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The Book of Mormon - I

by M.S.C., S.T.D. Leslie Rumble

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  • Descriptive Title:
    The Book of Mormon Part One
    Description:
    "Too many cases have been written against Mormonism out of impetuosity, and their lack of scholarly investigation has invariably boomeranged." In this article "Father Rumble's case against Mormonism is based on a thorough study of the Book of Mormon and other official Mormon documents." The "Australian apologist devotes considerable space here to debunking charges made against Mormonism, at the same time proving that the cumulative case against Mormonism is overwhelming, unless one is prepared to abandon reason and take refuge in sheer credulity."
  • Larger Work:
    Homiletic & Pastoral Review
  • Pages: 227 – 237
  • Publisher & Date:
    Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., New York, NY, December 1959

At the 129th general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, April, 1959, a fervent appeal was made by President David O. McKay that every one of the 1,555,799 Mormons in the world should be a missionary in spreading the message of the restored gospel.1 But so zealous are Mormons both at home and abroad that the "Gentiles," as they call others, may well regard such an incitement to further activity as superfluous. Their Book of Mormon, named after one whom they regard as a 4th century A.D. North American prophet and compiler of the records of his predecessors, has had to be translated into more than thirty foreign languages, so many are the lands to which their emissaries have gone.

With the remarkable history of these people during the past one hundred and thirty years, however, we are not here concerned. The present article must be restricted to a study of the Book of Mormon itself with which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands or falls, as both friends and foes of Mormonism admit.

Joseph Smith himself, its founder, declared the Book of Mormon to be "the keystone of our religion."2 In our own days, William A. Morton writes that if he "did not believe Joseph Smith's testimony concerning the Book of Mormon" he could believe nothing else that he taught.3 A hostile critic declares equally emphatically: "Destroy the hitherto accepted authority of these 'sacred books' and one has destroyed Mormonism."4

Outline of the Book

The Book of Mormon was published in 1830, the first edition describing Joseph Smith as "author and proprietor of this work." In later editions the word "author" was changed to "translator," an alteration inspired by "divine revelation."5

The work consists of fifteen different sections called "Books,"6 and professes to give a summary of ancient American history, although not in strictly chronological order.

We are told of the migrations of three groups of peoples from the Middle East, the book opening with that of a Jewish prophet named Lehi, of the tribe of Manasseh, who came from Jerusalem to America about 600 B.C., with his sons Nephi, Laman, Lemuel, and Sam, together with other disciples. The history of these and their development of a civilization which lasted until the 5th century A.D. provides the main theme of the book.

After the death of Lehi, the people divided into two groups, the one under the leadership of Nephi, the other under Laman. Of the two, Nephi was the divinely-appointed prophet and the recipient of many wonderful revelations. The most marvelous of these revelations was the promise that Christ would establish in America a second Church, with a second set of twelve Apostles chosen from among Nephi's descendants.7 It was to these that Christ alluded when He told His Apostles in Palestine: "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold."8

Quite early in the book Nephi launches into a vigorous attack on the Catholic Church — "the great and abominable Church" — which will become apostate, thus rendering a "Restored Church" necesary in due course.9 In later chapters the Book of Mormon tells how Christ, some weeks after His ascension, visited the Nephites in America, preached the gospel to them, and in the first century A.D. established His second Church among them, a Church similar in all things to the one He had already set up in Palestine.

But this second Church also, alas, failed and disappeared about the 4th century A.D., for the followers of Nephi's brother Laman became evil, were cursed by God with red skins, whereas the Nephites remained fair of skin by His favor. Filled with envy, the Lamanites destroyed the Nephites in a final battle about 400 A.D. near the hill of Cumorah, Palmyra; N. Y., and the surviving Lamanites degenerated into American Indians.

"Jaredites" and "Mulekites"

As the history of the ancient Americans did not seem to have been carried back far enough with the advent of Lehi in 600 B.C., the Book of Ether was added toward the end of the new Bible, describing how the "Jaredites" had come to America thousands of years earlier from Mesopotamia, at the time of the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. These, however, after building a flourishing civilization, had completely destroyed themselves by internal dissensions and wars shortly before Lehi and his group arrived from Jerusalem.

A third group of migrants mentioned in the Book of Helaman were the "Mulekites," followers of Mulek, declared to be the son of Zedekiah, king of Judah. Mulek migrated to America eleven years after Lehi; but his followers eventually merged with the Nephites, who called North America the "Land of Mulek" as a tribute to his royal lineage.

The Records

A record of all these events, interspersed with much religious teaching, many prophecies, and extracts from the Jewish scriptures and genealogies which had been brought from Jerusalem by Lehi, was kept by the Nephites. These records were abridged by the last of their prophets, Mormon, although his son Moroni had to complete the work. Moroni added his own Book, containing the procedure to be followed in baptisms, ordinations, and the administration of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and some additional sayings of his father.

All this work of Mormon and Moroni was engraved on plates of gold in ancient heiroglyphics. In 420 A.D. Moroni buried these plates near the hill of Cumorah.

Some 1,400 years later, he appeared as a "resurrected personage" to Joseph Smith, revealing to him the place of the burial so that they could be unearthed, translated, and added to the Bible for God's purposes "in the last days." Joseph Smith exhumed them in 1827.

"Sacred Books" of Latter Day Saints

It would be impossible to obtain an adequate knowledge of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the Book of Mormon, for Joseph Smith began to formulate those in earnest only after he had established his "Restored Church."

The many additional revelations he claimed to have received are to be found in The Book of Moses (1830), Doctrine and Covenants (1831-35), The Book of Abraham (18421. The Book of Moses and The Book of Abraham, with some abstracts from other writings of Joseph Smith and his Articles of Faith, were published in 1851 under one title, The Pearl of Great Price.

These are all regarded as the inspired Word of God, and are Latter-day Saint standard works. In fact, in explanations of their doctrines, these books are quoted far more frequently than the Book of Mormon itself.

Still, the Book of Mormon must be accepted as a divinely-inspired record, prophetic of the restoration of Christ's Church by Joseph Smith, despite the two previous Churches which had been established by Christ and which had both failed.

"Book of Mormon" Teachings

In general, the Book of Mormon teaching about God does not differ greatly from that of the Bible, although it suggests His possession of a body.10 Human souls pre-existed before their infusion into earthly bodies.11 Adam's sin was in order that he might procreate children. "Adam fell, that men might be."12 But there was no transmission of Original Sin; infant baptism, therefore, is quite unjustifiable.13 Baptism, administered to adult believers only, must be by immersion.14 Polygamy is forbidden: "There shall not any man among you have save it be one wife."15

The code of morals proclaimed by the Book of Mormon is in no way vicious or objectionable.

Care was taken to include a prophecy preparing the way for the restoration of the Church by Joseph Smith in the latter days. It foretold "a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called 'interpreters.' This man will be called a 'seer.'"16

According to the Book of Mormon, the result of the restoration of the kingdom of God will be temporal prosperity as well as spiritual blessings, and with the second coming of Christ the "New Jerusalem" or "Zion" will finally be established in America.

Later Doctrines

After he had founded his "Restored Church," Joseph Smith claimed to receive progressive revelations as he went along, amplifying and even altering the teachings of his new dispensation.

So God the Father becomes an "exalted man," having a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's.17 The Garden of Eden becomes located, not in Mesopotamia, but in Spring Hill, Missouri, under the name of "Adamondi-Ahman"18; polygamy is declared lawful;19 baptism on behalf of the dead is advocated;20 the earth, after the return of Christ, will be "sanctified and immortal," becoming "like unto a crystal and will be a Urim and Thummin to the inhabitants," making all things of inferior kingdoms manifest.21

In 1841 Joseph Smith summarized his teachings into thirteen "Articles of Faith," and missionaries have these printed on their visiting cards. But the average Christian who reads them would understand them in a sense very different from that of the Mormons and be the victim of a colossal deception if he were led by them to embrace Mormonism.

Other Churches Branded Apostate

The second Church, which Christ had established among the Nephites in America and which had perished with them, had value only as providing the golden plates for Joseph Smith to unearth, and as a prophetic type of the Church to be restored by him, also in America, in 1830.

A problem confronting him was, of course, the fact that the first Church established by Christ in Palestine, the Catholic Church, had not vanished from the face of the earth like the second one he had imagined, but still had millions of followers. The only thing to do was to brand that Church as apostate and to declare all other Churches to be in the same plight.

The apostasy, according to him, began in the days of the Apostles themselves and gradually developed until the so-called conversion of Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century A.D. The work of corruption by paganism was then crowned by that Emperor's proclaiming Christianity as the State religion of the Roman Empire. From then on, the Church as established by Christ in the days of the Apostles was no more. Divine and priestly authority had disappeared, and no power on earth could restore it.

The Protestant reformation was, in a way, a magnificent effort of reaction against the abominations of Rome, but that could not save all the different sects that resulted from it from being as apostate as their Romish mother.

The Restored Church

In 1830, however, the time had come for the "marvelous work and a wonder" predicted by Isaiah22 to make its appearance, confounding the wisdom of men.

An unsophisticated American boy of fourteen, Joseph Smith, born December 23, 1805, was chosen by God, called by Him, told where to find the buried golden plates of the Book of Mormon, and commissioned to restore the true Church of Christ at last.

But how could this be, since Joseph had neither holy orders nor religious authority of any kind? That difficulty was overcome miraculously. On May 15, 1829, John the Baptist came from heaven and ordained Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery — then at work on the translation of the golden plates — to the Aaronic priesthood, laying his hands upon them. A few weeks later, on June I, the Apostles Peter, James, and John visited them and ordained them to the priesthood of Melchisedech.

The translation of the Book of Mormon having been completed, Joseph proclaimed himself as "Seer, a Translator, a Prophet, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and Elder of the Church through the Will of God the Father and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."

He at once set about organizing the restored Church with the same full ministry of the primitive Church, with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, high priests, seventies, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons. He thus claimed to have given back to the world the only perfect reproduction of the Church established by Christ and the Apostles some eighteen hundred years earlier. This restored Church, to be known as that of "Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," was the fulfillment of all preceding dispensations.

The great distinctive feature of this restored Church was its claim to a directly divine origin. The Mormons do not pretend to any apostolic succession. Theirs is an apostolic "restoration," holding authority directly and without any intermediaries through the three chief Apostles of the primitive Church: Peter, James, and John.

Joseph Smith, therefore, is not like the human founders of new sects, such as Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII, Pastor Russell, Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy, or a Father Divine. In no way is his Church to be regarded as another fragment of Protestantism. It is the one true Church of Christ, with all the authority of Christ, restored to earth for the last days until He comes to reign over the ransomed globe from America, and forever.

The first public proclamation of this restored Church was made in a sermon by Oliver Cowdery, April 11, 1830.

Book of Mormon's First Critics

On its publication in 1830 the Book of Mormon was regarded as the product of yet another small and insignificant religious sect, not worthy of serious study at all. But things have changed since then.

James E. Talmage does not exaggerate when he writes of its author, Joseph Smith: "The question of this man's divine commission is a challenging one to the world today. If his claims to a divine appointment be false, forming as they do the foundation of the Church in this last dispensation, the superstructure cannot be stable."23

As the book gradually became known, with its declaration that all other Churches were apostate, adherents of those other Churches sought in increasing numbers to explain it away, discrediting it as a preposterous fraud. Joseph Smith was well aware that this would happen, and included a prophecy of it in his book: "Many of the Gentiles shall say: 'A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.'"24

Unfortunately the earliest critics, regarding the whole of the new Mormon religion as fantastic and incredible, with an unsavory history, launched superficial and inaccurate attacks upon its sacred "Book" without so much as having read it. And whatever was said against it by one author was seized upon and repeated by others, a process that has continued in the flood of anti-Mormon pamphlets right through to our own day.

One can easily understand this uncritical readiness to grasp at anything which might serve as a refutation of Mormonism. Convinced of its falsity by its very opposition to the cherished beliefs of the rest by Christendom, and regarding it as too absurd to warrant time devoted to intensive study and research, defenders of orthodox Christianity yet felt the need of providing their own people with an answer to proselytizing missionaries of the new religion. They took it for granted that, since the religion was false, anything tending to prove it false must be right. But however right the conclusion, the use of wrong arguments really played into the hands of the Mormons.

Unjustified Theories

Indignant exposures of Mormonism, relying on every scrap of gossip as evidence, were easily shown to be ill-informed and biased. Charges that the Book of Mormon itself was immoral and obscene proved only that those making them had not read it, for there is nothing immoral in it.

Again, the theory was advanced that Joseph Smith, having neither the learning nor the talent to write the book himself, borrowed its contents from a manuscript tale of a Roman ship blown off course to America at the time of Constantine written by a Rev. Solomon Spaulding, and that a Campbellite preacher named Sidney Rigdon had given him biblical and theological assistance. This theory was disproved by the discovery of the original Spaulding manuscript in 1884 by President James H. Fairchild, of Oberlin College, a comparison of it with the Book of Mormon showing the latter's complete independence of such a source, and by evidence that Sidney Rigdon could not have met Joseph Smith until after 1830, the year of the book's publication.

Dislodged from this position, later opponents had recourse to psychological explanations, declaring Joseph Smith to have been subject to epilepsy, to have been mentally unbalanced, and a victim of delusions. But whatever else may be said of the Book of Mormon, it cannot be described as incoherent, reflecting the disorderly ramblings of a deranged mind. It has quite a consistent story to tell, and manifests an ingenuity and talent which no mental aberration could of itself confer.

In refuting these mistaken theories and arguments, the Mormons have scored all along the line, really gaining far more benefit from them than they have suffered harm. The whole case against their book urgently needs reconsideration.

Character of Joseph Smith

When a man claims to offer the world a new revelation in the name of God, and invites us to accept him as a prophet of God, others have the right to ask whether there are any reasons why he should not be regarded as a trustworthy person.

They have no right, however, to say more than the evidence warrants, and many of Joseph Smith's early critics went far beyond any evidence available in declaring that in his youth he was vicious and destitute of morals. It was not a lecherous mind that wrote a book which one would search in vain for anything suggestive or depraved.

The truth is that Joseph Smith was a good-living, likable, highly-imaginative, forceful, yet irresponsible boy, something of a Huckleberry Finn.

The New England of his day was full of stories of buried gold, and in their credulity many people indulged in crystal-gazing in the hope of locating gold, and digging-parties were frequently organized for the excavation of likely places. Joseph himself often went treasurer-hunting and had his own "peep-stones."

His vagrancy and the extravagant tales he told — for he was a great talker — more than once got him into trouble. At Bainbridge, New York, a court record dated March, 1827, says that he was found guilty of being "a disorderly person and an impostor."25 During the trial, Joseph admitted to using "seer-stones" and to having organized groups to search for buried treasure.

That he was unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood was common knowledge, although there is no need to attribute this to malice rather than to an undisciplined imagination. Thus President Edmund B. Fairfield, of Michigan College, stated:

It was in August, 1850, that I found myself spending a week in the immediate vicinity of Palmyra and Manchester, U.S.A. Three men were mentioned to me who had been intimately acquainted with Joseph Smith from the age of ten years to twenty-five and upwards. The testimony of these men was given under no stress of any kind. It was clear, decided, unequivocal testimony in which they all agreed. "Joseph Smith is simply a notorious liar."26

Speaking of Joseph at this period of his life, his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, said of him:

He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them."27

Of formal schooling he may have had little, but he read a great deal and had a prolific imagination bordering on creative genius, with a conversational facility which could hold his listeners spellbound.

His accounts of his own earliest religious experiences was, more likely than not, an invented one. Writing in later years, he declared that in 1820, when he was about fourteen years of age, he was worrying about which of the Churches he should join when suddenly God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared bodily before him and told him that all were wrong and that he should join none of them.

It was not until 1840 that the description of this first "mystical experience" was published by Orson Pratt in a book called Remarkable Visions. Joseph Smith did not publish his own account of it until 1842. Meantime, his own mother's version of the founding of the Church, written in 1831, gave not the slightest hint that Joseph had seen "two gods" in bodily form; nor was any mention made of such an event in the first printed history of the new religion published in 1834 by Oliver Cowdery, although Joseph had assisted in the writing of it. That account began with the apparition of the "resurrected personage," Moroni, in 1823.

Mormon Claims

Latter-day Saints claim that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is a God-given religious history equal to and supplementing the Bible. They are thoroughly convinced of this and tenaciously defend the book's divine origin.

Many considerations are urged in favor of this. Joseph Smith, they say, gave a patently honest account of his finding of the book and of God's miraculous help in the translating of it. Also, eleven men of good repute gave solemn testimony as witnesses who had seen and even handled the original "golden plates" from which the book was translated.

Other explanations of the work are all self-evidently false. On the other hand, it is claimed, learned linguists have declared the engraved characters of the ancient language genuine. Moreover, if one accepts the Bible as true, then one must accept the Book of Mormon as true, for it is in perfect agreement with the Bible in all matters common to both, and is itself the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. In addition to all this, the contents of the book have been confirmed by the sciences of history, ethnology, anthropology, and archaeology; nor would the Latter-day Saints spend literally millions of dollars to perpetuate a fraud.

These arguments impress many people and demand careful consideration.

The Golden Plates

As we have seen, it is claimed that the last of the Nephite prophets, Mormon, made an abridgment on plates of gold, summarizing the Nephite and other records,28 his son Moroni burying the plates on the Cumorah hillside about 420 A.D. Joseph Smith declared that in 1823 he was visited by Moroni, then a "resurrected personage," who told him where the plates were to be found. He went to the place indicated and duly discovered them, but was told to wait four years before removing them. On September 22, 1827, he was permitted to take them.

That inscriptions were made on metal plates, gold, silver, or bronze, in ancient times, even centuries before Christ, is certain, and no objections to the Book of Mormon on the ground that the very idea of such plates is an impossible one can be sustained.

With the plates Joseph Smith claimed to have two precious stones, attached to a breastplate which God had provided to enable him to translate into English the "reformed Egyptian" inscriptions on the golden plates. These stones were called "Urim and Thummin," also "seers" or "interpreters." Joseph's friend, Martin Harris, described them as "white, like polished marble, with a few grey streaks." David Whitmer, another witness, said they were "two small stones of chocolate color, perfectly smooth, but not transparent." Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, says she was shown "two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses set in silver bows." Of the breastplate to which they were fastened she says: "It was concave on one side and convex on the other, and extended from the neck downwards as far as the center of the stomach of a man of extraordinary size."29

The source of these ideas was obviously the King James' Version of the Old Testament. There we read, in Exodus 28:30, "And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and Thummim." Together with his "Urim and Thummim" Joseph Smith felt that he had to find a "breastplate," and he apparently showed his mother a large metal one "concave on one side and convex on the other." Unfortunately for him, the word "breastplate" in the King James' Bible is a mistranslation. The Hebrew word "Choshen" means a pouch, burse, or pocket. It was made of linen cloth and formed part of the "Ephod," one of the High-Priest's vestments, as a kind of pocket one hand-breadth in width and depth. In it were placed two stones named "Urim and Thummim," literally "lights" and "perfections," which God designated as lots to be used for the making of important decisions. If "Urim" were drawn from the "Choshen," the answer was in the negative; if "Thummin," in the affirmative.

One is justified in concluding that the divinely-bestowed golden plates and the two precious stones were as fictitious as the divinely-bestowed breastplate Joseph Smith's mother claimed to have seen.

Work of Translation

In translating the "golden plates" Joseph would sit behind a curtain, examining their characters with the sacred instruments "Urim" and "Thummim," and dictating the English sentences to a scribe on the other side of the screen.

His wife Emma was his first assistant, but Martin Harris soon replaced her, working from April 12, 1828, until June 14 of that year. By that time 116 pages of the manuscript had been completed. Martin Harris' wife, however, resenting his wasting his time and money in such a way, stole those first pages, and they were never recovered.

Realizing that he could not dictate exactly the same words over again, and fearing the results of a comparison between them and a later version should they be produced, Joseph declared that he had received a revelation forbidding him to translate the same plates a second time. He was to translate a set of small Nephite plates covering the same period which had been found with the larger plates, and then to continue with the latter from the place where the interruption had occurred.

The work went on slowly and intermittently until April 7, 1829, when a new secretary, Oliver Cowdrey, replaced Martin Harris. Then the work went on with almost incredible speed, the whole book being finished by June 11, 1829. The "resurrected personage" Moroni then reappeared to Joseph Smith and took back the golden plates, removing them altogether front this world; but not before eleven witnesses had seen them, noting the ancient characters engraved upon them.

In replying to objections based on textual difficulties in the book, Mormons today say that Joseph Smith "while translating under the inspiration of God obtained the meaning of the text." He "had neither a Ph.D. in English, nor had he been trained as a linguist. He gave the ideas in the English language in such phraseology and diction as he could muster."30

But that will not do. For David Whitmer, one of the principal witnesses, declared that he had watched Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey at work, and said that Joseph had put his seer-stones into a hat, and that when he looked into them a spiritual light would shine and provide him with a vision of a parchment-like document so that he had no need to look at the plates themselves; and on this document the characters would appear word by word with the translation in English under them. "Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any man."31

Such a miraculously-provided translation would of its very nature be infallibly correct, Joseph Smith's qualifications or lack of them not counting at all!

The book having been completed, it was published on March 26, 1830, the title-page describing it as "An account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi."

Three Main Witnesses

Mormons claim that, although Moroni took the plates back to heaven, so that they themselves cannot be produced as evidence, witnesses of good repute gave solemn testimony before God to having seen them. They complain that these witnesses are side-stepped altogether or brushed off with a passing reference. They insist, however, that their testimony still stands and that no book has ever been offered to the world as a divine record so fully supported by the unimpeachable attestations of living persons.

But are their attestations unimpeachable? Even supposing, although not granting, that the alleged witnesses were all men of good repute in every respect, and that they were subjectively convinced that they had seen the plates and were not consciously lying, the possibility remains that they were victims of their own imagination or of deliberate deception by Joseph Smith.

It is significant that the first three and main witnesses, Oliver Cowdrey, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris had a "revelation" given to them through Joseph Smith: "Behold, I say unto you, you must rely upon my word, which if you do . . . you shall have a view of the plates . . . It is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them . . . and ye shall testify that you have seen than."32

The claim is made that the three witnesses, while in the woods at prayer, were granted a vision of an angel holding the plates and showing them the engravings on them, a voice coming from a blaze of surrounding light and saying: "These plates have been revealed by the power of God . . . bear record of what you now see and hear."33

The three, however, gave conflicting versions of the incident afterwards, as inevitably happens when different imaginations color the descriptions given by several people. One of them, Martin Harris, when questioned by a Palmyra lawyer, "Did you see the plates and the engravings on them with your bodily eyes?" replied: "I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me — though at the time they were covered with a cloth."34 It is difficult to fit that in with the angelic vision; but, in any case, one is left with little confidence that the others had any more definite a sight of the plates than Martin Harris.

Eight Additional Witnesses

In addition to the testimony of the above three witnesses, the Book of Mormon is prefaced with that of eight others who claimed not only to have seen the plates, but to have handled or "hefted" them with their hands.

Their names are given as Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sen., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith. Four Whitmers, three Smiths, and Hirma Page who had married one of the Whitmer daughters! It is altogether too close a family circle. Not that they were necessarily and consciously lying. But the degree in which people can persuade themselves of "having seen things" has surely been made evident in our own days by those ready to swear that they have actually seen "flying saucers," and by the success of groups dedicated to promotion among themselves and others of belief in such mechanical visitants from outer-space.

That the eight witnesses believed that they had "hefted" the plates could quite well be due to Joseph's having provided a weighted box of some kind for them to lift, his assurance that it contained the plates being evidence enough to make them think their testimony justified.

Such explanations are not an irresponsible dismissal of the eleven witnesses. For it is not enough merely to cite human witnesses for inherently unlikely and miraculous events. The task still remains of assessing the credibility of those witnesses in the light of their environment and its prevailing atmosphere, as well as of their individual temperaments and critical objectivity. However strong testimony may appear at first sight, it may not be able to withstand a searching psychological analysis of those who testified. Above all, if we are asked to believe something solely on the word of witnesses, we are entitled to check their worth by a close study of that to which they bear testimony. All such factors must be taken into consideration. And a critical examination of the Book of Mormon itself, together with the circumstances of its composition, leaves no room for reasonable doubt about the unreliability of the witnesses on its behalf.


Endnotes

  1. Newsweek, April 20, 1959.

  2. Documentary History of the Church, Vol. IV, p. 461.

  3. Why I Believe the Book of Mormon to Be the Word of God, p. 3.

  4. The Mystery of Mormonism, by Stuart Martin, p. 17.

  5. Doctrines and Covenants, 21:1.

  6. These are named as follows: 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, Words of Mormon, Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi, 4 Nephi, Book of Mormon, Ether, Moroni.

  7. 1 Nephi, 12:6-9.

  8. John 10:16.

  9. 1 Nephi, chapters 13, 14.

  10. Ether, c. 3.

  11. Ether, 3:16.

  12. 2 Nephi, 2:25.

  13. Moroni, 8:9.

  14. 3 Nephi, 11:26.

  15. Jacob, 2:27.

  16. Mosiah, 8:13.

  17. D. & C., 130:22. Lowell L. Bennion writes: "Latter-day Saints believe in three gods, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. In that sense we differ from Judaism and also from most Christians, who try to make these three into One . . . We are monotheistic in the sense that we believe that God, our Father, is unique, for he is the Supreme Intelligence in the universe, greater than the Son, greater than the Holy Ghost . . . Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are Gods working under him and with him." "An Introduction to the Gospel," pp. 34-5.

  18. D. & C., 117:8.

  19. D. & C., 132:52.

  20. D.& C., 124:29.

  21. D. & C., 130:9.

  22. Isaiah, 29 :14.

  23. "A Study of the Articles of Faith," p. 7.

  24. 2 Nephi, 29:13.

  25. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II, p. 1576.

  26. Quoted from the American Historical Magazine, May, 1870, by Stuart Martin in "The Mystery of Mormonism," p. 28.

  27. Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, p. 85.

  28. 3 Nephi, 5:20.

  29. Fawn M. Brodie, in No Man Knows My History, p. 40, quoting Lucy M. Smith's "Biographical Sketches," "Tiffany's Monthly," 1869, and "Kansas City Journal," 1881.

  30. The Book of Mormon, by Franklin S. Harris, Jr., p. 109.

  31. Address to All Believers in Christ, by David Whitmer, p. 12.

  32. D. & C., 17:1-5.

  33. History of the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 54, 55.

  34. The Confusion of Tongues, by Charles W. Ferguson, p. 371.


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