Criticism of Mormonism/Books/An Insider's View of Mormon Origins/Index/Chapter 6

Response to claims made in "Chapter 6: Witnesses to the Golden Plates"


A FairMormon Analysis of: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins
A work by author: Grant Palmer
Claim Evaluation
An Insider's View of Mormon Origins
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Response to claim: 175 - The author claims that the Book of Mormon witnesses had a "magical mindset" and believed in "second sight"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the Book of Mormon witnesses had a "magical mindset" and believed in "second sight"

Author's sources: None

FairMormon Response

  Spin: The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader  
These men, regardless of whatever beliefs they had in folk magic, were successful and respected in their community. To imply that they didn't actually see what they claimed to see is an attack on their character.


Question: Is someone unreliable because they practiced "treasure hunting" and believed in the use of seer stones to find lost objects?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of things that they believed were valid is a ad hominem attack

Some of Joseph Smith's associates practiced "treasure hunting" and believed in the use of seer stones to locate lost objects. Some claim that many of these individuals believed in "second sight." Do these characteristics make these men unreliable witnesses?

Those who accuse people of being unreliable witnesses because they believed in "treasure hunting" or "second sight" are employing what is known as a "ad hominem" attack on the witnesses' character. The term "ad hominem" is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, as:

  1. appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
  2. marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.

One can see that this accusation applies both of these definitions:

  1. The terms "treasure hunter" and "second sight" are intended to evoke feelings of prejudice in the 21st-century reader. We typically reject such things as "superstition." Applying these attitudes to how we view 19th-century individuals is called "presentisim."
  2. One critic implies that, despite the fact that the witnesses never denied what they said, that "in light of their superstitions and reputations," we will somehow find their testimony to have less value. The witnesses, incidentally, had reputations for honesty. [1]

How exactly does the belief that one can locate buried treasure by means of a seer stone speak to one's character or honesty?

All Three Witnesses left the Church after disagreements with Joseph Smith, yet they never denied having seen the plates and the angel

One must also consider this: The Three Witnesses all left the Church after serious disagreements with Joseph Smith, and yet never denied that they had seen the plates and the angel, even near the end of their lives.

The fact that three different men allowed their name to be printed below a statement saying that they saw an angel, and then continued to affirm that they had seen the angel in public statements (some of them even published in newspapers) until the end of their lives, tends to tip the scale more toward "it really happened" than "it didn't happen." That's the point of a signed statement after all.


Response to claim: 175-176, n2-4 - The witnesses believed in the ability to see spirits and their dwelling places within the local hills

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The witnesses believed in the ability to see spirits and their dwelling places within the local hills.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

  Spin: The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader  
The author takes several hostile second hand sources and claims that "the witnesses" were all superstitious, unreliable men. Then, he takes scriptures such as Doctrine and Covenants 110:1 to support his odd assertion:

1 The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.

This scripture provides no support for the notion that the Book of Mormon witnesses could see "spirits and their dwelling places within the local hills."


Question: Is someone unreliable because they practiced "treasure hunting" and believed in the use of seer stones to find lost objects?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of things that they believed were valid is a ad hominem attack

Some of Joseph Smith's associates practiced "treasure hunting" and believed in the use of seer stones to locate lost objects. Some claim that many of these individuals believed in "second sight." Do these characteristics make these men unreliable witnesses?

Those who accuse people of being unreliable witnesses because they believed in "treasure hunting" or "second sight" are employing what is known as a "ad hominem" attack on the witnesses' character. The term "ad hominem" is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, as:

  1. appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
  2. marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.

One can see that this accusation applies both of these definitions:

  1. The terms "treasure hunter" and "second sight" are intended to evoke feelings of prejudice in the 21st-century reader. We typically reject such things as "superstition." Applying these attitudes to how we view 19th-century individuals is called "presentisim."
  2. One critic implies that, despite the fact that the witnesses never denied what they said, that "in light of their superstitions and reputations," we will somehow find their testimony to have less value. The witnesses, incidentally, had reputations for honesty. [2]

How exactly does the belief that one can locate buried treasure by means of a seer stone speak to one's character or honesty?

All Three Witnesses left the Church after disagreements with Joseph Smith, yet they never denied having seen the plates and the angel

One must also consider this: The Three Witnesses all left the Church after serious disagreements with Joseph Smith, and yet never denied that they had seen the plates and the angel, even near the end of their lives.

The fact that three different men allowed their name to be printed below a statement saying that they saw an angel, and then continued to affirm that they had seen the angel in public statements (some of them even published in newspapers) until the end of their lives, tends to tip the scale more toward "it really happened" than "it didn't happen." That's the point of a signed statement after all.


Response to claim: 178, n7-8 - Martin Harris participated in his own "treasure adventures" after meeting Joseph Smith

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Martin Harris participated in his own "treasure adventures" after meeting Joseph Smith.

Author's sources:
  • Ole A. Jensen, "Testimony Given to Ole A. Jensen by Martin Harris," July 1875,3, archives, Historical Department, Church ofJesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City (hereafter LDS archives); quoted in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 2:376.
  • Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 19:37.
  • Brigham Young, Office Journal, 21 Nov. 1861, LDS archives.

FairMormon Response

  Spin: The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader  
The author is stretching things when he claims that Martin Harris participated in "treasure adventures" after meeting Joseph. Here's what Brigham Young said:

I will tell you a story which will be marvelous to most of you. It was told me by Porter, whom I would believe just as quickly as any man that lives. When he tells a thing he understands, he will tell it just as he knows it; he is a man that does not lie. He said that on this night, when they were engaged hunting for this old treasure, they dug around the end of a chest for some twenty inches. The chest was about three feet square. One man who was determined to have the contents of that chest, took his pick and struck into the lid of it, and split through into the chest. The blow took off a piece of the lid, which a certain lady kept in her possession until she died. That chest of money went into the bank. Porter describes it so [making a rumbling sound]; he says this is just as true as the heavens are. I have heard others tell the same story.


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.” [3] 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.[4]

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. [5]

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." [6]

This claim fundamentally distorts Harris' activities during this period. [7] 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. [8]

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.


Response to claim: 178, n9-10 - Martin Harris said that he "informed Joseph Smith about the gold plates" and that he could see the gold plates through a cloth

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Martin Harris said that he "informed Joseph Smith about the gold plates" and that he could see the gold plates through a cloth.

Author's sources:
  • Martin Harris, interview by Joel Tiffany, Jan. 1859, in "Mormonism," Tiffany's Monthly (New York City) 5 (Aug. 1859): 166; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:306.
  • Martin Harris, interview by John A. Clark, 1828, in "Modern Superstition-The Mormonites," The Visitor, or Monthly Instructor, for 1841, 239; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:270.

FairMormon Response

  Mistakes/Errors: The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources  
These are not reports of what Martin Harris said - they are third-hand accounts of things that Martin is alleged to have said. The comment about seeing the plates "through a cloth" refers to the early days of the Book of Mormon translation when the plates were covered by a cloth and were not allowed to be viewed by anyone. This is prior to Harris' witness of the angel and the plates, during which he saw the plates directly.


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.[9]

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).


Response to claim: 179 - The author claims that the Whitmers all believed that they could see things with stones and dowsing sticks

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the Whitmers all believed that they could see things with stones and dowsing sticks.

FairMormon Response

  Spin: The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader  
So what? Many people believed in the ability to use divining rods and seer stones. It says nothing about the character of these men.


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.’” [10]

...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. [11]

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.[12]

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....[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]


Response to claim: 179, n11-12 - The author claims that Oliver Cowdery was a treasure hunter and "rodsman" before he met Joseph Smith

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Oliver Cowdery was a treasure hunter and "rodsman" before he met Joseph Smith, and that William Cowdery (Oliver's father) was associated with a treasure seeking group in Vermont.

Author's sources:
  • Vogel, "Barnes Frisbie Account," Early Mormon Documents, 1:599-621.
  • Book of Commandments 7:3 (1833), in Wilford C. Wood, ed., Joseph Smith Begins His Work: The Book of Commandments, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: by the Author, 1962), vol. 2; d. D&C 8:6-8.

FairMormon Response

  Fact: The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event  
Oliver did use a divining rod, but this says nothing about Oliver's character or reliability.


Revelations in Context on history.lds.org: "Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod"

Revelations in Context on history.lds.org:

Oliver Cowdery lived in a culture steeped in biblical ideas, language and practices. The revelation’s reference to Moses likely resonated with him. The Old Testament account of Moses and his brother Aaron recounted several instances of using rods to manifest God’s will (see Ex. 7:9-12; Num. 17:8). Many Christians in Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery's day similarly believed in divining rods as an instrument for revelation. Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod.[16]


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." [17]

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. [18]


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. [19]


Response to claim: 179, n13 - Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris saw the plates in a vision before meeting Joseph Smith

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris saw the plates in a vision before meeting Joseph Smith.

Author's sources:
  • Martin Harris, interview by Joel Tiffany, Jan. 1859, in "Mormonism," Tiffany's Monthly (New York City) 5 (Aug. 1859): 166; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:306.
  • Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989), 1: 10.

FairMormon Response

  Fact: The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event  
Joseph's mother Lucy Mack Smith reported that Oliver had seen the plates in a vision prior to meeting her son:

Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdery and showed unto him the plates in a vision.[20]


Response to claim: 181 - David and possibly John Whitmer owned seer stones

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

David and possibly John Whitmer owned seer stones.

Author's sources: D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 239-40, 247-48 ( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

  Fact: The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event  
This is likely correct. One of David Whitmer's issues with Joseph Smith was that Joseph stopped using the seer stone to receive revelation. Whitmer felt that this was incorrect and that the only valid revelations were those received using the stone (referred to as the "Urim and Thummim" in the Doctrine and Covenants).


Response to claim: 186 - According to the author, Brigham Young heard from the Smiths and believed all his life that "these treasures that are in the earth are carefully watched"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

According to the author, Brigham Young heard from the Smiths and believed all his life that "these treasures that are in the earth are carefully watched; they can be removed from place to place" by the angels. (emphasis added)

Author's sources: Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 19:36-37.

FairMormon Response

  Mistakes/Errors: The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources  
The author takes a quote spoken by Brigham Young in 1877 in which he discourages prospecting for minerals in Utah, and implies that his belief regarding "moving treasure" originated with "the Smiths." Brigham goes on to talk about the difficulty in obtaining treasures from the earth, and relates a story involving Porter Rockwell as well as a story he heard from Oliver Cowdery about how the plates were returned to the angel Moroni. Nowhere in his discourse does Brigham mention "the Smiths."


Response to claim: 186 - The Smith's often told neighbors stories about treasures Joseph found in the earth

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The Smith's often told neighbors stories about treasures Joseph found in the earth.

Author's sources: Jesse Smith to Hyrum Smith, 17 June 1829, Joseph Smith Letterbook, 2:59-61, LDS archives; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:552.

FairMormon Response

  Fact: The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event  
It was well known that Joseph acted as a "village seer" and was able to locate items.


Question: Was Joseph Smith's participation in "money digging" as a youth a blot on his character?

Money digging was a popular, common and accepted practice in their frontier culture

Joseph Smith and some members of his family participated in "money digging" or looking for buried treasure as a youth. This was a common and accepted practice in their frontier culture, though the Smiths do not seem to have been involved to the extent claimed by some of the exaggerated attacks upon them by former neighbors.

In the young Joseph Smith's time and place, "money digging" was a popular, and sometimes respected activity. When Joseph was 16, the Palmyra Herald printed such remarks.

The local newspapers reported on "money digging" activities

  • "digging for money hid in the earth is a very common thing and in this state it is even considered as honorable and profitable employment"
  • "One gentleman...digging...ten to twelve years, found a sufficient quantity of money to build him a commodious house.
  • "another...dug up...fifty thousand dollars!" [21]

And, in 1825 the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra reported that buried treasure had been found "by the help of a mineral stone, (which becomes transparent when placed in a hat and the light excluded by the face of him who looks into it)." [22]

The Smith's attitude toward treasure digging was similar to a modern attitudes toward gambling, or buying a lottery ticket

Given the financial difficulties under which the Smith family labored, it would hardly be surprising that they might hope for such a reversal in their fortunes. Richard Bushman has compared the Smith's attitude toward treasure digging with a modern attitudes toward gambling, or buying a lottery ticket. Bushman points out that looking for treasure had little stigma attached to it among all classes in the 17th century, and continued to be respectable among the lower classes into the 18th and 19th. [23]

Despite the claims of critics, it is not clear that Joseph and his family saw their activities as "magical."

For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Occultism and magic


Response to claim: 188 - Joseph claimed to know the location of Captain Kidd's treasure

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

Joseph claimed to know the location of Captain Kidd's treasure.

Author's sources: Statement of W. R. Hine in Deming, Naked Truths 1 Jan. 1888: 2.

FairMormon Response

  Spin: The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader  
This claim comes from a single, hostile, late third-hand source. From the cited source:

Jo Smith claimed to be a seer. He had a very clear stone about the size and shape of a duck's egg, and claimed that he could see lost or hidden things through it. He said he saw Captain Kidd sailing on the Susquehanna River during a freshet, and that he buried two pots of gold and silver. He claimed he saw writing cut on the rocks in an unknown language telling where Kidd buried it, and he translated it through his peep-stone. I have had it many times and could see in it whatever I imagined. Jo claimed it was found in digging a well in Palmyra, N.Y. He said he borrowed it. He claimed to receive revelations from the Lord through prayer, and would pray with his men, mornings and at other times. His father told me he was fifteen years old.[24]


Response to claim: 191 - A number of witnesses saw a cave in the Hill Cumorah when the plates were returned to the angel

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Brigham Young spoke of a cave in the Hill Cumorah where the plates were returned to the angel.

Author's sources:
  • Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 19:38..
  • Wilford Woodruff's journal, 1833-98, typescript, ed. Scott G. Kenny, 9 vols. (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1984), 11 Dec. 1869, 6:508-9.

FairMormon Response

  Fact: The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event  
Multiple witnesses report that the plates were returned to a cave at the Hill Cumorah.


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

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

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

I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family. Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: "This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ." [25]

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

There are at least ten second hand accounts describing the story of the cave in Cumorah, however, Joseph Smith himself did not record the incident. [26] As mentioned previously, the Hill Cumorah located in New York state is a drumlin: this means it is a pile of gravel scraped together by an ancient glacier. The geologic unlikelihood of a cave existing within the hill such as the one described suggests that the experience related by the various witnesses was most likely a vision, or a divine transportation to another locale (as with Nephi's experience in 1 Nephi 11:1). John Tvedtnes supports this view:

The story of the cave full of plates inside the Hill Cumorah in New York is often given as evidence that it is, indeed, the hill where Mormon hid the plates. Yorgason quotes one version of the story from Brigham Young and alludes to six others collected by Paul T. Smith. Unfortunately, none of the accounts is firsthand. The New York Hill Cumorah is a moraine laid down anciently by a glacier in motion. It is comprised of gravel and earth. Geologically, it is impossible for the hill to have a cave, and all those who have gone in search of the cave have come back empty-handed. If, therefore, the story attributed to Oliver Cowdery (by others) is true, then the visits to the cave perhaps represent visions, perhaps of some far distant hill, not physical events.[27]

Given that the angel Moroni had retrieved the plates from Joseph several times previously, it is not unreasonable to assume that he was capable of transporting them to a different location than the hill in New York. As Tvedtnes asks, "If they could truly be moved about, why not from Mexico, for example?"[27]


Response to claim: 194 - Martin Harris said that marvelous things appeared to Hyrum, Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr. while they were treasure hunting

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Martin Harris said that marvelous things appeared to Hyrum, Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr. while they were treasure hunting.

Author's sources: Martin Harris, Tiffany's Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 165; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:305.

FairMormon Response

  Fact: The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event  
Martin told such stories.


Question: Did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power?

Every Christian, Jew, or Muslim who believes in God, angels, and divine power believes in supernatural entities with real power

So, did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power? Yes—and so does every Christian, Jew, or Muslim who believes in God, angels, and divine power to reveal, heal, etc. However, to label these beliefs as "magic" is to beg the question—to argue that Joseph believed in and sought help from powers besides God. Nobody disputes that Joseph and his family believed in the Bible, which condemns divination and witchcraft:

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Deuteronomy 18:10

Joseph and his family viewed folk magic and the use of seer stones as not falling under Biblical condemnation

Therefore, Joseph and his family viewed folk magic and the use of seer stones as not falling under this Biblical condemnation. It is clear that Joseph and his contemporaries believed that one could gain knowledge from such activities as dowsing (using a rod to find water, ore, or buried treasure) and the use of the seer stones. This does not mean, however, that Joseph understood such activities to be a form of magic.

In Joseph's day, the power of (for example) dowsing was seen as a manifestation of "how the world worked." An article published in 1825 described how the downward bob of a divining rode "closely resembles the dip of the magnetic needle, when traversing a bed or ore."[28] A journal of science reported the idea that "the rod is influenced by ores."[29]

An early British dowser denounced the idea that dowsing for ore was based on magic. "it [the rod] guided mee to the Orifice of a lead mine. [The rod is] of kin to the Load-stone [magnet], drawing Iron to it by a secret vertue, inbred by nature, and not by any conjuration as some have fondly imagined."[30]

Using a divining rod was seen in these examples as a manifestation of natural law, and requiring the grace of God to operate

Thus, divining was seen in these examples as a manifestation of natural law. Just as one might use a compass or lode-stone to find true north, without understanding the principles or mathematics of magnetism which underlay it, so one could use dowsing as a tool, without understanding the principles by which it operated.

It is further clear that those who used divinization by rods, for example, believed that the rod's natural ability also required the grace of God to operate. Hence, practitioners would consecrate their rods, and pray to God to bless their efforts.[31] Of such matters, Oliver Cowdery was told in an early revelation, "without faith you can do nothing."[32] Like any natural ability, Joseph believed that the gift and tools of seership (in the broader sense) could be misused. As he told Brigham Young, "most...who do find [a seer stone] make an evil use of it."[33] And, Emma Smith's hostile brother Alvah would later remember that Joseph told him "that his gift in seeing with a [seer] stone and hat, was a gift from God."[34]


Response to claim: 194-195 - The gold plates that the "witnesses" saw are said to have disappeared when placed on the ground at the hill Cumorah

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The gold plates that the "witnesses" saw are said to have disappeared when placed on the ground at the hill Cumorah.

Author's sources: Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 242. (Affidavits examined).

FairMormon Response

  Falsehood: The author has disseminated false information  
The author loosely defines who were considered "witnesses." William Stafford is the one that reported treasure "sinking into the ground," yet Stafford never saw the plates. He was not one of the Book of Mormon witnesses.


Question: What did William Stafford claim about Joseph Smith in the Hurlbut affidavits?

William Stafford claimed that Joseph could see "spirits" guarding treasures

(uncle to C.R. Stafford)

  • Claimed that the family of Joseph Smith, Sr. devoted a "great part of their time" to "digging for money."
  • Claimed that he was told that Joseph Smith, Jr. could see "large caves" in "nearly all the hills in this part of New York."
  • Claimed that Joseph could see "spirits" guarding great treasures.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that treasure could "sink" into the ground.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. took one of his sheep on the pretense of using it to search for money by cutting its throat.
  • Claimed that Joseph promised to show him the gold plates.

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors. The attacks on their industry date from after they had become notorious for the Book of Mormon and the Church, and probably spring from religious hostility more than truth.

For a detailed response, see: Lazy Smiths?

William Stafford's story contradicts Peter Ingersoll's story

William Stafford's claim that Joseph promised to show him the gold plates directly contradicts Peter Ingersoll's claim that Joseph confided to him that there were no plates.

Stafford claimed that "The two Josephs and Hiram, promised to show me the plates, after the book of Mormon was translated. But, afterwards, they pretended to have received an express commandment, forbidding them to show the plates."[35]

Ingersol,on the other hand, said that Joseph confided to him that "he had no such book, and believed there never was any such book."[36]

Stafford's oldest son John: "I have heard that story [about the black sheep] but don't think my father was there at the time they say Smith got the sheep"

Stafford's oldest son John would later say "I have heard that story [about the black sheep] but don't think my father was there at the time they say Smith got the sheep. I don't know anything about it....They never stole one [a sheep], I am sure; they may have got one sometime....I don't think it [the story of the sheep] is true. I would have heard more about it, that is true." [37]


Response to claim: 195 - The witnesses believed that there was a toad that turned into something else hiding in the box that held the plates

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The witnesses believed that there was a toad that turned into something else hiding in the box that held the plates.

Author's sources: Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834). (Affidavits examined).

FairMormon Response

  Falsehood: The author has disseminated false information  
The author redefines who the "witnesses" are: Willard Chase was not of the Book of Mormon witnesses.


Question: What did Willard Chase claim about Joseph Smith in the Hurlbut affidavits?

Willard Chase claimed that he discovered Joseph's seer stone, and that it belonged to him

Willard Chase and Joseph Smith were digging a well together when one of Joseph's seer stones was discovered. When it became known that Joseph was able to use the stone, Chase later claimed that Joseph had stolen it from him.

  • Claimed that he discovered Joseph Smith's seer stone.
  • Claimed that the seer stone rightfully belonged to Chase.

Willard Chase claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that Moroni appeared in the form of a toad

Chase claimed that the Prophet's father told him that certain "magical" practices had to be performed in order for Joseph to obtain the plates.

  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that Joseph Jr. removed the plates from the stone box, set them on the ground, and that they went back into the stone box on their own.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that Joseph Jr. was required to wear certain clothes and perform certain actions in order to obtain the plates.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that the angel Moroni appeared in the form of a toad.

Responses to these claims


Response to claim: 197, n57 - The author claims that the testimony of the Three Witnesses was of a vision rather than an actual visit by an angel

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the testimony of the Three Witnesses was of a vision rather than an actual visit by an angel.

Author's sources: Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith 1:296.

FairMormon Response

  Spin: The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader  
The author has to disregard many direct statements of the Book of Mormon witnesses in order to draw this conclusion.


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.”[38] In another interview Harris allegedly claimed that he only saw the plates in a “visionary or entranced state.”[39]

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."[40]

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."[41]


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”[42] and that they weighed approximately fifty pounds.[43] 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.[44]

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![45]


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.[46]


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.”[47]


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.[48]


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.” [49]


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.[50]


Response to claim: 197-198, n58-61 - It is claimed that David Whitmer indicated that the visit of the angel was spiritual rather than real

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

It is claimed that David Whitmer indicated that the visit of the angel was spiritual rather than real.

Author's sources:
  • James Henry Moyle, Journal, 28 June 1885,James Henry Moyle Papers, F508:1, LDS archives.
  • Nibley, Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, 92-95.
  • David Whitmer, interview by Zenas H. Gurley Jr., 14 Jan. 1885, typescript, 04681, LDS archives.
  • David Whitmer, interview by Edmund C. Briggs, in "Letter from Edmund C. Briggs to Joseph Smith III," 4 June 1884, Saints' Herald, 21 June 1884, 396
  • David Whitmer, interview by Edward Stevenson, Journal, 22 Dec. 1877,4806:2, LDS archives.
  • David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ,32
  • Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2:349-50.

FairMormon Response

  Mistakes/Errors: The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources  
When David Whitmer's description of his witness experience was misrepresented, he made great efforts to publicly correct it. A good example of this is his public rebuttal to John Murphy's claims that Whitmer's experience was merely a "delusion."


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!"[51]


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.[52]:

[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 [53]:

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.[54]


Response to claim: 198, n62-64 - Martin Harris claimed to see the plates with "the eye of faith"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Martin Harris claimed to see the plates with "the eye of faith."

Author's sources:
  • Martin Harris, interview by Anthony Metcalf, ca. 1873, in Ten Years before the Mast 70; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:346-47.
  • Martin Harris, quoted in The Visitor, or Monthly Instructor, for 1841, 239; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:270.
  • Marvin S. Hill, "Secular or Sectarian History? A Critique of No Man Knows My History, Church History 43 (Mar. 1974): 92-93; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:385, 526.

FairMormon Response

  Mistakes/Errors: The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources  
The author selectively focuses on a few reported quotes in which Martin mentioned "spiritual eyes," and ignores the multitude of quotes in which Martin said straight out that he saw the angel and handled the plates with his hands.


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.[55]

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."[56]

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. [57]

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)."[58]

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." [59]


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". [60] 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. [61]

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".[62]


Response to claim: 200, n72-73 - David Whitmer is said to have claimed that he handled the plates in vision, but not physically

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

David Whitmer is said to have claimed that he handled the plates in vision, but not physically.

Author's sources:
  • Moyle, Journal, 28 June 1885.
  • Nibley, Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, 94-95.

FairMormon Response

  Mistakes/Errors: The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources  
Whitmer was always careful to correct those who tried to portray his witness experience as anything less than real.


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.”[63] In another interview Harris allegedly claimed that he only saw the plates in a “visionary or entranced state.”[64]

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."[65]

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."[66]


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”[67] and that they weighed approximately fifty pounds.[68] 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.[69]

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.)


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.[70]


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!"[71]


Response to claim: 204, n83 - The author claims that the testimony of the Eight Witnesses does not actually describe a physical incident

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the testimony of the Eight Witnesses does not actually describe a physical incident.

Author's sources: Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 Apr. 1838, Joseph Smith Letterbook, 2:64-66, d155/2:2, LDS archives; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:288-93.

FairMormon Response

  Mistakes/Errors: The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources  
The term "supernatural" is used as a synonym for "miraculous."


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.[72] 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.”[73]

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.”[74]

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.”[75]

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.[76]

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! [77]

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.[78]

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[79]

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.[80]


Response to claim: 206 - The Eight Witnesses are claimed to have "hesitated to sign" their testimony because their experience was not physical

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The Eight Witnesses are claimed to have "hesitated to sign" their testimony because their experience was not physical.

Author's sources: Reference for phrase "hesitated to sign" is related to earlier note 83, page 204. Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 Apr. 1838, Joseph Smith Letterbook, 2:64-66, d155/2:2, LDS archives; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:288-93.

FairMormon Response

  Mistakes/Errors: The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources  
A second-hand account is used to claim that the witnesses never saw the plates and that they were only viewed while covered with a cloth. However, the reference to the plates being covered with a cloth refers to the period during the translation process, at which time nobody was allowed to view the plates. This occurs prior to the experience of the Three and Eight Witnesses, during which they actually viewed the plates.


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

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

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

when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel...renounced the Book of Mormon...after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was...[81]

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

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

Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.[82]

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.[83]

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

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting that he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when he was asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: 'Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.'[84]

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


Response to claim: 206, n89 - The author claims that the plates were able to sink and glide through the ground and made noise as they were "rumbling" through the hill

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the plates were able to sink and glide through the ground and made noise as they were "rumbling" through the hill.

Author's sources:
  • Martin Harris, quoted in John A. Clark, "Modern Superstition-The Mormonites," 63; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:265.
  • Affidavit of Willard Chase, 11 Dec. 1833, in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 242. (Affidavits examined).
  • Lucy Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 83-84.

FairMormon Response

  Falsehood: The author has disseminated false information  
Nobody ever claimed that the gold plates sunk and glided through the ground with a rumbling sound. This appears to be a misrepresentation of a story told years later by Brigham Young about searching for "old treasures" in the earth that moved and made a "rumbling" sound as they moved. This was not a description of the gold plates. Brigham said:

I will tell you a story which will be marvelous to most of you. It was told me by Porter, whom I would believe just as quickly as any man that lives. When he tells a thing he understands, he will tell it just as he knows it; he is a man that does not lie. He said that on this night, when they were engaged hunting for this old treasure, they dug around the end of a chest for some twenty inches. The chest was about three feet square. One man who was determined to have the contents of that chest, took his pick and struck into the lid of it, and split through into the chest. The blow took off a piece of the lid, which a certain lady kept in her possession until she died. That chest of money went into the bank. Porter describes it so [making a rumbling sound]; he says this is just as true as the heavens are. I have heard others tell the same story.[85]


Question: What did Willard Chase claim about Joseph Smith in the Hurlbut affidavits?

Willard Chase claimed that he discovered Joseph's seer stone, and that it belonged to him

Willard Chase and Joseph Smith were digging a well together when one of Joseph's seer stones was discovered. When it became known that Joseph was able to use the stone, Chase later claimed that Joseph had stolen it from him.

  • Claimed that he discovered Joseph Smith's seer stone.
  • Claimed that the seer stone rightfully belonged to Chase.

Willard Chase claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that Moroni appeared in the form of a toad

Chase claimed that the Prophet's father told him that certain "magical" practices had to be performed in order for Joseph to obtain the plates.

  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that Joseph Jr. removed the plates from the stone box, set them on the ground, and that they went back into the stone box on their own.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that Joseph Jr. was required to wear certain clothes and perform certain actions in order to obtain the plates.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that the angel Moroni appeared in the form of a toad.

Responses to these claims


Response to claim: 206-207, n90 - Viewing the gold plates "too soon" would cause physical death

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Viewing the gold plates "too soon" would cause physical death.

Author's sources:
  • Joseph Smith-History 1:42.
  • Affidavit of Sophia Lewis, 20 Mar. 1834, Susquehanna Register, 1 May 1834, 1.
  • Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 272. (Affidavits examined).

FairMormon Response

  Mistakes/Errors: The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources  
Joseph said that if he showed the plates to anyone that God would strike Joseph down, not Martin.


Question: Did Joseph Smith say that viewing the gold plates would result in death?

The only first-person account—that made by Joseph Smith himself—says that it was Joseph who would be destroyed if he showed the plates to any other person unless commanded to do so by the Lord

It is claimed that Joseph Smith said that the penalty for viewing the gold plates was death, and that this was just a way for Joseph to hide the fact that the plates really didn't exist. However, the only first-person account—that made by Joseph Smith himself—says that it was Joseph who would be destroyed if he showed the plates to any other person unless commanded to do so by the Lord. Many accounts attributed to Joseph in which he is supposed to have claimed that anyone else who viewed the plates would die originated with people who were hostile to Joseph and the Church. Significantly, Emma's statement makes no mention of the alleged penalty associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates.

Primary source: Joseph Smith's own words

Joseph Smith-History 1:42 describes the conditions under which Joseph was to handle the plates:

Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates, the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it. (emphasis added)

According to this, it was Joseph who risked destruction if he showed the plates to anyone unless explicitly commanded to do so by the Lord, not the person to whom he showed them.

Of course, we also have the testimony of the Three and Eight witnesses, who all viewed the plates without any threat of destruction.

The idea that God would "strike down" anyone who viewed the plates came from a hostile secondary source

Fawn Brodie claimed that Joseph told Martin Harris that God's wrath would strike him down if he examined the plates or looked at him while he was translating. This is supported by a second-hand source: Charles Anthon's statement regarding the visit of Martin Harris in Eber D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. Anthon stated:

I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon [Harris], and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the "curse of God" would come upon him should he do this. [86]

In the critical bookMormonism Unvailed, Peter Ingersoll and Sophia Lewis claimed that Joseph told them that anyone who viewed the plates would perish.

Peter Ingersoll was a hostile source. Here is what he claims that Joseph said to him:

...On my entering the house, I found the family at the table eating dinner. They were all anxious to know the contents of my frock. At that moment, I happened to think of what I had heard about a history found in Canada, called the golden Bible; so I very gravely told them it was the golden Bible. To my surprise, they were credulous enough to believe what I said. Accordingly I told them that I had received a commandment to let no one see it, for, says I, no man can see it with the naked eye and live. However, I offered to take out the book and show it to them, but they refuse to see it, and left the room." Now, said Jo, "I have got the damned fools fixed, and will carry out the fun." Notwithstanding, he told me he had no such book, and believed there never was any such book....(emphasis added)[87]

Here we have a statement alleged to have been made by Joseph Smith that "no man can see it with the naked eye and live." However, we also see that, according to Peter Ingersoll, Joseph came up with the entire idea of the "golden bible" on the spur of the moment as a way to have "fun." Then he claims that Joseph confided to him that the plates didn't actually exist at all. There are so many inconsistencies between this story and the statements of numerous other witnesses that one wonders if Peter Ingersoll was the one who was having some "fun" with his audience. Ingersoll can also be discredited on his claim that Joseph made the story up on the spot, because Joseph was telling various people about his Moroni visits well before recovering the plates (see for example various Knight family recollections).

Examining the testimony of Sophia Lewis we find:

SOPHIA LEWIS, certifies that she "heard a conversation between Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Rev. James B. Roach, in which Smith called Mr. R. a d-----d fool. Smith also said in the same conversation that he (Smith) was as good as Jesus Christ;" and that she "has frequently heard Smith use profane language. She states that she heard Smith say "the Book of Plates could not be opened under penalty of death by any other person but his (Smith's) first-born, which was to be a male." She says she "was present at the birth of this child, and that it was still-born and very much deformed."(emphasis added)[88]

Here we find that not only could the plates not be viewed by another person, but that the only person who could "open" them would be Joseph's first-born child. Sophia Lewis's testimony is suspicious however. Hezekiah M'Kune, Levi Lewis and Sophia Lewis went together to make their depositions before the justice. Their testimonies bear a remarkable similarity and contain the unique claim that Joseph claimed to be "as good as Jesus Christ." This claim is not related by any other individuals who knew the Prophet, suggesting that these three individuals planned and coordinated their story before giving their depositions. [89]

Joseph's wife Emma did not recall any specific threat of destruction associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates

It is interesting to note that Emma Smith, admittedly much closer to her husband Joseph than the hostile sources previously quoted, never mentioned a penalty for viewing the plates. In fact, in an interview with her son Joseph Smith III in 1879, the following conversation was recorded:

[Joseph Smith III} Q: I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?

[Emma Smith Bidamon] A. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so.

Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?

[Emma] A. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.

[JS III] Q. Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin, of the Book of Mormon?

[Emma] A. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity - I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.(emphasis added)[90]

Emma, therefore, did not recall any specific threat of destruction associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates.


Response to claim: 207, n91 - According to the author, declarations of the witnesses "sounded more physical than was intended"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

According to the author, declarations of the witnesses "sounded more physical than was intended."

Author's sources:
  • Moses 6:36.
  • D&C 67:10; 131:7.
  • Lucy Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 92.

FairMormon Response

  Spin: The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader  
This is pure speculation on the part of the author.


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.”[91] In another interview Harris allegedly claimed that he only saw the plates in a “visionary or entranced state.”[92]

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."[93]

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."[94]


Response to claim: 207 - "These ideas may have been Joseph's inspiration for making a plate-like object to persuade belief"

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: These ideas may have been Joseph's inspiration for making a plate-like object to persuade belief.

Author's sources: Author's speculation.

FairMormon Response

  Spin: The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader  
This is circular reasoning: The author offers a number of documented instances in which witnesses described the physical plates...then concludes that Joseph must have made a physical object to fool them!


Question: What material were the plates made from?

The plates were most likely an alloy of a lighter metal, such as copper, which was covered with a thin layer of gold

The plates are sometimes described as "gold plates," and at other times they are claimed to have had the "appearance of gold." Pure gold would not be capable of retaining engraving, nor would it have the strength to maintain the integrity of the plates themselves. The plates were most likely an alloy of a lighter metal, such as copper, which was covered with a thin layer of gold. Such an alloy actually exists in Mesoamerica. See Wikipedia entry "Tumbaga" off-site. According to Wikipedia: "Tumbaga can be treated with a simple acid, like citric acid, to dissolve copper off the surface. What remains is a shiny layer of nearly pure gold on top of a harder, more durable copper-gold alloy sheet. This process is referred to as depletion gilding."

  • "the appearance of gold"[95] — Joseph Smith Jr., Eight Witnesses
  • "golden plates"[96] — David Whitmer
  • "a mixture of gold and copper"[97] - William Smith
  • "in a good state of preservation, had the appearance of gold" - William Smith in James Murdock to Congregational Observer, 19 June 1841, "The Mormons and Their Prophet," Congregational Observer (Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut) 2 (3 July 1841): 1. Reprinted in Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer (Peoria, Illinois), 3 September 1841; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:477–480.
  • "pure gold" - “The Orators of Mormon,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, Ohio) 1 (14 April 1832): 204–5. Reprinted from Mercer Press (Pennsylvania), circa April 1832. off-site
  • "whitish yellow" - Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  • "engraven on plates of gold" - Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  • "this pretended Revelation was written on golden plates, or something resembling golden plates" - A.S., “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph. Religious, Political, and Literary, Hudson, Ohio (18 November 1830): 3, quoting Cowdery. off-site


Question: How much did the gold plates weigh?

The plates weighed approximately sixty pounds

Witnesses of the Book of Mormon were consistent in their witness that the plates weighed 40-60 pounds.

Some critics assume that the "golden plates" are pure gold, or that they are a solid block of gold. Neither conclusion is warranted.

  1. Pure gold plates would be too soft to hold engraving well. An alloy of gold and copper called "tumbaga," known in Mesoamerica, would suit both the appearance and weight of the plates.[98]
  2. The plates were not a solid block of gold, but a set of page-like leaves, which reduces the weight by about 50%.
  • "weighing altogether from forty to sixty lbs."[99] —Martin Harris

Witness statements regarding the weight of the gold plates

  • "I was permitted to lift them. . . . They weighed about sixty pounds according to the best of my judgement."[100] —William Smith
  • "I . . . judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds."[101]—William Smith
  • "They were much heavier than a stone, and very much heavier than wood. . . . As near as I could tell, about sixty pounds."[102] —William Smith
  • "I hefted the plates, and I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold."[103] —Martin Harris
  • "My daughter said, they were about as much as she could lift. They were now in the glass-box, and my wife said they were very heavy. They both lifted them."[104] —Martin Harris
  • "I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work."[105] —Emma Smith
  • Joseph's sister Catherine, while she was dusting in the room where he had been translating, "hefted those plates [which were covered with a cloth] and found them very heavy."[106] —H. S. Salisbury, paraphrasing Catherine Smith Salisbury


Question: What was the size of each of the gold plates?

Each plate was approximately 6 to 7 inches wide and 7 to 8 inches long

  • "7 inches in length, 6 inches in breadth" [107] - Quoting Oliver Cowdery
  • "six inches wide by eight inches long"[108] —Joseph Smith Jr.
  • "seven inches wide by eight inches in length"[109] —Martin Harris
  • "seven by eight inches"[110] —Martin Harris
  • "about eight inches long, seven inches wide"[111] —David Whitmer
  • "about eight inches square" - quoting David Whitmer [112]
  • "six or eight inches square" - Critical newspaper[113]
  • "The plates were each about 7 by 8 inches in width and length." - Parley P. Pratt [114]
  • "about eight inches long, and six wide" - Lucy Mack Smith (allegedly)[115]
  • "Each plate was about six by eight inches"[116]


Question: What was the thickness of each gold plate?

Each plate was as thick as thick paper, parchment or tin

  • "of the thickness of tin" - Oliver Cowdery [117]
  • "of the thickness of plates of tin"[118] —Martin Harris
  • "thin leaves of gold"[119] - Martin Harris
  • "about as thick as parchment"[120] — David Whitmer
  • "[We] could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him)."[121] — William Smith
  • "They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metalic [sic] sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book."[122] — Emma Smith
  • "each as thick as a pane of glass" - Critical newspaper[123]
  • "the plates themselves were about as thick as window glass, or common tin" - Critical newspaper [124]
  • "thickness of tin plates" - Citing David Whitmer [125]
  • "being about the thickness of common tin" - Parley P. Pratt [126]
  • "as thick as common tin" - [127]


Question: What was the thickness of entire volume of gold plates?

The entire volume was approximately six inches thick

  • "a pile about 6 inches deep." - Quoting Oliver Cowdery [128]
  • "[W]hen piled one above the other, they were altogether about four inches thick."[129] — Martin Harris
  • "six or eight inches thick" - Critical newspaper [130]
  • "The volume was something near six inches in thickness." - Parley P. Pratt[131]
  • "The volume was something near six inches in thickness" - Joseph Smith [132]
  • "the whole being about six inches in thickness"[133]


Question: What were the characteristics of the sealed vs. unsealed portion of the gold plates?

A portion of the plates were somehow bound together

  • "A large portion of the leaves were so securely bound together that it was impossible to separate them."[134] —David Whitmer
  • "What there was sealed appeared as solid to my view as wood. About the half of the book was sealed."[135] —David Whitmer
  • "they thus translated about two thirds of what the plates contained, reserving the residue for a future day as the Lord might hereafter direct." - Critical newspaper [136]
  • "the leaves were divided equidistant between the back and the edge, by cutting the plates in two parts, and again united with solder, so that the front might be opened, while the back part remained stationary and immovable, and was consequently a sealed book, which would not be revealed for ages to come, and which Smith himself was not permitted to understand." - Citing David Whitmer<re>ED Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site</ref>
  • "some of them are sealed together and are not to be opened, and some of them are loose" - Lucy Mack Smith (allegedly)[137]
  • "a part of which was sealed. The unsealed part has been translated; and contains the Book of Mormon"[138]


Question: What were the characteristics of the rings which held the gold plates together?

The plates were fastened together by three D-shaped rings

  • "[T]hey were fastened with rings thus [a sketch shows a ring in the shape of a capital D with six lines drawn through the straight side of the letter to represent the leaves of the record]."[139] —David Whitmer
  • "bound together like the leaves of a book by massive rings passing through the back edges"[140] —David Whitmer
  • "They were bound together in the shape of a book by three gold rings."[141] —David Whitmer
  • "put together on the back by three silver rings, so that they would open like a book"[142] —Martin Harris
  • " bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole" - Joseph Smith [143]
  • "The plates were . . . connected with rings in the shape of the letter D, which facilitated the opening and shutting of the book."[144] - William E. McLellin quoting Hyrum Smith
  • "I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back."[145] - William Smith
  • "volume of them were bound together like the leaves of a book, and fastened at one edge with three rings running through the whole" - Parley P. Pratt[146]
  • "They are all connected by a ring which passes through a hole at the end of each plate" - Lucy Mack Smith (allegedly) [147]
  • "put together with three rings, running through the whole"[148]
  • "The plates were minutely described as being connected with rings in the shape of the letter D, when facilitated the opening and shutting of the book."[149] - Early skeptical newspaper account
  • "back was secured with three small rings of the same metal, passing through each leaf in succession" - Citing David Whitmer [150]

It should be noted that the "D" shape here described is the most efficient way to pack pages with rings. It is a common design in modern three-ring binders, but was not invented until recently (the two-ring binder did not exist prior to 1854 and were first advertised in 1899. The critics would apparently have us believe that Joseph Smith and/or the witnesses just happened upon the most efficient binding design more than a century before anyone else! Such a pattern also matches a collection of gold plates found in Bavaria dating from 600 B.C.[151]


Question: What was the appearance of the engravings on the gold plates?

There were small, fine engravings on both sides of each plate

  • "[The plates] were filled with . . . Egyptian characters. . . . The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving."[152] —Joseph Smith Jr.
  • "There were fine engravings on both sides."[153] —John Whitmer
  • "We also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship."[154] —Eight Witnesses
  • "[T]he characters . . . were cut into the plates with some sharp instrument."[155] —William Smith
  • "On opening that part of the book which was not secured by seals, he discovered inscribed on the aforesaid plates, divers and wonderful characters, some large and some small" - Citing David Whitmer [156]
  • "These were filled with engravings on both sides" - Parley P. Pratt [157]
  • "are covered with letters beautifully engraved" - Lucy Mack Smith (allegedly) [158]
  • "on each side beautifully engraved, and filled with black cement"[159]


Response to claim: 211, n94 - Joseph is claimed to have appointed James Strang as his successor

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph is claimed to have appointed James Strang as his successor.

Author's sources: James J. Strang, "Letter from Joseph Smith to James J. Strang," 18 June 1844, in Voree [WI] Herald 1 (Jan. 1846).

FairMormon Response

  Fact: The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event  
Strang is the one who claimed this.


Question: Who was James Strang?

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

James Strang claimed that Joseph wrote a letter appointing him as president of the Church after Joseph's death

James Jesse Strang was a Latter-day Saint leader in Nauvoo who established a breakaway Mormon sect after the murder of Joseph Smith, Jr.

After Joseph Smith was murdered, there were several claimants to his role as leader and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see Succession in the Presidency of the Church). One of these was James Strang, a recent convert to the church. Several prominent families, including many members of Joseph's family accepted Strang's claims, which were based on a letter which Strang said Joseph had written appointing him as President of the church should Joseph Smith be killed.

Strang's group is formally called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (no hyphen, different capitalization) but Strang's church and his followers are commonly called "Strangites."

Strang and his associates settled for several years on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, where he was pronounced king. Strang, who was an almost pathological overachiever, was also a lawyer, land developer, news correspondent for the New York Tribune, and a scientist for the Smithsonian Institution.

Strang was killed in 1856 by some of his disaffected followers at Beaver Island. Following his death his movement started to disband. Today there are less than 500 Strangite members, living mostly in Michigan and Wisconsin.


Response to claim: 208, n95 - James Strang also produced witnesses to metal plates

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

James Strang also produced witnesses to metal plates.

Author's sources: James J. Strang, "Revelation Given to James J. Strang," 1 Sept. 1845, Voree Herald 1 Gan. 1846): [3-4]; Van Noord, King of Beaver Island, 33-35.

Provenance of this claim:
Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 99-100.( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response

  Fact: The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event  
Yes, and these witnesses never claimed to see an angel, and some later claimed to have assisted in the fabrication of the plates.


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. [160] 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.[161]


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.[162]

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. [163]

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.[164]

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. [164]

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.[165]

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: 212, n105 - All the living witnesses except Oliver Cowdery accepted James Strang's leadership

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

All the living witnesses except Oliver Cowdery accepted James Strang's leadership.

Author's sources: "Kirtland," in Voree Herald 1 (Sept. 1846): [4]

FairMormon Response

  Spin: The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader  
Every Latter-day Saint knows that all three of the Three Witnesses left the Church due to disagreements with Joseph Smith and the belief that he was a fallen prophet, yet they still believed in the Book of Mormon. So they were searching for a replacement, and after years of searching, Oliver and Martin returned to the Church. Is the author implying that these men still had the spirit of discernment after they were excommunicated?

The witnesses were all disaffected with Joseph Smith as a prophet and had rejected him as the leader of the Church, yet they continued to believe in the divinity of the Book of Mormon and never denied their witness. Each of the witnesses attempted to fill the void by either joining other churches or attempting to reestablish the original church that Joseph had started. It is no surprise that some of the witnesses gravitated to Strang's effort to re-create the Church, including a new set of plates and a new translated record.

Notes

  1. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (original draft posted on the critical website "FutureMissionary.com") (2013)
  2. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (original draft posted on the critical website "FutureMissionary.com") (2013)
  3. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 96–98. ISBN 0877478465.
  4. “Several families . . .,” Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra, New York) (27 May 1831). off-site
  5. 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.
  6. Tanner and Tanner, "Roper Attacks Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?" 14.
  7. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 167–170. ISBN 0877478465.
  8. 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.
  9. “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.
  10. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  11. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Jeffrey G. Cannon, "Oliver Cowdery's Gift," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org
  17. 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.
  18. William Lang, History of Seneca County (Springfield, Ohio, 1880), 365.
  19. "Letter from General W. H. Gibson," Seneca Advertiser (Tiffin, Ohio) 12 April 1892.
  20. Early Mormon Documents 1: 379.
  21. Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FairMormon link
  22. "Wonderful Discovery," Wayne Sentinel [Palmyra, New York] (27 December 1825), page 2, col. 4. Reprinted from the Orleans Advocate of Orleans, New York; cited by Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 170–171.
  23. Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference) FairMormon link
  24. "W. R. HINE'S STATEMENT," Naked Truths About Mormonism, Vol. I. No. 1. (January, 1888) edited by Arthur B. Deming.
  25. Brigham Young, "TRYING TO BE SAINTS, etc.," (June 17, 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:38.
  26. Cameron J. Packer, "Cumorah's Cave," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1 (2004): 50–57. off-site wiki
  27. 27.0 27.1 John A. Tvedtnes, "Review of Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon by Brenton G. Yorgason," FARMS Review of Books 2/1 (1990): 258–259. off-site
  28. "The Divining Rod," The Worchester Magazine and Historical Journal (October 1825): 29; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 66. Buy online
  29. "The Divining Rod," The American Journal of Science and Arts (October 1826): 204; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 65–66.
  30. Gabriel Platts, A Discovery of Subterraneal Treasure (London: 1639), 11–13, emphasis added; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 66. Buy online
  31. See discussion in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 140, 182–192.
  32. A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized according to law, on the 6th of April, 1830 (Zion [Independence, Missouri]: W.W. Phelps and Co., 1833) 7:4.
  33. Joseph Smith, cited by Brigham Young, "History of Brigham Young," Millennial Star (20 February 1864), 118–119.; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 184. Buy online
  34. "Mormonism," The Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian (Montrose, Pennsylvania) (1 May 1834): 1, column 4; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 184. Buy online
  35. "Testimony of William Stafford," Mormonism Unvailed, 240.
  36. "Testimony of William Stafford," Mormonism Unvailed, 236.
  37. William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:121–122. The material removed by ellipses consists of questions being asked by the interviewer.
  38. Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958, intro.
  39. 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.
  40. 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.
  41. 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..
  42. 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
  43. Tiffany’s Monthly 5/2 (New York: Joel Tiffany, 1859), 166.
  44. “Gold Bible, No. 6,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 16 (19 March 1831), 126–27. off-site
  45. Martin Harris . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) 2, no. 39 (15 March 1831).
  46. 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.
  47. The Golden Bible,” Painesville Telegraph (Ohio) (16 November 1830).
  48. 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.
  49. 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.
  50. 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.
  51. 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.
  52. 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.
  53. "David Whitmer Proclamation, 19 March 1881," quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:69
  54. David Whitmer, "David Whitmer Proclamation, 19 March 1881," quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:69.
  55. “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.
  56. John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum," 8 September 1892, Early Mormon Documents, 2: 548.
  57. 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.
  58. 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.
  59. Nathan Tanner Jr. Journal, 13 April 1886.
  60. NeedAuthor, Times and Seasons 3 no. 21 (1 September 1842), 898. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  61. Autobiography of Alma L. Jensen, 1932.
  62. 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)
  63. Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958, intro.
  64. 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.
  65. 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.
  66. 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..
  67. 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
  68. Tiffany’s Monthly 5/2 (New York: Joel Tiffany, 1859), 166.
  69. “Gold Bible, No. 6,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 16 (19 March 1831), 126–27. off-site
  70. 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.
  71. 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.
  72. “Memorandums,” 1845, handwriting of Thomas Bullock, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  73. John Whitmer, "To the patrons of the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate," (March 1836) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:287.
  74. 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
  75. Saints’ Herald 25/16 (15 August 1878): 253; letter written by Myron Bond in Cadillac, Michigan on 2 August 1878.
  76. C. C. Blatchley, “Caution Against the Golden Bible,” New-York Telescope 6, no. 38 (20 February 1830): 150. off-site
  77. Martin Harris . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) 2, no. 39 (15 March 1831).
  78. "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
  79. Saints’ Herald 25/16 (15 August 1878): 253; letter written by Myron Bond in Cadillac, Michigan on 2 August 1878.
  80. 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)
  81. Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2
  82. 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.
  83. 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.
  84. Letter of George Mantle to Marietta Walker, Dec. 26, 1888, Saint Catherine, Mo., cited in Autumn Leaves 2 (1889):141. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 112-113. ISBN 0877478465.
  85. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 19:37.
  86. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 272. (Affidavits examined)
  87. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 235-236. (Affidavits examined)
  88. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 269. (Affidavits examined)
  89. Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 128. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct link
  90. "Interview with Joseph Smith III", in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:542.
  91. Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958, intro.
  92. 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.
  93. 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.
  94. 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..
  95. Joseph Smith Jr., "Church History [also known as the Wentworth Letter]," Times and Seasons (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) ; "The Testimony of Eight Witnesses," Book of Mormon; and Orson Pratt, in a pamphlet titled "An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records" (Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, May 1840), 12–13.
  96. David Whitmer interview, Kansas City Journal, 5 June 1881, in David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness, ed. Lyndon W. Cook (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1993), 60.
  97. William Smith (Joseph's younger brother) interview, The Saints' Herald, 4 October 1884, 644.
  98. See Roy W. Doxey, "I Have A Question: What was the approximate weight of the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated?," Ensign (December 1986), 64.
  99. Martin Harris interview, Iowa State Register, August 1870, as quoted in Milton V. Backman Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986), 226.
  100. William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Steam, 1883), 12.
  101. William Smith interview with E. C. Briggs. Originally written by J. W. Peterson for Zions Ensign (Independence, Mo.); reprinted in Deseret Evening News, 20 January 1894, 11.
  102. William Smith interview, The Saints' Herald, 4 October 1884, 644.
  103. "Interview with Martin Harris," Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 169.
  104. "Interview with Martin Harris," Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 168.
  105. Emma Smith interview, published as "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," The Saints' Herald, 1 October 1879.
  106. I. B. Bell interview with H. S. Salisbury (grandson of Catherine Smith Salisbury), Historical Department Archives, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  107. A.S., “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph. Religious, Political, and Literary, Hudson, Ohio (18 November 1830): 3, quoting Cowdery. off-site
  108. Joseph Smith Jr., "Church History [also known as the Wentworth Letter]," Times and Seasons (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  109. Martin Harris interview, Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 165.
  110. Martin Harris interview, Iowa State Register, August 1870, as quoted in Backman, Eyewitness Accounts, 226.
  111. David Whitmer interview, Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1888, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 221.
  112. ED Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  113. “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor (New York) (7 March 1832). Reprinted from the Franklin Democrat (Pennsylvania) circa March 1832. off-site
  114. Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  115. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged, (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 26. off-site
  116. W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. Full title
  117. A.S., “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph. Religious, Political, and Literary, Hudson, Ohio (18 November 1830): 3, quoting Cowdery. off-site
  118. Martin Harris interview, Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 165.
  119. Martin Harris interview, Iowa State Register, August 1870, as quoted in Backman, Eyewitness Accounts, 226.
  120. Martin Harris interview, Iowa State Register, August 1870, as quoted in Backman, Eyewitness Accounts, 226.
  121. William Smith, The Saints' Herald, 4 October 1884, 644.
  122. Emma Smith interview, The Saints' Herald, 1 October 1879.
  123. “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor (New York) (7 March 1832). Reprinted from the Franklin Democrat (Pennsylvania) circa March 1832. off-site
  124. “The Orators of Mormon,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, Ohio) 1 (14 April 1832): 204–5. Reprinted from Mercer Press (Pennsylvania), circa April 1832. off-site
  125. ED Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  126. Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  127. W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. Full title
  128. A.S., “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph. Religious, Political, and Literary, Hudson, Ohio (18 November 1830): 3, quoting Cowdery. off-site
  129. Martin Harris interview, Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 165.
  130. “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor (New York) (7 March 1832). Reprinted from the Franklin Democrat (Pennsylvania) circa March 1832. off-site
  131. Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  132. Joseph Smith, "Church History [Wentworth letter]," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 Mar 1842), 706–710. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  133. W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. Full title
  134. David Whitmer interview, Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1888, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 221.
  135. David Whitmer interview, Deseret Evening News, 16 August 1878, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 20–21.
  136. “The Orators of Mormon,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, Ohio) 1 (14 April 1832): 204–5. Reprinted from Mercer Press (Pennsylvania), circa April 1832. off-site
  137. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged, (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 26. off-site
  138. W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. Full title
  139. David Whitmer interview, Edward Stevenson diary, 22–23 December 1877, Historical Department Archives, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Original capitalization and punctuation have been modernized. In Stevenson's interview, Whitmer recounted his mother's description of the rings.
  140. David Whitmer interview, Kansas City Journal, 5 June 1881, 1.
  141. David Whitmer interview, Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1888, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 221.
  142. Martin Harris interview, Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 165.
  143. Joseph Smith, "Church History [Wentworth letter]," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 Mar 1842), 706–710. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  144. Reported in the Huron Reflector (Norwalk, OH), 31 October 1831; cited in Warren P. Ashton, "The Rings That Bound the Gold Plates Together," Insights 26 no. 3 (2006), N/A..
  145. Interview of William Smith with E. C. Briggs and J. W. Peterson, Zion's Ensign, 13 January 1894, 6.
  146. Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  147. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged, (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 26. off-site
  148. W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. Full title
  149. “The Mormonites,” Christian Intelligencer and Eastern Chronicle (Gardiner, Maine) (18 November 1831): 184. Reprinted from Illinois Patriot (Jacksonville, Illinois) (16 September 1831). off-site
  150. ED Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  151. Warren P. Ashton, "The Rings That Bound the Gold Plates Together," Insights 26 no. 3 (2006), N/A.
  152. Joseph Smith Jr., "Church History" (Wentworth Letter)
  153. John Whitmer to Theodore Turley, "in the presence of his anti-Mormon friends." As reported in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 131. ISBN 0877478465.
  154. "Testimony of the Eight Witnesses."
  155. William Smith interview, The Saints' Herald, 4 October 1884, 644.
  156. ED Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  157. Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  158. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged, (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 26. off-site
  159. W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. Full title
  160. 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
  161. Voree Herald, January 1846; Zion's Reveille, 1 April 1847; and Gospel Herald, 4 May 1848
  162. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)
  163. The Saints’ Herald 35 (December 29, 1888): 831–32. See also Wikipedia article "Voree plates".
  164. 164.0 164.1 Letter from Chauncy Loomis to Joseph Smith III, “Experience on Beaver Island with James J. Strang,” Saint’s Herald, 10 Nov. 1888, 718-719.
  165. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)