Part 47: CES Letter Witnesses Questions [Section C]
By Sarah Allen
Last week, the bulk of my’s commentary was on Martin Harris. Today, it’ll be about David Whitmer, with a little bit about Oliver Cowdery. After that, it segues into the same criticism about “spiritual eyes” that many of you have heard repeatedly over the years, and then on to James Strang and other issues. I don’t know how much we’ll get through today, but we’ll at least finish up the questions on the three witnesses.
Strangely enough, Jeremy doesn’t go into any detail or questions about the other eight witnesses or the unofficial witnesses at all. I don’t know why, except that they may be harder to explain away than the three witnesses who saw an angel and heard the voice of the Lord. For the eight witnesses in particular, their experience was a tangible one without any spiritual or supernatural significance. Before we’re done with the Witnesses section of the CES Letter, I think I’d like to talk about some of those other witnesses, since they tend to get glossed over not just by Jeremy, but by a lot of other people as well. As a people, we’re less familiar with them than we are with the three witnesses.
In picking up the portion on David Whitmer, Jeremy begins with a few quotes. The first is from his favorite anti-LDS book, Grant Palmer’s An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, which he has quoted numerous times already:
“David claimed in early June 1829 before their group declaration that he, Cowdery, and Joseph Smith observed ‘one of the Nephites’ carrying the records in a knapsack on his way to Cumorah. Several days later this trio perceived ‘that the Same Person was under the shed’ at the Whitmer farm.” — An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p. 179
I’m not sure why Jeremy or Grant Palmer thinks this recollection is a problem. It’s actually a pretty cool little story. This figure was identified by Whitmer as Moroni, though his nephew later claimed it was Nephi, and he is the same figure who showed Mary Whitmer, David’s mother, the plates.
There are several sources for this story, but the main account you see quoted is from an interview David had with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith in 1878:
… Before I knew anything about Joseph Smith I had heard about him and the plates from persons who declared they knew he had them and swore they would get them from him, and that he had promised them an interest in them when he should get them. The fact is he could not, for they were not to be made merchandise of, nor to be a matter of profit to any one—they were strictly for sacred purposes, and when Oliver Cowdery went to Pennsylvania he promised to write me what he should learn about the matter, which he did. He told me Joseph had told him his [Oliver’s] secret thoughts and all he had meditated about going to see him, which no man on earth knew, as he supposed, but himself. So he stopped to write for Joseph.
Soon after this Joseph sent for me to come to Harmony, to get him and Oliver and bring them to my father’s house. I did not know what to do. I was pressed with my work. I had some 20 acres to plow and so I concluded I would finish plowing, and then go. One morning I got up as usual to go to work. On going to the field I found between 5 and 7 acres of my ground had been plowed during the night. I don’t know who did it, but it was done, just as I would have done it myself, and the plow was left standing in the furrow. This enabled me to start sooner.
When I arrived at Harmony, Joseph and Oliver were coming toward me, and met me some little distance from the house. Oliver told me that Joseph had told him when I started from home, where I had stopped the first night, how I read the sign at the tavern, where I stopped the next night and that I would be there that day before dinner, and this was why they had come out to meet me, all of which was exactly as Joseph had told Oliver, at which I was greatly astonished.
When I was returning to Fayette with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, we were suddenly approached by a very pleasant, nice looking old man in a clear open place, who saluted us with ‘Good morning, it is very warm,’ at the same instant wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way, he said very pleasantly, ‘No, I am going to Cumorah.’ This was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant, and as I looked enquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again. … He was, I should think, about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches and heavy set, about such a man as James Vancleave, there, but heavier. His face was as large. He was dressed in a suit of brown, woolen clothes; his hair and beard were white, about like Brother Pratt’s, but his beard was not so heavy. I also remember he had a sort of knapsack on his back, and something was in it which was shaped like a book. It was the messenger who had the plates.
… Sometime after this my mother was going to milk the cows when she was met out near the barn by this same old man, (as I suppose from her description of him) who said to her ‘you have been very faithful and diligent in your labors but you are tried because of the increase of your toil, it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness, that your faith may be strengthened’ and thereupon he showed her the plates. My Father and Mother had a large family of their own. The addition to it therefore of Joseph, Emma, and Oliver greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother and although she had never complained she sometimes felt that her labor was too much or at least she was beginning to feel so. This circumstance however completely removed all such feelings and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities.
As for the quote about the same person being “under the shed,” that comes from another source of this story, an interview with Edward Stevenson in 1877. This is the only source where this part of the story can be found, and it’s recorded in Stevenson’s journal:
…Oliver [Cowdery], & the Prophet, & I were riding in a wagon, & an aged man about 5 feet 10 [inches tall], heavy Set & on his back an old fashioned Armey knapsack Strap[p]ed over his Shoulders & Something Square in it, & he walked alongside of the Wagon & Wiped the Sweat off his face, Smileing very Pleasant.[”] David asked him to ride and he replied [“]I am going across to the hill Cumorah.[”] Soon after they passed they felt Strangely & Stop[p]ed, but could See nothing of him all arround was clear & they asked the Lord about it[.] he Said that the Prophet Looked as White as a Sheet & Said that it was one of the Nephites & that he had the Plates. on arriveing at home they were impressed that the Same Person was under the Shed & again they were informed that it was So. they Saw whare <he> had been & the next Morning Davids Mother [Mary Musselman Whitmer] Saw the Person at the Shed and he took the Plates from A Box & Showed them to her[.] She Said that they Were fastened with Rings thus: [picture of the D rings inserted here] he turned the leaves over this was a Satisf[ac]t[io]n to her….
I have no idea what it means that he was under the shed, whether that was something misremembered by Stevenson or Whitmer, or whether there was more to the story that was left out, or whether there was a crawlspace under there or what, but regardless, the story doesn’t bother me. I’ve always found Mary Whitmer’s account to be fascinating, and that David, Oliver, and Joseph all saw the same person beforehand only enhances it for me.
The next quote is from a controversial interview David gave with a man named John Murphy in 1880:
“In 1880, David Whitmer was asked for a description of the angel who showed him the plates. Whitmer responded that the angel ‘had no appearance or shape.’ When asked by the interviewer how he then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, ‘Have you never had impressions?’ To which the interviewer responded, ‘Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?’ ‘Just so,’ replied Whitmer.” — Interview with John Murphy, June 1880, EMD 5:63
Jeremy doesn’t provide a link to his source, and it’s not from the book he cites. The interview itself can be found in volume 5 of Early Mormon Documents by Dan Vogel, that’s true, but the paragraph Jeremy is quoting cannot. [Note: Though Vogel is a noted critic of the Church, this 5-volume set is pretty invaluable as a resource and it’s one I do recommend.]
I don’t own Palmer’s book so it’s possible that this paragraph, like others Jeremy cites without citation, is from there, but it doesn’t appear to be. Instead, it seems to be taken almost word-for-word from the same archived, anti-LDS Mormon Curtain website that Reddit user WooperSlim provided last week, again without any attribution at all. Whether that’s something Jeremy cleared with the website owner beforehand, I don’t know, but it is pretty hypocritical of him to accuse others of plagiarism for citing and linking to outside sources while neglecting to even do that much himself.
Anyway, what’s interesting about this interview is that David Whitmer was so incensed when he read it by what he felt were lies and distortions of what he actually said that he issued a proclamation refuting it. In that proclamation, he called out Murphy by name and reaffirmed his testimony as it is recorded in the Book of Mormon:
…It having been represented by one John Murphy of Polo Mo. that I in a conversation with him last Summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
To the end therefore, that he may understand me now if he did not then, and that the world may know the truth, I wish now standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public Statement;
That I have never at any time, denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that book as one of the three witnesses.
Those who know me best, well know that I have adhered to that testimony.—
And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do now again affirm the truth of all my statement[s], as then made and published.
He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; It was no Delusion. What is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand….
The way it was published in the Book of Mormon is the way it happened. When it said he saw an angel, he confirmed that is what he saw. When it said he heard the voice of the Lord declaring it to be true, he confirmed that is what he heard. He did not agree with Murphy’s recollection of their interview, and he made sure to announce that publicly so that no one else would be fooled by it. Those are not the actions of a man who changed or walked back his testimony in his later years.
In fact, David made multiple statements contrary to this claim. In the same Orson Pratt/Joseph F. Smith interview cited above, he said:
David Whitmer: “…The fact is, it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and I were sitting right here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light. It was not like the light of the sun, nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us, I cannot tell how far, but in the midst of this light, immediately before us, about as far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer who was sitting 2 or 3 feet from him) there appeared, as it were, a table, with many records on it, besides the plate of the Book of Mormon; also the sword of Laban, the Directors (i.e. the ball which Lehi had) and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking his hand upon the bed beside him), and I heard the voice of the Lord as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life declaring that they (the plates) were translated by the gift and power of God.”
Orson Pratt: “Did you see the Angel at this time?”
David Whitmer: “Yes, he stood before us. Martin Harris was not with us at this time. I don’t think he saw all that we did, but our testimony as recorded in the Book of Mormon is strictly and absolutely true just as it is there written….”
And at a meeting with Joseph Smith III and some other men six years after that interview, the following incident took place:
Rather suggestively [Colonel Giles] asked if it might not have been possible that he, Mr. Whitmer, had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived them into thinking he saw the Personage, the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban. How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height—a little over six feet—and said, in solemn and impressive tones: “No, sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!”
In Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Richard L. Anderson recounts what happened next:
David Whitmer’s “positive and emphatic testimony” solidly impressed the unbelieving questioner. For the sake of courtesy, the RLDS president left the room with the officer, who confessed the difficulty of belief “for us everyday men,” but added: “[O]ne thing is certain—no man could hear him make his affirmation, as he has to us in there, and doubt for one moment the honesty and sincerity of the man himself. He fully believes he saw and heard, just as he stated he did.”
nd these are just a few such incidents. Despite his issues with the Church and with Joseph, David Whitmer spent his life telling and retelling his testimony, and he made sure that everyone knew that he saw what he said he saw and heard what he said he heard. Jeremy’s own next source confirms that:
A young Mormon lawyer, James Henry Moyle, who interviewed Whitmer in 1885, asked if there was any possibility that Whitmer had been deceived. “His answer was unequivocal…that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness.” But Moyle went away “not fully satisfied. … It was more spiritual than I anticipated.” — Moyle diary, June 28, 1885, EMD 5:141
James Henry Moyle, the father of apostle Henry D. Moyle, was a young man just out of law school when his own father encouraged him to meet with David on his way back to Utah. Moyle wanted to make sure he wasn’t wasting his life in a religion that wasn’t true, so he went. He was so impressed by his meeting with David that he recounted it numerous times throughout his life. Some of them are recorded in Early Mormon Documents volume 5, pages 139-149. I’m going to quote from some of them here to put those statements in context. The first bit comes from his diary, recorded on June 28, 1885:
[David Whitmer] says he did see them and the angel and heard him speak. But that it was indiscribable that it was through the power of God (and was possibly [in the spirit] at least) he then spoke of Paul hearing and seeing Christ but his associates did not [Acts 9:7; 22:9]. Because it is only seen in the Spirit.
I was not fully satisfied with the explanation. It was more spiritual than I anticipated.
And from an address given on March 22, 1908, found on the same link as above and the following page:
He told me in all the solemnity of his advanced years, that the testimony he had given to the world, and which was published in the Book of Mormon, was true, every word of it, and that he had never deviated or departed in any particular from that testimony, and that nothing in the world could separate him from the sacred message that was delivered to him. I still wondered if it was not possible that he could have been deceived. I wondered if there was not something in that psychological operation which some offer as the cause of these miraculous declarations and by which he could have been deceived—although there were three witnesses present besides the Prophet Joseph Smith, who saw and heard the same mighty and solemn truths; so I induced him to relate to me, under such cross-examination as I was able to interpose, every detail of what took place. He described minutely the spot in the woods, the large log that separated him from the angel, and that he saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, that he handled them, and that he did hear the voice of God declare that the plates were correctly translated. I asked him if there was any possibility for him to have been deceived, and that it was all a mistake, but he said, “No.” I asked him, then, why he had left the Church. He said he had not, but the Church had left him. He said that his faith in the fundamental principles of the gospel, which had been revealed prior to the year 1835, had never been changed; that he was still devoted to them and believed in them just as much as he ever did, and was trying to live those principles and exemplify them in his life. He said he knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that through him had been restored the gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days. To me this was a wonderful testimony….
And lastly, from an address given on March 18, 1945, Moyle answers Jeremy’s exact accusation:
…I begged of him to not let me go through life believing in a vital falsehood. Was his testimony as published in the Book of Mormon true? Was there any possibility for him to have been deceived in any particular? His answer was unequivocal. That there was no question about its truthfulness. That the angel stood in a little clear space in the woods, with nothing between them but a fallen log, the angel on one side, the witnesses on the other. It was all in broad clear daylight; that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness, and there was nothing to prevent the same.
…There was only one thing that did not fully satisfy me. I had difficulty then as I have now to describe just what was unsatisfactory. I wrote in my diary immediately on my return home, that in describing the scene in the woods he was “somewhat spiritual in his explanations and not as materialistic as I wished.” That was my description then and I cannot make it any clearer now. He said, “It was indescribable; that it was through the power of God.” He then spoke of Paul hearing and seeing Christ, and his associates did not, because it was only seen in the spirit.
I asked him if the atmosphere about them was normal. Then he said it was indescribable, but the light was bright and clear, yet apparently a different kind of light, something of a soft haze I concluded. A few years before in an interview with President Joseph F. Smith and Apostle Orson Pratt, they reported that he said it was more brilliant than that of the noonday sun.
I have wondered if there was a special significance, not clear to me, in the language used by the three witnesses in their testimony referring to the golden plates, “And they have been shown unto us by the power of God and not of man.” The eight witnesses say the plates were shown unto them by Joseph Smith. That I call materialistic, the other spiritual, and I could not get anything more out of it….”
Moyle was tripped up by the fact that David Whitmer’s testimony wasn’t as practical and mundane as that of the eight witnesses (as if something as miraculous as seeing the gold plates could ever have been mundane). David was speaking of an actual experience he had, things he had both seen and heard, but he was also speaking of a deeply spiritual experience involving an angel and the voice of the Lord Himself.
As reported by Richard Anderson, David clarified his words in 1887:
“Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time.”
He was talking about transfiguration. That doesn’t mean he didn’t really see what he said he saw. It just means he had to be transfigured in order to do it.
Additionally, the difference between the two types of testimony the witnesses gave is something that Dan Peterson expounds on at length in the presentation and paper I mentioned last week. He begins by referencing a series of interviews he conducted with Richard Anderson before his death about the witnesses. Anderson explains how the three witnesses are a cross-section of society: you have Oliver, the intellectual; David, the businessman; and Martin, the true religious believer who seeks signs and prophecies from Heaven. Most people can relate in some way to at least one of them.
They saw the plates, the Liahona, the Interpreters, and the Sword of Laban; they heard the voice of God declaring that the plates were translated by divine gift and power; they saw the engravings on the plates; they saw an angel who had descended from Heaven; and they again heard the voice of God commanding them to bear record of their experience. Peterson then points out that, “If it was a hallucination, it had to be generated and experienced not just once, but twice.”
The eight witnesses, however, had a completely different experience. Their testimony was the practical one Moyle sought: they were farmers and artisans who saw the plates that “had the appearance of gold” and they saw the engravings on the plates, which “had the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship.” And they handled the plates, turning the pages leaf by leaf, and hefting them in their hands. They can confirm “with a surety” that Joseph had the plates, because they saw and held them.
Peterson then quotes B.H. Roberts in the Comprehensive History of the Church, volume 1, who explains it beautifully. Roberts refers to the two types of testimony as, “what men would call miraculous testimony, and ordinary testimony. Had there been but one kind of testimony the matter would have been much simplified for the objector. Had the testimony of the three witnesses been the only kind given; that is, if the plates had been exhibited to the eight witnesses in the same manner as they had been revealed to the three, then, perhaps, mental hallucination might have been urged with more show of reason. Or, if the three witnesses had seen the plates in the same manner as the eight did, in a plain, matter-of-fact way, without display of the divine power, then the theory of pure fabrication, with collusion on the part of all those who assisted in bringing forth the work, would have more standing. But with two kinds of testimony to deal with it is extremely difficult for objectors to dispose of the matter. … The net result then of the anti-‘Mormon’ speculations in relation to the testimony of the three witnesses and the eight is the theory of hallucination to account for the testimony of the three witnesses, and pure fabrication, with the possibility of deception by Joseph Smith as to the existence of some kind of plates lurking in the background, to account for the testimony of the eight witnesses. But the testimony of the three and the eight witnesses, respectively, stands or falls together.”
It’s incredibly difficult for critics to explain away the witnesses, or to account for both types of testimonies. It’s why their attempts rarely make sense.
Jeremy closes out his section on David Whitmer like so:
Whitmer’s testimony also included the following:
“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 it should be done unto them.’” — David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (promoting his Whitmerite sect)
If David Whitmer is a credible witness, why are we only using his testimony of the Book of Mormon while ignoring his other testimony claiming that God Himself spoke to Whitmer “by his own voice from the heavens” in June 1838, commanding Whitmer to apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church
I don’t ignore this other testimony at all. I think it’s entirely possible that God did tell David Whitmer to leave Far West for his own safety, so that he could continue to bear witness of the Book of Mormon for decades to come. In fact, Whitmer’s testimony is carved on his tombstone so that he could continue to testify of the Book of Mormon after he died. That is the action of a man who is devoted to his testimony. If he says that God told him to leave Far West, who am I to say that didn’t happen?
What I do object to, however, is the way Jeremy mischaracterizes it. David never claimed that God told him to apostatize from the Church. It would have been impossible for that to happen, for one very simple reason: he’d already apostatized before this stated revelation ever occurred.
You see, in his Address to All Believers, David says very clearly, twice, that this happened in June of 1838. It had to have been late June, because this happened after the Danite Manifesto came out.
Sidney Rigdon gave his infamous “Salt Sermon” on June 17, 1838, and the Danite Manifesto began circulating two days later, warning Whitmer, Cowdery, and others to leave town before something bad happened to them. They’d stayed in town after their excommunications, and tensions were running high. If they stayed any longer, someone might have lost control and done something we could never condone. So, while Whitmer was deciding his course of action in response to the Manifesto, that’s when he says he heard the voice of God telling him to leave.
But David Whitmer was excommunicated from the Church on April 13, 1838, approximately two months before he heard the voice of God telling him to flee.
He was not told to leave the Church nor was he told to apostatize from it, and Whitmer never stated otherwise. What he said was that he was told to separate himself from among the Saints. As he was already removed from the Church, that meant he had to physically separate himself from among the Latter-day Saints because his life may have been in danger had he stayed. The Danites crossed a lot of lines they never should have crossed, and that might well have been one of them had Whitmer stayed in Far West. So, he left, and he was able to continue testifying of the Book of Mormon and the divine witness he received for another five decades. Richard Anderson refers to him as “the most interviewed witness” for a reason.
Another reason he may have been told to leave the main body of the Saints was to mute his influence over them. We see the same thing today, certain prominent apostates who claim to be “faithful members with some questions” but who are actively working as wolves in sheep’s clothing, purposely leading Latter-day Saints out of the Church. Once they’re removed from the Church, however, their influence lessens to an extent. We’ve seen it happen over and over again in recent years: John Dehlin, Kate Kelly, Jeremy Runnells, Sam Young, etc.
As one of the three witnesses, David Whitmer had tremendous influence. But he was openly fighting against Joseph and the direction of the Church, and neither he nor the Church could survive in the same place for long without inflicting damage on one another. We saw that with the Salt Sermon and Danite Manifesto, which were the direct results of trying to occupy the same space.
So, yes, I think it’s entirely possible that God did warn David to leave Far West, just as he claims. I just disagree with Jeremy’s characterization of it, because God did not tell David to apostatize. If this revelation happened, He told David to leave after he was in apostasy and had already been excommunicated.
And that wraps up David Whitmer for now. This next section on Oliver is quite small, surprisingly.
Like Joseph and most of the Book of Mormon witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and his family were treasure hunters.
There’s no evidence that Oliver and his family were treasure-hunters. There’s also no evidence that the majority of the witnesses were treasure-hunters, but even if they were, who cares? Searching for buried or lost treasure is a pastime that people still engage in today. There are countless books and movies centered on the premise, and shipwrecks are still being unearthed every few years by people looking for lost treasure. I mentioned the Forrest Fenn treasure a few weeks ago as a recent notable example.
Oliver’s preferred tool of trade, as mentioned above, was the divining rod. He was known as a “rodsman.” Along with the witnesses, Oliver held a magical worldview.
No, Oliver’s “preferred tool of trade” at that time was books, because he was a schoolteacher. He then worked as a scribe and an editor of the Church newspapers like the Evening and Morning Star and the Messenger and Advocate. After he left the Church and Far West, he became a lawyer. While he also used a divining rod on occasion, that was a hobby and not a profession. It is not and never was how he made his living.
Also, Oliver Cowdery was not an objective and independent witness. As scribe for the Book of Mormon, co-founder of the Church, and cousin to Joseph Smith, a conflict of interest existed in Oliver being a witness.
Oliver didn’t stand to make any money off of the Book of Mormon, so there is no conflict of interest. He was able to help aid the restoration of the Gospel because he was a witness and a scribe. That was his role in the Restoration.
In fact, Oliver lost professional opportunities due to his continuing testimony. He ran for political office several times and lost each time because of his connection to the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. If he had denied his testimony and distanced himself from the visions and experiences he had, things may have turned out differently for Oliver on a professional level. But he held true to that testimony until the day he died.
And when it came to that day, David Whitmer described Oliver as the happiest man he ever saw:
“Oliver died the happiest man I ever saw. After shaking hands with the family and kissing his wife and daughter, he said: `Now I lay me down for the last time: I am going to my Savior’; and he died immediately with a smile on his face.”
He was happy because he held true to his testimony and he could meet his Savior honestly, without shame. That wouldn’t have been possible if he’d denied what he knew to be true.
As for his being a cousin of Joseph’s, that’s a bit of a distortion. When you say the word “cousin,” most people think of first cousins. Joseph and Oliver, however, were not first cousins. Oliver and Lucy Mack Smith were third cousins, meaning they had the same great-great-grandfather. He was Joseph’s third cousin once removed, and Oliver’s children and Joseph were fourth cousins. According to Larry Morris, it was not a close relation, they’d never met beforehand, and they likely didn’t even know of the relationship until later:
There is no evidence that Oliver met the Smiths before 1828 or that he knew then they were related (Oliver Cowdery was a third cousin to Lucy Mack Smith). Similarly, Lucy says the Joseph Sr. family met Oliver for the first time in 1828 and does not mention any awareness of their distant family connection.
Trying to turn that relationship into a supposed conflict of interest is rather bizarre when three of the eleven witnesses were members of Joseph’s immediate family and half of the others were Whitmer brothers, I’m just saying.
Also, we tend to forget how much smaller the population of the United States was at the time, and how much more concentrated that population was. In 1830, there were only 12.8 million people in this country. That’s only 1 million more than the current population of the single state of Ohio. Transportation and travel were more limited than they are today, and many people lived their entire lives in the same general area. Most of the residents of New England would have been distantly related to one another in that time.
I personally don’t know any of my third cousins, and I can’t even name any of them without looking at a genealogy website. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to track those distant relationships without a computer compiling it for you. Is it any wonder that they didn’t know each other and weren’t aware of the relationship?
Oliver did not have a conflict of interest in testifying of the Book of Mormon. In fact, Oliver, David, and Martin Harris all stood to gain far more had they declared it was a fraud and renounced their testimonies altogether. And yet, none of them did. They stood true to their testimonies despite bitter conflicts with Joseph, Brigham, and the Church itself.
Anyway, that does it for this week. Next time, we’ll talk about “spiritual eyes” vs “natural eyes,” which should be an interesting discussion. This is a criticism that comes up over and over and over again, so it’s an important one to cover.
When this was originally written for Reddit, it was just after Christmas. Though it’s later into the new year by now, I’d still like to say that I hope you all had a lovely holiday season full of family, friends, and recognition of our Savior and His importance in our lives. Stay safe in this new year, and remember, the Atonement covers all we’ll go through in the coming days. Of all the gifts you received this past holiday, please don’t take that one for granted.
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.
Dennis Horne says
Pres. James E. Faust, from October 2000 general conference talk:
when, as a young Aaronic Priesthood boy, I received a firsthand confirmation of the remarkable testimony of the Three Witnesses concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. My stake president was President Henry D. Moyle, and his father was James H. Moyle. In the summertime Brother James H. Moyle would visit his family, and he would worship with us in our little ward in the southeast of the Salt Lake Valley.
One Sunday, Brother James H. Moyle shared with us a singular experience. As a young man he went to the University of Michigan to study law. As he was finishing his studies, his father told him that David Whitmer, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, was still alive. The father suggested to his son that he stop on his way back to Salt Lake City to visit with David Whitmer face-to-face. Brother Moyle’s purpose was to ask him about his testimony concerning the golden plates and the Book of Mormon.
During that visit, Brother Moyle said to David Whitmer: “Sir, you are an old man, and I’m a young man. I have been studying about witnesses and testimonies. Please tell me the truth concerning your testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.” David Whitmer then told this young man: “Yes, I held the golden plates in my hands, and they were shown to us by an angel. My testimony concerning the Book of Mormon is true.” David Whitmer was out of the Church, but he never denied his testimony of the angel’s visitation, of handling the golden plates, or of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Hearing with my own ears this remarkable experience directly from Brother Moyle’s lips had a powerful, confirming effect upon my growing testimony. Having heard it, I felt it was binding upon me.
For other (first person) narrations by James H. Moyle of his visit with David Whitmer, see Gordon B. Hinckley, “James H. Moyle: the Story of a Distinguished American and an Honored Churchman” (Salt Lake City; Deseret Book, 1951), 148-150, 366-68.
I also witness, by the Holy Spirit, that the above quoted account it true.