with Joseph meant a connection in heaven, a better assurance of a seat in Paradise.[33]

A comparison with the gold plates and Christian relics, then, is made complete when the plates are considered in conjunction with Joseph Smith, whose private experiences made public made him a living relic, a connection between past and present, heaven and earth, spiritual and material.

[1] Robert A. Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the People Who Study Them (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 74-75.

[2] I refer here to traveling for pilgrimages, but special physical exertions are also common to Catholic Pilgrimage worship: consider, for example the great staircases of the Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, Portugal, and the indulgence-bearing holy stairs in Rome (the scala sancta). On the latter, see The Catholic Encylopedia, s.v., Scala Sancta,

[3] On the conflation of material and sacred, see Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth, 75

[4] Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v., Beatification and Canonization,

[5] Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth, 76.

[6] Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v., Beatification and Canonization.

[7] Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v., Relics,

[8] See Keith Thomas, Religions and the Decline of Magic (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970.)

[9] G. J. C. Snoek, Medieval Piety from Relics to the Eucharist: A Process of Mutual Interaction, Studies in the History of Christian Thought 63 (New York: E.J. Brill): 9-11.

[10] Moving or parsing a body was heavily frowned upon in the west, less so in the east. See ibid., 23.

[11] Snoek, Medieval Piety, 22.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 244.

[14] The popes countered with bans on buying and selling relics, and by the eleventh century relics could only be obtained legally from authorized church authorities, who bestowed them as gifts on churches and monastic orders.

[15] Alexander Nagel, “The Afterlife of the Reliquary,” in Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe, ed. Martha Bagnoli et al. (New Haven: Yale University Press): 211-22 (212).

[16] Desiderius Erasmus, The Manual of the Christian Knight [1503], ch. 13 and 14. See also John Calvin, Treatise on Relics [1561], trans. Joe Nickell (Amherst, NY: Prometheus 2008).

[17] “Manuscript History of the Church,” volume A-1, page 1, published in Joseph Smith Papers Online. Also Joseph Smith-History 1:1.

[18] Richard L. Bushman, “The Book of Mormon as Foundational Text,” forthcoming.

[19] “Testimony of Three Witnesses,” Book of Mormon [1844 ed.] (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), 599. On the Three Witnesses, see EMD 1:82-86; Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2006), 77-79.

[20] “And Also the Testimony of Eight Witnesses,” Book of Mormon [1844 ed.] (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), 600; also in “Manuscript History of the Church,” volume A-1, page 33, published in Joseph Smith Papers Online,

Uncertainty exists as to the “banality” or supernatural nature of the Eight Witnesses’ experience: Bushman and Richard Lloyd Anderson take the Eight Witnesses’ lack of having reported an angel and their testimony of having touched the plates to mean that no angel was present. (See Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 79; Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981; also his “Book of Mormon Witnesses,” (Provo: Maxwell Institute, Lucy Mack Smith reports both that an ancient Nephite and Joseph Smith showed the eight witnesses the plates (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith The Prophet and his Progenitors for Many Generations [Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1969], 166-167; see also Anderson, “Book of Mormon Witnesses.) Dan Vogel argues for that both the Three and Eight Witness accounts were visionary. See Dan Vogel, “The Validity of the Witnesses’ Testimonies,” in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 79-121; also a direct response to Anderson, Bushman, and others, in “Book of Mormon Witnesses Revisited,” Signature Books Website,

[21] EMD 1:44-45, 55-56.

[22] EMD 1:539.

[23] See Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 61 (Sally Chase leads men to cooper’s shop in search f places, the floorboards of the shop are destroyed (see also EMD 1:342-43); for other accounts of attacks/persecution see Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 82-85, EMD 2:306n28

[24] Sources abound on this topic. See, for example, Joseph Knight’s account in EMD 4:17 (dated 1835-37), EMD 3:276, 4:341.

[25] EMD 4:185.

[26] Though certainly stories of healing after conversion and baptism exist, they are more associated with other things besides the possession of the Book of Mormon itself. For Joseph as a healer, see Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 385; also Ronald K. Esplin, “Sickness and Faith, Nauvoo Letters,” BYU Studies 15, no. 4 (1975:425-34). The best-known story of Joseph Smith using material objects (ther than anointing oil) for healings is the handkerchief passed to cholera sufferers in Montrose, See. Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, The Faith-Promoting Series 3, (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1881), 75–79. See also Brigham H. Roberts, "The Testimony of Miracles," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:253–256 for further accounts of Joseph Smith’s healings..

[27] JS-H 1:29.

[28] See JS-H 1:54.

[29] Joseph Smith Letterbook, 3, in EMD 1:29 (punctuation added).

[30] Ibid., 4, in EMD 1:30.

[31] See Samuel Morris Brown, In Heaven as it is on Earth (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 51-52, see also his commentary on the exhumation as a penitential act, p. 54-55.

[32] Brown, 56; see EMD 4:298, 320.

[33] S. Brown, 208-13. Adult adoptions to sealed couples, often prophets or prominent members of the church and their (first) wives, were performed in LDS temples until the 1890s. Adoptions were often posthumous, as in the case of those sealed to Joseph and Hyrum Smith in the Nauvoo Temple, 1845-46. (See Lisle G. Brown Nauvoo Sealings, Adoptions, and Anointings: A Comprehensive Register of Persons Receiving LDS Temple Ordinances, 1841-46 [Salt Lake City: Smith-Petit Foundation, 2006], x, for an explanation of the practice; see also pp.277-281 for records of posthumous adoptions, and some sealings, to both men.) See also Gordon Irving, “The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1900,” BYU Studies 14 (Spring 1974): 291-314. Lisle Brown points out, however, that no records exists of adoptions to adults occurring during Joseph Smith’s lifetime (L. Brown, x.)