Essay, Research Paper: Mormon Book

Religion

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Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
claimed that he received the Book of Mormon as a revelation from God. He said
that the heavenly being Moroni appeared to him and directed him to some buried
gold plates which contained ancient writings. His task then, was to translate
these ancient writings with the help of seer stones which were also buried with
the gold plates. Smith received strict directions from the heavenly being that
he was to show the plates to no one except for appointed individuals. The Book
of Mormon in its preface identifies these as eleven persons: the three witnesses
and the eight witnesses. A student of religion would now be interested in
knowing something about these witnesses, for only then can we evaluate their
worth as witnesses. The Book of Mormon names the three witnesses as Oliver
Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. The book also names the eight
witnesses as follows: Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John
Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith. Who
were these persons? And what can we know about them that would give us reason to
either believe or disbelieve them as witnesses in this most important matter? A
good place to look for information would be the publications of the Mormons
themselves, since they should more than anyone else be interested in preserving
histories of their principal witnesses. This approach could be used at least as
a starting point for gathering information before further scrutiny and
investigative work. In this study I would like to turn to two books published by
the Mormons to find information about the chief witnesses. The first book is the
Doctrine and Covenant, a book of authoritative scriptures for the Mormons. The
second book is Church History Timeline by William W. Slaughter, published by
Desert Book Company, in Salt Lake City, Utah, 1996. What follows is a brief look
at the information these books contain about the witnesses and other key persons
associated with the Book of Mormon. My intention here is not to provide a
summary of the entire body of information but only to show that what we learn
from these books do not give us much confidence in the witnesses and hence in
the Book of Mormon itself. The first of the three witnesses is Oliver Cowdery, a
rural schoolteacher. He was a scribe to Joseph Smith, and associate president of
the Church. In April 12,1838 he was excommunicated from the Mormon Church. He
was rebaptized ten years later in November 1848 and died March 3, 1850. Reading
this, one must wonder why this chief witness was excommunicated during the
lifetime of Joseph Smith his prophet, and be allowed back in the church after
his prophet died. Smith was martyred on June 27, 1844. The second of the three
witnesses is Martin Harris. He was a prosperous farmer who was known as
industrious, honest, and generous. It was his $3000 that financed the first
5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. But, as William Slaughter informs us: Harris
clashed with Church leaders over monetary practices and was excommunicated in
December 1837; he was rebaptized November 27, 1842. (Church History Timeline, p.
5). The same Martin Harris was given 116 pages of the book of Mormon after
Joseph Smith had translated them with the help of the seer stones. But then he
allowed wicked men to take these pages for the purpose of corrupting the
translation and then to accuse Joseph Smith of falsehood in his prophetic claim.
Why would Martin Harris do this? The Doctrine and Covenants explains that he was
a wicked man who sought to destroy Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith relates in his
history how Martin Harris had previously taken sample characters from the book
of Mormon along with the relevant translation of those characters and received
confirmation of these in New York City from a professor Charles Anton and Dr.
Mitchell. These men attested that the characters were true characters of the
Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac and Arabic, and that the translation so far done by
Joseph Smith was accurate. Now, one may wonder why did Harris, after he had
received this confirmation, should seek to destroy Joseph Smith. And what value
should we attach to the testimony of a man who sought to destroy one whom he
believed was God's prophet? Since the Doctrine and Covenants call Harris a
wicked man, should we place confidence in his testimony? Or should we believe
the Doctrine and Covenants? But to believe in the Doctrine and Covenants which
was revealed to Joseph Smith we have to first believe the Book of Mormon which
was revealed to him before that. And to believe the Book of Mormon we have to
believe its witnesses. We are still at the early stage of examining the
witnesses. The third of the three witnesses is David Whitmer. The whole Whitmer
family had become interested in the translating of the Book of Mormon, and it
was at the residence of this family that Joseph Smith lived until he completed
the work of translating the Book of Mormon from the gold plates. Others in the
Whitmer family are numbered among the eight witnesses, but David alone had the
privilege of being among the select three witnesses. Nevertheless, Doctrine and
Covenants describe David Whitmer as one who fears men and does not rely on the
Lord (D&C 30: 1). Doctrine and Covenants tells us that he had his mind on
the things of the earth (D&C 30:2), and was persuaded by those whom the Lord
did not command. This is in spite of the fact that he had been called as was
Paul (D&C 18:9). Paul, however, was not believed by Christians to have
become an apostate. Yet David Whitmer was excommunicated in April 1838, about
the same time as Oliver Cowdery, the first of the three witnesses. Oliver
Cowdery we recall was later rebaptized after the death of Joseph Smith. But
David Whitmer never came back to the Church. He died fortynine years later as an
apostate. One must again ask why the chief witnesses waver like this. Two fell
away and came back. One fell away and never came back. Their wavering from this
initial position of commitment to the revelations is not exactly the thing that
will inspire confidence. Mormons point out that these three witnesses never
denied their initial testimony even when they were excommunicated from the
church. The Church History Timeline even includes a positive testimony from
David Whitmer for the record. Whitmer said that although it is recorded that he
had denied his testimony as one of the three witnesses, neither he nor the other
two had at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof. Yet actions speak
louder than words. The fact that these men relinquished their commitment to the
revelations reduces the weight of their testimony. Two of the witnesses repented
and were baptized, and this makes them obviously better witnesses than David
Whitmer who never came back. Yet their many years of being out of the church
makes us wonder how firmly they believed their own testimony. Mormons will say
that the important thing is not the witness of men but the witness of God. They
will advise the inquirer to pray about the Book of Mormon to find out whether or
not it is true. But, obviously, the publishers of the Book of Mormon considered
the testimony of the men to be worthy of note. Prayer is important.
Investigation is also important. Once the witnesses are presented, they should
be examined. If the Mormon message says that the witness of men is not important
why then do they print the list of witnesses in the book? When we turn to the
list of eight witnesses we notice three significant things. First, the list is
not as diverse as the number would apparently suggest. The eight witnesses are
four from the Whitmer family, three from the Smith family, and one Hiram Page.
As for the Whitmers, we noted already how the best of them, David Whitmer
received the distinction of being one of the elite group of three witnesses. We
have also seen how he fell away permanently and died an apostate. Nevertheless,
his brothers kept up their commitment to the revelations. The Smiths were Joseph
Smith's father and two of his brothers. One of the brothers, Hyrum, was martyred
together with Joseph, and the other, Samuel, died a month later. The father had
died some years before that. The second significant thing is that this Hiram
Page also claimed revelations for himself. He also, like Joseph Smith, had a
seer stone which enabled him to write revelations from God. But God declared in
theDoctrine and Covenants that those revelations are not from him but from Satan
(D&C 28: 11). What then is the value of Hiram Page as a witness about
revelations from God? The third significant fact about the eight witnesses is
that their testimony is not as important as the testimony of the three. The
three had borne witness not only that they saw the plates but also that they saw
the angel and that they heard the voice of God who said that the book was
authentic and the translation was accurate. The eight witnesses, on the other
hand, only said that they had seen the plates "which have the appearance of
gold" (preface to the Book of Mormon). They also handled the plates and saw
the engravings "which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious
workmanship." The eight witnesses did not say anything to assure readers
that they knew the origin of the plates, or the accuracy of the Book of Mormon.
What their testimony bears out is that Joseph Smith showed them some plates
which had the appearance of gold and the engravings which they could not
decipher. But they believed that Smith was translating those engravings to
produce the Book of Mormon. Could we call them expert witnesses? More Fall Away
Not only did many of the chief witnesses of the Book of Mormon fall away. We
find in Mormon literature that many others who were close confidants and
associates of Joseph Smith could not stick with his mission after they once
professed belief in it. William was the only brother of Joseph Smith who lived
on for a long time after him. William was loyal to Joseph and remained a
believer until 1845 at which time he was excommunicated from the church.
Thirtythree years later he joined a splinter group which broke off from the
Mormon Church (Church History Timeline, p. 3). Federick G. Williams was one of
the first high priests of the Church, and the second counsellor in the initial
First Presidency (1833). Before joining the Church he was a prosperous and
respected physician. He became a close friend of Joseph Smith, and played an
active role in building the temple at Kirkland in Ohio. He helped to select the
revelations to be included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. His list of
accomplishments go on. Yet he was rejected as second counsellor in 1837 and
excommunicated in 1838. He was restored to fellowship a year later, and died two
years after that (Church History Timeline, p.9). One wonders why a man who was
so close to Joseph Smith, and so highly placed in the Church, should be
excommunicated ever. William Wines Phelps was a scribe to Joseph Smith in the
translation of the Book of Abraham, which is included in the authoritative
scriptures of the Mormons. He also wrote much of what is included in the hymnal.
Yet he was excommunicated in 1839 and readmitted in 1841 (Church History
Timeline, p. 11). Thomas B. Marsh was the first president of the Quorum of
Twelve. He was also called to fill in as acting president of the Church when
David Whitmer (third of the three witnesses) had fallen away. Marsh and his wife
quarrelled with the Saints over a trivial matter and soon became alienated from
the Church. He was excommunicated in March 1839 and came back eighteen years
later (Church History Timeline, p. 11). Why? Lyman Wight joined the Church in
1830, became an apostle in 1841, and was excommunicated in 1848 for rejecting
the leadership of Joseph Smith's successor. He moved to Texas to form his own
splinter group (Church Timeline, p. 13). John C. Bennett was a doctor, mayor of
Nauvoo, Illinois, and chancellor of the Nauvoo University. He was also
majorgeneral of the Nauvoo Legion. On April 8, 1841, Joseph Smith called him as
assistant president in the First Presidency. Sexual misconduct led to his
disfellowshipment in 1842 and his excommunication the following year. He then
went on to publish a hateful book against the Church entitled The History of the
Saints; or, An Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism. (Timeline, p. 14) Emma Hale
Smith was the wife of Joseph Smith. When her parents did not agree for them to
be married, Joseph eloped with her and they got married in 1827. She then helped
Joseph with the Book of Mormon translation. She was also called to select hymns
for the first hymnal, and was the first president of the Relief Society. God
revealed that he had given Emma in marriage to Joseph. God's sealing of this
marriage would mean for Mormons that it is sealed for all eternity. Emma is
therefore admonished by God that she must cleave unto Joseph "and to none
else," otherwise God would destroy her (D&C 132:54). One is then
surprised to find that three years after Joseph's martyrdom, Emma married Lewis
Bidamon. Nevertheless, she is buried next to Joseph (Timeline, p. 15). William
Law was a wealthy businessman. He became a Nauvoo City councilman and was named
second counsellor to Joseph Smith in 1841. He broke with the Church over
polygamy and was excommunicated in April 1844. Law openly opposed Joseph and
helped to publish the Nauvoo Expositor, an antiMormon writing (Timeline, p. 18).
Joseph Smith destroyed the press where the Nauvoo Expositor was published. This
led to his arrest for treason. While Joseph and his brother Hyrum were in jail,
on June 27,1844 a mob of 200 men gathered to kill him. Joseph, somehow armed,
shot back at them, but he and his brother both died that day. (Timeline, p. 18)
Sidney Rigdon was one of Joseph's closest advisors and was first counsellor in
the First Presidency from 1833 to 1844. He helped Joseph to produce a new and
corrected translation of the Bible, and worked with him also on the Book of
Moses, which is included in the Mormon Scriptures. He claimed the right to lead
the Church after Joseph Smith died in the summer of 1844. But when the Church
rejected his claim he refused to be a mere follower, and he was excommunicated
in the fall of that year. He then moved to Pennsylvania and started his own
church (Timeline, p. 19). Samuel Braman was baptized in 1833, and presided over
the Eastern Saints. He was excommunicated in 1851 (Timeline, p. 22). Orson Pratt
was one of the original 12 apostles. He was a writer, mathematician, and
pioneer. He was excommunicated in 1843 and reinstated a year later. (Timeline,
p. 22) From the above information it is clear that many of the most significant
persons who followed Joseph Smith fell away from his mission during his lifetime
or shortly afterwards. Some came back, others stayed away permanently. The lack
of consistency in these persons makes it difficult for an observer to have
confidence in the truth of Joseph's claim to be a spokesman for God. The above
information is all taken from the writings which are friendly to the Mormon
Church. One of those is a writing actually recognised as authoritative scripture
for them. So the information cannot be biased against the Mormon Church. If
anything, the information should be favourable to the Church. We expect that an
outsider book may not present the Mormon faith in good a light as these insider
book does. Yet the light from these books is not bright enough to inspire the
kind of confidence a person would dive for. The individuals spoken of above are
not a few isolated individuals selected for sensationalism. They are most of
those who had important positions with Joseph and his Church. What we have seen
is sufficient to make us wonder about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon,
The three witnesses all fell away; two returned. One of the eight witnesses
claimed to receive revelations in a similar manner to Joseph Smith. The scribes
who worked with Joseph to write down what he dictated of the revelations of God
did not remain faithful. Oliver Cowdery left and did not return during Joseph's
lifetime. One hundred and sixteen pages of the translated book once placed in
the hands of Martin Harris ended up into the hands of enemies who sought to
destroy Joseph Smith by perverting his book. The book Church History Timeline,
p. 4, says the pages were stolen from Harris. But Doctrine and Covenants reveal
that Harris himself was one of the enemies who sought to destroy the prophet
(D&C 10:67). He no longer acted as scribe for Joseph after this incident
(Timeline, p. 4). No, these were not isolated individuals. The book Church
History Timeline highlights all of the most important persons in the Church's
history. On page 4, one person is shown. He fell away. On page 5, two persons
are shown. Both fell away. On page 9, one person is shown. He fell away. On page
11, two persons are shown. Both fell away. On page 13, two are shown; one fell.
On page 14, two are shown; one fell. On page 18, two are shown: William Law and
Joseph Smith. William disagreed with Joseph and fell away. On page 19, one
person is shown. He went away to start his own church. On page 22, two persons
are featured. Both fell away. Many of these men, as we have seen, did come back
into the Church. But their loss of faith at one time must be taken seriously.
And what do we make of those who never came back? How Muslims can help Mormons
Speak to Mormons with love and deep concern for their salvation in the life
hereafter. Help them to see that the early Muslims remained devoted to the
prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in all circumstances, because they were thoroughly
convinced that he was God's messenger. They believed his words, rushed to carry
out his orders, and risked their lives to defend the Qur'an. Some of the worst
enemies of the prophet eventually became convinced about the truth of his
message, and once they announced their new faith nothing could later distract
them. Muslims should also help Mormons to understand how much emphasis Muslims
place on the reliability of witnesses. In order to even verify a single
statement of the prophet Muhammad, pbuh, we need witnesses whose character and
faith are without doubt. Those who relate sayings from the prophet must be known
for their absolute honesty, impeccable piety, remarkable memory, and strict
adherence to the prophet's teachings. If Mormons can appreciate this principle
of historical verification, they may look at Mormon and Islamic histories in a
new way and decide for themselves which should inspire more confidence and
faith. Help Mormons to become acquainted with the Qur'an, which is by itself
alone a witness to its own truth by remaining in its original language and form
for all to see. A Muslim would have a copy of the Qur'an in its original Arabic
text, perhaps also with a translation into another language. Show your visitors
that the angel who brought the message to the prophet did not take away the
message but left it for all to see. Yes, we do not have to rely on human
witnesses alone. Although many persons did testify that they were present when
the angel delivered the Qur'an to the prophet over time, and many others
attested to the impeccable character and truthfulness of the prophet, pbuh, we
do not have to rely on them alone. Today the Qur'an can still be examined.
Millions of human beings have been examining this book throughout the centuries.
Some study it in its original language, others through a translation. Millions
now attest to the fact that the Qur'an is the best witness that it is indeed a
revelation from God. Perhaps you can help your Mormon visitors to know the
Qur'an and be saved. Mormons are sincerely persons working hard to spread their
message. You can help them redirect their energies to working for God's message
which he revealed to his prophet Muhammad, pbuh, through the angel Gabriel. God
says in the Qur'an: If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it
be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers. (Qur'an
3:85)

Bibliography
Works Cited Slaughter, William W Church History Timeline. Salt Lake City, Utah:
Desert Book Co., 1996. Doctrine & Covenants. Salt Lake City, Utah The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints., 1982
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