Kinderhook Plates & Translator Claims


A Closer Look

Kinderhook Plates

Where in the standard works is the Book of Kinderhook? It doesn't exist. Despite the pressure to translate the forgery Kinderhook plates Joseph appears to have given them little thought and may have very well detected the fraud. This lack of desire to translate is uncharacteristic given Joseph's love for ancient artifacts, languages, and desire to translate. 

Richard Bushman provides further context below:

Not long after the Miller excitement, Joseph’s prophetic powers were put to the test. In April, a dozen men in Kinderhook, Pike County, Illinois, said they had dug twelve feet into a mound on the property of a local merchant, Robert Wiley, and found six small bell-shaped brass plates with undecipherable writing on them. Within a few weeks, the plates were in Joseph’s hands with a request for a translation. Wiley claimed he began the dig after dreaming about treasure in the mound three nights in succession. The more likely story is that Wiley, one W. Fugate, and a local blacksmith named Whitton counterfeited the plates by engraving the characters with acid. They cast this lure before the Mormon prophet in hopes of catching him in a feigned translation. A letter was sent to the Times and Seasons explaining the find, and the plates were taken to Nauvoo. An editorial in the Quincy Whig, a paper hostile to the Mormons, baited the Prophet by saying that “some pretend to say that Smith, the Mormon leader, has the ability to read them.” In a classic temptation, the paper observed that if he could, “it would go to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”

John Taylor, editor of the Times and Seasons, classed the Kinderhook plates with the discoveries of Mayan ruins recently described in John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood’s immensely popular Incidents of Travel in Central America. Taylor, like all Mormons at the time, counted every building and artwork in ancient Mexico as evidence for the Book of Mormon. When the Book of Mormon first came out, Taylor pointed out, the inhabitants of the Americas were thought to have been “a rude, barbarous race, uncouth, unlettered, and without civilization.” The Book of Mormon appeared like “a wild speculation.” Now the picture was changing daily. The “various relics that have been found indicative of civilization, intelligence, and learning” give testimony to the authenticity of the book. The Kinderhook find, showing that ancient people wrote on plates, should “convince the skeptical that such things have been used and that even the obnoxious Book of Mormon may be true.” Taylor had no doubt “but Mr. Smith will be able to translate them.”

Taylor said he had not ascertained Joseph’s opinion, but the Prophet had his chance when “several gentlemen” showed him the plates. Richards said Joseph sent William Smith for a Hebrew Bible and lexicon, as if he was going to translate conventionally. Clayton, in a conflicting account, wrote that “Joseph has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.” Joseph seemed to be stepping into the trap, but then he pulled back. Pressure from Taylor and the Quincy Whig did not push him any further. After the first meeting, no further mention was made of translation, and the Kinderhook plates dropped out of sight. Joseph may not have detected the fraud, but he did not swing into a full-fledged translation as he had with the Egyptian scrolls. The trap did not quite spring shut, which foiled the conspirators’ original plan. Instead of exposing the plot immediately, as they had probably intended to do, they said nothing until 1879, when one of them signed an affidavit describing the fabrication.Church historians continued to insist on the authenticity of the Kinderhook plates until 1980 when an examination conducted by the Chicago Historical Society, possessor of one plate, proved it was a nineteenth-century creation.

Rough Stone Rolling, p. 489-490

Additionally, Don Bradley provided some excellent research showing that Joseph likely consulted the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar (GAEL) in his research. Runnell's tried to refute that idea but didn't provide a very strong case. The response to Runnell's response can be found here.

Book of Abraham