Part 46: CES Letter Witnesses Questions [Section B]
By Sarah Allen
Today and next week, we’ll be talking about the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris bears the brunt of it, which will likely take this entire post, with less about David Whitmer and hardly anything about Oliver Cowdery. Apparently, Jeremy couldn’t find much else to attack Oliver for, beyond the divining rod we discussed last week. He goes on at length about Martin Harris, though, so I’m just going to jump right in without a longer introduction.
We are told that the witnesses never disavowed their testimonies, but we have not come to know these men or investigated what else they said about their experiences.
For once, he’s partially right. They never disavowed their testimonies. As a history geek, though, I have to disagree with the second statement. Jeremy may not know much about these men or investigated what else they said, but some of us certainly have. We have a wealth of information about them at our fingertips.
Among other resources, the Interpreter Foundation recently made a movie, Witnesses, that covers some of their experiences taken from their own words. They also created an entire website just about them. FAIR has a large section of their website devoted to them. So does Book of Mormon Central. They’re discussed in the Church History Topics portion of the Church’s website. There’s a lesson solely about them in the Book of Mormon Teacher’s Manual. Michael Ash wrote a 4-part brochure on them, which you can read here:
Finally, Historian Richard L. Anderson wrote what is easily the best book about them. And, as Reddit user WooperSlim pointed out, Anderson’s book was largely taken from a series of old Improvement Era articles he’d written, so if you don’t have access to the book, WooperSlim passed along the articles:
- Oliver Cowdery’s Non-Mormon Reputation
- The Second Witness of Priesthood Restoration
- The Second Witness on Priesthood Succession
- The Scribe as a Witness
- Martin Harris, The Honorable New York Farmer
- The Certainty of the Skeptical Witness
- David Whitmer, The Independent Missouri Businessman
- The Most Interviewed Witness
- Five Who Handled the Plates
- The Smiths Who Handled the Plates
And there is a lot more out there if you take the time to look for it, believe me. Jeremy continues:
They are 11 witnesses to the Book of Mormon: Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, Hiram Page, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith Sr. – who all shared a common worldview of second sight, magic, and treasure digging – which is what drew them together in 1829.
Nope. What drew them together, as anyone paying attention to their names is sure to notice, is that most of them were related to one another. David, John, Christian, Jacob, and Peter Jr. were all brothers. Hiram Page was married to one of their sisters, making him their brother-in-law. (Oliver Cowdery, incidentally, married one of their other sisters two years later.) Hyrum and Samuel Smith were Joseph’s brothers, and Joseph Sr., obviously, was his father. Martin Harris was a neighbor of the Smith family, one who had hired Joseph to work on his farm.
And Oliver, as we know, was a teacher who stayed with the Smiths while rumors of the infamous “Golden Bible” were flying around Palmyra. Eventually, the Smith family came to trust him enough to confide the story to him and almost immediately, he went to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to offer his services as a scribe. He believed right away that “there must be some truth to it.” Before he left Palmyra, however, he met David Whitmer while the latter was on a business trip to Palmyra and they both decided they wanted to learn more. On his way to Harmony, Oliver stopped off at David’s home and said he’d tell him what he found out. That is what drew them all together, family and friendly bonds and a desire to follow God’s will.
The following are several facts and observations on three of the Book of Mormon Witnesses:
No, the following are several rumors and distortions on three of the Book of Mormon Witnesses. There’s very little truth in what comes next.
Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness. He was known by many of his peers as an unstable, gullible, and superstitious man. Brigham Young once said of Martin:
“As for Martin Harris, he had not much to apostatize from; he possessed a wild, speculative brain. I have heard Joseph correct him and exhort him to repentance for teaching false doctrines.” — Brigham Young Addresses, Vol. 4, 1860-1864, Eldon J. Watson, p. 196-199
Brigham Young was usually a very charitable man, except when it came to those who he saw as sinning or apostatizing from the Church. In particular, he was both blunt and unkind to those who turned against Joseph. For a while, Martin Harris fell under that category, so it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Brigham actually did say this in the heat of the moment.
However, we don’t have a shorthand transcript of this particular talk, apparently given on July 20th, 1862. This talk is not included in the Journal of Discourses, either. All we have is a typed transcript of the book that Brian Hales uploaded to his database at http://www.mormonpolygamydocuments.org and the original source the book’s author, Eldon J. Watson, got the talk from, the Deseret News newspaper.
Because all we have is the edited version of this talk, we can’t confirm this is actually what Brigham said. Watson himself gives a caution in the preface of this volume (found on pages 2-3 of the typed manuscript):
Brigham Young claimed that if he had a chance to review and correct his talks before they were published, they were as good scripture as was contained in the Bible (see JD 13:95 and JD 13:264). But, he occasionally complained that some of his addresses were published before he had the opportunity to review them (see for example Deseret News Volume 17 page 353). There would be no need for such a complaint unless there were problems with a few of the published talks. It is known that Brigham Young requested that some of his talks not be reproduced in other publications from the Deseret News because there were problems with them. Such, for example was the address of 25 May, 1877 at Logan, Utah (see the John M. Whitaker Journal entry for October 7th, 1903). This compilation contains several discourses which are found only in the Deseret News: it is possible that they were not further reproduced by such a specific request by Brigham Young. Some of the unpublished discourses were disapproved by Brigham Young for publication, such as the talk of 21 June 1863. Many of the talks published in this compilation were not published during the lifetime of Brigham Young and it may be that some of them were not published because he disapproved of the written report….
As was discussed way back in Part 28, the reporters tended to play fast and loose with the transcripts, and often did not allow the original speakers to proof them before printing the edited sermons. When they did allow them to do so, it would usually be weeks or months later, when they had no way of remembering what they said in the moment and couldn’t verify their words. Brigham, Heber, and others were upset by this and at times forbade the transcriptionists from reprinting a talk or called them out from the pulpit and told them not to add anything to their talks that they didn’t say. This may be one talk Brigham didn’t approve for one reason or another.
So, he may have said this and he may not have. As I said, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did, but we can’t verify it. Take the quote with a grain of salt.
As for Martin being gullible, unstable, or superstitious, those reports came from critics after he joined the Church and aligned himself with Joseph. He held multiple city offices in the years leading up to joining the Church, and his neighbors described him favorably as being honest and industrious. He was further described by one historian/curator as being “a very prosperous farmer and one of the most socially and politically prominent members of the community.”
The thing people overwhelmingly criticize about Martin was his strong religious beliefs. The reason he tried out so many different religions is because none fit his beliefs until he came to work as Joseph’s scribe. Acquaintances are quoted as saying he could quote scripture better than anyone, and he apparently dared anyone to find a passage of the Bible he wasn’t familiar with. He disagreed strongly with the idea of the Trinity, which led to tensions with the local Protestant ministers, and he came to believe that no church of the day had the proper authority to act in God’s name. He also firmly believed that God had a special work for him to do. Because he wasn’t shy about sharing these things, he was labeled by critics as a religious fanatic.
Martin also showed remarkable skepticism about Joseph’s claims for someone who was “anything but a skeptical witness.” Don’t forget, he switched out Joseph’s seer stone with a fake to test his ability, he took a copy of some of Joseph’s translation to professors to verify them, he took the manuscript home to show his family and friends, and he questioned Joseph, Emma, and others in the Smith family separately, to confirm that they all told the same story. He’s also quoted as saying the following:
I said, if it is the devil’s work I will have nothing to do with it, but if it is the Lord’s, you can have all the money necessary to bring it before the world. He [Joseph] said that the angel told him, that the plates must be translated, printed and sent before the world. I said, Joseph, you know my doctrine, that cursed is every one that putteth his trust in man, and maketh flesh him [sic] arm; and we know that the devil is to have great power in the latter days to deceive if possible the very elect; and I don’t know that you are one of the elect. Now you must not blame me for not taking your word. If the Lord will show me that it is his work, you can have all the money you want.
Does that sound like someone who will believe anything to you? Because it doesn’t to me. Jeremy continues:
Reports assert that he and the other witnesses never literally saw the gold plates, but only an object said to be the plates, covered with a cloth.
We’ll talk about this specific claim in more detail later, but “reports can assert” anything. I can claim the moon is a giant marshmallow, and someone else can say, “Reports assert that the moon is a giant marshmallow.” That doesn’t make the claim true. That’s why you should always be skeptical of “a source close to” someone making an assertion of fact. Reporters can interview someone standing outside the building where the person in question works and it’d meet that definition, whether they actually know them or not. They are physically in close proximity to them, after all.
No firsthand reports make this claim that the witnesses never saw the plates. The witnesses were all quite firm that they did in fact see them literally.
Additionally, Martin Harris had a direct conflict of interest in being a witness. He was deeply financially invested in the Book of Mormon as he mortgaged his farm to finance the book.
That’s not a conflict of interest. Martin never made any money off the publishing of the Book of Mormon, and in fact was deeply in debt and had to sell off large portions of his farm because of it. Richard Oman stated that Martin’s monetary gift and support of the Church eventually “cost him his political office, his social position, and ultimately helped lead to the dissolution of his marriage.” He still never denied his testimony.
The following are some accounts of the superstitious side of Martin Harris:
“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.” — Martin Harris: Mormonism’s Early Convert, BYU Professor Ronald W. Walker, p. 34-35
“Several hostile and perhaps unreliable accounts” described some of those instances. In fact, the rest of the paragraph continues, “But such talk came easy. His exaggerated sense of the supernatural naturally produced caricature and tall and sometimes false tales.” Even Jeremy’s own source, the very same paragraph he quoted, states that many of these stories against Martin are exaggerated or false.
In one of these quoted stories, he woke up from a nightmare and didn’t realize at first that it was a dream. Many, many people can confirm they’ve had similar experiences. It’s a pretty common phenomenon. That’s hardly something to hold against him.
In another instance, he felt the devil was trying to stop him from reading scripture. That might seem a little extreme to us, but the early Church is full of stories of possessions by dark spirits trying to stop the work of God. Joseph grappled with a dark force in the Sacred Grove. Heber C. Kimball and Isaac Russell were attacked by evil spirits while serving the first mission to England. There are multiple other similar accounts in early Church history. Maybe Martin misread the situation, and maybe he didn’t. That doesn’t make him senile or incapable of telling fiction from reality. I’d also point out that the article says this “reportedly” happened. It’s a secondhand account taken from a letter written by Stephen Harding, and quoted in the anti-LDS book The Prophet of Palmyra by Thomas Gregg. The book was published in 1890, 15 years after Martin’s death, and he had no chance to rebut the allegation. Additionally, it was 61 years after the event supposedly took place.
You’ll note Jeremy also goes out of his way to say that this article was written by a BYU professor. It was, and the article is much more neutral and balanced than Walker is given credit for in Jeremy’s Letter. He recounts Martin’s strengths and weaknesses, and is overall very fair in his commentary. It’s a solid article with a lot of great information in it and I’ve already cited from it a few times, and will likely cite more from it before this post is over.
These next two stories are separated by Jeremy as though they’re from two different places, to make it seem like there are more critics against Martin than there actually are, but they’re taken from the same source, a letter and a footnote to the letter:
“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.” — John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840 in Early Mormon Documents 2:271
“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.” — Early Mormon Documents 2:271, note 32
As with the above stories, there’s no firsthand accounts of any of this. This is a thirdhand account given 11 years after the translation of the Book of Mormon. As far as the footnote goes, I’m a bit loath to cite this particular website, but it says, “The exact date of the final item is uncertain. The description of the Devil probably saw print in the Gazette of March 15th. The text is taken from reprints which appeared in the Cambridge, Ohio Guernsey Times of Apr. 16, 1831 and in the Marietta, Ohio American Friend of Apr. 30, 1830. Working backward from the probable March 15th publication date, Martin Harris would have arrived in northern Ohio on Saturday, March 12, 1830. This timing agrees with Marquardt’s calculations and with the remark offered in the March 15th issue of the Telegraph: ‘Martin Harris, another chief of the Mormon impostors, arrived here last Saturday.’” So, the original source can’t be ascertained with any certainty, and the papers reprinting it were hostile sources in their own right. There are a lot of untruths about Martin Harris out there, so I take these with a grain of salt, as well.
Before Harris became a Mormon, he had already changed his religion at least five times.
He’s citing the same Walker article where it says:
Another dimension to Harris’s life was far more compelling. At the age of thirty-five, he found himself deeply stirred by the competing claims of the religious revivalists. Some Palmyra citizens remembered Harris being “tossed to and fro.” “He was first an orthodox Quaker, then a Universalist, next a Restorationer, then a Baptist, [and] next a Presbyterian,” recalled G.W. Stodard, a neighbor who had known him thirty years. Another Palmyra citizen added Methodism to the list, while a third villager remembered Harris’s fondness for new creeds, “the more extravagant the better.”
This is an exaggeration, as Walker goes on to explain:
Harris’s version was less extravagant. On occasion he apparently visited Palmyra’s several churches and established with churchgoers a mutual rapport. “All of the Sects called me brother because the Lord [had] enlightened me,” he recollected. As a youth he may have worshipped with the Friends (the extended Harris family had Quaker ties), but since his midlife religious awakening, though “anxiously sought” by the “sectarians,” he had felt “inspired of the Lord & taught of the Spirit” to refuse a formal commitment. Two issues bothered him. First, trinitarian formulas seemed absurdly convoluted. They defined a God that seemed too remote. How could he please such a being? His second question involved authority. Harris doubted that any church was properly authorized to act for God. “I might just as well plunge myself into the water as to have any one of the sects baptize me.”
And Richard L. Anderson, in his fantastic book Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, states:
The arithmetic of Martin’s five religious changes before Mormonism is also faulty. The claim comes from the hostile Palmyra affidavits published by E. D. Howe; G. W. Stoddard closed his in sarcasm against Martin Harris: “He was first an orthodox Quaker, then a Universalist, next a Restorationer, then a Baptist, next a Presbyterian, and then a Mormon.” Palmyra sources do not yet prove that Martin was a Quaker, though his wife probably was. And no evidence yet associates Martin with the Baptist or Presbyterian churches. Note that the other two names are religious positions, not necessarily churches—philosophical Universalists dissent from traditional churches in believing that God will save all, and Restorationists obviously take literally the many Bible prophecies of God’s reestablished work in modern times. An early Episcopal minister in Palmyra interviewed Martin and reduced his five positions to two: “He had been, if I mistake not, at one period a member of the Methodist Church, and subsequently had identified himself with the Universalists.” Of course Martin could have been a Universalist and Restorationer simultaneously. This view fits what other Palmyra sources say about Martin Harris. In the slanted words of Pomeroy Tucker, who knew him personally, “He was a religious monomaniac, reading the Scriptures intently, and could probably repeat from memory nearly every text of the Bible from beginning to end, chapter and verse in each case.”
This impression of Martin as Bible student outside of organized religions is just what Martin says in his little-known autobiography of this period:
“In the year 1818—52 years ago—I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the Spirit that I should not join any church, although I was anxiously sought for by many of the sectarians. I was taught two could not walk together unless agreed. What can you not be agreed [is] in the Trinity because I cannot find it in my Bible, Find it for me, and I am ready to receive it. … Others’ sects, the Episcopalians, also tried me—they say 3 persons in one God, without body, parts, or passions. I told them such a God I would not be afraid of: I could not please or offend him. … The Methodists took their creed from me. I told them to release it or I would sue them … The Spirit told me to join none of the churches, for none had authority from the Lord, for there will not be a true church on the earth until the words of Isaiah shall be fulfilled. … So I remained until the Church was organized by Joseph Smith the Prophet. Then I was baptized … being the first after Joseph and Oliver Cowdery. And then the Spirit bore testimony that this was all right, and I rejoiced in the established Church. Previous to my being baptized I became a witness of the plates of the Book of Mormon.”
The above is Martin Harris’s creed, held for the half-century before giving this statement on returning to the Church, plus the five additional years that he lived in Utah. For the dozen years prior to joining Mormonism he was a seeker, like scores of other LIDS converts, and through life never departed from his confidence that the Bible prophecies were fulfilled in the Restoration through Joseph Smith. This core belief was what everything else related to, the structure that stood before, during, and after any gingerbread decorations at Kirtland.
Martin was investigating various religions the same way that Joseph had, and came to similar conclusions as Joseph did: no church had the authority to act for God, and the Trinity was too convoluted to be true.
After Joseph’s death, Harris continued this earlier pattern by joining and leaving 5 more different sects, including that of James Strang (whom Harris went on a mission to England for), other Mormon offshoots, and the Shakers. Not only did Harris join other religions, he testified and witnessed for them. It has been reported that Martin 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)
In the paragraph before the section of Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses that I already quoted, Anderson tackles this subject, too:
We shall see that the “five changes” prior to Martin’s New York conversion are overstated—but differing churches of that period do not mix with Martin’s Ohio variations on Mormonism, which he told visitors he had never left. His specific Ohio stages include the following: (1) the Parrish-Boynton party (which he condemned for denying the Book of Mormon at the time he met with them); (2) an 1842 rebaptism by a Nauvoo missionary; (3) an 1846 English mission with a Strangite companion (where documents suggest that the Book of Mormon was really Martin’s message); (4) participation in McLellin’s attempts to set up Midwest leaders for the Church in 1847-48; (5) concurrent with one or more stages, sympathy for Shakerism without full participation; (6) support of Gladden Bishop in his program of further revelations based on the Book of Mormon; (7) continuation of his original “dissenter” status of stressing the Book of Mormon and early revelations of Joseph Smith—even when occasionally meeting with William Smith and others, he maintained this position for fifteen years after his 1855 conversations with Thomas Colburn; (8) his 1870 return to the Church in Salt Lake. Note that the emphasis could be on the number “eight” or Martin’s support of the Book of Mormon through all stages, which blended as different ways of trying to further the Restoration.
Those “5 more different sects” were virtually all with other Mormon breakaway groups where he preached his repeated testimony of the Book of Mormon and nothing else. That mission to England he served for the Strangites was cut short and there are reports he repeatedly testified of the Book of Mormon while there and denied being affiliated with Strang:
“…When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting that he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism: but when he was asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes: and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: ‘Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.’”
“…The Strangite delegation, namely, Harris, Brooks, and their companion, on arriving in Liverpool, complained very much that they could not get an opportunity to do the work which the Lord sent them to perform. Elder Mars- den, of this town, handled them so effectually in Birkenhead, and made Strangism look so contemptibly mean, that Martin publicly denied being sent by Strang, or being in any way, connected with him. This he did in [the] presence of many witnesses.”
He was only in England for six weeks and left the Strangites shortly after coming home from that mission. (We’ll address Strang and his claims in more detail in a few weeks.) As far as his affiliation with the Shakers goes, nobody’s sure exactly how long he was associated with them, though most estimates peg it to about a year. Anderson wrote:
Studying a problem with a Book of Mormon witness will generally lead to better understanding of the witness, the situation with an 1844 report: “Martin Harris is a firm believer in Shakerism, says his testimony is greater than it was of the Book of Mormon.” This word to the Twelve from Phineas Young and others is vague, for we do not know whether these Kirtland Mormons heard Martin Harris say this, or whether they heard it secondhand. His leaning to Shakerism is probably accurate, but Harris’s precise wording is all-important if one claims that he testified of Shakerism instead of the Book of Mormon. This “either-or” reading of the document does not fit Martin’s lifetime summary of all his interviews: “no man ever heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates.” For instance, at the same time as the above 1844 letter, Edward Bunker met Martin in the Kirtland Temple, visited his home, “and heard him bear his testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon.” And six months later Jeremiah Cooper traveled to Kirtland and visited with Martin Harris: “he bore testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon.”
Martin’s Shaker sympathies terminated some time before 1855, when Thomas Colburn reported his attitude: “he tried the Shakers, but that would not do.” In the meantime Martin was intrigued by their claims of revelation, though he surely never espoused all Shaker beliefs, for thoroughgoing Shakers renounced the married life that Martin had during these years. Fully committed Shakers also lived in communities like nearby North Union, whereas Martin remained in Kirtland during this period. Their appeal lay in a Pentecostal seeking of the Spirit and emphasis on preparation for Christ’s coming. When Phineas Young mentioned Martin’s Shaker belief, a new book of Shaker origin was circulating, “A Holy, Sacred, and Divine Roll and Book, from the Lord God of Heaven to the Inhabitants of Earth.” Since it claimed to come from angels to prepare the world for the Millennium, it would be broadly harmonious with Martin Harris’s commitment to the Book of Mormon, which in a far more historical and rational sense is committed to the same goal. Indeed, the Shaker movement later tended to slough off the “Divine Roll” as produced by an excess of enthusiasm. We do not know whether Martin ever accepted this book as true, but he showed one like it to a visitor. This act does not show belief in that book, since it may have been exhibited as a curiosity, but the following journal entry shows that even if Shaker literature was present in 1850, Martin still gave priority to his Book of Mormon testimony: “I went to see Martin Harris. He was one of the 3 Witnesses to the Book of Mormon and said he knew it was true, for he saw the plates and knew for himself. I heard his little girl—she was 7 years old. I read some in what they called the Holy Roll, but no God.” Anyone following this discussion can soon see that authentic statements from the Book of Mormon witnesses are voluminous and always repeat the reality of their experience….
And, of the quote by Clark Braden, Brian Hales states the following:
This quote is questionable. Martin had a lifelong testimony of the Book of Mormon and spent around a year with the Shakers in 1845-46. Any feelings Martin had for the Shakers were short-lived. In 1855 LDS missionary Thomas Colburn visited with Martin and said Martin “confessed he had lost confidence in Joseph Smith; consequently his mind became darkened, and he was left to himself; he tried the Shakers, but that would not do.” (Colburn Letter, May 2, 1855)
Clark Braden’s reputation as a fierce debater was well known, but he was also known to be fast and free with his accusations and facts.
… During the debate Braden demonstrated a greater devotion to winning than historical accuracy. Multiple statements, independent of his claims regarding Martin Harris, can be shown to be in error.
Braden saw it as his calling to debate any religions he felt were in error, including the Latter-day Saints, and this comment was given well after Harris’s death so he couldn’t respond to it. There were rumors around Kirtland of Martin saying something similar but there are no firsthand accounts of it, whereas we have numerous firsthand accounts of him testifying of the Book of Mormon across multiple decades.
In addition to his devotion to self-proclaimed prophet James Strang, Martin Harris was a follower to another self-proclaimed Mormon prophet by the name of Gladden Bishop. Like Strang, Bishop claimed to have plates, a Urim and Thummim, and that he was receiving revelation from the Lord. Martin was one of Gladden Bishop’s witnesses to his claims.
That’s a bit of a stretch. As Brian Hales points out, “To say that Martin was a witness to Gladden Bishop is a gross exaggeration. There is no evidence that Martin was actually a witness to Gladden Bishop or any of his claims. Bishop did, however, dictate a revelation in on April 8, 1851 outlining that he ‘should call witnesses’ and lists Martin as one of those that should be called.”
Gladden named Martin was one of his witnesses; there’s no evidence Martin ever took him up on it.
If someone testified to you of an unusual spiritual encounter he had, but he also told you that he…
- Conversed with Jesus who took the form of a deer
- Saw the devil with his four feet and donkey head
- Chipped off a chunk of a stone box that would mysteriously move beneath the ground to avoid capture
- Interpreted simple things like a flickering of a candle as a sign of the devil
- Had a creature appearing on his chest that no one else could see
…would you believe his claims? Or would you call the nearest mental hospital?
There’s no proof any of those things happened, and this is the first time Jeremy is mentioning the thing about the stone box. You’ll note he doesn’t offer any sources or evidence to back up that assertion. As Reddit user Faraday_Saint pointed out, this story is taken from a record by Ole A. Jensen. This is the only time it’s ever been mentioned that I’m aware of, and it’s a secondhand source. While this source is not hostile to the Church or to Martin, we don’t know exactly what was said or what Martin meant by it. The rest of the items on this list are all from second- or thirdhand accounts, most of them given many years later, and all of them given by critics trying to “disprove” the Church and its claims.
And, as brought to my attention by Reddit user WooperSlim, this entire part of the Letter is taken in large part—including some identical portions—from a now-defunct anti-LDS website titled “The Mormon Curtain.” While poking around a bit, I followed the link in the Oliver Cowdery section to one from another notable anti-LDS website, MormonThink, where it seems the section we covered last week about Oliver Cowdery and his divining rod was copied by Jeremy almost entirely word-for-word. I don’t know if he had permission to quote their work like that, but he certainly didn’t source them in the CES Letter. For someone who likes to throw around accusations of plagiarism toward me and others who quote from additional sources but who always cite and link to the original work, this is some stunning hypocrisy he’s showing here.
With inconsistencies, a conflict of interest, magical thinking, and superstition like this, exactly what credibility does Martin Harris have and why should I believe him?
Martin Harris and the other witnesses have a great deal of credibility. Dan Peterson expounded on this at length in both a FAIR presentation and an Interpreter article that I’d love to touch more on in future posts. 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. Discounting their words means denying a very real part of our Church’s history.
Sources in this entry:
Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.