Evidence #266 | November 8, 2021

Plates and History

Post contributed by

 

Scripture Central

Abstract

Indian Copper plate grants contain significant amounts of historical information, demonstrating that pre-modern metal documents besides the Book of Mormon contain this genre of literature.

The plates kept by Book of Mormon prophets included content that was historical in nature. Both the Large and Small Plates of Nephi contained accounts of Lehi’s family as they journeyed to the land of promise, although the Large Plates provided more historical content including the subsequent reign of kings (1 Nephi 9:1–4; 19:1–4; Jacob 1:2–3; 3:13; Jarom 1:14).

The plates of brass contained a record of the Jews, which likely included historical material comparable to that in Genesis through Deuteronomy, as well as the history of Israel down to the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah (1 Nephi 5:11–12). The twenty-four plates of Ether included an account of the Jaredites (Mosiah 28:17–19; Ether 1:1–5). The plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated also included historical material, although significantly abbreviated (3 Nephi 5:15–18). Discoveries made since the publication of the Book of Mormon show that other metal documents contain similar historical content.

General History

Copper plate grants are a valuable source of data for historians of India. “In view of their contents,” writes Hermann Kulke, “their great number and, quite often, of their impressive size, these copper-plates are rightly regarded as the most important historical source of medieval India.”1 One key advantage of these records is their status as contemporary historical sources. Subrata Kumar Acharya, an authority on these documents, notes that “since the copper-plate grants were issued by the ruling authorities and were properly sealed by the responsible officers and sometimes signed by the rulers themselves, they are considered to be the most authentic and trustworthy sources by the historians and archaeologists.”2 The practice of attaching these plates together with a seal helped ensure the legal integrity of the grants.

Copper Plate Grant. Image via deccanherald.com.

As for the plates themselves, they provide a wealth of historical data.

They not only furnish detailed information about the rulers and the beneficiaries, but also speak about the religious persuasion of the kings, the occasion and purpose of the grants, the eras and other astronomical details, the officers/persons present at the time of the grants, the rights transferred to the donees, the land measures, the currency system prevalent then, the revenue terms, the topographical details, the development of language and script, and so on and so forth. The information as gleaned from the copper-plate inscriptions constitutes the bulk of the source materials about which nothing is known from any other source. They are, therefore, of inestimable value for the historians to reconstruct the history and culture of a nation, a region or a locality.3

According to David Ali, the grant sections of copper plate charters which specified and defined the boundaries of the lands being given “were the durable ‘hard copies’ of less permanent documents kept at the palace of the king.”4 They “presuppose the existence of an elaborate inventory or record of the ownership and tax status of the lands in question.”5 They not only contain history, but sometimes even describe the history of the creation of the plate document itself.6

Dynastic information

Copper plate grants also provide useful information about ruling dynasties. “They address many relevant questions about the origin of lineages and the legitimacy of kingship.”7 Dates and events recorded in such texts help establish and clarify chronological details about the reign of kings and ruling families.8 As with some calendrical data in the Book of Mormon, events are dated according to the year of the reigning ruler.

While they record the deeds and achievements of medieval Indian kings, they were, like many other histories, written with an ideological agenda, presenting rulers and their ancestors in the most positive light to underscore their legitimacy. They often described kings in flowery language “including in his lineage prestigious royal figures borrowed from other dynasties.”9

Kings and Their Deeds

Copper plates often mention significant construction projects overseen by kings. Parāntaka “caused to be excavated hundreds and thousands of deep channels with clear water in order to make the earth very fertile.”10 Kings were also the builders of cities. “This great king Rājēndra established the city Gangaikonda Chōlapuram, the most auspicious spot in the entire earth. He beautified this city with may lofty mansions on the tops of which beautiful ladies of the houses were dancing in company with the god-ladies (amar āanganās) joyfully.”11 King Parāntaka “founded many prosperous and great villages including one named after him.”12 Similarly, kings and other rulers in the Book of Mormon are described as builders of cities, which were sometimes named after them (2 Nephi 5:8; Omni 1:14; Mosiah 27:6; Alma 50:13–15; Ether 10:12).

The Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, completed 1010. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

Rulers also built and ornamented temples. King Dvapāla “built two temples respectively for Sugata and Gauri, which by their beauty looked like the forehead mark (on the face of) the entire world.”13 Another grant describes King Rājakēsari “by whom the row of large temples of Siva, as it were banners of his own victories … [were] built of stone on the two banks of the (river) Kāvēri.”14 “With the pure htaka (gold) brought from all the quarters which were subdued by the powers of his own arm,” King Parāntaka “covered the temple of Chandraśēkhara.”15 Similarly, Nephi built and taught his people to build buildings including a temple, and both he and Noah adorned their temples with precious things, although on a much more modest scale than the Indian kings (2 Nephi 5:16; Mosiah 10:11).

Texts on the copper plates also describe the skills and abilities of royalty. “Even as a boy [King Rājēndra] became well-versed in all the Vēdas and Sāstras, well-practiced in riding horse, elephant and chariots, and well-versed in the use of arms and weapons (literally weapons held in hand and those hurled). For his generous qualities, he came to be loved by his subjects.”16 We are reminded of the description of King Coriantumr who Moroni records “had studied himself in all the arts of war and all the cunning of the world” (Ether 13:16).

Like the Book of Mormon (Jarom 1:7–9; Ether 9:14–20), copper plate grants note how the people prospered under the reign of good kings. “When (the king) ruled this earth, the people were devoted to Dharma and their own duties free from portentous happenings, ever wealthy and with pomp subdued, (had eternal wealth and subdued pomp) were exceedingly gay and happy and took delight in truth; (there were) timely rains; the river had pure water, and the earth was everywhere adorned with varied yields (of grains).”17

Succession of Rulers

The Thiru Indalur Plates contain an account of royal succession in the Chola kingdom after the death of Rajendra Chola I.18 The story is noteworthy as it provides a unique personal picture of the king shortly before his death, which is unusual for royal documents. It says that the king gathered his most trusted ministers together to his private chamber with one of his sons, prince Dabhrasabhādhipa (notably not the oldest or heir apparent). The text says that King Rajendra held the young prince on his lap, embraced him, and shed tears on his head and then said to his ministers, “You are all well aware that this son I love most; he also very much loves the people of the country. Therefore, please arrange to offer him the same respectful treatment as you were used to do for me.” The ministers all agreed to honor the king’s wishes.

After expressing these sentiments king Rajendra Chola king said, “When I reach (i.e. after my demise my soul reaches) the abode of Siva, when the Lord’s respectful attendants receive me in all courtesy and lead me, holding my hands to the august presence of the Lord, and when I repeatedly utter ‘Hail O Lord’ will the Lord Siva greet me with smiling face and delight me by introducing me to his beloved consort?’” The text then says that the king died and that “the land and people herein were drowned in sorrow.” The hope expressed by the dying king reminds us of the words of Enos who anticipated going to the place of his rest with his Redeemer where he anticipated seeing his face with pleasure (Enos 1:27).

After the king’s death, the court advisors attempted to make the Chola prince king, but he humbly demurred, saying, “the eldest son alone should succeed the father. Now you all should bring the first son and perform the coronation, since he alone is the master of me and of you all and of the whole earth.” They then praised the prince’s generosity and sent for the older prince who was anointed king, the younger serving under the direction of the older.

The Book of Mormon also discusses the succession of kings and rulers. Before his death, King Benjamin consecrated his son Mosiah to be king and admonished his people to “do as ye have hitherto done” in keeping his commandments to also keep the commandments of his son (Mosiah 1:10), a transition that brought a period of peace for the kingdom. On other occasions, the succession of rulers led to contention and disruption among the people (Alma 24:1–5, 20–28; Alma 51:2–20; Helaman 1:1–21), something that the sons of Rajendra were apparently able to avoid.

King Mosiah's Coronation. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Conclusion

Historical material found on Indian copper plate grants correspond with the content of the Book of Mormon in several ways. These include the inclusion of dates, important events, the construction of cities and temples, transfers of power, and insights into the personalities, religious beliefs, and accomplishments of various rulers. Most of these copper plate grants, however, were discovered and translated after the publication of the Book of Mormon. These shared historical features help support the Book of Mormon’s plausibility as an ancient metal document.

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 5:11–121 Nephi 9:1-41 Nephi 19:1–42 Nephi 5:82 Nephi 5:16Jacob 1:2–3Jacob 3:13Enos 1:27Jarom 1:7–9Jarom 1:14Omni 1:14Mosiah 1:10Mosiah 10:11Mosiah 27:6Mosiah 28:17–19Alma 24:1–5Alma 24:20–28Alma 50:13–15Alma 51:2–20Helaman 1:1–213 Nephi 5:15–18Ether 1:1–5Ether 9:14–20Ether 10:12Ether 13:16

1 Nephi 5:11–12

1 Nephi 9:1-4

1 Nephi 19:1–4

2 Nephi 5:8

2 Nephi 5:16

Jacob 1:2–3

Jacob 3:13

Enos 1:27

Jarom 1:7–9

Jarom 1:14

Omni 1:14

Mosiah 1:10

Mosiah 10:11

Mosiah 27:6

Mosiah 28:17–19

Alma 24:1–5

Alma 24:20–28

Alma 50:13–15

Alma 51:2–20

Helaman 1:1–21

3 Nephi 5:15–18

Ether 1:1–5

Ether 9:14–20

Ether 10:12

Ether 13:16

  • 1 Hermann Kulke, “Some Observations on the Political Functions of Copper-Plate Grants in Early Medieval India,” in Recht, Staat und Verwaltung im Klassischen Indien/The State, the Law, and Administration in Classical India, ed. Bernhard Kolver (Boston, MA: Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 1997), 237.
  • 2 Subrata Kumar Acharya, Copper-Plate Inscriptions of Odisha: A Descriptive Catalogue Circa Fourth Century to Sixteenth Century CE (New Dehli: D.K. Printworld, 2014), xxxv.
  • 3 Acharya, Copper-Plate Inscriptions of Odisha, xxxv.
  • 4 Daud Ali, “Royal Eulogy as World History: Rethinking Copper-plate Inscriptions in Cōla India,” in Querying the Medieval: Texts and the History of Practices in South Asia, ed. Ronald Inden, Jonathan Walters, David Ali (New York: NY: Oxford University Press, 2000), 171.
  • 5 Ali, “Royal Eulogy as World History,” 184.
  • 6 Ali, “Royal Eulogy as World History,” 173–174.
  • 7 Acharya, Copper-Plate Inscriptions of Odisha, xxxix.
  • 8 Acharya, Copper-Plate Inscriptions of Odisha, xli.
  • 9 Emmanuel Francis, “The Genealogy of the Pallavas: From Brahmins to Kings,” Religions of South Asia 5, nos. 1-2 (2011): 357.
  • 10 K. G. Krishnan, “Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendrachola I,” Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, 79 (New Dehli: Director-General, Archaeological Survey of India, 1984), 196.
  • 11 S. Sankaranarayanan, N. Marxia Gandhi, A. Padmavathy, R. Sivanantham, eds., Tiruvindalur Copper Plate (Chenai: Tamilnadu State Department of Archaeology, 2011), 23.
  • 12 Krishnan, Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendra Chola I, 196.
  • 13 K. V. Ramash and S. Subramonia Iyer, “Mālda District Museum Copper-Plate Charter of Mahēndrapāladēva, Year 7,” Epigraphia Indica 42 (1992): 25.
  • 14 T. A. Gopinatha Rao, “Anbil Plates of Sundara-Chola: The 4th Year,” Epigraphia Indica 15 (1919–1920): 68.
  • 15 Krishnan, Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendra Chola I, 195.
  • 16 Krishnan, Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendra Chola I, 198.
  • 17 Krishnan, Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendra Chola I, 198.
  • 18 This account is found in Sankaranarayanan, et al., Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 25–26.
Records and Relics
Book of Mormon

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