Mormonism and Wikipedia/Three Witnesses/The Three Witnesses

Table of Contents

An analysis of the Wikipedia article "Three Witnesses"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormonism and Wikipedia/Three Witnesses, a work by author: Various

An analysis of the Wikipedia article "Three Witnesses"


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 Updated 9/28/2011

Reviews of previous revisions of this section

December 2009

Summary: A review of this section as it appeared in Wikipedia in December 2009.

Section review

The Three Witnesses

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Without doubt the Three Witnesses were closely associated with Joseph Smith, and Martin Harris also made a significant financial contribution to the movement.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

In addition, some modern interpreters of Mormonism have argued (as did some contemporaries) that the Witnesses had a similar magical worldview. One of these, Grant Palmer, a former director of LDS Institutes of Religion who was disfellowshipped by the LDS Church in 2004 after writing An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, argued that moderns "tend to read into [the Witnesses'] testimonies a rationalist perspective rather than a nineteenth-century magical mindset....They shared a common world view, and this is what drew them together in 1829."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
    The exact reason for Grant Palmer's Church discipline can only be speculated, since the Church does not release those records to the public.
  • For an analysis of Grant Palmer's critical work, see A FAIR Analysis of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins.

}}

Oliver Cowdery

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery was a school teacher and an early convert to Mormonism who served as scribe while Joseph Smith dictated what he said was a translation of the Book of Mormon. Like Smith, who was a distant relative, Cowdery was also a treasure hunter who had used a divining rod in his youth. Cowdery asked questions of the rod; if it moved, the answer was yes, if not, no.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.
    Violated by John Foxe —Diff: [{{{wikipedialink}}} off-site]

    The wiki editor is using Grant Palmer as a source, and Palmer uses the Barnes Frisbie account found in Early Mormon Documents, (*Barnes Frisbie, The History of Middletown, Vermont (Rutland: Tuttle and Co., 1867) in EMD, 1: 603-05.) which does not support the statements in the main text. The wiki article should note that this is Palmer's opinion and interpretation of the primary source. Instead, Palmer's opinion is presented in the article as fact.
  • For an analysis of Grant Palmer's critical work, see A FAIR Analysis of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins.
  • Barnes Frisbie's account is describing the "Wood Scrape" incident. Frisbie is discussing the leader of a band of rodsmen, a man named Winchell, when he says, "I have been told, was a friend and acquaintance of [William] Cowdery's, but of this I cannot be positive..." Palmer moved far beyond the source in his assertions:
    • The source says nothing about Oliver Cowdery being a "treasure hunter." Grant Palmer states his opinion that Oliver "was a treasure hunter and "rodsman" before he met Joseph Smith in 1829" in An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (p. 178), but he does not back it up with a citation other than to note Oliver's father's possible association with the treasure-seeking group from Vermont (based upon the Frisbie account cited above).
    • The source says nothing about the method by which Oliver might have utilized a divining rod.
  • From the cited source, p. 604, note 11:

[D. Michael] Quinn states, "From 1800 to 1802, Nathaniel Wood's 'use of the rod was mostly as a medium of revelation."...Thus, a connection between William Cowdery and the Wood Scrape would help to explain why his son Oliver had a rod through which he received revelations" before he met Joseph Smith in April 1829, shortly after Cowdery had arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania: "Now this is not all, for you [Oliver Cowdery] have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod..." (Book of Commandments VII:3; see also Quinn 1987, 32-35)

  • It should be noted that in the second volume of the Joseph Smith Papers, that the phrase "working with the rod" was originally "working with the sprout." The word "sprout" was changed to "rod" by Sidney Rigdon.
  • The source says nothing about Cowdery being "a distant relative" of Joseph Smith (he was a distant cousin). Moreover, one questions why the wiki author thinks that this is even relevant.
  • For a detailed response, see: Doctrine and Covenants/Oliver Cowdery and the "rod of nature"

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Cowdery also told Smith that he had seen the Golden Plates in a vision before the two ever met.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Before Cowdery served as one of the Three Witnesses, he had already experienced two other important visions. Cowdery said that he and Smith had received the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist in May 1829 after which they had baptized each other in the Susquehanna River.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  • From Charles M. Nielsen Letter, 14 November 1988, Early Mormon Documents 2:476, Oliver Cowdery states:

Again I testify to you that while I was alone with Joseph the Prophet, in the attitude of prayer, a light descended from heaven, the glory of which far exceeds the noon-day sun, and in the midst of which a personage appeared who told us that his name was John, formerly called John the Baptist. He ordained first Joseph by laying his hands upon his head, and then he ordained me in the same manner to the Aaronic Priesthood. Later, after having baptized each other according to his instructions, we ordained each other...

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Cowdery said that he and Smith had later gone into the forest and prayed "until a glorious light encircled us, and as we arose on account of the light, three persons stood before us dressed in white, their faces beaming with glory." One of the three announced that he was the Apostle Peter and named the others as the Apostles James and John.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  • From the cited source,

...until a glorious light encircled us, and as we arose on account of the light, three persons stood before us dressed in white, their faces beaming with glory." One of the three announced that he was the Apostle Peter and named the others as the Apostles James and John. The person in the center addressing Joseph and me, said "My name is Peter and (pointing to the others) these are James and John. We have come here according to the command from the Almighty to confer upon you the Apostleship to which we have been ordained." After having made these few remarks, they proceeded to ordain us.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

By 1838, Cowdery and Smith had engaged in a number of disagreements that included doctrinal differences about the role of faith and works,

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

the Kirtland Safety Society,

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

and what Cowdery called Smith's "dirty, nasty, filthy affair" with Fanny Alger.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Smith's growing reliance on Sidney Rigdon as his first counselor,

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  • From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

An 1830 revelation named Oliver Cowdery next only to Joseph Smith in priesthood leadership (D&C 20:2-3), a status formalized in December 1834, when he was ranked above Sidney Rigdon, who had long served as Joseph's first counselor. Each would "officiate in the absence of the President, according to his rank and appointment, viz.: President Cowdery first; President Rigdon second, and President Williams third" (PJS 1:21).

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

differences over the management of finances during the gathering of the Latter-day Saints in Jackson County and Kirtland

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
  • From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism,

The Three Witnesses had seen an angel with Joseph Smith, but later they tended to compete rather than cooperate with his leadership. Cowdery disagreed with the Prophet's economic and political program and sought a personal financial independence that ran counter to the cooperative economics essential to the Zion society that Joseph Smith envisioned.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

ultimately led to Cowdery's excommunication in April.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Cowdery also refused to obey a high council decision not to sell lands on which he hoped to make a profit, "[D]eclaring that he would not be governed by any ecclesiastical authority nor Revelation whatever in his temporal affairs."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
  • From the cited source (Bushman, 347-348)

Perhaps the heart of the matter was stated in a charge of "virtually denying the faith by declaring that he would not be governed by any ecclesiastical authority nor Revelation whatever in his temporal affairs. Cowdery was charged with "selling his lands in Jackson County contrary to the Revelations," a sign he was withdrawing from the economic order of the Church.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

After Cowdery's excommunication on April 12, 1838, he taught school, practiced law, and became involved in Ohio political affairs. Until 1848, Cowdery put the Latter Day Saint church behind him. He joined the Methodist church in Tiffin, Ohio, and, according to a lay leader of that church, publicly declared that he was "ashamed of his connection with Mormonism."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
  • Note that this poem published in the Times and Seasons is often used by critics of the Church to imply that Oliver denied his testimony (despite Oliver's repeated well documented assertions to the contrary).
  • For a detailed response, see: Book of Mormon/Witnesses/Recant

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Later Cowdery reaffirmed his role in the establishment of Mormonism even though that confession cost him the editorship of a newspaper. In 1848, after Joseph Smith's assassination, Cowdery reaffirmed his witness to the Golden Plates and asked to be readmitted to the church. He never held another high office in the church, in part because he died sixteen months after his rebaptism.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources

}}

Martin Harris

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Martin Harris was a respected farmer in the Palmyra area who had changed his religion at least five times before he became a Mormon.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Neutral Point-of-View off-site— All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.

    The deconstruction of Martin Harris' character begins with a token statement about him being a "respected farmer," immediately followed by a statement that he "changed his religion at least five times before he became a Mormon."
  • Referring to Harris' Book of Mormon testimony, Pomeroy Tucker noted,,

“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 easily be explained.” (Palmyra Courier, May 24, 1872 as quoted in Richard L. Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses. 1981, p. 104.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

A biographer wrote that his "imagination was excitable and fecund." One letter says that Harris thought that a candle sputtering was the work of the devil

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
    The representation of the cited source is correct.
  •  Violates Wikipedia: Neutral Point-of-View off-site— All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.

    The deconstruction of Harris' character continues as the wiki editor now lists numerous statements alleging that Harris had an unstable personality.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

and that he had met Jesus in the shape of a deer and walked and talked with him for two or three miles.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  • From the cited source,

As I have before taken occasion to remark, Harris was ready to be duped by any thing which these jugglers were disposed to tell him. He seemed to think at length that he himself was inspired, and that revelations from heaven were made to him in reference to the most minute affairs in life....No matter where he went, he saw visions and supernatural appearances all around him. He told a gentleman in Palmyra, after one of his excursions to Pennsylvania, while the translation of the Book of Mormon was going on, that on the way he met the Lord Jesus Christ, who walked along by the side of him in the shape of a deer for two or three miles, talking with him as familiarly as one man talks with another.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

The local Presbyterian minister called him "a visionary fanatic."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
  • This would be unsurprising coming from a Presbyterian minister, considering Martin's well-known association with Mormonism and his testimony of having seen an angel.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

*A friend, who praised Harris as "universally esteemed as an honest man" but disagreed with his religious affiliation, declared that Harris' mind "was overbalanced by 'marvellousness'" and that his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
  • Note that this characterization of Harris by his "friend" was made well after Harris claimed to have seen an angel as one of the Three Witnesses.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Another friend said, "Martin was a good citizen. Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
  • Again, this is not surprising considering Martin's claim of having seen an angel as one of the witnesses to the gold plates.
  • From the cited source,

Martin was a good citizen. Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks & believed in all these things. I never knew or heard Martin talk infidelity. They claimed that he was an infidel; but I never heard him talk infidelity on matters of Religion or anything of that. He was a hard working man, & if he had staid where he already lived he would have been the richest man in that part of the country. But after Mormonism came up he seemed to talk of that and nothing else & he was running the streets & talking everything. And sometimes he would seem as though he was beside himself. There cant anybody say a word against Martin Harris.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

During the early years, Harris "seems to have repeatedly admitted the internal, subjective nature of his visionary experience."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

}}

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.” [1]


The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris "used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and 'seeing with the spiritual eye,' and the like."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources

}}

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.[2]


The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the book, said that he had asked Harris, "Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" According to Gilbert, Harris "looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, 'No, I saw them with a spiritual eye."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
    From the cited source,

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."

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with "the eye of faith" or "spiritual eyes."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

In 1838, Harris is said to have told an Ohio congregation that "he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
    From the cited source,

...but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in a public congregation that he never saws the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination...

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

A neighbor of Harris in Kirtland, Ohio, said that Harris "never claimed to have seen [the plates] with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
    From the cited source,

He never claimed to have seen them with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision. He said it was impossible for the prophet Joseph to get up the "Book of Mormon," for he could not spell the word Sarah. He had him repeat the letters of the world. He was a very illiterate man.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

One account states that in March 1838, Martin Harris publicly denied that either he or the other Witnesses to the Book of Mormon had literally seen the golden plates—although, of course, he had not been present when Whitmer and Cowdery first claimed to have viewed them. This account says that Harris's recantation, made during a period of crisis in early Mormonism, induced five influential members, including three Apostles, to leave the Church.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  • From the cited source,

...but when I came to hear Marin Harris state in a public congregation that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver [Cowdery] nor David [Whitmer] & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it...

  • Editor Vogel made the following observation on p. 291 note 7,

Harris evidently denounced the Testimony of Eight Witnesses as false in the sense that it implied a purely natural and physical experience with the plates. Considering his close association with those eight men, it is doubtful that he intended to deny their individual testimonies. Rather Harris had probably said the eight witnesses "also...never saw" the plates with their natural eyes. This interpretation is consistent with Warren Parrish's report quoted in the introduction. Additionally, Harris seemed to regard the visionary experiences of the three witnesses as superior to that of the eight, apparently placing the experiences of the eight witnesses on the level with his seeing the plates through the cloth.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Later in life, Harris strongly denied that he ever made this statement.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Neutral Point-of-View off-site— All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.

    Notice how every one of Harris' statements regarding seeing the plates in a vision is quoted, yet the wiki editor chooses not to quote Harris's strong denial that he ever denied the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
  •  Violates Wikipedia: Synthesis off-site: Do not put together information from multiple sources to reach a conclusion that is not stated explicitly by any of the sources.
    Violated by John Foxe —Diff: [{{{wikipedialink}}} off-site]

    It cannot be determined if Brigham's quote relates specifically to Martin Harris. He is talking about a "young man" who was one of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who handled the plates and conversed with the angels of God, were afterwards left to doubt and to disbelieve that they had ever seen an angel. One of the Quorum of the Twelve—a young man full of faith and good works, prayed, and the vision of his mind was opened, and the angel of God came and laid the plates before him, and he saw and handled them, and saw the angel, and conversed with him as he would with one of his friends; but after all this, he was left to doubt, and plunged into apostacy, and has continued to contend against this work. There are hundreds in a similar condition.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

In 1837, Harris joined dissenters, led by Warren Parrish, in an attempt to reform the church. But Parrish rejected the Book of Mormon, and Harris continued to believe in it. By 1840, Harris had returned to Smith's church. Following Smith's assassination, Harris accepted James J. Strang as a new prophet, and Strang also claimed to have been divinely led to an ancient record engraved upon metal plates. By 1847, Harris had broken with Strang and had accepted the leadership of fellow Book of Mormon witness, David Whitmer. Harris then left Whitmer for another Mormon factional leader, Gladden Bishop. In 1855, Harris joined with the last surviving brother of Joseph Smith Jr., William Smith, and declared that William was Joseph's true successor.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.
    Violated by John Foxe —Diff: off-site

    Much of the main text is not supported by the cited source. There is no mention in the source of Harris' associations with Warren Parrish, David Whitmer or Gladden Bishop.
  • From the cited source,

For a time he affiliated with James Strang and even served a mission for that group in England in 1846. In 1847 he joined William E. McLellin in organizing a new church, and in 1858 was briefly affiliated with William Smith.

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

"In 1856 Harris's wife left him to gather with the Mormons in Utah. Harris remained in Kirtland and, as caretaker of the temple, gave tours to interested visitors."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Despite his earlier statements regarding the spiritual nature of his experience, in 1853, Harris told one David Dille that he had held the forty- to sixty-pound plates on his knee for "an hour-and-a-half" and handled them "plate after plate."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.

    The source says nothing about the weight of the plates.
  • Here is Martin's 1853 statement from his interview with David B. Dille in context,

Mr. Harris replied and said—"I was the right-hand man of Joseph Smith, and I know that he was a Prophet of God. I know the Book of Mormon is true." Then smiting his fist on the table, he said—"And you know that I know that it is true. I know that the plates have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice declared it unto us; therefore I know of a surety that the work is true. For," continued Mr. Harris, "did I not at one time hold the plates on my knee an hour-and-a-half, whilst in conversation with Joseph, when we went to bury them in the woods, that the enemy might not obtain them? Yes, I did. And as many of the plates as Joseph Smith translated I handled with my hands, plate after plate.["]

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Even later, Harris affirmed that he had seen the plates and the angel with his natural eyes: "Gentlemen," holding out his hand, "do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Or are your eyes playing you a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the Angel and the plates."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
  •  Violates Wikipedia: Neutral Point-of-View off-site— All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.

    While the wiki editors took care to include multiple statements in which Martin talks of seeing the plates with his "spiritual" eyes, they fail to include multiple references from the same source (cited here) in which Martin claimed to know exactly what he saw.
  • For a detailed response, see: Statements made by Martin Harris

}}

Martin Harris: "I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel, and he showed them unto me"

Martin Harris told Robert Aveson,

It is not a mere belief, but is a matter of knowledge. I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel, and he showed them unto me.[3]


The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

In 1870, at the age of 87, Harris accepted an invitation to live in Utah, where he was rebaptized and spent his remaining years with relatives in Cache County. In his last years Harris continued to bear fervent testimony to the authenticity of the plates, but a contemporary critic of the Church noted that Harris rejected some important LDS doctrines and that his sympathy for the Utah church was tenuous.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources
    The interviewer, Anthony Metcalf, begins by stating: "Following is the history as related to me, including all [Martin Harris'] connections with Joseph Smith, the pretended prophet and the founder of the Mormon Church."
  • From the cited source,

He also claimed that polygamy, baptism for the dead, and such endowments as were given [in] Nauvoo and Salt Lake City, were no part of Mormonism. I asked him why he had taken his endowments when he arrived in Salt Lake City. He answered that "his only motive was to see what was going on in there."

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

In a letter of 1870, Harris swore, "[N]o man ever heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates, nor the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints under the administration of Joseph Smith, Jun., the prophet whom the Lord raised up for that purpose in these the latter days, that he may show forth his power and glory."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  •  Correct, per cited sources

}}

David Whitmer

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

David Whitmer first became involved with Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates through his friend Oliver Cowdery; and because of his longevity, Whitmer became the most interviewed of the Three Witnesses. Whitmer gave various versions of his experience in viewing the Golden Plates. Although less credulous than Harris, Whitmer had his own visionary predilections and owned a seer stone.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

}}

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

In 1829, before testifying to the truth of the Golden Plates, Whitmer reported that when traveling with Smith to his father's farm in Fayette, New York, they had seen a Nephite on the road who suddenly disappeared. Then when they arrived at his father's house, they were "impressed" that the same Nephite was under the shed.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  • From Early Mormon Documents 5:30-31,

Soon after they passed the felt Strangely & Stop[p]ed, but could See nothing of him all arround was clear & they asked the Lord about it[.] he Said that the Prophet Looked as White as a Sheet & Said that it was one of the Nephites & that he had the Plates. on arriveing at home they were impressed that the Same Person was under the Shed & again they were informed that it was So. they Saw whare <he> had been & the next Morning Davids Mother [Mary Musselman Whitment] Saw the Person at the Shed and he took the Plates form A Box & Showed them to her[.] (5:30-31)

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The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Recounting the vision to Orson Pratt in 1878, Whitmer claimed to have seen not only the Golden Plates but the "Brass Plates, the plates containing the record of the wickedness of the people of the world....the sword of Laban, the Directors (i.e. the ball which Lehi had) and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed...."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

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David Whitmer (1878): "I saw them just as plain as I see this bed"

In an 1878 interview with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, for example, he gave dramatic and emphatic testimony of his experience as a witness:

It was in June 1829, the very last part of the month, and the eight witnesses, I think the next day. Joseph showed them the plates himself. We (the Three Witnesses) not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, but the Brass Plates, the plates containing the record of the wickedness of the people of the world, and many other plates. The fact is, it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and i were sitting right here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light. It was not like the light of the sun, nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us, I cannot tell how far, bu in the midst of this light, immediately before us, about as far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer who was sitting 2 or 3 feet from him) there appeared, as it were, a table, with many records on it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon; also the sword of Laban, the Directors (i.e. the ball which Lehi had) and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking his hand upon the bed beside him), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.[4]

The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

On other occasions, Whitmer's vision of the plates seemed far less corporeal. When asked in 1880 for a description of the angel who showed him the plates, Whitmer replied that the angel "had no appearance or shape." Asked by the interviewer how he then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, "Have you never had impressions?" To which the interviewer responded, "Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?" "Just so," replied Whitmer.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  • It should be noted that the person describing the interview sets all of the tone and color of the interview, and in this case we get snippets of responses from Whitmer. The other responses from Whitmer regarding his experience with the plates show a much more communicative man. This particular interview, therefore, is an anomaly among all of the statements Whitmer made regarding his experience.
  • For a detailed response, see: David Whitmer/Statements

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David Whitmer (1881): "I have never at any time, denied that testimony...which has so long since been published with that book...It was no Delusion"

The following is a portion of John Murphy's interview with David Whitmer, written from Murphy's perspective.[5]:

[Murphy]: "First of all, I heard you saw an angel. I never saw one. I want your description of [the] shape, voice, brogue and the construction of his language. I mean as to his style of speaking. You know that we can often determine the class a man belongs to by his language."
[Whitmer]: "It had no appearance or shape."
[Murphy]: "Then you saw nothing nor heard nothing?"
[Whitmer]: "Nothing, in the way you understand it."
[Murphy]: "How, then, could you have borne testimony that you saw and heard an angel?"
[Whitmer]: "Have you never had impressions?"
[Murphy]: "Then you had impressions as the quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?"
[Whitmer]: "Just so."

When David Whitmer saw this account published, he published his own rebuttal to John Murphy's portrayal of his witness experience on 19 March 1881. Whitmer vigorously refuted Murphy's account [6]:

Unto all Nations, Kindreds, tongues and people unto whom this present Shall come.
It having been represented by one John Murphy of Polo Mo. that I in a conversation with him last Summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
To the end therefore, that he may understand me now if he did not then, and that the world may know the truth, I wish now standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public Statement;
That I have never at any time, denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that book as one of the three witnesses.
Those who know me best, well know that I have adhered to that testimony.—
And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do now again affirm the truth of all my statement[s], as then made and published.
He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; It was no Delusion. What is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand.[7]


The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

A young Mormon lawyer, James Henry Moyle, who interviewed Whitmer in 1885, asked if there was any possibility that Whitmer had been deceived. "His answer was unequivocal....that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness." But Moyle went away "not fully satisfied....It was more spiritual than I anticipated."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  • From the cited source,

Mr. D[avid]. Withmer Sen did not handel the plates. Only seen <saw> them, says Martin Haris and Cowdry did so they say! Says he did see them and the angel and heard him speak. But that was indiscribable that it was through the power of God (and was possibly [in the spirit] at least) he then spoke of Paul hearing and seeing Christ but his associates did not [Acts 9:7; 22:9]. Because it is only seen in the Spirit.

I was not fully satisfied with the ex=planation. It was more spiritual than I anticipated.

  • Note that, like the previous interview, this is also a second hand report. It seems to accurately report the aspect of the experience that Whitmer tried to convey—that while very real, it was also a spiritual experience. The idea that Moyle went away "not fully satisfied" tells us more about Moyle's expectations that what Whitmer was trying to convey.

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The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

In 1831, Whitmer moved with early Mormon believers to Kirtland, Ohio; and then in 1832, he followed the church to Jackson County, Missouri, and was named Smith's successor even though he had criticized Smith's more recent innovations. By December 1837, a movement led by Warren Parrish plotted to overthrow Smith and replace him with Whitmer. After the collapse of the Kirtland Bank, confrontation grew between the dissenters and those loyal to Joseph Smith. Whitmer, his brother John, Oliver Cowdery, and others were harassed by the Danites, a secret group of Mormon vigilantes, and were warned to leave the county. Whitmer was formally excommunicated on April 13, 1838 and never rejoined the church.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

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The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Whitmer then moved to Richmond, Missouri, where he ran a livery stable and became a civic leader. After Smith's assassination, Whitmer, like Martin Harris, briefly followed James Strang, who had his own set of supernatural metal plates. Later Whitmer organized his own splinter group based on his authority as one of the Three Witnesses and even later supported another group headed by his brother John. In his pamphlet, "An Address to All Believers in Christ" (1887), Whitmer reaffirmed his witness to the Golden Plates,

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

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The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

but he also criticized what he viewed as the errors of Joseph Smith, including his introduction of plural marriage. "If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon, if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice," wrote Whitmer,"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....'"

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

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The author(s) of Check link or content make(s) the following claim:

Nevertheless, Whitmer is regarded by Mormons as an "enduring witness to the genuineness of the prophet Joseph Smith and his message."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  • The wiki editors have linked to a source that requires a subscription.

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Further reading

Articles on this subject

FairMormon's Wikipedia Article Reviews

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Martin Harris"

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Oliver Cowdery"

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "First Vision"

Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/17/2011. This article has undergone moderate improvements in its use of sources since our last review. The article still contains a substantial amount of original research based upon primary sources, with the intent to disprove the vision and highlight perceived discrepancies between vision accounts. Believing scholars are labeled "apologists" in an attempt to diminish their credibility.

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Joseph Smith"

Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/3/2011. This article has undergone substantial improvements in its use of sources since our initial review in 2009. Most of the citations are now accurately represented.

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Golden plates"

Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/21/2011. This article has undergone only minor improvements in its use of sources since our last review. The article contains a large amount of original research on the part of the wiki editors.

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Three Witnesses"

Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/28/2011. This article has been constructed in such a way as to discredit the witnesses by emphasizing any perceived contradictions in their various statements regarding their encounter with the gold plates.


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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Robert Aveson, "Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon," Deseret News, Apr. 2, 1927. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 116. ISBN 0877478465.
  4. Interview with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith (Richmond, Missouri, 7—8 September 1878), reported in a letter to President John Taylor and the Quorum of the Twelve dated 17 September 1878. Originally published in the Deseret News (16 November 1878) and reprinted in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 40. 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.
  5. John Murphy to the Editor, undate, Hamiltonian, 21 January 1881, quoted in "David Whitmer Interview with John Murphy, June 1880," Early Mormon Documents 5:63.
  6. "David Whitmer Proclamation, 19 March 1881," quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:69
  7. David Whitmer, "David Whitmer Proclamation, 19 March 1881," quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:69.