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.”

Book of Mormon Changes (almost all spelling, grammar, and punctuation)

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Brian Hales has written much on Joseph Smith’s polygamy in the past.   He recently wrote this article —  Changing Critics’ Criticisms of the Book of Mormon Changes — for the Interpreter in 2/18.

You can listen in under 26 minutes here.

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Key quotes below:

“The words dictated by Joseph Smith between April 7 and June 30, 1829, were published with few alterations. However, Joseph intervened in the 1837 and 1840 printings to make multiple changes in the previously published wordings. Other emendations have been authorized by subsequent Church leaders.

Several authors have documented different tallies of alternations made in the various versions of the Book of Mormon (see below). Understanding the quantity and quality of these emendations may be helpful in understanding how Joseph Smith created the text in the first place.

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Two critics took the time to count the changes.  Turns out, they underestimated when compared to the digital work done by LDS scholar, Royal Skousen:

Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s 1965 publication, 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, has probably had a greater influence. Much like Lamoni Call’s approach in the 1890s, Jerald Tanner sat down eighty years later with an 1830 edition and a 1964 edition of the Book of Mormon and annotated all changes he could identify. His count almost doubled Call’s. In their introduction, the Tanners also allege a conspiracy by Church leaders to conceal the changes: “The changes made in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph Smith’s revelations have apparently caused the Mormon Church leaders some concern, for they fear that their people will find out about them.”12

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In the last two decades, digitalization of the texts has allowed a much more nuanced analysis of the words and word substitutions by a team of scholars in the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project led by BYU professor Royal Skousen.13 When he was asked, “How many changes are there in the Book of Mormon text?” Skousen replied:

I don’t know for sure, and I’ll tell you why it’s hard to count them. In my computerized collation of the two manuscripts and 20 significant editions of the Book of Mormon, I can count the number of places of variation. These are places where there’s a textual variant. The variant itself can involve spelling, punctuation, words missing or added, a grammatical change, and so on. In all, there are about 105,000 places of variation in the computerized collation.14

Critics claim no errors at all should be present.  But the translation at least partly involved Joseph.  And the original didn’t include punctuation, headings, columns, etc.

Different camps of believing Latter-day Saint scholars believe Joseph exercised what have been called tight or loose control.

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There is evidence for both camps, tight and loose control.  Joseph spelled out proper nouns, but seemed to have freedom to speak (loose control), using words he knew, and playing a role in the transmission.

Others, such as Martin Harris and David Whitmer, reported that Joseph literally saw a scroll with Egyptian characters with English below.  That is the view of tight control.

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“Joseph Smith left no description of how the words came to him as he dictated. At a Church conference in 1831, Hyrum Smith invited the Prophet to explain how the Book of Mormon came forth. Joseph’s response was that “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and … it was not expedient for him to relate these things.”24 His only answer was that it came “by the gift and power of God.”25

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That Joseph contributed to the process in an undefined but necessary way was demonstrated in 1829 when Oliver Cowdery attempted to translate but failed. The Lord explained why: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask.” (D&C 9:7–8). It appears that translating involved more than mimicking a court recorder reading back previous testimony.”

 

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Brian Hales identifies and categorizes the changes and variants below:

Understanding the “Changes” and “Variants”

The Book of Mormon is “a literary feat for the ages,” writes Huffington Post blogger Jack Kelly. That Joseph Smith “dictated most of it in a period of less than three months and did not revise a single word before its initial printing is even more jaw-dropping.”29 So Joseph did not revise the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon before it went to print, but as Lamoni Call and the Tanners have documented, changes were made in subsequent printings.

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If numerous revisions, rewritings, edits, and modifications were needed in a second edition, then the question is why? Did the original Book of Mormon manuscript contain many errors that needed correction like the early draft of most books that are eventually printed? If so, its creation might not have required divine intervention or have been significantly different from other publications. But if the changes constituted minor letter and word substitutions to upgrade the dialect and grammar without changing the primary story line or message, then Joseph’s creation would retain an important uniqueness.

Royal Skousen has recently published “all of the cases of grammatical variation in the history of the Book of Mormon text.”30 His study identifies 106,508 “accidentals” in the different versions of the Book of Mormon.31

Skousen’s research supports that none of the general categories of changes indicates the presence of glaring problems within the Book of Mormon narrative.

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The two major (Tanner) claims related to adding “Son of” to God in four places in the Book of Mormon.  And changing Benjamin to Mosiah in two positions.  Hardly major changes.  Only editing changes for clarity.

From Hales:

“In Joseph’s early teachings, Christ was both God and the son of God, so either rendition was accurate.42 It could be reasoned that this highlighted change did not alter any doctrine or teaching, but the additional words served to more clearly distinguish the teaching from Trinitarian views popular in other religious traditions. Skousen speculates, “Perhaps he didn’t like the Catholic sounding expression” and that the addition was simply a “clarification.”43

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It appears that of all the possibilities, these two emendations were the most significant changes the Tanners could identify. If more important historical or doctrinal alterations had been encountered in their research, it is probable those would have been mentioned first.

The significance of all the changes will likely remain controversial, but a couple of observations can be made. First, these two do not seem to represent an attempt to correct sweeping contradictions or blunders in the text but rather provide clarification to potential ambiguities. Second, if these are the most egregious changes critics can identify, the Book of Mormon narrative, as it fell from Joseph’s lips, was remarkably free from significant errors.

 

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Book of Mormon Changes Do Not
Represent Revising or Rewriting

As discussed above, the changes identified by Skousen and Carmack do not refer to major modifications or corrections to sections of the Book of Mormon’s original wording.

(LDS critic) historian Dan Vogel acknowledged, “Smith’s method of dictation did not allow for rewriting. It was a more-or-less stream-of-consciousness composition,” adding, “It is not that the manuscript went through a major rewrite.”44

Normal content editing, which involves revising and reworking parts of the text, did not occur in the original or in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon.

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Many naturalists consider Joseph Smith to have been a first-time novelist in 1829 as he created the Book of Mormon, so the lack of revisions is unexpected.45

Professional writers and instructors generally emphasize the need for rewriting in order to create a finished manuscript. Betty Mattix Dietsch, author of Reasoning & Writing Well, addresses the plight of first-time novelists: “Some inexperienced writers seem to think they have hit the jackpot on their first draft. They evade the fact that every exploratory draft needs more work.”46

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Note: image above is from the 9th edition.

“I usually write about ten more or less complete drafts” confides Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder, “each one usually though not always closer to the final thing.”47 In her college [Page 62]textbook, Steps to Writing Well, Jean Wyrick emphasizes the importance of rewriting:

The absolute necessity of revision cannot be overemphasized. All good writers rethink, rearrange, and rewrite large portions of their prose. … Revision is a thinking process that occurs any time you are working on a writing project. It means looking at your writing with a “fresh eye”—that is, reseeing your writing in ways that will enable you to make more effective choices throughout your essay. … Revision means making important decisions about the best ways to focus, organize, develop, clarify, and emphasize your ideas. … Virtually all writers revise after “reseeing” a draft in its entirety.48

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Louis Brandeis, who served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939, coined a common maxim for authors: “There is no good writing; there is only good rewriting.”

That changes have been made in the Book of Mormon text should not be confused with the idea that revisions or rewriting occurred. They did not, which is surprising for a frontier-schooled twenty-three-year-old farm boy who is listed as “author.”49

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Potential Propaganda

A review of critical literature regarding the Book of Mormon identifies two classes of critics. There are those who tell their audiences that many changes have been made and provide examples (like the Tanners). There are others who report “upwards of 4,000” changes without any further discussion.50

On the surface, voices that stress the thousands of emendations could easily generate a mental picture of a book that underwent significant revisions and rewriting after its first edition. If the overall insignificance of the changes is not disclosed, the number of 2,000 or 3,913 changes could be used by critics to mislead their audiences, as propaganda is designed to do.

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Jerald and Sandra Tanners have sold many copies of their book 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, since first released in 1965. The title of the book is technically accurate. But how many unsuspecting observers have read (and continue to read) the title and assume the Book of Mormon manuscript required thousands of corrections to compensate for significant mistakes in Joseph Smith’s dictation?

The perception created by the title might be misleading because readers may impute more significance to the word “changes” than actually justified. If transparency is sought, then adding a subtitle might be useful: 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon: But None are Really Significant.

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Royal Skousen summarized his research: “Errors have crept into the text, but no errors significantly interfere with either the message of the book or its doctrine. … Ultimately, all of this worry over the number of changes is specious.”51

 

Reid Moon, a 1985 BYU grad, shows the first five editions of the Book of Mormon printed in Joseph’s lifetime.

By Royal Skousen at FAIR, published in 2015.  Royal discusses several minor emendations.  Nobody knows more about the Book of Mormon manuscripts and the Book of Mormon changes than Royal Skousen.

The Book of Mormon is a marvel.  The translation was a matchless feat.  It contains the restored Gospel.

 

Missouri War and Liberty Jail Letters

Significant turmoil in 1838.

 

1838 was a low point for many reasons.

Joseph had much debt from the Kirtland Bank crisis.  Word spread about Fannie Alger, and polygamy.  David and Oliver Cowdery were excommunicated. Northerners and fears of abolitionists and friendliness toward the Indians was an issue.

Mormons were allowed to live in Caldwell County.  Sydney Rigdon gave a pointed sermon, telling enemies the Church would retaliate if attacked.

 

Episode 72: The Missouri War and Liberty Jail Letters – David W. Grua

Oliver Cowdery: credible witness

Several videos below that support Oliver’s major role in the restoration:

Critics have little to pick on with regard to Oliver Cowdery, but there are a few points to refute.  Watch videos #1-4:

Brian Hales addresses anti-Mormon arguments:

Critics suggest Oliver isn’t a credible witness, given his use of diving rods. From this article below you find that people all over the world — including in the highly educated and hardly superstitious United Kingdom — still use such divining rods.

 These rods are used for one reason: they work for unknown reasons.  Diving rods aren’t used by crazy, superstitious people with imaginations so wild they’ll believe anything.  Instead, this is a predictable practice that was linked to finding things. 

U.K. Water Companies Sometimes Use Dowsing Rods To Find Pipes

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.

 

Restoration of the Priesthood: Aaronic and Melchezidek

President Kimball said years ago, pointing to a statue of St. Peter holding keys, “Today, I hold the keys.”

Both priesthoods were restored as Joseph and Oliver translated the Book of Mormon in Harmony, Pennsylvania.  Many details were provided about the Aaronic Priesthood.  Fewer details are known about the Melchizedek.

A summary from LDS.org:  Where was the Priesthood Restored?

A two-minute video about the Priesthood Restoration Site near Harmony (now Oakland), PA.

58-minute video below by Elder Nelson on the Restoration of the Priesthood.

President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the Priesthood Restoration Site in Oakland Township, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, September 19, 2015.

It was in this area Joseph Smith received the priesthood, translated most of the Book of Mormon and received several additional revelations now canonized as scripture.

Another video, highlighting historical details of Joseph’s activities in and around Harmony, PA from late 1827 till June 1829.

April 15, 1829 John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood.  We know lots of details of this visitation.

The date and location of the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is not known with certainty. Several accounts were given later and scholars have provided general estimates about date and location.

Critics suggest that without a date & exact location the entire story is shown to be an obvious lie.  Does that logically follow?  No. That’s absurd!

Do we know when Jesus commissioned his Apostles?  No.

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Does it matter that we don’t know the specific dates of virtually anything in the Bible?  No.

How would it matter to know the dates?  It wouldn’t.

For many years we didn’t know that Martin Harris received payment for his $3000 loan for the Book of Mormon publication. Decades later, Church historians found a record, indicating Martin got 60 acres in exchange for this $3000 loan.

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Some things turn up in Church history. Some don’t.

Read this to get more background:  Dating the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood

From this article, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods” we get this range of dates:

“Historical records and the testimony of Joseph Smith’s associates tell the manner, order, and pattern of priesthood restoration and indicate that the time of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood was probably within the 13-day period of 16 to 28 May 1829.”

Read descriptions of South Bainbridge, Colesville, and other locations pertinent to the Restoration of the Priesthood.

 

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After visiting friends in Colesville Township, NY near the end of May, 1829 mobs forced Oliver and Joseph to flee.  They traveled all night to return to Harmony, PA where they were actively translating the record into the Book of Mormon.

Oliver, much weaker physically than Joseph, collapsed during the night. Joseph carried the small Oliver for a time, but became exhausted himself.  Sometime in the morning Peter, James, and John appeared.

This video’s map is helpful, as are the scholars who fill in details:

Joseph and Oliver left that region (Harmony, PA) shortly after receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood, and moved to join with the Whitmers.  They arrived at the Whitmers’ home before the end of May 1829.

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Joseph and Oliver (and possibly a few other scribes) completed the translation in Fayette, NY.    The Golden Plates were shown to the 3 and 8 witnesses in Fayette, near the Whitmer farm.  And later, on 4/6/1830, the Church was organized in the Whitmer log cabin.

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Bushman, in his book “Rough Stone Rolling”, says that the Melchizedek Priesthood may have been restored in 1830.  Not 1829.  Start around the 15:00 mark:

A. William Lund, former Assistant Historian of the Church, gave this speech on the Melchizedek Priesthood Restoration in 1951 at BYU.  These aren’t new issues.  And Bro. Lund had a unique position from which to provide insight.

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Brother Lund worked at and was associated with the Church Historians Office from 1908 till his death in 1971.

When Brother Lund came to work at the Historian’s Office there were many veteran members of the Church who personally recalled experiences in Nauvoo and early Utah.

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He enjoyed talking with them, as well as visitors who streamed past his desk for more than the next sixty years.

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Brett McDonald discusses evidence relative to the priesthood restoration, starting around 44:40 in the below video.  The first part of this video focuses on the First Vision.

Oliver and Joseph didn’t regularly and publicly discuss the specifics of the restoration till 1834.  Oliver did refer to his own personal priesthood authority in 1829, however.  See video segment below at 47:05 for discussion of Oliver’s account in 1829.

 

As Brett explains in the video above, Oliver was a consistent and reliable witness throughout his life.  No conspiracy with Joseph — not during translation, restoration of the priesthood, or when he saw the angel and plates with the other witnesses.

It might be a good time to review this below video about Oliver’s role as a witness to the Golden Plates, among other objects and items (Sword of Laban, Liahona, Urim and Thummim, brass plates, etc).

 

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: