Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/Letter to a CES Director/Witnesses Concerns & Questions

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Response to "Witnesses Concerns & Questions"


A FairMormon Analysis of: Letter to a CES Director
A work by author: Jeremy Runnells
Claim Evaluation
Letter to a CES Director
Chart.ces.letter.witnesses.jpg

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YouTube Video Response: "Letter to a CES Director: A Closer Look - CES Letter 50 to 65 Three Witnesses" by Brian Hales.

Responses to various revisions of the "Letter to a CES Director" and associated documents by the same author

Citation abuse in the original Letter to a CES Director

Response to claim: "Joseph Smith, his father, and his brother (Hyrum) had a family business treasure hunting from 1820 – 1827"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith, his father, and his brother (Hyrum) had a family business treasure hunting from 1820 – 1827

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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

Joseph Smith and some of his family members did participate in treasure hunting activities, but it wasn't the "family business."

Question: Was "money digging" Joseph Smith, Jr's primary source of income during his early years?

Tax records indicated that the Smith family was intensely engaged in activities related to improving their farm

The primary evidence–especially tax records, which provide a relatively unbiased look at the Smiths' work ethic—cannot support the argument that Joseph and his family were not intensely engaged in the duties related to farming.

See also: Lazy Smiths?

LDS scholar Daniel C. Peterson notes,

[I]n order to pay for their farm, the Smiths were obliged to hire themselves out as day laborers. Throughout the surrounding area, they dug and rocked up wells and cisterns, mowed, harvested, made cider and barrels and chairs and brooms and baskets, taught school, dug for salt, worked as carpenters and domestics, built stone walls and fireplaces, flailed grain, cut and sold cordwood, carted, washed clothes, sold garden produce, painted chairs and oil-cloth coverings, butchered, dug coal, and hauled stone. And, along the way, they produced between one thousand and seven thousand pounds of maple sugar annually. "Laziness" and "indolence" are difficult to detect in the Smith family.[1]

The data shows that the Smith farm increased in value, and was worth more than 90% of the farms owned by their neighbors

The data shows that the Smith farm increased in value, and was worth more than 90% of the farms owned by the four families—the Staffords, Stoddards, Chases, and Caprons—who would later speak disparagingly of the Smiths' work ethic.[2] How did they manage this without doing farm work? These are physical improvements. They were too poor to pay someone else to do it. So, are we to believe that Joseph's family let Joseph just sit around doing his "magic business" while the rest of them worked their fingers to the bone?

The Smith farm had a perimeter of a one and 2/3 miles. To fence that distance with a standard stone and stinger fence required moving tons of stone from fields to farm perimeter, then cutting and placing about 4,000 ten-foot rails. This does not include the labor and materials involved in fencing the barnyard, garden, pastures, and orchard, which, at a conservative estimate, required an additional 2,000 to 3,000 cut wooden rails (McNall 59, 84, 87, 91, 110-11, and 144). Clearly, this work alone—all of it separate from the actual labor of farming—represents a prodigious amount of concerted planning and labor....

In comparison to others in the township and neighborhood, the Smiths' efforts and accomplishments were superior to most. In the township, only 40 percent of the farms were worth more per acre and just 25 percent were larger. In the "neighborhood," only 29 percent of the farms were worth more and only 26 percent were larger (Assessment Rolls 1-34).[3]

Orlando Saunders: "They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died"

What did Joseph's associates have to say about Joseph's work? Former neighbor Orlando Saunders recalled,

They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died....[The Smiths] were very good people. Young Joe (as we called him then), has worked for me, and he was a good worker; they all were. . . . He was always a gentleman when about my place."[4]

John Stafford, eldest son of William Stafford said that the Smiths were "poor managers," but allowed as how Joseph "would do a fair day's work if hired out to a man...."[5]

Mrs. Palmer's father "loved young Joseph Smith and often hired him to work with his boys"

According to Truman G. Madsen,

Mrs. Palmer, a non-Mormon who lived near the Smith farm in Palmyra, said of Joseph that "her father loved young Joseph Smith and often hired him to work with his boys. She was about six years old, she said, when he first came to their home. . . .She remembered, she said, the excitement stirred up among some of the people over the boy's first vision, and of hearing her father contend that it was only the sweet dream of a pure-minded boy.”[6]

Martha Cox's father said "that the boy [Joseph Smith] was the best help he had ever found

According to a contemporary, Martha Cox,

She stated that one of their church leaders came to her father to remonstrate against his allowing such close friendship between his family and the "Smith boy," as he called him. Her father, she said, defended his own position by saying that the boy was the best help he had ever found.[7]

Joseph's brother William noted that derogatory comments about Joseph's character came only after he reported his visions,

We never heard of such a thing until after Joseph told his vision, and not then, by our friends. Whenever the neighbors wanted a good day's work done they knew where they could get a good hand and they were not particular to take any of the other boys before Joseph either… Joseph did his share of the work with the rest of the boys. We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision.[8]

Joseph Knight said that Joseph Smith, Jr. was “the best hand [my father] ever hired”[9]

Martin Harris described what a good hand Joseph was: "He lived close by my farm, and often worked for me hoeing corn for fifty cents a day, which was the biggest wages given in those times." [10] "He also said that he had hoed corn with Joseph often, and that the latter was a good hand to work."[11]

The Smith family produced maple sugar and constructed barrels

Furthermore, the Smiths produced maple sugar, a difficult and labor-intensive occupation:

Sources document over two dozen kinds of labor the Smiths performed for hire, including digging and rocking up wells, mowing, coopering, constructing cisterns, hunting and trapping, teaching school, providing domestic service, and making split-wood chairs, brooms and baskets. The Smiths also harvested, did modest carpentry work, dug for salt, constructed stone walls and fireplaces, flailed grain, cut and sold cordwood, carted, made cider, and "witched" for water. They sold garden produce, made bee-gums, washed clothes, painted oil-cloth coverings, butchered, dug coal, painted chairs, hauled stone, and made maple syrup and sugar (Research File).

Joseph Jr.'s account suggests honest industry in the face of difficult conditions: "Being in indigent circumstances," he says, "[we] were obliged to labour hard for the support of [our] Large family and . . . it required the exertions of all [family members] that were able to render any assistances" (Jessee 4). The Smith men had a reputation as skilled and diligent workers. William Smith asserted that "whenever the neighbors wanted a good day's work done they knew where they could get a good hand" (Peterson 11). Eight wells in three townships are attributed to the Smiths (Research File). They likely dug and rocked others, including some of the 11 wells dug on the farm of Lemuel Durfee, who lived a little east of Martin Harris. The Smiths did considerable work for this kindly old Quaker; some of their labor served as rent for their farm after it passed into his ownership in December 1825 (Ralph Cator; Lemuel Durfee Farm books).

Father Joseph, Hyrum, and Joseph Jr. were coopers. Coopering was an exacting trade, particularly if the barrel was designed to hold liquid. Dye tubs, barrels, and water and sap buckets were products of the Smiths' cooper shop. They also repaired leaky barrels for neighbors at cidering time (Research File).

Sugaring was another labor-intensive work. William recalls, "To gather the sap and make sugar and molasses from [1,200-1,500 sugar] trees was no lazy job" (Peterson 11). Lucy said they produced an average of "one thousand pounds" (50) of sugar a year. One neighbor reportedly said that the Smiths made 7,000 pounds of sugar one season and won a premium for their effort at the county fair (Brodie 10-11). Many people could make maple syrup, but it required considerable skill to make sugar and particularly good skill, dexterity, and commitment to make high quality sugar.[12]


Response to claim: "Joseph was hired by folks like Josiah Stowell, who Joseph mentions in his history"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph was hired by folks like Josiah Stowell [to search for treasure], who Joseph mentions in his history

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information
The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct. Stowell hired Joseph to help him search for an ancient mine.

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!" [13]

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)." [14]

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. [15]

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: "In 1826, Joseph was arrested and brought to court in Bainbridge, New York, for trial on fraud"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

In 1826, Joseph was arrested and brought to court in Bainbridge, New York, for trial on fraud. He was arrested on the complaint of Stowell’s nephew who accused Joseph of being a “disorderly person and an imposter”

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

  • It is correct that Joseph was brought before a judge for a preliminary hearing by relatives of Josiah Stowell, because they thought that Joseph was defrauding him. The charge was that of being being a "disorderly person."
  • However, it was not a trial, but rather a preliminary hearing and no verdict was possible as a result of the hearing.
  • There was no decision made to proceed to trial, and Joseph was released.

Question: What is Joseph Smith's 1826 South Bainbridge "trial" for "glasslooking"?

Joseph Smith appeared at a pre-trial court hearing in 1826 for "glasslooking"

In 1825 Josiah Stowel sought out the young Joseph Smith, who had a reputation for being able to use his seer stone to locate lost objects, to help him to locate an ancient silver mine. After a few weeks of work, Joseph persuaded Stowel to give up the effort. In 1826, some of Stowel's relatives brought Joseph to court and accused him of "glasslooking" and being a "disorderly person." Several witnesses testified at the hearing.

Joseph was released without being fined or otherwise punished - there was no verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty" because this was only a hearing rather than a trial

Joseph was ultimately released without being fined and had no punishment imposed upon him. Years later, a bill from the judge was discovered which billed for court services.

Gordon Madsen summarized:

"The evidence thus far available about the 1826 trial before Justice Neely leads to the inescapable conclusion that Joseph Smith was acquitted." [16]

A review of all the relevant documents demonstrates that:

  1. The court hearing of 1826 was not a trial, it was an examination
  2. The hearing was likely initiated from religious concerns; i.e. people objected to Joseph's religious claims.
  3. There were seven witnesses.
  4. The witnesses' testimonies have not all been transmitted faithfully.
  5. Most witnesses testified that Joseph did possess a gift of sight

The court hearing was likely initiated by Stowel's relatives as a concern that he was having too much influence on Stowel

It was likely that the court hearing was initiated not so much from a concern about Joseph being a money digger, as concern that Joseph was having an influence on Josiah Stowel. Josiah Stowel was one of the first believers in Joseph Smith. His nephew was probably very concerned about that and was anxious to disrupt their relationship if possible. He did not succeed. The court hearing failed in its purpose, and was only resurrected decades later to accuse Joseph Smith of different crimes to a different people and culture.

Understanding the context of the case removes any threat it may have posed to Joseph's prophetic integrity.


Question: What events resulted in Joseph Smith's 1826 court appearance in South Bainbridge?

Josiah Stowell requested Joseph Smith's help in locating an ancient silver mine

In the spring of 1825 Josiah Stowell visited with Joseph Smith "on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye." [17] Josiah Stowell wanted Joseph to help him in his quest to find treasure in an ancient silver mine. Joseph was reluctant, but Stowell persuaded Joseph to come by offering high wages. According to trial documents, Stowell says Joseph, using a seer stone, "Looked through stone and described Josiah Stowell's house and out houses, while at Palmyra at Sampson Stowell's correctly, that he had told about a painted tree with a man's hand painted upon it by means of said stone." [18]

Joseph ultimately persuaded Stowell to give up looking for the mine

Joseph and his father traveled to southern New York in November of 1825. This was after the crops were harvested and Joseph had finished his visit to the Hill Cumorah that year. They participated with Stowell and the company of workers in digging for the mine for less than a month. Finally Joseph persuaded him to stop. "After laboring for the old gentleman about a month, without success, Joseph prevailed upon him to cease his operations." [19]

Joseph continued to work in the area for Stowell and others. He boarded at the home of Isaac Hale and met Emma Hale, who was one "treasure" he got out of the enterprise.

The following year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely

In March of the next year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely. The supposed trial record came from Miss Pearsall. "The record of the examination was torn from Neely's docket book by his niece, Emily Persall, and taken to Utah when she went to serve as a missionary under Episcopalian bishop Daniel S. Tuttle." [20] This will be identified as the Pearsall account although Neely possessed it after her death. It is interesting that the first published version of this record didn't appear until after Miss Pearsall had died.

Stowell's relatives felt that Joseph was exercising "unlimited control" over their father or uncle

William D. Purple took notes at the trial and tells us, "In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, ...were greatly incensed against Smith, ...saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire... They caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood." [21]

Whereas the Pearsall account says: "Warrant issued upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman, [Josiah Stowell's nephew] who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter...brought before court March 20, 1826" [22]

So, we have what has been called "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith", even though the records show that this wasn't actually a trial. For many years LDS scholars Francis Kirkham, Hugh Nibley and others expressed serious doubts that such a trial had even taken place.


Question: Why was Joseph fined if he wasn't found guilty of anything?

Joseph was never fined - the bills from Judge Neely and Constable DeZeng were for court costs

The court did not assess a fine against Joseph. There were bills made out by Judge Neely and Constable DeZeng, but these were for costs. Those bills were directed to the County for payment of witnesses, etc., not to Joseph.


Ensign (June 1994): "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life 20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York

Ensign (June 1994):

Highlights in the Prophet’s Life 20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. New York law defined a disorderly person as, among other things, a vagrant or a seeker of “lost goods.” The Prophet had been accused of both: the first charge was false and was made simply to cause trouble; Joseph’s use of a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye brought the second charge. Those who brought the charges were apparently concerned that Joseph might bilk his employer, Josiah Stowell, out of some money. Mr. Stowell’s testimony clearly said this was not so and that he trusted Joseph Smith. [23]


Question: Didn't Hugh Nibley claim that a record of this trial would be "the most damning evidence in existence" against Joseph Smith?

Nibley felt that the "court record" didn't seem to be correct

Hugh Nibley had serious doubts as to whether or not Joseph Smith was actually brought to trial in 1826, and he felt that the only real trial was in 1830. For the most part, Nibley felt that the "court record" didn't seem to be correct. The following quote is taken from Nibley's book "The Myth Makers:"

"if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith."

Why are the 1971 discoveries important?

It was easy to cast doubt on the reality of the 1826 hearing until the bills from Judge Albert Neely and Constable Philip De Zeng were found in 1971. These documents were removed from their purported site of discovery by Dr. Wesley Walters, a well-known anti-Mormon author.

Walters wrote, "Because the two 1826 bills had not only suffered from dampness, but had severe water damage as well, Mr. Poffarl hand-carried the documents to the Yale University's Beinecke Library, which has one of the best document preservation centers in the country." [24] The problem with this action is, once you have removed a document from a historical setting and then try to restore it to the same setting, you can't prove that you have not altered the document.

The actions of Walters and Poffarl compromised the documents. By having the documents removed and only returned under threat of a lawsuit by the County, it opened the possibility that they could be forged documents. They are generally considered to be authentic.

Nibley's real point at issue is not whether or not there was a trial, but whether or not a record existed proving Joseph guilty of deceit

Since Wesley Walters has found some bills related to the trial, the critics now claim that the case is proven and that Nibley has proven their case for them. Nothing is further from the truth. First of all you need to look at the whole quote. Nibley was chastising Tuttle for not actually using the trial record that he had. He was questioning why he would do that if it was so important.

"You knew its immense value as a weapon against Joseph Smith if its authenticity could be established. And the only way to establish authenticity was to get hold of the record book from which the pages had been purportedly torn. After all, you had only Miss Pearsall's word for it that the book ever existed. Why didn't you immediately send he back to find the book or make every effort to get hold of I? Why didn't you "unearth" it, as they later said you did? . . . The authenticity of the record still rests entirely on the confidential testimony of Miss Pearsall to the Bishop. And who was Miss Pearsall? A zealous old maid, apparently: "a woman helper in our mission," who lived right in the Tuttle home and would do anything to assist her superior. The picture I get is that of a gossipy old housekeeper. If this court record is authentic, it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith. Why, then, [speaking to Tuttle] was it not republished in your article in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge after 1891? . . . in 1906 Bishop Tuttle published his Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop in which he blasts the Mormons as hotly as ever. . . yet in the final summary of his life's experiences he never mentions the story of the court record - his one claim to immortal fame and the gratitude of the human race if it were true!" (Nibley "The Myth Makers", 246)

The Pearsall account, which has never been produced, claims that the defendant was found guilty. The real point at issue is not whether or not there was a trial, but whether or not a record existed proving Joseph guilty of deceit. A document proving such guilt has not been found.


Question: What did critics of the Church during Joseph Smith's lifetime think of the 1826 court hearing?

Critics of Joseph Smith's time ignored the 1826 court hearing

Critics of Joseph Smith's time ignored the 1826 court hearing:

  1. They didn't bring it up in another trial in the same area in 1830.
  2. It was not mentioned in any of the affidavits collected by Hurlbut in 1833, even though he was diligently looking for every piece of dirt he could find.
  3. Although the trial was briefly mentioned in 1831, it was not mentioned again in a published record for 46 years.

The attraction of this event for a later generation of critics, however, lies in the fact that:

  • Society had changed
  • Seer Stones were no longer acceptable
  • Treasure digging was considered abnormal
  • Spiritual gifts were reinterpreted as manifestations of the occult

Many people of the 1800s did not see any differences between what later generations would label as "magic" and religiously-driven activities recorded in the Bible

Many people of the 1800s did not see any differences between what later generations would label as "magic" and religiously-driven activities recorded in the Bible—such as Joseph's silver cup (see Genesis 44:2,5) in which 'he divineth' (which was also practiced by the surrounding pagans and referred to as hydromancy),[25] or the rod of Aaron and its divinely-driven power (Exodus 7:9-12).

The Bible records that Jacob used rods to cause Laban's cattle to produce spotted, and speckled offspring (see Genesis 30:37-39) — one can only imagine what the critics would say should Joseph Smith have attempted such a thing!

In Joseph Smith's own day other Christian leaders were involved in practices which today's critics would call 'occultic'

In Joseph Smith's own day other Christian leaders were involved in practices which today's critics would call 'occultic.' Quinn, for instance, observes that in "1825, a Massachusetts magazine noted with approval that a local clergyman used a forked divining rod.... Similarly, a Methodist minister wrote twenty-three years later that a fellow clergymen in New Jersey had used a divining rod up to the 1830s to locate buried treasure and the 'spirits [that] keep guard over buried coin'...." [26]

Activities of the early 1800s or Biblical times which later generations would view skeptically were simply thought of as part of how the world worked

It is important to realize that every statement about "magic" or the "occult" by LDS authors is a negative one. Joseph and his contemporaries would likely have shocked and dismayed to be charged with practicing "magic." For them, such beliefs were simply how the world worked. Someone might make use of a compass without understanding the principles of magnetism. This mysterious, but apparently effective, device was useful even if its underlying mechanism was not understood. In a similar way, activities of the early 1800s or Biblical times which later generations would view skeptically were simply thought of as part of how the world worked.

But, it is a huge leap from this realization to charging that Joseph and his followers believed they were drawing power from anything but a divine or proper source.


Question: What happened to Josiah Stowell? Did he conclude he had been defrauded after the court hearing?

Stowell joined the Church and died in full fellowship

One biographical encyclopedia noted:

Josiah Stowell (sometimes spelled Stoal) was born in Winchester, New Hampshire, 22 March 1770, and later resided at his farm on the Susquehanna River, about 3.2 miles southwest of the village of South Bainbridge (now Afton). This village was part of the township of Bainbridge (now Afton), Chenango County, New York. In October 1825 Stowell was engaged in digging for reported Spanish treasure in the Ouaquaga (Ouaquagua) Mountains of Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Hearing that Joseph Smith Jr. of Manchester, Ontario County, New York, had the ability to "discern things invisible to the natural eye," Mr. Stowell visited Joseph and employed him.

The men lodged at the home of Isaac Hale in Harmony. According to Hale, they dug from early November to about 17 November 1825, when successive failures caused them to withdraw to the Stowell farm. While at the Hale home, Joseph Smith had met Isaac's daughter, Emma. He continued to court her while he was employed in New York by Josiah Stowell and Joseph Knight Sr. After Joseph and Emma were married at South Bainbridge on 18 January 1827, Stowell gave the newlyweds a ride to Manchester, where they resided with Joseph's parents.

Stowell and Knight were both houseguests of the Smiths at Manchester on 21-22 September 1827, when Joseph Smith went to the Hill Cumorah and obtained the gold plates from Moroni. Stowell joined the Church in 1830 but did not go west with the Saints when they moved to Ohio in 1831. Josiah Stowell continued to express his belief in the Prophet and the Book of Mormon as indicated in a letter written by his son, Josiah Stowell Jr., to John S. Fullmer in February 1843. He also dictated a letter to the Prophet in Nauvoo on 19 December 1843 and told him of his desire "to come to Zion the next season"; however, conditions prevented his doing so. Josiah Stowell died in Smithboro, Tioga County, New York, on May 12, 1844. He is buried in the Smithboro Cemetery.[27]


Response to claim: "21st century Mormons...are so confused and bewildered when hearing stuff like Joseph Smith using a peep stone in a hat"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

This is one of the reasons why 21st century Mormons, once including myself, are so confused and bewildered when hearing stuff like Joseph Smith using a peep stone in a hat or Oliver Cowdery using a divining rod or dowsing rod

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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 was perfectly fine as a 21st century Mormon when he believed that Joseph used two seer stones mounted in a frame shaped like a "figure eight" to convert "reformed Egyptian" characters into English, but confused by the stone and the hat.
Logical Fallacy: Inconsistency
The author applies contradictory standards, depending upon which group he is addressing.

21st century Mormons believe that Joseph translated using two seer stones mounted in a metal frame, but have problems with the idea that he used a single seer stone placed in a hat.

Question: Which method of translation was more "believable": seer stone or Nephite interpreters?

One must choose which seer stone is more "believable"

Joseph Smith always claimed that the translation was performed by the "gift and power of God." So which translation method is more "believable"?

  1. Joseph used the Nephite interpreters, which consisted of two seer stones mounted in a frame that resembled a set of "spectacles." He looked into the stones and somehow deduced the English text of the characters written on the plates. The assumption that many make is that Joseph was using the "spectacles" like a pair of glasses that converted the characters into English, and thus required a direct view of the plates. There is, however, indication that Joseph may have placed the Nephite interpreter into his hat. Here is what the Church says about it: "According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument." [28]
  2. Joseph placed the seer stone in a hat to block out the light, and somehow deduced the English text of the characters written on the plates. The plates remained covered by a cloth on the table, as reported by many witnesses.

So both methods use seer stones, and both methods may have used the hat to block out light.

Which method is more "believable"? Ultimately, one must accept or reject the idea that the text of the Book of Mormon was revealed to Joseph Smith through revelation, by the "gift and power of God," regardless of the rather unbelievable details of the exact instruments and method used to achieve this.


Response to claim: "If Oliver Cowdery’s gift was really a divining rod then this tells us that the origins of the Church are much more involved in folk magic and superstition"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

If Oliver Cowdery’s gift was really a divining rod then this tells us that the origins of the Church are much more involved in folk magic and superstition than we’ve been led to believe by the LDS Church’s whitewashing of its origins and history.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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

Actually, all that this tells us is that Joseph and Oliver believed in "folk magic" prior to the organization of the Church. Such beliefs were superseded relatively quickly after the Church was organized, with Joseph ultimately giving Oliver his seer stone because he didn't need it any longer.
Logical Fallacy: False Cause
The author assumes that a real or perceived relationship between two events means that one caused the other.

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.[29]


Question: Did Joseph Smith attempt to "cover up" Oliver Cowdery's work with a divining rod by changing this revelation?

The edits to this portion of the revelation were actually performed by Sidney Rigdon, likely with Joseph's approval

A revelation received by Joseph praised Oliver Cowdery's gift of using divining talents. The revelation was published in the Book of Commandments in its original form, then subsequently modified in the Doctrine and Covenants. We do not know why Sidney Rigdon chose to alter the wording of the revelation, but he is the one that actually changed the wording to "rod of nature."

We know based upon the text of the revelation that Oliver possessed a gift of working with something alternately referred to as a "sprout," "thing of nature," or "rod of nature." We also know that the Lord approved of Oliver's use of this gift. The reference was later changed to the "gift of Aaron," but we can only speculate as to the exact reason why. According to the Church History website, the "rod" referred to by Sidney Rigdon when he edited the revelation was likely a divining rod. It is possible that "gift of Aaron" was substituted as the revelatory device because if carried fewer negative connotations than "divining rod." However, a "cover up" is not usually done by committee, and it is clear that multiple individuals assisted in editing the revelations before they were to be published in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is also difficult to claim a "cover up" since "rod of nature" was to be published in the Book of Commandments in 1833, only two years before change to "gift of Aaron" was published in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.

We do know that Oliver's gift had to do with receiving revelation, and that Oliver attempted to employ it during the period in which the Book of Mormon was being translated. We also know that Oliver's experience in attempting to translate produced one of the lasting lessons which continues to be taught in Church even today—the knowledge that one must study things out in their mind in order to know the truth of something.


Question: How was the wording of the "rod of nature" revelation that became Doctrine and Covenants 8:6–8 altered over time?

The revelation was edited by several individuals, including Sidney Rigdon

The original wording of the revelation along with revisions performed by Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, John Whitmer, and another unidentified editor is recorded in the REVELATION BOOK 1 (April 1829-B [D&C 8]). The original revelation reads as follows:

...remember this is thy gift now this is not all for thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the sprout Behold it hath told you things Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands. [30]

Sidney Rigdon edited the passage to read like this:

...remember this is your gift now this is not all for you have another gift which is the gift of working with the rod Behold it has told you things Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this rod to work in your hands. (emphasis added)

In the Book of Commandments (the predecessor to the Doctrine and Covenants), the revelation underwent an additional revision by a publication committee of the First Presidency (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Frederick G. Williams). The Book of Commandments stated:

Chapter 7:3—Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God. (emphasis added)

In the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, this was revised to read:

D&C 8:6–8—Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things; Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you. Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God. (1921 edition, 8:6–8.) (emphasis added)

Thus, "working with the sprout" and the "thing of Nature" were changed to "the gift of working with the rod," which was again later revised to "the gift of Aaron." It has been assumed on the basis of this that Oliver Cowdery was a "rodsman," or someone who used a divining rod to search for treasure, water, or other things hidden.

Evidence used to support this assertion is the fact that in 1801, a religious sect led by the Wood family enjoyed a brief popularity, and they sought for treasure with divining rods. [31] The Wood group was reportedly taught this skill by a counterfeiter/forger named either Winchell or Wingate. Winchell/Wingate had been a guest at the home of Oliver's father, William. Attempts have been made to tie William Cowdery to the Wood group, but there is no evidence that he had any connection with them aside from knowing Winchell/Wingate. As Richard L. Anderson observed:

An 1828 newspaper history of the Wood episode refers to neither the mysterious counterfeiter nor Cowdery. The main group of Middletown survivors of the 1800 period--"more than thirty men and women"--were interviewed up to 1860, and they said nothing of a counterfeiter or of Cowdery. The 1867 recollections of a minister who visited the group in the final weeks of their movement include mention of the counterfeiter but not Cowdery--when a disciple was asked where the criminal stayed, he answered: "He keeps himself secreted in the woods." Frisbie's own claims about the Cowdery connection to the Wood group are both unclear and unsupported. This is the patchwork of folklore, not tightly woven history. [32]

It is therefore not clear whether Oliver used a rod for treasure seeking. The critical association of Oliver's possible use of a rod with the activities of local "rodsmen" seeking treasure is used to imply that Oliver was also a treasure seeker.


Question: What if the "rod of nature" was indeed a physical object such as a divining rod?

God allowed Oliver to use the rod as a tool to receive spiritual guidance

If we presume that the Book of Commandments revelation of 1829 did refer to a physical rod, it is useful to consider just what Oliver was told:

Oliver Cowdery's first revelation commanded him to lay aside the world and build the restored kingdom: "Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich" (D&C 6:7). Whatever prior use Oliver made of his "gift of working with the rod," this revelation directed him to heavenly treasure. Indeed, this first commandment names but one special power: "Thy gift" is "sacred and cometh from above." It is defined as the ability to "inquire" and "know mysteries which are great and marvelous." Thus Oliver is commanded to "exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways." Thus his gift of knowledge of salvation will lead to the "greatest of all gifts," the "gift of salvation" (D&C 6:10-13).

Oliver's initial revelation closes with the command to seek heavenly "treasures" by assisting "in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity" (D&C 6:27). The revelation on the gift of the rod probably followed within a week. It continued the theme of learning ancient truth through translating: "Remember, this is your gift" (D&C 8:5). And it could be exercised by believing "you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records" (D&C 8:1). Then a second promise was made:

Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod. Behold, it has told you things. Behold, there is no other power save God that can cause this rod of nature to work in your hands, for it is the work of God. And therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, will I grant unto you, that you shall know.

But there were strict limits to this promise: "Trifle not with these things. Do not ask for that which you ought not. Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate all those ancient records."

So the "rod of nature" in Cowdery's "hands" would be a means of gaining revelation on doctrine. [33]

Thus, the alteration which describes the "rod" as "the gift of Aaron" clarifies the Lord's intent, and explains how Oliver and Joseph understood the matter. Aaron's rod was an instrument of power, but only insofar as God revealed and commanded its use. Such a perspective is a far cry from the "occult" links which the critics attempt to create:

D&C 8 approves a rod only for sacred information. It also suggests the rod that displayed God's power in the Egyptian plagues, in striking the rock for life-giving water or in calling down strength on Israel's warriors. That rod was a straight shaft, the shepherd's staff possessed by Moses at his call (Ex. 4:2-4). Used by both Moses and Aaron, it was foremost the "rod of God," also Moses' rod, but formally called the "rod of Aaron." It functioned as a visible sign of authority, just as Judah's "scepter" was a sign of divine kingship in Jacob's blessing or Elijah's staff held by the servant who went in his name. Thus the rod of Aaron was a staff of delegated agency, and the 1835 revision to "The gift of Aaron" suggests Oliver's spiritual power to assist Joseph Smith as Aaron assisted Moses. [34]


Dallin H. Oaks (1987): "It should be recognized that such tools as the Urim and Thummim, the Liahona, seerstones, and other articles have been used appropriately in biblical, Book of Mormon, and modern times"

Dallin H. Oaks:

It should be recognized that such tools as the Urim and Thummim, the Liahona, seerstones, and other articles have been used appropriately in biblical, Book of Mormon, and modern times by those who have the gift and authority to obtain revelation from God in connection with their use. At the same time, scriptural accounts and personal experience show that unauthorized though perhaps well-meaning persons have made inappropriate use of tangible objects while seeking or claiming to receive spiritual guidance. Those who define folk magic to include any use of tangible objects to aid in obtaining spiritual guidance confound the real with the counterfeit. They mislead themselves and their readers. [35]


Gospel Topics: "the Bible mentions other physical instruments used to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils, the Ark of the Covenant, and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Some people have balked at this claim of physical instruments used in the divine translation process, but such aids to facilitate the communication of God’s power and inspiration are consistent with accounts in scripture. In addition to the Urim and Thummim, the Bible mentions other physical instruments used to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils, the Ark of the Covenant, and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva to heal the eyes of a blind man.[36]


Response to claim: "who all shared a common worldview of second sight, magic, and treasure digging"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

We are told that the witnesses never disavowed their testimonies, but we have not come to know these men or investigated what else they said about their experiences. They are 11 individuals: Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, Hiram Page, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith Sr. – who all shared a common worldview of second sight, magic, and treasure digging – which is what drew them together in 1829.

Provenance of this claim:
Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 175. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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

A "common worldview of second sight, magic and treasure digging" is not what drew the Witnesses together in 1829. These men, regardless of whatever beliefs they had in folk magic, were successful and respected in their community.
Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem
The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

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." [37]

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. [38]


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. [39]


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.” [40] 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.[41]

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. [42]

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." [43]

This claim fundamentally distorts Harris' activities during this period. [44] 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. [45]

Harris managed to frustrate many other religious groups by his continued insistence on preaching the Book of Mormon instead of their tenets. He eventually returned to the Church and died in full fellowship.

The witnesses were men considered honest, responsible, and intelligent. Their contemporaries did not know quite what to make of three such men who testified of angels and gold plates, but they did not impugn the character or reliability of the men who bore that testimony.


Question: What did David Whitmer's associates say about his character?

Throughout Richmond, Missouri, the non-Mormons knew David Whitmer as an honest and trustworthy citizen

Throughout Richmond, Missouri, the non-Mormons knew David Whitmer as an honest and trustworthy citizen. When one anti-Mormon lectured in David’s hometown and branded David as disreputable, the local (non-Mormon) paper responded with “a spirited front-page editorial unsympathetic with Mormonism but insistent on ‘the forty six years of private citizenship on the part of David Whitmer, in Richmond, without stain or blemish.’” [46]

...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. [47]

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.[48]

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....[49]

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.[50]

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.[51]


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. [52]

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: "Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood
The author has disseminated false information

Martin Harris was absolutely skeptical. He required confirmation, which he received from Charles Anthon.

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

Martin was clear that he required considerable proof to support Joseph

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

I said, if it is the devil's work I will have nothing to do with it, but if it is the Lord's, you can have all the money necessary to bring it before the world. He [Joseph] said that the angel told him, that the plates must be translated, printed and sent before the world. I said, Joseph, you know my doctrine, that cursed is every one that putteth his trust in man, and maketh flesh him [sic] arm; and we know that the devil is to have great power in the latter days to deceive if possible the very elect; and I don't know that you are one of the elect. Now you must not blame me for not taking your word. If the Lord will show me that it is his work, you can have all the money you want.[53]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them. [54]

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

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


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

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

Kenneth W. Godfrey, Ensign (January 1988):

After returning from a trip to Palmyra to settle his affairs, Martin began to transcribe. From April 12 to June 14, Joseph translated while Martin wrote, with only a curtain between them. On occasion they took breaks from the arduous task, sometimes going to the river and throwing stones. Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[55]


Question: Did Charles Anthon validate the characters that Martin Harris brought to him that had been copied from the Book of Mormon plates?

If Anthon did not validate the characters, then why did Martin Harris immediately return home and finance the Book of Mormon?

If Charles Anthon really did tell Martin that the characters and translation were bogus, it would therefore be very strange for Martin Harris to immediately return home, help Joseph translate the Book of Mormon, provide funds, and eventually mortgage his farm to help print it.

On the other hand, Anthon clearly had no desire to have his name associated with "Mormonism," and so he has clear motives to alter the story after the fact.[56]

Martin Harris said that Anton validated the characters

Martin Harris' account of the visit to Charles Anthon was included in Joseph Smith's 1838 history:

64 I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him. 65 He then said to me, 'Let me see that certificate.' I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, 'I cannot read a sealed book.' I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation.(Joseph Smith History 1:64–65).

Anthon denied that he had ever validated the characters and translation, but his two accounts contradict one another

Anthon denied that he had ever validated either the characters or Joseph's translation, though his two written accounts contradict each other on key points.[57] For example:

  • in his first letter, Anthon refuses to give Harris a written opinion
  • in his second letter, Anthon claims that he wrote his opinion "without any hesitation" because he wished to expose what he was certain was a fraud.

A clue as to what Anthon said may be found in Martin Harris' reaction. Martin committed himself to financing the translation of the Book of Mormon.


Response to claim: "he was known by many of his peers as an unstable, gullible, and superstitious man"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

[Martin Harris] was known by many of his peers as an unstable, gullible, and superstitious man.

Author's source: Wikipedia article "Martin Harris (Latter Day Saint)"

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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 the danger of uncritically copying information off Wikipedia. In this case, information about Martin being a successful and respected member of the community is minimized, and his superstitious qualities emphasized.
Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem
The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

Question: Is Wikipedia's portrayal of Martin Harris as a gullible, superstitious man accurate?

Martin Harris is portrayed by critics as unstable, gullible and superstitious

One critic of the Church states that Martin Harris "was known by many of his peers as an unstable, gullible, and superstitious man...."

The following quotes are taken from Wikipedia's article "Martin Harris (Latter Day Saints)" to support this assertion:

“Once while reading scripture, he reportedly mistook a candle’s sputtering as a sign that the devil desired him to stop. Another time he excitedly awoke from his sleep believing that a creature as large as a dog had been upon his chest, though a nearby associate could find nothing to confirm his fears. Several hostile and perhaps unreliable accounts told of visionary experiences with Satan and Christ, Harris once reporting that Christ had been poised on a roof beam.” – BYU professor Ronald W. Walker, “Martin Harris: Mormonism’s Early Convert,” p.34-35

“No matter where he went, he saw visions and supernatural appearances all around him. He told a gentleman in Palmyra, after one of his excursions to Pennsylvania, while the translation of the Book of Mormon was going on, that on the way he met the Lord Jesus Christ, who walked along by the side of him in the shape of a deer for two or three miles, talking with him as familiarly as one man talks with another.” – John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840 in Early Mormon Documents, 2: 271

“According to two Ohio newspapers, shortly after Harris arrived in Kirtland he began claiming to have “seen Jesus Christ and that he is the handsomest man he ever did see. He has also seen the Devil, whom he described as a very sleek haired fellow with four feet, and a head like that of a Jack-ass.” – Early Mormon Documents 2: 271, note 32. [58]

The Wikipedia article emphasizes Harris's superstitious qualities and ignores his religious qualities

The Wikipedia article from which these quotes are taken deliberately emphasizes Harris's superstitious qualities while minimizing his work for the community and his religious qualities.

Upon reading the Wikipedia article about Martin Harris, we encounter quite a contrast from those things that we learn in church. The first thing that we learn about Martin is that he “was a prosperous farmer,” and that his neighbors “considered him both an honest and superstitious man.” The article then goes on in detail to note that Harris’s “imagination was excitable,” that he “once imagined that a sputtering candle was the work of the devil,” and that he was considered “a visionary fanatic.” The article continues by stating that “his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy,” and that “he was a great man for seeing spooks.” It is easy to see which aspects of Harris’s life the Wikipedia article attempts to emphasize. There are a few token mentions of honesty and prosperity, followed by extensive recitations of Harris’s superstitious qualities.[59]


Response to claim: "Before Harris became a Mormon, he had already changed his religion at least five times"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Before Harris became a Mormon, he had already changed his religion at least five times.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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 an old charge from one of the earliest anti-Mormon works, and the evidence does not support it.
Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem
The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

Such a charge is simply ad hominem—to deny Harris' testimony because of beliefs he had prior to the restoration.

Question: Did Martin Harris change his religion five times prior to the Restoration?

Palmyra sources do not yet prove that Martin was a Quaker, though his wife probably was, and there is no evidence yet that associates Martin with the Baptist or Presbyterian churches

This is an old charge from one of the earliest anti-Mormon works. Richard L. Anderson noted:

The arithmetic of Martin's five religious changes before Mormonism is also faulty. The claim comes from the hostile Palmyra affidavits published by E. D. Howe; G. W. Stoddard closed his in sarcasm against Martin Harris: "He was first an orthodox Quaker, then a Universalist, next a Restorationer, then a Baptist, next a Presbyterian, and then a Mormon."[60] Palmyra sources do not yet prove that Martin was a Quaker, though his wife probably was.[61] And no evidence yet associates Martin with the Baptist or Presbyterian churches. Note that the other two names are religious positions, not necessarily churches—philosophical Universalists dissent from traditional churches in believing that God will save all, and Restorationists obviously take literally the many Bible prophecies of God's reestablished work in modern times. An early Episcopal minister in Palmyra interviewed Martin and reduced his five positions to two: "He had been, if I mistake not, at one period a member of the Methodist Church, and subsequently had identified himself with the Universalists."[62] Of course Martin could have been a Universalist and Restorationer simultaneously. This view fits what other Palmyra sources say about Martin Harris. In the slanted words of Pomeroy Tucker, who knew him personally, "He was a religious monomaniac, reading the Scriptures intently, and could probably repeat from memory nearly every text of the Bible from beginning to end, chapter and verse in each case."[63]

Martin Harris: "In the year 1818—52 years ago—I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the Spirit that I should not join any church, although I was anxiously sought for by many of the sectarians"

This impression of Martin as Bible student outside of organized religions is just what Martin says in his little-known autobiography of this period:

In the year 1818-52 years ago—I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the Spirit that I should not join any church, although I was anxiously sought for by many of the sectarians. I was taught two could not walk together unless agreed. What can you not be agreed [is] in the Trinity because I cannot find it in my Bible, Find it for me, and I am ready to receive it. . . . Others' sects, the Episcopalians, also tried me—they say 3 persons in one God, without body, parts, or passions. I told them such a God I would not be afraid of: I could not please or offend him. . . . The Methodists took their creed from me. I told them to release it or I would sue them . . . The Spirit told me to join none of the churches, for none had authority from the Lord, for there will not be a true church on the earth until the words of Isaiah shall be fulfilled. . . . So I remained until the Church was organized by Joseph Smith the Prophet. Then I was baptized . . . being the first after Joseph and Oliver Cowdery. And then the Spirit bore testimony that this was all right, and I rejoiced in the established Church. Previous to my being baptized I became a witness of the plates of the Book of Mormon.[64]

The above is Martin Harris's creed, held for the half-century before giving this statement on returning to the Church, plus the five additional years that he lived in Utah. For the dozen years prior to joining Mormonism he was a seeker, like scores of other LIDS converts, and through life never departed from his confidence that the Bible prophecies were fulfilled in the Restoration through Joseph Smith. This core belief was what everything else related to, the structure that stood before, during, and after any gingerbread decorations at Kirtland.[65]

In any case, such a charge is simply ad hominem--to deny Harris' testimony because of beliefs he had prior to the restoration.


Response to claim: "Harris continued this earlier pattern by joining and leaving 5 more different sects"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Harris continued this earlier pattern by joining and leaving 5 more different sects

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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 fact that Martin joined other sects before he eventually returned to the Church has no bearing upon his testimony of the Book of Mormon, which he reiterated throughout his life.

Question: Does Martin Harris' involvement with other faiths after the Restoration discredit him?

Harris's decision to oppose Joseph Smith in Kirtland led him into a series of theological adaptations

Richard L. Anderson discussed Martin’s involvement with various LDS break-off groups following his excommunication:

Martin Harris displays a certain instability not at all characteristic of David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, but his lifetime religious positions have a consistency that is clear because of remarkable information from him. As discussed, the Book of Mormon remained the mainstay of a life that was repeatedly confused by the loss of family, wealth, friends, and religious security. His decision to oppose Joseph Smith in Kirtland led him into a series of theological adaptations; eight of them brought him back the full circle to rejoin the Latter-day Saints in the West. This figure has been seized upon for condemnation rather than insight. Furthermore, one early source claims that Martin went through five religious positions before becoming a Mormon, so the "case" against the witnesses adds eight and five to exclaim in shock that Martin made thirteen changes. But this ignores my specific explanations of the eight changes after his 1838 excommunication: except for Shakerism, "every affiliation of Martin Harris was with some Mormon group."[66] Beginning algebra teachers caution against adding eight oranges and five apples—the answer is not thirteen because the categories do not mix.

We shall see that the "five changes" prior to Martin's New York conversion are overstated—but differing churches of that period do not mix with Martin's Ohio variations on Mormonism, which he told visitors he had never left. His specific Ohio stages include the following: (1) the Parrish-Boynton party (which he condemned for denying the Book of Mormon at the time he met with them); (2) an 1842 rebaptism by a Nauvoo missionary; (3) an 1846 English mission with a Strangite companion (where documents suggest that the Book of Mormon was really Martin's message); (4) participation in McLellin's attempts to set up Midwest leaders for the Church in 1847-48; (5) concurrent with one or more stages, sympathy for Shakerism without full participation; (6) support of Gladden Bishop in his program of further revelations based on the Book of Mormon; (7) continuation of his original "dissenter" status of stressing the Book of Mormon and early revelations of Joseph Smith—even when occasionally meeting with William Smith and others, he maintained this position for fifteen years after his 1855 conversations with Thomas Colburn; (8) his 1870 return to the Church in Salt Lake. Note that the emphasis could be on the number "eight" or Martin's support of the Book of Mormon through all stages, which blended as different ways of trying to further the Restoration.[67]

The fact that Martin joined other sects does not affect Harris's testimony of the Book of Mormon, which for years remained the mainstay of his life

Matthew Roper wrote:

There is no evidence for the Tanners' claim that Martin Harris ever denied or doubted his testimony of the Book of Mormon. However, since he affiliated with several Mormon splinter groups between 1838 and 1870, the Tanners claim that he was "unstable and easily influenced by charismatic leaders."[68] But that statement does not hold true of Harris's testimony of the Book of Mormon, which for years remained the mainstay of his life.[69] As one historian correctly notes, with each of these splinter groups "[Harris] desired to preach to them more than to listen to them. While separated from the body of the Church, he responded in friendship to those who sought his support and fussed over him. But in each case Harris wanted to preach Book of Mormon, which usually led to a dividing of the ways."[70] 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."[71] Such actions suggest a significant degree of independence for which Harris is generally not given credit.

After the Saints left Kirtland, Harris lost contact with the main body of the Church and was not in harmony with some Church doctrines during this time. However, a rebaptism in 1842 suggests that he still sympathized with Mormon teachings. Although in 1846 Martin briefly affiliated with the Strangites and was sent by them on a mission to England, available sources from this period indicate that he was never fully committed to the Strangite cause.[72] His main motivation in going seems to have been to testify of the Book of Mormon. On one occasion Martin attempted to address a conference of Latter-day Saints in Birmingham, but was forbidden from doing so, and then was curtly asked to leave the meeting. Bitter and obviously embarrassed by the rebuff, Harris then reportedly went out into the street and began to rail against Church leaders.[73] However, George Mantle, who witnessed the event, later recalled:

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: "Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God."[74]

Harris sympathized for a time with other dissenters such as William McLellin and Gladden Bishop, but these men still accepted the Book of Mormon. As Anderson rightly notes, "Every affiliation of Martin Harris was with some Mormon group, except when he accepted some Shaker beliefs, a position not basically contrary to his testimony of the Book of Mormon because the foundation of that movement was acceptance of personal revelation from heavenly beings."[75]

The Tanners attempt to downplay the significance of the witnesses' written testimony by noting similarities between it and several nineteenth-century Shaker writings in which some Shaker believers claimed to have seen angels and visions. "Joseph Smith only had three witnesses who claimed to see an angel. The Shakers, however, had a large number of witnesses who claimed they saw angels and the book. [In Shaker writings,] there are over a hundred pages of testimony from 'Living Witnesses.' "[76] But the quantity of witnesses has little meaning if those witnesses afterwards admit that they were wrong. Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Shaker Roll and Book afterwards fell into discredit and dishonor among the Shakers themselves and was abandoned by its leaders and most believers,[77] while the Book of Mormon continued to be a vitally important part of Mormon scripture to which each of the witnesses, including Martin Harris, continued to testify, even while outside of the Church.

On page 14 of their recent newsletter, the Tanners assert that "Martin Harris' involvement with the Shakers raises some serious doubts regarding his belief in the Book of Mormon. We feel that a believer in the Book of Mormon could not accept these revelations without repudiating the teachings of Joseph Smith."[78] But such a conclusion is absurd, since the witnesses obviously did at times reject some of Joseph Smith's teachings, while still maintaining that the Book of Mormon was true and that their experience was real. However, the Tanners' conclusion is unjustified for another reason: Martin Harris never accepted all Shaker beliefs. For instance, while devoted Shakers advocated celibacy, Martin remained married during this period and had several children.[79] Further, Harris never joined nearby communities of Shakers as the fully committed would have done. Shakers believed in spiritual gifts and emphasized preparation for Christ's Second Coming, things that Harris had believed even before he joined the Church. Even an early revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith suggested that the Shakers had some truths (D&C 49:1–28). Harris was likely enthusiastic about certain elements of Shakerism that paralleled his own beliefs in a restoration, but he rejected other Shaker beliefs and practices, which his actions during these years clearly show. Thus, Harris's brief interest in the Shaker Roll and Book is quite understandable and consistent.[80] "Since it claimed to come from angels to prepare the world for the Millennium, it would be broadly harmonious with Martin Harris' commitment to the Book of Mormon, which in a far more historical and rational sense is committed to the same goal."[81] But although Harris's interest in Shakerism was short-lived, evidence from the same period shows that he never wavered from his testimony of the Book of Mormon.[82]


Response to claim: Martin Harris “declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon”

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

It has been reported that Martin Harris “declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon”

Author's sources: The Braden and Kelly Debate, p.173

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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

We do not know whether the Kirtland Mormons heard Martin Harris say this, or whether they heard it secondhand: The statement does not fit Martin's other numerous statements.

Question: Does Martin Harris' involvement with the Shakers undercut his testimony?

We do not know whether the Kirtland Mormons heard Martin Harris say this, or whether they heard it secondhand: The statement does not fit Martin's other numerous statements

Matthew Roper wrote:

As Anderson rightly notes, "Every affiliation of Martin Harris was with some Mormon group, except when he accepted some Shaker beliefs, a position not basically contrary to his testimony of the Book of Mormon because the foundation of that movement was acceptance of personal revelation from heavenly beings."[83]

Richard L. Anderson discussed Martin’s involvement with the Shakers and considered it a good example of how an apparent problem can strengthen the force of the Witnesses’ testimony:

Studying a problem with a Book of Mormon witness will generally lead to better understanding of the witness, the situation with an 1844 report: "Martin Harris is a firm believer in Shakerism, says his testimony is greater than it was of the Book of Mormon."[84] This word to the Twelve from Phineas Young and others is vague, for we do not know whether these Kirtland Mormons heard Martin Harris say this, or whether they heard it secondhand. His leaning to Shakerism is probably accurate, but Harris's precise wording is all-important if one claims that he testified of Shakerism instead of the Book of Mormon. This "either-or" reading of the document does not fit Martin's lifetime summary of all his interviews: "no man ever heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates."[85] For instance, at the same time as the above 1844 letter, Edward Bunker met Martin in the Kirtland Temple, visited his home, "and heard him bear his testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon."[86] And six months later Jeremiah Cooper traveled to Kirtland and visited with Martin Harris: "he bore testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon."[87]

Martin's Shaker sympathies terminated some time before 1855, when Thomas Colburn reported his attitude: "he tried the Shakers, but that would not do."[88] In the meantime Martin was intrigued by their claims of revelation, though he surely never espoused all Shaker beliefs, for thoroughgoing Shakers renounced the married life that Martin had during these years.[89] Fully committed Shakers also lived in communities like nearby North Union, whereas Martin remained in Kirtland during this period. Their appeal lay in a Pentecostal seeking of the Spirit and emphasis on preparation for Christ's coming. When Phineas Young mentioned Martin's Shaker belief, a new book of Shaker origin was circulating, "A Holy, Sacred, and Divine Roll and Book, from the Lord God of Heaven to the Inhabitants of Earth." Since it claimed to come from angels to prepare the world for the Millennium, it would be broadly harmonious with Martin Harris's commitment to the Book of Mormon, which in a far more historical and rational sense is committed to the same goal. Indeed, the Shaker movement later tended to slough off the "Divine Roll" as produced by an excess of enthusiasm.[90]

Martin still gave priority to his Book of Mormon testimony

Anderson continues,

We do not know whether Martin ever accepted this book as true, but he showed one like it to a visitor. This act does not show belief in that book, since it may have been exhibited as a curiosity, but the following journal entry shows that even if Shaker literature was present in 1850, Martin still gave priority to his Book of Mormon testimony: "I went to see Martin Harris. He was one of the 3 Witnesses to the Book of Mormon and said he knew it was true, for he saw the plates and knew for himself. I heard his little girl—she was 7 years old. I read some in what they called the Holy Roll, but no God."[91] Anyone following this discussion can soon see that authentic statements from the Book of Mormon witnesses are voluminous and always repeat the reality of their experience. Yet the first anti-Mormon book was written in 1834 within a dozen miles of their residences and set the precedent of not contacting them but devoting most space to show them to be either superstitious or dishonest.[92] This became a formula: ignore the testimony and attack the witness, the same pattern as the detailed current treatments. That method is sure to caricature its victims: lead off with the worst names anyone ever called them, take all charges as presented without investigating, solidify mistakes as lifelong characteristics, and ignore all positive accomplishments or favorable judgments on their lives. Such bad methods will inevitably produce bad men on paper. The only problem with this treatment is that it cheats the consumer—it appears to investigate personality without really doing so.[93]


Response to claim: Martin Harris "had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Martin Harris:“…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…” – Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2....There is a difference between saying you “beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” and saying you “hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them”...If these witnesses literally really saw the plates like everyone else on the planet sees tangible objects…why strange statements like, “I never saw them only as I see a city through a mountain”? What does that even mean? I’ve never seen a city through a mountain. Have you?

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Martin's statement about handling the plates in a box or when they were covered by a handkerchief is referring to the period of time during the translation of the Book of Mormon, before Martin became one of the three witnesses.

Stephen Burnett on Martin Harris: "But he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain"

Stephen Burnett, who considered Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to be "notorious liars," related what he heard Martin Harris say:

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 through 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 [h]im but should have let it passed as it was....I am well satisfied for myself that if the witnesses whose names are attached to the Book of Mormon never saw the plates as Martin admits that there can be nothing brought to prove that any such thing ever existed for it is said on the 171 page of the book of covenants that the three should testify that they had seen the plates even as J S Jr & if they saw them spiritually or in vision with their eyes shut—J S Jr never saw them any other way & if so the plates were only visionary...[94]


Response to claim: "I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Martin Harris: “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 anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.”

– Origin and History of the Mormonites, p. 406

There is a difference between saying you “beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” and saying...that the plates “were covered over with a cloth” and that you “saw them with a spiritual eye”.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or 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.
Logical Fallacy: Texas Sharpshooter
The author located some pattern in the data that he or she believes was the cause of something else, despite the lack of any supporting connection, and asserted that this was, in fact, the actual cause.

Why does the author only focus on statements which do not fit with the majority of the statements that Martin gave about seeing the plates?

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.[95]

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."[96]

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. [97]

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)."[98]

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." [99]


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". [100] 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. [101]

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".[102]


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.[103]

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! [104]

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.[105]

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[106]

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.[107]


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

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

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

In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us three witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say: Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris, you say, called it 'being in vision.' We read in the Scriptures, Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God. Daniel saw an angel in a vision; also in other places it states they saw an angel in the spirit. A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon. I am now passed eighty-two years old, and I have a brother, J. J. Snyder, to do my writing for me, at my dictation. [Signed] David Whitmer. [108]

And to leave absolutely no doubt about the nature of the manifestation Whitmer explained, "I was not under any hallucination . . . . I saw with these eyes." [109]

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

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

I wanted to know from him...what he knew about the Book of Mormon, and what about the testimony he had published to the world concerning it. He told me in all the solemnity of his advanced years, that the testimony he had given to the world, and which was published in the Book of Mormon, was true, every word of it, and that he had never deviated or departed from any particular from that testimony, and that nothing int he world could separate him from the sacred message that was delivered to him. I still wondered if it was no possible that he could have been deceived. I wondered if there was not something in that psychological operation which some offer as the cause of these miraculous declarations and by which he could have been deceived...so I induced him to relate to me, under such cross-examination as I was able to interpose [Moyle had just graduated from law school], every detail of what took place. He described minutely the spot in the woods, the large log that separated him from the angel, and that he saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, that he handled them [this may be in error, given that the contemporaneous record says otherwise], and that he did hear the voice of God declare that the plates were correctly translated. I asked him if there was any possibility for him to have been deceived, and that it was all a mistake, but he said, "No."[110]

He also wrote later:

He said that they (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris) were out in the primitive woods in Western New York; that there was nothing between them and the Angel except a log that had fallen in the forest; that it was broad daylight with nothing to prevent either hearing or seeing all that took place...he did see and hear the Angel and heard the declaration that the plates had been correctly translated; that there was absolutely nothing to prevent his having a full, clear view of it all. I remember very distinctly asking him if there was anything unnatural or unusual about the surroundings or the atmosphere. He answered that question. I do not remember exactly the words he used, but he indicated that there was something of a haze or peculiarity about the atmosphere that surrounded them but nothing that would prevent his having a clear vision and knowledge of all that took place. He declared to me that the testimony which he published to the world was true and that he had never denied any part of it.[111]

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


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

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

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

Whitmar’s [sic] description of the Book of Mormon, differs entirely from that given by Harris; both of whom it would seem have been of late permitted, not only to see and handle it, but to examine its contents. Whitmar relates that he was led by Smith into an open field, on his father’s farm near Waterloo, when they found the book lying on the ground; Smith took it up and requested him to examine it, which he did for the space of half an hour or more, when he returned it to Smith, who placed it in its former position, alledging that the book was in the custody of another, intimating that some Divine agent would have it in safe keeping. [112]

David, like Martin, had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. One observer remembers when David was so accused, and said:

How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height--a little over six feet--and said, in solemn and impressive tones: "No sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes, and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!" (Joseph Smith III, et al., Interview, July 1884, Richmond Missouri, in Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 134-35) [113]

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

He then explained that he saw the plates, and with his natural eyes, but he had to be prepared for it--that he and the other witnesses were overshadowed by the power of God and a halo of brightness indescribable. [114]


Question: How did the apostle Paul describe spiritual experiences?

The apostle Paul understood the difficulty of describing spiritual experiences

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

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

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

On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, "Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?" "No," said Martin, "I do not believe it." The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, "Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day." [115]


Response to claim: "Why couldn’t Martin just simply answer 'yes'?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the Book of Mormon, said that he had asked Harris, “Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?” According to Gilbert, Harris “looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.” – EMD 2:548....Why couldn’t Martin just simply answer “yes”?"

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author asks why Martin didn't simply answer "yes." Just how much clearer than saying "I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel" or "Just as plain as you see that chopping block, I saw the plates," must Martin be?

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.” [116]


Martin Harris: "Just as plain as you see that chopping block, I saw the plates"

Well, just as plain as you see that chopping block, I saw the plates; and sooner than I would deny it I would lay my head upon that chopping block and let you chop it off.[117]


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.[118]


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

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

George Mantle to Marietta Walker, 26 December 1888:

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: "Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God."[119]


Response to claim: "Whitmer responded that the angel 'had no appearance or shape'"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

In 1880, David Whitmer was asked [by John Murphy] for a description of the angel who showed him the plates. Whitmer responded that the angel “had no appearance or shape.” When asked by the interviewer how he then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, “Have you never had impressions?” To which the interviewer responded, “Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?” “Just so,” replied Whitmer. – Interview with John Murphy, June 1880, EMD 5:63

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author fails to note that Whitmer was very upset about the way that John Murphy had portrayed his testimony and witness, and that Whitmer published a rebuttal to Murphy's claim.
Logical Fallacy: Genetic
The author determines whether something is truthful or false on the basis of who said it.

  • The author uncritically accepts John Murphy's account of what Whitmer said because it is in accordance with what the author believes to be true.
  • The author completely ignores Whitmer's published rebuttal to what Murphy claimed that he said, because he doesn't believe Whitmer is telling the truth.

Question: Did David Whitmer tell John Murphy that the angel Moroni "had no appearance or shape" and that he saw "nothing"?

John Murphy quoted David Whitmer as saying that his witness experience was just a "feeling" or an "impression"

David Whitmer was interviewed by John Murphy in June 1880. Murphy reported that Whitmer claimed that the angel that showed him the plates "had no appearance or shape" and that Whitmer saw "nothing, in the way you understand it." Upon seeing the published interview, Whitmer strongly objected to the way Murphy had portrayed him, and published a proclamation refuting Murphy's characterization of his experience as a witness.

The following is a portion of Murphy's interview with David Whitmer, written from Murphy's perspective. (John Murphy to the Editor, undated, Hamiltonian, 21 January 1881, quoted in "David Whitmer Interview with John Murphy, June 1880," Early Mormon Documents 5:63):

[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 read the Murphy interview, he published a rebuttal to John Murphy's portrayal of his witness experience

Whitmer himself refuted Murphy's account:

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.[120]


David Whitmer (1878): "I saw [the plates and other Lehite artifacts] just as plain as I see this bed"

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

It was in June 1829, the very last part of the month, and the eight witnesses, I think the next day. Joseph showed them the plates himself. We (the Three Witnesses) not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, but the Brass Plates, the plates containing the record of the wickedness of the people of the world, and many other plates. The fact is, it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and i were sitting right here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light. It was not like the light of the sun, nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us, I cannot tell how far, bu in the midst of this light, immediately before us, about as far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer who was sitting 2 or 3 feet from him) there appeared, as it were, a table, with many records on it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon; also the sword of Laban, the Directors (i.e. the ball which Lehi had) and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking his hand upon the bed beside him), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.[121]

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!"[122]


David Whitmer (1887): "'He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear;' it was no delusion!"

David Whitmer:

'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.[123]


Response to claim: "James Henry Moyle...went away 'not fully satisfied...It was more spiritual than I anticipated'"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

A young Mormon lawyer, James Henry Moyle, who interviewed Whitmer in 1885, asked if there was any possibility that Whitmer had been deceived. "His answer was uneuqivocal...that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness." But Moyle went away "not fully satisfied...It was more spiritual than I anticipated." — Moyle diary, June 28, 1885, EMD 5:141

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author ignores information from the same source that explicitly contradicts his interpretation.
Logical Fallacy: Strawman
The author sets up a weakened or caricatured version of the opponent's argument. The author then proceeds to demolish the weak version of the argument, and claim victory.

The author creates a strawman by excluding portions of Moyle's statement in order to make it appear to support his own position. The following statements from Moyle come from the same source used by the author of the CES Letter (EMD 5:142-143):
  • Moyle: "He described minutely the spot in the woods, the large log that separated him from the angel, and that he saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated."
  • Moyle: "I asked him if there was any possibility for him to have been deceived, and that it was all a mistake, but he said, 'No.'"

Question: What did James Henry Moyle say about his visit to David Whitmer?

Moyle interviewed Whitmer and soon after wrote in his diary:

Mr Whitmer conversed and showed to me the papers [of the Book of Mormon manuscript] for 2 1/2 hours. was very kind but had trouble in keeping him on the points in issue. He was some what spiritual in his explanations[.] He was not as materialistic in his descriptions as I wished. ...

Mr David Whitmer Senior is now 80 years old. He is some what feeble but claims that he will preserve the plates <manuscript>....

Mr D[avid] Whitmer Sen did not handle the plates. Only seen <saw> them, says Martin Haris and Cowdry did so they say!

Says he did see them and the angel and heard him speak. But that it was indiscribable that it was through the [p. 3] power of God (and was possibly [in the spirit] at least) he then spoke of Paul hearing and seeing Christ but his associates did not. Because it is only seen in the Spirit.

I was not fully satisfied with the ex=planation. It was more spiritual than I anticipated.[124]

Some use the above remarks to conclude that Whitmer was denying the physical reality of his witness experience, or that Moyle went away convinced that the vision was somehow unreal.

Moyle's later accounts: "He described minutely the spot in the woods, the large log that separated him from the angel, and that he saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated"

Moyle would later write more about his visit, which disproves these notions:

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

I wanted to know from him...what he knew about the Book of Mormon, and what about the testimony he had published to the world concerning it. He told me in all the solemnity of his advanced years, that the testimony he had given to the world, and which was published in the Book of Mormon, was true, every word of it, and that he had never deviated or departed from any particular from that testimony, and that nothing int he world could separate him from the sacred message that was delivered to him. I still wondered if it was no possible that he could have been deceived. I wondered if there was not something in that psychological operation which some offer as the cause of these miraculous declarations and by which he could have been deceived...so I induced him to relate to me, under such cross-examination as I was able to interpose [Moyle had just graduated from law school], every detail of what took place. He described minutely the spot in the woods, the large log that separated him from the angel, and that he saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, that he handled them [this may be in error, given that the contemporaneous record says otherwise], and that he did hear the voice of God declare that the plates were correctly translated. I asked him if there was any possibility for him to have been deceived, and that it was all a mistake, but he said, "No."[125]

He also wrote later:

He said that they (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris) were out in the primitive woods in Western New York; that there was nothing between them and the Angel except a log that had fallen in the forest; that it was broad daylight with nothing to prevent either hearing or seeing all that took place...he did see and hear the Angel and heard the declaration that the plates had been correctly translated; that there was absolutely nothing to prevent his having a full, clear view of it all. I remember very distinctly asking him if there was anything unnatural or unusual about the surroundings or the atmosphere. He answered that question. I do not remember exactly the words he used, but he indicated that there was something of a haze or peculiarity about the atmosphere that surrounded them but nothing that would prevent his having a clear vision and knowledge of all that took place. He declared to me that the testimony which he published to the world was true and that he had never denied any part of it.[126]

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

Whitmer himself would explain the matter:

In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us three witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say: Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris, you say, called it 'being in vision.' We read in the Scriptures, Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God. Daniel saw an angel in a vision; also in other places it states they saw an angel in the spirit. A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon. I am now passed eighty-two years old, and I have a brother, J. J. Snyder, to do my writing for me, at my dictation. [Signed] David Whitmer. [127]

And to leave absolutely no doubt about the nature of the manifestation Whitmer explained, "I was not under any hallucination . . . . I saw with these eyes." [128]

But what of Moyle's concern about it being not sufficiently "materialistic"?

In another late account, Moyle returned to the issue of what had bothered him in his contemporaneous diary.

He first noted:

Was there any possibility for him to have been deceived in any particular? His answer was unequivocal. That there was no question about its truthfulness. That the angel stood in a little clear space in the woods, with nothing between them but a fallen log, the angel on one side, the witnesses on the other. It was all in broad clear daylight; that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakeable clearness, and there was nothing to prevent the same.[129]

Moyle then turned to the matter that had troubled him in the diary:

There was only one thing that did not fully satisfy me. I had difficulty then as I have now to describe just what was unsatisfactory. I wrote in my diary immediately on my return home, that in describing the scene in the woods he was 'somewhat spiritual in his explanations and not as materialistic as I wished.' That was my description then and I cannot make it any clearer now. He said, 'It was indescribable; that it was through the power of God.' He then spoke of Paul hearing and seeing Christ, and his associates did not, because it is only seen in the spirit.

I asked if the atmosphere about them was normal. THen he said it was indescribable, but the light was bright and clear, yet apparently a different kind of light, something of a soft haze I concluded.

A few years before in an interview with President Joseph F. Smith and Apostle Orson Pratt, they reported that he said it was more brilliant than that of the noonday sun.

I have wondered if there was a special significance, not clear to me, in the language used by the three witnesses in their testimony referring to the golden plates, 'And they have been shown unto us by the power of God and not of man.' The either witnesses say the plates were shown unto them by Joseph Smith. That I call materialistic, the other spiritual, and I could not get anything more out of it.....[130]

Moyle here makes clear to what he is referring. His difficulty is not that the experience was not real, or didn't happen "in real life," but simply that he and Whitmer were attempting to communicate about something beyond Moyle's experience. Moyle wanted a "materialistic" description of what happened, but in some aspects that wasn't possible--Whitmer couldn't explain what seeing an angel and hearing the voice of God were like.

It is clear that Moyle did not regard this as evidence that Whitmer's experience was not convincing, or that it was unreal. He simply realized that there was an aspect to the Three Witnesses' experience which they could not fully communicate in materialistic, every-day language. One sees this difficulty in many of their accounts. Skeptics repeatedly attempted to infer that the experiences were, therefore, purely mental, or imaginary. The witnesses rejected this interpretation repeatedly, though modern-day skeptics continue the error.

The eight witnesses offer the more prosaic, materialistic experience. The three witnesses saw the plates--but also had a divine witness of an angel and the voice of God: something that cannot be fully explained with normal language if the entire experience is to be captured. They would likely say, however, that this made it more real and literal, not less.

If Moyle's concern had been that the vision was "just in his mind" or "imaginary" or "only spiritual" (meaning not occurring in real, physical time and space), then he would not have had difficulty describing exactly what he was getting at. Instead, he was struggling with language to express those elements that Whitmer likewise could not completely communicate to him. As Whitmer himself explained elsewhere:

He then explained that he saw the plates, and with his natural eyes, but he had to be prepared for it--that he and the other witnesses were overshadowed by the power of God and a halo of brightness indescribable. [131]


Response to claim: "As scribe for the Book of Mormon and cousin to Joseph Smith, there was a serious conflict of interest in Oliver being a witness"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery was not an objective and independent witness. As scribe for the Book of Mormon and cousin to Joseph Smith, there was a serious conflict of interest in Oliver being a witness.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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

Why? Putting aside the fact that Joseph and Oliver were distantly related and had never met one another, why is being a cousin or a scribe a "conflict of interest?" This is simply propaganda.
Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem
The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

How does being one's cousin relate to the ability of Oliver to be a witness? For example, is the author implying that being related to someone disqualifies them from testifying on matters related to their relative in court?

Question: Does the fact that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith distant cousins make Oliver an unreliable witness to the Book of Mormon?

Oliver was indeed a distant cousin of Joseph Smith, but they had never met before the Book of Mormon was translated

The accusation that Oliver being a distant cousin of Joseph Smith makes him an unreliable witness to the Book of Mormon is 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 accusations that Oliver is an unreliable witness because he is related to Joseph Smith applies both of these definitions:

  • Oliver was indeed a distant cousin of Joseph Smith, but they had never met before the Book of Mormon was translated. Those who put forth this criticism attempt to prejudice the reader by implying that this relationship made Oliver unreliable.
  • The fact that they were distantly related has no bearing upon Oliver's reliability as a scribe or as a witness. How does this relationship make him an unreliable witness? What is the conflict of interest?

More to the point, if Oliver was covering up a fraud on the part of Joseph Smith when he acted as a scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon simply because he was related to Joseph Smith, or if he was covering for Joseph when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, then why didn't Oliver expose the fraud after he fell into disagreement with Joseph Smith and was excommunicated from the Church? This would have been the perfect opportunity to expose a fraud.


Question: Are the Book of Mormon witnesses unreliable because many of them were related?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of who they are related to is a ad hominem attack

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

Mark Twain made fun of this very issue:

And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but "hefted" them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified. [132]

This is 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.

How, exactly, does being related to someone else who is viewing the same thing that you are make one less honest or reliable? This is simply an irrelevant distraction. When you are going to show something sacred to someone, you certainly don't show it to strangers but to those with whom you are familiar and who you can trust. As such, one would not expect anyone but close acquaintances and family to be so trusted. The witnesses, incidentally, had reputations for honesty.

The witnesses would, of necessity, be those who were close to Joseph. Recall the fact that the witnesses eventually had disaffected members among them because of disagreements with Joseph Smith, yet they never denied their witness. This gives credence to their testimony over time.


Question: What did Oliver Cowdery say about his witness experience after Joseph died?

Oliver continued to affirm his witness experience after Joseph's death

As a lawyer, well after he had left the Church and two years after Joseph's death, Oliver wrote the following to Phineas Young:

I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit; but I ought to be so—you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and looked down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce,—you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest. [133]


Oliver Cowdery: "My eyes saw, my ears heard...It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind—it was real"

Affidavit submitted by Jacob F. Gates:

Testimony of Jacob Gates. My father, Jacob Gates, while on his way to England, in 1849, stopped at the town of Richmond, where lived at that time Oliver Cowdery. Hearing that Oliver was in poor health, and wishing to renew old acquaintance, as they had been friends in earlier days, father called on him at his home. Their conversation, during the visit drifted to early Church history, and to their mutual experiences during the troublous times in Missouri and Illinois. Finally father put this question to him: "Oliver," said he, "I want you to tell me the whole truth about your testimony concerning the Book of Mormon—the testimony sent forth to the world over your signature and found in the front of that book. Was your testimony based on a dream, was it the imagination of your mind, was it an illusion, a myth—tell me truthfully?"
To question him thus seemed to touch Oliver very deeply. He answered not a word, but arose from his easy chair, went to the book case, took down a Book of Mormon of the first edition, turned to the testimony of the Three Witnesses, and read in the most solemn manner the words to which he had subscribed his name, nearly twenty years before. Facing my father, he said: "Jacob, I want you to remember what I say to you. I am a dying man, and what would it profit me to tell you a lie? I know," said he, "that this Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testified is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind—it was real."
Then father asked him about the angel under whose hands he received the priesthood, to which he made answer thus: "Jacob, I felt the hand of the angel on my head as plainly as I could feel yours, and could hear his voice as I now hear yours."
Then father asked this question: "If all that you tell me is true, why did you leave the Church?" Oliver made only this explanation; said he: "When I left the Church, I felt wicked, I felt like shedding blood, but I have got all over that now."
State of Utah, County of Salt Lake, ss. Jacob F. Gates, of Salt Lake City, Utah, being first duly sworn, deposes and says, that he is a citizen of the United States, of the age of fifty-seven years, and that he is the son of Jacob Gates, who, prior to his death, related to affiant a conversation which he had with Oliver Cowdery, at the town of Richmond, State of Missouri, and that the above and foregoing is a true and correct statement of said conversation as given to him by his father.
JACOB F. GATES.
Subscribed and sworn to before me this 30th day of January, 1912. ARTHUR WINTERS, Notary Public.
My commission expires December 3, 1915.[134]


Response to claim: "I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director make(s) the following claim:

William Smith said, with regard to the gold plates, “I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock.” – EMD 1:497 (April 2013 revision)
This claim was subsequently retracted by the author of the CES Letter. (October 2014 revision)

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

This is a common claim among critics of the Church. What they do not say is that this was a description from William Smith, Joseph's brother, who was not one of the Three or Eight witnesses. He is simply describing what happened when Joseph brought the plates home.
Logical Fallacy: Bandwagon (Appeal to the Masses)
The author believes that this claim is true simply because all of his or her buddies believe that it is true, despite the lack of actual evidence supporting it.

The author removed this incorrect claim from subsequent versions of his letter. Why didn't he examine the sources himself before he made this claim? Because it is easier to simply copy other anti-Mormon sources than to do real research.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

During this four years, I spent my time working on the farm, and in the different amusements of the young men of my age in the vicinity. I was quite wild and inconsiderate, paying no attention to religion of any kind, for which I received frequent lectures from my mother and my brother Joseph. He occupied himself part of the time working on the farm, and part of the time in Pennsylvania where he courted a young lady by the name of Emma Hale, whom he afterwards married. At the end of the appointed time he went and obtained the plates which were pointed out to him by the angel. The story being noised abroad, he was pursued while on his way home with the plates, by two persons who desired to obtain the possession of the plates to convert them into money. However, he escaped to the house and brought the plates with him, wrapped up in a tow frock. He could not permit us to see them, because he said the angel told him not to do so, and he was determined to obey strictly this time; for he had disobeyed before and was compelled to wait four years before he could come into possession of the plates.[135]

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

After the work of translation, William says:

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


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

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

The time to receive the plates came at last. When Joseph received them, he came in and said: "Father, I have got the plates." All believed it was true, father, mother, brothers and sisters. You can tell what a child is. Parents know whether their children are truthful or not. The proof of the pudding is not in chewing the string, but in eating the pudding. Father knew his child was telling the truth. When the plates were brought in they were wrapped up in a tow frock. My father then put them into a pillow case. Father said, "What, Joseph, can we not see them?" "No. I was disobedient the first time, but I intend to be faithful this time; for I was forbidden to show them until they are translated, but you can feel them." We handled them and could tell what they were. They were not quite as large as this Bible. Could tell whether they were round or square. Could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him). One could easily tell that they were not a stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood. Being a mixture of gold and copper, they were much heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood. [136]


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

William Smith describes the physical characteristics of the plates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No," was the reply. "We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and mother believed him, why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That Father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that [p.512] belief shows that he was truthful. No sir, we never doubted his word for one minute." [137]

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


Response to claim: James Strang and the Voree Plates Witnesses

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Every single living Book of Mormon witness besides Oliver Cowdery accepted Strang’s prophetic claim of being Joseph’s true successor and joined him and his church. Additionally, every single member of Joseph Smith’s family except for Hyrum’s widow also endorsed, joined, and sustained James Strang as “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator”. What does this say about the credibility of the Book of Mormon witnesses if they were so easily duped by James Strang and his claims of being a prophet called of God to bring forth new scripture from ancient plates only to later turn out to be a fraud?....James Strang’s claims and Voree Plates Witnesses are distinctive and more impressive compared to the Book of Mormon Witnesses" and that none of Strang's witnesses recanted "even after they were excommunicated from the church and estranged from Strang.

Provenance of this claim:
Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 99-100.( Index of claims )
--> Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 208-212. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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?

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. [138] 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.[139]


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.[140]

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. [141]

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.[142]

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. [142]

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.[143]

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: "Every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The closest thing we have in existence to an original document of the testimonies of the witnesses is a printer’s manuscript written by Oliver Cowdery. Every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting...


According to the above manuscript that Oliver took to the printer for the Book of Mormon, they were not signatures. Since there is no evidence of any document whatsoever with the signatures of the witnesses, the only real testimonies we have from the witnesses are later interviews given by them and eyewitness accounts/affidavits made by others, as shown previously....From a legal perspective, the statements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight witnesses hold no credibility or weight in a court of law...

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author demonstrates no understanding of the two Book of Mormon manuscripts that were created. The "Printers manuscript" that he is referring to is the second manuscript that was transcribed by Oliver Cowdery, the pages of which were carried to the printer so that the original would not be lost. Of course everything in the Printer's Manuscript was in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. The original manuscript was mostly destroyed by water damage, and the section containing the original signatures was lost.

Question: What is the Book of Mormon "printer's manuscript" and why is it entirely in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery?

The printer's manuscript was copied from the original manuscript by Oliver Cowdery, including the witness statements

The printer's manuscript was created by Oliver Cowdery to carry to the printer so that the original manuscript would not be lost. This second manuscript is entirely in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery.

Most critics who make the claim that none of the witnesses signed their testimonies fail to note that one of the witnesses signatures on the printer's manuscript is genuine: that of Oliver Cowdery himself.

Critics of the Church also fail to note that David Whitmer, in fact, made a point of affirming that his testimony was true just as it was printed in the Book of Mormon.

Witness signature page from the Printer's Manuscript. This was a copy of the original manuscript made by Oliver Cowdery in order to take pages to the printer without the risk of losing the original pages. These signatures appeared at the back of the 1830 Book of Mormon rather than the front as they do in modern editions. Images of this item © Community of Christ and licensed to the Joseph Smith Papers Project. off-site (Interim content - may be removed in the future)


Response to claim: "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director make(s) the following claim:

Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon... (April 2013 revision)
Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses, with the exception of David Whitmer, directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon... (October 2014 revision)

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

David Whitmer, when asked directly if the witnesses signed their own names, stated that the Three Witnesses had each signed the original document.
Logical Fallacy: Special Pleading
The author creates a one-sided argument by including favorable data and excluding unfavorable data through improper means. In this case, the author "moved the goalpost" by changing his argument when his original claim was shown to be false.

  • Original claim made by the author: "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon"
    This claim was proven false, since David Whitmer stated that all of the witnesses signed the original manuscript.
  • New claim made by the author: "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses, with the exception of David Whitmer, directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon"
Thus, the "goal post" has been moved by the author.

Question: Did the Three Witnesses each add their own signature to the original Book of Mormon manuscript?

David Whitmer (1878): "Yes, we each signed his own name"

According to David Whitmer, each of the Three Witnesses added their signatures to the original Book of Mormon manuscript:

In September, 1878, in company with Apostle Orson Pratt, the writer visited David Whitmer, at Richmond, Ray County, Missouri. In the presence of David. C. Whitmer, the son of Jacob, Philander Page, David J. Whitmer, son of David Whitmer, George Scheweich, Col. James W. Black, J. R. B. Van Cleave and some others, Father David Whitmer was asked if the three witnesses signed their own names to their testimony to the Book of Mormon? Father Whitmer unhesitatingly replied with emphasis:

"Yes, we each signed his own name."

"Then," said the questioner, "how is it that the names of all the witnesses are found here, (in D. W's manuscript) written in the same hand writing?"

This question seemed to startle Father Whitmer, and, after examining the signatures he replied:

"Oliver must have copied them."

"Then, where are the original documents?" was asked.

He replied, "I don't know."[144]

David Whitmer (1885): they "were present and ordered Oliver Cowdry [sic] to sign for them"

By 1885, in an interview with James Henry Moyle, Whitmer seems to have been clearer on how his copy of the manuscript came to be:

"The witnesses did Dav not sign the original manuscript though [they] were present and ordered Oliver Cowdry to sign for them."[145]

A footnote which accompanies this section reads:

Moyle himself noted in his diary, "The statement that the three witnesses did not sign the manuscript but that Oliver Cowdery signed for them and at their request is doubtless true as to the copy which David Whitmer had. The writing itself indicates that. Joseph Fielding Smith, church historian, says his father said that in his interview and that of Orson Pratt, David Whitmer admitted that the three witnesses signed the original manuscript." Whitmer was unaware that two manuscript copies of the Book of Mormon had been made and that the manuscript in his possession was the second copy that Cowdery had prepared for the printer.[146]


Response to claim: "FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists. We do not have an actual document of actual signatures of the Book of Mormon witnesses. We just have a document, in Oliver’s own handwriting, of the names of the Witnesses. We have a claim that there was a document of actual signatures and a claim that this document was “placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House” and that it was “destroyed by water damage” years later.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood
The author has disseminated false information

There isn't a claim that the original manuscript was destroyed by water damage: The remnants of the manuscript exist and the damage is confirmed as historical fact. Only 28 percent of the original manuscript exists, and it does not include the signature section. However, David Whitmer stated, "Yes, we each signed his own name." He later affirmed that he agreed with his testimony "as published."


The author then attempts to discredit Whitmer by using his statement from An Address to All Believers in Christ: "If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to 'separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.’" However, as stated in the subsequent section, this message came to Whitmer after he had already been excommunicated, and there was a possibility that he could have been harmed. We have no problem accepting the idea that God told Whitmer to leave the area in order to preserve one of the Book of Mormon witnesses so that he could continue to testify.
Logical Fallacy: Special Pleading
The author creates a one-sided argument by including favorable data and excluding unfavorable data through improper means. In this case, the author "moved the goalpost" by changing his argument when his original claim was shown to be false.

Here are the author's original claims:
  • 1. That on the Printer's Manuscript "Every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting....According to the above manuscript that Oliver took to the printer for the Book of Mormon, they were not signatures."
  • 2. That "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon."
  • 3. That "there is no evidence of any document whatsoever with the signatures of the witnesses."

However,

  • 1. The author conceded claim #1 as being irrelevant: The Printer's manuscript would obviously be in Oliver's handwriting, since he copied everything (including signatures) from the Original manuscript.
  • 2. The author conceded claim #2 as being incorrect in the October 2014 revision, since he learned that David Whitmer said directly that the witnesses signed individually. Thus he modified his statement to read, "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses, with the exception of David Whitmer, directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon"
  • 3. Since claims #1 and #2 were proven to be invalid, the author had to "move the goalpost" by asserting that claim #3 was actually his original "point": "FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists".
Logical Fallacy: Genetic
The author determines whether something is truthful or false on the basis of who said it.

After publishing his original Letter, the author learned that the section of the Original manuscript containing the signatures was destroyed. The author tries to cast doubt upon the validity of this data because it was FairMormon that brought it to his attention: According to the author, FairMormon is said to have made a "claim" that the manuscript was damaged by water and a "claim" that is was placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. However, the author could have easily verified that these "claims" are actually historical facts. The section containing the signatures on the Original manuscript was indeed destroyed.

Question: What happened to the original Book of Mormon manuscript?

The original manuscript was placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House

Frederick Kessler stated that he observed Joseph Smith placing the manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House:

Further facts in relation to the manuscript of the Book of Mormon. I saw the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., hide up the above manuscript unto the Lord in the south-east corner of the Nauvoo House, Illinois. I stood within eight or ten feet of him, heard and saw what he said and did, on that important occasion, which I freely testify to all the world.

[Signed] FREDERICK KESSLER, SEN., Bishop of the Sixteenth Ward, Salt Lake City, Utah. October 12, 1878. [147]

The contents of the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House were the following:

The corner stone of the Nauvoo House was laid by President Joseph Smith on the 2nd of October, 1841, and the following articles were deposited therein by the President, to-wit:

A Book of Mormon; a revelation given January 19, 1841; The Times and Seasons, containing the charter of the Nauvoo House; Journal of Heber C. Kimball; the memorial of Lyman Wight to the United States Senate; a book of Doctrine and Covenants, the first edition; No. 35 of the Times and Seasons; The original manuscript of the Book of Mormon; The Persecutions of the Church in the State of Missouri, published in the Times and Seasons; the Holy Bible. Silver coins as follows: one half-dollar, one quarter-dollar, two dimes, two half-dimes, and one copper coin.[148]

Only 28 percent of the original manuscript survived

Additional photos of the fragments of the original manuscript that survived may be viewed in Dr. Royal Skousen's presentation "Restoring the Original Text of the Book of Mormon" (5 August 2010).

Royal Skousen describes what happened to the original manuscript,

28 percent of the original manuscript is extant. (In calculating this percentage, I exclude the 116 pages that were lost by Martin Harris in 1828.) In 1841 Joseph Smith placed the original manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House, a hotel being built in Nauvoo. And the manuscript lay there in the cornerstone for the next 41 years until in 1882 Lewis Bidamon, the second husband of Emma Smith’s, after her death, retrieved the manuscript. Most of it was severely damaged by water that had seeped in as well as by mold that ate away a lot of the manuscript. Bidamon gave most of the larger manuscript portions to LDS people, and so 25 of that 28 percent has ended up in the archives of the LDS Church. There is half a leaf at the University of Utah. And the equivalent of a leaf in fragments is held privately. Most important for this project has been the discovery of two percent of the text that Wilford Wood bought from Charles Bidamon, the son of Lewis Bidamon, in 1937....[Showing photos of the original manuscript] This is one of the fragments from 2 Nephi 7-8, all rolled up. First, it was unraveled, and you can see on the edges where the mold had eaten away parts of the leaf. You can also see the large water stain in the center, from water that had originally gotten into the cornerstone. After the fragment was leveled and photographed, you can see basically what it is. The text is in the hand of Oliver Cowdery; the ink was originally black and has turned brown over time. [149]

Fragment of original manuscript of the Book of Mormon showing Helaman 15 9-14. Photographs of original manuscript as presented in Royal Skousen's presentation are courtesy of David Hawkinson and Robert Espinosa reproduced by permission of the Wilford Wood Foundation. This image was used in Sarah Petersen, "BYU professor Royal Skousen concludes his discussion on changes to the Book of Mormon original text," Deseret News (19 March 2013). off-site


David Whitmer (1881): "I do now again affirm the truth of all my statement, as then made and published"

David Whitmer:

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.[150]


Question: Did the witnesses disagree with their testimony after it was printed in the Book of Mormon?

The witnesses never refuted their testimony in the Book of Mormon. In fact, David Whitmer even affirmed it "as then made and published"

It is claimed that no document exists of the testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses which contain their actual signatures, and that this somehow invalidates their testimonies as printed in the Book of Mormon, and that the witnesses statements in the Book of Mormon manuscript are written and signed only by Oliver Cowdery.

The claim that the witnesses somehow didn't agree with their testimony as it was printed in the Book of Mormon during the entire period of their lives is nonsense.

The printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon is entirely in Oliver Cowdery's handwriting, including the witness statements

The printer's manuscript is a copy of the original Book of Mormon manuscript. This copy was made by Oliver Cowdery and taken to the printer. Therefore, the entire document is in Oliver's handwriting. The original manuscript was placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House.[151] Years later, it was removed and found to have been mostly destroyed by water damage. As a result of this, we do not have the portion of the original Book of Mormon manuscript containing the witness statements. It should be noted that in the 1830 Book of Mormon, the witness statements were included at the end of the book, rather than at the front as they are today.


Question: Did the witnesses make clear statements regarding their testimonies?

The witnesses made very clear statements regarding their testimonies

We will let the Three Witnesses speak for themselves on this issue. In each case, they made statements confirming their testimonies near the end of their lives.

  • David Whitmer affirms his testimony in 1881 as it is printed in the Book of Mormon years after he left the Church:

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. [152]

  • Oliver Cowdery in 1829, shortly after his experience as a witness:

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. [153]

  • Oliver Cowdery in 1848, years after he left the Church:

I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by the book, Holy Interpreters. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the Holy Interpreters. That book is true. [154]

  • Martin Harris, right before his death:

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. [155]


John Whitmer (1876): "I have never heard that any one of the three or eight witnesses ever denied the testimony that they have borne to the Book as published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon"

In 1876, John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, wrote a lengthy letter to Mark Forscutt, which included the following:

Oliver Cowdery lived in Richmond, Mo., some 40 miles from here, at the time of his death. I went to see him and was with him for some days previous to his demise. I have never heard him deny the truth of his testimony of the Book of Mormon under any circumstances whatever. . . . Neither do I believe that he would have denied, at the peril of his life; so firm was he that he could not be made to deny what he has affirmed to be a divine revelation from God. . . .

I have never heard that any one of the three or eight witnesses ever denied the testimony that they have borne to the Book as published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. There are only two of the witnesses to that book now living, to wit., David Whitmer, one of the three, and John Wh[itmer], one of the eight. Our names have gone forth to all nations, tongues and people as a divine revelation from God. And it will bring to pass the designs of God according to the declaration therein contained.[156]

John Whitmer's character

"Mr. [John] Whitmer is considered a truthful, honest and law abiding citizen by this community, and consequently, his appointment [to preach] drew out a large audience. Mr. Whitmer stated that he had often handled the identical golden plates which Mr. Smith received from the angel...."[157]


Response to claim: "God Himself spoke to Whitmer 'by his own voice from the heavens' in June 1838 commanding Whitmer to apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

If David Whitmer is a credible witness, why are we only using his testimony of the Book of Mormon while ignoring his other testimony claiming that God Himself spoke to Whitmer “by his own voice from the heavens” in June 1838 commanding Whitmer to apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church? FAIR must admit that Whitmer was less than credible on this occasion. Why couldn’t he have been less than credible when he testified of the Book of Mormon?

Provenance of this claim:
Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, 97

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Actually, FairMormon doesn't have any problem believing that God told Whitmer to leave Far West. The author misinterprets the sources, however, when he assumes that Whitmer is saying that God told him to leave the Church. Whitmer had been excommunicated well before God told him to leave.
Logical Fallacy: False Cause
The author assumes that a real or perceived relationship between two events means that one caused the other.

The author claims that Whitmer said that God told him to leave the "one and only true church," and that he subsequently acted upon that. However, Whitmer had been excommunicated from the Church prior to hearing the voice of God telling him to leave.

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

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

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

If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to "separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, should it be done unto them."[158]

and

In June, 1838, at Far West, Mo., a secret organization was formed, Doctor Avard being put in as the leader of the band; a certain oath was to be administered to all the brethren to bind them to support the heads of the church in everything they should teach. All who refused to take this oath were considered dissenters from the church, and certain things were to be done concerning these dissenters, by Dr. Avard's secret band. I make no farther statements now; but suffice it to say that my persecutions, for trying to show them their errors, became of such a nature that I had to leave the Latter Day Saints; and, as I rode on horseback out of Far West, in June, 1838, the voice of God from heaven spake to me as I have stated above.[159]

God did not tell Whitmer to repudiate Mormonism

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

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

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

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


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

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

It is claimed that if members accept Whitmer's witness of the Book of Mormon,[160] then they must also accept that God wanted David to repudiate the Church as false. Brent Metcalfe asserts the following:

Contemporary Mormons are left to confront Whitmer's challenge: believe that God confirmed the Book of Mormon translation and later instructed him to repudiate Mormonism or reject his testimony in toto. For Whitmer there was no distinction between the two experiences.[161]

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

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

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


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

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

Whitmer's excommunication occurred on 13 April 1838.[162] Whitmer refused to appear at the council meeting that severed him from the Church; he wrote:

to spare you any further trouble I hereby withdraw from your fellowship and communion—choosing to seek a place among the meek and humble, where the revelations of heaven will be observed and the rights of men regarded.[163]

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

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

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

Whitmer's decision to leave Far West was arguably a wise one. Tensions were high, and there were threats of violence against apostates (including Whitmer, who had been very prominent) from people like Sampson Avard.[164]

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

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

The decision to leave Far West—which Whitmer attributed to a divine voice—meant that Whitmer was kept safe. He lived longer than any witness, and never returned to the Church. Yet, he insisted to his death on the reality and truth of his statement as one of the Witnesses, and in the Book of Mormon's divine origin. And, the Saints (both those guilty of illegitimate violence, and the innocent who suffered because of their acts) did have it "done unto them" as they had plotted to do against Whitmer and other apostates: the Saints were eventually killed or driven from Missouri by violence.[165]


Response to claim: "the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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

How does being related to someone make them dishonest? The author needs to look up the definition of "Argumentum Ad Hominem".
Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem
The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

Simply being related to someone does not have anything to do with that person's reliability or honesty.

Question: Are the Book of Mormon witnesses unreliable because many of them were related?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of who they are related to is a ad hominem attack

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

Mark Twain made fun of this very issue:

And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but "hefted" them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified. [166]

This is 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.

How, exactly, does being related to someone else who is viewing the same thing that you are make one less honest or reliable? This is simply an irrelevant distraction. When you are going to show something sacred to someone, you certainly don't show it to strangers but to those with whom you are familiar and who you can trust. As such, one would not expect anyone but close acquaintances and family to be so trusted. The witnesses, incidentally, had reputations for honesty.

The witnesses would, of necessity, be those who were close to Joseph. Recall the fact that the witnesses eventually had disaffected members among them because of disagreements with Joseph Smith, yet they never denied their witness. This gives credence to their testimony over time.


Response to claim: "We’re talking about two families which consisted of all believing Mormons...Hardly unbiased and neutral"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Indeed, is it easier to run a scam or fraud with two well-connected families or with 11 independent and unrelated individuals? We’re not just talking about two well-connected families. We’re talking about two families which consisted of all believing Mormons who prior to this event already held a belief in the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s calling as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Hardly unbiased and neutral.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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 simply reasserts his previous claim that the fact that many of these individuals both believers and were related indicates that they were dishonest and that they were in on the "scam or fraud."
Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem
The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

The author cites Mark Twain's humorous line, "I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified," which is simply another instance of "Argumentum Ad Hominem."

Response to claim: "in light of their superstitions and reputations"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

In light of the James Strang/Voree Plates witnesses, the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer, along with the fact that all of the witnesses were treasure hunters who believed in second sight, and in light of their superstitions and reputations…why would anyone gamble with their lives in believing in a book based on anything these guys said or claimed or what’s written on the testimonies of the Witnesses page in the Book of Mormon?

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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 actually had very good reputations, which the author is attempting to destroy "in light of their superstitions".
Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem
The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

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. [167]

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: "The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, nineteenth-century men"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (May 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, twenty-first century men instead of the nineteenth-century magical-thinking men they were. (April 2013)
The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, nineteenth-century men instead of the nineteenth-century magical thinking, superstitious, and treasure digging men they were. (October 2013)


Provenance of this claim:
Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 260. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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 arrogance on the part of the author of assuming that 21st century men are somehow more "empirical" or "rational" than 19th century men is astounding.
Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem
The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.
∗       ∗       ∗
It seems implausible to assume that the witnesses, early nineteenth-century farmers who spent their lives rising at sunrise, pulling up stumps, clearing rocks, plowing fields, sowing seeds, carefully nurturing crops, herding livestock, milking cows, digging wells, building cabins, raising barns, harvesting food, bartering, in an often cashless economy, for what they could not produce themselves, wearing clothes made from plant fibers and skins, anxiously watching the seasons, and walking or riding animals out under the weather until they retired to their beds shortly after sunset in “a world lit only by fire,” that they were estranged from everyday reality.

It’s especially unbelievable when the claim is made by people whose lives, like mine, consist to a large extent of staring at digital screens in artificially air-conditioned and artificially lit homes and offices, clothed in synthetic fibers, commuting between the two in enclosed and air-conditioned mechanical vehicles while they listen to the radio, chat on their cell phones, and fiddle with their iPods, whose inner workings are largely mysterious to them, who buy their prepackaged food (with little or no regard for the time or the season) by means of plastic cards and electronic financial transfers from artificially illuminated and air-conditioned supermarkets enmeshed in international distribution networks of which they know virtually nothing, the rhythms of whose daily lives are largely unaffected by the rising and setting of the sun. Somehow the current generation seems ill-positioned to accuse the witnesses’ generation of being out of touch with reality.

—Daniel C. Peterson, "Some Reflections on That Letter to a CES Director," 2014 FairMormon Conference
∗       ∗       ∗

Question: What is "empirical evidence"?

"Empirical evidence" is evidence based upon observation

Merriam-Webster defines empirical as: "originating in or based on observation or experience." The Book of Mormon witnesses testified that they saw the plates, and three of them testified that they saw an angel. This is the very definition of "empirical evidence." They reported what they saw with their own eyes. This is not faith, but knowledge.


Question: Is a man unreliable because he lived in the 19th-Century?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of the era they lived in is a ad hominem attack

Were the Book of Mormon witnesses not "empirical" or "rational" because they lived in the 19th-Century during a time when "folk magic" was practiced?

  • One critic of Mormonism claims "The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, twenty-first century men" (The claim was modified to read "nineteenth-century men" in later revisions)[168]

To imply that nineteenth-century men are intrinsically unreliable is both an ad hominem (an attack against the character of person making the claim, rather than the claim itself) and sets an impossible standard of evidence for the gospel inasmuch as they were the only men available as witnesses at the time. Thus the author is using a screening argument (dates of life) that can be used to exclude whatever evidence he wishes to ignore.


Peterson (2014): "It’s rather like someone to ascribe early Christian belief to the resurrection of Jesus to the supposed fact that ancient people, unlike us, hadn’t yet realized that dead people tend to stay dead"

Daniel C. Peterson, responding to a claim in the Letter to a CES Director:

This is what he says, the author of the letter: “The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, nineteenth-century men instead of the nineteenth-century magical-thinking superstitious and treasure-digging men they were.” [169] I confess as someone who has spent a lot of time, much of my life, looking at people from pre-modern periods, that the sheer condescension of this, the chronological smugness and complacency of that statement irritates me, and not merely because I’m a believing Latter-day Saint. It’s rather like someone to ascribe early Christian belief to the resurrection of Jesus to the supposed fact that ancient people, unlike us, hadn’t yet realized that dead people tend to stay dead, which, if it were true at all would leave us wondering why they thought the resurrection of Jesus was such a big deal. Happens all the time, right? [170]


Response to claim: "It doesn’t matter because of this one simple fact: Joseph did not use the gold plates for translating the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

It doesn’t matter because of this one simple fact: Joseph did not use the gold plates for translating the Book of Mormon.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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

  • How exactly did the author believe that Joseph "used" the plates when he believed that they were translated using two stones mounted in a wire frame?
  • Joseph did indeed "use" the plates: The plates were necessary in order for witnesses to attest to the fact that the ancient record existed.

Question: Why were the gold plates needed at all if they weren't used directly during the translation process?

Joseph did not need the plates physically present to translate, since the translation was done by revelation

Much is made of the fact that Joseph used a seer stone, which he placed in a hat, to dictate the text of the Book of Mormon without viewing the plates directly. [171]

Joseph Smith translates using the seer stone placed within his hat while the plates are wrapped in a cloth on the table while his wife Emma acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)

Some witness accounts suggest that Joseph was able to translate while the plates were covered, or when they were not even in the same room with him. [172] Therefore, if the plates themselves were not being used during the translation process, why was it necessary to have plates at all?

Joseph did not need the plates physically present to translate, since the translation was done by revelation. The existence of the plates was vital, however, to demonstrate that the story he was translating was literally true.

The existence of the physical plates attested to the reality of the Nephite record

If there had been no plates, and Joseph had simply received the entire Book of Mormon through revelation, there would have been no Anthon visit, nor would there have been any witnesses. The very fact that plates existed served a greater purpose, even if they were not directly viewed during all of the translation process.

The plates served a variety of purposes.

  1. They were viewed by witnesses as solid evidence that Joseph did indeed have an ancient record.
  2. Joseph's efforts to obtain them over a four year period taught him and matured him in preparation for performing the translation,
  3. Joseph's efforts to protect and preserve them helped build his character. If Joseph were perpetrating a fraud, it would have been much simpler to claim direct revelation from God and forgo the physical plates.
  4. Joseph copied characters off the plates to give to Martin Harris, which he subsequently showed to Charles Anthon. This was enough to convince Martin to assist with the production of the Book of Mormon.

The plates' existence as material artifacts eliminated the possibility that Joseph was simply honestly mistaken. Either Joseph was knowingly perpetuating a fraud, or he was a genuine prophet.

The existence of actual plates eliminates the idea that the Book of Mormon was "spiritually true," but fictional

Furthermore, the existence of actual plates eliminates the idea that the Book of Mormon was "spiritually true," but fictional. There is a great difference between an allegorical or moral fiction about Nephites, and real, literal Nephites who saw a literal Christ who was literally resurrected.


Question: How do Church members assume that Joseph would have "used the plates" during translation?

The typical scenario is that Joseph employed the Nephite interpreters, the "spectacles," as if they were a pair of glasses

Let's suppose that Joseph "used the plates." How, exactly, does one think that Joseph used the plates in the translation? He couldn't read the characters. The typical scenario that is used is that he employed the Nephite interpreters, the "spectacles," as if they were a pair of glasses, and used them to look at the text on the plates as he dictated. For example, Orsamus Turner assumed that Joseph used the "spectacles" as if they were a pair of glasses capable of converting the characters:

Harris assumed, that himself and Cowdery were the chosen amanuenses, and that the Prophet Joseph, curtained from the world and them, with his spectacles, read from the gold plates what they committed to paper. [173]

In 1836, non-Mormon Truman Coe promoted the idea that Joseph looked through the spectacles at the characters:

The manner of translation was as wonderful as the discovery. By putting his finger on one of the characters and imploring divine aid, then looking through the Urim and Thummim, he would see the import written in plain English on a screen placed before him.[174]

What are these "spectacles" supposed to be doing during this process? Are they somehow converting characters on the plates into English text? What is the difference between this and deducing the English text from a seer stone?

The "spectacles" were, in reality, two seer stones mounted in a frame

In reality, the "spectacles" consisted of two seer stones—they were not lenses. In addition, there are accounts indicating that Joseph actually placed the Nephite interpreters into his hat as well, to shield them from the ambient light. This is the way that several newspapers reported it:

The Gem: A Semi-Monthly Literary and Miscellaneous Journal, 5 September 1829:

By placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it, Smith interprets the characters into the English language.[175]

Morning Star, March 7, 1833:

an angel gave him a pair of spectacles which he put in a hat and thus read and translated, while one of the witnesses wrote it down from his mouth.[176]

New York Weekly Messenger and Young Men’s Advocate, 29 April 1835:

Smith pretended that he had found some golden or brass plates, like the leaves of a book, hid in a box in the earth, to which he was directed by an Angel, in 1827,—that the writing on them was in the “Reformed Egyptian language,”—that he was inspired to interpret the writing, or engraving, by putting a plate in his hat, putting two smooth flat stones, which he found in the box, in the hat, and putting his face therein—that he could not write, but as he translated, one Oliver Cowdery wrote it down.[177]


Question: How did Joseph Smith actually use the gold plates?

Joseph copied characters from the plates for Martin Harris to carry back East for verification

Joseph initially did copy characters from the plates and then translated those characters using the Nephite Interpreters. It appears this was done more than once in the beginning. It also appears that Joseph quickly learned to translate without copying the characters and later without having the plates nearby. The translation process seems to have progressed through several stages with the Nephite interpreters until Joseph discovered his seer stone worked better for him than the Interpreters.

Remembering Nauvoo and Impressions of a Prophet, by John Luke. From the LDS Media Library.


Peterson (2005): "[The plates] are an indigestible lump in the throats of people...who contend that there were no Nephites but that Joseph Smith was nonetheless an inspired prophet"

Daniel C. Peterson said:

A knowledgeable academic friend who does not believe in the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon once asked me, since it seems that the plates were not actually necessary to the translation process and were sometimes not even present in the room, what purpose they served. I responded that I did not know, exactly, except for one thing: They are an indigestible lump in the throats of people like him who contend that there were no Nephites but that Joseph Smith was nonetheless an inspired prophet. If the plates really existed, somebody made them. And if no Nephites existed to make them, then either Joseph Smith, or God, or somebody else seems to have been engaged in simple fraud. The testimony of the witnesses exists, I think, to force a dichotomous choice: true or false? [178]


Response to claim: "Oliver Cowdery’s failure to expose the Priesthood restoration fraud during his excommunication proceedings and after his excommunication from the Church"

The author(s) of Debunking FairMormon - Letter to a CES Director make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery’s failure to expose the Priesthood restoration fraud during his excommunication proceedings and after his excommunication from the Church. Why not expose the fraud? Why stick with the false story? Many possible reasons exist:
  1. By exposing Joseph Smith and the fraud, Oliver would likewise be exposing himself as the co-conspirator and co-founder of the Church.
  2. Oliver Cowdery competed with Joseph Smith for leadership in the Church and wanted to maintain his credibility as a potential future leader among the Church membership. Indeed, Oliver remained in Far West for a few months after his excommunication (until he feared for his life and left) and was known as a “dissenter.”
  3. Any person (even an honest person) hates to admit that he was flummoxed, or that he lied under oath, or that he has contributed to the deception of thousands of trusting people. It is easier and it causes less trouble by just sticking by the original story.
  4. He did not want to disillusion or destroy the faith of those who were converted to the Book of Mormon because of his testimony.
  5. He may have retained a special feeling and regard for the Book of Mormon because of its many Biblical passages and Christ-centered teachings.
  6. Since his declaration is stated in the name of “the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” he would not only be guilty of perjury, but his credibility would be suspect and ruined for the rest of his life. This is especially true for Oliver as his most important currency and asset in his careers – law and politics – was his perceived honor, integrity, and reputation with non-Mormons.
  7. He enjoyed the celebrity status of being a witness and founding member of a rapidly growing religion. In time, he continued to embellish and persevere in his story.
  8. Oliver would appear sinister, conniving, deceptive, and untrustworthy telling people that what he testified to and allowed to appear in print, was just one big hoax and lie. The price in loss of respect and reputation was perhaps a price Oliver was simply unwilling to pay.

FairMormon Response



Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or 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 using the "spaghetti defense": When critics cannot figure out how something happened, they will throw every possible explanation at it that they can in the hope that one of them will "stick to the wall."
Logical Fallacy: Burden of Proof
The author assumes that the burden of proof is not his or her responsibility, but rather the responsibility of someone else who must disprove the claim.

The author has no proof of what he is claiming, and therefore proposes a bewildering array of conflicting possibilities:
  • The author proposes that Oliver Cowdery was either a "co-conspirator" or that he was "flummoxed". In other words, Oliver knew about the "scam" or he didn't know about the "scam." The author has covered both of his bases, eliminating, of course, the possibility that Oliver was actually telling the truth.
  • The author suggests that Oliver didn't want to "destroy the faith" of those who believed in the Book of Mormon, and he himself may have had a "special feeling" for the book, despite the fact that he actually knew that it was "one big hoax and lie".
  • The author suggests that Oliver had "perceived honor, integrity, and reputation with non-Mormons," and yet was "unwilling to pay" the "price in loss of respect and reputation" by denying his testimony of the Book of Mormon.
  • Oliver Cowdery was excommunicated from the Church for, among other things, publicly accusing his "co-conspirator," Joseph Smith of adultery. And the author proposes that Oliver wanted to "maintain his credibility as a potential future leader among the Church membership".
The logic presented by the author is absurd and is an exercise in "mental gymnastics." He has to come up with some reason...any reason...to explain why Oliver was both dishonest and yet never denied his witness. The one possibility that the author never grants is that Oliver was actually telling the truth about the priesthood restoration.

Citation abuse in the original Letter to a CES Director: Anthony Metcalf's Ten Years Before the Mast

Citation abuse in the "Letter to a CES Director":

"Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast and Early Mormon Documents 2:346-47"

FairMormon Response


Question: Why did the author of the Letter to a CES Director take a single quote from a single source, extract two phrases from it, reverse their order, and then present them both with different citations?

The author presents two quotes and two different sources to demonstrate that Martin Harris did not actually see the gold plates and the angel Moroni

The Letter to a CES Director presents two quotes and two sources to demonstrate that Martin Harris did not actually see the gold plates and the angel Moroni:

“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” – Martin Harris, (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71)

“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” – EMD 2:346-47

The two quotes are actually derived from the same quote, and the two different sources are actually from a single source

The Letter presents these two quotes as coming from two different sources: 1) Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast and 2) Early Mormon Documents (EMD) 2:346-347. An examination of the two sources, however, demonstrates that both came from the same source. The first quote, the one attributed to Metcalf, is found in EMD 2:346. The second quote is found in EMD 2:347. The combined citation for both quotes is EMD 2:346-347. The Letter, however, only assigns this citation to the second quote. The author of the Letter also reverses the order in which the two phrases appear in the quote.

Anthony Metcalf interviewed Martin Harris in the 1873 or 1874 timeframe. Note that Metcalf considered Joseph Smith a "pretended prophet" and was therefore relating Harris's claims from a skeptical perspective. Here is the complete quote with the portions that were extracted and presented separately by the author of the Letter to a CES Director highlighted in blue:

Following is the history as related to me, including all his connections with Joseph Smith, the pretended prophet and the founder of the Mormon church: He told me all about the translating of the Book of Mormon, and said he had give $5,000 towards its publication. He said "I never saw the golden plates, only in a visionary or entranced state. I wrote a great deal of the Book of Mormon myself, as Joseph Smith translated or spelled the words out in English. Sometimes the plates would be on a table in the room in which Smith did the translating, covered over with cloth. I was told by Joseph Smith that God would strike him dead if he attempted to look at them, and I believed it. When the time came for the three witnesses to see the plates, Joseph Smith, myself, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, went into the woods to pray. When they had all engaged in prayer, they failed at that time to see the plates or the angel who should have been on hand to exhibit them. They all believed it was because I was not good enough, or, in other words, not sufficiently sanctified. I withdrew. As soon as I had gone away, the three others saw the angel and the plates. In about three days I went into the woods to pray that I might see the plates. While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates." [179]


Citation abuse in the original Letter to a CES Director: Stephen Burnett to Br. Johnson

Citation abuse in the "Letter to a CES Director":

"Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book"

FairMormon Response


Question: Why did the author of the Letter to a CES Director feel the need to make a single hostile quote appear as if it were two quotes?

The original Letter to a CES Director presents two separate quotes attributed to Stephen Burnett

The original Letter to a CES Director presents two separate quotes attributed to Stephen Burnett in order to demonstrate that Martin Harris only saw the plates in his imagination:

“Never saw the plates with his natural eyes but only in vision or imagination”
– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

Three quotes later, the following quote is listed from the same source:

“…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…”
– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

The first quote is actually just a phrase taken from the second quote

The first quote is actually part of the second one, highlighted in blue:

“…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…”

– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

The claim cannot be sustained

The letter claims that Martin Harris said that he, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, and all the eight witnesses had never seen the plates. But, this claim is clearly false—they insisted over and over again (in and out of the Church) that they had seen plates. Martin Harris himself insisted upon this.


Citation abuse in the original Letter to a CES Director: John Whitmer states that he saw the plates by a supernatural power

Citation abuse in the "Letter to a CES Director":

"History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 21, p. 307-308"

FairMormon Response


Why did the author of the Letter to a CES Director avoid including John Whitmer's clear statement about handling the plates and only include the small portion of Whitmer's quote that supported his position?

The original Letter to a CES Director presents a quote from John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, in order to demonstrate the Whitmer did not actually see the gold plates

The original Letter to a CES Director presents the following quote from John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, in order to demonstrate the Whitmer did not actually see the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated:

“They were shown to me by a supernatural power” – History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 21, p. 307-308

The complete quote from John Whitmer actually confirms that he saw and handled the plates

This quote from John Whitmer actually confirms that he saw and handled the plates. All we have to do is look at the very same source. Whitmer states:

‘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]

The portion extracted by the author of the Letter is highlighted in blue. The portion that he ignored is highlighted in red:

“[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.” [180]


Notes

  1. Daniel C. Peterson and Donald L. Enders, "Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 286—87. off-site
  2. Donald L. Enders, "The Joseph Smith, Sr., Family: Farmers of the Genesee," in Joseph Smith, The Prophet, The Man, edited by Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, Jr., (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1993), 220–221.
  3. Enders, "Joseph Smith, Sr., Family," 219, 221.
  4. William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 165.
  5. 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.
  6. Cited from a typescript by Truman G. Madsen, "Guest Editor's Prologue," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 3 (Spring 1969), 235.
  7. Stories from the Notebook of Martha Cox, Grandmother of Fern Cox Anderson, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah)
  8. Deseret News, 20 January 1894
  9. Autobiography of Joseph Knight Jr., 1, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah
  10. Martin Harris, quoted in Edward Stevenson to the Editor, 14 October 1893 Deseret Evening News (20 October 1893); reprinted in Millennial Star 55 (4 December 1893): 793-94; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:326.
  11. Martin Harris, quoted in Edward Stevenson Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Edward Stevenson, 1893), 30-33.
  12. Enders, "Joseph Smith, Sr., Family," 222–223.
  13. Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FairMormon link
  14. "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.
  15. Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference) FairMormon link
  16. Gordon A. Madsen, "Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 2 (1990), 106.
  17. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  18. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:252–253.
  19. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  20. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (Salt Lake City, Utah: Smith Research Associates [distributed by Signature Books], 1994), 227.
  21. Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 1:479. ASIN B000HMY138.
  22. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:248–249..
  23. Anonymous, "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life," Ensign (Jun 1994), 24. off-site
  24. Wesley P. Walters, "Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y. Court Trials," The Westminster Theological Journal 36:2 (1974), 153.
  25. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 30 ( Index of claims )
  26. Quinn, 5
  27. Larry C. Porter, "Stowell, Josiah," in Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, edited by Donald Q. Cannon, Richard O. Cowan, Arnold K. Garr (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co., 2000).
  28. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  29. Jeffrey G. Cannon, "Oliver Cowdery's Gift," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org
  30. Revelation, April 1829–B [D&C 8], in Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Stephen C. Harper, eds., Manuscript Revelation Books, vol. 1 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2009), 17. (emphasis added)
  31. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:599–621.
  32. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  33. "Mature Joseph Smith," 235.
  34. "Mature Joseph Smith," 235.
  35. Dallin H. Oaks, "Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents," Ensign (October 1987), 63.
  36. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013).
  37. 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.
  38. William Lang, History of Seneca County (Springfield, Ohio, 1880), 365.
  39. "Letter from General W. H. Gibson," Seneca Advertiser (Tiffin, Ohio) 12 April 1892.
  40. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 96–98. ISBN 0877478465.
  41. “Several families . . .,” Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra, New York) (27 May 1831). off-site
  42. 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.
  43. Tanner and Tanner, "Roper Attacks Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?" 14.
  44. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 167–170. ISBN 0877478465.
  45. 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.
  46. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  47. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  48. 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.
  49. 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.
  50. 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.
  51. 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.
  52. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (original draft posted on the critical website "FutureMissionary.com") (2013)
  53. Martin Harris, interview with Joel Tiffany, 1859, in "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffanys Monthly (August 1859): 163-70; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:309.
  54. Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988), 6. off-site
  55. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988).
  56. John W. Welch, "What did Charles Anthon Really Say?," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 47–49. GL direct link
  57. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 65–66.
  58. Wikipedia article "Martin Harris (Latter Day Saints)," off-site, citations quoted in Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (2014)
  59. Roger Nicholson, "Wikipedia’s Deconstruction of Martin Harris," FairMormon Blog (23 January 2013).
  60. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 251. (Affidavits examined)
  61. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 41.
  62. John A. Clark, Episcopal Recorder 18 (1840):94.
  63. Tucker, Mormonism, 52.
  64. Testimony of Martin Harris, dictated to Edward Stevenson, Sept. 4, 1870, Stevenson microfilm collection, after journal, vol. 32. Researchers are greatly indebted to descendant Joseph Grant Stevenson for locating and publishing this document in the Stevenson Family History (Provo, Utah: Stevenson Publishing Co., 1955), 1:163-64. Appreciation also goes to Max Parkin for reminding me of the item, no. 1043 in Davis Bitton, Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), p. 146. My text follows my rereading of the microfilm. Martin's view of being baptized right after the first two elders probably refers to events of April 6, 1830.
  65. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 169-170. ISBN 0877478465.
  66. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Certainty of the Skeptical Witness," Improvement Era (March 1969), 63..
  67. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 169-170. ISBN 0877478465.
  68. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, "Roper Attacks Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?" Salt Lake City Messenger 82 (September 1992): 14. This religious instability has been greatly exaggerated by the Tanners and others. For a clearer perspective see Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 167–70.
  69. Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 111–12.
  70. Rhett S. James, The Man Who Knew: The Early Years: A Play about Martin Harris 1824–1830 (Cache Valley, UT: Martin Harris Pageant Committee, 1983, 168 n. 313; James's annotations provide a valuable historical commentary on Harris's life.
  71. George A. Smith to Josiah Fleming, 30 March 1838, Kirtland, Ohio.
  72. Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 112–13. Obviously distrustful of Harris's apostate status, Latter-day Saint leaders in England complained that Martin Harris, "ashamed of his profession as a Strangite . . . tells some of our brethren on whom he called, that he was of the same profession with themselves—that he had just come from America and wished to get acquainted with the Saints"; Millennial Star 8 (3 October 1846): 128 (emphasis added). Harris's lack of enthusiasm for Strang and his Latter-day Saint sympathies so troubled Strangite leaders that they soon brought him back to Philadelphia, where he abandoned them for good; Lester Brooks to James M. Adams, 12 January 1847, in Milo M. Quaife, The Kingdom of Saint James: A Narrative of the Mormons (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), 243. Martin emphatically denied that during the journey, he had ever lectured against Mormonism: "No man heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates; nor the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the administration of Joseph Smith, Jr."; Journal History, 1 June 1877, as cited in Madge Harris Tuckett and Belle Harris Wilson, The Martin Harris Story (Provo: Vintage Books, 1983), 65.
  73. Millennial Star 8 (31 October 1846): 128.
  74. George Mantle to Marietta Walker, 26 December 1888, Saint Catherine, Missouri, cited in Autumn Leaves 2 (1889): 141.
  75. Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 111. Harris's involvement with the Shakers has already been discussed by Richard Anderson, 164–66, yet the Tanners have ignored his discussion of the matter. Is this, to paraphrase the Tanners (p. 13), an indication of the "superficiality" of their review?
  76. Tanner and Tanner, "Roper Attacks Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?" 14.
  77. One nineteenth-century authority on the Shakers relates, "Some of the most curious literature of the Shakers dates from this period [early-to-mid nineteenth century]; and it is freely admitted by their leading men that they were in some cases misled into acts and publications which they have since seen reason to regret. Their belief is that they were deceived by false spirits, and were unable, in many cases, to distinguish the true from the false. That is to say, they hold to their faith in 'spiritual communications,' so called; but repudiate much in which they formerly had faith, believing this which they now reject to have come from the evil one. . . . The most curious relics of those days are two considerable volumes, which have since fallen into discredit among the Shakers themselves, but were at the time of their issue regarded as highly important. One of these is entitled 'A Holy, Sacred, and Divine Roll and Book, from the Lord God of Heaven to the Inhabitants of the Earth.' . . . The second work is called 'The Divine Book of Holy and Eternal Wisdom, revealing the Word of God, out of whose mouth goeth a sharp Sword.' . . . These two volumes are not now, as formerly, held in honor by the Shakers. One of their elders declared to me that I ought never to have seen them, and that their best use was to burn them," in Charles Nordhoff, The Communistic Societies of the United States (New York: Hillary House Publishers, 1961), 235, 245, 248, 250; this is a reprint of the 1875 edition.
  78. Tanner and Tanner, "Roper Attacks Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?" 14.
  79. Wayne C. Gunnell, "Martin Harris: Witness and Benefactor to the Book of Mormon," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1955, 58–59.
  80. For a discussion of Martin Harris's attitudes regarding the Shaker Book in relation to his testimony of the Book of Mormon, see Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 164–66.
  81. Ibid., 165–66.
  82. Ibid., 165.
  83. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 111. ISBN 0877478465.
  84. Phineas Young et al. to "Beloved Brethren" who in the last of the letter are defined as "our brethren, the Twelve," Dec. 31, 1844, Kirtland, Ohio.
  85. Martin Harris, Sr., to H. Emerson, Jan., 1871, Smithfield, Utah, cit. True Latter Day Saints' Herald 22 (1875: 630.
  86. Edward Bunker, Autobiography, manuscript, p. 3.
  87. Jeremiah Cooper to E. Robinson, Sept. 3, 1845, cit. Messenger and Advocate of the Church of Christ 1 (1845): 319.
  88. Thomas Colburn to Elder Snow, May 2, 1855, cit. St. Louis Luminary, May 5, 1855.
  89. Martin remarried Caroline Young before his estrangement from the Church and had children in the years 1838, 1842, 1845, 1849, 1854, and 1856.
  90. For a survey of the rise and fall of the 1843 "Divine Roll," see Charles Nordhoff, Communistic Societies of the United States (New York, 1874), pp. 245-50.
  91. James Willard Bay, Journal, Nov. 23, 1850, p. 27.
  92. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 96-99. (Affidavits examined)
  93. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 169-170. ISBN 0877478465.
  94. Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 April 1838, Joseph Smith Letterbook (1837-43), 2:64-66, Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives. Cited in "Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 April 1838," Early Mormon Documents 2:292-293.
  95. “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.
  96. John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum," 8 September 1892, Early Mormon Documents, 2: 548.
  97. 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.
  98. 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.
  99. Nathan Tanner Jr. Journal, 13 April 1886.
  100. NeedAuthor, Times and Seasons 3 no. 21 (1 September 1842), 898. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  101. Autobiography of Alma L. Jensen, 1932.
  102. 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)
  103. C. C. Blatchley, “Caution Against the Golden Bible,” New-York Telescope 6, no. 38 (20 February 1830): 150. off-site
  104. Martin Harris . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) 2, no. 39 (15 March 1831).
  105. "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
  106. Saints’ Herald 25/16 (15 August 1878): 253; letter written by Myron Bond in Cadillac, Michigan on 2 August 1878.
  107. 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)
  108. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: A. Metcalf, 1888), 74.
  109. Palmyra Reflector, 19 March 1831; cited in The Saints' Herald, 28 January 1936.
  110. James Henry Moyle, Address, 22 March 1908, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:142-143.
  111. James Henry Moyle, statement, 13 September 1938; in Template:EMG
  112. “Gold Bible, No. 6,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 16 (19 March 1831): 126–27. off-site
  113. Joseph Smith III visited David Whitmer in 1884, along with a committee from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and several onlookers. According to Joseph III's memoirs, one of the non-believers there was a military officer, who suggested the possibility that Whitmer "had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance or hallucination, which had deceived him into thinking he saw" the angel and the plates. Joseph III's recollection of Whitmer's response is quoted above. See Memoirs of Joseph Smith III, cited in Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, Joseph Smith III and the Restoration (Independence, MO: 1952), pp. 311-12. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 88. ISBN 0877478465.
  114. "David Whitmer Interview with Nathan Tanner, Jr., 13 May 1886," Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel (editor) 5:166.
  115. Letter of Elder Edward Stevenson to the Millennial Star quoted in William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 57–58.
  116. 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.
  117. Martin Harris, quoted in "Statement of Comfort Elizabeth Godfrey Flinders to N. B. Lundwall," September 2, 1943, Ogden, Utah, cited in Assorted Gems of Priceless Value. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 116. ISBN 0877478465.
  118. 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.
  119. George Mantle to Marietta Walker, 26 December 1888, Saint Catherine, Missouri, cited in Autumn Leaves 2 (1889): 141. Cited in Matthew Roper, "Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 164–193. wiki
  120. "David Whitmer Proclamation, 19 March 1881," quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:69
  121. Interview with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith (Richmond, Missouri, 7—8 September 1878), reported in a letter to President John Taylor and the Quorum of the Twelve dated 17 September 1878. Originally published in the Deseret News (16 November 1878) and reprinted in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 40. Cited in Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  122. 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.
  123. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, page 9 (1887)
  124. David Whitmer Interview with James Henry Moyle, Diary, 28 June 1885 in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:140-141.
  125. James Henry Moyle, Address, 22 March 1908, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:142-143.
  126. James Henry Moyle, statement, 13 September 1938; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:146-147.
  127. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: A. Metcalf, 1888), 74.
  128. Palmyra Reflector, 19 March 1831; cited in The Saints' Herald, 28 January 1936.
  129. James Henry Moyle, address, 18 March 1945; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:148-149.
  130. James Henry Moyle, address, 18 March 1945; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:149, emphasis added by Moyle in original.
  131. "David Whitmer Interview with Nathan Tanner, Jr., 13 May 1886," in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:166.
  132. Mark Twain, Roughing It, pages 107-115
  133. Oliver Cowdery to Phineas Young, 23 March 1846, Oliver Cowdery Collection, "Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith Jr." (kept by George W. Robinson), 22, LDS Church Historical Department (published in Scott H. Faulring, ed, An American Prophet's Record.— The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), emphasis in original; cited in Scott H. Faulring. “The Return of Oliver Cowdery”, FARMS Featured Paper, no date.
  134. Improvement Era 15. 5 (March 1912)
  135. William B. Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883), 5-19. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:497.
  136. "The Old Soldier's Testimony. Sermon preached by Bro. William B. Smith, in the Saints' Chapel, Detroit, Iowa, June 8th, 1884. Reported by C.E. Butterworth," Saints' Herald 31 4 October 1884): 643-44. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:505.
  137. "Wm. B. Smith's last Statement," Zion's Ensign 5 (13 Jan. 1894): 6; reprinted in the Deseret Evening News 27 (20 Jan. 1894): 11; Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 56 (26 Feb. 1894): 132. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:510-512.
  138. 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
  139. Voree Herald, January 1846; Zion's Reveille, 1 April 1847; and Gospel Herald, 4 May 1848
  140. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)
  141. The Saints’ Herald 35 (December 29, 1888): 831–32. See also Wikipedia article "Voree plates".
  142. 142.0 142.1 Letter from Chauncy Loomis to Joseph Smith III, “Experience on Beaver Island with James J. Strang,” Saint’s Herald, 10 Nov. 1888, 718-719.
  143. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)
  144. "The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era, vol. 3, no. 1, (Nov. 1899), 61-65.
  145. James Henry Moyle, diary, 28 June 1885, Vogel, EMD 5:141
  146. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:141-142, footnote 8.
  147. "The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era, vol. 3, no. 1, (Nov. 1899), 61-65.
  148. Statement "from the early records of the Church, which were kept by his private secretary under the immediate direction and supervision of the Prophet Joseph Smith himself," cited in "The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era, vol. 3, no. 1, (Nov. 1899), 61-65.
  149. Royal Skousen, "Restoring the Original Text of the Book of Mormon," 2010 FAIR Conference (August 2010).
  150. "David Whitmer Proclamation, 19 March 1881," quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:69.
  151. "The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era, vol. 3, no. 1, (Nov. 1899), 61-65.
  152. David Whitmer, responding to John Murphy, "David Whitmer Proclamation, 19 March 1881," quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:69
  153. 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.
  154. Andrew Jenson, Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, A. Jenson History Co., 1901; reprinted Salt Lake City, Utah : Greg Kofford Books, 2003), 1:246.
  155. 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.
  156. 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.
  157. "I.C. Funn," [John Whitmer Testimony], Kingston (MO) Sentinel, ca. January 1878, reprinted in Saints' Herald 25 (15 February 1878): 57; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:245.
  158. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  159. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  160. See "The Testimony of Three Witnesses," in the Book of Mormon off-site; reprinted by Whitmer in David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  161. Brent Lee Metcalfe, "Apologetic and Critical Assumptions About Book of Mormon Historicity," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 no. 3 (Fall 1993), 176–177.
  162. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:18–19. Volume 3 link
  163. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:18–19, cited in footnote 3. Volume 3 link
  164. Bushman discusses the threats against the apostates, and their decision to flee, in Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 350–351.
  165. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 342–372.
  166. Mark Twain, Roughing It, pages 107-115
  167. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (original draft posted on the critical website "FutureMissionary.com") (2013)
  168. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (original version posted on the critical website "FutureMissionary.com") (2013)
  169. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (2013)
  170. Daniel C. Peterson, "Some Reflections on That Letter to a CES Director," 2014 FairMormon Conference
  171. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  172. Interview of Emma Smith by her son Joseph Smith III, "Interview with Joseph Smith III, 1879," in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:539.
  173. Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase and Morris’ Reserve (1852) 215.
  174. “Truman Coe Account, 1836,” in Early Mormon Documents, 1:47. Originally printed in Ohio Observer (Hudson, Ohio), 11 August 1836.
  175. “Golden Bible,” The Gem: A Semi-Monthly Literary and Miscellaneous Journal (Rochester, New York: 5 September 1829), 70.
  176. Morning Star VII/45, March 7, 1833.
  177. “Mormonism,” New York Weekly Messenger and Young Men’s Advocate (29 April 1835). Reprinted from The Pioneer (Rock Springs, IL), March 1835.
  178. Daniel C. Peterson, "Editor's Introduction—Not So Easily Dismissed: Some Facts for Which Counterexplanations of the Book of Mormon Will Need to Account," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): xi–lxix. off-site
  179. "Martin Harris Interview with Anthony Metcalf, Circa 1873-1874," in Vogel (ed.) Early Mormon Documents 2:346-347.
  180. History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 21, p. 307-308
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