Evidence #334 | April 25, 2022

Sacred Plates

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Scripture Central


Much like Roman inscriptions on bronze plates, the engraved metal plates produce by Nephite authors were considered sacred.

In his account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith stated that an angel gave him strict instructions and commandments concerning the plates upon which the book was written. They were not to be used for the purpose of getting gain and Joseph “must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise, I could not get them” (Joseph Smith History 1:46).

Many centuries earlier, Moroni had stressed this same point, indicating that the record was a work prepared and consecrated to God for “the welfare and blessing of the ancient and long dispersed covenant people of the Lord” (Mormon 8:15). In short, the Book of Mormon was a sacred book. This element of sacredness is a feature shared by other records on metal plates from the ancient world.

Sacred Bronze Plates

The practice of keeping laws and statutes on metal plates, and the recovery of many archaeological examples of bronze plates dating to the Roman empire, has led some scholars to wonder what lay behind this pattern. Like other literate cultures, the Romans wrote on parchment, wood, wax boards and other perishable materials. One of the benefits of bronze, of course, was that inscriptions could be preserved over time, yet many other historical cultures wrote permanent texts primarily on stone.

Historian Callie Williamson, an authority on Roman legal history, has addressed this issue.1 She argues that while there were likely a variety of reasons for using bronze as medium of writing, one of the most important from the Roman perspective is that bronze inscriptions were traditionally viewed as sacred. She notes that for Romans, “treaties and oath-bound plebiscites were the first legal documents the romans engraved on bronze, beginning in the fifth century B.C.”2 While Romans still engraved other kinds of documents on stone, bronze engravings were confined to religious and legal texts.3

Legal documents were viewed as religious documents because oaths which involved the gods were considered sacrosanct.4 “Whoever broke an oath-protected law in violation of his oath was liable to religious penalties; the lawbreaker became sacer, forfeiting his life and property to a god.”5 Williamson maintains that bronze inscriptions “may have been an outward and visible sign of the oath and the gods were guarantors of the oath.”6

A first century bronze Roman tablet known as Lex Malacitana. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

According to Williamson, “Romans were frequently reluctant on religious grounds … to disturb, damage, or destroy bronze tablets.”7 The destruction and loss of such records, as in the fire of Rome during the reign of Nero, was seen as ominous, not only for practical reasons, but because such events were seen as a divine portent of evil.8 This association of bronze plates with the realm of the scared helps explain the persistence of the inscriptional practice over time.9

The Sacred Nature of Plates in the Book of Mormon

While not all inscriptions on metal plates in antiquity were necessarily considered sacred, the nature of Roman religious and legal material inscribed on bronze plates resonates with the view of Book of Mormon prophets. It is notable that the plates of brass contained the sacred law of Moses which Israel had received by solemn covenant through the prophet Moses. They also included other commandments of the Lord, and a prophetic history (1 Nephi 4:15–16; Mosiah 1:4–5) that were considered “sacred” (Alma 37:2–3) and “holy” (Alma 37:5).

Notably, the Nephite practice of keeping records on the plates was due to divine commandment (1 Nephi 19:1; 2 Nephi 5:30). Nephi emphasized the sacred nature of his small plates in which “the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people” (1 Nephi 19:5), adding, “nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it sacred” (1 Nephi 19:6; see also Alma 37:1–2).

When he entrusted his son Helaman with the Nephites records, Alma charged him to “remember my son, that God has entrusted you with these things, which are sacred, which he has kept sacred, and also which he will keep and preserve for a wise purpose in him, that he may show forth his power unto future generations” (Alma 37:14). If Helaman was not faithful, those things which were “sacred” could be taken away by the power of God and he would be “delivered up unto Satan” (Alma 37:15). He was to be strictly obedient to the commandments concerning their care and appeal to God for how he was to use them (Alma 37:16). Subsequent Nephite record keepers also considered and kept these plates as “sacred” (3 Nephi 1:2; Mormon 6:6).

Alma the Younger presents the records to his son Helaman in the land of Zarahemla.

Nephite plates, including the plates of brass which were brought out from Jerusalem, contained sacred covenants that were to be renewed with faithful saints in the latter days (Title Page of the Book of Mormon; 1 Nephi 13:23, 26, 40). Mormon’s plates were also sacred because they recorded how the Lord kept and fulfilled his sacred promises in the past.


The ancient Roman practice of inscribing sacred content onto metal is consistent with Nephite record-keeping practices. God himself commanded the Nephite prophets to keep such records, and their preservation over time is attributed in the text itself to divine providence. Similar to the Romans who inscribed sacred religious and legal material onto bronze plates, Nephite records contained the law of Moses and other commandments of the Lord. They also included sacred covenants, which were fulfilled among Book of Mormon peoples and even extended to Latter-day readers. The timeless scope of the Book of Mormon’s covenant message matches the sacred and enduring medium upon which it was recorded.

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.

John W. Welch and Kelsey D. Lambert, “Two Ancient Roman Plates,” BYU Studies Quarterly 45, no, 2 (2006): 55–76.

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

Title Page of the Book of Mormon1 Nephi 4:15–161 Nephi 13:231 Nephi 13:261 Nephi 13:401 Nephi 19:11 Nephi 19:51 Nephi 19:62 Nephi 5:30Mosiah 1:4–5Alma 37:1–2Alma 37:2–3Alma 37:5Alma 37:14Alma 37:15Alma 37:163 Nephi 1:2Mormon 6:6Mormon 8:15Pearl of Great PriceJoseph Smith History 1:46

Title Page of the Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 4:15–16

1 Nephi 13:23

1 Nephi 13:26

1 Nephi 13:40

1 Nephi 19:1

1 Nephi 19:5

1 Nephi 19:6

2 Nephi 5:30

Mosiah 1:4–5

Alma 37:1–2

Alma 37:2–3

Alma 37:5

Alma 37:14

Alma 37:15

Alma 37:16

3 Nephi 1:2

Mormon 6:6

Mormon 8:15

Pearl of Great Price

Joseph Smith History 1:46

  • 1 Callie Williamson, “Monuments of Bronze: Roman Legal Documents on Bronze Tablets,” Classical Antiquity 6, no. 1 (April 1987): 160–183.
  • 2 Williamson, “Monuments of Bronze,” 176.
  • 3 Williamson, “Monuments of Bronze,” 178–179.
  • 4 Williamson, “Monuments of Bronze,” 178.
  • 5 Williamson, “Monuments of Bronze,” 176.
  • 6 Williamson, “Monuments of Bronze,” 176.
  • 7 Williamson, “Monuments of Bronze,” 174.
  • 8 Williamson, “Monuments of Bronze,” 174–175.
  • 9 Williamson, “Monuments of Bronze,” 179.
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