Book of Mormon Witnesses

Posted by: Andee / Category: ,


At the beginning of the Book of Mormon, there is a page of testimonies of 11 men who swore they witnessed the golden plates. For most people, this testimony is enough to shelf any doubts, but for people like me it doesn't really hold water.

David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris all claim that they were shown the plates by an angel. It was always told to me that it was a physical, tangible event that took place. What people don't really understand is that the witnessing was done in a spiritual way. Here are more points from MormonThink.com.

The witnesses’ experiences may have only been visionary in nature. There are many statements given by the witnesses that indicate they only saw the angel and the plates in a visionary experience. Why would people need to see real, physical plates in a vision or a real angel that was physically on the earth? There are also several statements saying that the only time they saw the plates was when the plates were covered in a cloth or tow frock.

The witnesses did not all see the plates or angel at the same time. The plates were seen in two groups of four not all eight together as popularized in church paintings. Only David Whitmer and perhaps Oliver Cowdery saw the angel together. Martin Harris removed himself from the group and did not see the angel until perhaps three days later. Why is this significant? Any magician will tell you that it is easier to deceive people in smaller groups.

David Whitmer said “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.” So which statement was David Whitmer lying about or had been mistaken about? Either way he doesn’t sound like a completely trustworthy witness.

All the witnesses had close ties to Joseph and his family. Some like Martin Harris had a substantial financial investment in the success of the Book of Mormon.

These men lived in the early 1800s and believed in magical things like many people did during that time period such as divining rods, second sight, seer stones, etc. Some of the witnesses, especially Martin Harris were easily swayed by tales of the supernatural, especially in a religious context.


Many of the witnesses ended up leaving the church and following other leaders and religions such as Jesse Strang, the Shakers, Methodists, etc. By 1847 not a single one of the surviving eleven witnesses was part of the LDS Church.

Of the witnesses that left the church, most believed that Joseph was at best a fallen prophet, the church changed its doctrines in error and changed revelations against God’s will.

The witness, who have been heralded as good, honest, Abe Lincoln-type of men were later called liars, counterfeiters, thieves, etc. by Joseph Smith himself.

Here is how the witnessing of the Book of Mormon plates SHOULD have happened... again, from MormonThink.com.

If someone was going to have witnesses to some earth-shattering event, and they wanted people to believe them, they would have done it very differently than Joseph did. The whole witnesses’ portion of the BOM would have been much better served if the following things had been done:

None of the witnesses should have been related to Joseph or each other. Most of the witnesses were either related or good friends. Having unrelated people as witnesses would be far more effective than using your brothers and father.

The witnesses should not have already been eager believers. There should have been some skeptics.

There should have been no financial motive. Martin Harris mortgaged his farm and invested some $5,000 of his own money into printing the Book of Mormon so of course he had incentive to ‘promote’ the book.

Each of the witnesses should each have written their own testimony instead of merely signing a prepared statement written by Joseph. If the prepared document wasn’t 100% accurate many people would simply sign it anyway as it would be too much of a hassle to have it completely rewritten by hand – especially in the 1800s.

The witness should have been much more detailed about this amazing event. What did the angel look like? What exactly did he say? How did he speak? There are almost no details provided which can be analyzed and compared. If each witness had simply written their own account and provided significant details then their individual testimonies could corroborate each other.

The witnesses should have been interviewed independently immediately after going public. They should have been interviewed the same way police do with witnesses to crimes or that investigators do with UFO cases. Ask questions to see if their stories match; How was the angel dressed? How tall was he? How did he speak?, etc.

The witnesses should not have used subjective language and say strange things like comparing seeing the plates with seeing a city through a mountain or using spiritual eyes instead of their natural eyes to view physical plates.

The witnesses should not have been gullible people that believed in things like ‘second sight’, divining rods, finding treasure by placing a rock in a hat, etc. That the Three Witnesses were a gullible sort is illustrated by an incident in July, 1837. Joseph had left on a five-week missionary tour to Canada, only to find on his return that all three of the Witnesses had joined a faction opposing him. This faction rallied around a young girl who claimed to be a seeress by virtue of a black stone in which she read the future. David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery all pledged her their loyalty, and Frederick G. Williams, formerly Joseph's First Counselor, became her scribe. The girl seeress would dance herself into a state of exhaustion, fall to the floor, and burst forth with revelations. (See Lucy Smith: Biographical Sketches, pp. 211-213).

All of the witness should have been much more vocal and been interviewed much more often. There are very few interviews done with the witnesses that provide any additional information or corroboration of their statements. You would think that these people, after seeing such a magnificent sight, would spend their time testifying to the world about their experience instead of largely just signing a prepared statement and avoiding interviews by the media.

And of course it would have helped had all the witnesses remained loyal to the Church for the rest of their lives instead of having some of them abandon it later on. It doesn’t make much sense to leave the true Church of God if you have really received an indisputable witness that it was true.

See? There you have it. There is zero evidence that the golden plates actually existed. Lets not forget that when the actual translation took place, Joseph used a seer stone in a top hat. The golden plates were again physically missing from the location.

Makes you think... at least... it should.


15 comments:

  1. Danite Says:

    The criteria established by MormonThink is their criteria without taking into account the reliability of random witnesses after Joseph Smith was killed.

  1. Nicko Says:

    Sydney,

    Once again you are just portraying someones Scholarstic opinion, not something of concrete evidence.

    Instead, what you haven't discussed is how none of the three witnesses ever retracted their testimonies, even after leaving the church (of which two returned). How do you explain that? Even when Whitmer hated the church, he never retracted his witness...

    That should make you think....

  1. Sydney Says:

    Danite,

    You are worried about the reliability of random witnesses, but not of the Book of Mormon's witnesses? You can't have it both ways.

  1. Sydney Says:

    Nicko,

    What these three witnesses have said is that they saw the Book of Mormon with their "spiritual eyes."

    If you want something to be proven, you should definitely use the steps provided here. If the golden plates truly existed, people should have been able to see them and touch them physically. It didn't happen.

    The only thing that "makes me think" is how people are so eager to believe this story without the proof.

  1. Travis Says:

    Sidney,

    I also have a lot of issues with the witness's to the BofM. Its interesting to think of what could have done differently so that it wouldn't take so much faith to believe something really happened, but I don't think that religion can work that way. Religion relies on everything being so vague and distant and weird that it takes FAITH to believe in it all.

    To believe in the LDS church, you must believe that all sorts of completely improbable things have happened, and then you have to take all of the evidence against it and set it aside and believe it anyways. Its a giant leap of faith. Faith... the ability to believe in something that has no proof.

    If people really looked at proof to determine their beliefs, they wouldn't choose any religion. Without faith, religion is dead.

    Oh, BTW, this is paranoidfr33k. Just got my new name. ;-)

  1. Sydney Says:

    Hey there Travis!

    I agree with you about religion in general needing a giant leap of faith. I would like to think that if there is a God up there He would make things a little more easier to believe than the Mormon stories I grew up with.

    I mean, lets face it... all of these men had something to gain by being a witness. They would either gain money, or they would gain popularity for being one of the men to "see" such a sight.

    If the plates truly existed, there would have been some kind of proof. Some way for Joseph Smith to prove to everyone he wasn't a liar...

    I come to the conclusion that they never existed.

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Syd,

    You are really stretching this one. Honestly. I think that if you are going to really argue this point, you would need to suggest that the 11 witnesses were all lying. The Testimony written in the front does suggest a spiritual manifestation whereby an ANGEL of God came down and laid the plates before their eyes.

    The 11 testify of actually handling the plates in their ACTUAL hands. So you receive two types of manifestations. A Spiritual and A Physical. How you dismiss the fact that the 3 all of whom at some stage became disaffected with the church never retracted their testimonies is beyond me. But of course, you have your path to trod.

    I still find it bemusing to hear people try and degenerate the BoM into something JS wrote himself. Such a benign commentary on something that is obviously not the invention of a man with barely no education. To read it with a knowledge of Jewish and Hebrew Custom and history is to appreciate that JS could have never fabricated this stuff....unless you argue that he somehow had a postdoc in Anthropology specialising in Hebrew traditions.....

    Nicko

  1. Sydney Says:

    I am not claiming that all of them were lying. I think Joseph Smith had most of these men in the palm of his hand. They were told that they needed to pray in order to see the golden plates. None of these men physically saw them... only with the "eyes of faith."

    For the sake of argument though, shouldn't you question it? I mean, isn't it "out there" to assume that the story is true in the first place? Shouldn't the burden of proof be on the people making these claims and not on the people trying to voice concern over the honesty of the claims?

    I am not sure if Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon himself, although it would be easier to believe that than to believe an angel of God came down from heaven and did all this stuff. Many people suggest that the Book of Mormon was plagerized (I know I didn't spell that right) slightly. It wouldn't be as hard as you might think to come up with a story like the Book of Mormon.

    Where are the sources claiming that they physically handled the plates? Why are all of these men a part of the church movement? Shouldn't have there been at least one person there who was a skeptic? Someone who had nothing to gain or lose from being honest?

    The story is pure fiction in my opinion. The burden of proof is on the people making the claims. Prove it.

  1. Nicko Says:

    Well Sydney...

    First of all like I suggested earlier, the 8 men all handled the plates and later some left the church. I'm not sure of their history as I've not read up on it. But to suggest that the 3 who did testify vehemently would not change their minds (because as you suggested they were eating out of JS's hands) later on is ridiculous. All 3 left the church and Whitmer especially had a major dislike for JS. Cowdery and Harris I believe were the only ones to return but before then, their falling out was all based on some disaffection with the teachings at some point. Yet despite this, not once did they retract their stories. I find it hard to see how you can explain that.

    Furthermore, Emma herself handled the plates as she suggests in part of her story. She describes dusting around and then put her hands through to the other side of the curtain between Smith and Cowdery who were not there and dusted on the table where the plates were. She describes the plates as being metallic and making a metallic noise as she moved them. She never discusses seeing them, but quietly, I wonder if she did sneak a peak. A few others too saw them...off the top of my head I seem to recall one of the elderly Whitmer ladies seeing them because of her faith or something of that nature.

    So there were more than just the males who testified of handling/seeing them. But again I believe you run into danger of dismissing all these rather flippantly. You say I need to provide proof, well the proof is in the non-retraction of testimonies and stories provided by Emma herself.

    But evidence will get you so far. Again it does as a previous poster suggested take a leap of faith to get you to believe the story. But that is exactly what religion is at times. Without it, I agree...it is dead.

    As for the claim of plagirism. I'm afraid this is water thin. Most make outrageous claims that the BoM is three-quarters KJV Bible. Now both you and I know that is incorrect. But lets entertain the thought that it might have been. You have to assume alot Sydney. Firstly, you have to assume that Smith knew how to fluently read and write, which he didn't. Second, you also have to assume he could transpose the plagirised data into something very sophisticated like the BoM. Third, you still have to dismiss the idea that somehow, Smith also fluked getting a whole bunch of Hebrew colloquial and customary things right in the BoM.

    There is a whole lot of maybes in there for my liking. Too many again for a man of poor educational history as Smith had.

  1. Sydney Says:

    Nicko,

    We will have to (again) agree to disagree. They can tell whatever stories they want. What we need is tangible evidence. Where is that evidence? Nowhere.

    Again, everyone in the situation had something to gain or lose by their actions. If God were to truly leave golden plates here on earth and have an angel prove to people they existed, he would have done so in a way that there would be tangible evidence.

    There is no reason in the world that the golden plates needed to be taken away. I know you are going to disagree with me there, most mormons do, but what would the harm be in keeping them on earth? I am sure people would try to steal them for profit, BUT people would certainly be more likely to trust this outlandish story of JS's.

  1. Sydney Says:

    Oh, forgot something...

    JS and his family studied the bible since he was extremely small. His Mom was very interested in everything religion, and he spent quite a lot of time with the bible.

    Secondly, I don't believe the book of Mormon is as sophisticated as you do.

    Dismiss it if you want, but my theory is more probable than yours when you look at the FACTS.

  1. Nicko Says:

    Sydney - your theory more probable than mine??? Disagree we will thats for sure.

    Even if JS did study the Bible as a youngster back in the day, that doesn't make him as literate as he certainly is in writing the BoM. The fact that Mosiah Ch1 - 3 shouts of the Feast of the Tabernacles is enough for me to suggest that he must have truly read the Bible in some serious scholarly manner. And the use of the word Lehi (only used in place name in the bible)? What about the use of Chiasmus? Surely he wasn't that literate with the Hebrew customs?

    I think you'd be better off arguing that he didn't write it at all...but that someone else did.

    As for the evidences you seek, even Christ himself said, don't seek for a sign. You may as well dismiss the Bible as well seeing as there is no ARK, no Garden of Eden, no real evidence of the pilgrimage of the Ancient Israelites, no real evidence of Christ's ascension and resurrection....

    Perhaps you should be stand against all religion if you believe everything has to be proven....because as one postmormon put it, religion without faith is dead.

  1. Sydney Says:

    Nicko,

    My theory is definitely more probable. I ask this a lot, but if some random guy were to walk up to you and tell you the same story Joseph Smith told, you wouldn't believe him. Would you? You would think he was a con artist or mentally ill. The story is outrageous... the whole thing. Again, if God wanted people to recognize this as the truth, he would have made it a little easier to believe.

    Joseph Smith wasn't as uneducated as people claim. His father and brother both taught school at times, and he studied the bible with his mother and spent a lot of time doing it.

    I am not saying that Joseph Smith wrote it for sure... I am just saying that it's more probable than believing an angel of God gave him golden plates. It's definitely possible someone else wrote it, and Joseph was the one to play the role as the "prophet."

    I definitely don't believe in the stories of Noah's Ark, the Garden of Eden... I am completely agnostic. It's improbable that those things actually happened. The evidence isn't there.

    In my opinion, man made up these stories to comfort or give answers to themselves about life's great mystery... "Why are we here?"

    I am not "against" religion, but I certainly don't agree with it. Organized religion is a way for like-minded people to get together and feel an importance in the world.

    The stories from Joseph Smith as well as stories from the Bible are unlikely.

  1. Nicko Says:

    Ok, now that we have that clear, perhaps you should start preaching that to the public. I think some peeps may get confused where you stand. If you truly don't believe any of the bible's more 'fantastical stories' then it paints you in a different light.

    You are indeed a 'proof' seeker. And it makes it harder for us to talk about heavenly things, if you don't believe in the miracles of past at all.

  1. Sydney Says:

    Nicko,

    I have mentioned many times that I don't like organized religion at all. This particular blog is about the Mormon church, and that is what I post about. It's what I know.

    I don't really care what "light" I am being seen in. There are plenty of people out there who understand exactly what I am talking about and agree.

    Again, if you want someone to believe in something miraculous, you should have proof. God gave us a brain to use, and we should use it, right?