Based out of Sandy Utah, Rauni and Dennis Higley have a busy life going from one church to another in Utah and beyond exposing the alleged errors of Mormonism. Long time members of the LDS church prior to leaving it, both were and are aware of the full gamet of statements by Book of Mormon witnesses, and why they chose the following to represent the witnesses is a mystery, if not an attempt to disparage.
Did the Witnesses Really See the Golden Plates?
Did the witnesses actually see the plates on which the Book of Mormon was written?
Some of these witnesses had indeed claimed that there were “wagon loads of plates” inside the Hill Cumorah. David Whitmer is reported of saying, “We not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon but also brass plates…and many other plates…[W]e were overshadowed by light…there appeared as it were a table with many records or plates upon it, besides the Book of Mormon, also the Sword of Laban, the Directors…” (Preston Nibley, The Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, pp 68-69). Heber C. Kimball also spoke of “the vision that Joseph and others [Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Sr.] had when they went into a cave in the Hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry…books piled upon tables…” (Journal of Discourses [JoD] 4:105).
Brigham Young talked even more about this, saying, “…when Joseph and Oliver went there [Hill Cumorah] the hill opened, and they walked into the cave…He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as the day. They laid the plates on a table… Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piles up in corners ad along the walls…” (JoD 19:38.) This and other similar stories were repeated by Wilford Woodruff (4th President of the Church), Lucy Smith (Joseph Smith’s mother), William Phelps, and others. (We can only conclude that these people were either very gullible or they were willing participants in this scam).
However, what the Book of Mormon witnesses later said, when they were questioned more in detail, was that they only saw these things in visions, not in reality, in other words, they were only “visionary imaginations”, of obviously very gullible people.
When Martin Harris was asked about this, he said, “I never saw the golden plates, only in a visionary or entranced state…” (Early Mormon Documents, 2:346-47, quoted from “Insider’s View of Mormon Origin”, p. 198). When questioned by another person whether he (Martin Harris) saw the plates and engravings on them with his bodily eyes, he said, “I did not see them as I do that pencil case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith” (Early Mormon Documents, 2:270). David Whitmer also agreed that they (the witnesses of the BoM) did not handle the plates physically, only as in vision. More of this in Preston Nibley’s book, “Witnesses of the Book of Mormon”. The fact is that there were no plates. Real plates can be seen with “bodily eyes”, imaginary plates require a “vision” or a dream. History of the Church (vol. 1:52-55) reports that to see the plates they had to pray (for a vision?). All the BoM witnesses (excepting Joseph Smith’s brothers and his father) later left the church and joined other religions or started one of their own.
The Book of Mormon is said to be the foundation of the LDS Church. It is very important for Mormons to dig into the origins of their religion and see what the foundation of Mormonism really is. Fictional books and false prophets cannot direct people to the real God. This matter is important to solve now, while life endures (Higley, H.I.S. Ministries October Newsletter, 10/1/09 posted on thebereancall.org/node/8154 and christiannewsspot.blogspot.com; hismin.com).
No doubt there is anger on their part for having vested so much of their lives in something wrong, but to use the approach of quoting half-truths does not help their cause, nor does calling the only book that confirms the virgin birth, death and resurrection of Christ a “fraud.” There is plenty of ammunition without having to attack the Book of Mormon. Here’s the rest of the story about those quotes:
We are of course seeing Harris through the mind of a frustrated intermediary, one who thinks Mormonism presents a “whole scene of lying and deception.” He thinks that Martin Harris has not really seen the plates. If “only in vision,” then Burnett (not Harris) says it was really just “imagination.” If the Three Witnesses “only saw them spiritually,” then Burnett (not Harris) can explain it as essentially “in vision with their eyes shut.” But Martin Harris felt misrepresented, or he would not have stood up in the Kirtland Temple to challenge the explanations of Burnett and his disaffected associates. Note that there are two distinct experiences of Harris: (1) “he said that 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”; (2) “he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision.” Getting at the real Martin Harris requires subtracting Burnett’s sarcasm that seeps into the above wording. Note the two italicized appearances of only (italics added), used in the sense of merely, to say that besides lifting the box of plates Martin had also seen them “in vision,” the point restated at the end of the quotation: “only saw them spiritually or in vision”; “only visionary.” In other words, Burnett heard Martin say that he had seen the plates in vision, and when Burnett uses “only” four times to ridicule the experience, that shows his disbelief, not Martin’s speech.
In case that’s not enough:
Accosted on the street by a group of challenging teenagers of Clarkston, the intense nonagenarian countered with the question of whether the group could see a nearby chopping block. Upon their ascent, he replied:
“Well, just as plain as you see that chopping block, I saw the plates; and sooner than I would deny it I would lay my head upon that chopping block and let you chop it off.”
Twelve-year-old William Glenn stood by as his mature companion questioned whether Martin Harris was sure that he had seen the angel and the plates, and the spirited answer made an indelible impression upon the young Scottish immigrant. Martin Harris held out his right hand and insisted:
“Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing you a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.”
(Source: Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Richard Lloyd Anderson, p. 95)
It’s unfortunate the Higley’s (who are aware of Anderson’s book and these accounts) chose the accounts they did in order to disparage Martin and David using less than honest accounts.
Knowing people like the Higley’s would misconstrue the witness of glory given to the Three Witnesses, God chose eight more with whom He allowed the plates to be seen and handled without His glory. The Higley’s have offered no explanation for the testimony of the Eight Witnesses, the twenty some-odd witnesses of the translation process, or others who saw the box, heard or hefted the plates, or were shown them by an angel.
The troubling part is they are tearing down Christ when they disparage the Book of Mormon and its witnesses. The Higley’s appear to be ignorant of the fact that not a single Mormon Church doctrine is found in the Book of Mormon. If anything, they should be using the Book of Mormon to help reform Mormonism.
David Whitmer repeatedly testified that the Book of Mormon came forth by the “gift and power of God” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p. 12, 42). The power and glory of God is more than an everyday experience which David and Martin tried to describe.
[In March, 1887, I [Anthony Metcalf] wrote a letter to David Whitmer, requesting him to explain to me the condition he was in when he saw the angel and the plates, from which the Book of Mormon is supposed to have been translated. In April, 1887, I received a letter from David Whitmer, dated on the second of that month, replying to my communication, from which I copy, verbatim, as follows:
“In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us three witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say:
Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time.
Martin Harris, you say, called it “being in vision.”
We read in the Scriptures, Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God. Daniel saw an angel in a vision, also in other places it states they saw an angel in the spirit.
A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled 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.”
(Letter of David Whitmer to Anthony Metcalf, March 1887, cit. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad City, Idaho: 1888; New Haven Research Publications, 1967), 74; cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 86)
Unless a person has experienced the glory of God, how could they understand that those statements meant it was “more not less” than everyday life? Goes to show, you can’t please everyone all of the time.