Evidence #296 | January 10, 2022

Plates and Prophecies

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Scripture Central


Metal plates in antiquity sometimes contained prophecies, just like the Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon

Many of the records kept on metal plates in the Book of Mormon included prophecies. The plates of brass contained “the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah” including many of the prophecies of Lehi’s contemporary Jeremiah (1 Nephi 5:13). Subsequent Nephite scribes also preserved prophecies on plates that were handed down from generation to generation (1 Nephi 19:1; Jacob 1:4; Words of Mormon 1:4; Ether 12:5; 13:2–13). Evidence from the ancient world suggests that prophecies and prophetic material was sometimes recorded or believed to have been recorded on other examples of metal plates.

Oracle Prophecies in Classical Antiquity

William J. Hamblin, in a survey of metal plates in antiquity, noted that oracular (revelatory) material was sometimes inscribed on metal in ancient Mediterranean cultures.1 The shrine at Dodona is thought to have been one of the oldest oracle sites in ancient Greece. Individuals consulted the oracle on numerous subjects, even on trivial matters. Inquiries and responses believed to be from the gods through the oracle were often inscribed on small lead tablets, many of which have been preserved.2 Greek myth, recounted by Sophocles in his play Trachiniae, affirms that Heracles received an oracle inscribed on one such tablet.3

Assembly house in Dodona, Greece. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

Prophecies about Historical Events

Ancient historical sources indicate that prophecies about future rulers or kingdoms were sometimes recorded on metal plates. Plutarch in his biography of Alexander mentions “a bronze tablet bearing the prints of ancient letters, in which was made known that the empire of the Persians would one day be destroyed by the Greeks and come to an end. Encouraged by this prophecy, Alexander hastened to clear up the sea-coast as far as Cilicia and Phoenicia.”4 The Fifth century Buddhist writer Buddhaghosa reported that a stupa constructed during the reign of the eastern Indian king Ajatsatru contained a gold plate inscribed with a prophecy that foretold the spread of Buddhism by king Ashoka.5 Whether such prophecies were authentic or fictional, they reflect the belief that prophecies of importance were preserved on metal.

Alexander the Great. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

The Prophet Hd and the People of ʿAd

The Quran tells of a pre-Islamic Arabian prophet named Hūd, not mentioned in the Bible, who preached to the idolatrous people of the kingdom of ʿAd.6 The people of ʿAd were known for their great wealth and ostentatious palaces. When they rejected Hūd’s warnings and refused to turn to God, they were cursed and a destructive storm buried them in sand when they sought refuge in their buildings.7

The Muslim writer Al-Thaʿ labi tells a story of a group of travelers in south Arabia who became lost in a complex of caverns in the mountains of the Hadramawt in southern Arabia. According to the account, the men discovered and then descended a long stairway that led to a large, vaulted chamber where they found the remains of a large man on an ornate bed and “a huge tablet of gold bearing a script unlike any other. It was the writing of the scribe of ʿAd who wrote it in his time. It was engraved into the tablet.”8 When the men escaped from the cave, they carried the plate with them which, when translated read,

O you who are allured by long life, take a lesson from me!

I am Shaddād, son of ʿAd, the lord of the fortress,

Brother of might and misery and endless wealth;

All the people of the earth submitted to me, fearing my threats.

I ruled the east and the west with cruel might and supreme authority,

With military equipment and many men.

Hūd came to us, we had gone astray before Hūd; and he called to us;

Had we but heeded him, it would have been the right path.

But we disobeyed him and called out: Is there a way to swerve from that path?

And a punishment came upon us, swooping down from the distant horizon,

And in the middle of the desert, we all came in like harvested crops.9

The story is of interest in that it tells of the discovery of a gold plate found underground describing how a once proud people who rejected the warnings of a prophet were destroyed. The Book of Mormon, of course, is a lengthy metal record (in contrast to the large single plate mentioned by Al-Thaʿ labi), but similarly contains a record of a destroyed people who rejected prophetic warnings.

Image of the Quran. 


The above examples demonstrate that prophecies and prophetic material were sometimes inscribed (or, in some cases, at least believed to have been inscribed) on metal plates in antiquity, just as is found in the Book of Mormon. Due to the obscurity or unavailability of these sources,10 as well as the limited nature of Joseph Smith’s educational opportunities when he translated the Book of Mormon in 1829,11 it seems unlikely he was aware of such accounts.

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

William J. Hamblin, “Pre-Islamic Arabian Prophets,” in Mormons and Muslims: Spiritual Foundations and Modern Manifestations, ed. Spencer J. Palmer (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1983), 135–156.

1 Nephi 5:131 Nephi 19:1Jacob 1:4Words of Mormon 1:4Ether 12:5Ether 13:2–13

1 Nephi 5:13

1 Nephi 19:1

Jacob 1:4

Words of Mormon 1:4

Ether 12:5

Ether 13:2–13

  • 1 William J. Hamblin, “Sacred Writing on Metal Plates in the Ancient Mediterranean,” FARMS Review 19, no. 1 (2007): 41, 44, 47–48–49, 53.
  • 2 Maria Fotiadi, “Dedications at Ancient Dodona,” (Masters Thesis, University of Birmingham, 2018), 102–107, 132–133; M. Cary, J.D. Denniston, J. Wight Duff, A.D. Nock, W.D. Ross, H.H. Scullard, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 294.
  • 3 Laurel Bowman, “Prophecy and Authority in the ‘Trachiniai,’” American Journal of Philology 120, no. 3 (Autumn 1999): 339–340; Fotiadi, “Dedications at Dodona,” 102.
  • 4 Bernadotte Perrin, trans., Plutarch’s Lives, 11 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967) 7:271.
  • 5 B. M. Barua, Stuupa and Tomb,” Indian Historical Quarterly 2, no. 1 (1926): 26–27.
  • 5 Quran 7:66–73; 11:51–61; 26:124–141.
  • 6 William J. Hamblin, “Pre-Islamic Arabian Prophets,” in Mormons and Muslims: Spiritual Foundations and Modern Manifestations, ed. Spencer J. Palmer (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1983), 135–156.
  • 7 Abū Ishāq Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ibrāhim Al-Thaʿ labi, ʿArāʾis Al-Majālis Fi Qisas Al-Anbiyāʾ or “Lives of the Prophets” (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 244.
  • 8 Al-Thaʿ labi, ʿArāʾis Al-Majālis Fi Qisas Al-Anbiyāʾ or “Lives of the Prophets,” 245.
  • 9 The writings of Buddaghosa were not available in English in the early Nineteenth Century, and the account from Al-Thaʿ labi was not published in English until 2002.
  • 10 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Joseph Smith’s Education,” Evidence# 0001, September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
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