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CES Reply: Where are the signatures?

Yes, sorry, I’ve been slacking off. My entire CES Reply is downloadable here, but it’s high time I continued posting, as promised, excerpts from that reply so it can be digested in bite-sized chunks.

So here’s today’s installment, titled “Where are the signatures?”  As always, Jeremy’s original words from his letter to a CES director are in green.

6. No Document of Actual Signatures:

The closest thing we have in existence to an original document of the testimonies of the witnesses is a printer’s manuscript written by Oliver Cowdery.  Every witness name except Oliver Cowdery on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting.  Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses, with the exception of David Whitmer, directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon.

Which means what, exactly? Every witness repeatedly reaffirmed their testimonies throughout their lives in a variety of settings. The statement was not a legal document, so no signatures were necessary. Certainly there’s no record of any witness disputing any details of the statement.

signatures

And isn’t Oliver’s penmanship lovely?

While we have “testimonies” from the witnesses recorded in later years through interviews and second eyewitness accounts and affidavits, many of the “testimonies” given by some of the witnesses do not match the claims and wording of the statements in the Book of Mormon.

Not true at all. What, now you’re just going to re-quote the same three/seven hearsay guys again?

For example:

Testimony of Three Witnesses (which includes Martin Harris) states:

“…that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon;”

Martin Harris:

“…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…” 

– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

Yep, that’s exactly what you’re going to do. Thank you for providing citation for this bogus hearsay quote the third time you cite it, as someone may have missed it the first two times around.

Dude, this is getting ridiculous.

“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.”

– Origin and History of the Mormonites, p. 406

Third time’s a charm, I guess. Do you think re-citing this same handful of tired hearsay quotes, which contradict dozens of reliable firsthand accounts, somehow makes them truer?

There is a difference between saying you “beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” and saying you “hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them” or that the plates “were covered over with a cloth” and that you “saw them with a spiritual eye.”

But there is no difference between this argument now and when you first made it several paragraphs up, or the second or third time you made it. (That “spiritual eye” bit has made it into your letter four times now.) The quotes you provide are still bogus and are vastly outnumbered by more reliable sources that directly contradict them.

When I was a missionary, my understanding and impression from looking at the testimony of the Three and Eight Witnesses in the Book of Mormon was that the statements were legally binding documents in which the names represented signatures on the original document similar to what you would see on the original US Declaration of Independence

It was? Why? It certainly wasn’t my impression, and it certainly isn’t anything that is taught by the Church. Why or how would these testimonies serve any binding legal purpose? These weren’t affidavits; they weren’t notarized. Nobody was going to introduce this stuff into a court of law. It’s your weird assumption here that’s the problem, not the testimony.

In any case, the Witnesses claimed that they did sign the original manuscript, most of which was destroyed via water damage. Only about 25% of it survives, so, yes, the original document was lost. That’s bad news if any of these witnesses needs to use the original to apply for a loan or something, but it has no bearing on the veracity of their testimony whatsoever.

This is how I presented the testimonies to investigators.

Then, no offense, but you were kind of a weird missionary who was off on his own program. No reference to the witnesses was found in the six discussions I taught, and I’ve since reviewed “Preach My Gospel,” which is the current lesson plan, and it, too, makes no mention of the witnesses, let alone the supposedly legally binding nature of the document they signed.

According to the above manuscript that Oliver took to the printer for the Book of Mormon, they were not signatures.

And nobody has ever made any attempt to pretend that they were.

Since there is no evidence of any document whatsoever with the signatures of all of the witnesses, the only real testimonies we have from the witnesses are later interviews given by them and eyewitness accounts/affidavits made by others, some of which are shown previously.

And previously and previously and previously. (And previously.) But the only one which are shown three and four times previously in the CES letter are the small handful of dubious hearsay docs that contradict the voluminous firsthand accounts that you ignore because they support the witness statement.

From a legal perspective, the statements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight witnesses hold no credibility or weight in a court of law as there are a) no signatures of any of the witnesses except Oliver, b) no specific dates, c) no specific locations,

Good thing they were never intended to be presented in a court of law, then.

And, by the way, when I present the CES Letter to investigators, I do so having been under the impression that it is a legally binding document in which your name represented a signature on the original document similar to what you would see on the original US Declaration of Independence.  Yet I can find no signature of yours, no evidence that it was ever notarized, no specific date or location. Your letter would never have any credibility or weight in a court of law. Can we therefore assume that the whole thing is nonsense?

and d) some of the witnesses made statements after the fact that contradict and cast doubt on the specific claims made in the statements contained in the preface of the Book of Mormon.

And previously. (Previously.) You have precisely three such statements, all unreliable hearsay, that you have previously presented multiple times. Previously.

7. Conclusion:

  1. “The Witnesses never recanted or denied their testimonies”:

Neither did James Strang’s witnesses; even after they were excommunicated from the church and estranged from Strang. 

That’s because they had nothing to recant. They really did see the fake plates they dug up, just as a bunch of people saw the fake Kinderhook plates. The people who saw the Kinderhook plates have never recanted the fact that they saw them, just as I have never recanted my fish-in-a-tent story.

Neither did dozens of Joseph Smith’s neighbors and peers who swore and signed affidavits on Joseph and his family’s characters.

Were any of them asked to recant? Were any of them challenged on the veracity of their statements, or persecuted or ridiculed for making such statements? Maybe some of them thought better of their positions later on and changed their mind, but we’ll never know, because as far as the record goes, they were never given any formal opportunity to recant.

Neither did many of the Shaker witnesses who signed affidavits that they saw an angel on the roof top holding the “Sacred Roll and Book” written by founder Ann Lee.  Same goes with the thousands of people over the centuries who claimed their entire lives to have seen the Virgin Mary and pointing to their experience as evidence that Catholicism is true.

There are also thousands of witnesses who never recanted their testimonies of seeing UFO’s, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Abominable Snowman, Aliens, and so on

It doesn’t mean anything.  People can believe in false things their entire lives and never recant.  Just because they never denied or recanted does not follow that their experience and claims are true or that reality matches to what their perceived experience was.

The logical conclusion to this principle is that no witness on any subject can ever be be believed, because there have been lots of false witnesses who have born testimony of ridiculous things. If we apply this warped logic to the CES Letter, we have to throw out everything you say, because people have written letters about religious topics that have later proven to be incorrect.

You and Dan the Illogical Scientist should hang out and swap stories.

Dan the illogical

For the record, I served my mission in Scotland and visited Loch Ness several times. Each time, there was a guy in a kilt standing in front of Urquhart Castle who made a living telling tall Nessie tales for tips, and the stories were different with every visit. (I think he was drunk.) Furthermore, none of his stories were signed or notarized, which would get them thrown out in a court of law.

2. Problems:

In discussing the witnesses, we should not overlook the primary accounts of the events they testified to.  The official statements published in the Book of Mormon are not dated, signed (we have no record with their signatures except for Oliver’s), nor is a specific location given for where the events occurred.  These are not eleven legally sworn affidavits but rather simple statements pre-written by Joseph Smith with claims of having been signed by three men and another by eight.

I’m sorry, but didn’t you just say this? How is this charge in any way different from what you said a page or two ago? It was a goofy charge then, and it’s a goofy charge now. Nobody other than you has ever presumed this was somehow a legally binding document. (Perhaps you ought to quote Stephen Burnett again.)

All of the Book of Mormon witnesses, excepting Martin Harris, were related by blood or marriage either with the Smiths or Whitmers. Oliver Cowdery (married to Elizabeth Ann Whitmer and cousin to Joseph Smith), Hiram Page (married to Catherine Whitmer), and the five Whitmers were related by marriage.  Of course, Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith Sr. were Joseph’s brothers and father.

Mark Twain made light of this obvious problem:

“…I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.”  –  Roughing It,  p.107-115

 

Mark Twain is awesome. Have you read what he had to say about Mormon women?

Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.

I had the will to do it.  With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here—until I saw the Mormon women.  Then I was touched.  My heart was wiser than my head.  It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, “No–the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure–and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.

As to the fact that all the witnesses were related, I’m not quite sure what your point is. This is only really an issue with the Eight Witnesses, not the the Three Witnesses, who weren’t related except in the case Oliver Cowdery, who was third cousin to Joseph’s mother, making him Joseph’s third cousin once removed. (I’m curious as to how many of your third cousins once removed you know personally.) Citing Oliver’s marriage to Elizabeth Ann Whitmer does not support your argument at all, as the marriage took place in 1832, two years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.

The supernatural nature of the experience of the Three Witnesses is a far bigger deal than the more mundane experience of the Eight Witnesses, and, in any case, this is just one more ad hominem attack that doesn’t address the particulars of their testimony.

Within eight years, all of the Three Witnesses were excommunicated from the Church.  This is what Joseph Smith said about them in 1838:

“Such characters as…John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to  have forgotten them.” – History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 15, p. 232

This is what First Counselor of the First Presidency and once close associate Sidney Rigdon had to say about Oliver Cowdery:

“…a lying, thieving, counterfeiting man who was ‘united with  a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs in the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property, by  every  art  and  stratagem  which  wickedness  could  invent…”

February 15, 1841 Letter and Testimony, p.6-9

What does it say about the witnesses and their characters if even the Prophet and his counselor in the First Presidency thought they were questionable?

It says the witnesses, being personally insulted, had even more incentive to stick it to Joseph Smith and expose him as a fraud, which they could have done easily. Why didn’t they?

As mentioned in the above “Polygamy/Polyandry” section, Joseph was able to influence and convince many of the 31 witnesses to lie and perjure in a sworn affidavit that Joseph was not a polygamist. 

As mentioned above, this is not accurate. The 31 witnesses signed an affidavit – wait, do we have their original signatures? – stating that Joseph was not engaged in John C. Bennett’s “spiritual wifery,” which he was not, and that he was not an adulterer, which he also was not. No lie and no perjury.

Is it outside the realm of possibility that Joseph was also able to influence or manipulate the experiences of his own magical thinking treasure digging family and friends as witnesses?

I would think so, yes.  Joseph spurned them, insulted them, and kicked them out, and they faced personal and financial ruin for refusing to recant. If their testimony was based solely on Joseph’s manipulations, their disaffection provided them with every reason to expose him as a fraud at the earliest opportunity.

If the Prophet Joseph Smith could get duped with the Kinderhook Plates thinking that the 19th century fake plates were a legitimate record of a “descendent of Ham,” how is having gullible guys like Martin Harris handling the covered gold plates going to prove anything?

Joseph was not duped by the Kinderhook Plates, and Martin saw the plates and the angel, contrary to the sixth(!) time you have invoked this piece of unreliable hearsay.

James Strang’s claims and Voree Plates Witnesses are distinctive and more impressive compared to the Book of Mormon Witnesses:

    • All of Strang’s witnesses were not related to one another through blood or marriage like the Book of Mormon Witnesses were.
    • Some of the witnesses were not members of Strang’s church.
    • The Voree Plates were displayed in a museum for both members and non-members to view and examine.
    • Strang provided 4 witnesses who testified that on his instructions, they actually dug the plates up for Strang while he waited for them to do so.  They confirmed that the ground looked previously undisturbed.

Just as my tent looked undisturbed when I found the dead fish in it. We’ve been over this already. I cannot and will not recant!

Tomorrow: Shake it, baby – and more!

 

CES Reply: Strangites
Of Brock and Bill

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