Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife)/Chapter 3

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Response to "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 3 - The Witnesses

A FairMormon Analysis of: For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife), a work by author: Anonymous
Chart LTMW witnesses.png

Response to claims made in "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 3 - The Witnesses

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Response to claim: "No scribe to the translation process (Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris or Emma Smith) was ever allowed to see the plates. Emma only felt the plates through a cloth on the table"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

During the translation process, Joseph was either behind a curtain or the plates sat on a table underneath a cloth in another room. No scribe to the translation process (Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris or Emma Smith) was ever allowed to see the plates. Emma only felt the plates through a cloth on the table.

Author's sources:
  1. By the Gift and Power of God, Elder Neal A. Maxwell January 1997 Ensign quoting David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness, ed. Lyndon W. Cook, [1991], p173) and (Joseph Smith III, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," pp289–90).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris were not allowed to see the plates during the translation process - they were allowed to see them later as members of the Three Witnesses.



Response to claim: "Why wouldn’t Joseph want anybody to see the plates?"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Why wouldn’t Joseph want anybody to see the plates?

Author's sources:
  1. "By the Gift and Power of God," Elder Neal A. Maxwell January 1997 Ensign quoting David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness, ed. Lyndon W. Cook, [1991], p 173.
  2. Joseph Smith III, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," pp 289–90.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph wanted to show others the plates, but he did not because the angel Moroni commanded him not to:

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 breast plate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. (History of the Church, Vol. 1, Chapter 2, p. 13.)

Once he was allowed to show the plates to the Three Witnesses, he was greatly relieved.

On coming in, Joseph threw himself down beside me, and exclaimed, ‘Father, mother, you do not know how happy I am: the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel, who has testified to them, and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul, that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world.’” (History of Joseph Smith, p. 152).

Response to claim: "Joseph describes how the men gained their witness of the plates in a purely visionary setting"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Joseph describes how the men gained their witness of the plates in a purely visionary setting.

Author's sources:
  1. History of the Church, vol.1, pp.54–55.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author wishes to emphasize a "purely" visionary setting, as if nothing in a vision or supernatural manifestation could be a part of reality. Yet the Three Witnesses, David Whitmer in particular, made many statements which clarified that they actually saw the plates with their own eyes.



David Whitmer (1884): "I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears"

David Whitmer's response when asked if he "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."

Whitmer was interviewed by Joseph Smith III, in the presence of others, not all of whom were disposed to believe his account. Significantly, he listed several items that he had seen, besides the golden plates:

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!"[1]


David Whitmer (1887): "We were in the spirit when we had the view...but we were in the body also"

David Whitmer helps clear up the “spiritual” vs. “natural” viewing of the plates. Responding to the interviewer who questioned Harris. Anthony Metcalf wrote:

In March 1887, I wrote a letter to David Whitmer, requesting him to explain to me the condition he was in when he saw the angel and the plates, from which the Book of Mormon is supposed to have been translated. In April, 1887, I received a letter from David Whitmer, dated on the second of that month, replying to my communication, from which I copy, verbatim, as follows:

‘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. Martin Harris, you say, called it ‘being in vision.’ We read in the Scriptures, Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God, Daniel saw an angel in a vision, also in other places it states they saw an angel in the spirit. A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon. I am now passed eighty-two years old, and I have a brother, J. J. Snyder, to do my writing for me, at my dictation.[2]


Response to claim: "Remember, the word “vision” means dream not reality"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Remember, the word “vision” means dream not reality"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

According the the 1828 Webster's Dictionary, the scriptural meaning of the word "vision" is the following:

In Scripture, a revelation from God; an appearance or exhibition of something supernaturally presented to the minds of the prophets, by which they were informed of future events. Such were the visions of Isaiah, of Amos, of Ezekiel, etc.

Dreams, such as Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life, can be visions as well. However, the author does not get to dismiss the reality of these visions by simply claiming that they are dreams.



Response to claim: "Why was prayer necessary to see the plates if they were in fact, a physical object?"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

It is important to note that Joseph never claimed to have carried the plates into the woods where they prayed. Did the angel go and get them from Joseph’s house and bring them into the woods? Praying to see the plates in the woods seems rather odd if Joseph actually possessed physical plates. Why was prayer necessary to see the plates if they were in fact, a physical object?

Author's sources:
  1. History of the Church, vol.1, pp.54–55.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Prayer was not necessary to see the plates: Joseph could have uncovered the plates at any time and shown them to the witnesses. However, he had been commanded not to do so. Prayer was necessary for the witnesses demonstrate their faith in order to see the angel Moroni, who then showed them the plates: This was a much more powerful witnesses of the divinity of the translation effort. Did the angel retrieve the plates from the current location at Joseph's house to show them to the witnesses? The obvious answer is "yes." There were other occasions as well where Moroni transported the plates somewhere during the time they were in Joseph's possession.

Response to claim: Regarding the gold plates, Martin Harris is claimed to have said that "the eight witnesses never saw them and hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason the eight witnesses never saw them and hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Stephen Burnett wrote the following to Lyman Johnson:

“I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church and weighed the evidence for and against it — loth to give it up — but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver [Cowdery] nor David [Whitmer] and also that the eight witnesses never saw them and hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason.

Author's sources:
  1. "Letterbook 2," p. 64, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 9, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letterbook-2/69

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author is willing to accept this second hand statement, yet ignores the many statements of the eight witnesses that they actually saw the plates. John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, wrote a lengthy letter to Mark Forscutt, which included the following:

I have never heard that any one of the three or eight witnesses ever denied the testimony that they have borne to the Book as published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. There are only two of the witnesses to that book now living, to wit., David Whitmer, one of the three, and John Wh[itmer], one of the eight. Our names have gone forth to all nations, tongues and people as a divine revelation from God. And it will bring to pass the designs of God according to the declaration therein contained.[3]





Question: Regarding the gold plates, did Martin Harris claim that "the eight witnesses never saw them and hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but they were persuaded to do it"?

"So those men said they stood by their testimony and so the testimony said they saw and handled, and I’m supposed to believe on this secondhand statement of a very hostile and angry man in Kirtland that Martin Harris said the eight witnesses admitted that they didn’t see or they only saw in a vision?"

Richard Lloyd Anderson responds to this claim,

I’m going to switch the subject to the eight witnesses. And the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon said that they had handled–the word is “hefted.” That’s interesting because in 1828 it probably has the connotation of measuring a weight, in other words, estimating the weight of something you’re lifting. They saw the curious characters–that had a connotation in a generation that knew Latin better than we do–curae in Latin is “care,” and curious actually has, as one of its senses in the nineteenth or eighteenth century, of being “carefully made” or “made with care.” So they said “we saw those engravings, we looked at them carefully, saw that they were made with care, lifted the plates, turned over the leaves,” etc.

This is what Burnett says about that experience, and I want you to keep in mind what I said about first and second-hand. He says “Martin Harris said that he saw the plates only with his natural eyes in vision…never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination, and that the eight witnesses never saw them and hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but they were persuaded to do it.”

There’s a lot of ways to interpret that. One of them is that they never saw the plates the at all; others that they saw the plates in a vision and didn’t really handle them and they were persuaded to make that statement.

I’m not sure that the eight witnesses made that statement. All eight of them never made that statement, I’ve got something like sixty times when those witnesses say essentially, “yes, what I wrote in the Book of Mormon was true.”

And I’m told by some of the books on this subject now, “oh, well, those statements are just pro forma public statements and we have to go find what really happened.” Well you know that’s like telling your teenage kid “what part of no do you not understand?” What part of ‘hefted’ and ‘seeing the curious characters’ don’t you understand?

And John Whitmer one time when he was asked, Joseph III did this, wrote to him and said “I want you to reiterate your testimony of seeing the plates.” According to the family John Whitmer wrote back and said “I’m not going to reiterate my testimony because I never quit bearing it,” in other words, “go see what I’ve said before.” Another missionary came to John Whitmer and he wrote this, that “what I have said in my testimony was true, is true and will be true for eternities to come.”

So those men said they stood by their testimony and so the testimony said they saw and handled, and I’m supposed to believe on this secondhand statement of a very hostile and angry man in Kirtland that Martin Harris said the eight witnesses admitted that they didn’t see or they only saw in a vision? [4]


John Whitmer (1876): "I have never heard that any one of the three or eight witnesses ever denied the testimony that they have borne to the Book as published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon"

In 1876, John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, wrote a lengthy letter to Mark Forscutt, which included the following:

Oliver Cowdery lived in Richmond, Mo., some 40 miles from here, at the time of his death. I went to see him and was with him for some days previous to his demise. I have never heard him deny the truth of his testimony of the Book of Mormon under any circumstances whatever. . . . Neither do I believe that he would have denied, at the peril of his life; so firm was he that he could not be made to deny what he has affirmed to be a divine revelation from God. . . .

I have never heard that any one of the three or eight witnesses ever denied the testimony that they have borne to the Book as published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. There are only two of the witnesses to that book now living, to wit., David Whitmer, one of the three, and John Wh[itmer], one of the eight. Our names have gone forth to all nations, tongues and people as a divine revelation from God. And it will bring to pass the designs of God according to the declaration therein contained.[5]

John Whitmer's character

"Mr. [John] Whitmer is considered a truthful, honest and law abiding citizen by this community, and consequently, his appointment [to preach] drew out a large audience. Mr. Whitmer stated that he had often handled the identical golden plates which Mr. Smith received from the angel...."[6]


Response to claim: Martin Harris is reported to have "said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Martin Harris is reported to have "said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a boxwith only a tablecloth or handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

When Harris said that "he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them," he was not referring to his experience as one of the Three Witnesses: He was referring to the time during the translation process during which he was not allowed to view the plates.

Question: Did Martin Harris claim that he only saw the gold plates as they were covered "as a city through a mountain"?

A letter from Stephen Burnett claims that Harris never saw the plates at all, and that he only saw them when they were covered with a cloth

The quote in question is from a letter from Stephen Burnett to "Br. Johnson" on 15 April 1838:

when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel...renounced the Book of Mormon...after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was...[7]

When Harris said that "he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them," he was not referring to his experience as one of the Three Witnesses

The comment about hefting the plates repeatedly while they were covered by a cloth refers to the period of time when he was assisting Joseph Smith in the translation - a time during which Harris was not allowed to view the plates. What is missing from Burnett's account is any mention of Harris stating that he saw the plates as one of the Three Witnesses. For years after Harris is said to have made the comment related by Burnett, he used clear language to assert that he had actually seen the plates. For example, Martin Harris said in the presence of 12-year-old William Glenn:

Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.[8]

Harris told Robert Aveson,

It is not a mere belief, but is a matter of knowledge. I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel, and he showed them unto me.[9]

George Mantle recalls what Martin Harris said while he was in Birmingham on a mission for the Strangites. This was well after Martin had left the Church:

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting that he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when he was asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: 'Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.'[10]

These statements are much clearer regarding Martin's experience with the place than Burnett's account of him claiming to have seen the plates while they were covered as a "city through a mountain".


Response to claim: John Whitmer "responded by saying 'I now say, I handled those plates...they were shown to me by a supernatural power'"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

On April 5, 1839 member of the Church, Theodore Turley, challenged John Whitmer, one of the 8 witnesses, to either affirm or deny his testimony regarding the gold plates. Whitmer responded by saying “I now say, I handled those plates...they were shown to me by a supernatural power.” (History of the Church, vol.3 p307). Why would a supernatural power be necessary if the plates actually existed?

Author's sources:
  1. History of the Church, vol.3 p. 307

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Question: Did John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, actually say that he saw the plates by a "supernatural power"?

The "supernatural power" quote is actually reported by Theodore Turley six years after getting the information from Whitmer

Some critics of the Restoration have focused on a single statement reportedly made by John Whitmer in 1839 to make it appear as though the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon did not have a physical encounter with the golden plates (as they so testified on the pages of the book itself), but rather a spiritual or visionary experience only. Detractors advocate this viewpoint in the hope of weakening the idea that the golden plates existed in objective reality and also to make it appear that the Witnesses themselves were delusional or hallucinatory and, therefore, should not be trusted to provide accurate testimony.

The key to properly understanding the nature of the alleged 1839 John Whitmer statement is to see it in its historical context. The quotation in question is not a contemporaneous declaration, but was instead reported by eyewitness Theodore Turley about six years after the information was relayed by Whitmer.[11] Three years prior to giving this verbal account, however, John Whitmer published a firsthand explanation of his experience. It is reproduced here because its content is crucial to analyzing the Turley reminiscence.

ca. 27 March 1836

“I desire to testify unto all . . . that I have most assuredly seen the plates from whence the Book of Mormon [was] 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.”[12]

It is plainly manifest in this primary source that John Whitmer not only saw the Book of Mormon plates without any hint of spiritual overtones but he also physically “handled” them. More importantly, for this discussion anyway, is the phraseology that Whitmer uses next. He indicates that he knew beyond doubt that Joseph Smith translated the plates “by the gift and power of God” – i.e., by a supernatural power.

Theodore Turley states that John Whitmer saw the plates by a "supernatural power"

Now for the Turley statement that is so dearly cherished by detractors of the faith. It reads:

5 April 1839

“[Theodore] Turley said, ‘Gentlemen, I presume there are men here who have heard [John] Corrill say, that Mormonism was true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and inspired of God. I now call upon you, John Whitmer: you say Corrill is a moral and a good man; do you believe him when he says the Book of Mormon is true, or when he says it is not true? There are many things published that they say are true, and again turn around and say they are false.’ Whitmer asked, ‘Do you hint at me?’ Turley replied, ‘If the cap fits you, wear it; all I know is that you have published to the world that an angel did present those plates to Joseph Smith.’ Whitmer replied: ‘I now say, I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides. I handled them;’ and he described how they were hung [on rings], and [said] ‘they were shown to me by a supernatural power;’ he acknowledged all.”[13]

Whitmer clearly states that he "saw and handled" the plates

At first glance it may appear that this statement scores significant points for the opposing team. But any ground that seems to be gained is effectively nullified by comparing this John Whitmer statement with another one made by him which was recorded by Myron Bond only about seven months after the information was verbalized. It reads:

21 December 1877–21 March 1878

“John Whitmer told me last winter . . . [that he] ‘saw and handled’ [the plates and] . . . helped to copy [the Book of Mormon manuscript] as the words fell from Joseph’s lips by supernatural or [A]lmighty power.”[14]

Again, John Whitmer testified that he “saw and handled” the golden plates without any spiritual or visionary overtones. He also used language with regard to the translation process that unmistakably matches what Theodore Turley reported in his late recollection. The connection in phraseology must not be overlooked - both quotations speak of a supernatural power. But the more recent reminiscence of Myron Bond matches the firsthand published information provided by John Whitmer in 1836. Both of these sources identify the supernatural power as the power of God which was manifest through the translation process. (And, since John was one of the scribes for Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon, it is not surprising that he would choose to repeatedly emphasize that the translation was done with divine aid. This aspect of his witness is conceptually distinct from his witness of the plates' reality.)


Question: What did the Book of Mormon witnesses mean when they used the word "supernatural" to describe their experiences?

The term "supernatural" is used as a synonym for "miraculous"

An early hostile account of the three witnesses' testimony from February 1830 is instructive:

In the Investigator, No. 12, Dec. 11, I published, by way of caution, a letter of Oliver H.P. Cowdry, in answer to my letter to Joseph Smith, Jun. Martin Harris, and David Whitmore—the believers in said bible of gold plates—which they affirm they have miraculously, or supernaturally beheld. I sought for evidences, and such as could not be disputed, of the existence of this bible of golden plates. But the answer was—the world must take their words for its existence; and that the book would appear this month.[15]

Clearly, the author here uses "supernatural" as a synonym for "miraculous," not an attempt to argue that the plates do not literally exist, since "their words" are intended as "evidences...for its existence."

Martin Harris was claimed to have "supernaturally" seen the plates and angel, yet he also insisted that the experience was tangible and literal

Furthermore, Martin Harris' testimony is reported in a mocking newspaper article, which still makes it clear that Harris' experience was tangible and literal:

Martin Harris, another chief of Mormon imposters, arrived here last Saturday from the bible quarry in New-York. He immediately planted himself in the bar-room of the hotel, where he soon commenced reading and explaining the Mormon hoax, and all the dark passages from Genesis to Revelations. He told all about the gold plates, Angels, Spirits, and Jo Smith.—He had seen and handled them all, by the power of God! [16]

John Whitmer, one of the eight witnesses, did not see an angel, but he did say that he "handled those plates." Yet, Whitmer was also said by Theodore Turley to have described the plates as being shown to him by a "supernatural power".

...all I know, you have published to the world that an angel did present those plates to Joseph Smith." Whitmer replied "I now say I handled those plates. there was fine engravings on both sides. I handled them." and he described how they were hung "and they were shown to me by a supernatural power." he acknowledged all. Turley asked him why the translation is not now true, & he said "I cannot read it, and I do not know whether it is true or not.[17]

In a letter written by Myron Bond in 1878, Whitmer is said to have "saw and handled" the plates:

John Whitmer told me last winter....[that he] 'saw and handled' [the plates and]....helped to copy [the Book of Mormon manuscript] as the words fell from Joseph’s lips by supernatural or almighty power[18]

Some who repeated John Whitmer's words may have conflated his "non-supernatural" experience in handling the plates with his "supernatural" experience of listening to Joseph dictate the Book of Mormon

Note that Bond describes how Whitmer helped to copy the manuscript as Joseph dictated the words "by supernatural or almighty power." It is possible that Theodore Turley's recollection conflated Whitmer's non-supernatural handling of the plates with the description of the translation process by a "supernatural" power.

Like Martin Harris, John Whitmer, when speaking in his own words, was very clear that he had physically handled the plates:

It may not be amiss in this place, to give a statement to the world concerning the work of the Lord, as I have been a member of this church of Latter Day Saints from its beginning; to say that the book of Mormon is a revelation from God, I have no hesitancy; but with all confidence have signed my named to it as such; and I hope, that my patrons will indulge me in speaking freely on this subject, as I am about leaving the editorial department. Therefore I desire to testify to all that will come to the knowledge of this address; 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: therefore, know ye, O ye inhabitants of the earth, wherever this address may come, that I have in this thing freed my garments of your blood, whether you believe or disbelieve the statements of your unworthy friend and well-wisher.[19]


Response to claim: "Josephsmithpapers.org published the original source document for the statements by the 3 and 8 witnesses that are printed in the beginning of the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Josephsmithpapers.org published the original source document for the statements by the 3 and 8 witnesses that are printed in the beginning of the Book of Mormon. Half way down the first page marks the beginning of the testimony of the 3 witnesses and concludes on the top of the second page with their signatures. The second page then contains the entire testimony of the 8 witnesses and their signatures.

Author's sources:
  1. Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, 1923 Photostatic Copies]

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The statements by the 3 and 8 witnesses appear on the last pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript, just as they appear on the last pages of the printed 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. The statements were not moved to the beginning of the Book of Mormon until a much later edition. That is why the witnesses signature page of the original manuscript didn't survive: It was damaged by water which destroyed the manuscript from the bottom up, leaving only 28 percent of the manuscript intact.

Response to claim: "Josephsmithpapers.org states that both statements and all signatures are in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Josephsmithpapers.org states that both statements and all signatures are in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. The official statements printed in the Book of Mormon are not dated, signed with original signatures, or given a specific location where the events occurred.

Author's sources:
  1. Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, 1923 Photostatic Copies]

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The "remains" of the original manuscript are in the possession of the Community of Christ, and they have been photographed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The document referred to by the author is indeed the Printer's Manuscript. It is entirely in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery because he copied the original and then the copied sheets were taken to the printer so that the originals sheets would not be lost. The original manuscript was buried in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. When it was removed years later, water had destroyed the sheets on the bottom. This included the sheets containing the witness signatures, since in the first edition of the Book of Mormon, the witness statements appeared at the back of the book, not at the front like they do today. Moreover, when David Whitmer was directly asked if the witnesses had signed their statements, he said, "Yes, we each signed his own name."



Question: Did the Three Witnesses each add their own signature to the original Book of Mormon manuscript?

David Whitmer (1878): "Yes, we each signed his own name"

According to David Whitmer, each of the Three Witnesses added their signatures to the original Book of Mormon manuscript:

In September, 1878, in company with Apostle Orson Pratt, the writer visited David Whitmer, at Richmond, Ray County, Missouri. In the presence of David. C. Whitmer, the son of Jacob, Philander Page, David J. Whitmer, son of David Whitmer, George Scheweich, Col. James W. Black, J. R. B. Van Cleave and some others, Father David Whitmer was asked if the three witnesses signed their own names to their testimony to the Book of Mormon? Father Whitmer unhesitatingly replied with emphasis:

"Yes, we each signed his own name."

"Then," said the questioner, "how is it that the names of all the witnesses are found here, (in D. W's manuscript) written in the same hand writing?"

This question seemed to startle Father Whitmer, and, after examining the signatures he replied:

"Oliver must have copied them."

"Then, where are the original documents?" was asked.

He replied, "I don't know."[20]

David Whitmer (1885): they "were present and ordered Oliver Cowdry [sic] to sign for them"

By 1885, in an interview with James Henry Moyle, Whitmer seems to have been clearer on how his copy of the manuscript came to be:

"The witnesses did Dav not sign the original manuscript though [they] were present and ordered Oliver Cowdry to sign for them."[21]

A footnote which accompanies this section reads:

Moyle himself noted in his diary, "The statement that the three witnesses did not sign the manuscript but that Oliver Cowdery signed for them and at their request is doubtless true as to the copy which David Whitmer had. The writing itself indicates that. Joseph Fielding Smith, church historian, says his father said that in his interview and that of Orson Pratt, David Whitmer admitted that the three witnesses signed the original manuscript." Whitmer was unaware that two manuscript copies of the Book of Mormon had been made and that the manuscript in his possession was the second copy that Cowdery had prepared for the printer.[22]


Question: What is the Book of Mormon "printer's manuscript" and why is it entirely in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery?

The printer's manuscript was copied from the original manuscript by Oliver Cowdery, including the witness statements

The printer's manuscript was created by Oliver Cowdery to carry to the printer so that the original manuscript would not be lost. This second manuscript is entirely in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery.

Most critics who make the claim that none of the witnesses signed their testimonies fail to note that one of the witnesses signatures on the printer's manuscript is genuine: that of Oliver Cowdery himself.

Critics of the Church also fail to note that David Whitmer, in fact, made a point of affirming that his testimony was true just as it was printed in the Book of Mormon.

Witness signature page from the Printer's Manuscript. This was a copy of the original manuscript made by Oliver Cowdery in order to take pages to the printer without the risk of losing the original pages. These signatures appeared at the back of the 1830 Book of Mormon rather than the front as they do in modern editions. Images of this item © Community of Christ and licensed to the Joseph Smith Papers Project. off-site (Interim content - may be removed in the future)


Response to claim: "Reportedly this source document is printer’s manuscript and the original was partially destroyed; however no remains can be found"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Reportedly this source document is printer’s manuscript and the original was partially destroyed; however no remains can be found.

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

It is not "reportedly" the Printer's Manuscript: It is 100% verified to be the Printers Manuscript. In addition, the "remains" of the original manuscript have certainly been found, are in the possession of the Community of Christ. About 28 percent of the original manuscript remains. The surviving fragments have been thoroughly examined and photographed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Question: What happened to the original Book of Mormon manuscript?

The original manuscript was placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House

Frederick Kessler stated that he observed Joseph Smith placing the manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House:

Further facts in relation to the manuscript of the Book of Mormon. I saw the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., hide up the above manuscript unto the Lord in the south-east corner of the Nauvoo House, Illinois. I stood within eight or ten feet of him, heard and saw what he said and did, on that important occasion, which I freely testify to all the world.

[Signed] FREDERICK KESSLER, SEN., Bishop of the Sixteenth Ward, Salt Lake City, Utah. October 12, 1878. [23]

The contents of the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House were the following:

The corner stone of the Nauvoo House was laid by President Joseph Smith on the 2nd of October, 1841, and the following articles were deposited therein by the President, to-wit:

A Book of Mormon; a revelation given January 19, 1841; The Times and Seasons, containing the charter of the Nauvoo House; Journal of Heber C. Kimball; the memorial of Lyman Wight to the United States Senate; a book of Doctrine and Covenants, the first edition; No. 35 of the Times and Seasons; The original manuscript of the Book of Mormon; The Persecutions of the Church in the State of Missouri, published in the Times and Seasons; the Holy Bible. Silver coins as follows: one half-dollar, one quarter-dollar, two dimes, two half-dimes, and one copper coin.[24]

Only 28 percent of the original manuscript survived

Additional photos of the fragments of the original manuscript that survived may be viewed in Dr. Royal Skousen's presentation "Restoring the Original Text of the Book of Mormon" (5 August 2010).

Royal Skousen describes what happened to the original manuscript,

28 percent of the original manuscript is extant. (In calculating this percentage, I exclude the 116 pages that were lost by Martin Harris in 1828.) In 1841 Joseph Smith placed the original manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House, a hotel being built in Nauvoo. And the manuscript lay there in the cornerstone for the next 41 years until in 1882 Lewis Bidamon, the second husband of Emma Smith’s, after her death, retrieved the manuscript. Most of it was severely damaged by water that had seeped in as well as by mold that ate away a lot of the manuscript. Bidamon gave most of the larger manuscript portions to LDS people, and so 25 of that 28 percent has ended up in the archives of the LDS Church. There is half a leaf at the University of Utah. And the equivalent of a leaf in fragments is held privately. Most important for this project has been the discovery of two percent of the text that Wilford Wood bought from Charles Bidamon, the son of Lewis Bidamon, in 1937....[Showing photos of the original manuscript] This is one of the fragments from 2 Nephi 7-8, all rolled up. First, it was unraveled, and you can see on the edges where the mold had eaten away parts of the leaf. You can also see the large water stain in the center, from water that had originally gotten into the cornerstone. After the fragment was leveled and photographed, you can see basically what it is. The text is in the hand of Oliver Cowdery; the ink was originally black and has turned brown over time. [25]

Fragment of original manuscript of the Book of Mormon showing Helaman 15 9-14. Photographs of original manuscript as presented in Royal Skousen's presentation are courtesy of David Hawkinson and Robert Espinosa reproduced by permission of the Wilford Wood Foundation. This image was used in Sarah Petersen, "BYU professor Royal Skousen concludes his discussion on changes to the Book of Mormon original text," Deseret News (19 March 2013). off-site


Response to claim: "No one has ever seen the plates, yet it seems as though they are still here on the Earth in a cave in the Hill Cumorah. Surely the Church must be in possession of the plates as there is a visitor’s center at the Hill Cumorah"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

No one has ever seen the plates, yet it seems as though they are still here on the Earth in a cave in the Hill Cumorah. Surely the Church must be in possession of the plates as there is a visitor’s center at the Hill Cumorah.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Despite the fact that some Church leaders believe it, the hill in New York in which the plates were deposited is cannot be the "Cumorah" referred to in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon states that all of the Nephite records were hidden in Cumorah except the plates which Moroni carried with him. It is never stated by Moroni where he buried the plates. There is no cave in the hill in New York.

Question: Does the Church authoritatively identify the location of the Hill Cumorah?

The Church has no official position on any New World location described in the Book of Mormon

First, it is not the case that the Church authoritatively identifies the drumlin in western New York as the same Hill Cumorah mentioned in the text of the Book of Mormon. The Church has made it abundantly clear that it does not endorse any particular view of Book of Mormon geography.

The Church has no official position on any New World location described in the Book of Mormon. There is no official revelation in the Church establishing the drumlin in New York as the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon where two nations were destroyed. It is true that a number of Church leaders in the past expressed the opinion that the hill in New York is the same hill described in the Book of Mormon. Whether that opinion was based on personal revelation to those individuals cannot be known. And even if so, personal testimony on points such as this are contradictory, and are not binding on the Church, regardless of how high the position was of the person making the assertion. Only new revelation following proper procedure, and being accepted by the Church as a whole as binding can clear up this point. Statements from Joseph Smith or others on geography are not binding on the Church, despite the claims of various theorists.

There is no clear indication that Joseph Smith ever applied the name "Cumorah" to the hill in New York

There is no clear indication that Joseph Smith ever applied the name "Cumorah" to the hill in New York:

At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. In his account in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name. In the Doctrine and Covenants the name 'Cumorah' only appears one time, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: 'And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah' (DC 128:20). No other uses of 'Cumorah' have been found in any other of Joseph Smith's personal writings. When this name does appear it has been added by later editors or is being quoted from another individual.[26]

A late account from David Whitmer is the earliest possible association of the name with the New York hill

A late account from David Whitmer is the earliest possible association of the name with the New York hill, though it is long after the fact:

When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned, wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man in a clear open place, who saluted us with "Good morning, it is very warm," at the same instant wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way, but he said very pleasantly, "No I am going to Cumorah." This was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant, and as I looked enquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again.[27]

Even this use of the term does not identify any specific site with Cumorah.


Question: Where is the Hill Cumorah?

Joseph Smith never used the name "Cumorah" in his own writings when referring to the gold plates' resting place

It is not clear exactly when the New York hill from which Joseph Smith retrieved the gold plates became associated with the name "Cumorah." Joseph Smith never used the name in his own writings when referring to the plates' resting place. The only use of it from his pen seems to be DC 128:20, which uses the phrase "Glad tidings from Cumorah!" In 1830, Oliver Cowdery referred to the records' location as "Cumorah," while preaching to the Delaware Indians, and by 1835 the term seems to have been in common use among Church members.[28]

Early Church leaders believed that the Book of Mormon took place on the entire North and South American continents

However, there is evidence that Joseph Smith and other Church leaders believed that the events of the Book of Mormon spanned the North and South American continents, that the isthmus of Panama was the "narrow neck" of land, and that the hill in New York was the "Cumorah" referred to in the Book of Mormon. Joseph wrote a letter to Emma during Zion's Camp in which he referred to "wandering over the plains of the Nephites." [29] Oliver Cowdery wrote in one of his letters to W.W. Phelps published in the Messenger and Advocate:

A history of the inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europeans by Columbus, must be interesting to every man; and as it would develope the important fact, that the present race were descendants of Abraham....[30]

Note that "this continent" refers to both North and South America; Columbus never set foot in the present day United States; he was confined to the the Caribbean, South America and Central America. (Click here for maps of Columbus' voyages.)

David Whitmer is not told that the hill from which Joseph received the record was called Cumorah, but this usage seems to have nevertheless become common within the Church

One reference comes from a later interview with David Whitmer, who recounted how Oliver Cowdery had written to him, asking for help to transport Joseph and Oliver from Harmony to the Peter Whitmer home in Fayette:

When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old-fashioned, wooden, spring seat and Joseph behind us; while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon and saluted us with, "Good morning, it is very warm," at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and, by a sign from Joseph, I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, "No, I am going to Cumorah." This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked around inquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again.[31]

Interestingly, Whitmer is not told that the hill from which Joseph received the record was called Cumorah, but this usage seems to have nevertheless become common within the Church. Given that Whitmer's reminiscence is late, and unsubstantiated by other contemporaneous accounts, some historians question its accuracy, especially in a detail such as the name of the Hill, which later became common Church usage.[32]

The Book of Mormon text indicates that the Hill Cumorah in which the Nephite records were hidden is not the same location as the one where Moroni hid his plates

Despite this early "identification" of the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon with the hill in New York, readers who studied the text closely would later conclude that they could not be the same.

In 1937–1939 Washburn and Washburn argued that the Nephite/Jaredite final battles at the Hill Cumorah were near the narrow neck of land, and thus unlikely to be in New York.[33] Thomas Ferguson was of the same view in 1947,[34]and Sidney Sperry came down on the side of a Middle America location in a 1964 BYU religion class,[35] though he had previously endorsed a New York location.[36]

Since the 1950s, opinion among Book of Mormon scholars has increasingly trended toward the realization that the Nephite Cumorah and the Hill in New York cannot be the same

Since the 1950s, opinion among Book of Mormon scholars has increasingly trended toward the realization that the Nephite Cumorah and the Hill in New York cannot be the same.[37] Elder Dallin H. Oaks recalled his own experience at BYU:

Here [at BYU] I was introduced to the idea that the Book of Mormon is not a history of all of the people who have lived on the continents of North and South America in all ages of the earth. Up to that time, I had assumed that it was. If that were the claim of the Book of Mormon, any piece of historical, archaeological, or linguistic evidence to the contrary would weigh in against the Book of Mormon, and those who rely exclusively on scholarship would have a promising position to argue.

In contrast, if the Book of Mormon only purports to be an account of a few peoples who inhabited a portion of the Americas during a few millennia in the past, the burden of argument changes drastically. It is no longer a question of all versus none; it is a question of some versus none. In other words, in the circumstance I describe, the opponents of historicity must prove that the Book of Mormon has no historical validity for any peoples who lived in the Americas in a particular time frame, a notoriously difficult exercise.[38]

There are 13 geographical conditions required for the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah

In 1981, Palmer identified 13 geographical conditions required for the Book of Mormon Hill Ramah/Cumorah:

  1. near eastern seacoast
  2. near narrow neck of land
  3. on a coastal plain and near other mountains and valleys
  4. one day's journey south of a large body of water
  5. an area of many rivers and waters
  6. presence of fountains
  7. water gives military advantage
  8. an escape route southward
  9. hill large enough to view hundreds of thousands of bodies
  10. hill must be a significant landmark
  11. hill must be free standing so people can camp around it
  12. in temperate climate with no cold or snow
  13. in a volcanic zone susceptible to earthquakes[39]

Clearly, the placement of Cumorah will greatly affect the map which results. Issues of distance, as discussed above, play a role here as well.

Some authors who have other views on the internal geography have directly disputed the validity of some of David Palmer's criteria for the ancient Cumorah.[40] The question of distance plays an important role in the skeptical views towards these criteria. If it is demonstrated that there is a greater distance between the narrow neck of land and Cumorah, for example, and there is a "northern hinterland" to the Nephite domain, then the questions of climate and so forth in these criteria are not going to apply necessarily to the hill Cumorah. Furthermore, the issues of height have been called into question as well.


Statements made by Church leaders or Church publications related to the "Hill Cumorah"

Summary: Church leaders have expressed a variety of opinions over the years regarding the location of the Hill Cumorah

Jump to Subtopic:


Nineteenth Century: Statements on Book of Mormon geography made during Joseph Smith's lifetime: 1829-1840

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Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith reject the theory that the final battlefield of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica rather than New York?

Joseph Fielding Smith, before he became President of the Church, argued for a New York location as the scene of the final battle

One review of this topic notes:

In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote an article published in the Deseret News arguing against what he then termed the "modernist" theory that the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites may have been in Central America rather than in New York. In 1956 this article was included in a selection of Elder Smith's writings compiled by his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie. Although Elder Smith would later become president of the church in 1970, his article arguing for a New York location as the scene of the final battlefield was written many years before he assumed that position, and he apparently never revisited the question as president of the church. There is evidence that Elder Smith may have softened his opposition on the Cumorah question. In a letter written to Fletcher B. Hammond, who argued emphatically for a Central American location and had sent Elder Smith a copy of his findings, the apostle explained, "I am sure this will be very interesting although I have never paid any attention whatever to Book of Mormon geography because it appears to me that it is inevitable that there must be a great deal of guesswork."  Apparently, he did not consider his 1938 argument as settled and definitive or as a measure of doctrinal orthodoxy.

Joseph Fielding Smith acknowledged that this was his opinion, and that others were entitled to their own opinions regarding this subject

Sidney B. Sperry, after whom an annual Brigham Young University symposium is named, was also one who initially supported the New York Cumorah view (that is, an area of New York as the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites). During the 1960s, as he began to explore the issue, he came to a different conclusion... Reversing his earlier position, he wrote: "It is now my very carefully studied and considered opinion that the Hill Cumorah to which Mormon and his people gathered was somewhere in Middle America. The Book of Mormon evidence to this effect is irresistible and conclusive to one who will approach it with an open mind. This evidence has been reviewed by a few generations of bright students in graduate classes who have been given the challenge to break it down if they can. To date none has ever been able to do so."  Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told him that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, "Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it." [41]

It seems clear, then, that Elder (later President) Smith did not regard his views as the product of revelation, nor did he regard it as illegitimate to have a different view of the matter.


John E. Clark, "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions,": "The hill the plates came from is not at issue; the question is whether this final resting place is the same hill where the ending battles occurred"

Things are rarely as simple as labels make them appear. For the past 50 years, some scholars have suggested that common Latter-day Saint usage of Cumorah confuses two different places and that the modest hill where Joseph Smith recovered the plates is not the eminence of the genocidal battles. Further, the Cumorah battlefield is seen by many scholars as the key for identifying the location of the ancient lands described in the book. Hence, much rests on its correct placement. All these observations lead to a paradox explored here: before archaeology can reveal Cumorah's secrets, it must first be employed to identify its location. The hill the plates came from is not at issue; the question is whether this final resting place is the same hill where the ending battles occurred. Many serious scholars have attempted to prove that the Palmyra hill was the battle hill, but to little avail, largely because they do not understand archaeology as an inexact science. They argue that the Palmyra hill and its surrounding area once had tons of convincing evidence that has long since been destroyed or carted away. —(Click here to continue) [42]


Question: Have any archaeological excavations ever been performed on the site of the Hill Cumorah in New York?

No actual archaeological digs have been performed at the site to actually attempt to find artifacts

Even if there is a chance that the drumlin in New York State is the Hill Cumorah, no actual archaeological digs have been performed at the site to actually attempt to find artifacts. Dirt has been overturned when it has been farmed, and also by equipment when structures have been built. Nobody went through the dirt with a fine-toothed comb. Only unofficial site surveys by non-professional people have been done there in recent years, without professional archaeological supervision, and without careful corroboration and documentation. Historical accounts of artifacts found at the site by farmers and so forth are only unsubstantiated folklore accounts. Even if true, the accounts show that the arrowheads that could be found were tampered with and carried away and sold. So there is nothing left but the accounts themselves, which are not archaeological evidence in themselves. And if arrowheads were found there, does that really prove that it was Cumorah? Arrowheads found at any location in the United States is an unremarkable thing to begin with, as they can be found all over the country in a great many sites. So even if things were found, it still wouldn't prove much.


Question: Did Moroni bury the gold plates in the Hill Cumorah referenced in the Book of Mormon?

The Book of Mormon does not state that the plates of Mormon were buried in the Hill Cumorah: All of the other records except the gold plates were buried there

The Book of Mormon does not state that the plates of Mormon were buried in the Hill Cumorah; in fact, it states that the plates were not buried in Cumorah at that time, but were given to Moroni to safeguard until it came time for them to be put in their ultimate place of deposit:

"And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon...made this record [the plates of Mormon] out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save [except] it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni." (Mormon 6:6) (emphasis added)

This demonstrates that the burial place of the rest of the plates from the people of the Nephites were buried at the hill where the Nephite destruction took place, the actual ancient Cumorah.

Moroni wandered for 36 years before burying the plates of Mormon

This took place in approximately A.D. 385. Moroni did not bury the plates of Mormon until A.D. 421. During this 36-year period Moroni explained:

"[The Lamanites] put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ. And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life." (Moroni 1:3)

During that 36-year wandering to escape the Lamanites, it seems likely that he could have traveled a great distance. If the Nephite Cumorah was not in New York, Moroni could easily have eventually come to modern New York state where he buried the plates. On the other hand, he could have easily remained in the general area of the Nephite destruction in his wanderings.


Michael J. Dorais (2004): "The Geologic History of Hill Cumorah"

Cumorah! The very mention of the name brings multiple images to the minds of Latter-day Saints. We commonly think of the coming forth of the golden plates under the direction of the angel Moroni and of the faithfulness of the Prophet Joseph Smith in fulfilling his mission. We may also think of the preparation of the plates themselves, from Nephi's making a second set of plates, whose ultimate purposes he knew not, to Moroni's final words engraved on that sacred record before he placed it in the Hill Cumorah. The preparation of the Smith family may come to mind as well, such as the fact that Joseph was born of righteous parents and thus was spiritually prepared to become the prophet of the restoration. Perhaps less thought goes to the climatic and financial difficulties that the Smith family experienced while living in New England, prompting them to move to New York in proximity to Cumorah, where a new dispensation would dawn. —(Click here to continue) [43]


Question: Are the large population counts described in the Book of Mormon during the final battle at the Hill Cumorah accurate?

Ancient militaristic texts, including those of the Bible, frequently exaggerated the numbers involved in battle for their own propagandistic purposes

A questionable premise is that the numbers recited in the text should be understood as accurate in the same sense we would understand those numbers today. Ancient militaristic texts, including those of the Bible, frequently exaggerated the numbers involved in battle for their own propagandistic purposes, or to simply convey the general concept of 'a very large number'. Very large numbers in the scriptures should always be taken with a grain of salt, since ancient authors (having their own purposes and approach) did not use such terms with the same precision as a modern military historian.

It has also been noted that "so-and-so and his 10,000" may use the term "10,000" as a designation for a military unit. Roman armies had "centuries" (or centuria) which were lead by a "centurion," which implies a hundred men. While such units originally had 100 men, the normal size of such units (even at full strength) was only 60–80 men.[44]

Interestingly, at the time of the Spanish Conquest, Bernal Diaz described Tlascalan armies in the same terms:

Of the followers of the old Xicotenga . . . there were ten thousand; of another great chief named Moseescaci there were another ten thousand; of a third, who was called Chichimecatecle, there were as many more....[45]

Without further information, it is difficult to know whether the Book of Mormon uses the term literally, in a symbolic/propagandist sense to convey a great number of dead, or as a technical military term familiar to Mormon and Moroni but opaque to the modern reader.


Question: Is there a cave in the Hill Cumorah containing the Nephite records?

Brigham Young related a story about how the plates were returned to Moroni in a cave in the Hill Cumorah

On June 17, 1877, Brigham Young related the following at a conference:

I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family. Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: "This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ." [46]

The geologic unlikelihood of a cave existing within the drumlin in New York called "Hill Cumorah" suggests that the experience related by the various witnesses was most likely a vision

There are at least ten second hand accounts describing the story of the cave in Cumorah, however, Joseph Smith himself did not record the incident. [47] As mentioned previously, the Hill Cumorah located in New York state is a drumlin: this means it is a pile of gravel scraped together by an ancient glacier. The geologic unlikelihood of a cave existing within the hill such as the one described suggests that the experience related by the various witnesses was most likely a vision, or a divine transportation to another locale (as with Nephi's experience in 1 Nephi 11:1). John Tvedtnes supports this view:

The story of the cave full of plates inside the Hill Cumorah in New York is often given as evidence that it is, indeed, the hill where Mormon hid the plates. Yorgason quotes one version of the story from Brigham Young and alludes to six others collected by Paul T. Smith. Unfortunately, none of the accounts is firsthand. The New York Hill Cumorah is a moraine laid down anciently by a glacier in motion. It is comprised of gravel and earth. Geologically, it is impossible for the hill to have a cave, and all those who have gone in search of the cave have come back empty-handed. If, therefore, the story attributed to Oliver Cowdery (by others) is true, then the visits to the cave perhaps represent visions, perhaps of some far distant hill, not physical events.[48]

Given that the angel Moroni had retrieved the plates from Joseph several times previously, it is not unreasonable to assume that he was capable of transporting them to a different location than the hill in New York. As Tvedtnes asks, "If they could truly be moved about, why not from Mexico, for example?"[48]


Cameron J. Packer (2004): "Joseph Smith and others returned the plates to a cave in the Hill Cumorah after he finished translating them"

The Hill Cumorah's significance in the restoration of the gospel goes beyond its being the ancient repository of the metal plates known as the Book of Mormon. In the second half of the 19th century, a certain teaching about a cave in the hill began surfacing in the writings and teachings of several leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In their view, the hill was not only the place where Joseph Smith received the plates but also their final repository, along with other sacred treasures, after the translation was finished. According to some of those leaders, Joseph Smith and others returned the plates to a cave in the Hill Cumorah after he finished translating them. At least 10 different accounts, all secondhand, refer to this cave and what was found there. —(Click here to continue) [49]


Notes

  1. Interview with Joseph Smith III et al. (Richmond, Missouri, July 1884), originally published in The Saints' Herald (28 January 1936) and reprinted in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 134—35, emphasis in the original. Cited in Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations. Also quoted in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), p. 88.
  2. Letter of David Whitmer to Anthony Metcalf, March 1887. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Indiana: 1888): 73-4; in David Whitmer Interviews. A Restoration Witness. Lyndon W. Cook, Editor (Grandin Books, Orem, Utah, 1991): 246-7 Quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:193. Also quoted in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), p. 86.
  3. Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  4. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Explaining Away the Book of Mormon Witnesses," Proceedings of the 2004 FAIR Conference.
  5. Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  6. "I.C. Funn," [John Whitmer Testimony], Kingston (MO) Sentinel, ca. January 1878, reprinted in Saints' Herald 25 (15 February 1878): 57; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:245.
  7. Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2
  8. Statement of William M. Glenn to O. E. Fischbacher, May 30, 1943, Cardston, Alberta, Canada, cited in Deseret News, Oct. 2, 1943. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 116. ISBN 0877478465.
  9. Robert Aveson, "Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon," Deseret News, Apr. 2, 1927. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 116. ISBN 0877478465.
  10. Letter of George Mantle to Marietta Walker, Dec. 26, 1888, Saint Catherine, Mo., cited in Autumn Leaves 2 (1889):141. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 112-113. ISBN 0877478465.
  11. “Memorandums,” 1845, handwriting of Thomas Bullock, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  12. John Whitmer, "To the patrons of the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate," (March 1836) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:287.
  13. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:307–308. Volume 3 link
  14. Saints’ Herald 25/16 (15 August 1878): 253; letter written by Myron Bond in Cadillac, Michigan on 2 August 1878.
  15. C. C. Blatchley, “Caution Against the Golden Bible,” New-York Telescope 6, no. 38 (20 February 1830): 150. off-site
  16. Martin Harris . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) 2, no. 39 (15 March 1831).
  17. "Theodore Turley's Memorandums," Church Archives, handwriting of Thomas Bullock, who began clerking in late 1843; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:241.; see also with minor editing in Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:307–308. Volume 3 link
  18. Saints’ Herald 25/16 (15 August 1878): 253; letter written by Myron Bond in Cadillac, Michigan on 2 August 1878.
  19. John Whitmer, "Address To the patrons of the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate," (March 1836) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:286-287. (italics added)
  20. "The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era, vol. 3, no. 1, (Nov. 1899), 61-65.
  21. James Henry Moyle, diary, 28 June 1885, Vogel, EMD 5:141
  22. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:141-142, footnote 8.
  23. "The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era, vol. 3, no. 1, (Nov. 1899), 61-65.
  24. Statement "from the early records of the Church, which were kept by his private secretary under the immediate direction and supervision of the Prophet Joseph Smith himself," cited in "The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era, vol. 3, no. 1, (Nov. 1899), 61-65.
  25. Royal Skousen, "Restoring the Original Text of the Book of Mormon," 2010 FAIR Conference (August 2010).
  26. Rex C. Reeve, Jr., and Richard O. Cowan, "The Hill Called Cumorah," in Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Susan Easton Black, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: New York and Pennsylvania (Provo: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992), 73–74.
  27. David Whitmer interview with Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt; version recorded in Joseph F. Smith, Diary, 7-8 September 1878, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 5:41–49.
  28. Rex C. Reeve, Jr., and Richard O. Cowan, "The Hill Called Cumorah," in Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Susan Easton Black, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: New York and Pennsylvania (Provo: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992), 73–74.
  29. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, [original edition] (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1984). ISBN 0877479747. GL direct link
  30. Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, "Letter VII," (July 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:155-159. off-site
  31. Interview with David Whitmer [conducted 7–8 September 1878 in Richmond, Missouri], "Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith," Millennial Star 40 (9 December 1878), 771–774.
  32. Martin H. Raish, "Encounters with Cumorah: A Selective, Personal Bibliography," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1 (2004): 38–49. off-site wiki
  33. Jesse A. Washburn and Jesse N. Washburn, From Babel to Cumorah (Provo, UT: New Era Publishing, 1937).
  34. Thomas S. Ferguson, Cumorah—Where? (Independence, MO: Press of Zion's Print. & Publishing Company, 1947).
  35. Sidney B. Sperry, Handout, Religion 622 (31 March 1964); published in Sidney B. Sperry, "Were There Two Cumorahs?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/1 (1995): 260–268. off-site wiki
  36. Sidney B. Sperry, The Book of Mormon Testifies (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), 335–336. Sperry would later write: "In this volume I have reversed my views, held many years ago, that the Hill Cumorah, around which the last great battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place, was in the State of New York. The book of Mormon data are very clear and show quite conclusively that the Hill (Ramah to the Jaredites) was in the land of Desolation, somewhere in Middle America. I have summed up my arguments and conclusions in connection with the discussion of Mormon, Chapter 6. My conclusions have been tested in a number of classes of graduate students who were challenged to demonstrate their falsity. Up to the present time, no one has done so. The Hill Cumorah in New York, from which the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the Nephite plates, may have been so named by Moroni in commemoration of the Cumorah in the land of Desolation, around which his father and fellow Nephites lost their lives in their last struggles with the Lamanites." - Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 6–7.
  37. See, for example, John E. Clark, "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1 (2004): 144–151. off-site wiki; John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]),14–16.
  38. Dallin H. Oaks, "Historicity of the Book of Mormon," Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies Annual Dinner Provo, Utah, 29 October 1993; cited in Dallin H. Oaks, "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon," (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1994), 2-3. Reproduced in Dallin H. Oaks, "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon," in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001), 237–48.
  39. David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Bountiful: Horizon, 1981), 28–72.
  40. See Andrew H. Hedges, Cumorah and the Limited Mesoamerican Theory off-site and see also Edwin Goble, Resurrecting Cumorah, Second Revised Edition, May 2011.
  41. Matthew Roper, "Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist "Movement" and the Book of Mormon (A review of "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America" by: Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum)," FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 87–124. off-site wiki
  42. John E. Clark, "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13:1-2.
  43. Michael J. Dorais, "The Geologic History of Hill Cumorah," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13:1-2 (2004)
  44. A. Brent Merrill, "Nephite Captains and Armies," in Ricks and Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 270. Reference cited is Graham Webster, The Roman Imperial Army (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1969). http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1108&index=13
  45. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Bernal Diaz Chronicles, trans. and ed. A. Idell (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1956), 161–162, 110, 103; cited in John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]), 263. GL direct link
  46. Brigham Young, "TRYING TO BE SAINTS, etc.," (June 17, 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:38.
  47. Cameron J. Packer, "Cumorah's Cave," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1 (2004): 50–57. off-site wiki
  48. 48.0 48.1 John A. Tvedtnes, "Review of Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon by Brenton G. Yorgason," FARMS Review of Books 2/1 (1990): 258–259. off-site
  49. Cameron J. Packer, "Cumorah's Cave," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13:1-2 (2004)