Hey guys, so Latter-day Saints believe that on September 22, 1827, Joseph Smith obtained a few ancient Nephite relics from a stone box buried in a hill. Within the box, Joseph found a set of gold-colored plates, a metal breastplate, and two seer stones called interpreters. Some evidence suggests the box also contained the sword of Laban and the Liahona as described in the Book of Mormon.
This is not just an arbitrary collection of ancient artifacts. In this episode, we’re going to mostly summarize the research done by scholar Don Bradley which suggests that these objects were sacred Nephite relics that parallel sacred Israelite relics associated with the temple and the ark of the covenant. Let’s jump in.
The ancient Israelite temple or tabernacle was at the center of Israelite worship. And the ark of the covenant was at the center of the temple. It was kept in the most sacred part of the temple, behind the veil, in the Holy of Holies. Among other things, it represented the presence of God among the Israelites. Other items found within or associated with the temple include the sword of Goliath, the sacred clothing of the high priest, and the Urim and Thummim. But what does all of this have to do with the objects Joseph Smith found?
Within a stone box, Joseph Smith found the word of God written on golden plates. Inversely, the ark of the covenant was a golden box containing the word of God written on stone tablets — the 10 commandments. One source indicates that on one occasion Martin Harris referred to the stone box as an “ark”.
A bowl of manna was also kept inside the ark of the covenant. It was a reminder of how the Lord had delivered the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. Exodus 16 says: “In the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing…. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna, for they wist not what it was.”
Compare that to the discovery of the Liahona in the Book of Mormon: “…as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship….” Just as the Lord provided manna to feed the Israelites during their exodus, the Lord provided the Liahona during the exodus of Lehi’s group. And in the very chapter that the Liahona appears, it leads Nephi to a source of food for the group.
The Liahona also parallels another object found within the ark: the rod of Aaron, which was used as an instrument to reveal the will of God. The Liahona served a similar purpose. It told Lehi’s group which direction they needed to go, and had writing on it that changed from time to time, “which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord…”.
In the Old Testament, David discovers that the sword of Goliath was being kept within the tabernacle near the high priest’s sacred clothing. Goliath’s sword, which the young but faithful underdog, David, used to cut off Goliath’s head, was a powerful symbol of authority and deliverance. Likewise, the young but faithful underdog, Nephi, used Laban’s own sword to cut off his head. That sword is then passed down through generations of Nephite leaders and also becomes a symbol of authority and deliverance — a sacred Nephite relic.
Exodus 28 instructs the high priest of the temple to wear a special breastplate over his sacred ceremonial clothing. The Urim and Thummim — two stones that helped the high priest understand the will of God — were kept in a pocket within the breastplate. Similarly, the Nephite interpreters, or the Nephite Urim and Thummim, were designed to be used in conjunction with the Nephite breastplate recovered by Joseph Smith. Joseph’s brother, William, even stated that a “pocket was prepared in the breastplate on the left side, immediately over the heart. When not in use the [interpreters were] placed in this pocket…”.
Now, a lot of people struggle with the fact that for a long time no one other than Joseph Smith was permitted to see the golden plates. But from a temple viewpoint, it makes sense. Only the Israelite high priest was permitted to view the sacred temple relics in the Holy of Holies. As the divinely approved recipient of these sacred relics, Joseph Smith was acting as the new High Priest. Thus, he was able to view the plates, and he was able to wear the breastplate and translate by looking into the Urim and Thummim. Remember, this is before he switched over to using his personal seer stone.
The ark was kept in the Holy of Holies, which was separated from the rest of the tabernacle by a veil. When the Israelites needed to transport the ark of the covenant, contrary to most artistic representations, they didn’t just have it out in the open for everyone to see. They actually covered the ark with the temple veil. I see a lot of valuable sacred symbolism in Emma Smith’s statement that the golden plates “often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in.” Or, for example, early in the translation process, Joseph is described as hanging a sheet or a blanket or a curtain — a veil — between him and his scribe. Only the “high priest” was permitted to view this sacred relic in the Holy of Holies.
Now, all of this information does not prove anything about Joseph Smith or his claims. But it’s there, and I don’t think it’s there by accident. And there’s still a lot we haven’t covered yet. The resources I’ll leave in the YouTube description will go much deeper into this subject. But in my view, as these kinds of intricate complexities continue to pile on, either this is the boldest, elaborate hoax I’ve ever heard of, or it’s the real deal. Of course, where you land on this issue is between you and God. Feel free to study these things out on your own and please come to your own conclusions. Watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day.
- See Don Bradley’s book, “The Lost 116 Pages” for additional details.
- “Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages” by Don Bradley (2012 FAIR Conference): https://bit.ly/3GrF914
- “American Proto-Zionism and the ‘Book of Lehi’: Recontextualizing the Rise of Mormonism” by Don Bradley (his thesis from Utah State University): https://bit.ly/3pLFnK1
- “The Sword of Laban as a Symbol of Divine Authority and Kingship” by Brett Holbrook, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: https://bit.ly/3Gmg5bN
- “Book of Mormon Evidence: The Nephite Ark” via Evidence Central: https://bit.ly/3EB28pW
- “Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages of The Book of Mormon” on Cwic (YouTube channel): https://bit.ly/3y6eVOJ
- “What was in the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon?” with Don Bradley on Saints Unscripted (hey, that’s us!): https://bit.ly/3y6LDiZ
- “Were Joseph Smith’s Translation Instruments Like the Israelite Urim and Thummim?” via Book of Mormon Central: https://bit.ly/3lOizYS
- “Is There Evidence That Joseph Smith Possessed a Urim and Thummim and Breastplate?” via Book of Mormon Central: https://bit.ly/3dxUroK
- “Why Were the Three Witnesses Shown the Liahona?” via Book of Mormon Central: https://bit.ly/3y4R2XO