Book of Mormon/Witnesses

Book of Mormon witnesses

This evidence [the three and eight witnesses] he can pass over in silence, while, at the same time, he can take newspaper statements, containing a forged letter with an old woman’s name signed to it, and publish it for a POSITIVE FACT, which he supposes will have great weight with the honest....

—Parley P. Pratt, Plain Facts (Manchester: W. R. Thomas, 1840), 2. off-site Full title

This page is a summary or index. More detailed information on this topic is available on the sub-pages below.

Witnesses to the Book of Mormon

The world was not left with Joseph Smith's testimony alone. The Book of Mormon provided multiple official and unofficial witnesses who corroborated aspects of Joseph's account. Critics have long tried to dismiss or destroy the witnesses' witness. This page links to subpages which discuss various attacks in detail.

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Three Witnesses"

Summary: Wikipedia's treatment of the Three Witnesses is controlled by a Protestant editor, and is crafted to discredit the Witnesses by emphasizing the negative and diminishing the positive.

Reliability of the Book of Mormon witnesses

Summary: It is claimed that the witnesses cannot be trusted, or are unreliable, because they were unstable personalities, prone to enthusiasm and exaggeration. Evidence amply demonstrates that the formal witnesses of the Book of Mormon were men of good character and reputation, and were recognized as such by contemporary non-Mormons.

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Skepticism of the Book of Mormon witnesses

Summary: Some claim that Martin Harris was a gullible believer in the supernatural. But, in fact, Martin repeatedly performed empirical tests to confirm Joseph Smith's claims. He came away convinced.

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The Book of Mormon witnesses and "folk magic"

Summary: Some have attempted to discredit the witnesses because they believed in "folk magic".

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Oliver Cowdery and the "rod of nature"

Summary: It is claimed that a revelation received by Joseph praised Oliver Cowdery's gift of using divining talents. It is claimed that the revelation was published in the Book of Commandments in its original form, then subsequently modified in the Doctrine and Covenants in order to hide the reference to the "rod of nature." Therefore, Joseph attempted to "cover up" Oliver Cowdery's work with a divining rod by changing a revelation.

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Martin Harris had five religions prior to Mormonism

Summary: Some claim that Martin Harris was unstable or flighty because he had five religions prior to the Church's restoration.

Martin Harris had five religions after Mormonism

Summary: Some claim that Martin Harris was unstable or flighty because he had five religions after he was excommunicated in 1838

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Description of the plates and stone box in which they were found.

Summary: A collection of all statements regarding the physical appearance, dimensions, and character of the plates and other items associated with them.

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Description of translation method and circumstances

Summary: Friendly and unfriendly accounts of those who witnessed and heard about the translation of the Book of Mormon

Did the Book of Mormon witnesses ever recant?

Summary: Some have tried to argue that some or all of the Witnesses recanted concerning their testimony. They were all faithful to their testimonies to the end of their lives, even though many of them had personal disagreements with Joseph Smith that caused them to leave the Church.

Did Joseph hypnotize the Book of Mormon witnesses?

Summary: Some grant that the Book of Mormon witnesses may have been sincere in their testimony, but claim that they were actually the victims of 'hallucination' or 'hypnosis' induced in them by Joseph Smith. The accusation that Joseph Smith was somehow able to hypnotize the witnesses—not individually, but en mass—is simply too preposterous to be true. This accusation vastly overstates the nature of hypnotism and the abilities of those able to practice it.

Did God tell David Whitmer to leave the Church?

Summary: 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." Some argue that if members accept Whitmer's witness of the Book of Mormon, then they must also accept that God wanted David to repudiate the Church as false. Some distort the historical record to make it appear that David Whitmer left the Church because he was told to, when it fact he was excommunicated prior to claiming any revelation to do so. The command to leave, if it was a true revelation, involved David's physical safety and not his membership in the Church, which he had already renounced.

Eight witnesses

Summary: Some have tried to argue that the Eight witnesses only claimed a 'spiritual' or 'visionary' view of the plates, not a literal, physical one. The witnesses left concrete statements regarding the physical nature of the plates. There were others besides the eleven who saw and felt the plates, and testified that they were real.

Many witnesses were related

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

John Whitmer states that the plates were "shown to me by a supernatural power"

Summary: 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.

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"Eye of Faith" and "Spiritual Eye" statements by Martin Harris

Summary: Martin Harris frequently told people that he did not see the golden plates and the angel with his natural eyes but rather with “spiritual eyes” or the “eye of faith.”

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Other Book of Mormon witnesses

Summary: Are there any other witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates besides the Three and Eight witnesses?

Strangite parallels

Summary: James Strang's break-off sect produced eyewitnesses of buried records. Does this indicate that Joseph's ability to do so is neither surprising nor persuasive? The Strangite witnesses were not all faithful, and some recanted and described the nature of the fraud perpetuated by Strang.

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The nature of the experiences of the Book of Mormon witnesses

Summary: It is claimed 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.

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Only handled when covered by a tow frock?

Summary: A frequent claim is that a Book of Mormon witnesses said that he only handled the plates while they were covered in a "tow frock." However, this report is from William Smith, one of Joseph's brothers who was not a Book of Mormon witness. In fact, William insisted in the same statement that he was convinced Joseph was not lying about the plates. William also dismissed the Spalding hypothesis as nonsense.

Does being a "treasure hunter" or believing in "second sight" make one an unreliable witness?

Summary: Some of Joseph's associates were "treasure hunters" and may have believed in "second sight." Does this make them unreliable witnesses?

Were the Book of Mormon witnesses not "empirical" or "rational" men because they lived in the 19th-Century?

Summary: Some accuse the Book of Mormon witnesses of not being "empirical" or "rational" because they lived in the 19th-Century.

Was it true the viewing the gold plates would result in death?

Summary: Did Joseph Smith state that the penalty for viewing the gold plates was death? Was this just a way for Joseph to hide the fact that the plates didn't actually exist?

Oliver Cowdery joined the Methodists after leaving the Church

Summary: Why did Oliver Cowdery join the Methodists if all other churches had been "condemned of God"?

All were "interested" since they followed Joseph Smith

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

Statements

Summary: This page collects statements from the witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates in one convenient location. The same statements are often quoted elsewhere in the wiki under specific articles.

Signatures on the testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses

Summary: It is claimed that there are no actual signatures on the witness statements printed in the Book of Mormon.

Witnesses knew they would be ridiculed and not believed

Summary: The Witnesses understood that by giving their names to the witness statements, they would suffer social costs and rejection.

Witnesses persisted even in the face of persecution or death

Summary: The Witnesses stuck to their claim even in the face of threats or the risk of death.

Witnesses who left the Church continued to maintain their witness

Summary: Some witnesses were excommunicated and left the Church. However, they staunchly stuck to their witness accounts.

Witnesses had shared experiences which they could compare to confirm their reality

Summary: The Three and Eight Witnesses did not have merely internal, subjective experiences. These were shared experiences, which they could and did use to confirm their reality and objectivity.

Witnesses confirmed the faithfulness of other witnesses

Summary: The Three and Eight Witnesses often affirmed that others of their number had maintained their witness.

Witnesses reaffirmed published statements in the Book of Mormon

Summary: The Three and Eight Witnesses often reaffirmed their written statement and referred others to it.



Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims