Martin Harris and the Shakers, Gladden Bishop, and Conclusion
CES Letter Core Question
Did Martin Harris follow the Shakers?
CES Letter, Page 90
Next Relevant Quote
Clark Braden stated: “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).
What are we to make of the reported Martin Harris comment that he had as much evidence for the Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon?
(Martin's stint with the Shakers was very short. His testimony of the Book of Mormon was lifelong. Braden, who never met Harris, passed along this uncorroborated hearsay years after Harris’s death and decades after Harris allegedly said it)
CES Letter, Page 104
Clark Braden, a Church of Christ (Disciples) minister, engaged in a debate with an RLDS missionary, Edmund L. Kelly in February to March of 1884.
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.
Braden actively sought debates and spent a great deal of his life debating what he believed to be error. Braden said he had debated people on “baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit, human creeds, justification by faith only, church organization, soul-sleeping, kingdom-come-ism, Seventh-day-ism, . . . Universalism,” and Mormonism."
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.
This debate occurred nine years after Martin Harris’ death in 1875 so Martin was unable to respond to his claims.
In his debate with E. L. Kelley, Braden provided no supportive evidence. The CES Letter reproduces the allegation without any additional documentation to support it accuracy.
The CES Letter is technically correct when it tells us that “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.’” However, the dubious nature of the report is not disclosed.
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. (Gladden wanted Martin as a witness. There is zero historical evidence that Martin took him up on that.)
CES Letter, Page 90
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 on of those that should be called.
The full quote can be found in Gladden Bishop's 2 page publication titled Proclamation from the Lord to His people scattered throughout all the Earth. The relevant excerpt says:
"And therefore that my word might be fulfilled, and also that my people might believe, have I caused that my servant Gladden should call Witnesses of these things; even he, who was one of the three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, (viz: my servant Martin [Harris], and also my daughter Phebe [Bishop's wife], whom I have called these many years that she might be a witness in this, my great and glorious work, which I have now begun, and which shall never be overthrown;) and behold! my Witnesses have borne their testimony before my people in this place, yea, and in my house, even that which my people have built and dedicated unto me in Kirtland.
Any encounter Martin had with Gladden Bishop was short-lived. The biography on Martin Harris said:
"To what degree Martin was initially impressed by Francis Gladden Bishop is unknown. He had certainly interacted with Bishop and examined his publications. Elder Thomas Colburn later commented on Martin's standing after visiting with him. He observed that Martin had "tried Gladden Bishop but, no satisfaction." Martin was carefully screening the respective contenders for any legitimate link with the true church of the Restoration."
- Martin Harris Uncompromising Witness of the Book of Mormon, P. 367
- Conversed with Jesus who took the form of a deer (unreliable quote addressed above)
- Saw the devil with his four feet and donkey head (unreliable quote addressed above)
- Chipped off a chunk of a stone box that would mysteriously move beneath the ground to avoid capture (first time referencing Ole A. Jensen. Martin and many other reputable citizens did hold a magical worldview)
- Interpreted simple things like a flickering of a candle as a sign of the devil (unreliable quote addressed above)
- Had a creature appearing on his chest that no one else could see (a funny story of a nightmare addressed above)
...would you believe his claims? Or would you call the nearest mental hospital?
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?
CES Letter, Page 90-91