Monday, December 15, 2008

Dimensions of the Gold Plates

Some Evangelical Christians claim Joseph Smith's story of finding gold plates, from which he translated the Book of Mormon, to be false based on the assumption that they would be too heavy for any one man to carry; let alone run with through a forest while being chased by an angry mob. Joseph Smith gave the gold plates the dimensions of approximately 15 cm by 20 cm by 15 cm. The plates were comprised of a thick stack of leaf thin golden metal sheets held together and by 3 D-shaped rings which ran through holes made on the edge of one side of the plates. The witnesses to the Book of Mormon commented that there were engravings on both sides and other witnesses say that the pages were so thin that you could run your thumb up the corner of the pages and cause the pages to make a shuffling sound.

From these dimensions of the gold plates, some calculate that the plates must have weighed more than 200 lbs. However, this calculation is based on a faulty assumption that the plates are the same weight as a solid block of 24 karat gold. This assumption is false because, #1 24 karat gold would have been too soft to keep an engraven record. Gold is a very malleable metal and any engravings in pure gold could too easily be lost. #2 Joseph Smith never actually claimed the plates were made of pure gold. The Book of Mormon only says that the plates were made of ore and the witnesses state that they had the "appearance of gold." #3 The plates were not a solid piece of metal, but were a stack of hand-made plates. Consequently, they would not have been perfectly flat. Engraving on each side of the plates would have distorted them causing a significant amount of air space between each page further reducing the overall density [Glenn Blaylock, Wiki answers].

copper density is 8.92 g/cm3.
gold density is 19.30 g/cm3.
silver density is 10.5 gr/cm3.

To calculate the actual weight of the gold plates, we can assume that Joseph's measurements of the plates are correct. If we assume the plates were 15cm X 20cm X 15cm, that would constitute a volume of 4500 cm3. If the plates were pure gold we would multiply the volume by the density of ~20 g/cm3 giving 90 kg. We can then convert kg. to lbs. by multiplying by a factor of 2.2 giving about 200 lbs. 200 lbs. would be the weight of the plates if they were not plates but a solid 24k-gold brick with the same dimensions.

However, I think we can assume the plates where alloyed with at least 50% copper and silver by volume (12-karat). Since the density of copper and silver are about half the density of pure, gold, we can assume that the plates would be at least 2/3 the weight compared to solid gold. That would bring the total weight of the plates from 200 lbs. to 133 lbs. Still too heavy to run with through the forest.

But then if we remember that the pages themselves were engraven on both sides, I think we can reduce the overall density and weight of the plates by 1/2 again. Glenn Blaylock in his post at Wiki answers suggests an experiment where we take a ream of paper and write on the front and back of each page and then re-stack each page together again. The micro-imperfections add up to give an increase in volume of 2 and a decrease in density by 2. Therefore, taking this into account, the overall weight of the plates is reduced further from 133 lbs to 66 lbs.

66 lbs is still a heavy burden to carry. The witnesses to the Book of Mormon and other eye witnesses talked about hefting the book. But was Joseph strong enough to carry the plates let alone run with them? At first, maybe not. in 1823 at age 17, Joseph was not initially allowed by the angel Moroni to take the plates. Instead, Joseph was instructed to return to the place where the plates were buried each year for 4 years until finally in 1827 at age 21, he was allowed to remove them. Part of the reason Joseph was not permitted to take the plates may have been a lack of sufficient strength. If Joseph wasn't strong enough to carry the plates at 17, we know Joseph Smith was more than strong enough as an adult. Joseph was known for his great strength. He routinely competed against and defeated 2 men simultaneously in stick pull contests.


Bryan H said...

Didn't he run at top speed for 3 miles with the plates? Didn't Emma lift them when she dusted? It is unrealistic to think that either of these were the case even at 66 lbs. Even as a strong adult Joseph could not have run for three miles carrying the 66 lb plates.

BRoz said...

Multiple witnesses hefted the plates and all gave the approximate weight to be about 60 lbs [23 kg]. Joseph Smith's wife Emma never estimated the weight of the plates but said they were light enough for her to "move them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work

BRoz said...

Remember that Joseph was stronger than two men. And Emma never said she lifted them, only that she could move them.

Bryan H said...

On whose count was he stronger than two men? At 17? I think this type of exaggerated history is what some struggle with when they read current LDS historical accounts. Are we really to believe that he traversed over uneven wooded ground for 3 miles at running speed carrying what at a conservative estimate was over 60 lbs? Regarding Emma: women don't "move" 60 lb items from place to place when dusting.

BRoz said...

In the summer of 1843, the champion stick-puller of Hancock County, Illinois, was Joseph Smith, Jr., our latter-day Prophet. On June 30 of that year, Joseph met with several thousand citizens of Nauvoo at a large outdoor gathering to tell them of his recent escape from those who were trying to return him to Missouri to face false charges. During his opening remarks, the Prophet described how he passed the time while held captive. He was feeling elated. He had beaten his enemies both legally and physically. He said, “I meet you with a heart full of gratitude to Almighty God … I am well—I am hearty. I hardly know how to express my feelings. I feel as strong as a giant. I pulled sticks with the men coming along, and I pulled up with one hand the strongest man that could be found. Then two men tried, but they could not pull me up. …” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 466.)

Bryan H said...

I'm not sure how his public proclamation of his own strength should lead history to conclude he had the strength of two men. I think this would actually fit the prototypical description of a glorified history.

Bohman said...

The size and wieght of the plates are irrelevent in any arguement. For if God wanted him to pick up 1000 pounds and run with it for 100 miles he could because through God anything can happen. If God didn't want us to lift 5 pounds then even the strongest man in the world couldn't. God's will is stronger then us, God's will is final, and dimensions don't matter. This is like arguing that Moses couldn't part the red sea, or shadrack meschack and abindigo couldn't stand in a burning fire and live. Of course as men they couldn't but with God they could. Joseph Smith was not bragging of his strength when telling this story he was bragging of the strength of God, and how God allowed him to do such a miraculous thing.


Anonymous said...

Well played Bohman.