The Return of Oliver Cowdery

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Opening paragraph of entire article written by Scott H. Faulring:

“On Sunday, 12 November 1848, Apostle Orson Hyde stepped into the cool waters of Mosquito Creek1 near Council Bluffs, Iowa, and took Mormonism’s estranged Second Elder by the hand to rebaptize him. Oliver Cowdery, renowned as one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon and one of six founding members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had spent ten and a half years outside the church after his April 1838 excommunication.

Later that autumn day in 1848, Elder Hyde, president of the Quorum of Twelve and the church’s presiding official at Kanesville-Council Bluffs, laid hands upon Oliver’s head confirming him back into church membership and reordaining him an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. 2 Cowdery’s rebaptism culminated six years of desire on his part and protracted efforts encouraged by the Mormon leadership to bring about his sought-after, eagerly anticipated reconciliation.”

Critics of the 3 witnesses (especially of Martin’s account)

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Before we get to the critics, let’s keep the criticisms in perspective.  The witnesses are direct witnesses.  To favor the critics’ testimonies — whom most current LDS critics don’t know a thing about — is absurd.  It shows tremendous bias.  For an attorney to withhold exculpatory, direct evidence and to favor hearsay (2nd-hand account) or even anonymous claims puts such an attorney in jeopardy of sanction in court.

 

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3 Witnesses:  saw and heard an angel.  The angel held the Gold Plates, flipped through the pages, called David by name, and testified.  The three witnesses, additionally, observed a table on which rested many ancient artifacts:  Gold Plates, Brass Plates, other plates, Liahona, Sword of Laban, and interpreters (seer stones).  These 3 witnesses were David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris.

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8 witnesses:  saw, held, and hefted the Gold Plates; flipped through the metal pages; and noted the engravings on the pages.   The plates were set on a stump. The eight men reported the sealed portion and the three D-shaped rings.  The eight saw the plates 1-2 days after the 3 witnesses saw the angel and objects.  These eight were Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Smith.

Richard L. Anderson (Harvard Law graduate & Berkeley PhD) is a leading authority on the Book of Mormon witnesses.  As an attorney, he understood the value of witnesses.  During Richard’s study of these witnesses, he collected documents with over 200 positive and affirming statements from the 11 witnesses.

The three witnesses:  30 interviews or reports of contact w/ Oliver Cowdery, minimum of 70 with David Whitmer, and about 50 with Martin Harris.  The eight witnesses shared up to 60 reports, affirming their experiences holding and evaluating the Gold Plates.

In contrast, a very small number of records critical to the witnesses’ testimony exist (8 to 10 total).   8-10 vs. 200.   So, around 5% of the total records relative to the witnesses argue that the witnesses made it all up.  Anderson shows how these critics — 1 named Stephen Burnett was recently excommunicated and hostile to the Church — take the witnesses’ stories out of context, misreport, and otherwise claim the witnesses were not credible.  Richard discusses the topic  and critics below.

 

Now we’ll shift to the criticisms of the Book of Mormon witnesses.  We’ll start with Steven Burnett.  At one point a very faithful member of the Church.  In fact, he’s name in D & C 80:

Section 80

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet to Stephen Burnett, at Hiram, Ohio, March 7, 1832.

1–5, Stephen Burnett and Eden Smith are called to preach in whatever place they choose.

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice.

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Stephen is mentioned again in D & C 75:35.  23–36, Families of missionaries are to receive help from the Church.

35 And also my servant Ruggles Eames and my servant Stephen Burnett;

Minutes of a general Conference held at the dwelling of br. Serenes Burnet[t] in the Town of Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, October 25, 1831.

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Elder David Bendar referenced Stephen Burnett many times in a 2017 General Conference talk, “Called to the Work“.

Section 80 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a record of a mission call to Stephen Burnett extended by the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1832. Studying this call to Brother Burnett can help us to (1) understand more clearly the distinction between being “called to the work” as a missionary and “assigned to labor” in a particular place and (2) appreciate more completely our individual and divinely appointed responsibility to proclaim the gospel.

Verse 1 of this section is a call to serve: “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice.”3

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Interestingly, verse 2 informs Brother Burnett about his assigned missionary companion: “And inasmuch as you desire a companion, I will give unto you my servant Eden Smith.”4

Verse 3 indicates where these two missionaries are to labor: “Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.”5

I do not believe that the phrase “it mattereth not” as used by the Lord in this scripture suggests that He does not care where His servants labor. In fact, He cares deeply. But because the work of preaching the gospel is the Lord’s work, He inspires, guides, and directs His authorized servants. As missionaries strive to be ever more worthy and capable instruments in His hands and do their best to fulfill faithfully their duties, then with His help they “cannot go amiss”—wherever they serve. Perhaps one of the lessons the Savior is teaching us in this revelation is that an assignment to labor in a specific place is essential and important but secondary to a call to the work.

The next verse highlights important qualifications for all missionaries: “Therefore, declare the things which ye have heard, and verily believe, and know to be true.6

The final verse reminds Brother Burnett and all of us from whom a call to serve truly comes: “Behold, this is the will of him who hath called you, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ. Amen.”7

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In 1838, Steven lost property in Independence and then made (conflated, false) statements about Martin, suggesting Martin never saw the plates. Prior to that (loss of faith and property in Independence) Burnett never would have made such statements, as he was a believing Latter-day Saint.

Stephen Harper discusses the witnesses, Stephen Burnett, and others:

As an early convert in Ohio, Stephen Burnett felt the Holy Spirit and a desire to take the gospel to his relatives. He led his parents into the Church and responded successfully to revealed mission calls (see D&C 75:35; 80). He “was the first one that sounded the glad tidings of the everlasting gospel” in Dalton, New Hampshire.[28]

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But by 1838 Burnett felt completely disillusioned. He felt he had tried but failed to regain the Holy Spirit. Finally he “proclaimed all revelation lies” and left the Church.[29] Burnett wrote candidly to Lyman Johnson, explaining his decisions. “My heart is sickened within me when I reflect upon the manner in which we with many of this Church have been led & the losses which we have sustained all by means of two men in whom we placed implicit confidence,” Burnett wrote, referring to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. He felt that Joseph had used his influence for financial gain and had prophesied lies. He continued his compelling story:

I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it—lo[a]th to give it up—but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in a public congregation 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 sapped & the entire superstructure fell [in] a heap of ruins, I therefore three week[s] since in the Stone Chapel gave a full history of the church since I became acquainted with it, the false preaching & prophecying of Joseph together with the reasons why I took the course which I was resolved to do, and renounced the Book of Mormon with the whole scene of lying and deception practiced by J. S & S. R in this church, believing as I verily do, that it is all a wicked deception palmed upon us unawares[.] I was followed by W. Par[r]ish Luke Johnson & John Boynton all of who concurred with me, 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.[30]

Burnett gave us a rich metaphor by describing his faith as a building whose foundation had been shattered, leaving only a heap of ruins. Those who share his experience know exactly what he means. One strategy of coping with the devastating loss is to pull what remains from the heap of ruins and try to rebuild something sensible. Burnett and others since have dug into the pile of statements by and about the Book of Mormon witnesses and fashioned an alternative way to interpret the testimonies of the eleven eyewitnesses. Those whose faith in their own spiritual experiences has been shattered doubt that the witnesses had authentic spiritual experiences either, and therefore seek alternative explanations for the testimonies of the witnesses. Acknowledging that “Harris and others still . . . believe the Book of Mormon,”

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

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

when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel…renounced the Book of Mormon…after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was…[1]

(image below of Emma feeling plates wrapped in a cloth.  Emma never witnessed the plates.  Harris didn’t either until 1829.)

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

The comment about hefting the plates repeatedly while they were covered by a cloth refers to the period of time when he was assisting Joseph Smith in the translation – a time during which Harris was not allowed to view the plates. What is missing from Burnett’s account is any mention of Harris stating that he saw the plates as one of the Three Witnesses.

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For years after Harris is said to have made the comment related by Burnett, he used clear language to assert that he had actually seen the plates. For example, Martin Harris said in the presence of 12-year-old William Glenn:

Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.[2]

Harris told Robert Aveson,

It is not a mere belief, but is a matter of knowledge. I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel, and he showed them unto me.[3]

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

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting that he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when he was asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: ‘Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.’[4]

These statements are much clearer regarding Martin’s experience with the place than Burnett’s account of him claiming to have seen the plates while they were covered as a “city through a mountain”.  Critics dismiss direct evidence in favor of hearsay.

 

 
Another fellow who’s on record dismissing Martin’s account is a Palmyra pastor, John Clark, who considered Joseph a fraud.  The problem with Clark’s account is that he never interviewed Martin. Instead, Clark’s statements dismissing Martin got into the historical record, despite being 3rd hand.
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Really, you ask? Really. Clark never heard Martin. Not 1st hand. Neither did Clark hear from the person who supposedly heard the account from Martin. Not 2nd hand. Clark claims to have heard from the person who heard from the person who heard from Martin. 3rd hand. However, worse than that is that the 3rd-hand individual isn’t named. He or she is anonymous. Hummmm. Lots of credibility to this charge of Martin’s denial?  Nope.
 
In fact, such a pastor would have lots of motive to distort the record. It seems he did just that, knowingly or unknowingly.
 
Here’s the dialogue that ended up in the historical record: Did Martin Harris tell people that he did not see the plates with his natural eyes, but rather the “eye of faith”?
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A former pastor, John A. Clark, said that a “gentleman in Palmyra” told him that Harris said that he saw the plates with the “eye of faith”
 
John A. Clark, a former pastor who considered Joseph Smith a fraud and the Book of Mormon “an imposture,” states,
 
To know how much this testimony [of three witnesses] is worth I will state one fact. A gentleman in Palmyra, bred to the law, a professor of religion, and of undoubted veracity told me that on one occasion, he appealed to Harris and asked him directly,-”Did you see those plates?” Harris replied, he did.
 
“Did you see the plates, and the engraving on them with your bodily eyes?” Harris replied, “Yes, I saw them with my eyes,-they were shown unto me by the power of God and not of man.”
 
“But did you see them with your natural,-your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Harris replied,-”Why I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see any thing around me,-though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.[1]
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John A. Clark did not interview Martin Harris – he was repeating what someone else told him.  The source cited is “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.
 
However, rather than being an interview between Clark and Harris, as implied by the title of reference work using in the citation, Clark’s actual statement clearly says that he received his information from a “gentleman in Palmyra…a professor of religion,” who said that he had talked with Harris. This is not an interview between Clark and Harris.
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Larry E. Morris notes that the “claim that ‘Harris told John A. Clark’ is not accurate. This is not secondhand testimony but third-hand—’he said that he said that he said.’….As if that weren’t enough, Clark does not name his source—making it impossible to judge that person’s honesty or reliability. What we have is a third-hand, anonymous account of what Martin Harris supposedly said.” (Larry E. Morris, FARMS Review, Vol. 15, Issue 1.)

Clark’s account mixes elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as one of the Three Witnesses and portrays Harris as contradicting himself

The two elements that are mixed together in Clark’s account are the following:

  1. Martin Harris said that he only saw the plates through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his experience as a witness.
  2. Martin Harris saw the plates uncovered as one of the three witnesses.

Note also that the date assigned to these comments places them prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, yet Clark’s statement appears to include elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as a witness. Harris “saw them” with his eyes when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, but he only saw them through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his being a witness. Clark’s third-hand hostile relation of another hostile source, makes no distinction between these events, and instead portrays Harris as contradicting himself.

When Martin Harris said that he had seen the angel and the plates with his “spiritual eyes” or with an “eye of faith” he may have simply been employing some scriptural language that he was familiar with. Such statements do not mean that the angel and the plates were imaginary, hallucinatory, or just an inner mental image—the earliest accounts of Martin Harris’ testimony makes the literal nature of the experience unmistakable.

Rather than being hallucinatory or “merely” spiritual, Martin claimed that the plates and angel were seen by physical eyes that had been enhanced by the power of God to view more objects than a mortal could normally see (cf. DC 76:12DC 67:10-13).

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Joseph Smith was an eyewitness to what Martin Harris said at the exact moment that the manifestation took place. He reported that Martin’s words were: “Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld“. [6] Another eyewitness, named Alma Jensen, saw Martin Harris point to his physical eyes while testifying that he had seen both the angel and the plates. [7]

Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to a skeptical author in November 1829, and spoke for both himself and Harris on the question of whether there was some trickery or “juggling” at work:

“It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye“.[8]

Hypnosis and the Golden Plates

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Critics suggest that Joseph Smith hypnotized or in some other way (2nd sight is often offered) influenced the witnesses.  That is, in their view the 11+ witnesses never saw the Golden Plates.  Instead, critics suggest Joseph either hypnotized or convinced them they saw something that they really never did.  The video below is interesting.

These people in the video below appear to be in a hypnotic state.  However, could these people have seen Golden Plates — while in a hypnotic sleep — and reported about it?

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Most people are not susceptible to hypnosis.  Only about 5-10% are highly susceptible.  The witnesses were not hypnotized.  Lots of evidence demonstrates otherwise.

From the video introduction:

“Most people think hypnosis is some kind of trick. Religion calls it sinful.

Science has questioned its very existence. Hypnotist, Laughologist and acclaimed Filmmaker Albert Nerenberg, asks: What happens if you run a series of standard hypnotic inductions on a large crowd such as the audience at TEDXQueens.

Is hypnosis fake? Let’s find out. The results are stunning. This comical presentation may finally provide a street science explanation for how hypnosis actually works.”

 

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From a counseling page on hypnosis:

Can hypnosis make me do something against my will?

Absolutely not! If you have ever seen a stage hypnotist, he or she appears to make people do strange things while hypnotized. Stage hypnosis, however, is entertainment and showmanship is a major factor. The truth is that participating subjects are volunteers who desire to be part of the show. A hypnotist cannot make anyone act in a way that is contrary to the person’s own values, beliefs or moral standards.

What if I don’t wake up?

No one has ever been stuck in a terminal state of hypnosis. It simply cannot happen. Although hypnosis may resemble sleep, it is a completely different state, psychologically and physically. If the hypnotist left the room, the subject would eventually either fall asleep or break the hypnotic state naturally. In fact, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

Book of Mormon Witnesses: 3, 8, and others

From the fun-loving, light-hearted 3 Mormons:

To debunk common comparisons with Bigfoot (nobody has

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Critics frequently compare LDS witnesses to those who claim to see the virgin Mary (or Bigfoot or still others).  Similar?  Nope.

Do 3 people see Mary or Bigfoot simultaneously?  Hear Mary’s voice together?  Videotape Bigfoot in daylight hours? See a table full of Catholic relics, shown to the 3 one by one? Then hear God command them to testify?

No.  From my experience, Bigfoot and Mary witnesses are similar: no lasting evidence.  And testimonies almost always wilt under cross-examination or sustained questioning.

Ditto for the testimony of 8 witnesses.  Did any recent Mary sitings include 8 people holding some of the same Mary objects also seen by the 3?

If Catholics recorded and for the rest of their lives testified of such a scenario it would be much easier to believe in Mary visitations.

Testimony of the 3 Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery

David Whitmer

Martin Harris

 

Testimony of the 8 Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer

Jacob Whitmer

Peter Whitmer, Jun.

John Whitmer

Hiram Page

Joseph Smith, Sen.

Hyrum Smith

Samuel H. Smith

Brett McDonald at LDS Truth Claims YouTube channel created these videos relative to the witnesses.  Brett has done his homework.

Brian Hales debunks the anti-Mormon claims against the Book of Mormon witnesses.

Part II:

Did the witnesses leave the church?  Yes.  Deny their testimony?  No.

 

Did the 3 and 8 witnesses only saw plates through a pillow? Why context matters and who is William Smith (Joseph’s complex younger brother)?

A critic just posted a wildly out-of-context and false statement in an online discussion.  An accusation is simple to make, but often takes much time to research and refute.  Here’s what the critic stated:

They claimed to see the plates in a visionary state. Some held them through a pillow, etc. They didn’t claim to actually physically hold them.

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Here’s my response after doing lots of looking around:

I’ll read from you link (he referenced a critical source, which I’ve seen before). Do you ever quote the 3 or 8 witnesses themselves? They didn’t change their stories. Why use other sources? Should I listen to you or go to your detractors or others to understand your side of the story?

Below is a link to quotes from William Smith (JS’s younger brother) the critics often use to claim that the Book of Mormon witnesses only saw the plates through a frock. The issue here is that it’s a fact William Smith never saw the plates. That is because he wasn’t one of the 3 or 8 witnesses. Instead, William only held the plates while they were covered in a frock — soon after Joseph brought the plates down from the hill.

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So, William wasn’t lying. He simply reported the truth: he held them covered (within a frock) during the first few months they were in Joseph’s possession in Palmyra (1827).  But he wasn’t speaking for the experience of others.  He wasn’t speaking for the 3 and 8 witnesses.
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Indeed, William’s testimony was very limited. He was not one of the 3 witnesses who saw the angel along with plates (golden and brass), Liahona, Sword of Laban, etc. in 1829. And he was not present when the Golden Plates were openly displayed for the 8 witnesses who then lifted and inspect these plates. Also in 1829.
 
So, context matters.

https://www.fairmormon.org/evidences/Category:Book_of_Mormon/Plates/Tow_frock

 

A few minutes later I posted this (after doing a quick search for “plates pillow” on FAIR Mormon):

Just found the source for your reference to the pillow. These quotes come from interviews with William Smith in the 1880s and 1890s. William never says that his father & brothers never saw the plates. Your earlier statements are factually incorrect. You and those at Mormon Think take William’s quote out of context.  Far out of context.

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Immediately after securing the plates (Sept of 1827) and entering the Smith home, father Smith put the plates (already wrapped in a frock) inside a pillow. The goal was to further hide them. They weren’t allowed to see the plates at this time. Nobody was. No debate there. This was September of 1827. The witnesses saw the plates in 1829. Two different years, Ken. Very poor scholarship on your part & for those at Mormon Think.

Referring to what occurred after the work of translation (in 1829), William says:

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

The list of 8 witnesses.  Note that William is not on the list.

  • Hiram Page.
  • Hyrum Smith.
  • Joseph Smith Sr.
  • Samuel H. Smith.
  • Christian Whitmer.
  • Jacob Whitmer.
  • John Whitmer.
  • Peter Whitmer Jr.

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Indeed, this same William whom you quote out of context, clearly reports that his father & 2 brothers were shown the plates by Joseph.

Summary: A frequent claim is that a Book of Mormon witnesses said that he only handled the plates while they were covered in a “tow frock.” However, this report is from William Smith, one of Joseph’s brothers who was not a Book of Mormon witness. In fact, William insisted in the same statement that he was convinced Joseph was not lying about the plates. William also dismissed the Spalding hypothesis as nonsense.

https://www.fairmormon.org/…/Category…/Plates/Tow_frock

Read more about William Smith here:  http://ldsmag.com/joseph-smiths-challenging-brother/

And here:  http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/person/william-b-smith

Bigfoot vs. the 11 Book of Mormon Witnesses

Before we get to the Bigfoot discussion consider watching this video.  The video summarizes the background of the witnesses and the approach our critics often take:

 

A few years ago in an online forum a few of us were discussion the Book of Mormon.  To support our positions I mentioned the 11 witnesses. Someone replied that belief in Bigfoot (& associated claims) had as much reliability as the Book of Mormon witnesses.

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I asked him a few questions, poking him gently about his assertion. I’ll list some of my questions below:

– Has Bigfoot ever been seen by more than 1 guy at a time?

I’d believe 2-3 or 8 simultaneous witnesses much more than 1.

– Did the Bigfoot sighting and associated claims last the test of time?

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David Whitmer (image above) lived 60 years after seeing plates, other objects, and angel that day in 1829. All 11 witnesses suffered economically, socially, politically, and in other ways; yet, didn’t deny their claims.

This link shares information of Martin Harris’ consistent testimony throughout his life.

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– Did the Bigfoot claimant crack under cross-examination and provide repeated, consistent statements?

The 11 witnesses provided over 200 personal statements & interviews, each time confirming the same details.  LDS and non-LDS interviewers applied lots of pressure and prodded the witnesses, testing them from every possible perspective.

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– What were the circumstances of the Bigfoot sighting?  And was the testimony consistent?

I encouraged the fellow in the discussion to please find a Bigfoot sighting with 2 or more witnesses.  Each reported Bigfoot sighting tends to go like this:  one guy is alone in the forest near dusk.  Neither he nor we can see what is out there.  His gray, blurry, and shadow-filled video is typically far from conclusive.

In contrast, the 11 witnesses to the Book of Mormon were reporting what they saw in broad day light.  Their corroborating testimonies never wavered.

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Further evidence, Joseph excommunicated nearly all the 11 witnesses at some point. Had this been a hoax or conspiracy — with so many of these men mad at him on 1 or many occasions — these witnesses would have turned on him. If it had been a grand hoax or elaborate scheme these men would have told the world of their great fraud.

Human nature would have ended this conspiracy, had it been one.  More than one of the witnesses at one point or another said Joseph was fallen or at least mistaken.  Several left the Church angry and disappointed.  Others among the witnesses had major disagreements with each other and Joseph. But none of them denied holding the plates (the 8 witnesses), seeing the angel (the 3 witnesses), etc.

– Did anyone touch Bigfoot during a sighting?

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The 8 witnesses held the plates. They flipped through the metal pages. The 3 witnesses saw the angel turning the pages of the plates. Most Bigfoot sightings see the elusive furry creature from great distances.  And the camera images — no surprise!  — are always very fuzzy.

– How credible are folks claiming to have seen Bigfoot?

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Martin was a highly successful farmer and public servant. David Whitmer was a successful business owner and mayor of Richmond, MO. Oliver Cowdery was a respected attorney.

Conclusion: it much, much easier to believe in the 11 witnesses than in those claiming to see Bigfoot.

P.S.  If Joseph Smith had been a fraud, why would he have forced himself to produce lots of ancient artifacts on 2 separate occasions?   3 guys see angel holding plates with lots of stuff on a nearby table.   A few days later, 8 guys hold what you’ve long been claiming to have translated — the Gold Plates.  He didn’t have to show all this stuff.

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P.P.S.  There’s absolutely no evidence Joseph understood how to smelt and form metal plates.  Nor was he a hypnotist — something else critics claim he likely was involved in…

 

Brian Hales debunks Dan Vogel and the CES Letter’s claims against the Book of Mormon witnesses:

Part II:

LDS critics often ignore the 200+ accounts given by LDS sources.  That is bad scholarship.  Would you like it if someone ignored all your personal claims, which are supported by others, and talked over you?  Telling you what you really experienced?  This is exactly what LDS critics often do.

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To rely more on testimony from LDS critics, especially excommunicated Stephen Burnett (often cited by critics), and downplay the LDS witnesses themselves would create legal problems for an attorney in court.

A judge wouldn’t appreciate an attorney withholding exonerating information if — as in the case of the 3 witnesses — the witnesses were credible and their accounts were intentionally suppressed.  Such an attorney would be sanctioned in court.

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Remember the Duke lacrosse trial?  The DA was disbarred and prosecuted for burying exonerating information about the athletes.

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Judge-imposed sanctions are penalties placed upon a party who is found in violation of the rules of court procedure. These penalties often take the form of fines, including paying for opposing attorney’s fees, or the dismissal of the legal claim.

 

Brett McDonald discusses the strength of the Book of Mormon witnesses  below:

Tangible Restoration: Eye Witnesses to Gold Plates

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3 Witnesses:  saw and heard an angel.  The angel held the Gold Plates, flipped through the pages, called David by name, and testified.  The three witnesses, additionally, observed a table on which rested many ancient artifacts:  Gold Plates, Brass Plates, other plates, Liahona, Sword of Laban, and interpreters (seer stones).  These 3 witnesses were David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris.

 

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8 witnesses:  saw, held, and hefted the Gold Plates; flipped through the metal pages; and noted the engravings on the pages.   The plates were set on a stump. The eight men reported the sealed portion and the three D-shaped rings.  The eight saw the plates 1-2 days after the 3 witnesses saw the angel and objects.  These eight were Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Smith.

 

Richard L. Anderson (Harvard Law graduate & Berkeley PhD) is a leading authority on the Book of Mormon witnesses.  As an attorney, he understood the value of witnesses.  During Richard’s study of these witnesses, he collected documents with over 200 positive and affirming statements from the 11 witnesses.

The three witnesses:  30 interviews or reports of contact w/ Oliver Cowdery, minimum of 70 with David Whitmer, and about 50 with Martin Harris.  The eight witnesses shared up to 60 reports, affirming their experiences holding and evaluating the Gold Plates.

In contrast, a very small number of records critical to the witnesses’ testimony exist (8 to 10 total).   8-10 vs. 200.   So, around 5% of the total records relative to the witnesses argue that the witnesses made it all up.  Anderson shows how these critics — 1 named Stephen Burnett was recently excommunicated and hostile to the Church — take the witnesses’ stories out of context, misreport, and otherwise claim the witnesses were not credible.  Richard discusses the topic  and critics below.

 

More anecdotes by Richard Anderson:

 

Richard Anderson wrote a wonderful book on this topic (red book below) that you can find here.

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Dan Peterson is a professor at BYU and long-time defender of the LDS Church.  I enjoy Dan’s style and share his 2006 presentation below:

Brian Hales debunks Dan Vogel and the CES Letter’s claims critical to the Book of Mormon Witnesses:

 

Witnesses — why they’re essential & a focus on Martin Harris…

This talk was given in April 1999.  You can find the talk here and watch below.

Ample opportunities presented themselves for each of the 3 witnesses to deny or deviate from their public testimonies.  They never did.  1837 brought the Kirtland bank problems.  Martin was excommunicated at this time.  He was rebaptized in 1842.  Martin stayed in Kirtland till 1870, looking after the Kirtland Temple.  In 1870 he moved to Utah at the age of 87.

There is hope for each of us, even if we’ve strayed from a favored position.

FYI:  Dallin H. Oaks is a descendant of Martin Harris’ older brother, Emer Harris.  Harris is Elder Oaks’ middle name.  Elder Oaks provides personal insight into the life of Martin Harris.