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BOOK OF MORMON WITNESSES
Martin Harris, David Whitmer and Olivery Cowdery, among others.
| At the front of every copy of the Book of Mormon you will find "The Testimony of Three Witnesses," as signed by Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris:
"Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen."
Many people who find reason to doubt Mormonism for various other reasons sometimes have difficulty with this testimony. It seems so sincere and so straightforward. And, remarkably, even though each one of these men later became disillusioned with Joseph Smith and his church, there is no hard evidence that any of them denied this testimony in later life. So this document demands some explanation, if it is not to be accepted as proof for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Randy Jordan points out that there were also other "witnesses" to events of that day surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and its "translator": those neighbors and acquaintances of Joseph Smith's during the 1820s whose sworn affidavits were collected by Philastus Hurlbut and published in E. D. Howe's book Mormonism Unvailed [sic] in 1834. As Jordan says:
"Mormons assert that the "Book of Mormon witnesses" allegedly never recanted their "testimonies." However, not a single one of Hurlbut's more than five dozen testators denied theirs, either, even though some of them lived late into the century and had ample opportunity to do so. Also, Hurlbut's witnesses swore their testimonies as legal affidavits, whereas the "Book of Mormon witnesses" did not. So, whose "testimonies" are more credible? Those which are legally binding, or those which were given to sell books?"
Those witnesses interviewed by Hurlbut consistently portrayed Smith as a ne'er-do-well knock-about who picked up money by convincing gullible farmers that he could find buried treasure on their lands through his magical powers and his "peep stone" (the same stone with which he claimed to have translated the sacred golden plates).
I know a little bit about hypnotism, self-hypnotism and "altered states of consciousness." The techniques of inducing a hypnotic or semi-hypnotic state in a suitable subject are easy to learn, and quite simple. The hypnotist suggests the proper physical state (usually relaxed), and then gives hypnotic suggestions. It has also been found that turning the eyeballs slightly upward (as in an attitude of prayer, or looking for a descending angel) enhances the suggestibility of the subject. The subject can retain full consciousness, even though hallucinating at the suggestion of the hypnotist.
I have done this. I have seen it done. For instance, I once watched an amateur hypnotist at a party gather a group of about twenty people in a room to "talk about hypnotism." Within a very few minutes, without any warning from him (he didn't say, "now I'm going to hypnotize you!"), just by talking "about" hypnotism, he had about 80% of the people hypnotized. He suggested that a flock of birds were flying overhead (this happened indoors, remember) dropping bird poop on them. Immediately everyone was frantically covering their heads, wiping themselves off, making sounds of disgust. The next moment he suggested they were watching the saddest movie they had ever seen. People immediately began to sob, to cry real tears, to shake with emotion. He then suggested that they were watching the funniest movie they had ever seen, and immediately they were holding their sides with laughter, falling off their chairs, etc.
Of course Joseph Smith was not a trained hypnotist. The phenomenon had only begun to receive attention a few decades earlier, when Mesmer began to study it, calling it "animal magnetism." But there is no doubt, I would think, that priests, magicians, sorcerers and other charismatic types had discovered by accident, or by trial and error, many of the techniques to induce a hypnotic state. "Spell-binding" is a very old word, and a very old notion. Joseph Smith was charismatic, spell-binding, according to all who met him.
The situation of the Three Witnesses was ideal for a hypnotically-induced illusion or "vision." Cowdery may have even been an accomplice, a shill, since he had been involved with Smith almost from the beginning. (And it appears, from recent unpublished research, that Cowdery's involvement was even earlier than presently suspected.)
I see no problem with the fact that none of them denied their testimony, even though they all left the church. There are two very plausible explanations (take your pick), neither of which require us to conclude that they must have seen an angel. Remember, too, that the most that their signed testimony can prove is that they believed they had seen an angel. No one is required to believe such testimony, that is, to accept as conclusive proof that, in fact, they had seen an angel, either in court or in real life. Whether they actually did see an angel is a different issue.
Explanation 1: As many critics have suggested, any man (even an honest man) 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, it causes less trouble, just to stick by the original story. (There are probably General Authorities and members of the BYU faculty who are further examples of this attitude.)
Explanation 2: A hypnotically-induced hallucination is very real. Like any hallucination, it is identifiable as a hallucination only by someone other than the person hallucinating. If the person having the hallucination recognized that it was a hallucination, either at the time or later, it would not be a hallucination. It is very difficult to convince a hallucinator that his experience was not real. I think that the Witnesses had a joint hallucination that was so real that they believed it for as long as they lived (this conclusion may not apply to Cowdery).
Mormon apologists counter the hallucination hypothesis by saying that joint hallucinations are impossible, i.e. two or more people having the same hallucination at the same time. Strictly speaking, that is probably true. But it is no valid objection here, because we are not suggesting that the Witnesses saw exactly the same thing. Each of them had an individual hallucination that shared only broad similarities. We have no details about what the angel looked like (long brown hair, medium black hair, short sleeves, long sleeves, barefoot, sandals, etc.). They saw and heard what it was suggested to them that they see and hear: angel holding gold plates, voice saying the record is true and commanding them to bear witness. One witness could have heard "Go thou forth and bear witness that this record is true!" but another could have heard: "I testify to you that this is the work of God, and is a true record; you are chosen and elected of God to bear witness to it!" What a shame, that we could not examine thesewitnesses to see if the details of their vision were identical! I have no doubt that some of the people I saw hallucinating at that party were picturing pigeons flying overhead, but others were seeing seagulls or crows, that some saw them flying east to west, and others north to south, or willy-nilly; I am quite certain that their movies were different. And yet they were all seeing something that in general terms could be described the same: "birds flying overhead, defecating; sad movie."
Why should one accept that kind of testimony?
Since I wrote the above, two excellent discussions of the Witnesses have appeared:
Dan Vogel's essay "The Validity of the Witnesses' Testimonies", in the essay collection American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, edited by Vogel and Brent Metcalfe, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 2002, pp 79-121
Chapter 6 ("Witnesses to the Golden Plates") in Grant H. Palmer's book An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 2002, pp. 175-213
© 2001 Richard Packham Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included
| This past week, I've been trying to input a bunch of historical documents into the new ZCL wiki. I've read most of these before during my studies, but a lot of it has faded from memory a bit. So, it's been fun to refresh my memory by typing them up and putting them into the wiki.
The following just struck me funny just now. Martin Harris, one of the venerable Three Witnesses, gave numerous interviews in his life, and this quote is from an interview with Joel Tiffany. Keep in mind that this is a man whose testimony is crucial to many TBMs's testimonies. A man whose worldview and belief system is supposed to match their own. A man who gave supposedly solemn testimony that he saw the extraordinary visits of angels.
Check out the other "extraordinary" goings-on that he fervently believed in at the time the whole Book of Mormon thing was developing:
"After this, on the 22d of September, 1827, before day, Joseph took the horse and wagon of old Mr. Stowel, and taking his wife, he went to the place where the plates were concealed, and while he was obtaining them, she kneeled down and prayed. He then took the plates and hid them in an old black oak tree top which was hollow. Mr. Stowel was at this time at old Mr. Smith's, digging for money. It was reported by these money-diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth. A candid old Presbyterian told me, that on the Susquehannah flats he dug down to an iron chest, that he scraped the dirt off with his shovel, but had nothing with him to open the chest; that he went away to get help, and when they came to it, it moved away two or three rods into the earth, and they could not get it. There were a great many strange sights. One time the old log school-house south of Palmyra, was suddenly lighted up, and frightened them away. Samuel Lawrencetold me that while they were digging, a large man who appeared to be eight or nine feet high, came and sat on the ridge of the barn, and motioned to them that they must leave. They motioned back that they would not; but that they afterwards became frightened and did leave. At another time while they were digging, a company of horsemen came and frightened them away. These things were real to them, I believe because they were told to me in confidence, and told by different ones, and their stories agreed, and they seemed to be in earnest--I knew they were in earnest."
So my question is this: If Martin Harris is credible in his testimony about the Golden Plates, should we also consider his testimony regarding men who are 8-9 feet tall, and enchanted treasure chests that sink into the earth when no one's watching them, and old log schoolhouses that light up on their own to scare away money-diggers, as credible?
BTW, the whole article is located here: http://zarahemlacitylimits.com/wiki/i...
| Many individuals in the Mormon Church find the witnesses to the Book of Mormon very compelling evidence. In fact, many who are puzzled by other inconsistencies and problems with the production of the book of Mormon rely on the fact that the witnesses gave their testimony of the book. For them, the statement of the witnesses “proves” the book’s authenticity. Indeed, the church believes that this testimony is of such importance that it has been added to the introduction to the book.
Here, that though is expressed succinctly by Elder Dallin Oaks:
“Reject [the testimony of the three witnesses] one may, but how does one explain three men of good character uniting and persisting in the published testimony to the end of their lives in the face of great ridicule and other personal disadvantage? Like the Book of Mormon itself, there is no better explanation than is given in the testimony itself, the solemn statement of good and honest men who told what they saw.” (Oaks 1999)
The issue of character and reliability of the witnesses is outside the scope of this paper. I am more concerned with Oaks conclusion that “there is no better explanation than is given in the testimony itself”. There are, in fact, better explanations as I will demonstrate.
Testimony proves to be a strong influencing force on human belief. Traditions and culture are transmitted orally and we have a strong compunction to believe what we are told by authorities, especially if they are from our in-group. Humans in general have a strong tendency to believe anecdotal evidence and we also tend to believe that persons are unlikely to lie or cheat. Thus there is a normal human compulsion to believe such statements as the witnesses delivered as strong evidence.
Since Joseph Smith left no physical artifact of Book of Mormon, we are left in a state of doubt as to the origin of the book. The witness’s statements provide the strongest evidence that the plates were not just a product of Joseph’s creative mind. Here we have 3 individuals on one instance and 8 on another who produced written affidavits testifying to the reality of the plates. If you believe the honest of the individuals, as Oaks implies, what other possible explanation is there?
But is this compelling evidence to anyone other than someone who already believes? Let us look at a very similar case, James Jesse Strang was a Church member who claimed that an angelic visitor had given Strang himself the mantel of authority upon Joseph Smith’s death. Strang claimed that an angel appeared to him and granted him the Urim and Thummim. This tool showed him where another set of plates were buried which he retrieved and translated similar to Joseph Smith.
On September 15, 1845 Strang led four witnesses to a hill:
“The witnesses, in signed statements, said that Strang led them to an oak tree about a foot in diameter and that Strang asked them to look for any sign the sod had been disturbed. The witnesses reported none. The four men dug up the tree, while Strang kept his distance. After digging through the topsoil and subsoil, the men worked with a pickax and shovel to dig through the clay. Suddenly the shovel clunked against something–a stone about a foot square and three inches thick. Below the stone was a case of slightly baked clay embedded in the hard clay soil. Inside were three plates of brass, small enough to fit in a hand.
“On one of the six sides of the three plates was a landscape view, apparently of the prairie and the range of hills where the men had dug. On another was a drawing of a man wearing a cap (or a crown?) with a scepter in his hand; he was surrounded by symbols that had direct parallels to the Mormon Church hierarchy. The witnesses add the other four sides are very closely covered with what appears to be alphabetic characters but in a language of which we have no knowledge’” (Van Nord 1988, p.24)
Strang displayed the plates to his followers and went on to translate them. According to Strang the plates were written in a lost Levitical language and were the record of Rajah Manchou of Vorito. These were translated as the Book of the Law of the Lord. Later seven more witnesses attested to the truthfulness of the record. Their signed statement reads:
“Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, to whom this Book of the Law of the Lord shall come, that James J. Strang has the plates of the ancient Book of the Law of the Lord given to Moses, from which he translated this law, and has shown them to us. We examined them with our eyes, and handled them with our hands. The engravings are beautiful antique workmanship, bearing a striking resemblance to the ancient oriental languages; and those from which the laws in this book were translated are eighteen in number, about seven inches and three-eights wide, by nine inches long, occasionally embellished with beautiful pictures.
“And we testify unto you all that the everlasting kingdom of God is established, in which this law shall be kept, till it brings in rest and everlasting righteousness to all the faithful.” (Strang 1856)
Like Joseph, Strang produced 11 witnesses–totaling 12 for each book when counting each prophet respectively. But not only did Strang match Smith’s story, he one upped him on several fronts. Where Joseph only displayed his plates well after his acquisition, Strang brought witnesses with him. And Strang could not have possibly pre-planted the plates because, according to his witnesses, the plates were recovered from underneath a mature tree. Strang also went on to display the plates to several members of his congregation. Like Smith’s witnesses, there is no public record of any of them recanting their witness and the character of the witnesses has not been impugned.
One is left to question: if the statement from the witnesses is sufficient evidence to establish the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, would not a higher degree of similar evidence be sufficient to establish the truthfulness of the Book of the Law of the Lord? The answer that any Mormon would give is no. Even if the witness’s character is good and there is no particular motivation to distort the truth, such statements are not compelling evidence to convince the unconvinced.
In actuality, these sorts of statements and testimonies are really quite common. You can find individuals who will swear by their visions of the Virgin Mary, UFO sightings, meeting reincarnated relatives, and seeing ghosts, fairies and leprechauns. There is a whole body of evidence to suggest how these metaphysical experiences can be produced by normal psychological events. However, we need not go into that for our purposes here. It is sufficient to demonstrate that this sort of evidence can be used to validate many things that you don’t believe in, whatever your belief system. It is therefore not good evidence.
We must then dismiss the witness evidence of the Book of Mormon and try to establish its validity through other means. It does not fair very well by those tests either.
- Oaks, Dallin H. 1999, ‘The Witness Martin Harris’, Ensign, May 1999, p. 35
- Strang, James J. 1856, The Book of the Law of the Lord, Self-published
- Van Noord, Roger 1988, King of Beaver Island: The Life and Assassination of James Jesse Strang, University of Illinois Press Chicago
| When discussing the truth claims with my TBM relatives, the Three Witnesses are often brought up by my believing relatives as evidence as to why they believe that the church is true. Upon examining the magical mindset of these three men, I can safely dismiss their testimonies as I do the witnesses of equally fantastic tales like Bigfoot, Lochness monster, alien abductions, etc. Here's a few facts most LDS don't know about the Big 3:
Martin Harris is shown as a smart businessman with an unwavering testimony of the Book of Mormon. However most LDS are not aware of the superstitious nature of Mr. Harris.
Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness. He was known by many of his peers as an unstable, gullible and superstitious man. Reports assert that he and the other witnesses never literally saw the gold plates, but only an object said to be the plates, covered with a cloth. Here's some accounts that show the superstitious side of Martin Harris:
"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."
John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840 in EMD, 2: 271: "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." 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."
The Reverend John A. Clark, who knew Harris, said Martin "had always been a firm believer in dreams, and visions and supernatural appearances, such as apparitions and ghosts, and therefore was a fit subject for such men as Smith and his colleagues to operate on." Lorenzo Saunders said Harris was a "great man for seeing spooks." Presbyterian minister Jesse Townsend of Palmyra called Harris a "visionary fanatic."
Martin and the Stone Box (from the pro-LDS Ole Jensen statement)
Brother Harris then turned over as if he had no more to say and we made ready to leave. He spoke again and said, "I will tell you of the most wonderful thing that happened, after Joseph received the plates. Three of us, myself and two more, took some tools and went to the hill to dig for more plates of gold or something and indeed we found a stone box. We got quite excited and dug around it very carefully and just when we were ready to lift it up out of the hole, some unseen power slid it back into the hill. We stood and looked at it and one of us tried to drive a crowbar through the lid to hold it, but the crowbar glanced off and the corner of the lid was chipped off.
Sometime that box will be found and you will find one corner of the lid broken and you will know that I have spoken the truth. Brother's just as sure as you are standing here and see me, just so sure did we see the Angel with the golden plates in his hand. He showed them to me and I promised I would bear witness of this truth both here and hereafter."
His lips really trembled and tears came to my eyes. I should have liked to ask more, but did not do so. I refreshed myself, shook hands, thanked him and left.
This little-known story about Martin Harris shows that Martin was capable of thinking that he was seeing things that probably weren't really there - unless of course we really believe in stone boxes that mysteriously move underneath the ground, which could be damaged by a crowbar but could slide underneath the ground to avoid capture.
Critic's comment: The accounts of Martin Harris that are never talked about at church should be also be taken into consideration when evaluating just how much stock we should put into the testimony of Harris regarding his testimony of the angel and the gold plates. Harris was gullible enough to believe Smith when told that if he were to look upon the plates, God would strike him dead. Harris was a perfect target for any con man.
Question for true believers: If someone today testified of some strange spiritual encounter he had, but he also told you he conversed with Jesus who took the form of a deer, saw the Devil with his four feet and donkey head, chipped off a chunk of a stone box that would mysteriously move beneath the ground to avoid capture and that he interpreted simple things like a flickering of a candle as a sign of the Devil, and had creatures appearing on his chest that no one else could see, would you believe his claims of his spiritual encounter?
There is much written about Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery and their magical and superstitious beliefs, but what of David Whitmer? Critics may dismiss Martin Harris for his many irrational statements and beliefs. Critics may dismiss Oliver Cowdery similarly with his use of divining rods or more likely theorize that he was simply in on it with Joseph. But what of David Whitmer? He is often portrayed as the most rational and least superstitious one of the three witnesses and not so easily dismissed.
David Whitmer's superstitious personality
Church History in the Fullness of Times, Religion 341-343 (Institute Student Manual for Church History), page 56-57
A late May planting was essential for successful fall crops; therefore, David Whitmer had to plow and prepare the soil before he could take his two-horse wagon to pick up Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. At the end of a day of plowing he found he had accomplished in one day what normally would have taken two days to do. David's father was likewise impressed by this apparent miracle. Peter Whitmer, Sr., said, "There must be an overruling hand in this, and I think you would better go down to Pennsylvania as soon as your plaster of paris is sown."11 (Plaster of paris was used to reduce the acidity of the soil.)
The next day David went to the fields to sow the plaster, but to his surprise he found the work had been done. His sister, who lived near the field, said that her children had called her to watch three strangers the day before spread the plaster with remarkable skill. She assumed they were men David had hired.12
Grateful for this divine intervention, David Whitmer hurried off on the three-day journey to Harmony. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery met him as he approached the town. Although David had not told them exactly when he was coming, Joseph had seen in vision the details of David's trip to Harmony.13 These three miracles witnessed by David Whitmer exemplified the Prophet's seership and the Lord's intervention for the successful inauguration of the Restoration.
This was the first meeting between Joseph Smith and David Whitmer. As had happened with Oliver Cowdery, David and Joseph quickly became friends. Soon they were on their way to Fayette, some one hundred miles away. On this occasion Moroni took the plates to avoid danger while transporting them. Another unusual event occurred en route. It happened while they were riding along in the wagon. David Whitmer described the event:
"A very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon and saluted us with, 'good morning, it is very warm,' at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and, by a sign from Joseph, I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, 'No, I am going to Cumorah.' This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked around enquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared. …
"… It was the messenger who had the plates, who had taken them from Joseph just prior to our starting from Harmony."14
The field David plowed
David plowed a field in less time than it normally took him and jumped to the conclusion that it was a sign from God, a miracle. His father planted the suggestion that "there must be an overruling hand in this" so David immediately concluded that there must be a supernatural explanation to his rapid work - the only other explanation David or his father could think of. This is odd and disturbing on many levels since David plowed the field himself. He based his supernatural explanation on nothing other than the time he spent working in the field vs the time he remembers he did it in the past - and his father suggesting an unworldly explanation. Those familiar with statistics call that superstitious practice, counting the hits and ignoring the misses. Church leaders like to tell this story with an air of objectivity, though none is present.
The field plowed by angels
The next day, his sister said she and her children observed three men working in the field. Since David didn't hire them, he naturally assumes that it was "divine intervention". Well, if David can think that three men working in the field are angels, when his sister and children who saw them thought they were just men he hired, then obviously David is easy to convince with very little evidence. Most people call that gullible. In the social sciences it is called confirmation bias. (Gary Marcus, Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, p. 53)
David meeting Joseph
David had made plans to meet Joseph and Oliver and they met David as he approached the town. Since David had not told them exactly when he was coming, he was apparently surprised to have met them on the road. When Joseph explained that he had seen in vision the details of David's trip to Harmony, David again seized on this to determine that a vision was the only explanation for Joseph and Oliver meeting him on the road into the town where they had previously planned to meet.
Amazing! If I had planned in advance to meet someone and they traveled on the same road I was using, of course I would immediately assume that the people must have had a vision to find me.
The Institute Manual then states:
These three miracles witnessed by David Whitmer exemplified the Prophet's seership and the Lord's intervention for the successful inauguration of the Restoration.
What the stories actually demonstrate is the gullibility and magical mind set of David Whitmer. He leaped to the one conclusion he was comfortable with - supernatural explanations for commonplace events easily explained in a commonsense way.
The disappearing traveler
Reminiscent of the vanishing hitchhiker urban legend tales that have been told for hundreds of years in various forms, Whitmer claims to have offered a ride to what later turns out to be Moroni taking a stroll. The man declined the ride, then David and the other men looked at each other and looked around, but the man vanished into thin air.
David said that Joseph told him that the man was in fact the angel Moroni. Isn't it strange that David described the man as "old". In all the painting and depictions of Moroni, he is never described as "old". He was also wiping the sweat off of his forehead because it was very warm. Do angels sweat? Was he dressed right? Joseph mocked a man in print for describing an angel that was not dressed quite right (History of the Church 5:267-268). Why didn't the angel extend his hand to identify himself as the official doctrine states? (DandC 129; Words of Joseph Smith, p. 44; History of the Church, 3:392) Isn't it strange that when David and Oliver were later allowed to be "witnesses" and view the angel, they had already seen him before - so why was it extraordinary to view him again? If David could be convinced that an ordinary looking "old man" wandering down the road wiping his brow due to the warm sun was really an angel (and the very same angel he claimed to see later), then it becomes obvious to most reasonablepeople that David's testimony of seeing an angel is not convincing. The same is true for Oliver.
Note: FARMS verifies the account and tells how Whitmer later saw this same man/angel near his father's farm and said that Moroni showed the plates to his mother, Mary. They conclude with "Thus, while Whitmer was consistent in asserting that both he and his mother had seen this being, his own statements leave us wondering who this "stranger" really was."
Whitmer's description of the angel
John Murphy interviewed David Whitmer in June, 1880.
When asked in 1880 for a description of the angel who showed him the plates, Whitmer replied that the angel "had no appearance or shape." 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. Whitmer interview with John Murphy, June 1880, in EMD5: 63.
FAIR verifies the account and responds:
Of course, that's the trap because something is like something else doesn't mean that it should be reduced to something else. Because something was a vision doesn't mean that it is less than reality; it's a vision of greater reality. And every one of these witnesses of the Book of Mormon whether the three or eight are consistent.
Our comment: FAIR is being less than honest. They ignore that Whitmer says that the angel "had no appearance or shape." Whitmer can only "see" something having "no appearance or shape" if it was his over-active imagination. This is the position of reasonable people. In addition, Joseph described Moroni as looking like a man. He said "He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen.… His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrists". Also the statues on every temple and the depictions of Moroni in every painting all show Moroni appearing as a man.
If David perceived Moroni as having "no appearance or shape" but Joseph described him being in the form of a man then apologists have a big discrepancy to explain. Another fair question is, why did Moroni's appearance change from an elderly man sweating due to the heat when he saw him on the road months before, to an invisible, shapeless being with no appearance?
The significant point that apologists want to run away from is that David equates having impressions in his imagination with actually seeing a physical being, an angel. This puts the David Whitmer's "vision" in a completely different context. David imagined that he saw an angel but didn't really see anything at all. This is reminiscent of toddlers with an imaginary friend.
Perhaps David said the angel had no appearance or shape because there was no angel.
Oliver had a magical mind set common to early 1800s thinking. He believed that divining rods could be used for revelatory purposes. It's also quite possible that Oliver was in on the deception with Joseph. If so, he could have helped convince the others that they were experiencing something not real, like the second-sight experiences many people had at the time.
There are just so many accounts from nonbiased sources like John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for the Book of Mormon, who did not really say anything disparaging about Mormons or the Book of Mormon, yet said the following: Martin was in the office when I finished setting up the testimony of the Three Witnesses-- ([Martin] Harris--[Oliver] Cowdery and [David] 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 spiritual eye."
So why not simply say YES Martin? Why do people need a vision to see metal plates?
It's likely that David and Martin had "second sight" experiences regarding their vision. Oliver probably helped prompt them along with Joseph. It was just like with Joseph and the treasure seekers. Joseph would convince them that they were seeing treasure in their minds and that it was real. They believed so strongly in their second sight "vision" that they would actually go and try to dig the treasure up that they saw in their minds - always with the same result - no treasure.
So in conclusion, the testimonies of the witnesses do not appear to be the factual, unquestionably objective event the LDS Church often portrays it to be.
More on the witnesses and references for above quotes available here: http://www.mormonthink.com/witnessesw...
So this comes up very frequently on LDS writings. It consistently makes claim that the three witnesses never denied their testimony of the golden plates. I wanted to compile all of the details in one place for easy reference and rebuttal.
Did they deny their testimony to the physical plates?
Martin Harris - Almost certainly.
In 1838, Stephen Burnett (faithful member at that time) claims to have heard "Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David . . . the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations." source
In the same source, you'll read Burnett also reported Haris claim he "hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain".
When asked the question, "Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" by John H Gilbert. Gilbert claims he "looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, 'No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.'" sources
He has reported to multiple witnesses including several neighbors, a church congregation, and other residents of Ohio that he never saw the plates physically, only in vision. sources
Multiple witnesses claim he said he saw the plates with his "spiritual eyes" or with "The eye of faith" source
Haris is also reported as having recanted the testimony which influenced 3 apostles and 2 other influential members into leaving
David Whitmer - Most likely.
Claimed to John Murphy that the only angels he saw were with "No appearance or shape", and that he has only "had impressions, such as a Quaker has when the spirit moves him, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience - a mere feeling? source and interview text
In this same interview, he answered the question, "In the same way in which you were impressed with the presence of the angel which interpreted the writing?" with a simple: "Yes."
Note also that his story evolved over time. When compared with Oliver's report, he claimed to have found the plates "lying in a field" rather than on a table with other relics Millennial Star, vol. XL, pp. 771-772
Oliver Cowdery - Probably.
In 1841, Oliver is referenced in the times and seasons as denying the Book of Mormon. source
While away, Cowdrey joined a Methodist congregation and stated that "he was sorry and ashamed of his connection with Mormonism" source
Do they have a history of being fooled?
Martin Harris - A deep and resounding yes.
It was claimed that Harris' testimony of shakerism "was greater than it was of the book of mormon". Apparently the celibacy requirement was all that kept him from joining.
Harris also joined no less than 8 different religions after leaving Mormonism.
See note below
David Whitmer - Yes, but likely the least of the three (either Joseph or Strang)
Oliver Cowdery - Yes
- Followed after Hiram Page (one of the 11) and his seer stone. source
- Attached themselves to James Strange, who also claimed to have found buried brass plates and had his own witnesses.
Why perpetuate the lie?
Note that I freely admit that the following is speculation on my part. It should be treated with the same veracity as would be given speculation from supporting LDS apologists. Look at the facts. Decide for yourself.
Martin Harris - sources
Martin joined several religions after leaving the Mormons (such as Strangite, Whitmerite, Gladdenite, Williamite, Shaker).
After traveling from religion to religion, Martin was finally destitute.
Near the end of his life, the Utah members gathered together 200$ to bring him out west.
He was provided a home, land, and there he lived for 4 and a half years before dying.
Everything he now had was conditioned on his acceptance of the book and subseuqent religion.
David Whitmer - He and his family's money, fame, and safety from the time he started the religion until well past his death. sources
Initially, Whitmer was a founding member, successor to Joseph, and leader of the missouri church. He profited directly from people believing in the book.
After his excommunication, he was threatened by the Danites who said of all dissenters "depart or a more fatal calamity shall befall you."
Finally, after Joseph's death, Whitmer tried to vie as successor. He saught to replace Joseph as the head of the Mormon church.
This failed and after following various splinter groups, eventually Whitmer formed his own church based on the book of mormon.
He remained in this church until his death.
Oliver Cowdery - safety and financial ruin. source and source
He was excommunicated for opposing Joseph.
He shared the same threats as David from the Danites following the whitmerites out of the religion.
After Joseph's death, he attached himself to Strange's movement and practiced law - even defending the religion in court.
However, his connections to Mormonism were revealed and he lost both his practice (in part due to his partner) and his bid for political office.
He is now destitute, and the following joined the Utah members under the condition that he reliquinsh any claims to leadership.
There he was provided a home, land, and means to live. He would have put himself, his property, his family, and his children at risk if he denied the Book of Mormon after he rejoined.
Are these men trusthworthy sources?
According to the millineal star, harris is "a lying deceptive spirit attend them...they are of their father, the devil...The very countenance of Harris will show to every spiritual-minded person who sees him, that the wrath of God is upon him."
In 1838, Joseph is quoted as saying Martin Harris is "so far beneath contempt that to notice him would be too great a sacrifice for a gentleman to make. The Church exerted some restraint on him, but now he has given loose to all kinds of abominations, lying, cheating, swindling, and all kinds of debauchery." - Gleanings by the Way, J. A. Clark, pp. 256-257
- As said by Joseph in retaliation for David disavowing the current church, "God suffered such kind of beings to afflict Job . . . this poor man who professes to be much of a prophet, has no other dumb ass to ride but David Whitmer, to forbid his madness when he goes up to curse Israel: and this ass not being of the same kind as Balaam's . . . he brays out cursing instead of blessings. Poor ass" - source
- Joseph Smith denied charges of adultry put on him by Olivery, called oliver a liar, and then excommunicated him for this, urging lawsuits against the Mormon leaders, treating the church with contempt, for virtually denying the faith, selling lands in jackson county, sending insulting letters, practicing law rather than the calling in the church, disgracing the church with his business practices, dishonestly keeping notes that had been paid, and for leaving and forsaking the call of God. source
It's also worth noting that the remaining 8 witnesses, and the 12th witness if you count Mary Whitmer's claim, were either Whitmers or Smiths by blood or marriage.
- Joseph stated, "John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris are too mean to mention".
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