Criticism of Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink/The Witnesses

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Response to MormonThink page "The Witnesses"


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Summary: If you would like to read all of the source quotes without wading through all of the "Critic's comments," "Apologetic rebuttals" and "Our Thoughts" sections, we present the critical web page as it would appear if only the source quotes were provided without any additional commentary. We also try to provide accurate references and direct links to the original source text rather than simply linking to other websites where you have to search for them.

Response to claim: "The witnesses' experiences may have only been visionary in nature"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The witnesses' experiences may have only been visionary in nature. There are many statements given by the witnesses that indicate they only saw the angel and the plates in a visionary experience. Why would people need to see real, physical plates in a vision or a real angel that was physically on the earth?

FairMormon Response

Question: Did the three witnesses's experience of seeing the plates and the angel take place only in their minds?

The Three Witnesses were very explicit that they had actually seen the angel and the plates

Some critics suggest that the witnesses’ encounter with the angel and the plates took place solely in their minds. They claim that witnesses saw the angel in a “vision” and equate “vision” with imagination. To bolster this claim they generally cite two supposed quotes from Martin Harris. Supposedly Harris was once asked if he saw the plates with his “naked eyes” to which he responded, “No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.”[1] In another interview Harris allegedly claimed that he only saw the plates in a “visionary or entranced state.”[2]

Oliver Cowdery wrote explicitly for himself and Martin Harris when he replied, in a November 1829 letter, to questions about whether "juggling" (i.e., trickery or conjuring) could have explained what they saw:

"It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye."[3]

Critics impose their own interpretation on phrases that do not match what the witnesses reported in many separate interviews. When challenged on the very point which the critics wish to read into their statements—their literal reality—both Harris and the other witnesses were adamant that their experience was literal, real, and undeniable. As early convert William E. McLellin reported:

"D[avid] Whitmer then arose and bore testimony to having seen an Holy Angel who had made known the truth of this record to him. [A]ll these strange things I pondered in my heart."[4]

David Whitmer's gravestone, upon which is engraved his testimony of the Book of Mormon: "The record of the Jews and the record of the Nephites are one."

Question: Does the belief that the experience had visionary qualities contradict the claim that the plates were real?

For Joseph, the Witnesses, and the Saints, "spiritual" does not imply something other or less than "material" or "literal"; it means something additional.

Does “visionary” mean “imaginary?” The critics who resort to this tactic to discredit the witnesses are often secularists—as such, they consider any talk of the spiritual as delusion or imagination. Yet, their understanding of such terms does not match how Martin and the other witnesses meant them.

Consider: on separate occasions Harris also claimed that prior to his witnessing the plates he held them (while covered) “on his knee for an hour and a half”[5] and that they weighed approximately fifty pounds.[6] It seems unlikely– from his physical descriptions as well as his other testimonies and the testimonies of the other two witnesses—that he meant to imply that the entire experience was merely in his mind.

A second account claims that the two witnesses' accounts differed, but makes it clear that both Harris and Whitmer had at some point physically handled and examined the plates:

Whitmar’s [sic] description of the Book of Mormon, differs entirely from that given by Harris; both of whom it would seem have been of late permitted, not only to see and handle it, but to examine its contents. Whitmar relates that he was led by Smith into an open field, on his father’s farm near Waterloo, when they found the book lying on the ground; Smith took it up and requested him to examine it, which he did for the space of half an hour or more, when he returned it to Smith, who placed it in its former position, alledging that the book was in the custody of another, intimating that some Divine agent would have it in safe keeping.[7]

Critics are again accustomed to seeing "spiritual" as either implying something totally "Other" from physical, tangible reality, or as something delusional. But, Joseph Smith and his contemporaries in the Church did not understand things in such a way. As Joseph was to later write:

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; 8 We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.(DC 131:7-8.)


Martin Harris said that "He had seen and handled them all"

An early hostile account of Martin Harris' testimony in 1831 makes it clear that Harris' listeners got the message that the experience was literal, though done by God's power. The Painseville Telegraph published the following on 15 March 1831:

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![8]


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.[9]


Painesville Telegraph (1830): "The name of the person here, who pretends to have a divine mission, and to have seen and conversed with Angels, is Cowdray"

Painesville Telegraph, 16 November 1830:

About Two weeks since some persons came along here with the book, one of whom pretends to have seen Angels, and assisted in translating the plates. He proclaims the destruction upon the world within a few years,--holds forth that the ordinances of the gospel, have not been regularly administered since the days of the Apostles, till the said Smith and himself commenced the work . . . . The name of the person here, who pretends to have a divine mission, and to have seen and conversed with Angels, is Cowdray.”[10]


Martin Harris: "As sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates"

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.[11]


Edward Stevenson (1870): Martin Harris said "my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel"

Elder Edward Stevenson reported in 1870:

On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, ‘Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?’ ‘No,’ said Martin, ‘I do not believe it.’ The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, ‘Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day.” [12]


Martin Harris: "The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard"

George Godfrey, and Martin Harris's response to him, after Godfrey suggested that Harris had been deceived:

A few hours before his death and when he was so weak and enfeebled that he was unable to recognize me or anyone, and knew not to whom he was speaking, I asked him if he did not feel that there was an element at least, of fraudulence and deception in the things that were written and told of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and he replied as he had always done so many, many times in my hearing the same spirit he always manifested when enjoying health and vigor and said: ‘The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.[13]


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!"[14]


Response to claim: "There are also several statements saying that the only time they saw the plates was when the plates were covered in a cloth or tow frock"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

There are also several statements saying that the only time they saw the plates was when the plates were covered in a cloth or tow frock.

FairMormon Response

Question: Did one of the Book of Mormon witnesses actually only handle the plates while they were covered in a "tow frock"?

William Smith, who was not one of the Three or Eight Witnesses, described handling the plates covered by a "tow frock" when Joseph brought them home from the Hill Cumorah

It is claimed by some that at least one of the Book of Mormon witnesses said they only handled the plates while they were covered in a "tow frock," and that this is evidence that the witnesses were simply imagining that they saw the plates because they believed in "second sight."

All of the statements regarding seeing the plates covered by a "tow frock" come from one person: William Smith. William was Joseph Smith's older brother, but he was not one of the Three or Eight Book of Mormon witness. William is instead describing his experience when Joseph brought the plates home from the hill later known as "Mormon Hill" and ultimately, "Hill Cumorah." Joseph had wrapped the plates in a frock in order to keep them from being seen. William was allowed to handle the plates while they were still wrapped in the frock.

Critics of the Church who employ this statement as evidence do not reveal that this report is actually from William Smith and instead attempt to portray Williams description of handling the plates as coming from one of the Three or Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. They also fail to tell us that William insisted in the same statement that he was convinced Joseph was not lying about the plates. William also dismissed the Spalding hypothesis of Book of Mormon authorship as nonsense.

William Smith's statement actually confirms that Joseph did have something in his possession that fit the dimensions, form, and weight of the plates he claimed to have. So William, although not a direct witness, is an accessory who confirms Joseph Smith's story.


William Smith (1883): "he escaped to the house and brought the plates with him, wrapped up in a tow frock. He could not permit us to see them, because he said the angel told him not to do so"

William Smith describes when his brother Joseph first brought the plates home:

During this four years, I spent my time working on the farm, and in the different amusements of the young men of my age in the vicinity. I was quite wild and inconsiderate, paying no attention to religion of any kind, for which I received frequent lectures from my mother and my brother Joseph. He occupied himself part of the time working on the farm, and part of the time in Pennsylvania where he courted a young lady by the name of Emma Hale, whom he afterwards married. At the end of the appointed time he went and obtained the plates which were pointed out to him by the angel. The story being noised abroad, he was pursued while on his way home with the plates, by two persons who desired to obtain the possession of the plates to convert them into money. However, he escaped to the house and brought the plates with him, wrapped up in a tow frock. He could not permit us to see them, because he said the angel told him not to do so, and he was determined to obey strictly this time; for he had disobeyed before and was compelled to wait four years before he could come into possession of the plates.[15]

This report that they were not allowed to see the plates applies only to when Joseph first brought the plates home. Joseph's father and two of his brothers (Hyrum and Samuel) were to be allowed to see them, and William says so explicitly later in the same work.

After the work of translation, William says:

He then showed the plates to my father and my brothers Hyrum and Samuel, who were witnesses to the truth of the book which was translated from them. I was permitted to lift them as they laid in a pillow-case; but not to see them, as it was contrary to the commands he had received.


William Smith (1884): "When the plates were brought in they were wrapped up in a tow frock. My father then put them into a pillow case. Father said, 'What, Joseph, can we not see them?'"

William Smith describes how his family was not allowed to see the plates:

The time to receive the plates came at last. When Joseph received them, he came in and said: "Father, I have got the plates." All believed it was true, father, mother, brothers and sisters. You can tell what a child is. Parents know whether their children are truthful or not. The proof of the pudding is not in chewing the string, but in eating the pudding. Father knew his child was telling the truth. When the plates were brought in they were wrapped up in a tow frock. My father then put them into a pillow case. Father said, "What, Joseph, can we not see them?" "No. I was disobedient the first time, but I intend to be faithful this time; for I was forbidden to show them until they are translated, but you can feel them." We handled them and could tell what they were. They were not quite as large as this Bible. Could tell whether they were round or square. Could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him). One could easily tell that they were not a stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood. Being a mixture of gold and copper, they were much heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood. [16]


William Smith (1893): "I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds"

William Smith describes the physical characteristics of the plates:

Bro. Briggs then handed me a pencil and asked Bro. Smith if he ever saw the plates his brother had had, from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

He replied, "I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds. I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back. Their size was as described in mother's history."

Bro. Briggs then asked, "Did any others of the family see them?"

"Yes," said he; "Father and my brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock. So did Hyrum and others of the family."

"Was this frock one that Joseph took with him especially to wrap the plates in?"

"No, it was his every day frock such as young men used to wear then."

"Din't [sic] you want to remove the cloth and see the bare plates?" said Bro. B[riggs].

"No," he replied; "for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and Joseph, putting his hand on them said; "No, I am instructed not to show them to any one. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again." Besides we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did before."5

"Did you not doubt Joseph's testimony sometimes?" said Bro. Briggs.

"No," was the reply. "We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and mother believed him, why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That Father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that [p.512] belief shows that he was truthful. No sir, we never doubted his word for one minute." [17]

William again insists that despite not seeing the plates, he and the others were convinced that Joseph had them. He talks of the future witnesses (Hyrum, Samuel, and his father) seeing through the cloth--but only when Joseph first brought them home. He includes himself and the rest of the family in this group. He is not talking about the three and eight witnesses' experience at all.


Response to claim: "God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to separate myself from among the Latter-day Saints"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

David Whitmer said "If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to separate myself from among the Latter-day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so should it be done unto them." So which statement was David Whitmer lying about or had been mistaken about? Either way he doesn't sound like a completely trustworthy witness.Provenance of this claim:Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, 97

FairMormon Response

Question: Did God tell David Whitmer to leave the Church and repudiate Mormonism?

God told David Whitmer to leave Far West one month after he had already been excommunicated from the Church

David Whitmer, one of the Book of Mormon's Three Witnesses, said:

If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to "separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, should it be done unto them."[18]

and

In June, 1838, at Far West, Mo., a secret organization was formed, Doctor Avard being put in as the leader of the band; a certain oath was to be administered to all the brethren to bind them to support the heads of the church in everything they should teach. All who refused to take this oath were considered dissenters from the church, and certain things were to be done concerning these dissenters, by Dr. Avard's secret band. I make no farther statements now; but suffice it to say that my persecutions, for trying to show them their errors, became of such a nature that I had to leave the Latter Day Saints; and, as I rode on horseback out of Far West, in June, 1838, the voice of God from heaven spake to me as I have stated above.[19]

God did not tell Whitmer to repudiate Mormonism

The quotations cited by the critics are taken from a pamphlet written by David Whitmer near the end of his life. In this pamphlet, called An Address to All Believers in Christ, Whitmer strongly reiterates his testimony of the Book of Mormon and his experience seeing the angel as one of the three witnesses. He then goes on to outline in detail his disagreements with the church and with Joseph Smith, Jr. It was because of these disagreements that Whitmer was ultimately excommunicated. When God told him to leave Far West, he had not been a member of the Church for weeks. God did not tell Whitmer to repudiate Mormonism.

Whitmer's safety in Far West may have been at risk after his excommunication

However, since he remained among the Saints during the month after he was excommunicated, he was at potential risk of harm. Whitmer announced that "the voice of God" told him to "separate [him]self from among the Latter Day Saints" in June 1838, after the formation of Sampson Avard's secret vigilante group. David Whitmer had been excommunicated from the Church more than a month earlier, and his only continued association with the Saints was the fact that he was still living among them in Far West.

Whitmer was not instructed to leave the Church or "repudiate Mormonism," he was instructed (by God) to leave Far West after he was already excommunicated. This was arguably a very prudent course, both for Whitmer's safety and the integrity of the Restoration witnesses. Whitmer's witness of the Book of Mormon and seeing the angel is much more powerful since he forcefully maintained it even after he left the Church and disagreed with Joseph Smith.


Question: How can we accept David Whitmer as a valid Book of Mormon witness if God told him to leave the Saints?

While God would not force Whitmer to remain in the Church, He could take steps to ensure that Whitmer was safe from harm

It is claimed that if members accept Whitmer's witness of the Book of Mormon,[20] then they must also accept that God wanted David to repudiate the Church as false. Brent Metcalfe asserts the following:

Contemporary Mormons are left to confront Whitmer's challenge: believe that God confirmed the Book of Mormon translation and later instructed him to repudiate Mormonism or reject his testimony in toto. For Whitmer there was no distinction between the two experiences.[21]

Both Whitmer's experience as a witness and his prompting to leave Far West can be inspired of God

Believing Latter-day Saints have no trouble seeing both of Whitmer's revelatory experiences as inspired of God. While God would not force Whitmer to remain in the Church, He might well take steps to ensure that the Three Witnesses remained alive. In fact, Whitmer's fidelity to his testimony despite great disagreements with Joseph and the Church strengthen its force.

It is disingenuous for critics to imply Whitmer did not leave the Church until God "told him to."


Question: When did God tell David Whitmer to separate himself from the Latter-day Saints?

Whitmer claimed no revelation from God at the time that he was excommunicated

Whitmer's excommunication occurred on 13 April 1838.[22] Whitmer refused to appear at the council meeting that severed him from the Church; he wrote:

to spare you any further trouble I hereby withdraw from your fellowship and communion—choosing to seek a place among the meek and humble, where the revelations of heaven will be observed and the rights of men regarded.[23]

Whitmer here says that he will withdraw from the Church—this would have been an excellent opportunity for him to invoke a "revelation" telling him to leave the Church, but he did not. This is not surprising, since he does not report hearing the voice until June, at least six weeks later.

Thus, when he reports being told by God to "separate himself from among" the members of the Church, Whitmer was already out of the Church, but still living in Far West among members of the Church.

Whitmer's decision to leave Far West was a wise one, since it preserved his safety

Whitmer's decision to leave Far West was arguably a wise one. Tensions were high, and there were threats of violence against apostates (including Whitmer, who had been very prominent) from people like Sampson Avard.[24]

It was vital for the restoration that the Three Witnesses remain faithful to their testimonies of the Book of Mormon (which Whitmer did). Had Whitmer been killed in Far West in 1838, critics could forever after claim that he was a witness who would have recanted, but that he was killed by "the Mormons" to prevent him from speaking his mind.

Despite his disagreements with Joseph Smith and the Church, Whitmer maintained his testimony of the Book of Mormon

The decision to leave Far West—which Whitmer attributed to a divine voice—meant that Whitmer was kept safe. He lived longer than any witness, and never returned to the Church. Yet, he insisted to his death on the reality and truth of his statement as one of the Witnesses, and in the Book of Mormon's divine origin. And, the Saints (both those guilty of illegitimate violence, and the innocent who suffered because of their acts) did have it "done unto them" as they had plotted to do against Whitmer and other apostates: the Saints were eventually killed or driven from Missouri by violence.[25]


Response to claim: "All the witnesses had close ties to Joseph and his family"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

All the witnesses had close ties to Joseph and his family. Some like Martin Harris had a substantial financial investment in the success of the Book of Mormon.

FairMormon Response

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.[26]


Response to claim: "Some of the witnesses, especially Martin Harris, were easily swayed by tales of the supernatural, especially in a religious context"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

These men lived in the early 1800s and believed in magical things like many people did during that time period such as divining rods, second sight, magic, dreams, seer stones, etc. Some of the witnesses, especially Martin Harris, were easily swayed by tales of the supernatural, especially in a religious context.

FairMormon Response

Question: Was Martin Harris a gullible witness who would simply believe anything he was told?

Martin was clear that he required considerable proof to support Joseph

Martin recalled his first discussions with Joseph about the claims regarding plates:

I said, if it is the devil's work I will have nothing to do with it, but if it is the Lord's, you can have all the money necessary to bring it before the world. He [Joseph] said that the angel told him, that the plates must be translated, printed and sent before the world. I said, Joseph, you know my doctrine, that cursed is every one that putteth his trust in man, and maketh flesh him [sic] arm; and we know that the devil is to have great power in the latter days to deceive if possible the very elect; and I don't know that you are one of the elect. Now you must not blame me for not taking your word. If the Lord will show me that it is his work, you can have all the money you want.[27]

Even in religious matters then, Martin was keenly aware of the risk of mistake and deception.

Martin was actually quite skeptical in the beginning of Joseph's ability to translate

There are two specific things that Martin did in order to test Joseph.

  1. He took a copy of characters that Joseph copied from the plates to several professors in New York in order to try and verify them.
  2. He swapped the seer stone that Joseph was using during the Book of Mormon translation in order to test the prophet's ability.

It is well-known that Martin Harris took copies of the Book of Mormon characters to Charles Anthon and another language expert. While Anthon would later claim (in partially contradictory statements) that he had told Harris that it was all a fraud, Harris came back more convinced than ever that Joseph could actually translate.

During the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith often used a small seer stone. On one occasion, Martin Harris switched the stone for another stone of the same appearance. Martin reports what happened:

Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them. [28]

Here again, Martin conducted a clever "blinded test" of Joseph's ability, and Joseph passed--convincing Martin further.

The story of Martin Harris' desire to take the 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript to convince his family and friends that Joseph was a genuine prophet is also well known. Here again, Martin sought to use empirical proof (the manuscript itself) as evidence that Joseph could do what he claimed.


Godfrey: "Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge"

Martin was a shrewd farmer and businessman, and a man of some property. He often warred between belief and doubt. For example, Martin put Joseph to the test during the translation of the 116 pages with the seer stone. He repeatedly subjected Joseph's claims to empirical tests to detect deception or fraud. He came away from those experiences convinced that Joseph was truly able to translate the plates. He was so convinced, he was willing to suffer ridicule and committed significant financial resources to publishing the Book of Mormon.

Kenneth W. Godfrey, Ensign (January 1988):

After returning from a trip to Palmyra to settle his affairs, Martin began to transcribe. From April 12 to June 14, Joseph translated while Martin wrote, with only a curtain between them. On occasion they took breaks from the arduous task, sometimes going to the river and throwing stones. Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[29]



Response to claim: "Of the witnesses that left the church, most believed that Joseph was at best a fallen prophet"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Of the witnesses that left the church, most believed that Joseph was at best a fallen prophet, the church changed its doctrines in error and changed revelations against God's will.

FairMormon Response

Question: Did the Three Witnesses consider Joseph Smith a "fallen prophet" after they left the Church?

Some of the Three Witnesses considered Joseph Smith to be a "fallen prophet" after they left the Church

The Three Witnesses left the Church for a variety of reasons, among with was the initiation of the practice of polygamy. David Whitmer felt that Joseph had restored the true Church, but that he had ultimately taken the Church in directions that he shouldn't have. Yet, all three of the witnesses never denied their testimony of the plates and the angel.

If the witnesses felt that Joseph had perpetuated a scam, they would have exposed it after their falling out with him

Just following their excommunication from the Church, Thomas B. Marsh approached Cowdery and Whitmer about their witness. If there was any time for them to deny their witness, this was it:

I enquired seriously at David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to the testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He replied, as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel, according to his testimony in that book. I asked him, if so, how did he not stand by Joseph? He answered, in the days when Joseph received the Book of Mormon, and brought it forth, he was a good man filled with the Holy Ghost, but he considered he had now fallen. I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered me similarly.[30]

The witnesses had every reason to recant their experience, and no reason to lie to support either themselves, or Joseph Smith, with whom they were at odds for many years. The only compelling reason for persisting with their story was their essential honesty and honor, and their conviction that they had indeed seen the angel and the plates, and heard the voice of God.

The charge that the witnesses abandoned their testimonies is groundless: they did not recant their story, even when given ample opportunity to do so. There is abundant evidence that the witnesses remained faithful to their testimonies. It is even more impressive that all of them left the Church, and for many years expressed extremely bitter feelings toward Joseph Smith and the Church. Despite this, they continued to insist that their experience was real and undeniable.


Question: Did Oliver Cowdery ever deny his Book of Mormon witness because he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?

There is a wealth of evidence which demonstrates that Oliver never denied his testimony, even after his disagreements with Joseph Smith

As a lawyer, while writing to Phineas Young, Oliver said:

I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit; but I ought to be so—you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and looked down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce,—you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest.[31]

Surely Oliver's concern for his testimony included his testimony as a witness.

Eventually Oliver left the law practice he had started after leaving the Church, and journeyed to Kanesville, Iowa, with his wife and daughter and finally reunited with the Church in 1848. Before he was baptized he bore his testimony to the congregation that had gathered for a conference.

I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by the book, Holy Interpreters. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the Holy Interpreters. That book is true. ...It contains the everlasting gospel, and came forth to the children of men in fulfillment of the revelations of John, where he says he saw an angel come with the everlasting gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. It contains principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high.[32]

Oliver rejoined the Church and prepared to journey to Utah to unite with the main body of the Latter-day Saints but he died while living temporarily in Richmond, Missouri. Oliver Cowdery had contracted tuberculosis. In March 1850, while on his deathbed, Oliver used his dying breaths to testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Lucy P. Young, his half-sister, was at his bedside and reported:

Oliver Cowdery just before breathing his last, asked his attendants to raise him up in bed that he might talk to the family and his friends, who were present. He then told them to live according to the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, and promised them, if they would do this, that they would meet him in heaven. He then said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep.’ A few moments later he died without a struggle.[33]

In November 1881, over 30 years after Oliver's death, his former law partner Judge W. Lang claimed in a letter that Oliver had admitted that the Book of Mormon was a fraud. Lang's letter claimed that the Book of Mormon was derived from the Spalding manuscript by Oliver, and that Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith approved the final draft. This claim cannot be considered credible for a number of reasons, among them the fact that the Spalding manuscript bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon (something even the critics agree with), and the fact that Sidney Rigdon was never associated with Joseph Smith prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. The basis for Lang's claim seems to be the standard Spalding theory of Book of Mormon authorship.


Question: Did Martin Harris ever deny his Book of Mormon witness because he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?

Even after Martin Harris had left the Church and was openly criticizing Church leadership, he still held to his testimony of the Book of Mormon

When in England to preach for an LDS splinter group, Martin Harris was ejected from a meeting of Latter-day Saints. He left, and began to loudly criticize the Church leadership. Critics of Mormonism arrived quickly:

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when 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."[34]

An LDS author reported in 1870:

On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, ‘Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?’ ‘No,’ said Martin, ‘I do not believe it.’ The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, ‘Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day.”[35]

And, at his death, Harris reported:

The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.[36]


Question: Did David Whitmer ever deny his Book of Mormon witness because he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?

David Whitmer was very vocal about his testimony of the Book of Mormon up until the end of his life, even though he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet

David Whitmer's gravestone, upon which is engraved his testimony of the Book of Mormon: "The record of the Jews and the record of the Nephites are one."

Throughout Richmond, Missouri, the non-Mormons knew David Whitmer as an honest and trustworthy citizen. When one anti-Mormon lectured in David’s hometown, branding 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.’”[37]

...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.[38]

David Whitmer—like the other witnesses—had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. One observer remembers 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!’[39]

When another anti-Mormon published an article claiming that David had denied his testimony, David printed a “proclamation” testifying to the truth of the Book of Mormon and reiterating the fact that he had never denied that testimony. He wrote:

It is recorded in the American Cyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica, that I, David Whitmer, have denied my testimony as one of the Three Witnesses to the divinity of the Book of Mormon: and that the two other witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, denied their testimony to that book. I will say once more to all mankind, that I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof. I also testify to the world, that neither Oliver Cowdery nor Martin Harris ever at any time denied their testimony. They both died affirming the truth of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.[40]

Apostate William E. McLellin wrote:

I saw him [David Whitmer] June 1879, and heard him bear his solemn testimony to the truth of the book—as sincerely and solemnly as when he bore it to me in Paris, Ill. in July 1831.[41]

Following Whitmer's death the Richmond Conservator wrote:

On Sunday evening before his death he called the family and his attending physician, Dr. George W. Buchanan, to his bedside and said, “Doctor do you consider that I am in my right mind?” to which the Doctor replied, “Yes, you are in your right mind, I have just had a conversation with you.” He then addressed himself to all present and said: “I want to give my dying testimony. You must be faithful in Christ. I want to say to you all that the Bible and the record of the Nephites, (The Book of Mormon) are true, so you can say that you have heard me bear my testimony on my death bed....

On Monday morning he again called those present to his bedside, and told them that he had seen another vision which reconfirmed the divinity of the “Book of Mormon,” and said that he had seen Christ in the fullness of his glory and majesty, sitting upon his great white throne in heaven waiting to receive his children.[42]

The Richmond Democrat also added this comment:

Skeptics may laugh and scoff if they will, but no man can listen to Mr. Whitmer as he talks of his interview with the Angel of the Lord, without being most forcibly convinced that he has heard an honest man tell what he honestly believes to be true.[43]


Response to claim: "The witnesses, who have been heralded as good, honest, Abe Lincoln-type of men were later called liars, counterfeiters, thieves, etc. by Joseph Smith himself"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The witnesses, who have been heralded as good, honest, Abe Lincoln-type of men were later called liars, counterfeiters, thieves, etc. by Joseph Smith himself.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "The 'testimony of the witnesses' is similar to testimonials which were commonly included in books"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The "testimony of the witnesses" is similar to testimonials which were commonly included in books etc. in those days to help spur sales. And of course, the BOM's producers originally intended to sell copies for $1.75 each.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "A personal promise (and a threat of condemnation) coming directly from God is bound to have a powerful influence on a person’s thinking"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

All three witnesses believed that God Himself had told them (through Joseph Smith) that they had been specially chosen to testify to the world that they had seen the angel and the plates –– if they had enough faith. Martin Harris was even told the exact words he must use: Joseph Smith said he had a revelation in which the Lord commanded Harris to say, “I have seen the things which the Lord hath shown unto Joseph Smith Jun., and I know of a surety that they are true, for I have seen them.” And just to clinch the command, God threatened Martin Harris, saying, “But if he deny this he will break the covenant which he has before covenanted with me, and behold, he is condemned.” A personal promise (and a threat of condemnation) coming directly from God is bound to have a powerful influence on a person’s thinking!

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "There are seven witnesses that say Solomon Spalding was the author of the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

There are seven witnesses that say Solomon Spalding was the author of the Book of Mormon. Seven people wrote affidavits testifying that they had read early drafts of a book by author Solomon Spalding that appeared to be an early draft of the BOM. In some ways they are more credible than the BOM witnesses as they each wrote their own account instead of merely signing a prepared statement.

FairMormon Response

Question: Is the Spalding theory of Book of Mormon authorship credible?

The theory requires a second manuscript that doesn't exist, with invented contents, and the invention of a means of getting the alleged manuscript to Joseph Smith via Sidney Rigdon

Modern supporters of the Spalding authorship theory simply ignore the inconvenient fact that the extant Spalding manuscript recovered in the late 19th century bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon, that it was an unfinished draft, and that no postulated second manuscript has been discovered.

They also ignore the complete lack of any persuasive evidence for contact between Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith prior to the Book of Mormon's publication.

Until the purported second manuscript appears, all these critics have is a nonexistent document which they can claim says anything they want. This is doubtlessly the attraction of the "theory" and shows the lengths to which critics will go to disprove the Book of Mormon.

It is interesting to consider that the best explanation such critics can propose requires that they invent a document, then invent its contents, and then invent a means of getting the document to Joseph via Rigdon.

An alleged missing, second Spalding manuscript

The existing Spalding manuscript is obviously unrelated to the Book of Mormon. It is therefore postulated by some that there must exist a second manuscript, despite the fact that the existing manuscript was never completed.

The discovery and publishing of the manuscript put to rest the Spaulding theory for several decades. But in the early 20th century the theory surfaced again, only this time its advocates claimed there was a second Spaulding manuscript that was the real source for the Book of Mormon. However, supporters of the revised Spaulding theory have not produced this second purported manuscript. They do, however, rely upon early works such as a 1908 book written by William Heth Whitsitt called Sidney Rigdon, The Real Founder of Mormonism. The entire book is based upon Whitsitt's initial assumption that Rigdon and Spalding wrote the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt then proceeds to fit the known facts to match that assumption. One of the most amusing parts of the book is the attempt to explain the experience of the Three Witnesses. In Whitsitt's book, Sidney plays the Angel Moroni and the Spalding manuscript itself (the second, undiscovered one) actually plays the part of the gold plates! According to Whitsitt:

It is suspected that Mr. Rigdon was somewhere present in the undergrowth of the forest where the little company were assembled, and being in plain hearing of their devotions he could easily step forward at a signal from Joseph, and exhibit several of the most faded leaves of the manuscript, which from having been kept a series of years since the death of Spaulding would assume the yellow appearance that is well known in such circumstances. At a distance from the station which they occupied the writing on these yellow sheets of paper would also appear to their excited imagination in the light of engravings; Sidney was likewise very well equal to the task of uttering the assurances which Smith affirms the angel was kind enough to supply concerning the genuineness of the "plates" and the correctness of the translation.

See: Solomon Spaulding, Manuscript Found: The Complete Original "Spaulding Manuscript", edited by Kent P. Jackson, (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996). off-site


Question: What do the Hurlbut affidavits say about the Spalding manuscript and the Book of Mormon?

Hurlbut's affidavits regarding the Spalding manuscript consist of interviews with family and associates of Solomon Spalding

Claimant Claims

Artemas Cunningham

  • Claimed to have "partially examined" the "Mormon Bible."
  • Claimed that Spalding's manuscript was called "Manuscript Found."
  • Claimed "to remember the name of Nephi" as the "principal hero."

Nahum Howard

  • Claimed to have "lately read the Book of Mormon."
  • Claimed that it was the same as Spalding wrote, "except the religious part."'

Henry Lake

  • Claimed to have recently "commenced reading [The Book of Mormon] aloud."
  • Claimed that Spalding's work frequently used the words "it came to pass."

John Miller

  • Claimed to have "recently examined the Book of Mormon."
  • Claimed that the Book of Mormon was "mixed up with scripture and other religious matter, which I did not meet with in the "Manuscript Found."
  • Claimed that "Nephi, Lehi, Moroni" were the "principal names" in Spalding's book.

Oliver Smith

  • Claimed that "Nephi and Lehi were by [Spalding] represented as leading characters."
  • Claimed that Spalding included "no religious matter" in his book.
  • Claimed that "I obtained the book [of Mormon], and on reading it, found much of it the same as Spalding had written."

John Spalding

(Brother of Solomon Spalding)

  • Claimed to have "recently read the Book of Mormon."
  • Claimed that Spalding's book was entitled The Manuscript Found.
  • Claimed that the book attempted to show that the American Indians are the descendents of the Jews.
  • Claimed that the leaders of the group were called "Nephi" and "Lehi."
  • Claimed that the book described two nations called the "Nephites" and the "Lamanites."
  • Claimed that the people described in Spalding's book buried their dead in large mounds.
  • Claimed that many sentences in Spalding's book began with "it came to pass."

Martha Spalding

(wife of Solomon Spalding)

  • Claimed that she had "read the Book of Mormon."
  • Claimed that the Book of Mormon was based upon Spalding's story.
  • Claimed that "the names of Nephi and Lehi are yet fresh in my memory, as being the principal heroes of his tale."
  • Claimed that Spalding's characters separated into two nations, "one of which was called Lamanites and the other Nephites."
  • Claimed that Spalding's tale told of the dead "being buried in large heaps was the cause of the numerous mounds in the country."
  • Claimed that Spalding's manuscript used the words "it came to pass."

Aaron Wright

  • Claimed that the Book of Mormon following the Spalding story, "excepting the religious matter."
  • Claimed that "the names more especially are the same without any alteration."

Commentary

Most of the Spalding-related affidavits make very similar claims, such as the repeated statements that "Nephi" and "Lehi" figured prominently in Spalding's story

Most of the Spalding-related affidavits make very similar claims, such as the repeated statements that "Nephi" and "Lehi" figured prominently in Spalding's story and that the person making the claim had "recently" read the Book of Mormon and recognized it as being similar to Spalding's work. The recovered Spalding manuscript, however, bears no resemblance to any of these claims. For this reason, critics who support the Spalding theory have assumed the existence of a second Spalding manuscript, despite absolutely no evidence to support this.

The Spalding theory requires that Sidney Rigdon secretly meet Joseph Smith before the organization of the Church

The Spalding theory requires that Sidney Rigdon secretly meet Joseph Smith before the organization of the Church, and provide him with the Book of Mormon manuscript. John Stafford, oldest son of William Stafford was asked about this:

Q — If young Joseph — Smith , Jr. — was as illiterate as you say, Doctor, how do you account for the Book of Mormon?
A — "Well, I can't; except that Sidney Rigdon was connected with them."
Q — Was Rigdon ever around there before the Book of Mormon was published?
A — "No; not as we could ever find out. Sidney Rigdon was never there, that Hurlbut, or Howe, or Tucker could find out."
Q — Well; you have been looking out for the facts a long time, have you not, Doctor?
A — "Yes; I have been thinking and hearing about it for the last fifty years, and lived right among all their old neighbors there more of the time."
Q — And no one has ever been able to trace the acquaintance of Rigdon and Smith, until after the Book of Mormon was published, and Rigdon proselyted by Parley P. — Pratt, in Ohio?
A — "Not that I know of.""
— John Stafford, cited in William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167.[44]

See also:

  • Matthew Roper, "The Mythical "Manuscript Found" (Review of: Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? The Spalding Enigma)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 7–140. off-site


Question: What are the Hurlbut affidavits?

The Hurlbut affidavits are a collection of affidavits from Joseph Smith’s neighbors which claim that the Smith family possessed a number of character flaws

Many critics cite a collection of affidavits from Joseph Smith’s neighbors which claim that the Smith family possessed a number of character flaws. These affidavits were collected by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut ("Doctor" was his first name, not a title). [45] Hurlbut had been excommunicated from the Church on charges of "unvirtuous conduct with a young lady," [46] and for threatening the life of the Prophet.

  1. There are many statements from Joseph's contemporaries attesting to his good character—These people did not sign sworn affidavits, but their accounts are recorded in their journals and histories.
  2. It is also important to note that none of these statements regarding Joseph Smith, Jr. was a firsthand account from the Prophet himself, but instead represent second or third-hand accounts. It is interesting that Fawn Brodie and other modern anti-Mormons readily dismiss the affidavits supporting the Spalding theory (which has since been discredited), suggesting the Hurlbut "prompted" those making statements, yet accepts without question the affidavits attesting to the bad character of Joseph Smith and his family.
  3. Finally, Hurlbut's motive in collecting the affidavits is a factor. The Hurlbut affidavits were collected by a man who not only had a grudge to settle with the Church, but who had actually been brought before a judge for issuing a death threat against Joseph Smith, Jr. His family had likewise lost a court case brought by the Smiths, and young Joseph's testimony played a significant role in their victory. (This occurred despite the Hurlbuts being more wealthy and prominent in the community than the poverty-stricken Smiths.)

Hurlbut had been hostile to the Smith family long before he collected his affidavits

Hurlbut's hostility to the Smiths may have been of long date. In 1819, the Smiths sued a local family of Hurlbuts over the sale of a pair of horses and some work they had done for him. (Aside from the name, it is not known if there was a family connection.) One author explains:

Joseph Smith's introduction to the legal system came at an early age. His father and oldest brother, Alvin, initiated a lawsuit in January 1819 against Jeremiah Hurlbut arising from his sale of a pair of horses to the Smiths for $65. The Smith boys had been working for Hurlbut to both pay down the $65 obligation and for other goods the previous summer. Twelve witnesses were called during the trial, including Hyrum and Joseph Smith Jr. Under New York law, being just thirteen, Joseph's testimony about the work he had performed was admissible only after the court found him competent. His testimony proved credible and the court record indicates that ever item that he testified about was included in the damages awarded to the Smiths. Although Hurlbut appealed the case, no records have survived noting the final disposition of that case; perhaps it was settled out of court. The significance of this case is not limited to the fact that a New York judge found the young Joseph, just a year prior to his First Vision, to be competent and credible as a witness. Also, the suit being brought against a prominent Palmyra family and involving two other prominent community leaders as sureties on appeal may have contributed to Joseph Smith Jr.'s memory of his family's estrangement from much of the Palmyra community....

Under applicable New York law, "qualified citizens" [for jury duty] were limited to male inhabitants of the county where the trial was being held between the ages of twenty-one and sixty; and who at the time had personal property in the amount of not less that $250 or real property in the county with a value of not less than $250. In the rural community of Palmyra this effectively meant that those qualified to be on the jury would be the more affluent and prominent men of the area. Ironically, none of the Smiths would have qualified to be a juror.

The trial was held on February 6, 1819. Twelve jurors were impaneled, all men and property owners. The Smiths called five witnesses, Hurlbut [the farmer they were suing] seven. Both Joseph Jr. and Hyrum were called to testify. This appears to be young Joseph's first direct interaction with the judicial [130] process. He had turned thirteen years old a month and a half previously. New York law and local practice permitted the use of child testimony, subject to the court's discretion to determine the witness' competency. The test for competency required a determination that the witness was of 'sound mind and memory.' A New York 1803 summary of the law for justices of the peace notes that 'all persons of sound mind and memory, and who have arrived at years of discretion, except such as are legally interested, or have been rendered infamous, may be improved as witnesses.' This determination of competency rested within the discretion of the judge....

From the record it appears that Judge Spear found Joseph Jr. competent, and he indeed did testify during the trial. This is evident in a review of the List of Services that was part of the court file. Joseph Jr.'s testimony would have been required to admit those services he personally performed....[47]

Hurlbut's collection of the statements was made at the request of an anti-Mormon committee in Kirtland, Ohio

At any rate, Hurlbut's later collection of statements was made at the request of an anti-Mormon committee in Kirtland, Ohio. [48] According to B.H. Roberts:

It was simply a matter of "muck raking" on Hurlbut's part. Every idle story, every dark insinuation which at that time could be thought of and unearthed was pressed into service to gratify this man's personal desire for revenge, and to aid the enemies of the Prophet in their attempt to destroy his influence and overthrow the institution then in process of such remarkable development. [49]

Hurlbut was unable to publish the affidavits himself after his trial for making death threats against Joseph Smith, so he sold them to E.D. Howe for publication in his book Mormonism Unvailed

Hurlbut was unable to publish the affidavits himself after his trial for making death threats against Joseph Smith, Jr. (And, it is possible that his family's animus dated back far longer.) He sold his material to Eber D. Howe, who published it in his anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed in 1834. In addition to the affidavits attacking the character of the Smith family, Hurlbut gathered statements from the family and neighbors of Solomon Spalding in order to "prove" that Spalding's unpublished manuscript was the source for the Book of Mormon. Mormonism Unvailed contained the first presentation of the Spalding theory of Book of Mormon origin. Some critics, such as Fawn Brodie, are selective in their acceptance of Hurlbut's affidavits—They readily accept affidavits that attack the character of the Smith family, yet admit that some "judicious prompting" by Hurlbut may have been involved in those affidavits that were gathered to support the Spalding theory. [50]

E.D. Howe thought that Joseph was "lazy," "indolent" and "superstitious"

Howe's bias is evident throughout the book. He introduces the Smith family with the following:

All who became intimate with them during this period, unite in representing the general character of old Joseph and wife, the parents of the pretended Prophet, as lazy, indolent, ignorant and superstitious—having a firm belief in ghosts and witches; the telling of fortunes; pretending to believe that the earth was filled with hidden treasures, buried there by Kid or the Spaniards. [51]


Response to claim: "There are many witnesses to James Strang's claim of having unearthed metal plates which he translated into scripture"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

There are many witnesses to James Strang's claim of having unearthed metal plates which he translated into scripture.

FairMormon Response

Question: Of what did the Strangite witnesses testify?

Four witnesses who testified that they themselves had dug the Voree Plates from the ground where Strang said that they would be discovered

It is claimed that break-off sects like James Strang's produced eyewitnesses of buried records, and that because of this, Joseph's ability to produce witnesses is neither surprising nor persuasive.

We should not lose sight of what it was to which the Strangite witnesses bore their testimony. [52] In a manner clearly intended to replicate the Three and the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, J. J. Strang produced four witnesses who testified that they themselves had dug the Voree Plates from the ground where he said that they would be discovered. Their detailed written testimony was used by Strang in the Voree Herald, January 1846; Zion's Reveille, 1 April 1847; and Gospel Herald, 4 May 1848 and reads as follows:

On the thirteenth day of September, 1845, we, Aaron Smith, Jirah B. Wheelan, James M. Van Nostrand, and Edward Whitcomb, assembled at the call of James J. Strang, who is by us and many others approved as a Prophet and Seer of God. He proceeded to inform us that it had been revealed to him in a vision that an account of an ancient people was buried in a hill south of White River bridge, near the east line of Walworth County; and leading us to an oak tree about one foot in diameter, told us that we would find it enclosed in a case of rude earthen ware under that tree at the depth of about three feet; requested us to dig it up, and charged us to so examine the ground that we should know we were not imposed upon, and that it had not been buried there since the tree grew. The tree was surrounded by a sward of deeply rooted grass, such as is usually found in the openings, and upon the most critical examination we could not discover any indication that it had ever been cut through or disturbed.

We then dug up the tree, and continued to dig to the depth of about three feet, where we found a case of slightly baked clay containing three plates of brass. On one side of one is a landscape view of the south end of Gardner's prairie and the range of hills where they were dug. On another is a man with a crown on his head and a scepter in his hand, above is an eye before an upright line, below the sun and moon surrounded with twelve stars, at the bottom are twelve large stars from three of which pillars arise, and closely interspersed with them are seventy very small stars. The other four sides are very closely covered with what appear to be alphabetic characters, but in a language of which we have no knowledge.

The case was found imbedded in indurated clay so closely fitting it that it broke in taking out, and the earth below the soil was so hard as to be dug with difficulty even with a pickax. Over the case was found a flat stone about one foot wide each way and three inches thick, which appeared to have undergone the action of fire, and fell in pieces after a few minutes exposure to the air. The digging extended in the clay about eighteen inches, there being two kinds of earth of different color and appearance above it.

We examined as we dug all the way with the utmost care, and we say, with utmost confidence, that no part of the earth through which we dug exhibited any sign or indication that it had been moved or disturbed at any time previous. The roots of the tree stuck down on every side very closely, extending below the case, and closely interwoven with roots from other trees. None of them had been broken or cut away. No clay is found in the country like that of which the case is made.

In fine, we found an alphabetic and pictorial record, carefully cased up, buried deep in the earth, covered with a flat stone, with an oak tree one foot in diameter growing over it, with every evidence that the sense can give that it has lain there as long as that tree has been growing. Strang took no part in the digging, but kept entirely away from before the first blow was struck till after the plates were taken out of the case; and the sole inducement to our digging was our faith in his statement as a Prophet of the Lord that a record would thus and there be found.[53]


Question: What are the differences between the Strangite witness statements and those of the Three and Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon?

Strang's witnesses saw nothing supernatural

No one doubts that Strang had a set of a few very small metallic plates in his possession, or that they were removed from the earth in the manner reported above. In that sense, there would be nothing for his witnesses to deny.

Wrote Daniel C. Peterson in "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011) off-site

The two sets of inscribed plates that Strang claimed to have found in Wisconsin and Michigan beginning in 1845 almost certainly existed. Milo Quaife's early, standard biography of Strang reflects that, while Strang's angelic visitations "may have had only a subjective existence in the brain of the man who reported them, the metallic plates possessed a very material objective reality."

And they were almost certainly forgeries.

The first set, the three "Voree" or "Rajah Manchou" plates, were dug up by four "witnesses" whom Strang had taken to the plates' burial place. Illustrated and inscribed on both sides, the Rajah Manchou plates were roughly 1.5 by 2.75 inches in size — small enough to fit in the palm of a hand or to carry in a pocket.[54]

Some of Strang's witnesses later repudiated their testimonies, and one witness later admitted helping to fabricate the plates

Ex-strangite Isaac Scott, who was once a leader in the Strangite Church, stated that Caleb P. Barnes told him that he and Strang had actually fabricated the plates. According to Scott, the men,

made the 'plates' out of Ben [Perce]'s old kettle and engraved them with an old saw file, and ... when completed they put acid on them to corrode them and give them an ancient appearance; and that to deposit them under the tree, where they were found, they took a large auger ... which Ben [Perce] owned, put a fork handle on the auger and with it bored a long slanting hole under a tree on 'The Hill of Promise,' as they called it, laying the earth in a trail on a cloth as taken out, then put the 'plates' in, tamping in all the earth again, leaving no trace of their work visible. [55]

Peterson continues:

Among the many who saw them was Stephen Post, who reported that they were brass and, indeed, that they resembled the French brass used in familiar kitchen kettles. "With all the faith & confidence that I could exercise," he wrote, "all that I could realize was that Strang made the plates himself, or at least that it was possible that he made them." One source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies.

The 18 "Plates of Laban," likewise of brass and each about 7.5 by 9 inches, were first mentioned in 1849 and were seen by seven witnesses in 1851. These witnesses' testimony was published as a preface to "The Book of the Law of the Lord," which Strang said he derived from the "Plates of Laban." (He appears to have begun the "translation" at least as early as April 1849. An 84-page version appeared in 1851; by 1856, it had reached 350 pages.) Strang's witnesses report seeing the plates, but mention nothing miraculous. Nor did Strang supply any additional supporting testimony comparable to that of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

One of the witnesses to the "Plates of Laban," Samuel P. Bacon, eventually denied the inspiration of Strang's movement and denounced it as mere "human invention." Another, Samuel Graham, later claimed that he had actually assisted Strang in the creation of the plates.[56]

Chauncy Loomis reports that Samuel Graham described how the Plates of Laban were fabricated, and Samuel Bacon finds remnants of the plates hidden in Strang's ceiling

Chauncy Loomis, in a letter to Joseph Smith III dated 10 Nov. 1888 and published in the Saint's Herald, talked of a conversation that he had with George Adams. Adams described how Strang had asked him to dress in a long white robe and use phosphorous to impersonate an angel. Adams also reported that Samuel Graham talked about how he and Strang fabricated the Plates of Laban. Loomis reported that Samuel Bacon discovered fragments of the plates hidden in the ceiling of Strang's house, and then left the Strangite Church.

At this time George [Adams] was gone from the island on some business. When he returned and saw how things were going he left the island with his family. I saw him and wife after this on Mackinaw Island. He said to me, “Brother Loomis, I always thought you to be an honest man, but you are like poor dog Tray; you have been caught in bad company, and now my advice to you is to leave the island, for I tell you Strang is not a prophet of God. I consider him to be a self-confessed imposter. Strang wanted me to get a couple of bottles of phosphoros and dress myself in a long white robe and appear on the highest summit on the island, called Mount Pisgah, break the bottles, make an illumination and blow a trumpet and disappear so that he might make it appear that an angel had made them a visit; that it might beget faith in the Saint.” I said to him, “Brother Adams, how is it that you deny the testimony given by you so long ago, that you knew Strang was a prophet of God?” “Well, brother Loomis, I will tell you: I was in the spirit of Strang then.” I have since thought that if he ever spoke the truth it was then. I speak of these things that you may see how we were Strang led. I was in the spirit of Strang and foretold some things that would befall us which never came to pass; but I believe that myself and another brother at one time had the Spirit of God, for we prophesied that Strang would be killed, and the Saints would be driven from the island, which truly did come to pass. I shall now make some statement in regard to others who were the chief men of the kingdom. Bro. Samuel Graham, I think, president of the Twelve, declared that he and Strang made those plates that Strang claimed to translate the Book of the Law from. But they in the first place prepared the plates and coated them with beeswax and then formed the letters and cut them in with a pen knife and then exhibited them to the rest of the Twelve. The facts were Graham apostatized and left the island, taking his family and Strang’s first wife, Mary, with him to Voree, Wisconsin. At this time Strang was at Detroit, Michigan. His wife never returned to him; he had four others besides and some concubines. Bro. Samuel Bacon says that in repairing Strang’s house he found hid behind the ceiling the fragments of those plates which Strang made the Book of the Law from. He turned infidel and left the island. [56]

Image of page 719 of the Saint's Herald dated 10 Nov. 1888.

Peterson concludes,

"We can hardly escape the conclusion," writes Quaife, "that Strang knowingly fabricated and planted them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers" and, accordingly, that "Strang's prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture." A more recent biographer, Roger Van Noord, concludes that "based on the evidence, it is probable that Strang — or someone under his direction — manufactured the letter of appointment and the brass plates to support his claim to be a prophet and to sell land at Voree. If this scenario is correct, Strang's advocacy of himself as a prophet was more than suspect, but no psychological delusion."

Thus, Strang's plates were much less numerous than those of the Book of Mormon, his witnesses saw nothing supernatural and his translation required the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months. (Quite unlike the semi-literate Joseph Smith, Strang was well-read. He had been an editor and lawyer before his involvement with Mormonism.) Perhaps most strikingly, unlike the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, some (at least) of Strang's witnesses later denied their testimonies.

The contrasts work very much in Joseph Smith's favor.[57]

In summary, Strang's witnesses:

  • had no supernatural component to their witness
  • had one who later denounced his project as mere "human invention"
  • had one who later confessed to helping fabricate the plates

The collective testimony of the Book of Mormon Witnesses is, in terms of its evidentiary value and strength, far more challenging to critics than is the testimony of James J. Strang's witnesses.


Response to claim: "Travis Walton, became an unwilling captive of an alien race when the other men fled in fear"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

On November 5, 1975, seven men witnessed a spacecraft from another world hovering silently between tall pines in the Apache-Sitgreaves National forest of north-eastern Arizona. One of those men, Travis Walton, became an unwilling captive of an alien race when the other men fled in fear.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "just because a group of people claims something extraordinary happened to them, it doesn't make it so"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Obviously both sets of witnesses cannot be correct. At least one set, possibly both sets, of witnesses were either lying or were mistaken or deceived. Which group is to be believed or are they both in error? We're not saying we believe the Spalding witnesses over the Book of Mormon witnesses, but it proves the point that just because a group of people claims something extraordinary happened to them, it doesn't make it so.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "There are many, many reported witnesses to UFOs, Bigfoot, the Lochness Monster, Abominable Snowman, alien abductions...Should they be believed as well?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

There are many, many reported witnesses to UFOs, Bigfoot, the Lochness Monster, Abominable Snowman, alien abductions, gurus with magic powers, psychics, etc. There are literally hundreds of thousands of witnesses to these amazing phenomena. Should they be believed as well?

FairMormon Response

Question: If we believe the story of the Three Witnesses, should we also believe witnesses of UFO's, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster?

UFO's, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman, aliens, gurus and psychics have not produced a work comparable to the Book of Mormon

Have any UFO's, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman, aliens, gurus or psychics produced a work comparable to the Book of Mormon? Have they produced revelations and established a Church that has affected the lives of millions of people?

Such a comparison is absurd. Critics who make this assertion are throwing every oddball thing they can at the Book of Mormon witnesses and hoping that something "sticks."


Response to claim: "Just because three witnesses signed a statement saying they saw an angel, doesn't mean it really happened or that it didn't happen either"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Just because three witnesses signed a statement saying they saw an angel, doesn't mean it really happened or that it didn't happen either.

FairMormon Response

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." [58]

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. [59]


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. [60]


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.” [61] 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.[62]

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. [63]

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." [64]

This claim fundamentally distorts Harris' activities during this period. [65] 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. [66]

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.’” [67]

...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. [68]

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.[69]

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....[70]

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.[71]

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.[72]


Response to claim: "this comparison shows some of the inherent weaknesses of the using just witnesses to prove historical events"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Faithful members would likely come up with explanations to counter these claims like the 3+8 witnesses signed a single statement because they so strongly agreed with their unified experience. However, this comparison shows some of the inherent weaknesses of the using just witnesses to prove historical events. This also underscores the weaknesses in the BOM process to obtain witnesses to verify the BOM.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "Why should we believe all the Book of Mormon witnesses over the sworn affidavits of over dozens of unrelated townspeople?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Why should we believe all the Book of Mormon witnesses over the sworn affidavits [regarding the Spalding manuscript] of over dozens of unrelated townspeople?

FairMormon Response

Question: What do most critics think of the Spalding theory of Book of Mormon origin?

Many critics of the Book of Mormon reject the Spalding theory as unworkable

  • Davis H. Bays, The Doctrines and Dogmas of Mormonism Examined and Refuted, (St. Louis: Christian Publishing, 1897), 22, 25
[This theory is] "erroneous, and it will lead to almost certain defeat.... The facts are all opposed to this view, and the defenders of the Mormon dogma have the facts well in hand.... The Spaulding story is a failure. Do not attempt to rely upon it — it will let you down."
  • Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York, A. A. Knopf, 1945), 453
"The tenuous chain of evidence accumulated to support the Spaulding-Rigdon theory breaks altogether when it tries to prove that Rigdon met Joseph Smith before 1830."
  • Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Did Spaulding Write the Book of Mormon? (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1977).
  • "...Mormon archivists have assembled a large amount of evidence -- some of it impressive -- to rebut the Spalding theory. They scored a coup of sorts when they discovered that a manuscript page from another Mormon book, Doctrine and Covenants, is apparently in the same handwriting as that of the Unidentified Scribe in the Book of Mormon manuscript. It is dated June, 1831 -- fifteen years after Spalding's death.... The average layman can readily note the striking dissimilarities between Spalding's specimens and the others...." — Edward E. Plowman, Christianity Today (21 October 1977): 38-39.

One might ask the question: If Mormonism's most prominent critics find the Spalding theory unworkable, then what motivates those who tenuously hold to this theory and continue to pursue it? Those that continue to promote this theory have not effectively dealt with the major objections highlighted by other anti-Mormon critics. [73]


Response to claim: "None of the witnesses should have been related to Joseph or each other"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

None of the witnesses should have been related to Joseph or each other. Most of the witnesses were either related or good friends. Having unrelated people as witnesses would be far more effective than using your brothers and father.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "The witnesses should not have already been eager believers"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The witnesses should not have already been eager believers. There should have been some skeptics.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "There should have been no financial motive"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

There should have been no financial motive. Martin Harris mortgaged his farm and invested at least $3,000 of his own money into printing the Book of Mormon, so of course he had incentive to 'promote' the book.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "Each of the witnesses should each have written their own testimony"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Each of the witnesses should each have written their own testimony instead of merely signing a prepared statement written by Joseph. If the prepared document wasn't 100% accurate many people would simply sign it anyway as it would be too much of a hassle to have it completely rewritten by hand - especially in the 1800s.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "The witnesses should have been much more detailed about this amazing event"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The witnesses should have been much more detailed about this amazing event. What did the angel look like? What exactly did he say? How did he speak? There are almost no details provided which can be analyzed and compared. If each witness had simply written their own account and provided significant details then their individual testimonies could corroborate each other.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "The witnesses should have been interviewed independently immediately after going public"

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:

The witnesses should have been interviewed independently immediately after going public. They should have been interviewed the same way police do with witnesses to crimes or that investigators do with UFO cases. Ask questions to see if their stories match; How was the angel dressed? How tall was he? How did he speak?, etc.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "The witnesses should not have used subjective language and say strange things like comparing seeing the plates with seeing a city through a mountain or using spiritual eyes instead of their natural eyes to view physical plates"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The witnesses should not have used subjective language and say strange things like comparing seeing the plates with seeing a city through a mountain or using spiritual eyes instead of their natural eyes to view physical plates

FairMormon Response

Question: Did Martin Harris tell people that he did not see the plates with his natural eyes, but rather the "eye of faith"?

A former pastor, John A. Clark, said that a "gentleman in Palmyra" told him that Harris said that he saw the plates with the "eye of faith"

John A. Clark, a former pastor who considered Joseph Smith a fraud and the Book of Mormon “an imposture,” states,

To know how much this testimony [of three witnesses] is worth I will state one fact. A gentleman in Palmyra, bred to the law, a professor of religion, and of undoubted veracity told me that on one occasion, he appealed to Harris and asked him directly,-”Did you see those plates?” Harris replied, he did. “Did you see the plates, and the engraving on them with your bodily eyes?” Harris replied, “Yes, I saw them with my eyes,-they were shown unto me by the power of God and not of man.” “But did you see them with your natural,-your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Harris replied,-”Why I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see any thing around me,-though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.[74]

John A. Clark did not interview Martin Harris - he was repeating what someone else told him

The source cited is “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270. However, rather than being an interview between Clark and Harris, as implied by the title of reference work using in the citation, Clark’s actual statement clearly says that he received his information from a “gentleman in Palmyra…a professor of religion,” who said that he had talked with Harris. This is not an interview between Clark and Harris.

Larry E. Morris notes that the “claim that ‘Harris told John A. Clark’ is not accurate. This is not secondhand testimony but thirdhand—’he said that he said that he said.’….As if that weren’t enough, Clark does not name his source—making it impossible to judge that person’s honesty or reliability. What we have is a thirdhand, anonymous account of what Martin Harris supposedly said.” (Larry E. Morris, FARMS Review, Vol. 15, Issue 1.)

Clark's account mixes elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as one of the Three Witnesses and portrays Harris as contradicting himself

The two elements that are mixed together in Clark's account are the following:

  1. Martin Harris said that he only saw the plates through the "eye of faith" when they were covered with a cloth prior to his experience as a witness.
  2. Martin Harris saw the plates uncovered as one of the three witnesses.

Note also that the date assigned to these comments places them prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, yet Clark’s statement appears to include elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as a witness. Harris “saw them” with his eyes when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, but he only saw them through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his being a witness. Clark’s third-hand hostile relation of another hostile source, makes no distinction between these events, and instead portrays Harris as contradicting himself.

When Martin Harris said that he had seen the angel and the plates with his "spiritual eyes" or with an "eye of faith" he may have simply been employing some scriptural language that he was familiar with. Such statements do not mean that the angel and the plates were imaginary, hallucinatory, or just an inner mental image—the earliest accounts of Martin Harris' testimony makes the literal nature of the experience unmistakable.

Rather than being hallucinatory or "merely" spiritual, Martin claimed that the plates and angel were seen by physical eyes that had been enhanced by the power of God to view more objects than a mortal could normally see (cf. DC 76:12; DC 67:10-13).


Question: Did Martin Harris tell people that he only saw the plates with his "spiritual eye"?

John H. Gilbert, who printed the Book of Mormon, reported that Harris said that he saw the plates with his "spiritual eye"

John H. Gilbert:

Martin was in the office when I finished setting up the testimony of the three witnesses,—(Harris—Cowdery and Whitmer—) I said to him,—"Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" Martin looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, "No, I saw them with a spir[i]tual eye."[75]

Pomeroy Tucker told of Harris using the phrase "seeing with the spiritual eye"

Pomeroy Tucker in his book Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (1867) also refers to Harris using the phrase "spiritual eye":

How to reconcile the act of Harris in signing his name to such a statement, in view of the character of honesty which had always been conceded to him, could never be easily explained. In reply to uncharitable suggestions of his neighbors, he used to practise a good deal of his characteristic jargon about "seeing with the spiritual eye," and the like. [76]

Martin elsewhere emphasized that the vision was also with the "natural eye," to enable them to "testify of it to the world"

In 1875, Martin said:

"The Prophet Joseph Smith, and Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer and myself, went into a little grove to pray to obtain a promise that we should behold it with our eyes natural eyes, that we could testify of it to the world (emphasis added)."[77]

Harris did not, then, see "spiritual eye" and "natural eye" as mutually exclusive categories. Both described something about the witness experience.


Question: Why would Martin Harris use the phrases "eye of faith" or "spiritual eye" to describe his visionary experience?

Martin Harris was using scriptural language to describe his visionary experience

Why did Martin Harris use the particular phraseology that he did in describing his experience? Perhaps the answer lies in another passage found in the book of Ether 12:19.

And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad.

Here it is noted that those people who have "exceedingly strong" faith can see things "within the veil." But even though they see things in the spiritual realm "with their eyes" it is described as beholding things with "an eye of faith."

Another possibility can be seen in the text of Moses 1:11. It reads:

But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face.

This dovetails nicely with the description of David Whitmer who "explained that he saw the plates, and with his natural eyes, but he had to be prepared for it—that he and the other witnesses were overshadowed by the power of God." [78]


Question: Do Martin Harris's statements related to the "spiritual eye" or "eye of faith" contradict the reality of his witness?

Some wish to make it appear as though the statements made by Martin Harris about the Three Witnesses’ manifestation discount its reality. Doing so pulls Harris’ statements out of their proper context. This vital viewpoint can be regained by simply taking a look at several passages from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants—which all predate Martin’s public statements about the nature of his experience.

The scriptural witnesses

Ether 5:2–3

This prophetic passage had a direct application to Martin Harris as one of the Three Witnesses. It said: “the plates . . . . unto three shall they be shown by the power of God

D&C 5:11,13,24–26

“unto [three of my servants] I will show these things . . . . I will give them power that they may behold and view these things as they are.” Speaking specifically of Martin Harris: “then will I grant unto him a view of the things which he desires to see. And then he shall say unto the people of this generation: Behold, I have seen the things which the Lord hath shown unto Joseph Smith, Jun., and I know of a surety that they are true, for I have seen them, for they have been shown unto me by the power of God and not of man. And I the Lord command him, my servant Martin Harris, that he shall say no more unto them concerning these things, except he shall say: I have seen them, and they have been shown unto me by the power of God; and these are the words which he shall say.”

D&C 17:1–3,5

All three of the witnesses were told: “you shall have a view of the plates . . . . And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old . . . . And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them . . . . And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith

From these scriptural texts it is evident that:

  • The Three Witnesses were required by God to exercise faith like “the prophets of old” in order to view the angel and the plates (cf. Moroni 7:37; DC 20:6).
  • God would exercise His power to enable the Three Witnesses to see things that were not usually visible to mortal eyes.
  • Nevertheless, the Three Witnesses would see the angel and the plates “with [their] eyes” and “as they are” in objective reality.

Contemporary witnesses

Joseph Smith was an eyewitness to what Martin Harris said at the exact moment that the manifestation took place. He reported that Martin's words were: "Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld". [79] Another eyewitness, named Alma Jensen, saw Martin Harris point to his physical eyes while testifying that he had seen both the angel and the plates. [80]

Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to a skeptical author in November 1829, and spoke for both himself and Harris on the question of whether there was some trickery or "juggling" at work:

"It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye".[81]


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.[82]

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! [83]

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.[84]

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[85]

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.[86]


Question: What did the other witnesses say regarding "spiritual" versus "natural" viewing of the plates?

David Whitmer clarified the idea of "spiritual" versus "natural" viewing of the plates

David Whitmer helps clear up the "spiritual" vs. "natural" viewing of the plates. Responding to the questions of Anthony Metcalf (the same Metcalf who interviewed Harris) Whitmer wrote:

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. [Signed] David Whitmer. [87]

And to leave absolutely no doubt about the nature of the manifestation Whitmer explained, "I was not under any hallucination . . . . I saw with these eyes." [88]

The young James Henry Moyle would write of a visit he had with Whitmer:

I inquired of those whom I met: What kind of man is David Whitmer? From all I received the same response, that he was a good citizen, an honest man, and that he was highly respected in the community....

I wanted to know from him...what he knew about the Book of Mormon, and what about the testimony he had published to the world concerning it. He told me in all the solemnity of his advanced years, that the testimony he had given to the world, and which was published in the Book of Mormon, was true, every word of it, and that he had never deviated or departed from any particular from that testimony, and that nothing int he world could separate him from the sacred message that was delivered to him. I still wondered if it was no possible that he could have been deceived. I wondered if there was not something in that psychological operation which some offer as the cause of these miraculous declarations and by which he could have been deceived...so I induced him to relate to me, under such cross-examination as I was able to interpose [Moyle had just graduated from law school], every detail of what took place. He described minutely the spot in the woods, the large log that separated him from the angel, and that he saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, that he handled them [this may be in error, given that the contemporaneous record says otherwise], and that he did hear the voice of God declare that the plates were correctly translated. I asked him if there was any possibility for him to have been deceived, and that it was all a mistake, but he said, "No."[89]

He also wrote later:

He said that they (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris) were out in the primitive woods in Western New York; that there was nothing between them and the Angel except a log that had fallen in the forest; that it was broad daylight with nothing to prevent either hearing or seeing all that took place...he did see and hear the Angel and heard the declaration that the plates had been correctly translated; that there was absolutely nothing to prevent his having a full, clear view of it all. I remember very distinctly asking him if there was anything unnatural or unusual about the surroundings or the atmosphere. He answered that question. I do not remember exactly the words he used, but he indicated that there was something of a haze or peculiarity about the atmosphere that surrounded them but nothing that would prevent his having a clear vision and knowledge of all that took place. He declared to me that the testimony which he published to the world was true and that he had never denied any part of it.[90]

We note here that the experience is very literal and real--but there is also a difference in atmosphere or "haze" that renders it different from day-to-day life. This dovetails well with the Three Witnesses' insistence that there was a spiritual component to their experience, though it was also literal and "real."


Question: How did newspaper accounts describe the nature of the witnesses experience?

Hostile newspaper accounts clearly stated that both Harris and Whitmer physically handled and examined the plates

Early hostile newspapers claimed that the witnesses' descriptions did not match, but were clear that both Harris and Whitmer had at some point physically handled and examined the plates:

Whitmar’s [sic] description of the Book of Mormon, differs entirely from that given by Harris; both of whom it would seem have been of late permitted, not only to see and handle it, but to examine its contents. Whitmar relates that he was led by Smith into an open field, on his father’s farm near Waterloo, when they found the book lying on the ground; Smith took it up and requested him to examine it, which he did for the space of half an hour or more, when he returned it to Smith, who placed it in its former position, alledging that the book was in the custody of another, intimating that some Divine agent would have it in safe keeping. [91]

David, like Martin, had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. One observer remembers when David was so 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!" (Joseph Smith III, et al., Interview, July 1884, Richmond Missouri, in Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 134-35) [92]

On another occasion in which Whitmer was asked about the plates, the interviewer recorded:

He then explained that he saw the plates, and with his natural eyes, but he had to be prepared for it--that he and the other witnesses were overshadowed by the power of God and a halo of brightness indescribable. [93]


Question: How did the apostle Paul describe spiritual experiences?

The apostle Paul understood the difficulty of describing spiritual experiences

Paul understood the difficulty of describing spiritual experiences when he wrote:

I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 2 Corinthians 12:2

Paul's vision was real, yet he was unsure whether he had the experience in or out of his body. Harris may have felt a similar experience. He knew the plates were real, yet he also knew that when the angel showed him the plates he was only able to see them by the power of God. On a separate occasion Harris testified to the reality of his vision. The scene as recorded by Edward Stevenson was instrumental in getting Harris to re-enter the Church.

On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, "Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?" "No," said Martin, "I do not believe it." The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, "Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day." [94]


Martin Harris: "The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard"

George Godfrey, and Martin Harris's response to him, after Godfrey suggested that Harris had been deceived:

A few hours before his death and when he was so weak and enfeebled that he was unable to recognize me or anyone, and knew not to whom he was speaking, I asked him if he did not feel that there was an element at least, of fraudulence and deception in the things that were written and told of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and he replied as he had always done so many, many times in my hearing the same spirit he always manifested when enjoying health and vigor and said: ‘The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.[95]


George Mantle (1888): Martin Harris said "Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that...he translated that book by the power of God"

When in England to preach for an LDS splinter group, Martin Harris was ejected from a meeting of Latter-day Saints. He left, and began to loudly criticize the Church leadership. Critics of Mormonism arrived quickly.

George Mantle to Marietta Walker, 26 December 1888:

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when 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."[96]


Edward Stevenson (1870): Martin Harris said "my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel"

Elder Edward Stevenson reported in 1870:

On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, ‘Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?’ ‘No,’ said Martin, ‘I do not believe it.’ The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, ‘Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day.” [97]


Response to claim: "why was 'a supernatural power' needed for the witness John Whitmer to be shown the plates?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

One of the eight witnesses, John Whitmer claimed, "I now say, I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides. ...they were shown to me by a supernatural power" (History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 307) The obvious question is, why was “a supernatural power” needed for the witness John Whitmer to be shown the plates? If he handled the plates, did he handle them while in a visionary state of mind, or in his imagination?

FairMormon Response

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.[98] 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.”[99]

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.”[100]

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.”[101]

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.[102]

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! [103]

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.[104]

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[105]

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.[106]


Response to claim: "The witnesses should not have been gullible people"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The witnesses should not have been gullible people that believed in things like 'second sight', divining rods, finding treasure by placing a rock in a hat, etc. That the Three Witnesses were a gullible sort is illustrated by an incident in July, 1837. Joseph had left on a five-week missionary tour to Canada, only to find on his return that all three of the Witnesses had joined a faction opposing him. This faction rallied around a young girl who claimed to be a seeress by virtue of a black stone in which she read the future. David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery all pledged her their loyalty, and Frederick G. Williams, formerly Joseph's First Counselor, became her scribe. The girl seeress would dance herself into a state of exhaustion, fall to the floor, and burst forth with revelations. (See Lucy Smith: Biographical Sketches, pp. 211-213).

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "All of the witness should have been much more vocal and been interviewed much more often"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

All of the witness should have been much more vocal and been interviewed much more often. There are very few interviews done with the witnesses that provide any additional information or corroboration of their statements. You would think that these people, after seeing such a magnificent sight, would spend their time testifying to the world about their experience instead of largely just signing a prepared statement and avoiding interviews by the media. Only three of the eight witnesses made separate statements that they had handled the plates. They were Joseph's two brothers, Hyrum and Samuel, and John Whitmer.

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "it would have helped had all the witnesses remained loyal to the Church for the rest of their lives"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

And of course it would have helped had all the witnesses remained loyal to the Church for the rest of their lives instead of having most of them abandon it later on. It doesn't make much sense to leave the one, true Church of God if you have really received an indisputable witness that it was true. Why would these people risk being cast in Outer Darkness for all eternity for denying what they KNEW to be true unless they maybe had some doubts?

FairMormon Response

Response to claim: "It's also quite possible that Oliver was in on a deception with Joseph"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

It's also quite possible that Oliver was in on a deception with Joseph, assuming the BOM story isn't true. If so, he could have helped convince the others that they were experiencing something that was not tangible, like the second-sight experiences many people had at the time.

FairMormon Response

Notes

  1. Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958, intro.
  2. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: Research Publications, 1888), 70-71. Quoted in Dale Morgan, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History, ed. John Phillip Walker (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), xxx.
  3. Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, in letter dated 29 November 1829, quoted in Corenlius C. Blatchly, "THE NEW BIBLE, written on plates of Gold or Brass," Gospel Luminary 2/49 (10 Dec. 1829): 194.
  4. William E. McLellin, journal, 18 July 1831, reproduced in The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836, edited by Jan Shipps and John W. Welch (Urbana: Brigham Young University Studies and University of Illinois Press, 1994), 29. ISBN 0842523162..
  5. Millennial Star (15 September 1853).; quoted in George Reynolds and Janne Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1959), 4:436. AISN B000ESAPTO. GL direct link
  6. Tiffany’s Monthly 5/2 (New York: Joel Tiffany, 1859), 166.
  7. “Gold Bible, No. 6,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 16 (19 March 1831), 126–27. off-site
  8. Martin Harris . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) 2, no. 39 (15 March 1831).
  9. 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.
  10. The Golden Bible,” Painesville Telegraph (Ohio) (16 November 1830).
  11. 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.
  12. Letter of Elder Edward Stevenson to the Millennial Star Vol. 48, 367-389. (1886) quoted in William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 57–58.
  13. George Godfrey, “Testimony of Martin Harris,” from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his daughter, Florence (Godfrey) Munson of Fielding, Utah; quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971), 65–66. Also cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 117. ISBN 0877478465.
  14. 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.
  15. William B. Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883), 5-19. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:497.
  16. "The Old Soldier's Testimony. Sermon preached by Bro. William B. Smith, in the Saints' Chapel, Detroit, Iowa, June 8th, 1884. Reported by C.E. Butterworth," Saints' Herald 31 4 October 1884): 643-44. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:505.
  17. "Wm. B. Smith's last Statement," Zion's Ensign 5 (13 Jan. 1894): 6; reprinted in the Deseret Evening News 27 (20 Jan. 1894): 11; Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 56 (26 Feb. 1894): 132. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:510-512.
  18. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  19. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  20. See "The Testimony of Three Witnesses," in the Book of Mormon off-site; reprinted by Whitmer in David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  21. Brent Lee Metcalfe, "Apologetic and Critical Assumptions About Book of Mormon Historicity," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 no. 3 (Fall 1993), 176–177.
  22. 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), 3:18–19. Volume 3 link
  23. 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), 3:18–19, cited in footnote 3. Volume 3 link
  24. Bushman discusses the threats against the apostates, and their decision to flee, in Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 350–351.
  25. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 342–372.
  26. Parley P. Pratt, A Reply to...“Complete Failure,”...and...“Mormonism Exposed,” (Manchester: W. R. Thomas, 1840), 1-9. off-site Full title
  27. Martin Harris, interview with Joel Tiffany, 1859, in "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffanys Monthly (August 1859): 163-70; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:309.
  28. Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988), 6. off-site
  29. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988).
  30. "History of Thomas Baldwin Marsh," Deseret News (24 March 1858).
  31. Oliver Cowdery to Phineas Young, 23 March 1846, Oliver Cowdery Collection, "Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith Jr." (kept by George W. Robinson), 22, LDS Church Historical Department (published in Scott H. Faulring, ed, An American Prophet's Record.— The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), emphasis in original; cited in Scott H. Faulring. “The Return of Oliver Cowdery”, FARMS Featured Paper, no date.
  32. Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901), 1:246.
  33. Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901), 1:246.
  34. 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 George Mantle to Marietta Walker, 26 December 1888, Saint Catherine, Missouri, cited in Autumn Leaves 2 (1889): 141.
  35. Letter of Elder Edward Stevenson to the Millennial Star quoted in William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 57–58.
  36. George Godfrey, “Testimony of Martin Harris,” from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his daughter, Florence (Godfrey) Munson of Fielding, Utah; quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971), 65–66.
  37. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  38. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  39. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 88. ISBN 0877478465.
  40. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  41. McLellin to Cobb, 14 August 1880; cited by Larry C. Porter, "The Odyssey of William Earl McLellin: Man of Diversity, 1806–83," in The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836, edited by Jan Shipps and John W. Welch (Urbana: Brigham Young University Studies and University of Illinois Press, 1994), 296. ISBN 0842523162.
  42. Richmond Conservator Report (26 January 1888); quoted in Lyndon W. Cook ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Grandin Book Company, 1993), 226.
  43. Richmond Democrat 16/6 (2 February 1888), quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971), 16.
  44. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:123–124.)
  45. "Doctor" was not a title—It was Hurlbut's actual given name.
  46. Benjamin Winchester, The origin of the Spalding story, concerning the Manuscript Found; with a short biography of Dr. P. Hulbert, the originator of the same; and some testimony adduced, showing it to be a sheer fabrication, so far as in connection with the Book of Mormon is concerned. (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, Printers, 1834), p. 5.
  47. Jeffrey N. Walker, "Joseph Smith's Introduction to the Law: The 1819 Hurlbut Case," Mormon Historical Studies 11/1 (Spring 2010): 129-130.
  48. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:41. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  49. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:41. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  50. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 446–447.
  51. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: Telegraph Press, 1834), p. 11.
  52. The base text for this wiki article came from a FAIR board posting, Daniel C. Peterson, “Case of the Missing Golden Plates,” FAIR message boards, Posted on: Jan 22 2006, 02:12 PM. FairMormon link
  53. Voree Herald, January 1846; Zion's Reveille, 1 April 1847; and Gospel Herald, 4 May 1848
  54. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)
  55. The Saints’ Herald 35 (December 29, 1888): 831–32. See also Wikipedia article "Voree plates".
  56. 56.0 56.1 Letter from Chauncy Loomis to Joseph Smith III, “Experience on Beaver Island with James J. Strang,” Saint’s Herald, 10 Nov. 1888, 718-719.
  57. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)
  58. 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.
  59. William Lang, History of Seneca County (Springfield, Ohio, 1880), 365.
  60. "Letter from General W. H. Gibson," Seneca Advertiser (Tiffin, Ohio) 12 April 1892.
  61. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 96–98. ISBN 0877478465.
  62. “Several families . . .,” Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra, New York) (27 May 1831). off-site
  63. 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.
  64. Tanner and Tanner, "Roper Attacks Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?" 14.
  65. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 167–170. ISBN 0877478465.
  66. 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.
  67. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  68. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  69. 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.
  70. 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.
  71. 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.
  72. 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.
  73. Matthew Roper, "The Mythical "Manuscript Found" (Review of: Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? The Spalding Enigma)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 7–140. off-site, p. 21, note 62.
  74. “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.
  75. John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum," 8 September 1892, Early Mormon Documents, 2: 548.
  76. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 71 in "Pomeroy Tucker Account, 1867," Early Mormon Documents, 3: 122.
  77. Martin Harris Interview with Ole A. Jensen, July 1875 in Ole A. Jensen, "Testimony of Martin Harris (ONe of the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon)," undated (c. 1918), original in private possession, photocopies at Utah State Historical Society, LDS Church Archives, and Special Collections of BYU's Harold B. Lee Library; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:375.
  78. Nathan Tanner Jr. Journal, 13 April 1886.
  79. NeedAuthor, Times and Seasons 3 no. 21 (1 September 1842), 898. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  80. Autobiography of Alma L. Jensen, 1932.
  81. Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, in letter dated 29 November 1829, quoted in Corenlius C. Blatchly, "THE NEW BIBLE, written on plates of Gold or Brass," Gospel Luminary 2/49 (10 Dec. 1829): 194. (emphasis added)
  82. C. C. Blatchley, “Caution Against the Golden Bible,” New-York Telescope 6, no. 38 (20 February 1830): 150. off-site
  83. Martin Harris . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) 2, no. 39 (15 March 1831).
  84. "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
  85. Saints’ Herald 25/16 (15 August 1878): 253; letter written by Myron Bond in Cadillac, Michigan on 2 August 1878.
  86. 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)
  87. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: A. Metcalf, 1888), 74.
  88. Palmyra Reflector, 19 March 1831; cited in The Saints' Herald, 28 January 1936.
  89. James Henry Moyle, Address, 22 March 1908, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:142-143.
  90. James Henry Moyle, statement, 13 September 1938; in Template:EMG
  91. “Gold Bible, No. 6,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 16 (19 March 1831): 126–27. off-site
  92. 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.
  93. "David Whitmer Interview with Nathan Tanner, Jr., 13 May 1886," Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel (editor) 5:166.
  94. Letter of Elder Edward Stevenson to the Millennial Star quoted in William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 57–58.
  95. George Godfrey, “Testimony of Martin Harris,” from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his daughter, Florence (Godfrey) Munson of Fielding, Utah; quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971), 65–66. Also cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 117. ISBN 0877478465.
  96. George Mantle to Marietta Walker, 26 December 1888, Saint Catherine, Missouri, cited in Autumn Leaves 2 (1889): 141. Cited in 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
  97. Letter of Elder Edward Stevenson to the Millennial Star Vol. 48, 367-389. (1886) quoted in William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 57–58.
  98. “Memorandums,” 1845, handwriting of Thomas Bullock, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  99. John Whitmer, "To the patrons of the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate," (March 1836) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:287.
  100. 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
  101. Saints’ Herald 25/16 (15 August 1878): 253; letter written by Myron Bond in Cadillac, Michigan on 2 August 1878.
  102. C. C. Blatchley, “Caution Against the Golden Bible,” New-York Telescope 6, no. 38 (20 February 1830): 150. off-site
  103. Martin Harris . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) 2, no. 39 (15 March 1831).
  104. "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
  105. Saints’ Herald 25/16 (15 August 1878): 253; letter written by Myron Bond in Cadillac, Michigan on 2 August 1878.
  106. 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)