The Book of Mormon
As we have already shown, Joseph Smith claimed that on the night of September 21, 1823, when he was seventeen years old, an angel appeared to him and stated that gold plates were buried in the Hill Cumorah. The angel explained that the plates contained "an account of the former inhabitants of this continent," and that they also contained "the fulness of the everlasting Gospel." Four years later, on September 22, 1827, he received the plates, and sometime later he began to translate them. The translation was published in 1830 under the title of the Book of Mormon.
Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt declared:
The Book of Mormon claims to be a divinely inspired record.... If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world, calculated to deceive and ruin millions ...if true, no one con possibly be saved and reject it: if false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it....
If, after a rigid examination, it be found an imposition, it should be extensively published to the world as such; the evidences and arguments on which the imposture was detected, should be clearly and logically stated....
But on the other hand, if investigation should prove the Book of Mormon true ... the American and English nations ... should utterly reject both the Popish and Protestant ministry, together with all the churches which have been built up by them or that have sprung from them, as being entirely destitute of authority (Orson Pratt's Works, "Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon," Liverpool, 1851, pp. 1-2).
Our study has led us to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient or divinely-inspired record, but rather a product of the nineteenth century. In this chapter we hope to state "clearly and logically" the "evidences and arguments on which the imposture was detected."
A photograph from Orson Pratt's Works, "Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon," page 1. Apostle Pratt says that if the Book of Mormon is found to be untrue the facts should be published to the world.
Joseph Smith claimed that after the Book of Mormon was translated he returned the gold plates to the angel. Therefore, there is no way for us to know if there really were any gold plates or whether the translation was correct. Smith, however, did have eleven men sign statements claiming that they had seen the plates. The testimonies of these eleven men are recorded in the forepart of the Book of Mormon in two separate statements. In the first statement Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris claimed that an angel of God showed the plates to them. The second statement is signed by eight men who claimed to see the plates, although they did not claim that an angel showed the plates to them. This statement is signed by Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jun., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sen., Hyrum Smith and Samuel H. Smith.
The Mormon church claims that the witnesses to the Book of Mormon never denied their testimony. There are, however, at least two statements in Mormon publications which would seem to indicate that the witnesses had some doubts. Brigham Young, the second president, stated: "Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who handled the plates and conversed with the angels of God, were afterwards left to doubt and to disbelieve that they had ever seen an angel." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 164).
There is some evidence to indicate that Oliver Cowdery, one of the three witnesses, may have had doubts about his testimony. The following appeared in a poem that was published in the Mormon publication Times and Seasons in 1841 (vol. 2, p. 482):
Or does it prove there is no time,
Because some watches will not go?
Or prove that Christ was not the Lord
Because that Peter cursed and swore?
Or Book of Mormon not His word
Because denied, by Oliver?
Apostle John A. Widtsoe said that the eleven men who testified to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon had "spotless reputations" (Joseph Smith—Seeker After Truth, p. 338). Non-Mormons, on the other hand, have made many serious charges against the witnesses. Some of the most damaging statements against the Book of Mormon witnesses, however, came from the pen of Joseph Smith and other early
A photograph of the Mormon publication Times and Seasons, vol. 2, page 482. In the poem that appears on this page it is stated that Book of Mormon witness Oliver Cowdery denied his testimony.
Mormon leaders. In fact, Joseph Smith gave a revelation in July of 1828 in which Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses, was called a "wicked man," who "has set at naught the counsels of God, and has broken the most sacred promises" (Doctrine and Covenants 3:12-13). In another revelation given sometime later, God was supposed to have told Joseph Smith that Harris "is a wicked man, for he has sought to take away the things wherewith you have been entrusted; and he has also sought to destroy your gift" (Ibid., 10:7).
There is little doubt that the Book of Mormon witnesses were very gullible. For instance, Hiram Page had a peep stone which he used to obtain revelations. Joseph Smith himself admitted that Page gave false revelations through his stone and that the other witnesses to the Book of Mormon were influenced by his revelations:
To our great grief, however, we soon found that Satan had been lying in wait to deceive,... Brother Hiram Page had in his possession a certain stone, by which he obtained certain "revelations" ... all of which were entirely at variance with the order of God's house, ... the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery, were believing much in the things set forth by this stone, we thought best to inquire of the Lord concerning so important a matter ... (History of the Church, by Joseph Smith, vol. 1, pp. 109-10).
The Doctrine and Covenants 28:11 instructs Joseph Smith to have Oliver Cowdery tell Hiram Page that "those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me, and that Satan deceiveth him."
Although Joseph Smith was able to prevail against the revelations from Hiram Page's peep stone, a more serious situation developed at Kirtland. Apostle George A. Smith related the following: "After the organization of the Twelve Apostles, the spirit of apostacy became more general.... One of the First Presidency, several of the Twelve Apostles, High Council, Presidents of Seventies, the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Presidents of Far West, and a number of others standing high in the Church were all carried away in this apostacy ..." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, pp. 114-15).
The three witnesses were finally excommunicated from the church. Martin Harris accused Joseph Smith of "lying and licentiousness." The Mormon leaders in turn published an attack on the character of Martin Harris. The Elders' Journal—Mormon publication edited by Joseph Smith—said that Harris and others were guilty of "swearing, lying, cheating, swindling, drinking, with every species of debauchery ..." (Elders' Journal, August, 1838, p. 59).
In 1838 Oliver Cowdery had serious trouble with Joseph Smith. He accused Smith of adultery, lying and teaching false doctrines. Finally, in Far West, Missouri, the division became so great that the Mormons drove out the dissenters. David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, made this statement:
If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to "separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so should it be done unto them." In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness.... About the same time that I came out, the Spirit of God moved upon quite a number of the brethren who came out, with their families, all of the eight witnesses who were then living (except the three Smiths) came out; Peter and Christian Whitmer were dead. Oliver Cowdery came out also. Martin Harris was then in Ohio. The church went deeper and deeper into wickedness (An Address to all Believers in Christ, by David Whitmer, 1887, pp. 27-28).
In a letter dated December 16, 1838, Joseph Smith said that "John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris are too mean to mention" (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 232). Smith was very upset with David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses: "God suffered such kind of beings to afflict Job.... This poor man who professes to be much of a prophet, has no other dumb ass to ride but David Whitmer, to forbid his madness when he goes up to curse Israel; and this ass not being of the same kind as Balaam's,... he brays out cursings instead of blessings. Poor ass!" (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 228).
Before driving the dissenters from Far West, Missouri, the Mormons wrote them a very threatening letter. In this letter the dissenters were accused of stealing, lying and counterfeiting:
Whereas the citizens of Caldwell county have borne with the abuse received from you at different times,... until it is no longer to be endured;... out of the county you shall go,... depart, depart, or a more fatal calamity shall befall you.
After Oliver Cowdery had been taken by a State warrant for stealing, and the stolen property found ... in which nefarious transaction John Whitmer had also participated. Oliver Cowdery stole the property, conveyed it to John Whitmer ... Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Lyman E. Johnson, united with a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs of the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property....
During the full career of Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer's bogus money business, it got abroad into the world that they were engaged in it.... We have evidence of a very strong character that you are at this very time engaged with a gang of counterfeiters, coiners, and blacklegs,... we will put you from the county of Caldwell: so help us God (Letter quoted in Senate Document 189, February 15, 1841, pp. 6-9).
The "Far West Record" contains some very important information concerning Oliver Cowdery and the bogus money business. The "Far West Record" is an unpublished "record book containing minutes of meetings in Kirtland and Far West, Missouri." It was suppressed for many years, but recently Leland Gentry, who was working on his thesis at Brigham Young University, was permitted access to it. On page 117 of the "Far West Record," Gentry found testimony given by Joseph Smith and Fredrick G. Williams that tended to link Cowdery with the bogus money business. Leland Gentry states:
[Fredrick G.] Williams,... testified that Oliver had personally informed him of a man in the church by the name of Davis who could compound metal and make dies which could not be detected from the real thing. Oliver allegedly told Williams that there was no harm in accepting and passing around such money, provided it could not be determined to be unsound.
Joseph Smith's testimony was similar. He claimed that a nonmember of the Church by the name of Sapham had told him in Kirtland that a warrant had been issued against Oliver "for being engaged in making a purchase of bogus money and dies to make the counterfeit money with." According to the Prophet, he and Sidney Rigdon went to visit Oliver concerning the matter and told him that if he were guilty, he had better leave town; but if he was innocent, he should stand trial and thus be acquited. "That night or next," the Prophet said, Oliver "left the country" (A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri From 1836 to 1839, p. 146).
From this information it would appear that Joseph Smith was almost an accessory after the fact, since he warned Oliver Cowdery to flee from the law if he was guilty. At any rate, Joseph Smith's testimony was given at the time Oliver Cowdery was being tried for his membership in the church. The eighth charge against Cowdery read as follows: "Eighth—For disgracing the Church by being connected in the bogus business, as common report says" (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 16). According to Joseph Smith, the eighth charge against Cowdery was "sustained" (Ibid., p. 17). On page 147 of A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri From 1836 to 1839, Leland
Gentry states: "Joseph Smith, for example, testified that Cowdery had informed him that he had 'come to the conclusion to get property, and that if he could not get it one way, he would get it another, God or no God, Devil or no Devil, property he must and would have.' "
Since six of the nine charges against Cowdery were sustained, he was "considered no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 17). After separating himself from the Mormons, Oliver Cowdery became a member of the "Methodist Protestant Church of Tiffin, Seneca County, Ohio." G. J. Keen gave an affidavit in which he stated:
... Mr. Cowdery expressed a desire to associate himself with a Methodist Protestant Church of this city.... he was unanimously admitted a member thereof.
At that time he arose and addressed the audience present, admitted his error and implored forgiveness, and said he was sorry and ashamed of his connection with Mormonism.
He continued his membership while he resided in Tiffin, and became superintendent of the Sabbath-School, and led an exemplary life while he resided with us (Affidavit of C. J. Keen, as quoted in The True Origin of the Book of Mormon, by Charles A. Shook, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1914, pp. 58-59).
Mormon writer Richard L. Anderson admits that Cowdery joined the Methodists: "The cessation of his activity in the Church meant a suspension of his role as a witness of the Book of Mormon. Not that his conviction ceased, but he discontinued public testimony as he worked out a successful legal and political career in non-Mormon society ... he logically affiliated himself with a Christian congregation for a time, the Methodist Protestant Church at Tiffin, Ohio" (Improvement Era, January 1969, p. 56).
It is interesting to note that the poem about Oliver Cowdery denying his testimony to the Book of Mormon appeared in the Mormon publication Times and Seasons around the same time that Cowdery renounced Mormonism and joined the Methodist Protestant Church at Tiffin.
Some of the Book of Mormon witnesses were so credulous that they were influenced by a man named James Jesse Strang. Strang, like Joseph Smith, claimed that he found some plates that he translated with the Urim and Thummim. He had witnesses who claimed they saw the plates and their testimony is recorded in almost the same way that the testimony of the eleven witnesses is recorded in the Book of Mormon. Brigham
Young and the other Mormon leaders denounced Strang as an impostor, but some of the Book of Mormon witnesses became very interested in his claims. On January 20, 1848, James J. Strang wrote the following:
... early in 1846 the tract reprint of the first number of the Voree Herald, containing the evidence of my calling and authority, strayed into upper Missouri. Immediately I received a letter from Hiram Page, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and a neighbor and friend to the Whitmers' who lived near him, and that they rejoiced with exceeding joy that God had raised up one to stand in place of Joseph.... He goes on to say that all the witnesses of the Book of Mormon living in that region received the news with gladness, and finally that they held a council in which David and John Whitmer and this Hiram Page were the principle actors; and being at a loss what they ought to do about coming to Voree, sent up to me as a prophet of God to tell them what to do.... last April (1847) I received another letter from the same Hiram Page, acknowledging the receipt of mine ... and giving me the acts of another council of himself at the Whitmers',... they invite me to come to their residence in Missouri and receive from them, David and John Whitmer, church records, and manuscript revelations, which they had kept in their possession from the time that they were active members of the church. These documents they speak of as great importance to the church, and offer them to me as the true shepherd who has a right to them ..." (Gospel Herald, January 20, 1848).
In a letter to David Whitmer, dated December 2, 1846, William E. McLellin said that James J. Strang "told me that all the witnesses to the book of Mormon yet alive were with him, except Oliver" (The Ensign of Liberty, Kirtland, Ohio, April, 1847). Strang was probably telling the truth about the witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
John Whitmer, one of the eight witnesses, wrote the following in his history of the church which later, however, was crossed out: "God knowing all things prepared a man whom he visited by an angel of God and showed him where there were some ancient record hid,... whose name is James J. Strang.... and Strang Reigns in the place of Smith the author and proprietor of the Book of Mormon" (John Whitmer's History, p. 23).
Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, joined the Strangite movement and even went on a mission to England for the Strangites. The Mormon church's own publication Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star had a great deal to say about Martin Harris when he arrived in England:
One of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, yielded to the spirit
and temptation of the devil a number of years ago—turned against Joseph Smith and became his bitter enemy. He was filled with the rage and madness of a demon. One day he would be one thing, and another day another thing. He soon became partially deranged or shattered, as many believed, flying from one thing to another.... In one of his fits of monomania, he went and joined the "Shakers" or followers of Anna Lee. ...but since Strang has made his entry ... Martin leaves the "Shakers," whom he knows to be right,... and joins Strang.... We understand that he is appointed a mission to this country,... if the Saints wish to know what the Lord hath said to him they may turn to ... the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and the person there called a "wicked man" is no other than Martin Harris ... Elder Wheelock will remember that evil men, like Harris, out of the evil treasure of their hearts bring forth evil things....
Just as our paper was going to press, we learned that Martin Harris, about whom we have written in another article, had landed in Liverpool,... there was a strangeness about him, and about one or two who came with him ... A lying deceptive spirit attends them, and has from the beginning.... they know that they are of their father, the devil, who was a liar from the beginning, and abode not in the truth (Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star, vol. 8, pp. 124-28).
Although the Book of Mormon witnesses were attracted to Strang for a short time, they soon became interested in a movement William E. McLellin (who had served as an Apostle under Joseph Smith) was trying to start. Five of the Book of Mormon witnesses definitely supported McLellin's movement and another gave some encouragement to it. Martin Harris was baptized and even joined with Leonard Rich and Calvin Beebe in a "Testimony of Three Witnesses" that Joseph Smith ordained David Whitmer to be his "Successor in office" (The Ensign of Liberty, December 1847, pp. 43-44). The Mormons who went to Utah felt, of course, that Brigham Young was to be leader of the church. On July 28, 1847, Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to David Whitmer in which he gave some support to McLellin's ideas and told Whitmer that "our right gives us the head." In a letter dated September 8, 1847, David Whitmer wrote to Oliver Cowdery and told him that "it is the will of God that you be one of my counsellors in the presidency of the Church. Jacob and Hiram have been ordained High Priests ..." (Ibid., May, 1848, p. 93).
William E. McLellin tells how David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, gave revelations supporting his organization and condemning the Mormon Church:
... after a few moments of solemn secret prayer, the following was delivered solely through and by David Whitmer, as the Revelator, and written by me as scribe, viz:
"Verily, verily thus saith the Lord unto my servants David, and John, and William, and Jacob, and Hiram,... Behold I have looked upon you from the beginning, and have seen that in your hearts dwelt truth, and righteoness [sic].... it must needs have been that ye were cast out from among those who had poluted themselves and the holy authority of their priesthood.... For verily, verily saith the Lord, even Jesus, your Redeemer, they have polluted my name, and have done continually wickedness in my sight,... Thou shalt write concerning the downfall of those who once composed my church ..."
But here David [Whitmer] said a vision opened before him, and the spirit which was upon him bid him stop and talk to me concerning it. He said that in the bright light before him he saw a small chest or box of very curious and fine workmanship, which seemed to be locked, but he was told that it contained precious things, I was told that it contained 'the treasure of wisdom, and knowledge from God.' ... David and I turned aside, and called upon the Lord, and received direct instruction how we should further proceed.... I ordained H. Page to the office of High Priest, ... we two ordained Jacob Whitmer to the same office. Then we all laid hands on John Whitmer and reordained him ... we stepped forward and all laid hands upon David and re-ordained him ... (The Ensign of Liberty, August 1849, pp. 101-4).
McLellin's movement never really got off the ground, and later in his life David Whitmer was reluctant to talk about his association with McLellin.
Since a person who is investigating the Book of Mormon has only the testimony of eleven men to rely on, he should be certain that they were honorable men. If the Book of Mormon witnesses were honest, stable and not easily influenced by men, we would be impressed by their testimony. Unfortunately, however, we find that this is not the case. The evidence shows that they were gullible, credulous, and their word cannot always be relied upon.
Since the testimony of the three witnesses who claimed to see the angel is especially important, we want to summarize the information we have on their character.
Martin Harris: Martin Harris seems to have been very unstable in his religious life. G. W. Stodard, a resident of Palmyra, made this statement in an affidavit dated November 28, 1833: "I have been acquainted with Martin Harris, about thirty years. As a farmer, he was industrious and enterprising.... Although he
possessed wealth, his moral and religious character was such, as not to entitle him to respect among his neighbors.... He was first an orthadox [sic] Quaker, then a Universalist, next a Restorationer, then a Baptist, next a Presbyterian, and then a Mormon" (Mormonism Unvailed, by E. D. Howe, 1834, pp. 260-61).
Martin Harris' instability certainly did not cease when he joined the Mormon church. The Mormons themselves recorded that Harris "became partially deranged ... flying from one thing to another" (Millennial Star, vol. 8, p. 124). Mormon writer Richard L. Anderson admits that Martin Harris "changed his religious position eight times" during the period when he was in Kirtland, Ohio:
The foregoing tendencies explain the spiritual wanderlust that afflicted the solitary witness at Kirtland. In this period of his life he changed his religious position eight times, including a rebaptism by a Nauvoo missionary in 1842. Every affiliation of Martin Harris was with some Mormon group, except when he was affiliated with the Shaker belief, a position not basically contrary to his Book of Mormon testimony because the foundation of that movement was acceptance of personal revelation from heavenly beings (Improvement Era, March 1969, p. 63).
If we add the "eight times" that Martin Harris changed his religious position in Kirtland to the five changes he made before, we find that he changed his mind thirteen times! Richard Anderson is forced to acknowledge that Martin Harris' life shows evidence of "religious instability" (Ibid.). Mormon writer E. Cecil McGavin stated that "Martin Harris was an un-aggressive, vacillating, easily influenced person who was no more pugnacious than a rabbit.... His conviction of one day might vanish and be replaced by doubt and fear before the setting of the sun. He was changeable, fickle, and puerile in his judgment and conduct" (The Historical Background for the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 23, as cited in an unpublished manuscript by LaMar Petersen).
After changing his mind about religion many times, Martin Harris returned to the Mormon church. There is evidence to show, however, that he was still not satisfied (see Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? p. 58). Joseph Smith's own revelations referred to Harris as a "wicked man," and the church's publication Millennial Star said that he was an "evil" man and that "a lying deceptive spirit" attended him and his friends. Dr. Storm Rosa said, "My acquaintance with him induces me to believe him a monomaniac...."
This seems like a serious charge, but the Mormons themselves said that Harris had "fits of monomania." Harris' wife
made some very serious charges against his character, but they are not actually much worse than those made by the Mormons. Mrs. Harris stated that Martin had "mad-fits." The Mormons said that when he left the church he "was filled with the rage and madness of a demon." She stated that Martin was a liar. The Mormons admitted that when he came to England "a lying deceptive spirit" attended him. She stated that Mormonism had made him "more cross, turbulent and abusive to me." Joseph Smith himself later classified Martin Harris as one of those who was "too mean to mention."
Oliver Cowdery: Oliver Cowdery was apparently rather credulous. According to Joseph Smith, Cowdery was led astray by Hiram Page's "peep-stone." He was excommunicated from the Mormon church and united with the "Methodist Protestant Church" at Tiffin, Ohio. In 1841 the Mormons published a poem which stated that the Book of Mormon was "denied" by Oliver. He accused Joseph Smith of adultery. The Mormons, on the other hand, claimed that Oliver "committed adultery." Joseph Smith listed Cowdery among those who were "too mean to mention." The Mormons claimed that he joined "a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs." Joseph Smith testified that when a warrant was issued against Cowdery for "being engaged in making a purchase of bogus money and dies," he "left the country."
Cowdery seems to have returned to the Mormon church before his death, but David Whitmer claimed that Cowdery died believing Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet and that his revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants must be rejected:
I did not say that Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer had not endorsed the Doctrine and Covenants in 1836. They did endorse it in 1836; I stated that they "came out of their errors (discarded the Doctrine and Covenants), repented of them, and died believing as I do to-day," and I have the proof to verify my statement. If any one chooses to doubt my word, let them come to my home in Richmond and be satisfied. In the winter of 1848, after Oliver Cowdery had been baptized at Council Bluffs, he came back to Richmond to live.... Now, in 1849 the Lord saw fit to manifest unto John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and myself nearly all the errors in doctrine into which we had been led by the heads of the old church. We were shown that the Book of Doctrine and Covenants contained many doctrines of error, and that it must be laid aside.... They were led out of their errors, and are upon record to this effect, rejecting the Book of Doctrine and Covenants (An Address to Believers in The Book of Mormon, 1887, pp. 1-2).
David Whitmer: David Whitmer was also very gullible. He was influenced by Hiram Page's "peep-stone," and possibly by a woman with a "black stone," in Kirtland, Ohio. Joseph Smith identified David Whitmer with those who were "too mean to mention," and called him a "dumb ass." The Mormons also accused Whitmer of joining with a "gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs."
David Whitmer evidently supported James J. Strang for awhile, then changed his mind and supported the McLellin group. Whitmer was to be the prophet and head of the McLellin church. He gave a revelation in which the Lord was supposed to have told him the Mormons "polluted my name, and have done continually wickedness in my sight." David Whitmer also claimed that "in the bright light before him he saw a small chest or box of very curious and fine workmanship."
David Whitmer never returned to the Mormon church. Toward the end of his life he was a member of the "Church of Christ"—another small group which believed in the Book of Mormon. Just before his death, Whitmer published An Address To All Believers In Christ in which he stated:
If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by His own voice from the heavens, and told me to 'separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so should it be done unto them.' In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness (An Address To All Believers In Christ, by David Whitmer, 1887, p. 27).
Apostle John A. Widtsoe said that the Book of Mormon plates were seen and handled "by eleven competent men, of independent minds and spotless reputations" (Joseph Smith—Seeker After Truth, p. 338). We feel, however, we have demonstrated that these witnesses were easily influenced by men and therefore were not competent witnesses. Contrary to Apostle Widtsoe's statement, these witnesses were not men of "spotless reputation," but rather men whose word could not always be relied upon. Some of them even gave false revelations in the name of the Lord. Mormons ask us to accept David Whitmer's testimony to the Book of Mormon, but will they accept Whitmer's revelations which he gave when he was with the McLellin group? Certainly not. Neither will they accept his statement that "God spake tome again by His own voice from the heavens, and told me to 'separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints.' "
It would appear that same of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon would follow almost anyone who had a peep stone or claimed to have been visited by an angel. Take, for instance, their willingness to believe in the claims of the deceiver James J. Strang who claimed to translate ancient plates with the Urim and Thummim. The reader will remember that Martin Harris even served on a mission for the Strangites. This was not the only time that Harris endorsed a religion which claimed to have a sacred book given directly by the Lord. As we have already shown, in the Millennial Star the Mormons admitted that Martin Harris joined the Shakers: "In one of his fits of monomania, he went and joined the 'Shakers' or followers of Anne Lee." The Shakers felt that "Christ has made his second appearance on earth, in a chosen female known by the name of Ann Lee, and acknowledged by us as our Blessed Mother in the work of redemption" (Sacred Roll and Book, p. 358). The Shakers, of course, did not believe the Book of Mormon, but they had a book entitled A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book; From the Lord God of Heaven, to the Inhabitants of Earth. More than sixty individuals gave testimony to the Sacred Roll and Book, which was published in 1843. Although not all of them mention angels appearing, some of them tell of many angels visiting them—one woman told of eight different visions. On page 304 of this book, we find the testimony of eight witnesses:
We, the undersigned, hereby testify, that we saw the holy Angel standing upon the house-top, as mentioned in the foregoing declaration, holding the Roll and Book.
Sarah Maria Lewis.
Sarah Ann Spencer.
Caty De Witt.
Laura Ann Jacobs.
Joseph Smith only had three witnesses who claimed to see an angel. The Shakers, however, had a large number of witnesses who claimed they saw angels and the Roll and Book. There are over a hundred pages of testimony from "Living Witnesses." The evidence seems to show that Martin Harris accepted the Sacred Roll and Book as a divine revelation. Clark Braden stated: "Harris declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon" (The Braden and Kelly Debate, p. 173).
There is a Mormon source which indicates that Martin Harris claimed to have a greater testimony to the Shakers than to the Book of Mormon. In a thesis written at Brigham Young University, Wayne Cutler Gunnell stated that on December 31, 1844,
"Phineas H. Young [Brigham Young's brother] and other leaders of the Kirtland organization" wrote a letter to Brigham Young in which they stated: "There are in this place all kinds of teaching; Martin Harris is a firm believer in Shakerism, says his testimony is greater than it was of the Book of Mormon" ("Martin Harris—Witness and Benefactor to the Book of Mormon," 1955, p. 52).
The fact that Martin Harris would even join with such a group shows that he was unstable and easily influenced by men. Therefore, we feel that his testimony that the Book of Mormon was of divine origin cannot be relied upon. How can we put our trust in men who were constantly following after movements like the Shakers, Strangites, and the McLellin group? We feel that the Book of Mormon witnesses have been "weighed in the balances" and found wanting.
The testimony of the three witnesses leaves a person with the impression that they all saw the angel and the gold plates at the same time. Such was not the case, however. In his History of the Church Joseph Smith admits that Martin Harris was not with Whitmer and Cowdery when he saw the plates. Joseph had the three witnesses pray continually in an effort to obtain a view of the plates, but to no avail. Finally:
Upon this, our second failure, Martin Harris proposed that he should withdraw himself from us, believing, as he expressed himself, that his presence was the cause of our not obtaining what we wished for. He accordingly withdrew from us, and we knelt down again,... presently we beheld a light above us in the air, of exceeding brightness; and behold, an angel stood before us. In his hands he held the plates....
I now left David and Oliver, and went in pursuit of Martin Harris.... We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view ... (History of the Church, vol.1, pp.54-55).
There seems to be some question as to the time that elapsed between the two visions. Joseph Smith would have us believe that Martin Harris' vision occurred immediately after the other vision, but according to a reporter who interviewed David Whitmer, it was "a day or two after" (The Myth of the Manuscript Found, p.83). According to Anthony Metcalf, Martin Harris claimed that it was "about three days" later when he saw the plates (see Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? p.40).
Mormon writer Marvin S. Hill says:
... there is a possibility that the witnesses saw the plates in vision only.... There is testimony from several independent
interviewers, all non-Mormon, that Martin Harris and David Whitmer said they saw the plates with their "spiritual eyes" only.... This is contradicted, however, by statements like that of David Whitmer in the Saints Herald in 1882, "these hands handled the plates, these eyes saw the angel." But Z. H. Gurley elicited from Whitmer a not so positive response to the question," did you touch them?" His answer was, "We did not touch nor handle the plates." ...
So far as the eight witnesses go, William Smith said his father never saw the plates except under a frock. And Stephen Burnett quotes Martin Harris that "the eight witnesses never saw them...." Yet John Whitmer told Wilhelm Paulson ... that he saw the plates when they were not covered, and he turned the leaves (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter, 1972, pp. 83-84).
Marvin Hill refers to a letter written by Stephen Burnett. This document has been suppressed by the Mormon church until just recently. In this letter we find the following:
... when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel ... renounced the Book of Mormon ... after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was ... (Letter from Stephen Burnett to "Br Johnson," dated April 15, 1838, Joseph Smith papers, Letter book, April 20, 1837—February 9, 1843, pp. 64-66, typed copy).
Thomas Ford, who had been governor of Illinois, related a story which throws doubt upon the existence of the plates. Fawn Brodie quotes this story and then makes this statement: "Yet it is difficult to reconcile this explanation with the fact that these witnesses, and later Emma and William Smith, emphasized the size, weight, and metallic texture of the plates. Perhaps Joseph built some kind of makeshift deception" (No Man Knows My History, p. 80).
While the testimony of the eight witnesses could be explained simply by admitting that Joseph Smith had some type
of plates, the testimony of the three witnesses is more difficult to explain. They claimed 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...." When we consider, however, how credulous and visionary the three witnesses were, even this testimony is not impressive. As far as the claim for the visitation of angels is concerned, the Shakers had a much more impressive case with their Sacred Roll and Book.
Besides the angel that appeared to the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, there were many other occasions in the history of Mormonism when angels were supposed to have appeared. Joseph Smith declared on March 27, 1836, that the Kirtland Temple was "filled with angels" (History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 428). Under the date of March 30, 1836, the following appears in Joseph Smith's history: "The Savior made his appearance to some, while angels ministered to others,... the occurrences of this day shall be handed down upon the pages of sacred history, to all generations; as the day of Pentecost, so shall this day be numbered and celebrated as a year of jubilee ..." (p. 433).
Joseph Smith claimed that he and Oliver Cowdery saw Moses, Elias, Elijah and the Lord in the Kirtland Temple (see Doctrine and Covenants, sec. 110). If a person reads only Joseph Smith's account of this "endowment" he is apt to be very impressed. William E. McLellin, however, gives an entirely different story. He claims that there was "no endowment" (Ensign of Liberty, Kirtland, Ohio, March 1848, p.69). It should be remembered that McLellin was one of the Twelve Apostles at the time the endowment was supposed to have been given. On page 7 of the same publication, McLellin joined with five others in stating that "the anticipated endowment" was "a failure!!" It is interesting to note that David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, called the story of the endowment "a trumped up yarn." In fact, a reporter for the Des Moines Daily News stated that Whitmer absolutely denied the manifestations in the temple (in the article it reads "temple at Nauvoo," but it must refer to the Kirtland temple since Whitmer left the church before the Nauvoo temple was built):
The great heavenly "visitation," which was alleged to have taken place in the temple at Nauvoo, was a grand fizzle. The elders were assembled on the appointed day, which was promised would be a veritable day of Pentecost, but there was no visitation. No Peter, James and John; no Moses and Elias, put in an appearance. "I was in my seat on that occasion," says Mr.
Whitmer, "and I know that the story sensationally circulated, and which is now on the records of the Utah Mormons as an actual happening, was nothing but a trumped up yarn ..." (The Des Moines Daily News, October 16, 1886).
When we look at the testimony of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon or the report of happenings in the Kirtland temple we must remember that some of the early Mormons were very gullible and could be worked up into a state of excitement in which they actually believed that they saw visions. Apostle George A. Smith made this statement concerning an incident in the Kirtland temple: "Sylvester Smith bore testimony of seeing the hosts of heaven and the horsemen. In his exertion and excitement it seemed as though he would jump through the ceiling" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, p. 10).
John Whitmer, who was church historian in Joseph Smith's time, related the following concerning some of the visions that members of the church had:
For a perpetual memory, to the shame and confusion of the Devil, permit me to say a few things respecting the proceedings of some of those who were disciples, and some remain among us, and will, and have come from under the error and enthusiasm which they had fallen.
Some had visions and could not tell what they saw. Some would fancy to themselves that they had the sword of Laban, and would wield it as expert as a light dragon; some would act like an Indian in the act of scalping; some would slide or scoot on the floor with the rapidity of a serpent, which they termed sailing in the boat to the Lamanites, preaching the gospel. And many other vain and foolish maneuvers that are unseeming and unprofitable to mention. Thus the Devil blinded the eyes of some good and honest disciples (John Whitmer's History, chapter 6).
It seems that the early Mormons could see almost anything in vision. John Pulsipher recorded the following in his journal:
One pleasant day in March, while I was at work in the woods, about one mile from the Temple, ... there was a steamboat past [sic] over Kirtland in the air! ... It passed right along and soon went out of our hearing. When it got down to the city it was seen by a number of persons.... Old Elder Beamon, who had died a few months before was seen standing in the bow of the Boat.... The boat went steady along over the city passed right over the Temple and went out of sight to the west! ("John Pulsipher Journal," as quoted in Conflict at Kirtland, p. 331).
There is a great deal more that could be mentioned concerning the Book of Mormon witnesses, angels and gold plates.