Evidence #265 | November 1, 2021

Gold Books

Post contributed by


Scripture Central


Similar to the Book of Mormon, other religious texts have been inscribed on gold plates, some of which can be characterized as books.

Gold Plates and the Book of Mormon

In his account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith described it as being inscribed on “gold plates” (JSH 1:34). The Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon who saw and handled the plates for themselves similarly described them as having “the appearance of gold” and also “the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship” (The Testimony of Eight Witnesses).1

Eight Witnesses View the Book of Mormon Plates by Dale Kilbourn

The idea of a religious text written on gold plates or a book inscribed on such material seemed unlikely to many at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon, as the derisive term “Gold Bible” or “Golden Bible” suggests.2 Yet new discoveries made since the publication of the Book of Mormon provide examples of ancient religious texts written on gold, as well as sets of gold plates that were sometimes attached together to form books.

Asian Inscriptions on Gold Plates

According to Jeremiah Losty, Buddhist canonical texts were inscribed on gold sheets as early as 88 BC, although none of these have survived from that early period.3 The Jatakas (stories about former incarnations of the Buddha) refer to “important family records of wealthy merchants, royal edicts, poetic verses, and moral maxims on gold.”4 In the 5th century AD, the Buddhist writer Buddhaghosa claimed that a stupa (a mound-like structure) built during the reign of King Ajatsatru in eastern India contained a trove of relics including a prophecy inscribed on a gold plate about the deeds of King Ashoka and his role in the spread of Buddhist teachings.5

Relics found in a pagoda in Wanggung-ri, Iksan. Image via english.cha.go.kr.

The Perfection of Wisdom sutra, an important text in Mahāyāna Buddhism, refers to an ornate box containing a Buddhist inscription “written with melted vaidurya on golden tablets.”6 In 1982 archaeologist discovered a set of seven gold plates in a stupa in Sri Lanka inscribed with parts of this sutra.7 Examples of inscriptions on either gold plates or more delicate gold foil have now been recovered from various parts of India, Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Indonesia.8 The Borobudur Plates are a set of eleven gold plates now held in the National Museum in Jakarta. They are the oldest known inscription of Buddhist texts from Indonesia. Eight of the plates have inscriptions on both sides, similar to the plates of the Book of Mormon.9

The Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines, gold caligraphy on handmade manuscript. Image and caption via Wikipedia. 

Chinese archaeologists recently discovered a set of artifacts from a pagoda (a tiered tower) in Inner Mongolia with two rectangular sheets, one in silver, the other in gold. The gold sheet was inscribed with a Tantric mantra written in Sanskrit.10 A set of nineteen gold plates were recovered during repairs to a pagoda in Iksan, southwestern Korea in 1965. These were inscribed with a portion of the Diamond Sutra and are believed to date to the 7th century AD. The plates and other relics recovered from the site were part of an exhibition at the Chonju National Museum in 2015.11 This set of “19 pure gold sheets” was found inside a double-walled reliquary box with a lid.12

Ancient stone pagoda. Image via http://www.dapsa.kr/blog/en/?p=64.

Gold Books

Some inscribed gold plates were actually attached together in various ways and have, for this reason, been described as “books” by scholars. In 1926–1927 Charles Duroiselle excavated several brick mounds in Burma (Myanmar) on the land of a farmer named Khin Ba. Among the many artifacts he discovered was a small gold “book” containing twenty leaves set between two gold covers.13 Each plate measured 6 ½ inches long (16.5 cm) and 1 ¼ inches (3.2 cm) wide.14 The plates were “held together by a gold wire placed through two holes in the covers of each page, and then wound around the book. Carved on the gold pages are brief excerpts from eight Pali Buddhist texts.”15 The text has sixty lines and dates to the 5th–6th centuries AD.16 J. G. De Casperis reported the discovery of a similar “golden book” in Java.17

Additional examples of books of attached gold plates are known from Korea and are currently held in private collections. One set of sixteen gold plates, inscribed with the Thousand-Arm Sutra, is held together by hinges and dates to AD 918–1392.18 Two other sets of 14 gold plates attached by hinges date to the 10th–11th centuries AD.19 The plates for each of these short “books” measure 18.6 wide x 12.7 cm. in length.20

A Golden Quran

A rare copy of the Quran made of gold was acquired by a family living in Abu Dhabi in 2009. This remarkable “Gold-Tooling Quran” is believed to date to the 16th–18th centuries AD. It was reportedly first brought by a citizen of the Ottman Empire to Uyghustan in northwestern China, then to Yunan in the south-eastern region, and then to Malaysia during the early Twentieth Century at a time when many religious artifacts in China were in danger. This treasure was gifted to the wife of a banker in Abu Dhabi by her brother who lives in Malaysia.21

Gold Quran. Image via http://worldtopantiques.blogspot.com/.

According to press reports, this copy of the Quran constitutes twenty-eight sets of plates preserved in fourteen gold-plated boxes (two sets per box).22 Each set reportedly contains between 19 and 20 plates each. The plates are uniform in size, each measuring 16 cm (6 in) long and 10.5 cm (4 in) wide. The text is written in the Uthami script which does not include vowels and is elegantly formatted to fifteen lines per page. Forensic tests indicate that each plate was made of copper but was covered with a veneer of gold. The text was then tooled (impressed) onto the gold surface of the plates. The one-of-a-kind metal document is understandably highly prized by the owners.


While some information about metal plates was known to learned people in 1830,23 many readers of the Book of Mormon have found the story of an ancient religious text being inscribed on golden plates to be unlikely.24 Discoveries since that time have shown that many religious texts were indeed recorded on gold. Additionally, some examples of such artifacts were attached together to form what may properly be considered “books,” analogous to the Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon Central, “Is the Book of Mormon Like Other Ancient Metal Documents? (Jacob 4:2),” KnoWhy 512 (April 25, 2019).

Warren P. Aston, “The Gold Plates of King Darius,” Meridian Magazine, March 3, 2015, online at latterdaysaintmag.com; a version of this article with more accessible images can be found here: http://www.bmaf.org/node/505.

David B. Honey and Michael P. Lyon, “An Inscribed Chinese Gold Plate in Its Context: Glimpses of the Sacred Center,” in The Disciple as Scholar” Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 19–65. 

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

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

Book of MormonTestimony of Eight WitnessesMosiah 8:9Ether 1:2Pearl of Great PriceJSH 1:34

Book of Mormon

Testimony of Eight Witnesses

Mosiah 8:9

Ether 1:2

Pearl of Great Price

JSH 1:34

  • 1 According to Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, “curious” denotes something “wrought with care and art, elegant.”
  • 2 The Book of Mormon was frequently referred to as the “Gold Bible” or the “Golden Bible.” See for example “Gold Bible,” The Reflector, Palmyra, New York, January 6, 1831; Stephen Burnett, “Something New—‘The Golden Bible,’” Evangelical Inquirer, Dayton, Ohio, Match 7, 1831.
  • 3 Jeremiah P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India (London: The British Library, 1982), 9–10.
  • 4 Raj Bali Paney, Indian Paleography. Part I (Banaras: Motilal Banarasi Das, 1952), 77.
  • 5 B. M. Barua, “Stuupa and Tomb,” Indian Historical Quarterly 2, no. 1 (1926): 26–27.
  • 6 Edward Conze, trans., The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines & Its Verse Summary (Bolinas, CA: Four Seasons Foundation, 1975), 288.
  • 7 John Clifford Holt, Buddha in the Crown: Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991), 67.
  • 8 John Guy, ed., Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 54–55, 58–59, 61–62, 91; Richard Salomon, Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and other Indo-Aryan Languages (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998), 130; Anna A. Slaczka, Temple Consecration Rituals in Ancient India: Text and Archaeology (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2007), 235–237, 246–247, 287––288, 296–297, 298–303, 305–306, 313–314, 347–348, 355, 361–364, 366; Le Thi Lien, “Gold Plaques and Their Cultural Contexts in the OC EO Culture,” Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association 25 (2005): 145–154.
  • 9 John Miksic, Borobudur: Golden Tales of the Buddhas (Hong Kong: Periplus, 2004), 23.
  • 10 Victor Cunrui Xiong, “Gilded Treasures of a Lost Empire,” American Journal of Archaeology Online Museum Review 111, no. 2 (April 2007): 5–6. See also David B. Honey and Michael P. Lyon, “An Inscribed Chinese Gold Plate in Its Context: Glimpses of the Sacred Center,” in The Disciple as Scholar” Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000),19–65.
  • 11 Peter Kornicki and T. H. Barrett, “Buddhist Texts on Gold and Other Metals in East Asia: Preliminary Observations,” Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University 2 (Spring 2017): 116.
  • 12 http://english.cha.go.kr/chaen/search/selectGeneralSearchDetail.do;jsessionid=xk0jPweqg86Slv7NNwiM9xgp4AV1UiiaFvfdFilvNr8mYH6m4G013kknpEQWHi7E.cha-was01_servlet_engine4?mn=EN_02_02&sCcebKdcd=11&ccebAsno=01230000&sCcebCtcd=35&pageIndex=13&region=&canAsset=&ccebPcd1=&searchWrd=&startNum=&endNum=&stCcebAsdt=&enCcebAsdt=&canceled=&ccebKdcd=&ccebCtcd=
  • 13 Nihar-Ranjan Ray, “Early Traces of Buddhism in Burma,” Journal of the Greater India Society 6, no. 1 (January 1939): 47.
  • 14 E. Thein Lwin, U. Win Kyaing, Janice Stargardt, “The Pyu Civilization of Myanmar and the City of Cri Ksetra,” in Lost Kingdoms: Hindu, Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 59, figure 3.
  • 15 Robert L. Brown and Donald M. Stradtner, “The Buddha’s Smile: Art of the First Millennium,” in Buddhist Art of Myanmar, ed. Sylvia Fraser-Lu and Donald M. Stadtner (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015), 47.
  • 16 Ray, “Early Traces of Buddhism in Burma,” 20.
  • 17 Peter Skilling, “Precious Deposits: Buddhism Seen Through Inscriptions in Early Southeast Asia,” in Lost Kingdoms: Hindu, Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 61.
  • 18 Kornicki and Barrett, “Buddhist Texts on Gold,” 115–116, 119.
  • 19 Kornicki and Barrett, “Buddhist Texts on Gold,” 117, 119. In contrast to other gold plates which were inscribed, these last two examples were imprinted through a repousse method in which an entire page of text was imprinted on the gold plate, perhaps through a mold created for that purpose. See Kornicki and Barrett, “Buddhist Texts on Gold,” 121.
  • 20 Kornicki and Barrett, “Buddhist Texts on Gold,” 117.
  • 21 Ashwani Kumar, “A 500-Year-Old Quran in Golden Letters,” Khaleej Times, Abu Dhabi, May 30, 2017; “500-Year Old Golden Quran Enriches Indian Family’s Ramadan,” Going Out, May 31, 2017; Hajjah Salmah Hj Ahmad, Gold Tooling Quran: A Scientific (Forensic) Analysis Report on the Ancient Al-Quran Mushaf – A Report on the Writing of Written Copy of Quran on Sheets of Gold Plated Pages (Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia: National University of Malaysia, Undated). This includes a report prepared by Dr. Sahibin Abd. Rahim, Soil Science/Geochemistry Laboratory, School of Environmental and Natural Resources Sciences, Faculty of Sciences and Technology, National University of Malaysia, Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia. This document with color images can be found at “Gold Tooling Quran,” World Top Antiquities, April 11, 2016.
  • 22 There is a slight discrepancy between the news reports and the forensic report. According to the unpublished forensic report, the Quran consists of fifteen boxes with thirty plates and sixteen to twenty-four plates per set.
  • 23 For example, the practice of writing on plates of lead and brass is mentioned in Classical works and is referenced in some sources. See Thomas Hartwell Horne, An Introduction to the Study of Bibliography (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1814), 1:33–37; Thomas Upham, Jahn’s Biblical Archaeology (Andover: Flagg and Gould, 1823), 93–94.
  • 24 “This was not an original conception altogether, yet it was a new thing under the sun to have an entire Bible engraved on brass plates.” T, C. Smith, The Credentials of the Book of Mormon and Mormonism (Denver, CO: By the Author, 1912), 13; “It does not seem to have been pointed out to the youth [Joseph Smith] that gold will corrode if left in the earth for the number of years those plates were supposed to have been buried.” Stuart Martin, The Mystery of Mormonism (London: Odhams Press, 1920), 27. There is not “any kind of analogy for the writing of entire books on metal.” Anthony A. Hoekema, Mormonism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 90n.14.
Records and Relics
Book of Mormon

© 2024 Scripture Central: A Non-Profit Organization. All rights reserved. Registered 501(c)(3). EIN: 20-5294264