Monday, December 10, 2012

Ancient Writing on Metal Plates – Part II

As mentioned in the last post, an enormous amount of criticism was leveled at Joseph Smith and at the Church for more than a hundred years regarding Joseph’s claim that he found writing on metal plates buried in a stone box. As one critic wrote: “The book of Mormon purports to have been originally engraved on brass plates. How could brass be written on?” Another wrote: “This book speaks of the Jewish Scriptures, having been kept by Jews on plates of brass, six hundred years before Christ. The Jews never kept any of their records on plates of brass.” Still another in 1972 stated: “In the sixth century B.C. the most common forms of writing material in Palestine were papyrus and leather (or animal skin); the Hebrew also wrote on wood and potsherds. It should of course be mentioned that writing on metal was not completely unknown, since a copper scroll has been discovered at Qumran. This scroll, however, was not a plate but a roll, and is dated much later than 600 B.C., being generally ascribed to the first century B.C. In view of the above facts, does it seem likely that brass plates containing a large section of the Old Testament in Egyptian would be found in Palestine in 600 B.C.?” And yet another, “The statement is objectionable that there were found in the possession of a man by the name of Laban certain brass plates upon which were engraven, in the Egyptian language, the five books of Moses, containing the law, the entire history of the Jews from the first down to Laban's time.”
However, as often is the case, time has shown the lack of knowledge of such detractors. In the last post we introduced several documents written on metal plates that have since been uncovered in the Middle East. Here are a few more:
Top LtoR: Writing on Silver plates, Writing on brass sheaths; Bottom LtoR: Writing on gold bound in a book, and Writing on Gold scroll—all in B.C. times in the Middle East
In addition to writing on metal plates or sheaths as discussed in the last post, and shown above, there have been a couple of interesting finds regarding ancient metal plates.
The first is a practice of “sealing” a writing. In the case of the Roman document of citizenship (shown in the last post), the two sheets were bound, or sealed, together to both protect the witness signatures, and to provide a duplicate record of the decree. Wires were run through the two corner holes and small rings bound the plates together. A wire, laced through the two center holes, was twisted to hold the plates snugly intact. A copy of the first half of constituto, was written on the interior text, and the text on sides B and C was a duplicate copy. If a dispute should arise over the reading of the main text on the front of plate 1, a judge could resolve that uncertainty by breaking open the seal impressions and untying the sealing wire to consult this sealed portion of the record. This practice of double-sealing a document was used earlier by the Akkadians in early B.C. times, and several legal systems in the ancient world used doubled (duplicate) documents to prevent tampering.
There is also mention of Sumerian sealed documents in Mesopotamia in Sureth documkents, and in ancient Egypt, sealed portions of documents, or completely sealed documents, were written on papyrus and often sealed with a mud sealing embossed with a stamp from a scarab seal, much in the same way that wax seals were later used. In Mesopotamia it was common practice to seal entire documents to prevent tampering or even for keeping secret.
Cuneiform documents would often be sealed in a second layer of clay onto which the inner document text was rewritten. On receipt of the document the clay outer envelope could be broken away and the inner text checked if there was any suspicion of tampering. This 650 B.C. tablet still has its outer envelope with seals still fully intact
Though the famous Jordanian codices have been shown to be a hoax, it is interesting still that of the 70 small books claimed to have been found in a cave (like the Dead Sea Scrolls), some of them were sealed. Why would a hoaxster seal some of the little books, unless the practice of a sealed book was known well enough to convince whoever that they would appear more authentic.
Note that the right image of two Jordanian codices is a “sealed” book. Though a hoax, the sealing is of interest
It seems obvious that the sealing of writing, or a book, was not an invention of Joseph Smith, or a stolen idea from the Book of Revelations, but represents a continuation of a heretofore little-known practice concerning the sealing of sacred or important records.
Another long-standing criticism of the Book of Mormon is that Joseph Smith found the metal plates buried in a stone box. Prior to 1823 when Joseph first saw the stone box containing the plates, no record had ever been found describing any type of stone box from any ancient period, and when he told of it later, again the world laughed at such an idea. However, in recent years, numerous stone boxes containing sacred or important records, many written on metal plates, have been found.
It is remarkable that though unknown in the West, for 3000 years this strange documentary custom of depositing and burying written records in stone boxes of the Mesopotamian kings persisted, which was distinct and separate from the scribal tradition of clay-tablet writing associated with information of lesser or little value.
This custom led to numerous regal burials of metallic documents, often encased in stone boxes or other special containers, which were concealed in the foundations or other inaccessible recesses of temples and palaces. The discovery of metal documents beneath the foundations of the Serapis Temple, which housed the Serapeum Library at Alexandria, has also established an archaeological connection between the building practices of the Ptolemies and the Mesopotamian kings.
Left: The ruins of the Serapeum (Temple) of Alexandria in Ptolemaic Egypt; Right: The Catacombs deep beneath the Serapeum, where ancient buried writings on metal were found in stone containers
There has also been a mass of metal tablets from Early Dynastic peg deposits, including the Akkadian bronze tablet from Samaria, the uninscribed bronze plates from the Isin-Larsa period, the mysterious stone and metal tablets from Old and Middle Assyro-Babylonian times, the references to metals deposited in foundations by Shamshi-Adad I (1813-1781 B.C.) and Esarhaddon (680-699 B.C.), the built-up brick boxes from Lagash, the many brick boxes from the Neo-Sumerian and later periods, and the door pivot boxes.
However, one of the most important and interesting of all the discoveries of ancient metal records was that of the gold and silver plates of Emperor Darius I of Persia written around 518 B.C., which were found sealed in a box of stone and bearing a text in three languages. The four plates of gold and four of silver and the stone box were found beneath the foundations of the Apandana or Audience Hall where Darius buried them in 515 B.C.
Left: Darius’ stone box and gold plates buried under the Apandana; Right: A buried stone box with gold and silver foundation plates found by a farmer digging a well in western Peloponnesus
The stone box loaded with metal documents is probably derived from the peg deposits of the Neo-Sumerian Renaissance at Mari in the Ur III period (2100-2000 B.C.). Andre Parrot uncovered "six foundation deposits" of Niwar-Mer, which had been embedded in the materials used to construct an ancient building. Four of these deposits, "placed very precisely at its corners, identified the building as the Ninhursag Temple, thanks to the inscribed bronze plates"
According to Oscar White Muscarella in Bronze and Iron Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts, “Foundation peg deposits were arranged under the corners of buildings or under doors and gateways, or even scattered under walls or pavements, usually with stone and or metal tablets. They are characteristic of southern Mesopotamia buildings sites,” and Richard S. Ellis is quoted in The Deuteronomistic History and the Name Theology, that “For millennia the placing of these various deposits in the foundations of newly built or refurbished edifices was considered an essential aspect of building protocol in the Mesopotamian cultures.” At first these peg deposits were objects, which then grew into written texts, which eventually became a standard in all building.
Only in recent years have archaeologists confirmed that this method for storing valuable articles was commonly used in ancient cultures. Joseph Smith's description of the stone box, which contained the golden plates stood alone for nearly a century as the only account involving ancient stone boxes. Today, we know that it was quite common.

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