Of Martin Harris and “Spiritual Eyes”

Of Martin Harris and “Spiritual Eyes” February 7, 2024


Australia's 1st temple, but not its last
The Sydney Australia Temple was Australia’s first.  (LDS.org)

Just in case anybody is out there who (a) might be interested and (b) is or will be in the vicinity of Sydney, Australia on the relevant date:  It seems that I’m likely to be doing a fireside there on Thursday, 22 February 2024.  I’ll try to post confirmation of this in the next few days, with precise time, topic, and so forth, but I think it’s almost certainly going to happen.  If so, it will probably be held at Buckland House on the temple grounds, which is adjacent to the Mission Home in the former Church Area Office Buildings.

The Harbour Bridge at sunset
Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge at dusk (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo).  Please note the misspelling of “harbor.”  Despite their difficulties with spelling, Australians still seem to be able to build good bridges.

Nibley Lectures: Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon Lesson 7 “We Lived after the Manner of Happiness”: 2 Nephi 3-5

During 1988, 1989, and 1990, Hugh Nibley taught Honors Book of Mormon classes for four semesters at Brigham Young University. The lectures were video-taped and audio cassettes and printed transcripts were made of the lectures. We believe these recordings will be interesting to listen to and valuable to your Come, Follow Me study program this year. Each week, we will include the lectures covering the Book of Mormon chapters being studied that week.

This week, we have lecture 18, covering 2 Nephi 3-8.

All 112 lectures are immediately available in PDF, audio, video, and electronic formats, as well as in paperback books that are available for purchase. Links for all of the available online sources can be found in the Complete Bibliography for Hugh Nibley at https://interpreterfoundation.org/bibliographies/hugh-w-nibley/lectures/.

The Book of Mormon in Context Lesson 7: “We Lived after the Manner of Happiness”: 2 Nephi 3-5

In the 21 January 2024 Come, Follow Me segment of the Interpreter Radio Show, discussants Bruce Webster, Kris Frederickson, and Robert Boylan joined in conversation about Book of Mormon lesson 7, “We Lived after the Manner of Happiness” on 2 Nephi 3-5.

A recording of their conversation has now been edited to remove commercial breaks, archived, and made available for your listening pleasure at no cost to you.  The other segments of the 21 January 2o24 radio program can be accessed at https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreter-radio-show-january-21-2024.

The Interpreter Radio Show can be heard on Sunday evenings, weekly, from 7 to 9 PM (MDT), on K-TALK, AM 1640, or you can listen live on the Internet at ktalkmedia.com.

Come, Follow Me — Study and Teaching Helps (2024): Lesson 7, February 12-18: 2 Nephi 3-5: “We Lived after the Manner of Happiness”

Editor’s Note: Four years ago, Jonn Claybaugh began writing the Study and Teaching Helps series of articles for Interpreter. We now have these wonderful and useful posts for all four years of Come, Follow Me lessons. Beginning this year we will be reposting these articles, with dates, lesson numbers, and titles updated for the current year’s lessons. Jonn has graciously agreed to write new study aids for those lessons that do not directly correspond to 2020 lessons.

Haywood over Sydney
An aerial view of Sydney Harbour, including the famed Opera House at the lefthand side.  I’m currently typing at a location somewhat beyond the upper left corner of the photograph.
(Wikimedia Commons photo by Rodney Haywood)

Among the more sophisticated critics of the Restoration, it has become popular to portray Martin Harris as denying the literal reality of the Book of Mormon plates, as saying, effectively, that he “saw” them only in his mind’s eye.  They base their portrayal on two or three cherry-picked statements, ignoring the many occasions on which he testified to having seen them quite literally, with his physical eyes, and even to having held them on his lap and being impressed by their extraordinary weight.  I think that Richard Lyman Bushman’s recent book Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Cultural History correctly understands what was going on:

The witness statements printed in every copy of the Book of Mormon seemed to provide exactly the kind of evidence Mormons longed for.  Eleven men attested they saw the plates and eight of them passed them around from hand to hand.  Short of producing the plates themselves, what better evidence could be had?  By the same token, discrediting their testimony would strike a fatal blow.  In the midst of the defections in the spring of 1838, when the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society had embittered many former Mormons, Stephen Burnett thought he found just such a flaw. Burnett wrote to a friend, Lyman Johnson, that Martin Harris admitted in a public meeting that he “never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination.” Harris said he viewed the plates as a visionary sees “a city through a mountain.” Burnett understood the words to mean that Harris saw the plates only in his imagination. The admission, Burnett thought, destroyed everything. If the witnesses never saw the plates, “there can be nothing brought to prove that any such thing ever existed.” “The last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins.”
Martin Harris was among the defectors in 1837 and 1838; he turned on Joseph Smith for the same reasons as Burnett—the failed bank and a loss of confidence in Joseph Smith. But strangely, his statement about seeing the plates in a vision was not meant to undermine the Book of Mormon. Burnett also heard Harris say that “he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true.” Harris was actually warning his fellow apostates they would suffer if in rejecting Smith they relinquished faith in the book. Harris’s visionary description of the plates was not intended to undermine their reality. He spoke of not seeing the plates “with his natural eyes only in vision,” because he believed that was the only way a mortal could view heavenly things.  Pomeroy Tucker, the Palmyra printer who later wrote a book on Mormonism, remembered Harris speaking “a good deal of his characteristic jargon about ‘seeing with the spiritual eye.’ ”
In Harris’s world, the plates were enchanted. He said he was “told by Joseph Smith that God would strike him dead if he attempted to look at them.” When Charles Anthon asked him to bring the plates to New York, Harris told him that the “human gaze was not to be permitted to rest on them.” Harris’s thinking was based on Bible passages suggesting that human eyes could not look upon God without preparation. He did not dare to look into Smith’s seer stones “because Moses said that ‘no man could see God and live.’ ” Though intensely curious, Harris had not snuck a peek of the plates while helping Smith translate. He feared that he, an unworthy mortal, would suffer if he did. When Joseph offered to show Harris the plates in return for his help, Harris refused “unless the Lord should do it.” He told Burnett’s audience that the three witnesses had seen the plates “only in vision” because that was the only safe way. He had no intention of undermining the reality of the plates or questioning the Book of Mormon.  (60)
There are empty chairs
Opening night at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

No matter how much the Brights and the Enlightened may hope, yearn, and wish for an end to theism, the toll of theism’s depravities and its depredations continues to mount — and, Nothingness be praised!, continues to be chronicled in the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File™.  Here are two recent discoveries from the Hitchens File:

“Growing Food and Selling Food: Stories of Self-Reliance in Nigeria: The Church and Helen Keller Intl help displaced people in the West African nation improve their lives”

“Neonatal and Maternal Care Training Saves Lives in Sierra Leone: Church of Jesus Christ and Project HOPE train midwives, who then train others in rural areas to resuscitate babies and stop hemorrhaging”

Posted from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia



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