From the Eight Witnesses

From the Eight Witnesses July 7, 2020


The 8 Witnesses in our documentary
The experience of the Eight Witnesses as recently re-created for the documentary portion of the Interpreter Foundation’s forthcoming “Witnesses” film project, in a still photograph by James Jordan. I frankly confess that I was disappointed, at first, by the very mundane appearance of this scene. But then I realized that my reaction was irrational. That the experience of the Eight Witnesses with the plates of the Book of Mormon was mundane, prosaic, matter of fact, is precisely the POINT of their experience and what gives their account is remarkable evidentiary power.


Some passages about the experience of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, drawn from Ronald E. Romig, Eighth Witness: The Biography of John Whitmer (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2014):


According to Lucy Mack Smith, one of the ancient Nephites brought the plates to a nearby grove where “the male part of the company, with my husband, Samuel, and Hyrum . . . looked upon them and handled them.”  The eight witnesses were thus five from the Whitmer clan (Christian, Jacob, Peter Jr., John Whitmer, and Hiram Page) and three Smiths (Joseph Sr., Hyrum, and Samuel H.).

In April 1878, John Whitmer told Danish LDS convert and physician Peter Wilhelm Poulson that he was among a group of three witnesses who saw the plates in the Smith home and that “at another time he [Smith] showed them to four persons more.”  According to this 1878 account, John saw the uncovered plates, touched them, and turned the leaves.”  If this report is correct, however, the eight witnesses may have been two groups of four, rather than eight simultaneously.  (55-56)


The published testimony of the eight witnesses affirms that they had “seen and hefted” the plates.  Of the eight witnesses, summarizes Vogel, “Christian Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., Jacob Whitmer, and Joseph Smith Sr. left no commentary regarding their testimonies.  Both Hyrum and Samuel Smith left brief accounts stating that they saw and handled the plates.  Hiram Page only testified that he saw the plates.”  (56-57)


Almost nine years later when the church was relocating to Missouri, Hyrum Smith stayed at the home of Sally Parker in Ohio and told her, “We wass talking about the Book of Mormon which he is one of the witnesses he said he had but too hands and too eyes he said he had seen the plates with his eyes and handled them with his hands.”  Hyrum also published a statement in the church’s Nauvoo newspaper, Times and Seasons, about having seen and handled the plates:  “I had been abused and thrust into a dungeon . . . on account of my faith. . . .  However — I thank God that I felt a determination to die, rather than deny the things which my eyes had seen, which my hands had handled, and which I had borne testimony to, wherever my lot had been cast; and I can assure my beloved brethren that I was enable to bear as strong a testimony, when nothing but death presented itself, as ever I did in my life.”  (57)


Convert Daniel Tyler said that Joseph’s younger brother Samuel, one of the eight witnesses, told him in 1832:  “He knew his brother Joseph had the plates, for . . . [Joseph] had shown them to him, and he had handled them and seen the engravings thereon.”  (58)


John Whitmer lived the longest of the eight witnesses, affording the opportunity to leave the most detailed record of the experience of this group.  Although John Whitmer signed the testimony of the eight witnesses, his later statements are sometimes ambiguous about the amount of direct physical contact he had with the plates themselves.  During Whitmer’s April 1839 encounter at Far West with Theodore Turley, a believing Mormon who had not yet left Missouri for Nauvoo, John said: “I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides.”  RLDS church member Myron Bond wrote, “John Whitmer told me last winter . . . [that he] ‘saw and handled’ [the plates and] . . . helped to copy [the Book of Mormon manuscript] as the words fell from Joseph’s lips by supernatural or [A]lmighty power.”


I confess that I’ve read and re-read the paragraph immediately above and that I cannot see the “ambiguity” about John Whitmer’s claim of physical contact with the plates that Ron Romig claims to discern.



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