Historian Richard L. Bushman wants "to bring the Gold Plates out of hiding.""I want to show that they are a powerful, resonant, sacred object that can be (compared) to other sacred objects in other religions … and that it has profound religious meaning," Bushman said Oct. 23 at Book of Mormon Lands Conference.Excerpted from Mormon scholar explains the historical difficulty created by the Golden Plates, Mormon Times
"[A]bout a year ago it flashed into my mind the idea of writing a book about the Gold Plates," ... the Golden Plates are a "luminous, magnetic, irresistible object' ... "Had Joseph Smith only seen visions, he could have been classed with Cotton Mather, Charles G. Finney, Ellen G. White, Ann Lee and scores of others who saw visions in his time along with hundreds of other visionaries down through the ages," Bushman said.
Skeptics and rationalists can account for visions, Bushman said, as being merely psychological or cultural. This allows them to think kindly towards visionaries as people who sincerely believed, even though they were sadly mistaken.
This, then, is the historical difficulty of the plates. Accounts of hiding the plates, wrapping the plates with cloth, showing the plates and translating from the plates become nothing more than one long attempt at fraud and make everything else Joseph Smith did doubtful. "Like a beggar claiming to have a diamond that he allows nobody to see," Bushman said.
"So in the plates we have joined the two characterizations of Joseph Smith," Bushman said, "the fraud and the prophet, with the plates as the hinge between the two. This material proof for unbelievable claims causes (the plates) to hover on the boundary between chicanery and rationality, fantasy and reality."