Mormon scholar explains the historical difficulty created by the Golden Plates

Published: Friday, Oct. 29 2010 11:30 a.m. MDT

The record on the plates stands for "the immense importance of history writing and record-keeping" at the time of their creation, Bushman said. The Book of Mormon is "a book about the importance of books." The challenge for investigation is whether this record-keeping impulse can be found in the 7th century BC.

Bushman said this was the time period when historical writing was beginning to emerge. Oral histories such as the Homeric epics and Gilgamesh were written. "History writing was in the air in the Near East."

The plates also challenge modern scholarship. "If it was known for sure that the plates existed, they could in theory turn the course of history," Bushman said. That "course of history" is secularization. "Faith has to assert itself against a background of prevailing doubt," Bushman said. "In the secular age, everything has a natural explanation or stems from natural causes; nothing is supernatural."

But the Golden Plates stand against this view, he said. Their existence is a token of the transcendent: angels, prophets, miracles and God. If Joseph had the plates, Bushman said, "we would have a palpable token of the supernatural. All that had been discounted and dismissed in the secular age would suddenly enter into the mundane world."

At the very least, he said, the plates can open up the possibility that there is more than just the immediate and the ordinary.

"They may not believe in it, but I want to show that those Gold Plates are rich and deep and it is a worthy emblem for a religion to place emphasis upon," he said.

e-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com

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