Every Latter-day Saint knows the story of how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from the gold plates a stone in a hat. What they may not know is that Joseph Smith also translated a different set of plates found in Kinderhook, IL.

How come the church doesn’t talk about these plates? Well, it did for 140 years… until the plates were proven to be a forgery.

The Sept. 19, 1962 Improvement Era related the discovery of the Kinderhook plates:

“On April 23, 1843, a group of men excavated an old earth mound just outside the town of Kinderhook, Illinois, and came up with a most interesting find. The excavation was headed by Robert Wiley, a local merchant. After digging down about twelve feet, they came upon “fire burned rock, charcoal, ashes, and badly decomposed human bones. Near the [corner] a bundle was found that consisted of six plates of brass of a bell shape, each having a hole near the small end, a ring through them all and clasped with two clasps.”The plates appeared to have some kind of writing on them but were so badly oxidized they could not be clearly distinguished until Dr. W. P. Harris, MD, treated them with a dilute solution of sulphuric acid which made them perfectly clear. They were completely covered with “hieroglyphics” on both sides. A certificate stating the facts of the find was drawn up and signed by nine of the men present and sent to nearby newspapers. Since Nauvoo was only a short distance away, the church periodical Times and Seasons, received the story quickly and published it with all details.”

Joseph Smith wrote in his diary on May 1, 1843:
“I insert fac-similes of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook, in Pike county, Illinois, on April 23, by Mr. Robert Wiley and others, while excavating a large mound. They found a skeleton about six feet from the surface of the earth, which must have stood nine feet high. The plates were found on the breast of the skeleton and were covered on both sides with ancient characters. I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. 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.” (http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/history-1838-1856-volume-d-1-1-august-1842-1-july-1843?p=185&highlight=kinderhook)

The problem? The plates were a total forgery. Despite the fact that the makers of the plates had exposed them, church members kept believing that they were authentic.

The 1962 Improvement Era article stated:
“The [Kinderhook] plates are now back in their original category of genuine.

“What scholars may learn from this ancient record in future years or what may be translated by divine power is an exciting thought to contemplate.

“This much remains. Joseph Smith,Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well.”

Then, in 1981, an Ensign article stated:
“A recent electronic and chemical analysis of a metal plate (one of six original plates) brought in 1843 to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, appears to solve a previously unanswered question in Church history, helping to further evidence that the plate is what its producers later said it was—a nineteenth-century attempt to lure Joseph Smith into making a translation of ancient-looking characters that had been etched into the plates.”

If the Kinderhook plates were a lure, then Joseph took the bait, hook and sinker. He was duped into translating bogus plates. For over a century, church leaders duped themselves into believing that Joseph had translated an actual record.

Both of Joseph Smith’s translations for which we have original sources (the other being the Book of Abraham) have proven to be fraudulent. What does this say about Joseph’s capacity as a translator or a prophet? What does it say about the later prophets who were unable to recognize this forgery or the later Mark Hoffman forgeries?

It says they are frauds.

Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland

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