Evidence #112 | November 19, 2020

Records Hidden in Boxes

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon and other Nephite artifacts were deposited a stone box. There is ample archaeological and historical precedent for hiding documents and other relics in boxes.

Nephite Artifacts Discovered in a Stone Box

In his account of finding the plates of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith described them as having been placed in a stone box along with other Nephite artifacts:

Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. … The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them. (Joseph Smith—History 1:51–51)

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

Records Discovered in Boxes in the Ancient Near East

H. Curtis Wright has drawn attention to the nearly 3000-year-long practice of placing various types of engraved metal texts in box-like receptacles and then secreting them in the foundations, walls, or other inaccessible recesses of ancient temples and palaces.1 A well-known example of such a text can be seen in the inscriptions of Darius, which were written on plates made of gold and silver. The set from Hamadan (a similar set with the same inscription was found at Persepolis) was found embedded within two square hewn stones.2 Since many of these documents were stored in the foundations of temples, it is noteworthy that the original Book of Mormon records may likewise have been kept within the precincts of Nephite temples.3

Buried stone box with gold and silver foundation plates, Persepolis, Iran (photo courtesy of the Oriental Instititue, University of Chicago. Image and caption from H. Curtis Wright, “Ancient Burials of Metal Documents in Stone Boxes,” in By Study and Also By Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, Volume 2, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 281.

Codices Associated with Boxes in Ancient America

Moving to the New World, there is some evidence that the ancient Maya may have stored documents in various types of boxes.4 The dimensions of a stone box discovered in a Guatemalan cave, for example, seem appropriate for the storage of Maya books known as codices.5 The sides of the box depict deities interacting in various ways with codices, leading researcher to suspect that the stone container “may well have once held a codex.”6 Other discoveries of box-like receptacles, or iconographic depictions of them, suggest that some ancient Maya books were indeed “kept in ‘bespoke’ boxes … as objects of sacred meaning, to be set apart, kept apart, ritually activated, perhaps even sprinkled with incense and other offerings.”7

Stone Box from Cueva Hun Nal Ye, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Photo taken February 14, 2019 by Javier Tovar.

Reports of Ancient Records Deposited in Boxes

In addition to archaeological finds, John A. Tvedtnes has drawn attention to various ancient reports of records kept in boxes. The most prominent example is surely the Israelite Ark of the Covenant, the contents of which have numerous parallels with the those found in the stone box containing the Book of Mormon and other Nephite relics.8

Other examples come from Egyptian texts, one of which “describes how to inscribe a text on a gold or silver lamella (plate) and place it ‘in a clean box.’”9 Another Egyptian document relates that a man named Horus “slept overnight in a temple, where the god Thoth told him in a dream that he would  find a box containing a book written by Thoth himself concealed in a naos [inner sanctuary] within the temple.”10 Another sample says that “Thoth’s book of magic was hidden in a gold box inside a silver box, inside an ebony and ivory box, inside a box of juniper wood, inside a copper box, inside an iron box concealed in the river at Coptos.”11 

Fragments from the Book of Thoth. Image via Yale Peabody Mesuem of Natural History.

Similar accounts can be found in Jewish and Christian writings. In the Jewish text known as 3 Enoch, “we read that the angel in charge of the heavenly archives keeps a scroll in a sealed box. The box is to be opened and the scroll is to be read in the heavenly court” (see 3 Enoch 27:1–2).12 According to Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 50, the “records of the Persian king were placed ‘in the king’s box,’ whence they could be retrieved and read when necessary.”13 At the conclusion of the of the Apocalypse of Peter (Ethiopic version), Peter tells Clement about the transfiguration and instructs him to “hide the revelation in a box.”14 And, as a final sample, the preface to the Apocalypse of Paul reports that “the document was discovered during the fourth century in a stone box buried beneath a house in Tarsus, when a young man followed the instructions of an angel and searched for it.”15

Conclusion

Many more archaeological and historical examples could be cited, but these samples demonstrate that the notion of hiding records (including metal records) in various types of boxes was widespread in the ancient world. These findings lend plausibility to Joseph Smith’s claim of having discovered a set of ancient artifacts, including an engraved metal record, in a stone box.

John A. Tvedtnes, “Hiding Records in Boxes,” in The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: “Out of Darkness Unto Light” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 31–57.

H. Curtis Wright, “Ancient Burials of Metal Documents in Stone Boxes,” in By Study and Also By Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, Volume 2, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 273–334; republished as H. Curtis Wright, Ancient Burials of Metallic Foundation Documents in Stone Boxes, Occasional Papers 157 (Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, 1993).

Joseph Smith—History 1:51–51

Joseph Smith—History 1:51–51

Records and Relics
Book of Mormon

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