User:InProgress/Mormonism and Wikipedia/Martin Harris

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia: An analysis of Wikipedia article "Martin Harris (Latter Day Saints)"
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Analysis of the Wikipedia article "Martin Harris (Latter Day Saints)" (version September 10, 2008)

We analyze this article for overall tone and spin.

Early life

Main Article Citations and Notes Commentary

Martin Harris was born in Eastown, New York, the second of the eight children. According to historian Ronald W. Walker, little is known of his youth, "but if his later personality and activity are guides, the boy partook of the sturdy values of his neighborhood which included work, honesty, rudimentary education, and godly fear."

  • Ronald W. Walker, "Martin Harris: Mormonism's Early Convert," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986):31
  • Work and honesty are mentioned right up front at the beginning. Sounds like this might be a reasonable article about Martin Harris, right? Think again.
In 1808, Harris married his cousin Lucy Harris. Until 1831, Harris lived in Palmyra, New York, where he was prosperous farmer.
  • People who marry their own cousins! That says something about them, right? This is called "presentism:" the application of modern twenty-first century thinking on one who lived in an earlier age.
  • One wonders why the editor felt that this bit of information was noteworthy enough to include.

Harris's neighbors considered him both an honest and superstitious man.

  • Ronald W. Walker, "Martin Harris: Mormonism's Early Convert," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986):35. More "than a dozen of Harris's Palmyra contemporaries left descriptions of the man that describe his honor, honesty, industry, peacefulness, and respectability, his hard-headed Yankee shrewdness and his wealth."
  • Next, the article says that Harris is both honest and superstitious. OK, let's see some examples...

A biographer wrote that Harris's "imagination was excitable and fecund." For example, Harris once imagined that a sputtering candle was the work of the devil.

  • Ronald W. Walker, "Martin Harris: Mormonism's Early Convert," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986): 34-35. "Once while reading scripture, he reportedly mistook a candle's sputtering as a sign that the devil desired him to stop. Another time he excitedly awoke from his sleep believing that a creature as large as a dog had been upon his chest, though a nearby associate could find nothing to confirm his fears. Several hostile and perhaps unreliable accounts told of visionary experiences with Satan and Christ, Harris once reporting that Christ had been poised on a roof beam."
  • Now the wiki authors begin the detailed examination of the "superstitious" aspects of Harris' personality. Notice the extensive examples of superstitious behaviors, yet we haven't seen a single example of "honest" or "industrious" behavior. Wikipedia articles are supposed to be just depends upon who is doing the "balancing."
  • See Book of Mormon witnesses/Character#Martin Harris.
An acquaintance said that Harris claimed to have seen Jesus in the shape of a deer and walked and talked with him for two or three miles.
  • John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840 in EMD, 2: 271: "No matter where he went, he saw visions and supernatural appearances all around him. He told a gentleman in Palmyra, after one of his excursions to Pennsylvania, while the translation of the Book of Mormon was going on, that on the way he met the Lord Jesus Christ, who walked along by the side of him in the shape of a deer for two or three miles, talking with him as familiarly as one man talks with another." According to two Ohio newspapers, shortly after Harris arrived in Kirtland he began claiming to have "seen Jesus Christ and that he is the handsomest man he ever did see. He has also seen the Devil, whom he described as a very sleek haired fellow with four feet, and a head like that of a Jack-ass." Vogel,EMD 2: 271, note 32.
  • The negative spin on Harris's personality continues with yet more examples of superstitious behavior. Still no examples of honest or industrious behavior. Those traits were mentioned at the beginning of the article, but now appear to have been left behind.
  • See Book of Mormon witnesses/Character#Martin Harris.
The local Presbyterian minister called him "a visionary fanatic."
  • Walker, 34-35.
  • Now we can add the word "fanatic" to our list. Of course, a "local Presbyterian minister" would be a reliable source for an opinion about one of the early founders of Mormonism, would he not?
A friend, who praised Harris as "universally esteemed as an honest man," also declared that Harris's mind "was overbalanced by 'marvellousness'" and that his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy.
  • Pomroy Tucker Reminiscence, 1858 in Early Mormon Documents 3: 71.
  • Perhaps there is hope after all! Harris's honesty has again been mentioned. Will we now see some examples? Unfortunately, we do not, but we do get to add the word "crazy" to our list of Harris's traits.
  • Why didn't the author mention the fact that this "friend," Pomeroy Tucker, was an opponent of the Church and felt that Harris had been deceived by Joseph Smith?
  • See Book of Mormon witnesses/Character#Martin Harris.
Another friend said, "Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks."
  • Lorenzo Saunders Interview, November 12, 1884, Early Mormon Documents 2: 149.
  • Now we get to add the word "spooks" to our list. Will we now see examples of Harris's honesty or integrity? Unfortunately no, as we have now reached the end of the section on his "Early Life."
  • See Martin Harris' character.

Book of Mormon witness

Main Article Citations and Notes Commentary

In 1828, Joseph Smith, Jr., another resident of Palmyra, said he had obtained a record of ancient inhabitants of the Americas engraved on golden plates and that he had been directed by the angel Moroni to translate this work. Harris assisted Smith both financially and by serving as his scribe. Through the use of Urim and Thummim and/or a seer stone, Smith saw a translation of the writing on the plates and dictated the words to Harris.

  • This is an accurate description.

Because Harris desired assurance of the work's authenticity, Smith transcribed characters from the plates to a piece of paper, perhaps the one now known as the Anthon transcript. Harris took this document to New York City, where he met with Charles Anthon, a professor of linguistics at Columbia College. Although Harris and Anthon later told conflicting versions about their encounter, the episode apparently satisfied Harris's doubts about the authenticity of the Golden Plates.

  • See EMD 4: 377-86.
  • This is an accurate description.

Nevertheless, Harris's wife continued to oppose his collaboration with Smith. After translating the first 116 pages of the manuscript, Harris asked Smith for permission to take the manuscript back to his wife in order to convince her of its authenticity. Smith reluctantly agreed. After Harris had shown the pages to Lucy and some others, the manuscript disappeared.

  • Doctrine and Covenants 3,
  • This is an accurate description.

The loss temporarily halted the translation of the plates, and when Smith began again, he used other scribes, primarily Oliver Cowdery. Nevertheless, Harris continued to support Smith financially, and as the translation neared completion, Smith revealed that three men would be called as "special witnesses" to the existence of the Golden Plates.

  • This is an accurate description.

Harris, along with Cowdery and David Whitmer, was one of these Three Witnesses, although Joseph Smith clearly indicated that Harris's experience occurred separately from that of Whitmer and Cowdery.

  • Joseph Smith-History, 1839.
  • It is unclear relationship the second phrase is supposed to have with the first one. Harris was one of the Three Witnesses. Harris's experience did occur separately from the other two witnesses, and is documented in the Joseph Smith-History reference provided. The author appears to be setting the stage for something here...

Harris's attestation above what was implied to have been a joint testimony was printed with the book, and it has been included in nearly every subsequent edition.

  • So, here it is: Somehow the fact that Martin's viewing of the plates occurred separately from the other two witnesses (a fact clearly stated in Joseph Smith's history), is supposed to cast doubt upon his signed testimony?
  • It was not "implied" to be a joint testimony that was signed by the witnesses—it was a joint testimony.

In part due to their continued disagreement over the legitimacy of Joseph Smith and the golden plates, and because of the loss of his farm, which he had mortgaged to publish the Book of Mormon, Harris and his wife separated.

  • In March 2007, Russell Martin Harris, great-great-grandson of Martin Harris, gave a leather wallet, said to have been the one that carried Harris's money to the printer, to the LDS Church so that the wallet could be displayed at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City. AP story. </ref>
  • This is accurately describing the events, however, it is unclear what the citation and footnote have to do with the statement. All the citation shows is that Harris helped finance the Book of Mormon, a fact which nobody disputes and is well documented.

Lucy Harris was described by Lucy Mack Smith as a woman of "irascible temper," but Harris may also have abused her. Lucy Harris also suggested that her husband may have committed adultery with a neighboring "Mrs. Haggart."

  • Lucy Mack Smith, 1853, in EMD 1: 367; "Lucy Harris statement," in EMD, 2: 34-36: "In one of his fits of rage he struck me with the butt end of a whip, which I think had been used for driving oxen, and was about the size of my thumb, and three or four feet long. He beat me on the head four or five times, and the next day turned me out of doors twice, and beat me in a shameful manner....Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge, for its effects upon Martin Harris have been to make him more cross, turbulent and abusive to me." In March 1830, a revelation from Smith warned Harris not to "covet thy neighbor's wife." D&C 19: 25.
  • Now Martin is cast as a wife beater and an adulterer by his former wife, who also claims in the same document that "[i]f he had labored as hard on his farm as he has to make Mormons, he might now be one of the wealthiest farmers in the country." (EMD 2:36)
  • The Wikipedia article omits some additional information from the reference provided in which Lucy Harris is quoted. The footnote number 7 by editor Dan Vogel states: "Because Lucy Harris is unique in reporting her husband's relationshipwith Mrs. Haggart, Lucy presumably used the phrase "as has been reporteed" in the verbal, rumor, or gossip sense rather than in the printed or published sense." In other words, Lucy's accusation against her husband is the only record.
  • The wiki article also uses DC 19:25 in a bit of what Wikipedia refers to as "original research" (which is supposed to be prohibited), to support the idea that Martin had an affair. The revelation is directed to Martin Harris. The verse cited states:

And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife; nor seek thy neighbor’s life.

  • Are we to interpret this to mean that Martin coveted his neighbor's wife and sought to murder someone?

Mormon High Priest

Main Article Citations and Notes The rest of the story...

Harris became an early member of the Church of Christ, which Joseph Smith organized on April 6, 1830. On June 3, 1831, at a conference at the headquarters of the church in Kirtland, Ohio, Harris was ordained to the office of High Priest and served as a missionary in the Midwest, Pennsylvania, and New York.

On February 17, 1834, Harris was ordained a member of Kirtland High Council, which was then the chief judicial and legislative council of the church.

In response to the conflicts between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri, Harris joined what is now known as Zion's Camp and marched fruitlessly from Kirtland to Clay County, Missouri.

  • The use of the term "fruitlessly," of course, is an opinion slipped in by the author. Members of the Church point to many positive things that resulted from Zion's Camp. The use of the word "fruitlessly" is intended to imply that Joseph made a mistake.

Afterwards, Harris — along with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer — ordained a "traveling High Council" of twelve men that eventually became the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

  • Joseph Smith, B.H. Roberts (ed.), (1902) History of the Church, 2:186-87.

(Some early church leaders claimed that Harris, like Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery, was ordained to the priesthood office of apostle; however, there is no record of this ordination, and Harris—as with Cowdery—was never a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.)

  • The citation from Heber C. Kimball says the following:

Peter comes along with James and John and ordains Joseph to be an Apostle, and then Joseph ordains Oliver, and David Whitmer, and Martin Harris; and then they were ordered to select twelve more and ordain them.

Lucy Harris died in the summer of 1836, and on November 1, 1836, Harris married Caroline Young, the 22-year-old daughter of Brigham Young's brother, John. Although he was thirty-one years older than his new wife, Harris and Caroline had seven children together.

In 1837, dissension arose in Kirtland over the failure of the church's Kirtland Safety Society bank. Harris called it a "fraud" and was among the dissenters who broke with Smith and attempted to reorganize the church.

Led by Warren Parrish, the reformers excommunicated Smith and Sidney Rigdon, who relocated to Far West, Missouri.

  • In 1838, Joseph Smith called the Three Witnesses Cowdery, Harris, and Whitmer "too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them." B.H. Roberts, ed. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1905), 3: 232.
  • The "reformers" also entered the Kirtland temple with guns.

Parrish's church in Kirtland took control of the Kirtland temple and became known as The Church of Christ. In its 1838 articles of incorporation, Harris was named one of the church's three trustees.

By 1839, Parrish and other church leaders had rejected the Book of Mormon and consequently broke with Harris, who continued to testify to its truth. By 1840, Harris returned to communion with Smith's church, which had subsequently relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois.

Strangite, Whitmerite, Gladdenite, Williamite, Shaker

Main Article Citations and Notes The rest of the story...

Even before he had become a Mormon, Harris had changed his religion at least five times.

  • Harris had been a Quaker, a Universalist, a Restorationist, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and perhaps a Methodist. Ronald W. Walker, "Martin Harris: Mormonism's Early Convert," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986):30-33.

After Smith's death, Harris continued this earlier pattern, remaining in Kirtland and accepting James J. Strang as Mormonism's new prophet, a prophet with his own set of supernatural plates and witnesses to authenticate them.

  • In August 1846, Harris traveled on a mission to England for the Strangite church.

By 1847, Harris had broken with Strang and accepted the leadership claims of fellow Book of Mormon witness, David Whitmer. Apostle William E. M'Lellin organized a Whitmerite congregation in Kirtland, and Harris became a member.

By 1851, Harris accepted another Latter Day Saint factional leader, Gladden Bishop, as prophet and joined Bishop's Kirtland-based organization.

  • Ronald W. Walker, "Martin Harris: Mormonism's Early Convert," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986): 29-30.

In 1855, Harris joined with the last surviving brother of Joseph Smith, William Smith and declared that William was Joseph's true successor.

Harris was also briefly intrigued by the "Roll and Book," a supernatural scripture delivered to the Shakers.

  • A pro-Mormon defense of Harris's behavior with regard to the Shakers. Harris never actually joined the Shakers; they advocated celibacy, and Harris was married. But Phineas H. Young told Brigham Young that Harris' testimony of Shakerism was "greater than it was of the Book of Mormon." Letter of Phineas H. Young to Brigham Young, Dec. 31, 1844.

By the 1860s, all of these organizations had either dissolved or declined. In 1856, his wife Caroline left him to gather with the Mormons in Utah while he remained in Kirtland and gave tours of the temple to curious visitors.

  • EMD, 2: 258.

Rebaptism into the LDS faith

In old age, Harris was left destitute and without a congregation in Kirtland. Eventually, in his poverty, Harris accepted the charity of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who raised $200 to help him move to the Utah Territory in 1870.

Harris was rebaptized into the LDS Church shortly after his arrival and lived the last four and a half years of his life with relatives in Cache Valley. He died on June 10, 1875 in Clarkston, Utah and was buried there.

A pageant about Harris, sponsored by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is annually performed on August weekends in Clarkston.[1]

Testimony to the Book of Mormon

Main Article Citations and Notes The rest of the story...
Although he was estranged from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for most of his life, Harris continued to testify to the truth of the Book of Mormon.
Nevertheless, at least during the early years, Harris "seems to have repeatedly admitted the internal, subjective nature of his visionary experience."
  • Vogel, EMD, 2: 255.
The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris "used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and 'seeing with the spiritual eye,' and the like."
  • Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 71 in EMD, 3: 122.
John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the book, said that he had asked Harris, "Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" According to Gilbert, Harris "looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, 'No, I saw them with a spiritual eye."
  • John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum," 8 September 1892, in EMD, 2: 548.
Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with "the eye of faith" or "spiritual eyes."
  • Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828 in EMD, 2: 270; Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 December 1833, in EMD, 3: 22.
In 1838, Harris is said to have told an Ohio congregation that "he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination."
  • Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 April 1838 in EMD, 2: 291.
A neighbor of Harris in Kirtland, Ohio, said that Harris "never claimed to have seen [the plates] with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision."
  • Reuben P. Harmon statement, c. 1885, in EMD, 2: 385.
In March 1838, disillusioned church members said that Harris had publicly denied that neither he nor the other Witnesses to the Book of Mormon had ever seen or handled the golden plates—although he had not been present when Whitmer and Cowdery first claimed to have viewed them—and they claimed that Harris's recantation, made during a period of crisis in early Mormonism, induced five influential members, including three Apostles, to leave the Church.
  • Stephen Burnett to Luke S. Johnson, 15 April 1838, in Joseph Smith's Letterbook, Early Mormon Documents 2: 290-92.
Even at the end of his long life, Harris said that he had seen the plates in "a state of entrancement." [2]
Nevertheless, in 1853, Harris told one David Dille that he had held the forty- to sixty-pound plates on his knee for "an hour-and-a-half" and handled the plates with his hands, "plate after plate."
  • Martin Harris interview with David B. Dille, 15 September 1853 in EMD 2: 296-97.
Even later, Harris affirmed that he had seen the plates and the angel with his natural eyes: "Gentlemen," holding out his hand, "do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Or are your eyes playing you a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the Angel and the plates."
  • Martin Harris interview with Robert Barter, c. 1870 in EMD, 2: 390.
The following year Harris affirmed that "No man heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon [or] the administration of the angel that showed me the plates."
  • Letter of Martin Harris, Sr., to Hanna B. Emerson, January 1871, Smithfield, Utah Territory, Saints' Herald 22 (15 October 1875):630, in EMD 2: 338. See also Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 118.

Mentions in Popular Culture

Harris was lampooned as a credulous and easily fooled rich man in the South Park episode "All About Mormons".


  1. Martin Harris Pageant.
  2. Metcalf in EMD, 2: 347.

Further reading