Witnesses in the CES Letter

Articles about the CES Letter

Witnesses in the CES Letter

The CES Letter lists several concerns about the nature of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Below are links to various FAIR resources and other resources responding to each concern.

Intro content

CES Letter: "Joseph did not use the gold plates for translating the Book of Mormon."

Answer: The gold plates were essential to Joseph Smith's work of bringing forth the Book of Mormon.

This critique is covered in Book of Mormon Translation in the CES Letter.

Magical Worldview

CES Letter: "These are people who believed in folk magic, divining rods, visions, second sight, peep stones in hats, treasure hunting (money digging or glass looking), and so on."

Answer: "Complex definitions distinguishing 'magical” from 'modern' thinking rarely amount to more than 'What you do is superstition, while what I do is science or true religion.'"[1]

For more information:


CES Letter: "With inconsistencies, a conflict of interest, magical thinking, and superstition like this, exactly what credibility does Martin Harris [and the other witnesses] have and why should I believe him?"

Answer: "Martin Harris and the other witnesses have a great deal of credibility. . . . Just because the witnesses lived in a different day and age than we do, and just because they may have believed in things like divining rods and seer stones, does not make them unreliable. Their stories did not change throughout their entire lives, despite all of them leaving the Church and turning bitterly against Joseph at one time or another."[2]

For more information:

Second Sight: Visions

See the resources listed above under Witnesses for answers to the questions in this section of the letter about second sight.

Second Sight: James Strang and the Voree Plates

CES Letter: "What does this say about the credibility of the Book of Mormon witnesses if they were so easily duped by James Strang and his claims of being a prophet called of God to bring forth new scripture from ancient plates only to later turn out to be a fraud?"

Answer: "I haven't seen any evidence that any of the witnesses were duped by James Strang other than Martin, and as shown, that was only for a few months and Martin apparently denied being affiliated with Strang in the midst of it. Jeremy didn’t provide any other evidence to support his claims—likely because there isn’t much that exists beyond Strang’s own insistence that they were his followers."[3]

For more information:

No Document of Actual Signatures

CES Letter: "From a legal perspective, the statements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight witnesses hold no credibility or weight in a court of law as there are a) no signatures of any of the witnesses except Oliver, b) no specific dates, c) no specific locations, and d) some of the witnesses made statements after the fact that contradict and cast doubt on the specific claims made in the statements contained in the preface of the Book of Mormon."

Answer: "The same all holds true for Jeremy’s Letter. His signature is nowhere to be found inside, there are no specific dates listed for the letter he wrote to the CES director or the events laid out in his conclusion, no specific locations are mentioned for any of those events, he doesn’t even tell us where the CES director was working, and some of Jeremy’s statements and arguments contradict others he makes, both publicly and inside the Letter itself."[4] Clearly the lack of a signature document does not invalidate the testimony of the witnesses. Further, their testimonies are consistent throughout their lives.

This claim is primarily addressed above under Witnesses. For a specific rebuttal to the CES Letter about the document issue, see Part 51: CES Letter Witnesses Questions (Section G).


This section of the letter largely repeats criticisms from earlier sections, so the claims are primarily addressed in the resources above. For a specific rebuttal to this section, see:


  1. Eric A. Eliason, "Seer Stones, Salamanders, and Early Mormon “Folk Magic” in the Light of Folklore Studies and Bible Scholarship," BYU Studies Quarterly 55, no. 1.
  2. Sarah Allen, "The CES Letter Rebuttal — Part 46," FAIR blog, 2 February 2022.
  3. Sarah Allen, "The CES Letter Rebuttal — Part 50," FAIR blog, 2 March 2022.
  4. Sarah Allen, "The CES Letter Rebuttal — Part 51," FAIR blog, 9 March 2022.