Book of Mormon/Witnesses/Strangite parallels

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    Strangite parallels to the Book of Mormon witnesses

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It is claimed that break-off sects like James Strang's produced eyewitnesses of buried records, so Joseph's ability to do so is neither surprising nor persuasive.

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


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.


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

Of what did the Strangite witnesses testify?

We should not lose sight of what it was to which the Strangite witnesses bore their testimony.[1] In a manner clearly intended to replicate the Three and the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, J. J. Strang produced four witnesses who testified that they themselves had dug the Voree Plates from the ground where he said that they would be discovered. Their detailed written testimony was used by Strang in the Voree Herald, January 1846; Zion's Reveille, 1 April 1847; and Gospel Herald, 4 May 1848 and reads as follows:

On the thirteenth day of September, 1845, we, Aaron Smith, Jirah B. Wheelan, James M. Van Nostrand, and Edward Whitcomb, assembled at the call of James J. Strang, who is by us and many others approved as a Prophet and Seer of God. He proceeded to inform us that it had been revealed to him in a vision that an account of an ancient people was buried in a hill south of White River bridge, near the east line of Walworth County; and leading us to an oak tree about one foot in diameter, told us that we would find it enclosed in a case of rude earthen ware under that tree at the depth of about three feet; requested us to dig it up, and charged us to so examine the ground that we should know we were not imposed upon, and that it had not been buried there since the tree grew. The tree was surrounded by a sward of deeply rooted grass, such as is usually found in the openings, and upon the most critical examination we could not discover any indication that it had ever been cut through or disturbed.
We then dug up the tree, and continued to dig to the depth of about three feet, where we found a case of slightly baked clay containing three plates of brass. On one side of one is a landscape view of the south end of Gardner's prairie and the range of hills where they were dug. On another is a man with a crown on his head and a scepter in his hand, above is an eye before an upright line, below the sun and moon surrounded with twelve stars, at the bottom are twelve large stars from three of which pillars arise, and closely interspersed with them are seventy very small stars. The other four sides are very closely covered with what appear to be alphabetic characters, but in a language of which we have no knowledge.
The case was found imbedded in indurated clay so closely fitting it that it broke in taking out, and the earth below the soil was so hard as to be dug with difficulty even with a pickax. Over the case was found a flat stone about one foot wide each way and three inches thick, which appeared to have undergone the action of fire, and fell in pieces after a few minutes exposure to the air. The digging extended in the clay about eighteen inches, there being two kinds of earth of different color and appearance above it.
We examined as we dug all the way with the utmost care, and we say, with utmost confidence, that no part of the earth through which we dug exhibited any sign or indication that it had been moved or disturbed at any time previous. The roots of the tree stuck down on every side very closely, extending below the case, and closely interwoven with roots from other trees. None of them had been broken or cut away. No clay is found in the country like that of which the case is made.
In fine, we found an alphabetic and pictorial record, carefully cased up, buried deep in the earth, covered with a flat stone, with an oak tree one foot in diameter growing over it, with every evidence that the sense can give that it has lain there as long as that tree has been growing. Strang took no part in the digging, but kept entirely away from before the first blow was struck till after the plates were taken out of the case; and the sole inducement to our digging was our faith in his statement as a Prophet of the Lord that a record would thus and there be found.

Differences from the Three and Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon

Unfortunately for the critics' theory, 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.

Among the many who saw them was Stephen Post, who reported that they were brass and, indeed, that they resembled the French brass used in familiar kitchen kettles. "With all the faith & confidence that I could exercise," he wrote, "all that I could realize was that Strang made the plates himself, or at least that it was possible that he made them." One source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies.

The 18 "Plates of Laban," likewise of brass and each about 7.5 by 9 inches, were first mentioned in 1849 and were seen by seven witnesses in 1851. These witnesses' testimony was published as a preface to "The Book of the Law of the Lord," which Strang said he derived from the "Plates of Laban." (He appears to have begun the "translation" at least as early as April 1849. An 84-page version appeared in 1851; by 1856, it had reached 350 pages.) Strang's witnesses report seeing the plates, but mention nothing miraculous. Nor did Strang supply any additional supporting testimony comparable to that of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

One of the witnesses to the "Plates of Laban," Samuel P. Bacon, eventually denied the inspiration of Strang's movement and denounced it as mere "human invention." Another, Samuel Graham, later claimed that he had actually assisted Strang in the creation of the plates.

"We can hardly escape the conclusion," writes Quaife, "that Strang knowingly fabricated and planted them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers" and, accordingly, that "Strang's prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture." A more recent biographer, Roger Van Noord, concludes that "based on the evidence, it is probable that Strang — or someone under his direction — manufactured the letter of appointment and the brass plates to support his claim to be a prophet and to sell land at Voree. If this scenario is correct, Strang's advocacy of himself as a prophet was more than suspect, but no psychological delusion."

Thus, Strang's plates were much less numerous than those of the Book of Mormon, his witnesses saw nothing supernatural and his translation required the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months. (Quite unlike the semi-literate Joseph Smith, Strang was well-read. He had been an editor and lawyer before his involvement with Mormonism.) Perhaps most strikingly, unlike the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, some (at least) of Strang's witnesses later denied their testimonies.

The contrasts work very much in Joseph Smith's favor.

Further reading

FairMormon Answers articles

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

  • A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Three Witnesses"
    Brief Summary: Wikipedia's treatment of the Three Witnesses is controlled by a Protestant editor, and is crafted to discredit the Witnesses by emphasizing the negative and diminishing the positive. (Click here for full article)
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  • What was the character of the witnesses?
    Brief Summary: It is claimed that the witnesses cannot be trusted, or are unreliable, because they were unstable personalities, prone to enthusiasm and exaggeration. Evidence amply demonstrates that the formal witnesses of the Book of Mormon were men of good character and reputation, and were recognized as such by contemporary non-Mormons. (Click here for full article)
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  • Description of the plates and stone box in which they were found.
    Brief Summary: A collection of all statements regarding the physical appearance, dimensions, and character of the plates and other items associated with them. (Click here for full article)
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  • Description of translation method and circumstances
    Brief Summary: Friendly and unfriendly accounts of those who witnessed and heard about the translation of the Book of Mormon (Click here for full article)
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  • Did the Book of Mormon witnesses ever recant?
    Brief Summary: Some have tried to argue that some or all of the Witnesses recanted concerning their testimony. They were all faithful to their testimonies to the end of their lives, even though many of them had personal disagreements with Joseph Smith that caused them to leave the Church. (Click here for full article)
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  • Did Joseph hypnotize the Book of Mormon witnesses?
    Brief Summary: Some grant that the Book of Mormon witnesses may have been sincere in their testimony, but claim that they were actually the victims of 'hallucination' or 'hypnosis' induced in them by Joseph Smith. The accusation that Joseph Smith was somehow able to hypnotize the witnesses—not individually, but en mass—is simply too preposterous to be true. This accusation vastly overstates the nature of hypnotism and the abilities of those able to practice it. (Click here for full article)
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  • Did God tell David Whitmer to leave the Church?
    Brief Summary: David Whitmer, one of the Book of Mormon's Three Witnesses, said "If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to "separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, should it be done unto them." Some argue that if members accept Whitmer's witness of the Book of Mormon, then they must also accept that God wanted David to repudiate the Church as false. Some distort the historical record to make it appear that David Whitmer left the Church because he was told to, when it fact he was excommunicated prior to claiming any revelation to do so. The command to leave, if it was a true revelation, involved David's physical safety and not his membership in the Church, which he had already renounced. (Click here for full article)
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  • Eight witnesses
    Brief Summary: Some have tried to argue that the Eight witnesses only claimed a 'spiritual' or 'visionary' view of the plates, not a literal, physical one. The witnesses left concrete statements regarding the physical nature of the plates. There were others besides the eleven who saw and felt the plates, and testified that they were real. (Click here for full article)
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  • "Eye of Faith" and "Spiritual Eye" statements by Martin Harris
    Brief Summary: Martin Harris frequently told people that he did not see the golden plates and the angel with his natural eyes but rather with “spiritual eyes” or the “eye of faith.” (Click here for full article)
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  • Other Book of Mormon witnesses
    Brief Summary: Are there any other witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates besides the Three and Eight witnesses? (Click here for full article)
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  • Strangite parallels
    Brief Summary: James Strang's break-off sect produced eyewitnesses of buried records. Does this indicate that Joseph's ability to do so is neither surprising nor persuasive? The Strangite witnesses were not all faithful, and some recanted and described the nature of the fraud perpetuated by Strang. (Click here for full article)
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  • Were the experiences of the witnesses spiritual or literal?
    Brief Summary: It is claimed that the witnesses’ encounter with the angel and the plates took place solely in their minds. They claim that witnesses saw the angel in a “vision” and equate “vision” with imagination. (Click here for full article)
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    • Only handled when covered by a tow frock?
      Brief Summary: A frequent claim is that a Book of Mormon witnesses said that he only handled the plates while they were covered in a "tow frock." However, this report is from William Smith, one of Joseph's brothers who was not a Book of Mormon witness. In fact, William insisted in the same statement that he was convinced Joseph was not lying about the plates. William also dismissed the Spalding hypothesis as nonsense. (Click here for full article)
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  • Was it true the viewing the gold plates would result in death?
    Brief Summary: Did Joseph Smith state that the penalty for viewing the gold plates was death? Was this just a way for Joseph to hide the fact that the plates didn't actually exist? (Click here for full article)
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  • Oliver Cowdery joined the Methodists after leaving the Church
    Brief Summary: Why did Oliver Cowdery join the Methodists if all other churches had been "condemned of God"? (Click here for full article)
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  • All were "interested" since they followed Joseph Smith
    Brief Summary: It is claimed that because the witnesses are "interested"—i.e., they were members of the Church and believers in Joseph's mission—that they are therefore not reliable, since they cannot be "neutral" or "disinterested." (Click here for full article)
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  • Statements
    Brief Summary: This page collects statements from the witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates in one convenient location. The same statements are often quoted elsewhere in the wiki under specific articles. (Click here for full article)
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FairMormon web site

Book of Mormon witnesses FairMormon articles on-line
  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Explaining Away the Book of Mormon Witnesses," paper given at the 2004 FAIR Conference FairMormon link (Key source)
  • Scott Gordon, "The Testimony of Eight" FairMormon link


Explaining Away the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Richard Lloyd Anderson , 2004 FAIR Conference

External links

Book of Mormon witnesses on-line articles
  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Book of Mormon Witnesses," off-site (Key source)
  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005): 18–31. off-site wiki
  • Kenneth W. Godfrey, "David Whitmer and the Shaping of Latter-day Saint History," in The Disciple As Witness: Essays on Latter-Day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, edited by Richard Lloyd Anderson, Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000),223–256. ISBN 0934893454. ISBN 978-0934893459. off-site direct off-site
  • Kirk B. Henrichsen, "How Witnesses Described the "Gold Plates"," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001): 16–21. off-site wiki
  • Jeff Lindsay, "Circumstantial Evidence and the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon: Can They Be Ignored Any Longer?", off-site
  • 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. off-site wiki

Printed material

Book of Mormon witnesses printed materials
  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Credibility of the Book of Mormon Translators," in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds and Charles D. Tate (eds.), (Provo, Utah : Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University ; Salt Lake City, Utah : Distributed by Bookcraft, 1996 [1982]),Chapter 9, 213–232. ISBN 0884944697 GospeLink (requires subscrip.) GL direct link
  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 1. ISBN 0877478465(Key source)
  • Richard L. Anderson, "Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds, (Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), Chapter 3. ISBN 093489325X ISBN 0934893187 ISBN 0884944697. off-site GL direct link GL direct link
  • Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1983).
  • Matthew B. Brown, Plates of Gold: The Book of Mormon Comes Forth (American Fork UT: Covenant, ---), ---.
  • John W. Welch and Larry E. Morris, editors, Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness (Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2006). ISBN 9780842526616.

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