David Butler, Margaret Barker, and the scam golden plates

“How could the recently-found gold plates reflect so much of the findings of David Butler?”

The answer is, the forger probably doesn’t know the work of David Butler. But people who are attached to the work of Margaret Barker will tend to see her narratives validated in the work of the forger.

David Butler’s narratives are derived from the work of Maragaret Barker, and her work is well-known everywhere. Barker relies heavily on a subfield in biblical studies, called “deuteronomic studies.” The basic idea is that there was some person or group of people who modified the biblical text over time to bring it in line with “deuteronomism,” or the covenant ideas in the book of Deuteronomy. Some Latter-day Saints have decided that the “deuteronomists” are responsible for the removal of plain and precious things from the bible (1 Ne 13:26).

Dan McClellan is arguing that these plates came from the same forger that produced the Jordanian lead codices. I generally agree with Dan McClellan about half the time, and I think there are good reasons to believe he is right in this instance, or that the forgeries just reflect common practices.

Now, back to Margaret Barker- she has some interesting theories and insights. I own several of her books and I enjoy them, but I take her narratives with many grains of salt. Why? Because the first rule of biblical studies is that when it comes to the bible, people find what they expect to find.

Anytime someone says “I’m finding x in the bible!” when x is not actually mentioned in the bible, that should be a red flag that they are operating with experimenter bias, finding exactly what they expect to find.

Mother in heaven!
A Trinitarian view of God!
Sola Scriptura!
Jeremiah’s hidden agenda!
A “structure” for the book of Isaiah!
A conspiracy in the early Christian community to fake the resurrection!

A core element of Margaret Barker’s thinking, “deuteronomic influence,” is like anything in biblical studies. If someone feels really motivated to find it, they will find it, whether or not it’s actually there. When people get hooked on this idea of deuteronomic influence, they find it in their morning plate of scrambled eggs. For more reading, I recommend the book Those Elusive Deuteronomists (Logos version here).

All this is to say that when we talk about David Butler or Margaret Barker “seeing things” in the bible, there might be some validity to those claims, but exercise caution.

But back to the question of the golden plates recently “discovered” in Saudi Arabia- the quickest and brightest red flag for me was the fact that their promoter, a guy named Miles Jones, sells travel tours to Evangelicals and claims to have “uncovered the earliest Hebrew manuscript of the Gospels – and authenticated their first-century origin!”

It’s hard to express just how weird and outlandish this claim is. Scholars have fun with it here.

Beyond that initial red flag, I would recommend Allen Hansen’s summary of issues with the plates:

There are serious reasons why we should step on the brakes with these Banu Qurayza archive plates. Here’s an incomplete list indicating forgery:

  1. Miles Jones has a history of promoting fake manuscripts and artefacts.
  2. There’s been a thriving trade in fake antiques in the Middle East for years. Plenty of scandals involving even serious academic and national institutions. Extreme caution should always be our attitude to sensational finds outside of a controlled dig environment.
  3. Antiquities forgery happens throughout the Arab world, Jordan is a major center for metal codices, with hundreds of individuals trying to sell Jews and Christians crude fakes with nonsense Hebrew inscriptions and what they think are Jewish symbols for sums as high as tens of millions.
  4. These plates bear a striking resemblance to the Jordanian lead codice fakes, and to other Jordanian fakes but not to other genuine artefacts.
  5. The lead plates in the supposed archive are artificially aged the same way as Jordanian fakes.
  6. The scale of these plates matches those fakes.
  7. The regular shape on one of these plates with perfectly straight edges and rounded corners, looks to be patterned after a credit card, something telltale Jordanian, indicating modern machine-work.
  8. The style of the embossing or stamping is also modern.
  9. The cluster of designs and motifs, especially the asterix stars and random dot clusters, is found throughout these Jordanian fakes, but not on genuine artefacts.
  10. The menorah designs are modern takes derived from the arch of Titus and appear on other fakes.
  11. The letters are also noticeably amateurish, mix script styles, contain random gibberish phrases, and were done by someone who obviously doesn’t read Hebrew. Many scripts are poor imitations of modern 20th century Hebrew cursive.
  12. The perfectly round binder ring shape is modern, and looks machined.
    These are just a few things that should set alarm bells ringing.

I would say to Latter-day Saints, beware of YouTube.

Think about how it undermines our witness to the world when observers see Latter-day Saints chasing sensational scams. Yes, as some people have pointed out, our Latter-day Saint origin story is strange too. But we have formal witnesses to Joseph’s plates and a massive amount of other legitimate grounds for our beliefs. If you think there is some kind of equivalence between the emergence of the stupid forgery coming through the scammer Miles Jones and the emergence of the BoM through the prophet Joseph Smith, then your favorite YouTube channels are doing a disservice to you. They are not helping you learn how to make distinctions between things, which is a basic element of critical thinking.
Getting at the truth is usually slow, methodical, and boring. It involves attention to process. It involves discernment.

If an archaeological claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Just ask The Museum of the Bible.

More from Allen Hansen:

If you’ve watched the video on the Saudi gold plates, you’ll notice some familiar faces in these photos. So, a bit of context. In June, 2023, Yariv Egozi, an Israeli art and antiques evaluator, posted the following. “Another guy reaches out to me on Whatsapp, telling an old story. He has rare Jewish treasures (genuine treasure!) to sell, that was dug up somewhere in Jordan, and he found my name online listed as an art expert, and he wants a fantastical sum for them…”

Egozi realised that “Judging by the number of attempts to contact me, they’ve probably scammed a large number of suckers in Israel for big money.”
To help people avoid getting scammed, he uploaded a big album of photographs he’s been sent over the years. Going through these you see a lot of things used in the Saudi plates, even gold plates of the same size with the same kind of gibberish Hebrew writing!

This is part of a big scam going on for many, many years. Egozi also posted an earlier album in 2020 that shows gold plates.

By fantastical sums, we are talking millions and tens of millions of dollars. as Aviad Stollman, former head of collections for Israel’s National Library, noted after getting dozens of such solicitations from sellers in Arab countries within a week of starting the job in 2009! Shows you how far back at least these scams go. The National Library still gets contacted almost daily with scams like these.Stollman stated that “As soon as your eye gets used to it, detecting these fakes takes no more than a few seconds.” That’s because these fakes are very similar to each other and so dissimilar to genuine artefacts. Stollman noted that there was only one forgery that wasn’t so easy to detect initially – a Judeo-Persian manuscript.

Israel’s National Library has some of the world’s most important collection of Jewish texts and artefacts, and some important Muslim ones as well, and it is in their interest to acquire these cultural treasures, were they genuine.
Let’s not be gullible just because we desperately want more physical evidence of the Book of Mormon.

Scripture Plus:

Ryan Mercer on Reddit:

byu/ryanmercer from discussion

Note: this post will be updated as more information comes forward.

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