Book of Mormon/Witnesses/Character

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Reliability of the Book of Mormon witnesses

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Several families, numbering about fifty souls, took up their line of march from this town last week for the “promised land,” among whom was Martin Harris, one of the original believers in the “Book of Mormon.” Mr. Harris was among the early settlers of this town, and has ever borne the character of an honorable and upright man, and an obliging and benevolent neighbor. He had secured to himself by honest industry a respectable fortune—and he has left a large circle of acquaintances and friends to pity his delusion.

—“Several families . . .,” Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra, New York) (27 May 1831). off-site
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Mr. Cowdery was an able lawyer and a great advocate. His manners were easy and gentlemanly; he was polite, dignified, yet courteous...With all his kind and friendly disposition, there was a certain degree of sadness that seemed to pervade his whole being. His association with others was marked by the great amount of information his conversation conveyed and the beauty of his musical voice. His addresses to the court and jury were characterized by a high order of oratory, with brilliant and forensic force. He was modest and reserved, never spoke ill of any one, never complained.

—William Lang, History of Seneca County (Springfield, Ohio, 1880), 365.
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Question: What did Oliver Cowdery's associates say about his character?

William Lang, who apprenticed in Cowdery's law office long after he left the Church, knew him for many years

William Lang, who apprenticed in Cowdery's law office, knew him for many years. Lang was a member of the Ohio bar, and served as "prosecuting attorney, probate judge, mayor of Tiffin, county treasurer, and two terms in the Ohio senate. He was nominated by his party for major state offices twice." [1]

Lang wrote of Cowdery:

Mr. Cowdery was an able lawyer and a great advocate. His manners were easy and gentlemanly; he was polite, dignified, yet courteous...With all his kind and friendly disposition, there was a certain degree of sadness that seemed to pervade his whole being. His association with others was marked by the great amount of information his conversation conveyed and the beauty of his musical voice. His addresses to the court and jury were characterized by a high order of oratory, with brilliant and forensic force. He was modest and reserved, never spoke ill of any one, never complained. [2]


1843 announcement in the Seneca Advertiser, Tiffin, Ohio, with Oliver Cowdery and his partner's law practice.

Harvey Gibson, a political opponent of Oliver's, and another lawyer, said that Cowdery was an "irreproachable gentleman"

Harvey Gibson, a political opponent of Oliver's, and another lawyer (whose statue now stands in front of the Seneca County courthouse) wrote:

Cowdery was an able lawyer and [an] agreeable, irreproachable gentleman. [3]


Question: What did Martin Harris's non-Mormon associates say about his character?

Even early anti-Mormons who knew Harris believed that he was “honest,” and “industrious,” “benevolent,” and a “worthy citizen”

Even early anti-Mormons who knew Harris, or knew those acquainted with Harris, believed that he was “honest,” and “industrious,” “benevolent,” and a “worthy citizen.” [4] Wrote the local paper on Harris' departure with the Saints:

Several families, numbering about fifty souls, took up their line of march from this town last week for the “promised land,” among whom was Martin Harris, one of the original believers in the “Book of Mormon.” Mr. Harris was among the early settlers of this town, and has ever borne the character of an honorable and upright man, and an obliging and benevolent neighbor. He had secured to himself by honest industry a respectable fortune—and he has left a large circle of acquaintances and friends to pity his delusion.[5]

Pomeroy Tucker, who knew Harris but didn’t believe in the Book of Mormon, once noted:

How to reconcile the act of Harris in signing his name to such a statement [his Book of Mormon testimony], in view of the character of honesty which had always been conceded to him, could never easily be explained. [6]

Martin Harris's association with a number of LDS "splinter groups"

Some have argued that Harris' tendency to associate with a number of LDS "splinter groups" indicates that he was "unstable and easily influenced by charismatic leaders." [7]

This claim fundamentally distorts Harris' activities during this period. [8] Wrote Matthew Roper:

Martin was excommunicated in December 1837 in Kirtland, Ohio, where he remained for the next thirty-two years. During this time, Harris associated himself with Warren Parrish and other Kirtland dissenters who organized a church. On March 30, 1839, George A. Smith wrote a letter from Kirtland describing some of the divisions in the Parrish party. "Last Sabbath a division arose among the Parrish party about the Book of Mormon; John F. Boynton, Warren Parrish, Luke Johnson and others said it was nonsense. Martin Harris then bore testimony of its truth and said all would be damned if they rejected it." Such actions suggest a significant degree of independence for which Harris is generally not given credit. [9]

Harris managed to frustrate many other religious groups by his continued insistence on preaching the Book of Mormon instead of their tenets. He eventually returned to the Church and died in full fellowship.

The witnesses were men considered honest, responsible, and intelligent. Their contemporaries did not know quite what to make of three such men who testified of angels and gold plates, but they did not impugn the character or reliability of the men who bore that testimony.


Question: What did David Whitmer's associates say about his character?

Throughout Richmond, Missouri, the non-Mormons knew David Whitmer as an honest and trustworthy citizen

Throughout Richmond, Missouri, the non-Mormons knew David Whitmer as an honest and trustworthy citizen. When one anti-Mormon lectured in David’s hometown and branded David as disreputable, the local (non-Mormon) paper responded with “a spirited front-page editorial unsympathetic with Mormonism but insistent on ‘the forty six years of private citizenship on the part of David Whitmer, in Richmond, without stain or blemish.’” [10]

...The following year the editor penned a tribute on the eightieth birthday of David Whitmer, who “with no regrets for the past” still “reiterates that he saw the glory of the angel.” This is the critical issue of the life of David Whitmer. During fifty years in non-Mormon society, he insisted with the fervor of his youth that he knew that the Book of Mormon was divinely revealed. Relatively few people in Richmond could wholly accept such testimony, but none doubted his intelligence or complete honesty. [11]

Another newspaper declared:

And no man can look at David Whitmer's face for a half-hour, while he charit[abl]y and modestly speaks of what he has seen, and then bodldly and earnestly confesses the faith that is in him, and say that he is a bigot or an enthusiast.[12]

Twenty two non-Mormon citizens signed the following statement, including, Mayor, county clerk, county treasurer, postmaster, revenue collector, county sheriff, two judges, two medical doctors, four bankers, two merchants, and two lawyers:

We the undersigned citizens of Richmond Ray CO Mo where David Whitmer Sr has resided since the year AD 1838, Certify that we have been long and intimately acquainted with him, and know him to be a man of the highest integrity, and of undoubted truth and veracity....[13]

Another said:

Mr. Whitmer is an old citizen of this town, and is known by every one here as a man of the highest honor, having resided here since the year 1838.[14]

Upon Whitmer's death, the local newspaper wrote:

He lived in Richmond about half a century, and we can say that no man ever lived here, who had among our people, more friends and fewer enemies. Honest, conscientious and upright in all his dealings, just in his estimate of men, and open, manly and frank in his treatment of all, he made lasting friends who loved him to the end.[15]


Question: Is someone unreliable because they practiced "treasure hunting" and believed in the use of seer stones to find lost objects?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of things that they believed were valid is a ad hominem attack

Some of Joseph Smith's associates practiced "treasure hunting" and believed in the use of seer stones to locate lost objects. Some claim that many of these individuals believed in "second sight." Do these characteristics make these men unreliable witnesses?

Those who accuse people of being unreliable witnesses because they believed in "treasure hunting" or "second sight" are employing what is known as a "ad hominem" attack on the witnesses' character. The term "ad hominem" is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, as:

  1. appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
  2. marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.

One can see that this accusation applies both of these definitions:

  1. The terms "treasure hunter" and "second sight" are intended to evoke feelings of prejudice in the 21st-century reader. We typically reject such things as "superstition." Applying these attitudes to how we view 19th-century individuals is called "presentisim."
  2. One critic implies that, despite the fact that the witnesses never denied what they said, that "in light of their superstitions and reputations," we will somehow find their testimony to have less value. The witnesses, incidentally, had reputations for honesty. [16]

How exactly does the belief that one can locate buried treasure by means of a seer stone speak to one's character or honesty?

All Three Witnesses left the Church after disagreements with Joseph Smith, yet they never denied having seen the plates and the angel

One must also consider this: The Three Witnesses all left the Church after serious disagreements with Joseph Smith, and yet never denied that they had seen the plates and the angel, even near the end of their lives.

The fact that three different men allowed their name to be printed below a statement saying that they saw an angel, and then continued to affirm that they had seen the angel in public statements (some of them even published in newspapers) until the end of their lives, tends to tip the scale more toward "it really happened" than "it didn't happen." That's the point of a signed statement after all.


Question: Did Martin Harris change his religion five times prior to the Restoration?

Palmyra sources do not yet prove that Martin was a Quaker, though his wife probably was, and there is no evidence yet that associates Martin with the Baptist or Presbyterian churches

This is an old charge from one of the earliest anti-Mormon works. Richard L. Anderson noted:

The arithmetic of Martin's five religious changes before Mormonism is also faulty. The claim comes from the hostile Palmyra affidavits published by E. D. Howe; G. W. Stoddard closed his in sarcasm against Martin Harris: "He was first an orthodox Quaker, then a Universalist, next a Restorationer, then a Baptist, next a Presbyterian, and then a Mormon."[17] Palmyra sources do not yet prove that Martin was a Quaker, though his wife probably was.[18] And no evidence yet associates Martin with the Baptist or Presbyterian churches. Note that the other two names are religious positions, not necessarily churches—philosophical Universalists dissent from traditional churches in believing that God will save all, and Restorationists obviously take literally the many Bible prophecies of God's reestablished work in modern times. An early Episcopal minister in Palmyra interviewed Martin and reduced his five positions to two: "He had been, if I mistake not, at one period a member of the Methodist Church, and subsequently had identified himself with the Universalists."[19] Of course Martin could have been a Universalist and Restorationer simultaneously. This view fits what other Palmyra sources say about Martin Harris. In the slanted words of Pomeroy Tucker, who knew him personally, "He was a religious monomaniac, reading the Scriptures intently, and could probably repeat from memory nearly every text of the Bible from beginning to end, chapter and verse in each case."[20]

Martin Harris: "In the year 1818—52 years ago—I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the Spirit that I should not join any church, although I was anxiously sought for by many of the sectarians"

This impression of Martin as Bible student outside of organized religions is just what Martin says in his little-known autobiography of this period:

In the year 1818-52 years ago—I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the Spirit that I should not join any church, although I was anxiously sought for by many of the sectarians. I was taught two could not walk together unless agreed. What can you not be agreed [is] in the Trinity because I cannot find it in my Bible, Find it for me, and I am ready to receive it. . . . Others' sects, the Episcopalians, also tried me—they say 3 persons in one God, without body, parts, or passions. I told them such a God I would not be afraid of: I could not please or offend him. . . . The Methodists took their creed from me. I told them to release it or I would sue them . . . The Spirit told me to join none of the churches, for none had authority from the Lord, for there will not be a true church on the earth until the words of Isaiah shall be fulfilled. . . . So I remained until the Church was organized by Joseph Smith the Prophet. Then I was baptized . . . being the first after Joseph and Oliver Cowdery. And then the Spirit bore testimony that this was all right, and I rejoiced in the established Church. Previous to my being baptized I became a witness of the plates of the Book of Mormon.[21]

The above is Martin Harris's creed, held for the half-century before giving this statement on returning to the Church, plus the five additional years that he lived in Utah. For the dozen years prior to joining Mormonism he was a seeker, like scores of other LIDS converts, and through life never departed from his confidence that the Bible prophecies were fulfilled in the Restoration through Joseph Smith. This core belief was what everything else related to, the structure that stood before, during, and after any gingerbread decorations at Kirtland.[22]

In any case, such a charge is simply ad hominem--to deny Harris' testimony because of beliefs he had prior to the restoration.


Question: Is a man unreliable because he lived in the 19th-Century?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of the era they lived in is a ad hominem attack

Were the Book of Mormon witnesses not "empirical" or "rational" because they lived in the 19th-Century during a time when "folk magic" was practiced?

  • One critic of Mormonism claims "The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, twenty-first century men" (The claim was modified to read "nineteenth-century men" in later revisions)[23]

To imply that nineteenth-century men are intrinsically unreliable is both an ad hominem (an attack against the character of person making the claim, rather than the claim itself) and sets an impossible standard of evidence for the gospel inasmuch as they were the only men available as witnesses at the time. Thus the author is using a screening argument (dates of life) that can be used to exclude whatever evidence he wishes to ignore.


Question: Could Joseph Smith have hypnotized the witnesses to the Book of Mormon?

The Three Witnesses had the opportunity to qualify their testimony, but all of them insisted that their vision was literal and unmistakable

It is claimed that the Book of Mormon witnesses may have been sincere in their testimony, but were actually the victims of 'hallucination' or 'hypnosis' induced in them by Joseph Smith.

The Three Witnesses had the opportunity to qualify their testimony, but all of them insisted that their vision was literal and unmistakable. In addition, they each verified the literalness of the event by stating that their physical ears heard a heavenly voice. Critics twist the historical record in their effort to eliminate the troublesome witnesses but their testimonies cannot be convincingly dismissed.

(Note: All emphasis in the following quotes have been added.)

David Whitmer—like the other witnesses—had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. Joseph Smith III remembered when David was such accused, and said:

"How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height—a little over six feet—and said, in solemn and impressive tones: 'No sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes, and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!'."[24]

Martin Harris used the same qualifying statements to describe his experience in 1829:

"In introducing us, Mr. Godfrey said, 'Brother Harris, I have brought these young men to hear your statement as to whether or not you believe the Book of Mormon to be true.' His face was turned to the wall. He turned and faced us and said, 'Now I don't believe, but I know it to be true, for with these eyes I saw the angel and with these ears (pointing to them) I heard him say it was a true and correct record of an ancient people that dwelt upon this the American continent'."[25]

Oliver Cowdery was asked, “Was your testimony based on a dream, was it the imagination of your mind, was it an illusion”? He responded with the exact same qualifying statements as the other two Witnesses:

"My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testified is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind—it was real."[26]


Question: Are the Book of Mormon witnesses unreliable because many of them were related?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of who they are related to is a ad hominem attack

It is claimed that because many of the witnesses are related, this means they are not to be trusted.

Mark Twain made fun of this very issue:

And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but "hefted" them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified. [27]

This is what is known as a "ad hominem" attack on the witnesses' character. The term "ad hominem" is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, as:

  1. appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
  2. marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.

How, exactly, does being related to someone else who is viewing the same thing that you are make one less honest or reliable? This is simply an irrelevant distraction. When you are going to show something sacred to someone, you certainly don't show it to strangers but to those with whom you are familiar and who you can trust. As such, one would not expect anyone but close acquaintances and family to be so trusted. The witnesses, incidentally, had reputations for honesty.

The witnesses would, of necessity, be those who were close to Joseph. Recall the fact that the witnesses eventually had disaffected members among them because of disagreements with Joseph Smith, yet they never denied their witness. This gives credence to their testimony over time.

Relationships among the Three and Eight Witnesses

Three of the witnesses were related to Joseph Smith:

  • Joseph Smith, Sr. [father]
  • Hyrum Smith [brother]
  • Samuel H. Smith [brother]

Five of the eleven witnesses were sons of Peter Whitmer, Sr., who had provided Joseph and Oliver a place to translate:

  • David Whitmer
  • Christian Whitmer
  • Jacob Whitmer
  • Peter Whitmer, Jr.
  • John Whitmer

Two of the witnesses married into the Whitmer family:

  • Oliver Cowdery would marry Elizabeth Ann Whitmer in 1832.[28]
  • Hiram Page married the oldest Whitmer daughter, Catherine, on 10 November 1825.[29]


Question: Does the fact that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith distant cousins make Oliver an unreliable witness to the Book of Mormon?

Oliver was indeed a distant cousin of Joseph Smith, but they had never met before the Book of Mormon was translated

The accusation that Oliver being a distant cousin of Joseph Smith makes him an unreliable witness to the Book of Mormon is what is known as a "ad hominem" attack on the witnesses' character. The term "ad hominem" is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, as:

  1. appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
  2. marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.

One can see that accusations that Oliver is an unreliable witness because he is related to Joseph Smith applies both of these definitions:

  • Oliver was indeed a distant cousin of Joseph Smith, but they had never met before the Book of Mormon was translated. Those who put forth this criticism attempt to prejudice the reader by implying that this relationship made Oliver unreliable.
  • The fact that they were distantly related has no bearing upon Oliver's reliability as a scribe or as a witness. How does this relationship make him an unreliable witness? What is the conflict of interest?

More to the point, if Oliver was covering up a fraud on the part of Joseph Smith when he acted as a scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon simply because he was related to Joseph Smith, or if he was covering for Joseph when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, then why didn't Oliver expose the fraud after he fell into disagreement with Joseph Smith and was excommunicated from the Church? This would have been the perfect opportunity to expose a fraud.


Question: Did Joseph Smith say that viewing the gold plates would result in death?

The only first-person account—that made by Joseph Smith himself—says that it was Joseph who would be destroyed if he showed the plates to any other person unless commanded to do so by the Lord

It is claimed that Joseph Smith said that the penalty for viewing the gold plates was death, and that this was just a way for Joseph to hide the fact that the plates really didn't exist. However, the only first-person account—that made by Joseph Smith himself—says that it was Joseph who would be destroyed if he showed the plates to any other person unless commanded to do so by the Lord. Many accounts attributed to Joseph in which he is supposed to have claimed that anyone else who viewed the plates would die originated with people who were hostile to Joseph and the Church. Significantly, Emma's statement makes no mention of the alleged penalty associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates.

Primary source: Joseph Smith's own words

Joseph Smith-History 1:42 describes the conditions under which Joseph was to handle the plates:

Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates, the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it. (emphasis added)

According to this, it was Joseph who risked destruction if he showed the plates to anyone unless explicitly commanded to do so by the Lord, not the person to whom he showed them.

Of course, we also have the testimony of the Three and Eight witnesses, who all viewed the plates without any threat of destruction.

The idea that God would "strike down" anyone who viewed the plates came from a hostile secondary source

Fawn Brodie claimed that Joseph told Martin Harris that God's wrath would strike him down if he examined the plates or looked at him while he was translating. This is supported by a second-hand source: Charles Anthon's statement regarding the visit of Martin Harris in Eber D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. Anthon stated:

I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon [Harris], and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the "curse of God" would come upon him should he do this. [30]

In the critical bookMormonism Unvailed, Peter Ingersoll and Sophia Lewis claimed that Joseph told them that anyone who viewed the plates would perish.

Peter Ingersoll was a hostile source. Here is what he claims that Joseph said to him:

...On my entering the house, I found the family at the table eating dinner. They were all anxious to know the contents of my frock. At that moment, I happened to think of what I had heard about a history found in Canada, called the golden Bible; so I very gravely told them it was the golden Bible. To my surprise, they were credulous enough to believe what I said. Accordingly I told them that I had received a commandment to let no one see it, for, says I, no man can see it with the naked eye and live. However, I offered to take out the book and show it to them, but they refuse to see it, and left the room." Now, said Jo, "I have got the damned fools fixed, and will carry out the fun." Notwithstanding, he told me he had no such book, and believed there never was any such book....(emphasis added)[31]

Here we have a statement alleged to have been made by Joseph Smith that "no man can see it with the naked eye and live." However, we also see that, according to Peter Ingersoll, Joseph came up with the entire idea of the "golden bible" on the spur of the moment as a way to have "fun." Then he claims that Joseph confided to him that the plates didn't actually exist at all. There are so many inconsistencies between this story and the statements of numerous other witnesses that one wonders if Peter Ingersoll was the one who was having some "fun" with his audience. Ingersoll can also be discredited on his claim that Joseph made the story up on the spot, because Joseph was telling various people about his Moroni visits well before recovering the plates (see for example various Knight family recollections).

Examining the testimony of Sophia Lewis we find:

SOPHIA LEWIS, certifies that she "heard a conversation between Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Rev. James B. Roach, in which Smith called Mr. R. a d-----d fool. Smith also said in the same conversation that he (Smith) was as good as Jesus Christ;" and that she "has frequently heard Smith use profane language. She states that she heard Smith say "the Book of Plates could not be opened under penalty of death by any other person but his (Smith's) first-born, which was to be a male." She says she "was present at the birth of this child, and that it was still-born and very much deformed."(emphasis added)[32]

Here we find that not only could the plates not be viewed by another person, but that the only person who could "open" them would be Joseph's first-born child. Sophia Lewis's testimony is suspicious however. Hezekiah M'Kune, Levi Lewis and Sophia Lewis went together to make their depositions before the justice. Their testimonies bear a remarkable similarity and contain the unique claim that Joseph claimed to be "as good as Jesus Christ." This claim is not related by any other individuals who knew the Prophet, suggesting that these three individuals planned and coordinated their story before giving their depositions. [33]

Joseph's wife Emma did not recall any specific threat of destruction associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates

It is interesting to note that Emma Smith, admittedly much closer to her husband Joseph than the hostile sources previously quoted, never mentioned a penalty for viewing the plates. In fact, in an interview with her son Joseph Smith III in 1879, the following conversation was recorded:

[Joseph Smith III} Q: I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?

[Emma Smith Bidamon] A. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so.

Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?

[Emma] A. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.

[JS III] Q. Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin, of the Book of Mormon?

[Emma] A. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity - I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.(emphasis added)[34]

Emma, therefore, did not recall any specific threat of destruction associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates.


Question: Were the Book of Mormon witnesses not neutral because they were members of the Church and believers in Joseph's mission?

The witnesses did not believe they had seen plates because they believed in the restoration; they believed in the restoration because they had seen plates

It is claimed that because the witnesses are "interested"—i.e., they were members of the Church and believers in Joseph's mission—they are therefore not reliable, since they cannot be "neutral" or "disinterested."

  • The critics have the sequence reversed: the witnesses did not believe they had seen plates because they believed in the restoration; they believed in the restoration because they had seen plates. It would be a strange witness if realizing the Joseph had actual plates and divine aid to translate them did not compel them to become members of the restored gospel.
  • As Pratt points out above, the Book of Mormon is something about which one cannot be neutral or disinterested—if one is convinced that it is what it claims to be, then this requires action.
  • Given that many witnesses were subsequently disaffected from Joseph Smith and the Church (some permanently), and yet never denied their witness, this attack has been robbed of much of whatever force it previously had. The disaffected witnesses had many reasons to be "interested" in denouncing Joseph Smith and the faith he founded. Yet, they did not—this argues for the reality of their experience and the sincerity of their witness despite any beliefs they had when they first gave it.
  • Why didn't Martin expose the Book of Mormon as a scam after he lost his investment?
  • Why didn't Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and some of the eleven witnesses expose Joseph as a fraud after they left the Church?
  • If they all knew together that it was a hoax, why didn't any one of them say anything?

Parley P. Pratt replied to this assertion, which was frequently the main means of dismissing the witnesses in early anti-Mormon writing:

Mr. L. complains of all the witnesses to the Book of Mormon being interested witnesses; that is, they are all followers of, and believers in, that system. But, I enquire, who would be a disinterested witness? If all Christendom were to see the original document, and be convinced of its truth, they would all see the original document, and be convinced of its truth, they would all be as much interested in it as those who first witnessed it. The Lord never chose a disinterested witness of his resurrection or any other truth. Would Mr. L. have a witness who would say the thing is true to be sure, but does not concern me, I purpose never to obey it myself, but to go down to hell, for the sake of giving others a disinterested testimony of its truth? But after all, the first witnesses to the Book of Mormon were not members of this church when they gave their testimony; for there was no such church in existence until some time after their testimony had been published.[35]

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 40. ISBN 0877478465.; the following quotes on Oliver are also taken from Anderson.
  2. William Lang, History of Seneca County (Springfield, Ohio, 1880), 365.
  3. "Letter from General W. H. Gibson," Seneca Advertiser (Tiffin, Ohio) 12 April 1892.
  4. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 96–98. ISBN 0877478465.
  5. “Several families . . .,” Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra, New York) (27 May 1831). off-site
  6. Pomeroy Tucker, Palmyra Courier (24 May 1872); cited by Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 104. ISBN 0877478465.
  7. Tanner and Tanner, "Roper Attacks Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?" 14.
  8. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 167–170. ISBN 0877478465.
  9. Matthew Roper, "Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 164–193. wiki; citing Letter of George A. Smith to Josiah Fleming, 30 March 1838, Kirtland, Ohio.
  10. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  11. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  12. David Whitmer, interview with Chicago Times (August 1875); cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:23.
  13. David Whitmer, Proclamation, 19 March 1881; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:69.
  14. David Whitmer, Interview with Chicago Tribune, 23 January 1888, printed in "An Old Mormon's Closing Hours," Chicago Tribune (24 January 1888); cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:209.
  15. David Whitmer, Interview, "The Last Witness Dead! David Whitmer, the aged Patria[r]ch, Gone to His Rest. His Parting Injunction to His Family and Friends. He Departs in Peace," Richmond (MO) Democrat (26 January 1888); cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:211.
  16. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (original draft posted on the critical website "FutureMissionary.com") (2013)
  17. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 251. (Affidavits examined)
  18. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 41.
  19. John A. Clark, Episcopal Recorder 18 (1840):94.
  20. Tucker, Mormonism, 52.
  21. Testimony of Martin Harris, dictated to Edward Stevenson, Sept. 4, 1870, Stevenson microfilm collection, after journal, vol. 32. Researchers are greatly indebted to descendant Joseph Grant Stevenson for locating and publishing this document in the Stevenson Family History (Provo, Utah: Stevenson Publishing Co., 1955), 1:163-64. Appreciation also goes to Max Parkin for reminding me of the item, no. 1043 in Davis Bitton, Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), p. 146. My text follows my rereading of the microfilm. Martin's view of being baptized right after the first two elders probably refers to events of April 6, 1830.
  22. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 169-170. ISBN 0877478465.
  23. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (original version posted on the critical website "FutureMissionary.com") (2013)
  24. Joseph Smith III visited David Whitmer in 1884, along with a committee from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and several onlookers. According to Joseph III's memoirs, one of the non-believers there was a military officer, who suggested the possibility that Whitmer "had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance or hallucination, which had deceived him into thinking he saw" the angel and the plates. Joseph III's recollection of Whitmer's response is quoted above. See Memoirs of Joseph Smith III, cited in Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, Joseph Smith III and the Restoration (Independence, MO: 1952), pp. 311-12. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 88. ISBN 0877478465.
  25. Alma L. Jensen, attested statement, Dayton, Ohio, 1 June 1936, L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
  26. Jacob F. Gates, "Testimony of Jacob Gates," Improvement Era no. 15 (March 1912), 418–419.
  27. Mark Twain, Roughing It, pages 107-115
  28. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Oliver Cowdery," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 3:338.
  29. Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1997), 208.
  30. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 272. (Affidavits examined)
  31. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 235-236. (Affidavits examined)
  32. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 269. (Affidavits examined)
  33. Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 128. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct link
  34. "Interview with Joseph Smith III", in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:542.
  35. Parley P. Pratt, A Reply to...“Complete Failure,”...and...“Mormonism Exposed,” (Manchester: W. R. Thomas, 1840), 1-9. off-site Full title