Quote #6 - Stephen Burnett on Martin Harris (1838)
CES Letter, Pages 93-94
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If these witnesses literally really saw the plates like everyone else on the planet sees tangible objects...why strange statements like, “I never saw them only as I see a city through a mountain”? (The 2nd of 4 times quoting Stephen Burnett) What does that even mean? I have never seen a city through a mountain. Have you?
CES Letter, Page 94
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...that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon;
...he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them...I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.
This is from Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 April 1838, Joseph Smith Letterbook (1837-43), 2:64-66, Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah. The CES Letter quotes this twice, once in its entirety (in red) and then a portion (underlined)
“I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it, loth to give it up, but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was (sic) sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins,…I was followed by W. Parish[,] Luke Johnson & John Boynton[,] all of the[m] concurred with me. After we done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of him but should have let it passed as it was…”
Burnett, a long-time resident of Orange, Ohio, converted to Mormonism and was baptized by John Murdock in November 1830. In 1831 he was successively ordained to the office of priest, elder, and high priest. In 1832 he served a mission for the church (D&C 75:35). By late 1837 he had become disillusioned with church leaders, and by 1838 had publicly denounced Joseph Smith. According to Joseph Smith, Burnett "could not bear to have his purse taxed," so he "proclaimed all revelation lies" (Elders' Journal, 1838, 57). On 15 April 1838, Burnett wrote to Lyman E. Johnson (1811-56), a former member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles living in Far West, Missouri. Johnson had become critical of church leadership over the Kirtland Bank scandal and began associating with a group of dissenters at Far West.
At this time this was written, Stephen Burnett was a bitter anti-Mormon so his comments were biased and must be interpreted with that in mind.
All three witnesses agree that the plates were shown to them in a vision that was presented by an angel during the daytime.
David Whitmer related: “A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled [the woods as] at noon day, and there in a vision or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon.”
Oliver Cowdery described it: “It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, ascend out of the midst of heaven.”
The statement "he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain" is admittedly puzzling, but it is not evidence of fabrication, especially when he is trying to describe a visionary experience. It sounds like he is sincerely trying to describe his experience, rather than making up a deception.
The statement about the Eight Witnesses is easily contradicted by multiple evidences. Click here
Hyrum Smith, one of the Eight Witnesses stated during a visit to Sunbury, Ohio, in 1838:
. . . he had but too [two] hands and too [two] eyes[.] he said he had seene the plates with his eyes and handeled them with his hands and he saw a brest plate and he told how it wass maid[.] it wass fixed for the brest of a man with a holer [hollow or concave] stomak and too [two] pieces upon eatch side with a hole throu them to put in a string to tye <<it>> on but that wass not so good gold as the plates for that was pure[.] why i write this is because thay dis=put[e] [the] Book so much (Sally Parker to John Kempton, 26 August 1838, microfilm, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; a portion cited in R. L. Anderson 1981, 159).
"Mr. [John] Whitmer is considered a truthful, honest and law abiding citizen by this community, and consequently, his appointment [to preach] drew out a large audience. Mr. Whitmer stated that he had often handled the identical golden plates which Mr. Smith received from the angel...."
John Whitmer also related: "I have never heard that any one of the three, or eight witnesses ever denied the testimony that they have borne to the Book as published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon."
68 separate references to the testimonies of the Three witnesses have been accumulated. There are no denials but there are six denials that they ever denied their testimonies. Click here.
This is an example of one of the more egregious misrepresentations in The CES Letter.It quotes a few statements from 9 of the 68 accounts and ignores the rest. Virtually all of them affirm that the Three Witnesses did see and angel and the plates. Click here.
Witnesses persisted even in the face of persecution or death—
Witnesses who left the Church continued to maintain their witness—
Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Book of Mormon Witnesses,” byu.edu
Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005): 18–31.
Kenneth W. Godfrey, “David Whitmer and the Shaping of Latter-day Saint History,” in The Disciple As Witness: Essays on Latter-Day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, edited by Richard Lloyd Anderson, Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000),223–256.
Kirk B. Henrichsen, “How Witnesses Described the “Gold Plates”,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001): 16–21.
Jeff Lindsay, “Circumstantial Evidence and the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon: Can They Be Ignored Any Longer?“, jefflindsay.com
Matthew Roper, “Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 164–193.
Richard Lloyd Anderson, “The Credibility of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds and Charles D. Tate (eds.), (Provo, Utah : Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University ; Salt Lake City, Utah : Distributed by Bookcraft, 1996 ),Chapter 9, 213–232.
Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981).
Richard L. Anderson, “Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds, (Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), Chapter 3.
Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1983).
Matthew B. Brown, Plates of Gold: The Book of Mormon Comes Forth (American Fork UT: Covenant, 2007).
John W. Welch and Larry E. Morris, editors, Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness (Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2006).
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
Despite the attempt of the The CES Letter to character assassinate the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, it is a fact that none of them ever denied their testimonies of what they experienced.
The Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses reported different experiences, which makes their testimonies even more credible.
The Three Witnesses reported spiritual experiences including an angelic visitation.
The Eight Witnesses recounted a primarily physical experience of feeling and hefting the gold plates.
Many of the witnesses later left the Church but that did not cause them to deny what they had earlier affirmed.
Besides the eleven witness, Other individuals saw and felt the plates, and left their testimonies.
Paul taught “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” ( 2 Corinthians 13:1).
Faith and Reason 39: Hidden Records, Michael R. Ash
Faith and Reason 7: Book of Mormon Witnesses, Michael R. Ash
Mormon FAIR-Cast 150: The Apostasy of the Witnesses, Martin Tanner