I continue to be amazed at the depth of evidence left by witnesses to the Book of Mormon — men who saw and held the gold plates, including some men who even saw the Angel Moroni and heard the voice of God, none of whom ever denied their witness, in spite of some of them becoming upset with Joseph and the Church in later years. These were men known to be honest and trustworthy in their communities. To their dying day they stuck by their testimony of the Book of Mormon, though it brought them nothing but trouble. How can such witnesses be reconciled with the idea that the Book of Mormon was a fraud? In fact, if it were a fraud, the key to success is to have as few people in on the conspiracy as possible. The idea of taking three and then eight more witnesses to make a public proclamation of something that would surely bring ridicule and persecution – well, it just doesn’t make sense if Joseph were a fraud, unless he were wildly foolish, in which case it would surely have backfired on him.
A short article from Daniel C. Peterson (closely related to a passage in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, pp. 204-205, of Peterson et al.) reminds us of the impressive record of Book of Mormon witnesses:
On the day following the death of David Whitmer in 1888, the Chicago Times reported an interview with an unnamed “Chicago Man.” This man related a conversation that he had carried on with another individual some years before, a prominent resident of the county in which David Whitmer had lived, who had been a lawyer and a sheriff there and who had, he said, known the Witness very well and had told him a remarkable story of David Whitmer’s later life.
In the opinion of this gentleman, no man in Missouri possessed greater courage or honesty than this heroic old man [David Whitmer]. “His oath,” he said, “would send a man to the gallows quicker than that of any man I ever knew.” He then went on to say that no person had ever questioned his word to his knowledge about any other matter than finding the Book of Mormon. He was always a loser and never a gainer by adhering to the faith of Joseph Smith. Why persons should question his word about the golden plates, when they took it in relation to all other matters, was to him a mystery.[Cited in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 224.]
In an 1878 interview with Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, David Whitmer gave dramatic and emphatic testimony of his experience as a Witness:
I saw [the plates and other Lehite artifacts] just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with his hand), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.[ Interview with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith (Richmond, Mo., 7-8 September 1878), reported in a letter to President John Taylor and the Council of the Twelve dated 17 September 1878. Originally published in the Deseret News, 16 November 1878, and reprinted in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 40.]
Six years later, Whitmer was interviewed by the leader of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith III:
Rather suggestively [Colonel Giles] asked if it might not have been possible that he, Mr. Whitmer, had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived him into thinking he saw the Personage, the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban.
How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height–a little over six feet–and said, in solemn and impressive tones: “No, sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!” [Interview with Joseph Smith III et al. (Richmond, Mo., July 1884), originally published in The Saints’ Herald, 28 January 1936, and reprinted in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 134-5, emphasis in the original.]
We are fortunate to have, too, the witness of Joseph Smith’s family and of many of the other early Latter-day Saints. . . .
Also see James T. Summerhays’ article, “The 120 Witness Miracle” in the most recent Meridian Magazine. It calls our attention to the many witnesses of divine manifestations testifying to Joseph Smith’s role as a prophet of God.
Remember, Joseph didn’t just claim to have seen an angel and some ethereal plates in a vision. He had many others touch and feel the plates, and some even saw, heard, and felt angels (such as Oliver being ordained under the hands of John the Baptist). And these men, men like Martin Harris, were well known and respected for their integrity, though they were naturally mocked for their “crazy” religious ideas. How to make sense of all this? They were actual witnesses of genuine divine events.
Let us not discount the power of so many witnesses.