Monday, October 27, 2014

What About the Book of Mormon Witnesses?

Having done some reading about the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, here are some thoughts about how trustworthy these witnesses were.

David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris were finally chosen to be witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates' existence.  The four went to the woods to pray, but time passed with no action.  Harris felt ill and stated he was the reason for no word and then he left.  Immediately an angel appeared with the plates in his hands.  He demonstrated turning gold leaves and stated that God permitted the translation.  Joseph ran for Martin, who was kneeling elsewhere in prayer and he also saw the vision. Joseph then wrote up a "testimony" for them to sign and had it published at the end of the Book of Mormon.

The local press claimed that three original witnesses all told different versions of their experience with seeing the plates.  

Martin Harris told a lawyer that he saw the plates "with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me - though at the time they were covered with a cloth".

Whitmer said that Joseph led them to an open field where the plates were lying on the ground.

The testimony of the eight witnesses is even more suspect, since four of them were Whitmers, three were from Joseph's family and the eighth was Hiram Page, who married a Whitmer daughter. 

Witnesses were:
Christian Whitmer   
Jacob Whitmer 
Peter Whitmer, Jr.
John Whitmer
Hiram Page
Joseph Smith, Sr
Hyrum Smith
Samuel H. Smith

Illinois Governor Thomas Ford knew several of Joseph’s key men after they left the church.  They told Ford that the witnesses were "set to continual prayer, and other spiritual exercises," then Smith "assembled them in a room, and produced a box, which he said contained the precious treasure.  The lid was opened; the witnesses peeped into it, but making no discovery, for the box was empty, they said, 'Brother Joseph, we do not see the plates.'  The prophet answered them, 'O ye of little faith! how long will God bear with this wicked and perverse generation?  Down on your knees, brethren, every one of you, and pray God for the forgive-ness of your sins, and for a holy and living faith which cometh down from heaven.'  The disciples dropped to their knees, and began to pray in the fervency of their spirit, supplicating God for more than two hours with fanatical earnestness; at the end of which time, looking again into the box, they were now persuaded that they saw the plates."

Martin Harris:  Had been a Quaker, then a Universalist, then a Restorationist.  Fawn Brodie says the following on p.81 of her book, No Man Knows My History (about events leading up to the publishing of the Book of Mormon): Martin Harris had been an embarrassingly zealous proselyter who advertised his own visionary experiences as freely as those of Joseph.  He had seen Jesus in the shape of a deer, he said, and had walked with Him two or three miles, talking with Him as familiarly as one man talks with another.  The devil, he said, resembled a jackass, with very short, smooth hair similar to that of a mouse.  He prophesied that Palmyra would be destroyed by 1836, and that by 1838 Joseph's church would be so large that there would be no need for a president of the United States.  Publicly Harris met with amused tolerance and only occasional bitter scorn.  Privately Palmyra gossiped about his scandalous conduct with his neighbor Haggard's wife.  Harris later left his wife.  In 1837 he followed a young girl seer when the church split, and later followed James Strange to Wisconsin.  He returned to Utah in his old age.

Oliver Cowdery was excommunicated in October 1834, but was restored to the church later.  In 1837 he followed the girl seer in the church split and then returned again the following year in Missouri.  In June 1838 he dissented and Danites forced his family from their home.  Oliver left the church.  In 1843 he joined the Methodist church, but returned in 1848 to the Mormons.

David Whitmer also followed the girl seer in 1837 and later returned to the fold.

If these witnesses truly saw what they did, would any of them doubt the faith to the point they departed the LDS church?  Does the character of any of these witnesses lead one to trust what they said about the Book of Mormon?

I doubt if any of the testimony of these witnesses would stand up in a court of law, and yet hundreds of thousands of people have been led to believe that the Book of Mormon is true based initially on the basis of the testimony of these  witnesses who, in my mind, have no credibility.

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