The structure of the metal plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated is very complex and yet totally consistent.
The organization of the metal plates is so complicated that the church has published an insert in the introduction entitled, “A Brief Explanation About the Book of Mormon.”
The Plates of Nephi
“The Plates of Nephi were of two kinds: the small plates and the large plates. The former were more particularly devoted to spiritual matters and the ministry and teachings of the prophets, while the latter were occupied mostly by a secular history of the peoples concerned (1 Nephi 9:2–4). From the time of Mosiah, however, the large plates also included items of major spiritual importance.”
- 1 Ne. 1-8 is actually Nephi’s abridgement of the record of Lehi
- 1 Ne. 9 is a transition chapter
- 1 Ne. 10 begins Nephi’s personal account in the small plates.
- Significantly, the small plates are written in the “first person” (“I” “we”). On the other hand, the abridgment in the large plates in written in the “third person” (“he” “they’). This is a very important detail most readers overlook. It is also a detail Joseph Smith would have overlooked if he were the author.
- The small plates are, in fact, small. Near the end of the small plates, it is obvious that the writers were running out of room on the small plates. (See: Jacob 4:1-2, Jacob 7:27; Jaron 4; Jarom 14; Omni 30)
The Plates of Mormon
“The Plates of Mormon, which consist of an abridgment by Mormon from the large plates of Nephi, with many commentaries. These plates also contained a continuation of the history by Mormon and additions by his son Moroni.”
The Plates of Ether
“The Plates of Ether, which present a history of the Jaredites. This record was abridged by Moroni, who inserted comments of his own and incorporated the record with the general history under the title ‘Book of Ether.’”
The Plates of Brass
“The Plates of Brass brought by the people of Lehi from Jerusalem in 600 B.C. These contained “the five books of Moses, … and also a record of the Jews from the beginning, … down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah; and also the prophecies of the holy prophets” (1 Nephi 5:11–13). Many quotations from these plates, citing Isaiah and other biblical and non-biblical prophets, appear in the Book of Mormon.”
“The longest portion, from Mosiah through Mormon chapter 7, is a translation of Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi.”
“The concluding portion, from Mormon chapter 8 to the end of the volume, was engraved by Mormon’s son Moroni, who, after finishing the record of his father’s life, made an abridgment of the Jaredite record (as the book of Ether) and later added the parts known as the book of Moroni.”
Trying to figure out which authors and books come from which sets of plates is a complicated and time-consuming task. Fortunately, BYU Law Professor John W. Welch and the BYU Geography Department prepared the diagram below. (Other diagrams are available on the internet. This is my personal favorite.)
In sum, it would have been impossible for Joseph Smith to keep track of the various sets of plates and the books and authors without such a diagram or chart. He had neither. To believe that he juggled these complex details while he was orally dictating the Book of Mormon is absurd.
Article 24 of 27. (www.londonedition.net)