brass plates, Book of Mormon, scribal school, Manassites


This paper brings contemporary ANE scholarship in several fields together with the ancient scriptures restored through Joseph Smith to construct an updated starting point for interpretation of the teachings of the Book of Mormon. It assembles findings from studies of ancient scribal culture, historical linguistics and epigraphy, and the history and archaeology of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Levant, together with the traditions of ancient Israel and the ancient scriptures restored to Joseph Smith, to construct a contextualized perspective for understanding Lehi, Nephi, and the Brass Plates as they would have been understood by their contemporaries—as prominent bearers of the Josephite textual tradition. The Brass Plates may have been a late seventh-century project that they helped manufacture and/or finance. These unique plates may have been designed to preserve permanently the Josephite variant tradition of Israelite scriptural texts in the face of the dominant syncretism and rewriting occurring in the Judahite scribal schools in Jerusalem at the end of the seventh century.

This essay offers a hypothetical, but comprehensive backstory for the Brass Plates. Because of its hypothetical character it cannot be claimed that it is a true account. Rather it is an attempt to build a plausible backstory—given the current state of knowledge in the relevant fields of academic research and the facts provided in the ancient scriptures restored through Joseph Smith—the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, and the Book of Abraham. With such an account in hand, it should be much easier for other researchers to correct and refine this backstory as new and relevant findings emerge in the future. The immediate questions that should be asked are 1) is this a possible account? and 2) is it the best possible account given the current state of knowledge?

Tensions have emerged between twentieth-century scholarship and conservative Jewish and Christian understandings of the Hebrew Bible as a divine work. Those same tensions have carried over into the attitudes of some Latter-day Saint Bible readers, in spite of grave concerns raised in Nephi’s vision about the transmission process that produced the modern Bible. The backstory for the Brass Plates presented here opens a new door for Book of Mormon readers in their approach to the Hebrew Bible that may make it easier for them to engage contemporary Bible scholarship on its own terms.

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date


Permanent URL




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Political Science

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor