Skip to main content

A Newly Discovered Early Report of Seeing the Plates from One of the Three Witnesses


When it comes to history, early, primary sources are the always the ideal. Of course, they are not always readily available. Sometimes you have to settle for a primary source that is late, or you have an early source, but it’s second hand. Or you have both, have to decide if you’ll give more weight to the document that is early, even though it is secondary, or to the document that is first hand, despite it’s being late. Actually, quite often you will have multiple documents, some primary, others second (or even third or fourth) hand; some earlier, and others later, and whole bunch in-between, and deciding which documents to give priority to is difficult. History is a messy business, and more often than not there is more than enough room for disagreement on the what, how, who, and why of “what happened.” But when you have these ideal documents – the early, primary ones – you can sort through that mess with a little more confidence.


With in mind, I draw your attention to very exciting find. Okay, that is an understatement. This find is monumental, epic, colossal… get the idea? I don’t want to overstate this, but I honestly wonder if “overstatement” is even possible. I just want to stress that this is HUGE. Independent historian Erin Jennings discovered an 1829 letter from Oliver Cowdery (printed in a newspaper) which discusses the experience of the three witnesses. The letter is dated November 9, 1829. John W. Welch dates the revealing of the plates to the three witnesses to around June 20, 1829.[1] That means that this letter was written – by one of the three witnesses – within four months of the experience. This makes the document both early and primary. This thing is like historical gold! The letter reads, in regards to the three witnesses’ experience, as follows (brackets are from the newspaper reporter):

You also wished Mr. Harris to inform you respecting his seeing this book, whether there could not possibly have been some juggling at the bottom of it. A few words on that point may suffice. –

It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at that time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angle, arrayed in glorious light, [who] asend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. 
Now if this is human juggling – judge ye.

Note that “juggling” in the nineteenth century could refer to what we might call “trickery” – attempting to deceive or fool others into believing something. Cowdery is responding to the accusation that Joseph Smith “juggled” (that is, tricked or fooled) the witnesses into seeing the plates. He seems to strongly be of the opinion that it is not.

I don’t want it to seem like this is the only valuable contribution this letter makes to Mormon history, because it is not. There is much more to the letter than this, and it is going to be important for Mormon history for a number of reasons. Also, it has been pointed out that the setting Oliver Cowdery describes seems to be different from that described in Joseph Smith’s 1838 account (which indicates that it was in the woods, not in a field, near the Whitmer home, not “far from any inhabitants”). I believe that these details are reconcilable, but at any rate, discrepancies in how an event is reported hardly prove that the event did not take place. It will be interesting to see how historians choose to deal with these differences in the future. For now, it is exciting to just be able to read the direct testimony of one of the three witnesses from so soon after the event.



[1] John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844, John W. Welch, ed. (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2005), 97.

Comments

  1. Good job on a very interesting article. What newspaper was this printed in? Where can I find your source? Very interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Advanced:

    Sorry about not including a link to this in the OP. I meant to(I will be fixing that). But here it is:

    http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/1829-mormon-discovery-brought-to-you-by-guest-erin-jennings/

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The 15 “Best Books” to Read BEFORE Having a Faith Crisis

Elder M. Russell Ballard recently stressed that it is important for Gospel educators to be well-informed on controversial topics, not only by studying the scriptures and Church materials, but also by reading “the best LDS scholarship available.” I personally think it is imperative in today’s world for every Latter-day Saint—not just Gospel educators—to make an effort to be informed on both controversial issues as well as knowing reliable faith-building information as well.
(Given that Elder Ballard’s CES address was published to general Church membership in the Ensign, I think it’s safe to say that Church leadership also feels this way.)
An important step in the process of getting informed is reading the 11 Gospel Topic essays and getting familiar with their contents. But what’s next? How can a person learn more about these and other topics? What are the “best books” (D&C 88:118) or “the best LDS scholarship available”?
Here are 15 suggestions.
1. Michael R. Ash, Shaken Faith S…

Responding to the New Video on Nahom as Archaeological Evidence for the Book of Mormon

Many of my (few) readers have probably already seen the new video by Book of Mormon Central on Nahom as archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, starring my good friend (and co-author on a related paper) Stephen Smoot. If you haven’t, check it out:


As usual, comments sections wherever this video is shared have been flooded by Internet ex-Mormons insisting this not evidence for the Book of Mormon. I’ve actually had a few productive conversations with some reasonable people who don’t think Nahom is, by itself, compelling evidence—and I can understand that. But the insistence that Nahom is not evidence at all is just, frankly, absurd. So I’ll just go ahead and preempt about 90% of future responses to this post by responding to the most common arguments against Nahom/NHM now:
1. The Book of Mormon is false, therefore there can be no evidence, therefore this is not evidence. First, this is circular reasoning. It assumes the conclusion (Book of Mormon is false) which the evidence pre…

New Paper on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

Joseph M. Spencer, an adjunct professor at the BYU religion department, recently published a paper in the non-LDS peer review journal Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception, titled, “Isaiah 52 in the Book of Mormon: Note’s on Isaiah’s Reception History.” Spencer is a young scholar who is doing exciting stuff on the Book of Mormon from a theological perspective.
The paper is described as follows in the abstract: Despite increasing recognition of the importance of Mormonism to American religion, little attention has been given to the novel uses of Isaiah in foundational Mormon texts. This paper crosses two lines of inquiry: the study of American religion, with an eye to the role played in it by Mormonism, and the study of Isaiah’s reception history. It looks at the use of Isa 52:7–10 in the Book of Mormon, arguing that the volume exhibits four irreducibly distinct approaches to the interpretation of Isaiah, the interrelations among which are explicitly meant to speak to nineteent…