Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Seeing the Plates

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Did no one ever actually see the Gold Plates?

A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims


One Nation under Gods, page 53 (hardback and paperback)

The book makes the following assertion:

"Few people, except for Joseph's family, and the money-diggers, even believed the golden book truly existed. After all, no one had actually seen the plates, nor would anyone ever see them."

Author's Sources


Endnote 47, page 505-506 (hardback), page 503-504 (paperback)

[Citation of testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses. Both documents say the groups saw the plates; the Eight say they handled them.] Mormons have assumed that these statements mean that the individuals named actually saw the golden plates with their own eyes. However, numerous historical documents demonstrate that these men only saw through visionary experiences. None of them actually ever saw the plates with their natural sight in the same way anyone would be able to see or pick up a book on a table. . . . The Eight Witnesses only 'saw' the plates as long as they were covered with a cloth of some kind. . . . David Whitmer agreed that neither he, nor the other Three Witnesses, ever physically saw or handled the plates.


Question: Did no one ever actually see the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated?

The claim is nonsense: Statements by the Book of Mormon witnesses do not lend support to these interpretations

David Whitmer

An incident in the life of David Whitmer provides insight into the nature of the Three Witnesses' experience. "Rather suggestively [Colonel Giles] asked if it might not have been possible that he, Mr. Whitmer, had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived them into thinking he saw the personage-the angel-the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban. 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!'" (Joseph Smith III, et al., Interview, July 1884, Richmond Missouri, in Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 134-35).

In a letter that David Whitmer wrote he directly addressed the issue of his so-called 'visionary' experience. "In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us Three Witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say: Of course we were in the Spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time" (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast [Malad City, ID, n. p., 1888], 73-74).

Martin Harris

Martin Harris reports that prior to their experience the Three Witnesses received a "promise that we should behold [the plates] with our natural eyes, that we could testify of it to the world" (Ole A. Jensen, "Testimony of Martin Harris," 1-6, Brigham Young University, Special Collections, Provo, Utah).

When asked, "Are you sure you saw the angel and the records of the Book of Mormon in the form of gold plates?" Martin Harris replied, "Gentlemen," and he held out his right hand, "do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Or are your eyes playing you a trick or something? No. Well as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates. Brethren, I know I saw and heard these things, and the Lord knows I know these things of which I have spoken are true" (Deseret News, 2 October 1943, 6).

Oliver Cowdery

Oliver Cowdery told Jacob Gates in 1849, "'Jacob, I want you to remember what I say to you. I am a dying man, and what would it profit me to tell you a lie? I know,' said he, 'that this Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. 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" (Improvement Era, March 1912, 418-19).

The Eight Witnesses

In the Spring of 1832, Samuel H. Smith told a group of people that he was a witness of the Book of Mormon. "He knew his brother Joseph had the plates, for the Prophet had shown them to him, and he had handled them and seen the engravings thereon" (Daniel Tyler, Scraps of Biography [Salt Lake City, Juvenile Instructor Office 1883], 23).

Joseph Fielding wrote, "I visited Kirtland, the place where the Saints were, and conversed with brother Joseph Smith, and with his father and mother, and with many of the Saints. Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, gave me a particular description of the plates and of the Urim and Thummim, etc. My sister [the wife of Hyrum Smith] bears testimony that her husband has seen and handled the plates, etc.; in short I see no reason that anyone can have for rejecting this work" (Letter, dated 20 June 1841, Joseph Fielding to Parley P. Pratt, Millennial Star, vol. 2, no. 3, July 1841, 52-53).

John Whitmer said, "I desire to testify to all . . . that I have most assuredly seen the plates from whence the Book of Mormon is translated, and that I have handled these plates and know of a surety that Joseph Smith, Jr., has translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, and in this thing the wisdom of the wise most assuredly has perished" (Messenger and Advocate, vol. 2, no. 18, March 1836, 286).

When John Whitmer was asked, "Did you see [the plates] covered with a cloth?" he answered emphatically, "No. [Joseph Smith] handed them uncovered into our hands, and we turned the leaves sufficient to satisfy us" (Deseret News, 6 August 1878).

Notes