Witness Signatures & Relatives
CES Letter Core Question
We don't have the original signed documents. Are these testimonies just pre-written documents by Joseph Smith with "claims of having been signed" by the witnesses?
In discussing the witnesses, we should not overlook the primary accounts of the events they testified to. The official statements published in the Book of Mormon are not dated, signed (we have no record with their signatures except for Oliver’s), nor is a specific location given for where the events occurred. These are not eleven legally sworn affidavits but rather simple statements pre-written by Joseph Smith with claims of having been signed by three men and another by eight.
CES Letter, Page 101
Whether a document was “legally binding” is of little or no importance. The Book of Mormon witnesses were compelled by a belief that God required them to bear testimony.
Testimony of the Three Witnesses
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen
Testimony of Eight Witnesses
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
Unlike the parallel testimonies referenced in The CES Letter, these testimonials were provided to not only declare the beliefs of the signatories, but because they felt God had provided them the experiences, both spiritual and physical, and that He required them to “bear record” of them “unto the world.”
Several of the Witnesses later parted with Joseph Smith and the Church, but they continued to share their testimonies and express concern that no one think they ever denied them.
Legal considerations were not referenced by any witness, nor were they deemed necessary to validate the printed testimonies that had been published to the world.
CES Letter Core Question
Does it discredit the witnesses that all of them, except for Martin Harris, were related by blood or marriage either to the Smiths or Whitmers?
All of the Book of Mormon witnesses, except Martin Harris, were related by blood or marriage either to the Smiths or Whitmers. Oliver Cowdery (married to Elizabeth Ann Whitmer and cousin to Joseph Smith), Hiram Page (married to Catherine Whitmer), and the five Whitmers were all related by marriage. Of course, Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith Sr. were Joseph’s brothers and father.
Mark Twain made light of this obvious problem:
...I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.
CES Letter, Page 101
Familial relationships could facilitate collusion in a deception, but they could also play a reverse role, especially as time passes and family members chose different life courses.
Jeff Lindsay provides the following insight on this point:
We find something similar among the Apostles of Christ in the New Testament with sets of brothers. Relatives teaming up is not a valid reason to dismiss their witness. In frontier America, there was little privacy in families and it's natural that multiple people in a family would be involved in major projects and events. Including them as witnesses is natural. They were still independent men who would go off on their own and choose their own paths--all without denying their witness in spite of no financial gain and plenty of risk for staying true to what they said. Whether it was a few lone men or several sets of brothers, their individual and cumulative testimonies count a great deal."
Faith and Reason 7: Book of Mormon Witnesses, Michael R. Ash, 0:15:32
Mormon FAIR-Cast 150: The Apostasy of the Witnesses, Martin Tanner, 0:19:20