Brief Summary

Witnesses

Despite FAIR’s rebuttal to the Witnesses section of the CES Letter, major concerns regarding the credibility of the Book of Mormon Witnesses remain.

For instance, all 11 witnesses to the Book of Mormon shared a common worldview of second sight, magic, and treasure digging. All of the living Book of Mormon witnesses, except Oliver Cowdery, later accepted James Strang’s prophetic claim of being Joseph’s true successor and joined his church. All witnesses except Martin Harris were related to Joseph Smith or David Whitmer.

Oliver Cowdery exhibited behavior that calls his credibility into question, such as attempting to use a divining rod for translating the a portion of the Book of Mormon (a fact which Joseph Smith later attempted to cover up by changing the wording from the Book of Commandments). Oliver was once excommunicated from the Church for, among other things, “falsely insinuating that [Joseph Smith] was guilty of adultery” and for “dishonestly retaining notes after they had been paid.” A letter written by Sidney Rigdon and signed by 84 members of the Church wrote that Olivery Cowder and David Whimer (among others) cheated and defrauded the saints out of their property “by every art and stratagem which wickedness could invent.”

Martin Harris can be regarded generally as a gullible and superstitious person. He joined at least five churches before joining Mormonism and joined many more, including James Strang’s sect, after Joseph’s death. At various times throughout his life, he stated that he had conversed with Jesus (who had taken the form of a deer), that he saw the devil with his four feet and donkey head, that he had chipped off a chunk of a stone box that would mysteriously move beneath the ground to avoid capture, and that a creature appeared on his chest which no one else could see.

Martin Harris also gave conflicting accounts of his experiences with the golden plates. He recounted on multiple occasions, for example, that he didn’t see the plates with his naked eye but rather with his spiritual eye. Moreover, Joseph Smith himself once wrote of Martin that he “gave loose to all kinds of abominations, lying, cheating, swindling, and all kinds of debauchery.”

David Whitmer likewise suffers from credibility problems. For example, after leaving the LDS Church, he testified that God spoke to him, just as God had spoken to the three Book of Mormon Witnesses, telling him to separate himself from the LDS church. Further, David Whitmer, as with Martin Harris, gave contradictory accounts of the events giving rise to his Book of Mormon testimony. For example, he once recounted that the angel who showed him the plates “had no appearance or shape” and that he saw the angel with “impressions.” In a separate account, he wrote that he and the other witnesses had experienced the angelic visitation “while we were yet in the Spirit.” Finally, David Whitmer was also included in Sidney Rigdon’s letter, described above, stating that David Whitmer had cheated and defrauded the saints out of their property “by every art and stratagem which wickedness could invent.”

Given these facts, one cannot help but seriously question the credibility of the Book of Mormon witnesses.

Donut Chart

Witnesses

The above donut chart shows percentages of the Witnesses section of Letter to a CES Director that FAIR is in agreement, disagreement, and neutral on.

If one assumes that FAIR's undisputed silence is acceptance of the facts, FAIR agrees with 85% of the CES Letter's Witnesses section.

Breakdown can be found here.

Detailed Response

Witnesses

Magical Worldview

CES Letter says...

"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."

FAIR Agrees
  • FAIR agrees that Oliver’s “gift” was a divining rod.
  • FAIR is neutral and silent about the Book of Commandments wording change in Doctrine & Covenants.
  • FAIR disagrees that the Church whitewashed its history and points to a December 15, 2012 online article as evidence of transparency.

FAIR says...
  • Incorrect:
    The Church acknowledges that Oliver used a divining rod.
  • Church answer:
    The Church History website Revelations in Context discusses Oliver’s use of the divining rod:

    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 believe in and use a divining rod. - Jeffrey G. Cannon, “Oliver Cowdery’s Gift,” history.lds.org

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

The point I was making in the CES Letter, which FAIR ignores, is that the Church completely changed the wording of the original text in Section 7 of the Book of Commandments for Doctrine and Covenants 8 to obscure what really happened and what tool Oliver really used for “translating” ancient documents.

While it’s wonderful that the Church released this article (dated December 15, 2012) on its website, and it appears that the Church is now heading towards more open transparency about the Church’s folk-magic origins, where was this transparency before December 15, 2012? Where is the statement in the header of D&C 8 outlining this and how the Church changed the wording from “rod” and “rod of nature” in Section 7 of the Book of Commandments to “gift of Aaron” in Doctrine and Covenants 8?

Like the Priesthood restoration retrofitting and backdating, Joseph backdated and retrofitted and changed earlier revelations as if the wording and context in the earlier revelations were unaltered all along.

The reader can determine for themselves on whether or not they believe there’s a god who told Oliver Cowdery, through revelation to Joseph Smith, that he could translate ancient records with his own personal “Ouija board” – or magical “rod” as shown below – which Oliver used for treasure hunting.



Witnesses

CES Letter says...

"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.”

FAIR Neutral
  • FAIR does not agree or disagree but instead misapply Ad Hominem fallacy.

FAIR says...
  • Ad Hominem: 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 oppenen's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.
  • You can see that the author applies both of these definitions:
  1. The author's mention of "second sight, magic, and treasure digging" is meant to appeal to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
  2. The author implies that, despite the fact that the witnesses never denied what they said, that if we "come to know these men" that we will somehow find their testimony to have less value.
  • 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.

Quotes to consider

  • Martin Harris (1875):

    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.
  • David Whitmer (1881):

    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.
  • Oliver Cowdery (1848):

    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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Early Mormon Documents author and Book of Mormon Witnesses expert, Dan Vogel, graciously responded to my email request to share his thoughts on FAIR’s responses. Here is Mr. Vogel’s response to FAIR’s above answer:

Your statement about the cultural background of the witnesses is not ad hominem. The reviewer is misapplying that fallacy. I believe you are trying to establish their mindset and openness to visionary experience prior to meeting Joseph Smith. This is legitimate evidence in support of the hallucination theory. If we were considering a fraud theory and presented evidence of prior dishonesty, would the reviewer then claim that we were engaging in ad hominem?

What follows is irrelevant and demonstrates that the reviewer doesn’t understand your position. The reviewer ignores the issue of hallucination and responds as if you accused the witnesses of lying, which is a strawman argument.

I agree with Dan Vogel. Part of my purpose of discussing the witnesses’ worldview was to support the evidence that the witnesses were using second sight when experiencing the events supporting their testimony of the Book of Mormon.

And, frankly, this worldview weighs upon the credibility of these people as witnesses, and thus FAIR’s ad hominem criticism is misplaced. Clearly, evidence that someone believes in second sight, magic, and treasure digging is legitimate evidence to consider when evaluating a witness’s credibility regarding an event that could be interpreted by others as being imaginary (second sight).

Notice that FAIR does not dispute or disagree with the fact that the Witnesses “all shared a common worldview of second sight, magic, and treasure digging – which is what drew them together in 1829.”

Instead of directly addressing the facts and evidence, FAIR chooses misdirection by misapplying the ad hominem fallacy.


Martin Harris

CES Letter says...

"Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness."

FAIR Disagrees

FAIR says...
  • Incorrect:
    Actually, Martin was 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Contrary to FAIR's examples, the magic stone-swapping story and the Charles Anthon transcript story are far from "skeptical examination."

An analogy that illustrates the absurdity of using the swapping stone story as evidence of Harris’ “skepticism”:

Once upon a time, there was a magician named Joseph who had a “magic talisman.” This magic talisman is made of agate, which is placed around his neck to ward off evil demons. There’s a friend – we’ll call him “Martin” – who gets the idea to test or fool Joseph. So, Martin picks up a similar chunk of agate and swaps it on Joseph’s necklace outside of Joseph’s presence. Now, Joseph gets to look at his necklace, study it for a minute and notice a chunk is different. Realizing that his agate is not the same, Joseph turns the table on Martin and instantly cries out, “Oh no! The demons! They’ve got me!” Immediately astounded and impressed, Martin profusely apologizes to Joseph. Martin then testifies to everyone that Joseph and Joseph’s magical talisman truly have magical powers indeed.

Clearly, the story of swapping a magician's talisman, or even a peep stone in a hat, presumably when the magician is intimately familiar with both objects, is far from what most would consider "skepticism."

Let’s pull up the context of my quote in the CES Letter where I state, “Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness”:

“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. Additionally, Martin Harris had a direct conflict of interest in being a witness. He was deeply financially invested in the Book of Mormon as he mortgaged his farm to finance the book.”

In this section of my letter, I’m focusing on Martin Harris as a witness of the Book of Mormon. One of the critical aspects in determining a witness to something as “credible” and “trustworthy” is whether or not the witness has a conflict of interest, personal bias, or personal investment in the subject matter of his testimony.

Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness, for several reasons:

  • Martin was a very superstitious man and had a reputation as such.
  • Martin was convinced that Joseph had magical powers stemming from a rock he placed in his hat.
  • Martin was deeply invested in the success of the Book of Mormon. He mortgaged his farm to pay for the book’s publication. If the book failed, he failed. This alone should have absolutely disqualified Martin’s spot as a witness of the Book of Mormon.
  • Martin was a Church hopper. Whatever was the flavor of the day, he was onboard. Prior to joining Mormonism, Martin had joined a handful of other sects and Churches.
Book of Mormon Witnesses expert Dan Vogel on Martin Harris’ gullibility:

Richard Anderson (Mormon apologist) portrayed Harris as the skeptical witness, but there is a question as to Harris’ motives for testing Joseph Smith.

Was it to satisfy Martin’s own skepticism or his wife’s and jeering friends? When he swapped the seer stone and Joseph asked Martin why he did it, Harris responded “to stop the mouths of fools” who say Joseph was just repeating sentences he had memorized. When Harris took the 116-page manuscript, it was for the purpose of convincing his family and friends that he was not on a fool’s errand.

Harris’ problem was that he was not as clever as he thought and the testimony of people who knew him is sufficient to establish his gullibility.

FAIR says...

The author copies some quotes and material from Wikipedia's "Martin Harris (Latter Day Saints)" article to demonstrate that Harris was "an unstable, gullible, and superstitious man."

  • The Wikipedia article emphasizes Harris's superstitious qualities while minimizing his work for the community and his religious qualities.
  • For more information, see Wikipedia’s Deconstruction of Martin Harris on the FAIR Blog. (January 23, 2013)

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Note that FAIR is not saying that the quotes and information about Martin Harris’ superstition and reputation for superstition is inaccurate or incorrect or that the Wikipedia article is inaccurate or incorrect.

FAIR’s problem is that the Wikipedia article “emphasizes Harris’ superstitious qualities while minimizing his work for the community and his religious qualities.

Harris’ superstitious and gullible characteristics are important in understanding the mindset of the man upon whose testimony millions rely. It matters that the man believed in second sight, or seeing through spiritual eyes. It matters that the man has made conflicting statements about his testimony and experience. It matters that Martin had a reputation of superstition and gullibility. It matters that Martin was a Church hopper.

FAIR has no problem linking to Wikipedia as a source of factual, accurate, and reliable information until you start checking out Martin Harris’ page. Then Wikipedia is no longer useful as it “emphasizes Harris’ superstitious qualities.”

On FAIR’s blog:

“What is going on here? Why is Wikipedia describing a different individual than the one that we learn of in Church?”

I’m sorry, FAIR, but there are a lot of accurate things on Wikipedia about Joseph Smith, the Church, its history, its origins, and its doctrines that are “quite a contrast from those things that we learn in church.” Say, for example, the fact that the Book of Mormon was translated by means of placing a rock in a hat, that Joseph Smith married 11 other men’s wives and 7 teenage girls, some as young as 14-years-old, that the Book of Abraham has nothing to do with the papyrus scrolls obtained by Joseph Smith, and that Joseph translated the Kinderhook Plates (later discovered as fakes) claiming the plates contained a record of a “descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, King of Egypt…”

FAIR continues:

The story that emerges from Wikipedia is that of a superstitious man who was driven from religion to religion based upon which way the wind was blowing at the time. Which account is correct? The honest, generous Martin Harris, or the superstitious visionary fanatic who was known for “seeking spooks”? In reality, both accounts contain accurate information related to Martin Harris.

FAIR says...

After quoting some of Martin Harris's "spiritual eye" statements about viewing the plates, the author asks "Why couldn’t Martin just simply answer ‘yes’?"

  • Incorrect:
    Martin did directly say that he saw the plates, and he did so a number of times. The very same Wikipedia article from which the author retrieved quotes about Harris's superstitiousness also includes some direct quotes about his view of the plates.

    Nevertheless, in 1853, Harris told one David Dille that he had held the forty- to sixty-pound plates on his knee for “an hour-and-a-half” and handled the plates with his hands, “plate after plate.”[34] Even later, Harris affirmed that he had seen the plates and the angel with his natural eyes: “Gentlemen,” holding out his hand, “do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Or are your eyes playing you a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the Angel and the plates.”[35] The following year Harris affirmed that “No man heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon [or] the administration of the angel that showed me the plates.”[36] (paragraph from Wikipedia article "Martin Harris (Latter Day Saints), accessed on June 21, 2013)

Quotes to consider

  • William Harrison Homer, “The Passing of Martin Harris,” Improvement Era Vol. 29, No. 5 (March 1926): 470

    “Young man,” answered Martin Harris with impressiveness, “Do I believe it! Do you see the sun shining! Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the [moon] and stars give us light by night, just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the fulness of times; so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the Angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the divine calling of Joseph Smith.”

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Early Mormons Documents author and Book of Mormon Witnesses expert Dan Vogel’s response to FAIR’s above answer:

The reviewer shows his lack of knowledge about primary documents when he uses the Dille interview, which conflates (combines) Harris’ testimony with the testimony of the eight witnesses. Harris, according to Dille: “And as many of the plates as Joseph Smith translated I handled with my hands, plate after plate.”

Testimony of Eight, according to Dille: "And as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands." Other sources document that Harris held the plates while covered with a cloth or in a box. At no time did Harris see the plates in a non-visionary manner.

FAIR is incorrect in its claim. Harris has never seen the plates in a non-visionary manner.

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

When Martin Harris was asked, “But did you see them [plates] with your natural, your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Martin answered, “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

In fact, Martin Harris admitting that he never physically saw the plates contributed to the acceleration of apostasy and crisis in the Church in 1838. His statement was the final straw that caused apostles Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and John F. Boynton, and high priest Stephen Burnett and seventy Warren Parrish to leave the Church:

I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it, loth to give it up, but 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 foundations was (sic) sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins,…I was followed by W. Parish[,] Luke Johnson & John Boynton[,] all of the[m] concurred with me. After we 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 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 him but should have let it passed as it was… – Stephen Burnett, Early Mormon Documents, 2:288-93

Warren Parrish, Joseph Smith’s personal secretary, confirmed Burnett’s above statement:

Martin Harris, one of the subscribing witnesses, has come out at last, and says he never saw the plates, from which the book purports to have been translated, except in vision and he further says that any man who says he has seen them in any other way is a liar, Joseph [Smith] not excepted. – Warren Parris to E. Holmes, August 11, 1838.

Not only is FAIR ignoring Harris’ second sight, but they’re ignoring Martin Harris’ contradictory statements in which he denies having seen the plates physically. This is one of the points I was making about Martin Harris in the CES Letter: Martin Harris made conflicting statements throughout his life about his experience and testimony.

With inconsistency, conflict of interest, magical thinking, and superstition like this, exactly what credibility does Martin Harris have and why should we believe him?

FAIR says...

The author quotes several "spiritual eye" statements that are attributed to Martin Harris.

  • 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).
  • Critics who claim otherwise do not provide their readers with all of Martin's statements, distorting the historical record. Note that "A Letter to a CES Director" falls into this category - none of Martin's definitive statements about seeing the plates are included.

Quotes to consider

  • William Harrison Homer, “The Passing of Martin Harris,” Improvement Era Vol. 29, No. 5 (March 1926): 470

    “Young man,” answered Martin Harris with impressiveness, “Do I believe it! Do you see the sun shining! Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the [moon] and stars give us light by night, just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the fulness of times; so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the Angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the divine calling of Joseph Smith.”

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

"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.

Notice FAIR has to point to Martin’s “earlier accounts” as making the “literal nature of the experience unmistakable.” Well, Martin’s later accounts conflict and contradict Martin’s “earlier accounts.”

And this exactly why we cannot trust anything this man said and claimed.

"Critics who claim otherwise do not provide their readers with all of Martin's statements, distorting the historical record. Note that "A Letter to a CES Director" falls into this category - none of Martin's definitive statements about seeing the plates are included.

I find it interesting that FAIR would criticize a failure to provide all of Martin Harris' statements, given that FAIR relies selectively upon only the statements supporting its argument. When "critics" present Harris' statements describing the events in a visionary manner, it's "distorting the historical record" and "none of Martin's definitive statements about seeing the plates are included."

The Church and apologists are doing a fantastic job with presenting to Latter-day Saints the side of Martin seeing the plates physically. Mormons are very familiar with the “earlier accounts” claiming a physical experience. Where is the Church in presenting to Latter-day Saints the other side where Martin states he only saw the plates in vision or through his “spiritual eyes”?

I probably should have also included the “physical” statements that Latter-day Saints are familiar with in the letter to illustrate how unreliable, inconsistent, and contradictory Martin Harris was about his experience.

How are Latter-day Saints to reconcile all these contradictory statements and claims made by this Book of Mormon Witness? Are they to ignore the contradictory statements and believe that Martin still has credibility? The “earlier accounts” are credible and good but the later conflicting accounts by Harris are to be ignored and swept under the rug?

We’ve got a problem. On one hand, we have Harris claiming a physical experience. On the other hand, we have Harris stating that he only saw the plates with his “spiritual eyes” and that the experience was not physical. Which is it, FAIR? If Harris physically saw the plates then why did Harris make the inconsistent and contradictory statements that he didn’t? What motivation would Harris have had to lie in his later accounts? These conflicting statements by Martin Harris seriously undermine and cast into doubt the testimony and credibility of this man.

With inconsistency, conflict of interest, magical thinking, and superstition like this, exactly what credibility does Martin Harris have and why should we believe him?


David Whitmer

CES Letter says...

The author quotes a letter to the editor of the Hamiltonian from a John Murphy, dated 21 January 1881. Murphy stated that he interviewed David Whitmer about the Book of Mormon. The author of "A Letter to a CES Editor" states:

In 1880, David Whitmer was asked 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

FAIR Disagree

FAIR says...
  • Incomplete Source:
  • David Whitmer himself responded to what John Murphy wrote. The author prints what John Murphy said about Whitmer, but fails to acknowledge that Whitmer strongly objected to what Murphy said about him and actually published a response to it. This response is found in the same volume of Early Mormon Documents that the author cites for the Murphy quote. The author of "A Letter to a CES Director" did not know this, because he never examined the source (Early Mormon Documents, Volume 5) that he quoted.
  • Whitmer himself refuted Murphy’s account. The following is from “David Whitmer Proclamation, 19 March 1881,” found in Early Mormon Documents 5:69.

    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.
  • So, shall we believe what John Murphy said that Whitmer said? Or shall we believe what Whitmer himself said in response to it?

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

David Whitmer’s response was not a denial of everything said in the previous interview with John Murphy. Rather, it was David Whitmer re-affirming his testimony.

Let's review what David Whitmer told John Murphy in the interview:

In 1880, David Whitmer was asked 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

Let’s pull up David Whitmer’s later response to this interview with John Murphy:

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.

FAIR is either committing a strawman of my argument or FAIR misunderstands the point I’m making. The issue here is not whether David Whitmer denied his testimony. He didn’t and I never claimed that he did. I never claimed that David Whitmer denied his testimony. This is very clear in both Whitmer’s response as well as in his An Address to All Believers.

The issue here is whether the experience was physical or visionary. It’s whether – like Martin Harris – Whitmer saw the plates and angel with “spiritual eyes” – or second sight.

In the quote from the Murphy interview, it is clear that the experience was spiritual or visionary. Notice that Whitmer never denies this part of the interview nor does he state that he literally saw the angel and the plates in physical form and in a non-visionary manner. Further, Whitmer’s re-affirming of his testimony does not deny this statement made to Murphy. It gives insight into Whitmer’s experience being visionary.

A careful reading of all the Whitmer statements makes clear that his viewing of the plates was a supernatural experience, based in faith – and not one that a non-believing bystander might have confirmed at the time, had such a person been standing right there beside Whitmer.

…but fails to acknowledge that Whitmer strongly objected to what Murphy said about him and actually published a response to it. This response is found in the same volume of Early Mormon Documents that the author cites for the Murphy quote. The author of "A Letter to a CES Director" did not know this, because he never examined the source (Early Mormon Documents, Volume 5) that he quoted.

The quote was not included because my argument is not that David denied his testimony (he didn’t). Rather, my argument is that Whitmer’s experience was spiritual rather than literal. Whitmer’s later response to John Murphy does not deny this part of the interview nor does Whitmer expand or clarify as to whether his experience was physical or visionary.

So, FAIR is once again incorrect with their assumptions and their rebuttal does not debunk this statement to John Murphy as Whitmer’s position and testimony was never in question.

Further, FAIR fails to share with their readers David Whitmer’s other testimony:

“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.’” – David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (promoting his Whitmerite sect)

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?


Oliver Cowdery

CES Letter says...

"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."

FAIR Disagrees

FAIR says...
  • Ad Hominem: Oliver was indeed a distant cousin of Joseph Smith, but they had never met before the Book of Mormon was translated. How does this make him an unreliable witness?

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Was Oliver not a scribe for the Book of Mormon? Was Oliver not a biased witness as he was intimately involved in the creation and publication of the Book of Mormon? Was Oliver not more invested and interested in the Book of Mormon’s success than the average person on the street?

Let’s look at the official story of how Oliver and Joseph met “for the first time”:

When Oliver arrived in Harmony on Sunday, 5 April, Joseph Smith recognized him as the assistance the Lord had promised. They discussed Joseph’s experiences until late in the evening. The next day they attended to some business, and on Tuesday, 7 April, they began the work of translation in earnest.

So, just to make sure I’ve got it straight: Joseph met Oliver for the very first time on a Sunday.

By Tuesday, Joseph was looking in a hat while Oliver started writing down what would later become the Book of Mormon? And after getting burned badly by Martin Harris? After all the “severe persecution” and “reviling” over Joseph’s claims and gold plates, Joseph just trusts a complete stranger as his personal scribe after being introduced to for the very first time just two days prior?

Oliver was Joseph’s cousin? Was this a complete coincidence? Oliver’s pastor in Poultney, Vermont was Ethan Smith, author of View of the Hebrews? Again, just another coincidence?

Contrary to this narrative, there is testimony from Joseph’s neighbor, Lorenzo Saunders, placing Oliver Cowdery on the Smith farm in Palmyra a few years earlier, in 1826:

As respecting Oliver Cowdery, he came from Kirtland in the summer of 1826 and was about there [i.e. the Smith’s farm] until fall and took a school in the district where the Smiths lived and the next summer he was missing and I didn’t see him until fall and he came back and took our school in the district where we lived and taught about a week and went to the schoolboard and wanted the board to let him off and they did and he went to Smith and went to writing the Book of Mormon and wrote all winter. The Mormons say it wasn’t wrote there but I say it was because I was there…” – Early Mormon Documents, 3:177-79

So, the claim that Oliver and Joseph never met before 1829 is not conclusive when there is testimony from others, in this case being from Joseph’s own neighbor, testifying of seeing Oliver Cowdery on the Smith farm as early as 1826.

FAIR says...
  • 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, or when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, then why didn't he expose the fraud after he fell into disagreement with Joseph Smith and was excommunicated from the Church?

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Many possible reasons exist why Oliver might not have wanted to expose the fraud:

  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.

Second Sight

CES Letter says...

A collection of short quotes is displayed to demonstrate that the witnesses believed in "second sight," which the author calls "imagination." Among these quotes is the following:

“I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock.” – EMD 1:497

FAIR Disagrees

FAIR says...
  • Incorrect:
    The statement "I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock," is from William Smith, Joseph's brother. William Smith was not one of the three or eight witnesses who were allowed to view the plates. He was only allowed to view and pick up the plates when they were covered. How does this demonstrate "second sight"?
  • Misquoted Source: The author also provided an incorrect reference for this statement. The reference given by the author is EMD 1:497, which is "William Smith, On Mormonism, 1883," Early Mormon Documents 1:497. The quote that the author attributes to this passage does not exist within this document, however, William makes a similar statement in this passage.

    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.

    In consequence of his vision, and his having the golden plates and refusing to show them, a great persecution arose against the whole family, and he was compelled to remove into Pennsylvania with the plates, where he translated them by means of the Urim and Thummim. . . . 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. They weighed about sixty pounds according to the best of my judgment.
  • We did, however, find the author's actual William Smith quote in "William Smith Interview with E. C. Briggs, 1893," Early Mormon Documents 1:511. However, we once again note that William Smith was not one of the three or eight witnesses:

    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."
  • 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

FAIR is correct. I corrected this by removing the quote.

Note that FAIR does not dispute the other 10 “second sight” quotes, which are as follows:

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

He only saw the plates with a spiritual eye” – Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958

As shown in the vision” – Zenas H. Gurley, Jr., Interview with David Whitmer on January 14, 1885

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

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

“...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 foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris “used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and ‘seeing with the spiritual eye,’ and the like.”
Mormonism: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress, p.71

Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with “the eye of faith” or “spiritual eyes” – EMD 2:270 and 3:22

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

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.

Let’s remember the background of William’s statement. It was given in an interview close to 64 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. William points to his mother’s history for reference to the description: “Their size was as described in mother's history.” So, he was influenced, by one degree or another, by his mother’s description and history. Unlike a testimony given immediately after the event occurred and unbiased by other’s accounts and descriptions, William’s statement was given many years after the event happened and after he was influenced by other accounts and descriptions including his mother’s history, the testimonies of the witnesses published in the Book of Mormon, and other accounts he may have heard elsewhere in all those years.

Further, “Joseph did have something in his possession that fit the dimensions, form, and weight of the plates he claimed to have” doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t prove that the plates were as Joseph claimed or that the plates were of divine origin.

James Strang proved that a prop and fraud could easily be done. Strang actually had his plates in a museum for all to see for a period of time. If Strang and the plates were a fraud, it was obvious that he made a prop of sufficient quality to fool a prolonged, detailed visual inspection by the public. Strang’s fraud and prop is evidence that a prop of ancient plates during Joseph’s time wasn’t all that difficult.

If Joseph’s plates were never shown in public and were always covered and if they were ever actually shown to the witnesses, it was only briefly.


James Strang and the Voree Plates Witnesses

CES Letter says...

"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?”

FAIR Agrees

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

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

"Several prominent families, including many members of Joseph’s family accepted Strang’s claims.

Let’s be clear here: Every single living Book of Mormon witness, except Oliver Cowdery, as well as all of Joseph Smith’s family (except Hyrum’s widow), along with prominent leaders of the early LDS church, accepted and joined James Strang; by merely reading Strang’s forged letter.

We’re supposed to give these witnesses and leaders – who were so easily duped by Strang and his fraudulent claims – credibility in their witness and testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon?

FAIR says...
  • Strang's witnesses:
  1. had no supernatural component to their witness—None of the Strang witnesses saw an angel showing them the plates.
  2. had one who later denounced his project as mere "human invention"
  3. had one who later confessed to helping fabricate the plates
  • The letter used by Strang to convince people is generally believed to be a forgery. It has a genuine post mark due to the fact that one page seems to reuse a blank sheet used in a genuine letter (the other two sheets are on different kinds of paper) and the assessment that the signature of Joseph Smith is not original.
  • The text of the Voree plates is made using a relatively simple cypher. That is, the sequences of characters made in the plates share a 1 to 1 correspondence with the English language into which it is translated. There are some minor variances, and some apparent orthographic errors in the Voree plates (typos). This means that the source of the text must be English, and not some ancient language translated into English.

Quotes to consider

  • Wrote Daniel C. Peterson in "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011):

    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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

"had one who later denounced his project as mere ‘human invention’

FAIR and Mormon apologist Daniel C. Peterson have provided no sources to support this claim.

I have searched all over FAIR’s website, Daniel C. Peterson’s article, and Google for a source to back up this claim. I’ve come up with nothing. Until FAIR provides actual non-LDS apologetic sources, we can apply Hitchens’ razor:

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

"had one who later confessed to helping fabricate the plates

Again, FAIR offers zero sources or evidence to back up this claim.

Daniel C. Peterson’s “Defending the Faith: the story behind James Strang and his sect” article is just like FAIR’s answer: zero sources and zero evidence. In fact, Daniel C. Peterson’s article states, “One source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies.” What FAIR and Peterson fail to tell their readers about this source is that this source also asserts that the Book of Mormon witnesses likewise repudiated their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. Apparently, however, this is not a problem to these Mormon apologists since the “good” portions of this source work nicely with their agenda of “discrediting” the Strangite witnesses.

LDS apologists would immediately cry foul and demand evidence and sources to back up the above claims. Why then is FAIR operating under a completely different standard than what would be expected – even demanded – if the table was turned around?

Further, LDS apologists would not accept any evidence other than first accounts and affidavits/interviews from the witness himself making the claim. Hearsay (indirect evidence of someone claiming that someone said) would be dismissed and discarded in light of what is at stake.

One example of hearsay:

“Some have insisted that the Voree Plates were forged by Strang. Isaac Scott, an ex-Strangite, claimed that Caleb Barnes, Strang's former law partner, said that he and Strang had fabricated them from a tea kettle belonging to Strang's father-in-law, as part of a land speculation scheme they had hatched.

According to Scott, Barnes and Strang "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.

Wingfield Watson, a High Priest in Strang's sect who knew Strang personally, vigorously challenged these allegations in an 1889 publication entitled The Prophetic Controversy #3.” – Wikipedia Isaac Scott, an ex-Strangite, was not one of Strang’s witnesses. So, accepting Isaac Scott’s hearsay about the witnesses confessing Strang and the plates were a fraud would be the equivalent of accepting a non-Book of Mormon witness ex-Mormon’s hearsay about one of the Book of Mormon Witnesses admitting that it’s all a hoax and fraud. LDS apologists cannot have their cake and eat it too by operating under a completely different set of standards and rules when making such claims about a competitor (James Strang and Strangites).

Until FAIR provides actual credible non-hearsay sources and evidence, their response means absolutely nothing and should be regarded as such. The evidence stands that there is no direct evidence that the Strang Witnesses ever denied their testimonies as given in the Book of the Law; even after being estranged from James Strang and his Church.


No Document of Actual Signatures

CES Letter says...

"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. 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."

FAIR Disagrees

FAIR says...
  • Incorrect:
    The printer’s manuscript is a copy of the original 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. 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

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.

We’re asked to put faith in a claim as opposed to being able to observe and analyze actual individual signatures written by actual individual witnesses. Without the original document, of course, there is no way of knowing with certainty whether the witnesses actually signed it. And, as explained below, subsequent accounts of two of the witnesses (Martin Harris and David Whitmer) conflict with key details of the account given in the Book of Mormon.

FAIR says...
  • Incorrect:
    The author claims that "every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver's own handwriting." This is incorrect, as the author fails to note that one of the witnesses signatures on the printer's manuscript is genuine: that of Oliver Cowdery himself.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

FAIR is correct. I corrected this oversight.

Okay, so we have Oliver’s signature. One witness out of a total of 11 witnesses (9%). All we have of the remaining 10 witnesses are in Oliver Cowdery’s own handwriting.

FAIR says...
  • Incorrect:
    The author fails 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

FAIR is correct. I updated the CES Letter to reflect this.

The same document (An Address to All Believers in Christ) that David Whitmer affirms his testimony of the Book of Mormon is also the same document in which that David Whitmer testifies:

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.’
– David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (promoting his Whitmerite sect)

If we’re going to accept David Whitmer’s testimony of the Book of Mormon in his An Address to All Believers in Christ, we have to also accept David’s other testimony, including that:

Most Latter-day Saints are unaware that David Whitmer was not a believing member of the LDS Church when he affirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon in 1887. He was a founding self-proclaimed Prophet/President of his own Mormon offshoot sect, Church of Christ (Whitmerites). Whitmer viewed Joseph Smith as a fallen and corrupt prophet. Whitmer did not accept Joseph’s revelations after the Book of Mormon (he rejected Doctrine and Covenants and other scriptures). He viewed Brigham Young and his sect in Utah as practicing the “evil” of polygamy and he did not see Brigham Young has having any authority or rightful succession to Joseph Smith.

FAIR says...
  • The claim that the witnesses somehow didn't agree with their testimony as it was printed in the Book of Mormon is nonsense. 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.
  • 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 human juggling – judge ye.
  • 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.
  • 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

This is incorrect because Martin Harris' later testimony conflicts with the details of the witness testimony in the Book of Mormon.

On March 25, 1838, Martin Harris testified publicly that he never saw or handled the physical records.

Martin Harris made conflicting statements and claims:

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

When Martin Harris was asked, “But did you see them [plates] with your natural, your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Martin answered, “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

David Whitmer said something quite similar. In his An Address to All Believers in Christ pamphlet, Whitmer referred to the incident as a “vision,” and he told an interviewer that he saw the plates while “in the spirit”:

“In June 1829, I saw the angel by the power of God…The angel appeared in the light…Between us and the angel there appeared a table, and there lay upon it the sword of Laban, the Ball of Directors, the Record, and interpreters. The angel took the Record, and turned the leaves, and showed it to us by the power of God. They were taken away by the angel to a cave, which we saw by the power of God while we were yet in the Spirit.”
– Letter from Edmund C. Briggs to Joseph Smith III, 4 June 1884.

“When asked about his vision, David Whitmer told RLDS member J.W. Chatburn in 1882: “These hands handled the plates, these eyes saw the angel, and these ears heard his voice.” In 1886 a newspaper correspondent interviewed Whitmer and wrote: “Mr. Whitmer describes every detail of the ‘vision’ with great precision and much fervency and insists that he handled and scrutinized the plates, and that the form and appearance of the strangely engraved characters were so impressed upon his member that he would never forget them.” Recall that when asked by Gurley if the three witnesses actually did “touch” the “real metal,” Whitmer responded, “We did not.” In other words, if you they handled them, it was in vision rather than in plain sight. Moyle said that Whitmer “repeated to me that he did see and handle the plates; that he did see and hear the angel” in a vision, but that he “did not handle the plates” physically.” - An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p.199-200

As mentioned previously, Whitmer never denied this part of his interview with Moyle when he reaffirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon. The question is not whether or not Whitmer denied his experience (he didn’t). The question is whether his experience was literal/physical or visionary/spiritual.


James Strang’s claims and Voree Plates Witnesses are distinctive and more impressive

CES Letter says...

"James Strang’s claims and Voree Plates Witnesses are distinctive and more impressive compared to the Book of Mormon Witnesses"

FAIR says...
  • Correct:
    We agree with the author that they were distinctive:
  1. One of Strang's witnesses, Samuel Graham, claimed that he had assisted Strang in the fabrication of the “Plates of Laban.” None of the Book of Mormon witnesses ever claimed to have assisted Joseph in creating a set of plates.

  2. None of Strang's witnesses claimed to have seen an angel who showed them the plates. Book of Mormon witnesses continued to assert that they had seen the angel and the plates even after they had disagreed with Joseph and left the Church.
  • Incorrect:
    With regard to Strang's witnesses being "more impressive," we suspect that the Book of Mormon witnesses claim of seeing an angel is more impressive than just about anything that the Strang witnesses claimed.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Once again, as in the previous James Strang section, FAIR offers zero support, sources, and evidence to back up their claims.

In fact, Daniel C. Peterson’s article states, “One source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies.” What FAIR and Peterson fail to tell their readers about this source is that this source also asserts that the Book of Mormon witnesses likewise repudiated their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. Apparently this is not a problem to these Mormon apologists since the “good” portions of this source work nicely with their agenda of “discrediting” the Strangite witnesses.

LDS apologists would immediately cry foul and demand evidence and sources to back up the above claims. Why then is FAIR operating under a completely different standard than what would be expected – even demanded – if the table was turned around?

Further, LDS apologists would not accept any evidence other than first accounts and affidavits/interviews from the witness himself making the claim. Hearsay be dismissed and discarded in light of what is at stake.

Accepting Isaac Scott’s hearsay about the witnesses confessing Strang and the plates were a fraud would be the equivalent of accepting a non-Book of Mormon witness ex-Mormon’s hearsay about one of the Book of Mormon Witnesses admitting that it’s all a hoax and fraud. LDS apologists cannot have their cake and eat it too by operating under a completely different set of standards and rules when making such claims about a competitor (James Strang and Strangites).

Until FAIR provides actual credible non-hearsay sources and evidence, their response means absolutely nothing and should be regarded as such. The evidence stands that there is no direct evidence that the Strang Witnesses ever denied their testimonies as given in the Book of the Law; even after being estranged from James Strang and his Church.


BOM Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to Smith or Whitmer

CES Letter says...

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

FAIR Agrees

FAIR says...
  • Correct:
    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.
    - Mark Twain, Roughing It, pages 107-115
  • Ad Hominem:
    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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

There is a reason why Mark Twain made fun of the fact that all of the witnesses excepting Martin Harris were related to each other by stating, “I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.”

They all knew and trusted each other. They were able to corroborate each other’s stories. A consistent witness from 11 individuals from 11 different and unrelated families would actually be credible.

If FAIR is unable to see the answer to their own question, “How, exactly, does being related to someone else who is viewing the same thing that you are make one less honest and reliable?” I would submit that FAIR resign their claim to any sort of impartiality or science. In this case, it’s not “being related to someone else” but “11 individuals – excepting Martin Harris – being related to each other by blood and marriage.”

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. Further, these two families consisted entirely of individuals who believed in folk magic, second sight, and treasure digging. They were extremely superstitious.

FAIR says...
  • 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Why wouldn’t God have sent angels to select eleven individuals not connected to Joseph Smith as witnesses? Indeed, why did God have the entire translation process done without showing the plates, only to call the same men as witnesses? FAIR's view that the men needed to be connected to Joseph shows they believe in a very limited God who "needs." He must not strain His powers to prove himself, or to reach beyond what mortal men could do. He must make it look in every way like a tight-knit group of con-artists. FAIR perhaps should explain why God would need to be limited to only people in and around Joseph.

It appears that FAIR believes that family members with personal incentive (including Martin Harris whose wife testified that her husband expected to financially gain from the sale of the copyright of the book of Mormon) are equal or better in witness to individually selected high-credibility, no personal incentive individuals that God could have selected.

I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if FAIR's response has merit.



In light of their superstitions and reputations

CES Letter says...

"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?"

FAIR says...
  • Ad Hominem: 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.
  • You can see that the author applies both of these definitions:
  1. The author's mention of "the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer" is meant to evoke feelings and prejudices that these men were in some sort of dishonest collusion due to their relationship to one another. What does the fact that they were related have to do with their ability to witness the existence of the plates?

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Again, we’re talking about credibility here, and taking into account the witnesses’ relationships to each other, as well as the witnesses willingness to believe in folk magic and treasure digging go towards those witnesses credibility.

Notice that FAIR does not counter or dispute the facts in my statement. Rather than directly addressing the facts, correct or point out the errors, FAIR chooses misdirection instead by again misapplying the ad hominem fallacy.

FAIR says...
  1. The author 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

"The witnesses, incidentally, had reputations for honesty."

This is false.

Contrary to FAIR’s attempt to portray the Book of Mormon witnesses as Abe Lincoln type men with “reputations for honesty,” these men did not have reputations for honesty, as explained below.

Martin Harris:

Joseph Smith denounced Martin Harris as “so far beneath contempt that to notice him would be too great a sacrifice for a gentleman to make” and that the Church exerted some restraint on him, but Martin “gave loose to all kinds of abominations, lying, cheating, swindling, and all kinds of debauchery.” – Elder’s Journal, August 1838

Further, here is some compelling testimony against Martin Harris, by two witnesses that knew him best:

Mrs. Abigail Harris, Martin Harris’ sister-in-law stated:

…Martin Harris and Lucy Harris, his wife, were at my house [early part of winter, 1828]. In conversation with the Mormonites, she [Lucy Harris] observed that she wished her husband would quit them, as she believed it all false and a delusion. To which I heard Mr. Harris reply: 'What if it is a lie; if you will let me alone I will make money out of it!' I was both an eye- and ear-witness of what has been above stated, which is now fresh in my memory, and I speak the truth and lie not, God being my witness.

Lucy Harris, wife of Martin Harris, stated:

Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge; for its effects on Martin Harris have been to make him more cross, turbulent and abusive to me. His whole object was to make money out of it. I will give a proof of this. One day at Peter Harris' house (Abigail Harris' husband) I told him he had better leave the company of the Smiths, as their religion was false. To this he replied, "If you would let me alone, I could make money out of it.' It is in vain for the Mormons to deny these facts, as they are well known to most of his former neighbors.

The testimony given by Martin’s own wife, Lucy, about Martin’s conduct and character is well worth reading starting from page 254 to page 257.

Martin has made conflicting statements throughout his life about his experience as a Book of Mormon witness. His earlier accounts painted a literal physical event. He then made conflicting statements testifying that the experience was not literal or physical but was rather viewed through his “spiritual eyes” or in a visionary manner. He then shifted gears again later in his life making the experience physical and literal again.

As mentioned previously, Martin had a reputation for extreme superstition and was generally known as an unstable, gullible, and inconsistent individual.

Mormon writers have conceded as much. In the Church’s Millennial Star it was noted that Martin “was filled with the rage and madness of a demon” and “one day he would be one thing, and another day another thing.” Martin “became partially deranged or shattered, as many believed, flying from one thing to another, as if reason and common sense were thrown off their balance.”

The article continues on with Martin’s dishonesty and immoral and inconsistent character:

You can see the Millenial Star article yourself on BYU’s website here, No. 8 November 15, 1846, Sketches of Notorious Characters, p. 124-125.

Martin was a Church hopper. He joined at least 5 churches before he joined Mormonism. He joined numerous others after Joseph’s death, including offshoot James Strang’s sect. Martin was a follower of another self-proclaimed Mormon prophet by the name of Gladden Bishop. Like Strang, Bishop claimed to have plates, Urim and Thummim, and that he was receiving revelation from the Lord. Martin was one of Gladden Bishop’s witnesses testifying that Bishop’s claims were true.

As I’ve stated in the CES Letter:

If someone testified of some strange spiritual encounter he had, but he also told you that 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
  • interpreted simple things like a flickering of a candle as a sign of the devil
  • had a creature appearing on his chest that no one else could see
…would you believe his claims? Or would you call the nearest mental hospital?

With inconsistency, conflict of interest, magical thinking, and superstition like this, exactly what credibility does Martin Harris have and why should I believe him?

Oliver Cowdery:

Let’s take a look at what the Prophet Joseph Smith – a very close associate of Oliver Cowdery – really had to say about Oliver’s (and three other Book of Mormon Witnesses) integrity and character:

Source: History of the Church, Vol. 3, Chapter 15, p.231

Oliver was excommunicated in 1838 for “seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith, Jun., by falsely insinuating [lying] that he was guilty of adultery” and “for dishonestly retaining notes after they had been paid”, and other sins. – History of the Church, Vol. 3, Ch. 2, p.16

President Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith’s first counselor in the First Presidency and also a once close associate of Oliver Cowdery, did not mince words about what he really thought about Oliver and his character and integrity, along with Book of Mormon Witness David Whitmer.

The following November 1838 letter was written by Rigdon and signed by some 84 Mormons on the “lying, thieving, counterfeiting” Oliver Cowdery:

"Oliver stole the property…like criminals (which indeed you were), you appealed to our beloved presidents, Joseph Smith, jr. and Sidney Rigdon, men whose characters you had endeavored to destroy by every artifice you could invent, not even the basest lying excepted;…but notwithstanding all your scandalous attacks…by secret efforts, continued to practice your iniquity...we design this paper to be published to the world, we will give an epitome of your scandalous conduct and treachery for the last two years. We wish to remind you, that Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer…by their testimony which they gave concerning the plates of the Book of Mormon, that they were shown to them by an angel, which testimony we believe, now, as much as before you had so scandalously disgraced it. You commenced your wickedness by heading a party to disturb the worship of the saints in the first day of the week, and made the house of the Lord, in Kirtland, to be a scene of abuse and slander.

The saints in Kirtland, having elected Oliver Cowdery to be a justice of the peace, he used the power of that office to take their most sacred rights from them, and that contrary to law.

Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer…united with a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs in the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property, by every art and stratagem which wickedness could invent, using the influence of the vilest persecutions to bring vexatious law suits, villainous prosecutions, and even stealing not excepted. In the midst of this career, for fear the saints would seek redress at their hands, they breathed out threatenings of mobs, and actually made attempts with their gang to bring mobs upon them. Oliver Cowdery and his gang (such of them as belonged to the church) were called to an account by the church for their iniquity. They confessed repentance, and were against restored to the church; but the very first opportunity they were again practicing their former course. During the full career of Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer’s bogus money business, it got abroad into the world that they were engaged in it, and several gentlemen were preparing to commence a prosecution against Cowdery; he, finding it out, took with him Lyman E. Johnson, and fled to Far West with their families; Cowdery stealing property, and bringing it with him…Shortly after Cowdery…left Kirtland for Far West…on whose arrival a general system of slander and abuse was commenced by you all, for the purpose of destroying the characters of certain individuals…Neither were you content with slandering and vilifying here, but you kept up a continual correspondence with your gang of marauders in Kirtland, encouraging them to go on with their iniquity; which they did to perfection, by swearing falsely to injure the character and property of innocent men; stealing, cheating, lying; instituting vexatious lawsuits; selling bogus money, and also, stones and sand for bogus; in which nefarious business, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmar, and Lyman E. Johnson, were engaged while you were there. You set up a nasty, dirty, pettifogger’s office, pretending to be judges of the law….you stirred up men of weak minds to prosecute one another, for the vile purpose of getting a fee for pettifogging from one of them. You have also been threatening continually to enter into a general system of prosecuting, determinded, as you said, to pick a falw in the the itles of those who have bought city lots and built upon them – not that you can do any thing but cause vexatious lawsuits.

And, amongst the most monstrious of all your abominations, we have evidence (which, when called upon, we can produce)…We have evidence of a very strong character, that I you are at this time engaged with a gang of counterfeiters, coiners, and blacklegs, as some of those characters have lately visited our city from Kirtland…” – February 15, 1841 Letter and Testimony, p. 6-9

The above letter and testimony written by President Sidney Rigdon and signed by some 84 Mormons was presented by Sidney Rigdon as testimony before the Fifth Judicial District of State of Missouri on November 12, 1838 in the trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and others, for high treason and other crimes against the State.

So, we have the Prophet Joseph Smith and his first counselor in the First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon – both once close associates of Oliver Cowdery – testifying that Oliver was a lying, thieving, counterfeiting man who was “united with a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs in the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property, by every art and stratagem which wickedness could invent…”

It is an understatement – to say the least – that the Prophet Joseph Smith and his first counselor, President Sidney Rigdon, along with the Church, did not think Oliver Cowdery (and David Whitmer) was an honest man.

David Whitmer:

Joseph Smith was particularly contemptuous of David Whitmer. In the History of the Church, the Prophet referred to Whitmer as “a dumb ass.” Joseph said:

This poor man [William McLellin] who professes to be much of a prophet, has no other dumb ass to ride but David Whitmer…and this ass…brays out cursings instead of blessings. Poor ass! Whoever lives to see it, will see him and his rider perish like those who perished in the gainsayings of Korah, or after the same condemnation. – History of the Church, Vol. 3, Ch. 15, p. 228

As previously noted, Whitmer claimed to have had a revelation in which God Himself, under His own voice from the heavens, told Whitmer in 1838 to apostatize from the “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” and that this revelation was as valid and true as his testimony of the Book of Mormon.

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s opinion of the Three Witnesses was succinctly stated when he wrote:

Such characters as…John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them. – History of the Church, Vol. 3, Ch. 15, p. 232

If these “honest men” are really honest and credible then we should accept as truth the following beliefs and claims as well:

  • Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet and many of the revelations he gave should be discarded. (David Whitmer, Prophet and founder of Whitmerite sect)
  • God spoke with His own voice to Whitmer telling Whitmer to apostatize from His true Church. (David Whitmer)
  • Rejection of Doctrine and Covenants and other post Book of Mormon scripture (David Whitmer)
  • Claim to be a new Prophet over a new Church (David Whitmer)
  • Affirmed that his Church (Church of Christ – Whitmerites) was the only true Church and denounced the other branches of the Latter-day Saint movement. (David Whitmer)
  • Polygamy “is a great evil, shocking to the moral sense…it is of man and not God, and is especially forbidden in the Book of Mormon itself.” (David Whitmer)
  • Nothing about John the Baptist or Priesthood Restoration until 1834 – four years after Church was established. (David Whitmer)
  • Conversed with Jesus who took the form of a deer (Martin Harris)
  • Saw the devil with his four feet and donkey head (Martin Harris)
  • Chipped off a chunk of a stone box that would mysteriously move beneath the ground to avoid capture (Martin Harris)
  • Interpreted simple things like a flickering of a candle as a sign of the devil (Martin Harris)
  • Had a creature appearing on his chest that no one else could see (Martin Harris)
  • Self-proclaimed Mormon prophet James Strang and his claims are true. (Martin Harris)
  • Self-proclaimed Mormon offshoot prophet Gladden Bishop’s claims are true. (Martin Harris)
  • He had as much evidence for the Shakers’ A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book as he had for the Book of Mormon (The Braden and Kelly Debate, p.173) (Martin Harris)
  • Belief in treasure hunting, money digging, magical divining rods, and magical rocks in hats. (David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris)
  • Crazy prophecy: “I do hereby assert and declare that in four years from the date hereof, every sectarian and religious denomination in the United States shall be broken down, and every Christian shall be gathered unto the Mormonites, and the rest of the human race shall perish. If these things do not take place, I will hereby consent to have my hand separated from my body.” - Joseph Smith, The prophet his family and friends, p.197 (Martin Harris)
  • During the summer of 1837, while in Kirtland, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver pledged their new loyalty to a prophetess who used a black seer stone and danced herself into ‘trances.’ (Biographical Sketches, Lucy Mack Smith, p.211-213)

    Maybe we should believe in this Prophetess with a black seer stone if we are to believe in these 3 witnesses?

The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is seeing
the BOM Witnesses as empirical, rational, 21st century men

CES Letter says...

"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"

FAIR Disagrees

FAIR says...
  • Incorrect:
    Latter-day Saints do not view the Book of Mormon witnesses as "empirical, rational, twenty-first century men." They view them as honest, rational, nineteenth-century men.
  • Merriam-Webster defines empirical as: "originating in or based on observation or experience." The 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.
  • To imply that these nineteenth-century men were not empirical or rational because they believed in things that the author considers absurd is a broad generalization of anyone living in the nineteenth century.
  • Ad Hominem: Furthermore, 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Latter-day Saints do not view the Book of Mormon witnesses as ‘empirical, rational, twenty-first century men.’ They view them as honest, rational, nineteenth-century men.

FAIR’s nitpicking aside, the point I was driving home was one that many 21st century Mormons do not realize: The culture in 19th century New England was one of widespread and “prevalent” superstition, folk magic, seer stones, divining rods, second sight, treasures buried in hills, and so on. It is in this environment and culture that the Church was conceived and birthed in.

This is confirmed by the following 1825 Palmyra Wayne Sentinel newspaper passage:

We are sorry to observe, even in this enlightened age, so prevalent a disposition to credit the accounts of the marvellous. Even the frightful stories of money being hid under the surface of the earth, and enchanted by the Devil or Robert Kidd (Captain Kidd), are received by many of our respectable fellow citizens as truths. – Wayne Sentinel, Palmyra, New York, February 16, 1825

We see examples of this environment and culture in Church history and LDS scriptures:

  • Joseph’s use of a seer stone in a hat for both treasure digging activities and “translating” the Book of Mormon.
  • Oliver Cowdery’s use of a divining rod for translating, which was mentioned in Section 7 of the Book of Commandments and Doctrine and Covenants 8 (wording was changed and obfuscated).
  • Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses, claimed to have had a series of revelations through a black seer stone. Not liking the competition, Joseph announced that these revelations were of the devil and Page agreed to discard the stone. We see this playing out in Doctrine and Covenants 28:11:
  1. And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him;

It is said that the apostasy of some early Mormons can be traced to Joseph’s distancing from the use of seer stones.

When Joseph arrived in Fayette in September, the Whitmers and Cowdery were studying the revelations of Hiram Page, the husband of David Whitmer’s sister Catherine. He had a “roll of papers,” as Newel Knight reported it, full of revelations through a stone. Joseph had put aside his seerstone after completing the Book of Mormon, and David Whitmer thought this a huge mistake. Only the seerstone revelations received through June 1829 were trustworthy in Whitmer’s view. He may have believe Page because he used a stone when Joseph had stopped…Joseph recognized the danger of the competing revelations.” – Rough Stone Rolling, p.121

  • During the summer of 1837, while in Kirtland, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver pledged their new loyalty to a prophetess who used a black seer stone and danced herself into ‘trances.’ (Biographical Sketches, Lucy Mack Smith, p.211-213)
  • Joseph briefly brings up Josiah Stowel and "money digging" in his history. Josiah Stowel's nephew took Joseph to court on complaint of being a "disorderly person and an imposter."
  • All of Book of Mormon Witnesses and early Church leaders were treasure hunters who believed in and dabbled with folk magic and instruments (seer stones, divining rods, etc.)
I have added clarity to the paragraph in the CES Letter to better convey my point:

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. They have ignored the peculiarities of their worldview, and by so doing, they misunderstand their experiences as witnesses.


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

CES Letter says...

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

FAIR says...
  • 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Gee, I wonder why:

vs.

Those who make much of this fact certainly cannot be blamed, given the starkly different versions of the translation process and that the Church has taught and is teaching the lie of the former instead of the truth of the latter.

LDS historian and scholar Richard Bushman concurs that the Church is less than honest about this:

I will begin by saying that we still have pictures on our Ward bulletin boards of Joseph Smith with the Gold Plates in front of him. That has become an irksome point and I think it is something the church should pay attention to. Because anyone who studies the history knows that is not what happened. There is no church historian who says that is what happened and yet it is being propagated by the church and it feeds into the notion that the church is trying to cover up embarrassing episodes and is sort of prettifying its own history.

So I think we should just stop that immediately. I am not sure we need a lot of pictures of Joseph looking into his hat, but we certainly should tell our children that is how it worked. It’s weird. It’s a weird picture. It implies it’s like darkening a room when we show slides. It implies that there is an image appearing in that stone and the light would make it more difficult to see that image. So, that implies a translation that’s a reading and so gives a little clue about the whole translation process. It also raises the strange question, what in the world are the plates for? Why do we need them on the table if they are just wrapped up into a cloth while he looks into a seer stone?

- Richard Bushman, LDS Scholar, FAIR Podcast, Episode 3: Richard L. Bushman p.1, 47:25
FAIR says...
  • 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. 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?
  • 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.

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

Yes, FAIR…let us “suppose that Joseph ‘used the plates’.” After all, the default Chapel Mormon teaching and belief is that Joseph actually used gold plates to translate the Book of Mormon.

Note: FAIR deleted the following FAIR response:
"Exactly how does one think that Joseph used the plates in the translation?"

Maybe like this?

"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. 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?"

Except one problem: Joseph did not use the Nephite interpreters (also called “Urim and Thummim”) for translating the Book of Mormon we have today. They were removed from Joseph upon the loss of the 116 pages. The “seer stone” that Joseph used in his hat? Joseph found it in his neighbor’s (Willard Chase) well in 1822 when he was a treasure hunter before Moroni even showed up in his room a year later. This was the same common stone Joseph used to con his customers out of their money in his treasure digging days by telling them where they could “find” buried treasure.

Here’s what Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer said about the interpreters:

"[H]e used a stone called a “Seers stone,” the “Interpreters” having been taken away from him because of transgression. The “Interpreters” were taken from Joseph after he allowed Martin Harris to carry away the 116 pages of Ms [manuscript] of the Book of Mormon as a punishment, but he was allowed to go on and translate by use of a “Seers stone” which he had, and which he placed in a hat into which he buried his face, stating to me and others that the original character appeared upon parchment and under it the translation in English." – RLDS Saints' Herald 1885 Interview with Zenas H. Gurley

“The plates were never restored to Joseph – nor the spectacles, but a different Urim & Thummim – one oval or kidney-shaped – a seer’s stone, which he pisced in his hat, and, face in hat, he would see character and translation on the stone.” – Interview with Chicago Tribune, December 7, 1885.

Here's what William E. McLellin said:

After the 116 pages were lost Joseph translated the rest of the Book of Mormon with a stone – RLDS Saints’ Herald, August 1, 1872: 473

Here's what Joseph's wife, Emma, said:

Now the first that my husband translated was translated by the use of Urim and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost. After that he used a small stone, not exactly black, but was rather a dark color...
– Unpublished letter of Emma Smith Bidamon to Mrs. George W. Pilgrim, March 27, 1870, RLDS Archives P 4 F 20.

FAIR says...
  • 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.
  • 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.

Quotes to consider

  • Daniel C. Peterson, "Not So Easily Dismissed: Some Facts for Which Counterexplanations of the Book of Mormon Will Need to Account,":

    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?

FAIR's above response can be found on FAIR's website here.



Jeremy's Response to FAIR

What a contrast from Chapel Mormonism!

Ancient prophets went through all that effort of making, engraving, compiling, abridging, preserving, hiding, and transporting gold plates so that the gold plates would serve as a “maturing” and “building character” exercise for Joseph Smith, to “provide as solid evidence” to Joseph’s 19th century New England treasure hunting magical thinking family and friends, and for Martin Harris to copy characters for Charles Anthon (which story has serious holes and problems). In other words, FAIR acknowledges and admits that the gold plates were not used for translating the Book of Mormon as Chapel Mormonism teaches: an ancient record abridged by an ancient prophet Mormon which contained “reformed Egyptian” writings on the gold plates in which – as the above graphics demonstrates – Joseph used to translate into English as the Book of Mormon.

As the above picture illustrates, it is ironic that God has to kill a drunken and immobile Laban to retrieve plates but that this same omnipotent god is able to get the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith through his common rock in a common hat. The Mormon God shows us that he doesn't need plates if Joseph can pull it out of his hat. Unfortunately, Nephi didn't own a "magical" rock that he could put in a hat like Joseph did and therefore Nephi was commanded to kill Laban.

LDS historian and scholar Richard Bushman:

It also raises the strange question, what in the world are the plates for? Why do we need them on the table if they are just wrapped up into a cloth while he looks into a seer stone? - FAIR Podcast, Episode 3: Richard L. Bushman p.1, 47:25

I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether or not they believe FAIR’s version of Mormonism in that the Mormon god and ancient prophets went through all of that trouble for gold plates so that they could be used as a “character building” boot camp for Joseph and "solid evidence" for Joseph’s magical-thinking-treasure-hunting Mormon family and friends.



"Debunking" Table of Contents




Important Note

Witnesses Last Updated: 4.6.14

My above response is based on FAIR's 12.10.2013 Witnesses answers.



About the Author

Born and raised in Southern California, Jeremy is a seventh generation Mormon of Pioneer heritage who reached every Mormon youth milestone. An Eagle Scout, Returned Missionary, BYU alumnus, Jeremy was married in the San Diego Temple with expectations and plans of living Mormonism for the rest of his life.

In February 2012, Jeremy experienced an awakening to the LDS Church's truth crisis, which subsequently led to a faith transition that summer. In the spring of 2013, Jeremy was approached and asked by a CES Director to share his questions and concerns about the LDS Church's origins, history, and current practices. In response, Jeremy wrote what later became publicly known as the CES Letter (originally titled Letter to a CES Director).

The CES Director responded that he read the "very well written" letter and that he would provide Jeremy with a response. No response ever came.

“I believe that members and investigators deserve to have all of the facts and information on the table, to be able to make a fully-informed and balanced decision as to whether or not they want to commit their hearts, minds, time, talents, income, and lives to Mormonism.”

Jeremy T. Runnells


Interview with Mormon Stories

Part 1 On Growing Up Mormon and the Genesis of the CES Letter 
Part 2 Jeremy Discusses the CES Letter in Detail 
Part 3 Rapid Firing Round, Reaction to the Letter 

Debunking

Several unofficial Mormon apologists, including FairMormon, have provided responses to CES Letter:

Jeremy's response to FairMormon:

The only official response, to date, is the series of recent essays by the LDS Church, which is available on the Church’s own lds.org website.

A comprehensive critique of each essay is available here on MormonThink.com.

Jeremy’s rebuttals to other Mormon apologist arguments:

A Zombie’s Reflections on That Mormon Apologist’s Reflections

Jeremy’s rebuttal to Daniel C. Peterson’s FairMormon Some Reflections on That Letter to a CES Director presentation.

The Book of Abraham: “Except for Those Willfully Blind, the Case is Closed”

Jeremy’s rebuttal to Brian M. Hauglid’s Jeremy Runnells and the Book of Abraham essay.

The Sky is Falling – Part 1

Jeremy’s rebuttal to FairMormon’s Kevin Christensen’s Eye of the Beholder essay.