Evidence #242 | September 20, 2021

Many Plates

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Scripture Central


Nephite authors possessed archival records featuring a significant number of metal plates. This extensive metal-recordkeeping tradition is analogous to recordkeeping practices from India.

The Book of Mormon indicates that the records kept by Nephite scribes included documents inscribed on metal plates, some of which were substantial. Before the destruction of the Nephites as a people, records that were preserved and hidden included the plates of brass (1 Nephi 5:10–19; Alma 37:3–5), the plates of Nephi (Alma 37:2; 3 Nephi 5:10)—including both the larger (1 Nephi 9:2–4; 1 Nephi 19:2, 4) and smaller set (1 Nephi 6:1; 2 Nephi 5:30–32; Words of Mormon 1:3–7)—the twenty-four plates of Ether (Mosiah 8:9; 28:11; Ether 1:2), the plates of Zeniff’s people (Mosiah 8:5), and the plates from which our current Book of Mormon was translated (Mormon 8:14), including the vision of the brother of Jared (Ether 4:4–5).

This indicates that Nephite record keepers possessed sets of plates of substantial size or quantity (Mosiah 28:20; Alma 63:12–13; 3 Nephi 1:2; 4 Nephi 1:48–49; Mormon 1:3–4; 4:23; 6:6). Evidence suggests that the practice of inscribing important documents on large sets of metal plates, though rare, is also known from other parts of the world.

Replica of the gold plates by David Baird. Photograph by Daniel Smith.

Buddhist Traditions of Archival Documents on Plates

Buddhist tradition provides evidence that lengthy religious texts were sometimes inscribed on metal plates and preserved for later examination and potential study. According to Kogen Mizuno,

In northern India, toward the end of the first century A.D., the great Kushan-dynasty emperor Kanishka (who like the Emperor Asoka some centuries earlier, was a devout Buddhist and protector of Buddhism) supported a council to compile sutras convened by the Sarvastivadin school, one of the eighteen or twenty schools of Hinayana Buddhism. The Great Commentary (Abhidharma-mahavibhasha-shastra), a philosophical work edited at that council, was engraved on copper plates, which were preserved at the imperial residence in Kashmir.1

Painting of Yuan Chwang. Japan, Kamakura Period (14th century). Image and caption info via Wikimedia Commons. 

The Chinese traveler Yuan Chwang spent sixteen years in India from AD 629–645, where he made Buddhism an object of intense study. In his autobiography, Chwang relates that at the time of the council, “King Kanishka had the treatises, when finished, written out on copper plates, and enclosed these in stone boxes, which he deposited in a tope made for the purpose. He then ordered the Yakshas to keep and guard the texts, and not allow any to be taken out of the country by heretics; those who wished to study them could do so in the country.”2 According to another account of the meeting related by Paramartha (AD 499–569), the commentaries consisted of 1,000,000 verses.3 While the records were to remain in their repository, “anyone desirous of learning the law could come to Kashmir and was in no way interrupted.”4

Although such plates have not turned up in the archaeological record, the story reflects an ancient belief that important and lengthy religious texts were sometimes recorded on metal plates for preservation and future use. Collections of metal plates, including some rediscovered in the twentieth century, indicate that abundant inscriptions on metal were indeed preserved for archival purposes.

The Hindu Copper Plates of Annamayya

Statue of Annamayya. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

Tallapaka Annamayya or Annamacharya was a fifteenth century Hindu saint, poet, and musical composer who lived and worshipped at the hill-top shrine of Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh in southern India. The temple complex is visited by millions every year. At the age of sixteen, Annamayya reportedly experienced a dream or vision in which the god Venkatesvara Vishnu appeared to him. At that time he began composing hymns in praise of this god. He is said to have composed a poem or hymn every day for seventy-nine years from AD 1424 until his death in AD 1503.5 “He was,” as one scholar notes, among “the first few who opposed the social stigma towards the untouchable casters in his era” and some of his songs emphasize that “the relationship between god and human is the same irrespective of the latter’s colour, caste and financial status.”6

In a recent book on Annamayya and his writings, Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman report that “approximately thirteen thousand of Annamayya’s poems were inscribed, perhaps during his lifetime, on some 2,289 copper plates that were kept in a vaultlike room in the temple.”7 The unexpected discovery of this remarkable collection was made in 1922.8 A complete set of their contents was printed in 1998 and constitutes twenty-nine volumes published in the Telugu language.9

Temple vault containing Annamayya’s compostions, inscribed on copper plates. Image via 4krsna.wordpress.com.

The discovery of such a large collection of metal inscriptions was extraordinary. As Rao and Shulman note, “the process of inscribing thousands of poems on copper plates was definitely long and costly––possibly the most expensive publishing venture in the history of premodern South Asia––and reveals something of the affluence that was generated around Annamayya’s name.”10 It is not known why or how, after his death, the inscriptions of his writings were forgotten for nearly four hundred years.

Additional copies of Annamayya’s poems have turned up on copper plates at other Hindu temples in southern India.11 A collection of thirty-five copper plates from the temple at Ahibilam, for example, contains some of his compositions. Copper plates with his songs were sometimes bound together in sets of five, each held together by a thick ring. These could then be carried on poles through the villages with singers following in procession as the music was performed.12

The copper plates of Annamayya. Image via thedanceindia.com.

The copper plates of Annamayya are not only significant because of the number of plates, but also because it shows how a significant corpus of metal documents could be hidden and remain unknown for a long period of time. Their fortuitous rediscovery provides a notable correspondence with the Book of Mormon and other records which were carefully preserved to come forth again at a future time.13


The copper plates of Annamayya are not only significant because of the number of plates that were found, but also because it shows how a significant corpus of metal documents could be hidden up, forgotten, and remain unknown for a long period of time. Their fortuitous rediscovery ninety-two years after the publication of the Book of Mormon, provides a remarkable correspondence with the records created and preserved by Nephite writers to come forth again at an anticipated future day.

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

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.

1 Nephi 5:10–191 Nephi 6:11 Nephi 9:2–41 Nephi 19:21 Nephi 19:42 Nephi 5:30–32Words of Mormon 1:3–7Mosiah 8:5Mosiah 8:9Mosiah 28:11Mosiah 28:20Alma 37:2 Alma 37:3–5Alma 63:12–133 Nephi 1:23 Nephi 5:104 Nephi 1:48–49Mormon 1:3–4Mormon 4:23Mormon 6:6Mormon 8:14Ether 1:2Ether 4:4–5

1 Nephi 5:10–19

1 Nephi 6:1

1 Nephi 9:2–4

1 Nephi 19:2

1 Nephi 19:4

2 Nephi 5:30–32

Words of Mormon 1:3–7

Mosiah 8:5

Mosiah 8:9

Mosiah 28:11

Mosiah 28:20

Alma 37:2

Alma 37:3–5

Alma 63:12–13

3 Nephi 1:2

3 Nephi 5:10

4 Nephi 1:48–49

Mormon 1:3–4

Mormon 4:23

Mormon 6:6

Mormon 8:14

Ether 1:2

Ether 4:4–5

  • 1 Kogen Mizuno, Buddhist Sutras: Origin, Development, Transmission (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing, 1982), 161. The Great Commentary is a text of considerable size. According to Mizuno, it is the second longest Buddhist text translated into Chinese and takes up an entire volume of the Taisho Daizokyo (p. 91).
  • 2 Thomas Watters, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India 629–645 A.D., ed. T.W. Rhys Davids and S.W. Bushell (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1904), 271. A “tope” is a structure, often a domed shaped monument, where sacred relics are kept. For further discussion of records preserved in boxes, see Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Ancient Records Hidden in Boxes,” November 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 3 Charles Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historical Sketch, 3 vols. (London: Routledge & Kegan, 1962), 2:79.
  • 4 Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism, 2:79.
  • 5 Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman, God on the Hill: Temple Poems from Turpati (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), 105.
  • 6 R. Seethalakshmi, “Patha Kavitha Pithamaha – Annamacharya,” Shanlax International Journal of Arts, Science & Humanities, 2, no. 1 (July 2014): 56–57.
  • 7 Rao and Shulman, God on the Hill, 104.
  • 8  Seethalakshmi, “Patha Kavitha Pithamaha – Annamacharya,” 57. It is not known why these plates remained essentially forgotten for over four hundred years. Apparently, the only published reference to Annamayya's plates previous to their 1922 recovery comes from a brief footnote in A.D. Campbell’s Telugu grammar, first published in Madras, India in 1816. “Having heard that a number of poems, engraved on some thousand sheets of copper, had been preserved by the pious care of a family of Bramins in the temple on the sacred hill at Tripetty, I deputed a Native for the purpose of examining them; but, with the exception of a treatise on Grammar, of which was taken, the whole collection was found to contain nothing but voluminous hymns in praise of the deity.” A. D. Campbell, A Grammar of the Teloogoo Language (Madras: College Press, 1816), xv, unnumbered footnote.
  • 9 Rao and Shulman, God on the Hill, 104n.34.
  • 10  Rao and Shulman, God on the Hill, 104–105. In spite of his significant influence during his lifetime, Annamayya seems to have been largely forgotten until the rediscovery or his works in the early twentieth century. “Within Telugu literature, Annamayya is somewhat of an island. His name is virtually ignored in the Telugu literary canon that was in place by the early sixteenth century. Similarly, musicologists and musicians generally fail to mention him (until the middle of the twentieth century) as one of their predecessors, despite the vast musical production that he left behind. The medieval grammars of metrics never cite him. Annamayya was a maverick, outside the grand genres and lines of force of Telugu literary ecology. Yet he effectively created and popularized a new genre, the short padam song, that spread throughout the Telugu and Tamil regions and later became a major vehicle for Carnatic musical composition.” Rao and Shulman, God on the Hill, 99.
  • 11 Rao and Shulman, God on the Hill, 105.
  • 12 Rao and Shulman, God on the Hill, 105. The metal plates of the Book of Mormon were also said to be bound together by rings. See Kirk B. Henrichsen, “How Witnesses Described the ‘Gold Plates’,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10, no. 1 (2001): 16–21, 78; Warren P. Aston, “The Rings That Bound the Gold Plates Together,” Insights 26, no 3. (2006): 3–4; Jeff Lindsay, “A ‘D’ for Plausibility of the Gold Plates: The Book of Mormon in an Interesting Bind,” online at mormanity.blogspot.com. See also, John A. Tvedtnes, “Etruscan Gold Book from 600 B.C. Discovered,” Insights 23, no. 5 (2003): 1, 6; “Out of the Dust,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 2 (2006): 65.
  • 13 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Ancient Hidden Records,” November 18, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
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