What Parts of the Old Testament Were on the Plates of Brass?
Meeting of Jacob and Joseph by William Hole
February 22, 2018
KnoWhy #410
Meeting of Jacob and Joseph by William Hole
Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #8
“And after they had given thanks unto the God of Israel, my father, Lehi, took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and he did search them from the beginning.”

1 Nephi 5:10

The Know

When reading through the Book of Mormon, one finds references to many different parts of the Old Testament. When discussing Melchizedek in Alma 13, for example, the Book of Mormon appears to allude to the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14.1 Yet it also frequently quotes Isaiah and the Psalms,2 and even includes a bit of Job.3 All of these were presumably quoted from the plates of brass. This poses the question: What parts of the Old Testament were on the plates of brass?4

Nephi said that the plates of brass contained “the five books of Moses” along with a “record of the Jews ... and also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah.” The collection even contained “many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah” (1 Nephi 5:11–13). The “five books of Moses” refers to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.5 The “record of the Jews” was likely Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel, and 1–2 Kings.6 The “holy prophets” down to the time of Zedekiah may refer to the writings of Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, as well as Jeremiah.7

However, this is not the only information the Book of Mormon gives about the plates of brass. The Book of Mormon also quotes extensively from the Psalms8 and periodically refers to Proverbs,9 suggesting that these books were present as well. Yet, when one looks at all the Old Testament quotations in the Book of Mormon, one finds something surprising. Books that were almost certainly written after Lehi left Jerusalem, like 1 Chronicles, Nehemiah, Job,10 Ecclesiastes,11 Ezekiel, Joel,12 and Malachi,13 all have language similar to the Book of Mormon.14

Some of this similar language may be due to translation issues. Translations of ancient texts often use biblical language, even when this language creates a less literal translation from the original.15 However, some allusions to the Old Testament are only clear when comparing the Book of Mormon to the Old Testament in Hebrew, suggesting something more complicated.16 In these instances, it is likely that both the Book of Mormon and the biblical texts written after Lehi’s family left Jerusalem are quoting earlier books that were on the plates of brass but that no longer exist.17

Chart 14 from Charting the Book of Mormon

Chart 14 from Charting the Book of Mormon

This possibility is supported by the angel’s statement to Nephi, that the Old Testament contains “many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many” (1 Nephi 13:23). This suggests that there were many other books found in the plates of brass that did not make it into our current Old Testament. Some of these texts may have been quoted by later writers, explaining the similarities one sometimes finds between the later books of the Old Testament, and writings presumably being quoted from the plates of brass.   The writings of Zenos, Zenock, Neum,18 and Ezias (Helaman 8:20) were all on the plates of brass but are now lost.

It is likely that some of these lost texts were northern Israelite texts. According to 1 Nephi 5:14, the brass plates contained the genealogy of the descendants of Joseph. Because the tribes of Joseph lived in the northern Israelite kingdom, called Israel, not the southern Israelite kingdom, called Judah, it is likely that the plates of brass had many northern Israelite texts in them.19

Even though we have some idea of the books in the plates of brass, it is hard to know exactly what version of each book the Nephites had.20 The plates of brass sometimes appear to have been the same as the Joseph Smith Translation, as noted above. At other times, they are more like the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament),21 and yet at other times they differ from any version of the text currently available.22

The Why

Often, when we read the Old Testament, it is easy to forget that these books were also Nephite scripture. When Nephite authors talked about holding fast to the “word of God” (1 Nephi 15:24), it was their portion of the Old Testament that they were referring to. It was the Old Testament that they turned to for comfort and guidance.23 Many of their most profound spiritual insights drew from Old Testament teachings.

Realizing how important the plates of brass were to the Nephites can change our perspective on the value of the Old Testament. If the Nephites gained such important spiritual insights from the book, we can too.

As we carefully search the books that would have been in the plates of brass, we can look at how they were quoted in the Book of Mormon, and gain deeper insight into what these scriptures can mean for us.24 Reading the Old Testament this way will allow us to understand both the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament better.

The Book of Mormon is the key that unlocks the Old Testament. By understanding the Old Testament through the lens of the Book of Mormon, we can gain deeper insights into Christ’s power in our lives and the unchanging nature of God.

Further Reading

Robert L. Millet, “The Influence of the Brass Plates on the Teachings of Nephi​,” in Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., Book of Mormon Symposium Series, Volume 3 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 99–111.

Sidney B. Sperry, “Some Problems of Interest Relating to the Brass Plates,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4, no. 1 (1995): 185–191.

Rex C. Reeve, Jr., “The Book of Mormon Plates,” in Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., Book of Mormon Symposium Series, Volume 3 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 99–111.