Book of Mormon/Witnesses/Strangite parallels

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    Strangite parallels to the Book of Mormon witnesses

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Questions and Answers


Question: Of what did the Strangite witnesses testify?

Photo of James J. Strang, 1856, taken just before his death by one of those who plotted his murder.

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. [1] 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.[2]


Question: What are the differences between the Strangite witnesse 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.[3]

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

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.

"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.[4]

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.


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. 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
  2. Voree Herald, January 1846; Zion's Reveille, 1 April 1847; and Gospel Herald, 4 May 1848
  3. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)
  4. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)

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