B of M Witnesses
Whatever Happened update – plates by Jonathan Neville
Posted: 08 Aug 2017 11:29 AM PDT
“I made a change in the book, Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? It pertains to pages 162-3.
A lot of people have been asking me whether the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses saw the same set of plates.
There isn’t enough data to say one way or another. I’ve looked at this in several ways, and now I think it’s likely that both groups saw the Harmony plates, but not the plates of Nephi.
Plates “solid as wood”
In connection with the experience of the Three Witnesses, David Whitmer said part of the plates were “solid as wood,” which has generally been understood to mean he was describing the sealed portion.
That’s how the plates are portrayed in Church media and visitors centers, such as this example from the Priesthood Restoration site.
However, readers of Whatever Happened know that I think the Harmony plates, “the Original Book of Mormon” as Joseph put it, included a compartment that contained the Nephite interpreters or spectacles. Presumably it was made of metal like the plates. It would appear “solid as wood” to David Whitmer, who, like the other Three Witnesses, did not handle the plates when the angel showed them. (Although later in life, they each said they did handle the plates, which is one reason why I think they handled them when they were moving them from Mormon’s depository in the Hill Cumorah.)
The Eight Witnesses didn’t see an angel, but they did handle the plates. They didn’t provide detailed descriptions, with one exception.
Joseph Smith, Sr., was one of the Eight Witnesses. He said that under the first plate, or lid, Joseph found a pair of spectacles. From this I infer there was a compartment in the set of plates for the spectacles. While it’s possible Joseph Sr. observed plates on another occasion, there is no evidence of that. If the only time he saw the plates was with the other seven of the eight witnesses, then he could only have known about the compartment on that occasion (unless someone else described the compartment to him on another occasion, which seems unlikely).
This makes sense for a few reasons.
First, Joseph already had the Fayette plates (the plates of Nephi) with him in Fayette. It wouldn’t make sense for the angel to come get the Fayette plates from him just to show them to the Three Witnesses a short distance away. Possible, but unlikely.
Second, no one mentions Joseph using the spectacles in Fayette. He used them in Harmony only, so far as we can tell. (Some LDS historians claim Joseph didn’t use the spectacles after the 116 pages were lost, but his mother says he used them when he got the message to contact David Whitmer, near the end of the Harmony translation period.) It’s possible Joseph had the spectacles in Fayette and just didn’t use them, but if he didn’t have them in Fayette, it was because there was no compartment in the plates of Nephi to hold them.
Third, the scriptural instructions about the witnesses point to the abridged plates, not the plates of Nephi.
1 And now I, Moroni, have written the words which were commanded me, according to my memory; and I have told you the things which I have sealed up; therefore touch them not in order that ye may translate; for that thing is forbidden you, except by and by it shall be wisdom in God.
2 And behold, ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work;
3 And unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true.
4 And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established; and the testimony of three, and this work, in the which shall be shown forth the power of God and also his word, of which the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost bear record—and all this shall stand as a testimony against the world at the last day.
From this, we see that the three witnesses would be shown the plates Moroni was responsible for; i.e., the plates his father gave him, plus the ones he wrote. So they definitely saw the Harmony plates.
Nephi also prophesied about the 3 witnesses, as well as “a few according to the will of God,” which apparently refers to the 8 witnesses. [BTW, it’s interesting that both Moroni and Nephi say the 3 witnesses would behold it “by the power of God,” but the additional witnesses would view the record “according to the will of God.” That’s exactly how it played out; i.e., an angel showed the plates to the 3 witnesses, but Joseph showed the plates to the 8 witnesses without any divine power or manifestation involved.]
Nephi’s prophecy is fascinating because he refers to “a book” as a separate document from the one he is writing. Nowhere does he say “this book.” Instead, it is “a book” that shall be delivered to Joseph. He never connects his own writing, or at least his own plates, to this “book” that would be delivered to Joseph. That’s because the “Original Book of Mormon” as described by the Title Page consisted solely of abridgments and Moroni’s final words that sealed the book.
The only reason we have the plates of Nephi–the Fayette plates–is because Martin Harris lost the 116 pages of the Book of Lehi. If Martin had lost, say, the pages in which Mormon abridged the account of King Benjamin, the divine messenger could have gone into the depository at Cumorah and obtained the original records of that period.
To be sure, Nephi does address “all ye ends of the earth” in 2 Nephi 33:10. This makes sense because he expected his words to be read among his people until their final destruction. In 2 Nephi 32:6, he explains that his people should follow the doctrine of Christ “until he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh.” At that point, he tells his people, “the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do.”
Nephi gives no indication I can find that he expected his original writings to be published in the book that would be delivered to Joseph Smith.
Nevertheless, there are two ways in which Nephi’s words would have been published to the world even if Martin hadn’t lost the 116 pages.
First, Nephi’s words would likely, if not surely, have been included in Mormon’s abridgment, just like his quotations of King Benjamin, Alma, etc. If/when we ever recover the 116 pages, we may find quotations from Nephi.
Second, all the Nephite records will some day come forth and be published to the world, which would include the original plates of Nephi along with others.
There are a lot more interesting things in Nephi I hope to discuss soon.
Here is what Nephi had to say about the witnesses.
2 Nephi 27:
6 And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book, and they shall be the words of them which have slumbered.
7 And behold the book shall be sealed; and in the book shall be a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.
8 Wherefore, because of the things which are sealed up, the things which are sealed shall not be delivered in the day of the wickedness and abominations of the people. Wherefore the book shall be kept from them.
9 But the book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust, and he shall deliver these words unto another…
12 Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.
13 And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men; for the Lord God hath said that the words of the faithful should speak as if it were from the dead…
2 Nephi 28:2 And the things which shall be written out of the book shall be of great worth unto the children of men, and especially unto our seed, which is a remnant of the house of Israel.
Source: Book of Mormon Wars by Jonathan Neville
Letter VII Background
Posted: 08 Aug 2017 09:41 AM PDT
For new readers (and old) I prepared this brief background on Letter VII that you can use to explain to other people.
Letter VII background
With the assistance of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery wrote a series of eight letters about the early history of the Church. They were initially published in the Messenger and Advocate in 1834-1835. Part of Letter I is included in the Pearl of Great Price. Letter VII is especially noteworthy because it declares it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah in New York was the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites. Letter VII also specifies that Mormon’s depository was located in the same hill, a teaching later reaffirmed by Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, and others.
Shortly after the letters were published, Joseph directed his scribes to copy all eight letters into his personal history (History, 1834-1836, found at http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/83).
In 1840, Orson Pratt reprinted portions of the letters (including Letter VII) in his pamphlet, “A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions.” Joseph later adapted portions of this pamphlet when he wrote the Wentworth Letter in March 1842, although he replaced Pratt’s hemispheric concept with the simple statement that “The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.”
Joseph desired that all members of the Church be aware of these letters. In the fall of 1840, Joseph gave them to his brother, Don Carlos, to reprint in the Times and Seasons. Letter VII was published in the April, 1841, edition of the Times and Seasons. Also in 1840, Joseph gave permission to Benjamin Winchester to reprint the letters in the Gospel Reflector, Winchester’s Mormon newspaper in Philadelphia. All eight letters were printed as a special edition of the Gospel Reflector in March 1841.
Responding to strong demand, the eight letters were reprinted as a pamphlet in England in February 1844.
Beginning in May 1844, The Prophet newspaper reprinted the letters in New York City. William Smith reprinted Letter VII on June 29, 1844—two days after the martyrdom.
All eight letters were reprinted in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era. All of Joseph’s contemporaries and successors accepted Letter VII’s teachings about the Hill Cumorah in New York.
However, beginning in the 1920s, RLDS scholars reassessed the Book of Mormon and decided the narrative took place in a limited area of Central America. This meant that Cumorah, too, was actually somewhere in Southern Mexico. LDS scholars gradually adopted the same rationale.
Alarmed at the development, Joseph Fielding Smith, then Church Historian and an Apostle for 20 years, declared:
“This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.”
When he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Joseph Fielding Smith reissued his warning about the two-Cumorahs theory. However, LDS scholars and educators rejected his counsel, claiming it was merely his opinion and their own ideas were correct. Even now, in 2017, LDS scholars and educators actively teach that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. They teach that Joseph adopted a false tradition about Cumorah, and that all the Prophets and Apostles who reaffirmed the teaching of Letter VII were also expressing personal opinions—even when they spoke in General Conference.
The influence of these scholars permeates the Church. The two-Cumorahs theory is now being taught at BYU (where it is an integral component of the required Book of Mormon classes), in CES, and in Visitors Centers throughout the Church. Unlike in Joseph’s day, few Church members even know about Letter VII.
As President Smith warned, the two-Cumorahs theory has led many thousands of members of the Church—especially the youth—to lose their faith. It is an obstacle many investigators cannot overcome. The tragedy is Joseph and Oliver answered this question all the way back in 1835 and yet LDS scholars reject them.
Source: Letter VII by Jonathan Neville
First Published Report About The Golden Plates
An exhaustive search of old upstate and western New York newspapers has, so far, failed to uncover any earlier, specific published reference to the Book of Mormon than the following article by The Palmyra Freeman.
THE PALMYRA FREEMAN.
Palmyra, New-York, August 11, 1829 “Golden Bible.”
The greatest piece of superstition that has ever come within the sphere of our knowledge is one which has for sometime past, and still occupies the attention of a few superstitious and bigoted individuals of this quarter. It is generally known and spoken of as the “Golden Bible.” Its proselytes give the following account of it: In the fall of 1827, a person by the name of Joseph Smith, of Manchester, Ontario county, reported that he had been visited in a dream by the spirit of the Almighty, and informed that in a certain hill in that town, was deposited this Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of a divine nature and origin. After having been thrice thus visited, as he states, he proceeded to the spot, and after having penetrating “mother earth” a short distance, the Bible was found, together with a huge pair of spectacles! He had been directed, however, not to let any mortal being examine them, “under no less penalty” than instant death! They were therefore nicely wrapped up, and excluded from the “vulgar gaze of poor wicked mortals!” It was said that the leaves of the Bible were plates, of gold about eight inches long, six wide, and one eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved characters or hieroglyphics. By placing the spectacles in a hat, and looking into it, Smith could (he said so, at least,) interpret these characters.
An account of this discovery was soon circulated. The subject was almost invariably treated as it should have been — with contempt. A few however, believed the “golden” story, among whom was Martin Harris, an honest and industrious farmer of this town. So blindly enthusiastic was Harris, that he took some of the characters interpreted by Smith, and went in search of some one, besides the interpreter, who was learned enough to English them; but all to whom he applied (among the number was Professor Mitchell, of New York,) happened not to be possessed of sufficient knowledge to give satisfaction! Harris returned, and set Smith to work at interpreting the Bible. He has at length performed the task, and the work is soon to be put to press in this village!! Its language and doctrines are said to be far superior to those of the Book of Life!!!
Now it appears not a little strange that there should have been deposited in this western world, and in the secluded town of Manchester, too, a record of this description, and still more so, that a person like Smith (very illiterate) should have been gifted by inspiration to read and interpret it. It should be recorded as a “new thing under the sun.” It is certainly a “new thing” in the history of superstition, bigotry, inconsistency, and foolishness. — It should, and it doubtless will, be treated with the neglect it merits. The public should not be imposed upon by this work, pronounced as it is, by its proselytes, to be superior in style, and more advantageous to mankind, than the Holy Bible!
The following, it is said, will be the title page of the work:
“The Book of Mormon: an account written by the hand of Mormon, upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi:
“Wherefore it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi; and also of the Lamanites, written to the Lamanites, which are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile; written by way the commandment, and also by the spirit of prophesy and of revelation; written, and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed. — to come forth by the gift and power of God; unto the interpretation thereof — sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the way of Gentile — the interpretation thereof by the gift of God: an abridgement taken from the Book of Ether.
“Also, which is a Record of the people of Jared, which were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to Heaven; — which is to shew unto the remnant of the house of Israel how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers: — and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever; and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God; manifesting himself unto all nations. And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgement seat of Christ. — By JOSEPH SMITH, Junior, Author and Proprietor.”
Note 1: The above is thought to be a faithful reproduction of the text of the article appearing in Jonathan A. Hadley’s Palmyra Freeman a few days before it was reprinted in the Aug. 27, 1829 issue of the Niagara Courier. A shortened version of the article was featured in the Aug. 31 issue of the Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph. That edited version of the article was reprinted by Eber D. Howe in the Sep. 22, 1829 issue of his Painesville Telegraph and in the Oct. 2, 1829 issue of the Massachusetts Salem Gazette.
Note 2: An exhaustive search of old upstate and western New York newspapers has, so far, failed to uncover any earlier, specific published reference to the Book of Mormon. However, the July and August 1829 issues of the Rochester paper, Paul Pry’s Bulletin, make some obscure references to Joseph Smith’s “Golden Bible.” No contemporary sources provide any indication that Joseph Smith, Jr. was being “persecuted” as early as 1823-27 for claims regarding a gold Bible (or even for his miracle-affirming, restorationist religious views). The picture which emerges from a close study of early sources, is that Smith first began to talk in public about the gold Bible in the year 1827, and that he did not proclaim it to be a divine revelation intended for modern Christians, until late 1827 or early 1828. For more details see Jonathan A.Hadley’s 1842 letter, in which he refers to the 1829 Palmyra Freeman calls it “the first article on the Mormons.”
Sarah Helen Conrad by Daughters of the Utah Pioneers
Sarah “Sallie” Helen Conrad (Bunnell)
Sarah “Sallie” Hellen (also recorded Heller) was a daughter of German immigrants and was niece of Mary Conrad, David Whitmer’s wife. James Lewis Nielson, great-grandson, recorded the following in his History of Sallie Heller Conrad:
“As a young girl of nineteen she was the housekeeper in the Peter Whitmer home when the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery finished translating the “Book of Mormon.” Because of persecution they had to work in secret. Sallie would see the Prophet and Oliver come down out of the attic room after working long hours. She remembers them looking like angels. She was aware that something strange and unusual was taking place. Finally she insisted that Sister David Whitmer, her aunt, tell her the truth. Sister Whitmer had to reveal to Sallie what was taking place. She warned her that if she let the secret out, their lives would be in danger.”
Oliver B. Huntington met Sarah at an Old Folks Outing in 1897 and records in his diary: “I conversed with one old lady eight-eight years old who lived with David Whitmer when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating the Book of Mormon in the upper room of the house and she, only a girl, saw them come down from the translating room several times when they looked so exceedingly white and strange that she inquired of Mrs. Whitmer the cause of their unusual appearance.”
An article appeared in the Church News, 5 Jan, 1980, in which “Sallie Heller Conrad” was mentioned among those who attended the meeting in the Peter Whitmer Sr. home when the church was organized 9 Apr, 1830. Nine days later, she and David Edwin Bunnell were married in the Whitmer home, and 21 Sep, 1831 both were baptized. They immigrated to Utah with their family of eight children.
One story is told by Vera Gray Williams, a great-grand-daughter, that they rough a peach tree with them and planted it in their garden in Provo. The crickets came and Sarah, fearing they would destroy the tree, unwound some wool stockings and wrapped the yarn around it, and thus saved the tree. Later, she removed the yarn and knit more stocking.
“Sallie was a very neat and clean housekeeper. Pearl Bunnell Newell relates an instance about helping her Grandmother make bread. Everything had to be spotlessly clean before the bread-making was started Pearl had washed her hand carefully with soap and hot water and dried them on the family towel. Grandmother Sallie questioned her about her hands. She wanted to know if she had cleaned her finger nails and what towel she had used to dry her hands. She insisted Pearl re-wash her hands and wipe her hands with a special towel reserved for the person mixing the bread. Only after this could she start mixing the dough which was kneaded by hand.” (James Lewis Nielson)
Sarah was one of the noble and great pioneer women who remained steadfast and true in the church.
Sally Heller Conrad
Undoubtedly when Sally took the job she hadn’t planned on this. She was 18 years old and hired on to help out a busy mother around the house. The home was small and in addition to the large family already living there, there were guests living at the house as well.
Something was going on upstairs. One day Sally noticed a couple of young men come down from the second story. They looked most unusual. Their faces were “exceedingly white and strange.” She asked the family why they looked that way, but no one would tell her. It was like some kind of secret that the family had.
As time passed it happened again and again, and each time Sally saw them, their faces were that same unearthly white. It frightened her, until finally, she went to the lady of the house and announced “that she would not stay with her until she knew the cause of the strange looks of these men.”
The lady of that house was Mother Mary Whitmer of Fayette, New York. It was June 1829. Mother Whitmer explained to Sally that those two men, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, were translating an ancient record written upon gold plates by the gift and power of God, and “that the power of God was so great in the room that they could hardly endure it; at times angels were in the room in their glory, which nearly consumed them.”
“This satisfied the girl and opened the way to embracing the Gospel.”
Sally Heller Conrad married in the faith, came west, and died in Provo, Utah, July 23, 1903. She was 92 years old.
Source: Remembering Joseph, Mark L. McConkie, 2003, p. 248
Biography of Sarah Heller Conrad Bunnell
Sallie Heller Conrad Bunnell was born Sept. 19, 1810 in Elmira, New York. She married David Edwin Bunnell April 15, 1830 in Elmira, New York. He was the son of Ithamar and Phebe Bunnell and was born June 25, 1809 in Newark, Essex county, New Jersey.
Their children were-1-Daniel Kimball-married-1 st -Abigal Miller (Martin)-2 nd, married Mary Muir (Hughs) 2- Stephen Ithamar-married Percia Cronelia Crover. 3-Samuel Gardner-md-Ellen K. Zabriskie. 4-George Henry-md-Margarette Selzer. 5-Phoebe Eliza md-Joseph Cluff. 6-Mary Armstrong-md. Sidney T. Worsley. 7-Afgared-md-Lorin S. Glazier. 8-Rosetta –md-Vernie Lorenzo Halliday.
Sallie and her husband, David Edwin Bunnell became converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1840, while living in Borwnstown, Wayne County, Michigan. Eventually they moved to Nauvoo, Illinois where David assisted in the erection of the Nauvoo Temple. Here they received their endowments.
When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred it effected this family greatly as it did all the other saints. They were persecuted with the rest and were forced to abandon their homes and move to Iowa for safety. Her family struggled to get means to join the Saints in the Rocky Mountains. They were able to accomplish their desire in 1852. In June of that year they left Kanesville, Iowa for their long trek across the Plains. Abigal’s husband David was made Captain over 16 families in the James C. Snow company. They arrived in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake October 9, 1852.
They settled in Provo, Utah County. They secured a choice location for their home. It was where the Post Office now stands. In fact they owned the entire square block. Mrs., stated in the history she wrote of her grandfather, David Kimball Bunnell, that her Great Grandmother Abigal, who was a staunch and true member to the L.D.S. Church, would be very hurt if she knew that the Seven Day Adventist church and the Community church were last built on her lot.
Abigal was a resourceful, hard-working woman and helped her husband in every way to accumulate something of this world’s goods. Her husband was a carpenter and a cabinet maker by trade and assisted in erecting many of the early buildings in Provo. She grieved the passing of her dear companion July 3, 1865, who was just 56 years of age. She lived on, being lovingly cared for by her family until July 1903 where she died at the home in Provo at the ripe old age of 93.
Information on Sarah Heller Conrad’s Life By Oliver B. Huntington Sunday, June 13, 1897—I conversed with one old lady ¬eighty-¬eight years old who lived with David Whitmer when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating the Book of Mormon in the upper room of the house, and she, only a girl, saw them come down from [the] translating room several times when they looked so exceedingly white and strange that she inquired of Mrs. Whitmer the cause of their unusual appearance, but Mr. Whitmer was unwilling to tell the hired girl the true cause, as it was a sacred, holy event connected with a holy, sacred work which was opposed and persecuted by nearly everyone who heard of it. The girl felt so strangely at seeing so strange and unusual appearance, she finally told Mrs. Whitmer that she would not stay with her until she knew the cause of the strange looks of these men. Sister Whitmer then told her what the men were doing in the room above and that the power of God was so great in the room that they could hardly endure it; at times angels were in the room in their glory, which nearly consumed them. This satisfied the girl and opened the way to embracing the gospel.
Note: The ―hired girl‖ here referred to was Sally Heller Conrad, who later became the wife of David Edwin Bunnell, and the mother of Stephen Ithamar Bunnell, ―an active elder of the Lake View Ward, Utah County, [who] was born Feb. 1, 1834, in Detroit, Michigan‖ (Andrew Jenson, 1971, 2:600). Stephen Bunnell died in Provo, Utah, on 23 July 1925 (Susan Easton Black, Membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1830–1848, BYU Religious Studies Center). Sally was born 19 September 1810 in Elmira, Tioga County, New York (LDS Family Search: Ancestral File), and thus would have been about 181⁄2 years of age when working in the Whitmer home, for Joseph and Oliver arrived there about 1 June 1829 and stayed until the translation was completed 1 July 1829 (Conkling, 1979, p. 12); she would have been almost eighty-seven in June 1897, when Huntington recorded this memory. She died 23 July 1903 in Provo, Utah. http://www.meridianmagazine.com/books/040720joseph3.html
BYU professor discusses ‘Tangible Interactions with Book of Mormon Objects’
By R. Scott Lloyd, LDS Church News Oct. 29 2015
Anthony Sweat, a Sperry Symposium speaker, said witnesses’ tangible interaction with artifacts associated with the Book of Mormon record are evidence that the book is real, not the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination.
While not denying that the Book of Mormon is extraordinary, some people today have tried to “bridge a middle ground” by saying it is “inspired fiction,” the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination. That explanation for the book’s origin does not work, said Anthony Sweat a speaker on Oct. 24 at the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium.
Brother Sweat, a member of the BYU religion faculty and a former teacher and administrator with Church seminaries and institutes, spoke on the theme “Hefted and Handled: Tangible Interactions with Book of Mormon Objects.”
“The sacred-fiction theory says the Book of Mormon is ‘true’ in the sense that it leads people to do good things, be virtuous and live good lives,” he said. “They view it as ‘inspired fiction,’ that God inspired Joseph Smith to work up this record but that its not actual, tangible, real history,” he explained.
“The problem with that, though, is that is not how Joseph Smith explained the Book of Mormon. … He begins the story of the Book of Mormon by talking about physical relics, actual stones, actual relics that he pulls out of the ground, characters that he actually copies down and looks at.”
Brother Sweat spent the bulk of his lecture giving evidences from contemporaries of Joseph Smith that physical objects associated with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon actually existed.
These people said, in effect, that not just Joseph had interaction with the plates but they themselves either hefted them or saw them or touched them, he said. “They had sensory experiences testifying to us that Joseph isn’t just working this fiction from his mind but he’s working from an actual artifact that he recovered.”
For example, he said, a number of people said they saw the stone box that Joseph contained the Book of Mormon plates and other items buried in what today is known as the Hill Cumorah.
Samuel Lawrence and Willard Chase, two associates of Joseph’s in a former treasure seeking venture, were certain that he had the Nephite plates and even tried to obtain them from him, reasoning that they had a financial interest in them due to the former business partnership. Brother Sweat said David Whitmer was first alerted to the existence of the Book of Mormon by conversations with Lawrence and Chase, who told him they had seen the spot in the hill from which Joseph obtained the record.
Martin Harris, in later years, shared an account of going with others to the hill to see if they could find any stone boxes containing items. Martin reported that they did find a stone box and tried to raise it with a crowbar, breaking off one corner of the box.
Brother Sweat shared an 1870 account from Edward Stevenson, a Church member in Utah who traveled back to Palmyra, New York. He said he questioned a local farmer about the origin of the Book of Mormon.
The man told him “that he had seen some good-sized, flat stones that had rolled down and lay near the bottom of the hill,” Brother Sweat said. “That had occurred after the contents of the box had been removed, and these stones were doubtless the ones that formally composed the box that the Book of Mormon came from.”
Brother Sweat said the man who was probably the first witness of the Book of Mormon plates other than Joseph Smith himself was Josiah Stoal who had earlier employed Joseph Smith and others in seeking a lost silver mine (see Joseph Smith — History 1:56-57 in the Pearl of Great Price). He was at the Smith family home the night Joseph brought the plates home from the hill. Joseph handed them in through a window of the home; Josiah Stoal reported that he was the one who received the plates. They were covered in a linen frock, but he said part of the frock fell away and he saw a corner of the plates, recalling that they had a greenish cast.
Some scholars have surmised that he may have seen the metal band that sealed two-thirds of the plates, and the band may have been made of copper, which takes on a greenish appearance as it oxidizes over time.
“For all intents and purposes, Josiah Stoal is the ninth witness,” Brother Sweat commented, alluding to the eight official witnesses who said they hefted and handled the plates. “Although he didn’t get to open the plates up and thumb through them as the Eight Witnesses did, he got to heft them, touch them, feel them, and he even saw a corner of them as they were being handed through the window.”
Lucy Mack Smith, the Prophet’s mother, also had “an interaction with tangible artifacts” associated with the Book of Mormon plates, Brother Sweat said.
In her published history of Joseph Smith she reported that when he returned from the hill with the plates, he handed her the breastplate that was one of the items included with the record and which held the stones comprising the Urim and Thummim which Joseph used in translation of the record. She said the breastplate was wrapped in a muslin handkerchief so thin that she “could see the glistening metal and ascertain its proportions without any difficulty. It was concave on one side and convex on the other, and it extended from the neck downward as far as the center of a man of extraordinary size. It had four straps of the same material for the purpose of fastening it to the breast, two of which ran back to go over the shoulders, and the other two were designated to fasten to the hips. They were just the width of my two fingers, for I measured them.”
Brother Sweat commented, “This is so detailed that if this is not real, if these artifacts are not real, where is she getting the dimensions from? Is Lucy Mack Smith delusional as well? I don’t think so. She’s having real experiences, tangible interaction with real artifacts. She’s giving us her account of what she experienced with them.”
Court Case before Justice of the Peace Joel K. Noble, Colesville, Broome County, New York:
“Mormonism,” New England Christian Herald, 4 (November 7, 1832):22-23, Boston, Massachusetts, emphasis retained. http://user.xmission.com/~research/early/court1830.htm
Josiah Stowel, being by me sworn, saith, he has been acquainted with Smith, the prisoner, for quite a number of years; that he did pretend to tell, by looking in a stone, or glass, where money and goods and mines were in a manner peculiar to himself; the prisoner had followed digging for money; pretended to find mines, hid treasures, and lost goods, and frequently others would be digging with him; says that about three years since, prisoner was put under arrest by an officer at Bainbridge in Chenango county, for breaking the peace, and that he escaped from the officer and went to Palmyra; and that about two years since, witness was at Palmyra, and saw prisoner; that prisoner told witness, that the Lord had told prisoner that a golden Bible was in a certain hill; that Smith, the prisoner, went in the night, and brought the Bible, (as Smith said;) witness saw a corner of it; it resembled a stone of a greenish caste; should judge it to have been about one foot square and six inches thick; he would not let it be seen by any one; the Lord had commanded him not; it was unknown to Smith, that witness saw a corner of the Bible, so called by Smith; told the witness the leaves were of gold; there were written characters on the leaves; prisoner was commanded to translate the same by the Lord; and from the Bible got from the hill, as aforesaid, the prisoner said he translated the book of Mormon; prisoner put a certain stone into his hat, put his face into the crown, then drew the brim of the hat around his head to prevent light-he could then see, as prisoner said, and translate the same, the Bible, got from the hill in Palmyra, at the same time under a lock and in a chest; and the prisoner, when looking for money, salt springs, hid treasures, &c., looked in the same manner; did not know that prisoner could find money lost, &c.; and that prisoner told witness after he was arrested in Bainbridge, he would not look for money, &c. any more; told witness he could see into the earth forty or fifty feet,” &c.
A true copy from minutes taken by me on the trial.
JOEL K. NOBLE, J. Peace.
Dated, Colesville, Aug. 28, 1832.
Bringing the Plates Home
From Darkness Unto Light Michael Hubbard McKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat
“The day after Joseph returned from Macedon, he went to retrieve the plates as both Joseph Smith Sr. and Joseph Knight Sr. scouted the area for signs of the men working with Chase and Lawrence. Joseph traveled three miles to the hill, removed the plates from the log, and then wrapped them in a linen frock. David Whitmer, who later saw the plates, explained that “they appeared to be of gold, about six by nine inches in size, about as thick as parchment, a great many in number, and bound together like the leaves of a book by massive rings passed through the back edges.”55 The plates weighed around fifty pounds, making it difficult for Joseph to walk back to his parents’ house with them, let alone run with them if he encountered trouble.56 He hauled the plates down to the main road leading to Palmyra but quickly realized that anyone who happened to be traveling along that route would see him. Therefore, he left the established road and instead struggled through the woods and underbrush to avoid potential pursuers. Despite his best efforts, however, he was approached by a man “who demanded the plates, and struck him with a club on his side, which was all black and blue.”57 Lucy explained that the man actually hit Joseph with the stock of his rifle, after which Joseph turned and knocked the man to the ground and ran off as fast as he could, a difficult prospect considering the injury he had sustained and the weight of the plates he was carrying. Lucy went on to explain that after running for a half mile, another unknown man assaulted Joseph. Again escaping, he was attacked by a third person. This time, in trying to defend himself, Joseph struck the marauder so forcefully with his fist that he dislocated his thumb. The force of this blow sent his attacker reeling, and Joseph eventually made it home bruised, wounded, exhausted, and frightened. Katherine Smith, Joseph’s sister, later told her relatives that Joseph “came in nearly exhausted, carrying the package of gold plates . . . clasped to his side with his left hand and arm, and his right hand was badly bruised.”58 Joseph then handed the plates, wrapped in linen, through the house window to Josiah Stowell.59
Stowell, who claimed that he was the “first person that took the Plates out of [Joseph Smith’s] hands the morning [he] brought them in,”60 would have been the first person other than Joseph to feel and heft the plates. As he took the plates from Joseph, he likely felt the contour of the plates, but it was what he saw that made his experience with the plates unique. In the summer of 1830, after Joseph Smith was charged with disorderly conduct, Stowell was called by the defense and sworn in as a witness. He testified under oath that he saw the plates the day Joseph first brought them home. As Joseph passed them through the window, Stowell caught a glimpse of the plates as a portion of the linen was pulled back. Stowell gave the court the dimensions of the plates and explained that they consisted of gold leaves with characters written on each sheet. The printed transcript of the trial read: “witness saw a corner of it; it resembled a stone of a greenish caste.” Because Stowell also mentioned in his statement that the record was made of plates of gold, it is difficult to know what he meant by this description.61 He may have seen the band that sealed two-thirds of the plates together, which may have been made of copper that had oxidized over the years and turned green. Alternatively, he may have seen the breastplate, which could have also been made of copper and appeared green from oxidation.62 In any case, the point Stowell made to the court was that the plates were real and that he had seen and felt them.
When Hyrum learned Joseph had returned with the plates, he immediately brought Joseph the chest he had earlier requested, and Joseph locked the plates inside.63 The plates were finally safe and in the possession of Joseph’s family and friends. Lucy wrote, “When the chest came Joseph locked up the record and threw himself on the bed.” Then, “after resting himself a little . . . he went out & related his adventure to his father and Mr. Knight.”64 His father tenderly set his son’s dislocated thumb while Joseph recounted the traumatic ordeal.65 Lucy explained that Joseph also “related to our guests the whole history of the record which interested them very much.”66
Hiding and Revealing the Plates From Darkness Unto Light Michael Hubbard McKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat
“Joseph Knight Sr. recalled that once Joseph had safely hidden the plates, Joseph was more interested in the “glasses,” or the device that was later referred to as the Urim and Thummim, than he was with the plates. He declared to Knight, “I can see anything; they are Marvelus.” Though Joseph would later use the spectacles for translating the plates, in this period Joseph used them to protect the plates. Lucy wrote that Joseph “could at any time ascertain the approach of danger either to himself or the record and for this cause he kept these things constantly.”67 Through the spectacles, the angel communicated to him that men were still plotting to find and abscond with the plates.
On one occasion, while working in the fields with his father, Joseph hastily returned to the house, apparently warned by the spectacles that a group of hostile men was coming to the house. In preparation for their visit, Joseph and his family dug a hole underneath the hearth large enough to hold the box containing the plates and the breastplate. They then replaced the stone to stop the men from finding the box.68 Almost immediately after they buried the plates under the hearth, a large group of men approached the house. Thinking quickly, Joseph and his younger brother ran to the door screaming loudly, startling the men, who then dispersed.
While Joseph was able to prevent his enemies from finding the plates, several of his friends and family touched, hefted, and held the plates or the box where they were stored. Several individuals witnessed them underneath the linen covering and even felt the size and mass of the plates. One man revealed that he heard the covered plates rattle and “jink” inside their box.69Joseph’s sister Katherine had a similar experience. When she was dusting and cleaning, she remembered seeing “a package on the table containing the gold plates,” which she picked up to judge the weight. She remembered that they were “heavy like gold.” Even more revealing, she “rippled her fingers up the edge of the plates and felt that they were separate metal plates and heard the tinkle of sound that they made.”70 Though Katherine never saw the gold leaves themselves, she saw their shape and witnessed them by both hearing and touch.
Most of Joseph’s family claimed that they too had similar experiences. William Smith, for example, who was just a teenager at the time, later wrote that he had “hefted the plates as they lay on the table wrapped in an old frock or jacket in which Joseph had brought them home.” Like his sister Katherine, he stated, “he had thumbed them through the cloth and ascertained that they were thin sheets of some kind of metal.”71 Friends too, like Alvah Beaman, also lifted and felt the plates (Beaman also helped hide them under the hearth and replace the bricks).72 Martin Harris later said that he “hefted the plates many times, and should think they weighed forty or fifty pounds.”73 In fact, most of Joseph’s closest friends and family testified to touching, hefting, or seeing the plates.
While some tried to steal the plates, less hostile visitors simply desired to view them and even negotiated with Joseph in an attempt to get him to share the profits the plates would generate. Joseph Knight Sr. remembered that numerous locals came to the Smiths’ house hoping to catch a glimpse of the plates or even flip through the pages.74 Some offered money and property to see the plates, but Smith steadfastly insisted that he would not show them to just anyone. This apparently angered the visitors, and as a result, “they persecuted and abused [the Smiths].”75 Samuel Lawrence came to Joseph’s house demanding that the plates were at least partially his because he had gone to the hill in search of treasure with Joseph.76 Possibly knowing that Joseph would not negotiate, Lawrence brought with him a local rodsman, who attempted to use a divining rod to find the plates. Lawrence and the rodsman walked into the west room of the home, where the hearth was located. There, the rodsman pointed his rod directly toward the plates and stated that they were “under that harth.” After Lawrence and the rodsman left the house without the plates, Joseph decided that he needed to move the plates again to avoid their discovery if Lawrence and the rodsman returned.77
To protect the plates, Joseph removed them from the chest and placed them in his father’s small cooper’s shop out near the barn, across the road in front of their house. He hid the empty box as a decoy underneath the floor panels in the shop and placed the plates in a large pile of flax in the small loft in the shop. One morning shortly thereafter, Joseph went to the cooper shop and saw the floorboards torn up and the decoy box smashed underneath the floor. Somehow, the intruders had completely missed the plates hidden in the loft. Joseph later obtained another box in which to keep the plates. Martin Harris stated that the new box was “an old Ontario glass-box” that had been cut to fit the length and size of the plates.78
Despite the best efforts of his enemies and potential looters, Joseph was able to protect and conceal the plates. While he refused to display the plates for money, his friends and family had multiple interactions with the plates and later testified to their physical reality. Once Joseph had finally obtained the plates and protected them from these early assailants, he set about trying to fulfill the command of the angel to bring forth to the world the messages inscribed on them.”