Evidence #237 | September 13, 2021

Bronze Buddhist Records

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Scripture Central


Some Japanese Buddhists wrote scripture on metal plates which were buried in boxes so they could be brought forth at a future day.

Records for a Future Day

The Book of Mormon plates, although an abridgement of ancient Nephite records, were not written for the past, but “sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—to come forth by the gift and power of God” at a future time of restoration to those living in our day (Book of Mormon Title Page). The practice of writing sacred religious texts on metal plates and burying them in the hope that they would be brought forth at a future time was known in Japanese history.   

The Golden Plates in the Hill Cumorah. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Concern over the Preservation of Buddhist Teachings

In several recent studies, D. Max Moerman has discussed the Buddhist practice of sutra burial in Heian Japan (794–1185 AD).1 This practice, he notes, was influenced by the belief that traditional Buddhism was dying out. “According to their interpretation of Buddhist chronologies, the eleventh century marked the beginning of the end; the onset of mappō, the final degenerate age of the Dharma, or Buddhist Law, in which both the availability of the teachings and the ability of people to realize them would reach their lowest points.”2 In fact, many believed that traditional Buddhism would disappear altogether during this time.3

Influenced by this belief, Japanese Buddhists sometimes buried “specially consecrated copies of Buddhist scriptures in the earth and at sacred mountains, shrines and temples.”4 This was done in no haphazard way. “The process required that sutras be transcribed according to strict ritual protocols, enclosed within reliquary-shaped containers, and buried underground to protect and preserve their teachings until the arrival of the next Buddha, Miroku (Skt. Maitreya)” at a long distant future time.5

According to Moerman

Buried sutras were inscribed on a variety of materials, most often on paper or silk scrolls in black, gold, or vermilion ink (the later was occasionally mixed with blood), yet there are also numerous examples of sutras inscribed on more permanent materials such as stone, ceramic tiles, or copper plates, signaling perhaps an even more explicit concern with the preservation of the teachings. The silk or paper sutras would be placed into cylindrical stupa-shaped containers (kyōzutsu, ‘sutra tubes’) fashioned out of bronze, iron, ceramic, or stone that were often in turn encased in a second outer vessel of ceramic or stone. They were then buried in small underground chambers lined with stones and occasionally packed with charcoal to aid in preservation. The chambers were sealed with stone and marked like a grave, with an earthen mound and a stone stupa, lantern, or stele.6

Sutra burials reflected faith and concern for both the preservation of the Buddhist teaching as well as the salvation of the individual. According to Moerman, sutras recovered from burials often “express the hope that, as a result of this meritorious act, the donor (or another individual to whom the merit is being transferred) will be reborn, in the interim, in Amida’s Pure Land or in Miroku’s Tosotsu heaven.”7 Other examples record the hope that benefits from the act would accrue to teachers, parents, or other family members.8 “Nearly all, however, agree that the primary motivation was the concern to preserve the sutras throughout the age of mappō until the coming of Miroku, who will use the buried sutras in his three inaugural sermons beneath the Dragon Flower Tree.”9 Sutras were often buried in locations such as mountains where traditions held that he would descend at that time.10

Sutras on Bronze Plates

Surviving examples of sutras inscribed on bronze plates have been recovered from burials in Japan. These include a plate from the Nara prefecture with an inscription from the Lotus Sutra and which dates to the seventh century AD.11

12 th cenutry bronze plate sutra (Lotus Sutra). Image via narahaku.go.jp.

Of special interest are several sets of bronze plates recovered in northern Kyushu which seems to have been an important center for this activity during the Heian Period. These include a set of thirty-three bronze plates, dating to 1142 AD, which was recovered from a cave on Mount Kubote (Kubotesan) in Buzen City, and is currently kept at the Kunitama shrine at the mountain’s summit. The plates are inscribed on both sides with the complete texts of the Lotus Sutra and the Heart of Wisdom Sutra. The plates were found enclosed within a gilded bronze box engraved with Buddhist images.12

Another set of thirty-seven bronze plates from a similar bronze box, dates to 1141 AD. It was recovered from a burial on Mount Ya (Yayama) on the Kunisaki Peninsula and is preserved at the Choanji temple there. Only the bronze panels of the burial box have survived. The plates from this set were separated after their discovery and are currently scattered among several museums, but they, like the one from Mount Kubote, are inscribed the with the same sutras.13

A third box containing a similar set of plates, likely of comparable size, has yet to be located, but is mentioned in Hikosan ruki (Mount Hiko Register), a document written in 1213 AD. It states that a bronze box containing the text of the Lotus Sutra and the Heart of Wisdom Sutra was inscribed on bronze and buried on Mount Hiko (Hikosan), in northern Kyushu. It also mentions the names of the monks who inscribed the text in 1145 AD, as well as the name of the metalworker who made those plates and the set buried on Mount Kubote.14

Mount Kubote. Image via mapcarta.com. 

Parallels between Sutra Burials and Metal Documents in the Book of Mormon

While these beliefs and practices were associated with Buddhism, a religious tradition distinct from the Judeo-Christian one in which the Book of Mormon was grounded, they do correspond with the Book of Mormon in notable ways, suggesting that both may reflect a general ancient pattern.

Written to last through a time of apostasy

Like the Kyushu plates, those of the Book of Mormon were to be hidden and preserved during a lengthy time of apostasy and wickedness. Nephi taught that his own people would be destroyed, yet “the words of the righteous shall be written and the prayers of the faithful shall be heard” (2 Nephi 26:15). The righteous “shall write the things which shall be done among them, and they shall be written and sealed up in a book, and those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not have them, for they seek to destroy the things of God” (2 Nephi 26:17).

In his final days Mormon wrote that his own people had become wicked and unworthy and that “the Lord hath reserved their blessings, which they might have received in the land, for the Gentiles who shall possess the land” (Mormon 5:19). “Now these things … are written after this manner, because it is known of God that wickedness will not bring them forth unto them; and they are to be hid up unto the Lord that they may come forth in his own due time” (Mormon 5:12).

Consecrated records

The preservation of the Buddhist bronze plates was governed by ritual protocols. Similarly, in the Book of Mormon both the plates and the act of preserving and burying them were considered a holy work. Writers mention the sacredness of the records (Alma 37:2, 14–15). Caretakers and scribes were carefully governed by strict obedience to commandment about their preservation (Alma 37:13, 15; Ether 5:1–6). They were not simply buried, but were “hid up unto the Lord” (Mormon 5:12). The work could not be done for personal gain or by one who was unrighteous or selfish. It could only done with an eye single to the glory of God and the welfare of his covenant people (Mormon 8:14–15). Prayers were also offered on behalf of the one that would eventually bring them to light (Mormon 8:25).

Buried in the Earth

Like the Kyushu bronze plates, the Book of Mormon plates were buried in the earth, in a hill, and in a box specially made for that purpose.15

Joseph Smith Uncovering the Gold Plates. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Revealed by God at a Future Time

The devotees in Buddhism who preserved and buried sacred sutras, including those on bronze plates, anticipated that those texts would be brought forth again when Miroku descended from heaven and that he would read these during his inaugural sermons. One eleventh-century devotee of this practice prayed, for example, that his “buried sutras would spontaneously well up out of the earth” to be used by Miroku at that time.”16

The vision of the brother of Jared was recorded but commanded to be kept hidden until Jesus visited the people of Nephi after His resurrection from the dead (Ether 3:22; 4:1). Moroni wrote that at this time, Jesus brought forth and revealed the brother of Jared’s account to the people of Nephi (Ether 4:1–2). When they fell into wickedness, those very words were recorded again on plates by Moroni and hid up to come forth again in a day of future righteousness (Ether 4:3–7). In the Latter-day Saint Book of Moses, the Lord promised the prophet Enoch that at the time of Christ’s return “righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine only begotten; and his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men” (Moses 7:62).


Buddhist beliefs about the age of mappō and associated burial practices of sutras on bronze plates resonate with the account found in the Book of Mormon, in which not only plates but lengthy records on plates are described. The strength of this connection is enhanced by other shared elements, including the practice of ritual burial of plates in specially designated boxes, in a hill or other sacred place, during a time of spiritual darkness or wickedness, with the expectation that these writings would be miraculously brought forth again, to be read and taught by a divine being, who would descend from heaven in a distant future time to bless the world.

This pattern found in medieval Japan and the Book of Mormon may be due to a common ancient worldview. Yet even if the Japanese tradition is completely independent, it would still demonstrate that the type of metal recordkeeping discussed in the Book of Mormon reflects a realistic cultural phenomenon. Other pre-modern societies created and preserved similar metal documents for very similar reasons.

Book of Mormon Central, “Are There Other Ancient Records Like the Book of Mormon? (Mormon 8:16),” KnoWhy 407 (February 13, 2018).

William J. Hamblin, “Sacred Writing on Metal Plates in the Ancient Mediterranean,” FARMS Review 19, no. 1 (2007): 37–54.

H. Curtis Wright, “Ancient Burials of Metal Documents in Stone Boxes,” in “By Study and Also By Faith”: Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley, 2 vols., ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1990), 273–334.

H. Curtis Wright, “Metallic Documents in Antiquity,” BYU Studies Quarterly, 10, no. 4 (1970): 457–477.

Bible Psalms 85:11Book of MormonBook of Mormon Title Page2 Nephi 26:152 Nephi 26:17Alma 37:2Alma 37:13Alma 37:15Alma 37:14–15Mormon 5:12Mormon 5:19Mormon 8:14–15Mormon 8:25Ether 3:22Ether 4:1Ether 4:1–2Ether 4:3–7Ether 5:1–6Pearl of Great PriceMoses 7:62


Psalms 85:11

Book of Mormon

Book of Mormon Title Page

2 Nephi 26:15

2 Nephi 26:17

Alma 37:2

Alma 37:13

Alma 37:15

Alma 37:14–15

Mormon 5:12

Mormon 5:19

Mormon 8:14–15

Mormon 8:25

Ether 3:22

Ether 4:1

Ether 4:1–2

Ether 4:3–7

Ether 5:1–6

Pearl of Great Price

Moses 7:62

  • 1 D. Max Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety: An Underground History of Heian Religion,” in Heian Japan: Centers and Peripheries, ed. Mikael Adolphson, Edward Kamens, Stacie Matsumoto (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2007), 245–271; D. Max Moerman, “The Death of the Dharma: Buddhist Sutra Burials in Early Medieval Japan,” in The Death of Sacred texts: Ritual Disposal and Renovation of Texts in World Religions, ed. Kristina Myrvold (Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2010), 71–90.
  • 2 Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,” 245.
  • 3 David Wellington Chappell, “Early Forebodings of the Death of Buddhism,” Numen 27, no.1 (June 1980): 122–154.
  • 4 Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,”245.
  • 5 Moerman, The Archaeology of Anxiety,” 10. It was believed this would happen some 5.67 billion years in the future.
  • 6 Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,” 248.
  • 7 Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,” 261.
  • 8 Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,” 261–262.
  • 9 Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,”260.
  • 10 Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,”260. Emphasis added.
  • 11 Peter Kornicki and T. H. Barrett, “Buddhist Texts on Gold and Other Metals in East Asia: Preliminary Observations,” Journal of Asia Humanities at Kyushi University 2 (Spring 2017): 116. See https://www.narahaku.go.jp/english/collection/493-1.html.
  • 12 Sherry Fowler, “Containers of Sacred Text and Image at Twelfth–Century Chōanji in Kyushu,” Artibus Asiae 74, no. 1 (2014): 50–51; Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,” 259–260; Kornicki and Barrett, “Buddhist Texts on Gold and Other Metals in East Asia,” 116.
  • 13 Kyushu National Museum, The Home of Shinto Gods, Buddhist Deities and Ogres: Celebrating the 1,300th Anniversary of the Founding of Rokugo Manzan (Kunisaki Peninsula – Usa Region and Rokugo-Manzan Tourism Council, 2020), 47–49; Fowler, “Containers of Sacred Text,” 43, 46, 50.
  • 14 Sherry Fowler, “Containers of Sacred Text,” 51; Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,”259–260; Kyushu National Museum, The Home of Shinto Gods, Buddhist Deities and Ogres: Celebrating the 1,300th Anniversary of the Founding of Rokugo Manzan, 49.
  • 15 For other examples of the hiding and burial of records in the earth and in boxes see Evidence Central, “Ancient Records Hidden in Boxes,” November 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; “Codices in Stone Boxes,” July 19, 2021, online at bookofmormoncentral.org;  “Nephi’s Vision and the Apocalypse of Enosh,” December 18, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; “Ancient Hidden Records,” November 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; “Secret Records,” November 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 16 Moerman, “The Archaeology of Anxiety,” 264, compare the words of the Israelite psalmist, “Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven” (Psalm 85:11).
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