image above: A general view, facing south, of the west side of the Palmyra hill, near the summit. This is the general area where Moroni buried the plates. Large flat-faced rocks, like those shown in the foreground, are common on the hill.
Abstract: The story of Joseph Smith retrieving gold plates from a stone box on a hillside in upstate New York and translating them into the foundational text of the Restorationis well known among Latter-day Saints. While countless retellings have examined these events in considerable detail, very few have explored the geological aspects involved in this story. In particular, none have discussed in detail the geological materials that would have been required by the Nephite prophet Moroni ca. ad 421 to construct a sealed container able to protect the gold plates from the elements and from premature discovery for some fourteen centuries. This paper reports the outcomes from a field investigation into what resources would have been available to Moroni in the Palmyra area. It was conducted by the authors in New York state in October 2017.
Two significant hills near the Smith farm:
Note the many drumlins in Upstate NY and their north-to-south orientations:
In the Palmyra area, most of the drumlins consist of a mix of stratified or layered gravels and sands. However, near the Palmyra hill is one today named Miners Hill, which is an exception: it is predominately formed of clay — something that might well have played an important role in the making of Moroni’s stone box.
Joseph described the box:
Joseph Smith described the box and its location: “On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth. …
The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them.”
Oliver Cowdery’s description:
Oliver goes on to describe the relative dimensions of the box, including the fact that it “was sufficiently large to admit a breast-plate, such as was used by the ancients to defend the chest, etc. from the arrows and weapons of their enemy.
From the bottom of the box, or from the breast-plate, arose three small pillars composed of the same description of cement used on the edges; and upon these three pillars was placed the record of the children of Joseph.” For the purposes of this study, however, our focus will remain on the nature of the construction materials: stones and cement.
This image below demonstrates what the box may have looked like and uses Oliver’s account to describe the box:
The Book of Mormon shares that the Nephites knew how to use cement:
became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell … And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. (Helaman 3:7, 11)
Moroni thus grew up within a culture in which making cement using the abundant limestone of the region was already a common skill or technology.
Interesting note about clay, a required ingredient in cement:
As clay is almost unknown in the Palmyra area, the clay that Moroni needed was the most challenging ingredient for us to locate. As noted earlier, however, some 3 km (~2 miles) due north of the Palmyra hill is a smaller drumlin called Miner’s Hill.
Perhaps uniquely in the area, this hill consists almost entirely of fine clay. According to the current land [Page 248]owner, who allowed the New York Highway Department to mine it, it is the only location in the area that serves as a source of clay.
Additional details of the box and location on the hill in this article: Hill Cumorah.
What ever happened to the box?
Two surviving accounts are our sources for this likely outcome. The first was General Authority (First Council of the Seventy) Edward Stevenson (d. 1897) who published an account in 1893 about interviewing an “old man” living near the hill:
Questioning him closely he stated that he had seen some good-sized flat stones that had rolled down and lay near the bottom of the hill. This had occurred after the contents of the box had been removed and these stones were doubtless the ones that formerly composed the box. I felt a strong desire to see these ancient relics and told him I would be much pleased to have him inform me where they were to be found. He stated that they had long since been taken away.
The other is a report in which David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, had stated:
Three times [David Whitmer] has been at the Hill Cumorah and seen the casket that contained the tablets and seerstone. Eventually the casket has been washed down to the foot of the hill, but it was to be seen when he last visited the historic place.
Read this Primary lesson that details the many ways the plates were hidden — decayed part of a tree, in a knapsack, under a fireplace, in a shed, in a barrel of beans — after getting into Joseph’s possession.
“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.”
“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.
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
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.
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.
“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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To debunk common comparisons with Bigfoot (nobody has
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.
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.
Peter Whitmer, Jun.
Joseph Smith, Sen.
Samuel H. Smith
Keith Erekson shares his thoughts:
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.
Did the witnesses leave the church? Yes. Deny their testimony? No.
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 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.
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.
Some things turn up in Church history. Some don’t.
“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.
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.
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.
Gospel Tangents discusses the restoration of the priesthood in 1829, and its relevance to Fannie Alger. Peter, James, and John bestowed the Melchizedek Priesthood. That restoration in 1829 helps answer this question: was Fannie sealed to Joseph and with what authority?
Elijah restored the keys to direct others to seal and be sealed. This occurred in Kirtland in 1836. Keys are not priesthood. Joseph held the priesthood since 1829.
Though Joseph didn’t orally share the Elijah Kirtland visitation, it was immediately dictated and put in a journal.
Ron Barney explains that we must understand Joseph Smith’s sensibilities regarding sacred matters. In his presentation below, Ron also makes these points:
Joseph’s story got abroad in the early days. He published his account to put an end to rumors and falsehoods. Joseph was never eager to share the First Vision. This may seem strange with us. But this is consistent with how he handled many other events.
For example, Joseph didn’t tell his father of his nightly Moroni visitations until Moroni told him to do so (the next day, after Joseph collapsed crossing the fence). Joseph likely wouldn’t have told anyone — and followed this pattern with his 1st Vision — unless instructed by the angel.
Joseph was religiously private. Joseph hesitated giving details about the translation of the Book of Mormon when asked for particulars by Hyrum. Joseph tried to teach church leaders to keep sacred experiences sacred. Joseph taught in 1835 before the Kirtland Temple dedication, “If God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourself.”
April 3, 1836: Savior appeared to Joseph and Oliver. They received keys from Moses, Elias, and Elijah. Elder Pratt included this (Joseph Smith’s) journal entry into D&C 110, but not until 1876. But most don’t realize the Joseph discreetly kept the record of the event to himself. Joseph told few if any of the full scope.
Oliver was also disinclined to speak of the awesome 1836 event. Oliver had already shown this behavior: visited by the Savior in 1829 and shown the plates in a vision, Oliver shared this to virtually no one.
Not until November 1852 was this account published in the Deseret News. This was entirely consistent with Joseph. He shared little.
Matthew 17 contains the Transfiguration. Jesus instructed Peter, James, and John to tell no man. This type of event was not to be spread abroad.
According to Hugh Nibley: “From his own account [in the 1838-39 account of the First Vision] it is apparent that he would not have told it publicly at all had he not been “induced” to do so by all the scandal stories that were circulating. It was a rule among those possessing the Gospel in ancient times that the greater teachings not be publicly divulged.”
Likewise, no narrative exists from Joseph or Oliver relative to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The record shows Joseph and Oliver discussed it, but determined sharing was not appropriate.
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.
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.
He enjoyed talking with them, as well as visitors who streamed past his desk for more than the next sixty years.
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).
There’s no doubt some people believe they see ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, etc. Few, but they’re out there. There’s also no doubt some people seek attention, create hoaxes, etc. Probably more than those who genuinely think they saw a UFO, but jokesters, promoters, and elaborate schemers are out there, for sure.
Obviously, we don’t have to believe every claim someone makes. We should, instead, weigh evidence. Treat the Book of Mormon witnesses or Bigfoot as any other claim. Is it credible, does it stand the test of time, was the witnesses subject to interrogation, etc.?
I’ll focus this thread on Bigfoot, as this is the most common claim put forward by critics: that Bigfoot sightings are just as credible as the Book of Mormon witnesses.
A few years ago in an online forum we were discussing the Book of Mormon. To support LDS positions I mentioned the 11 witnesses. Someone replied that belief in Bigfoot (& associated claims) had as much reliability as the Book of Mormon witnesses.
Others have since mentioned Santa, unicorns, UFOs, apparitions of Mary, Nessy the Loch Ness Monster, and other figures many swear they’ve seen (but probably haven’t).
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?
A group of witnesses that simultaneously see an event has more credibility than a single person. Most Bigfoot sightings are reported by single individuals, but some groups have made the same claims. In fact, large groups of people have formed communities to share their Bigfoot stories.
This link, among many other details, discusses 3000 people represented by a Southern California marketing firm (owned by a fellow named Matt Moneymaker). All 3000 insist they saw Bigfoot. So, large numbers of people are on record with the same claim.
In fact, a YouTube video about Bigfoot on Animal Planet has an entire family participating in a Bigfoot hoax at the same time. So, large and simultaneous groups are possible. Is this proof, however? Well, have groups of 3000 and entire families been mistaken before and/or been involved in hoaxes?
This link shows some of history’s greatest hoaxes, fooling millions of people.
Oh, but before you think everyone saw the Bigfoot, you should know that Bigfoot was made up in the 1950s. See this link’s final paragraphs. And read the hilarious paragraph after this awesome 1950s image.
Knowing that Bigfoot was made up, but still claimed to be real decades after the hoax, demonstrates that people in groups big and small can fib, seek attention, be convinced of falsehoods, etc. Credibility and the test of time matter.
“After Bigfoot tracker Ray Wallace died in a California nursing home last year, his children finally announced that their prank-loving dad had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to create a track of giant footprints in a northern California logging camp in 1958.”
– Did the Bigfoot sighting and associated claims last the test of time?
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.
The Book of Mormon witnesses were persecuted, families kicked out of homes, wives raped, assets seized, and on and on. Any Bigfoot claimant go through that much and stick to his story? Never heard of one claiming to see Bigfoot get persecuted to this extent and stand by his story.
This link shares information of Martin Harris’ consistent testimony throughout his life.
Text in image: Dale Lee Wallace displays the original feet his uncle Ray Wallace strapped on to help make Bigfoot tracks in 1958.
“No region in the country has a lower percentage of churchgoers than the Pacific Northwest. But ask people here about the existence of a camera-resistant, grooming-challenged, upright biped known as Bigfoot or Sasquatch and the true believers shout to the misty heavens in affirmation.
So it came as a considerable blow when the children of Ray L. Wallace announced that their prank-loving pop had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to stomp a track of oversized footprints in a Northern California logging camp in 1958. Mr. Wallace, 84, died on Nov. 26 at a nursing home in Centralia, Wash.
”This wasn’t a well-planned plot or anything,” said Michael Wallace, one of Ray’s sons. ”It’s weird because it was just a joke, and then it took on such a life of its own that even now, we can’t stop it.”
– 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.
Con artists tend to wither when threatened. Their testimony wavers and they tell the truth. Some people have mental conditions; others are motivated by fame, attention, money, and fanfare; and still other explanations contribute to seeing ghosts, Bigfoot, UFOs, etc.
– What were the circumstances of the Bigfoot sighting? And was the testimony consistent?
I encouraged the fellow in the discussion to please find a clear, not fuzzy, not quickly ducking into the woods Bigfoot sighting with 3 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.
You can review scores of videos at the Sasquatch YouTube channel linked at the bottom of this post. All are fuzzy. Not one is 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.
– Did people in Joseph’s area think he had golden plates?
Yes. Many folks persecuted and tormented Joseph for the plates they genuinely believed he had. Several men followed Joseph on the night he secured the plates from the hill and hounded him consistently. Many people hefted the plates while they were in a pillow case, and knew it was something very dense.
Martin Harris didn’t see the plates till the summer of 1829 near Fayette, NY,. Before that time, when Martin lifted the pillow case he commented that, given the density/weight, Martin knew Joseph had either lead or gold plates. And Joseph, according to Martin, certainly lacked the credit for lead.
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 Joseph. 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), seeing the objects on the table (the 3 witnesses), etc.
– Did anyone touch Bigfoot during a sighting?
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?
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’s much, much easier to believe in the 11 witnesses than in those claiming to see Bigfoot.
“But the vast majority of scientists still believe Bigfoot is little more than supermarket tabloid fodder. They wonder why no Bigfoot has ever been captured, dead or alive.”
“Many of the sightings and footprints, meanwhile, have proved to be hoaxes.
After Bigfoot tracker Ray Wallace died in a California nursing home last year, his children finally announced that their prank-loving dad had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to create a track of giant footprints in a northern California logging camp in 1958.”
Hilarious. A tracker himself created the myth out of thin air!!!
Dennett says he’s not surprised by the flood of Bigfoot sightings.
“It’s the same kind of eyewitness reports we see for the Loch Ness Sea Monster, UFOs, ghosts, you name it,” he said. “The monster thing is a universal product of the human mind. We hear such stories from around the world.”
P.S. If Joseph Smith had been a fraud, why would he have chosen to produce ancient artifacts on 2 separate occasions? 3 guys see an angel holding plates with lots of stuff on a nearby table. A few days later, 8 guys hold what Joseph has long been claiming to have translated — the Gold Plates. He didn’t have to show all this stuff.
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. In addition, 2nd sight isn’t a real thing. Critics bring up 2nd sight from time to time…
Brian Hales debunks Dan Vogel and the CES Letter’s claims against the Book of Mormon witnesses:
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?
Yet, this is exactly what many LDS critics often do. They ignore LDS witnesses and seemingly believe anything early LDS critics say about the witnesses. Even when they know nothing about those early LDS critics.
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.
The CES Letter and other anti-Mormon tracts usually share nothing from the Book of Mormon witnesses. But they do mention ex-communicated members’ second-hand stories about Martin Harris, Palmyra-area pastor’s third-hand account about Martin Harris, and other less credible sources. No proper defense of the witnesses themselves by allowing their personal narratives — over 200 total are available — to be told. The 11+ witnesses’ own stories would exonerate them, giving a personal and credible side of the story. Not only what church enemies say.
Remember the Duke lacrosse trial? The DA was disbarred and prosecuted for burying exonerating information about the athletes.
Judge-imposed sanctions are penalties placed upon a party who is found in violation of the rules of court procedure. Burying exonerating evidence, as occurred in the Duke lacrosse case, and often done by LDS critics, would get one sanctioned in court. My attorney brother suggested the judge doesn’t like to learn an attorney hid (exonerating) information to make his/her case more appealing.
These sanction 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:
“With only 16 percent of Americans Bigfoot believers, you might just write them off as crazy. But contrary to popular assumption, folklore experts say, Bigfoot believers may not be as irrational as you’d think.”
Reason 1: They think they saw Sasquatch, and they want to prove to themselves and the world that they’re not “crazy.”
Reason 2: Their tribe believes in Sasquatch, so it would be weird if they didn’t.
Reason 3: Believing in Bigfoot keeps hope alive that people can be self-sustaining—and that humans haven’t totally destroyed the environment beyond repair.
Reason 4: Lack of proof doesn’t disprove that Bigfoot exists, so it’s hard to declare—with certainty—that Bigfoot is fake.