This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice (conflictofjustice.com). Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.
“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.” (CES Letter)
Printing presses could not print signatures. They could only print typeset words and metal-cut images. I suppose Martin Harris could have spent months learning how to carve his name into metal engraving printing plates, but just printing it with letter faces was much easier, and cheaper.
What, were all 11 witnesses supposed to carve their names into engravings, or hand-sign their name onto every Book of Mormon that was ever published?
Legally Binding Document? – CES Letter says:
“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. This is how I presented the testimonies to investigators.” (CES Letter)
The Book of Mormon witnesses were not making a legal statement like the founding fathers were with their hand-written letter.Two totally different things. There is nothing about a “testimony” that requires it to be legally binding or hand written. I am not aware of any judicial court procedure for spiritual testimonies.
Book Of Mormon Witnesses Consistently Reaffirmed – CES Letter says:
“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.” (CES Letter)
The witnesses repeatedly reaffirmed what they said in their Book of Mormon testimony, in detail. They said it over and over. It is contradictory to say the two fake quotes that CES Letter gives us, from anti-Mormon, third-hand sources, are the “only” real testimonies. Were those fake quotes handwritten from the witnesses?
Obviously, the witnesses were there to agree to their witness statement. Otherwise they would have said something about it being wrong, instead of repeatedly affirming that the statement was true. Witness David Whitmer published a proclamation:
“It having been represented by one John Murphy of Polo Mo. that I in a conversation with him last Summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon… I do now again affirm the truth of all my statements, as then made and published. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; It was no Delusion. What is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand.”
Is this not a real testimony? Is a testimony, rather, a rumour some rabid anti-Mormon says about you?
CES Letter says:
“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, 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.”
I don’t know if the Witness statement holds credibility in court or not. I’m pretty sure if the 11 witnesses hadn’t agreed to it, they would have sued Joseph Smith for libel. I’m pretty sure putting someone’s name on a printed claim has legal implications. But I don’t know why a book of scripture needs to have anything to do with a court of law. Where did Jesus say that? Why should date and location matter? “1830… obviously because that’s when this book is published… in Joseph Smith’s living room.” Is that how a “real” testimony is supposed to read? I don’t get it.
CES Letter Logical Fallacies
|Falsehood||CES Letter says the Book of Mormon testimony was “pre-written by Joseph Smith.” Not only is this false, it contradicts CES Letter‘s earlier observation that it was “written in Oliver’s own handwriting,” not Joseph Smith’s. CES Letter‘s two fake quotes are not “the ‘only’ real testimonies” from the witnesses. CES Letter sets a weird standard where a “real” testimony has to be hand-signed, dated, and location given, but those two fake quotes are not even from the witnesses much less signed and dated! CES Letter claims the witnesses never affirmed the testimony of the Book of Mormon, but they clearly did.|
|Circular Argument||There is no reason to print hand-signatures (even if they could) to lend more credibility, like for legal documents like the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was a letter, not a book. CES Letter uses this false analogy with the Declaration of Independence to support their weird assertion that books of scripture are supposed to be legally binding documents.|
|Anachronism||How were the witnesses supposed to include a hand-written signature in a printed book in the 1830’s?|
|Non Sequitur||Why should adding things like a specific location make a spiritual testimony or a witness of scripture more credible? How would that make it more appropriate for a court of law? Why should a printer’s manuscript for a printer to use to print with type-set letters contain hand-written signatures?|
|Argument From Ignorance||For all we know, the original manuscript for the Book of Mormon could have had all the witness signatures. We don’t know because it got destroyed.|
|Red Herring||What does being legally binding have to do with anything?|
|Repetition||CES Letter repeats the argument on p. 62 and p. 63.|
The argument that the signatures should be hand-written as if photographed with a digital phone camera is ridiculous, but the value for CES Letter is that it adds a sense of contradiction. Even if you dismiss their argument as silly, it gives a sense that there is no consistent original statement to stand by. Of course, it is a narrative that they pull out of thin air.
Why should scripture witness and testimony be legally binding? This is where the dark underpinning of CES Letter‘s narrative is revealed. It is an attack on freedom of religion. The narrative is that Joseph Smith’s claims ought to be tested in the court of law with legal standards and procedures. A testimony is not a “real” testimony unless it passes the legal test. This is a shocking and dangerous position to agitate for. Why should the witnesses need to step in front of a government judge to please you?
No Relics In The Church – Gold plates are not holy objects that imbue power. They are just plates made out of gold. The seer stones, which skeptics incorrectly claim Joseph Smith used to translate the gold plates, are just rocks. There is no reason why prophets should be able to tell which rocks were used for what or who actually wrote this certain document, because it does nothing to build our faith to have magic rocks. There is no holiness imbued in physical objects that prophets can use to build faith.
We are not a church that deals with relics, like pieces of Noah’s ark or the cup of Jesus Christ. CES Letter sets the narrative that we need to have some kind of physical objects, like the Catholic crusaders who scoured the Holy Land for objects from the bible. Well, the Mormon church does not do this. Superstition is spiritual belief built on a physical premise. Why is there lightning in the sky? Must be a manifestation of the gods! The Mormon path toward truth is physical conclusions based on physical evidence and spiritual conclusions based on spiritual evidence.
If the gold plates were discovered by archaeologists at the Hill Cumorah tomorrow, do you think CES Letter would change their minds? I don’t think so. No amount of scientific testing would convince them. Even if scientific testing removed all doubt that they weren’t forgeries, skeptics would pass it off as coincidence.
If some evidence were uncovered that made the truth of the church undeniable, that would destroy the entire purpose of being born on earth, to be tested. It would be detrimental to Mormonism because it would shift our narrative away from matters of faith toward unspiritual confirmation of a historical event from physical evidence. And that’s what CES Letter is trying to do. The shift away from faith serves Satan’s intentions because a person who relies on superstition is not practicing personal agency, but being totally reliant on others for his beliefs and actions. The Marxist ideology is to believe only what you have a physical explanation for and to twist it however you need to for the current narrative. Mormons do not need to do this.
It is very convenient for CES Letter that Mormon must produce gold plates to prove their beliefs, yet CES Letter can rely on dubious quotes from biased sources. The difference between CES Letter and Mormons when it comes to testimonies is CES Letter cherry-picks anything from anyone to back up their pre-conceived conclusion, while Mormons get both sides of the issue and seek a personal witness to know if something is true, by a manifestation of the Holy Ghost. Skeptics read something online and instantly believed it because it aligned with their narrative.
Witnesses Are Important – At first, I was confused why CES Letter devoted so much to attacking the Book of Mormon wintesses. Like most Mormons I never considered the wintesses and anything more than a nice supporting page for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, not really all that necessary. Why does CES Letter attack their characters, almost as much as they attack Joseph Smith’s? Derision is currency for anti-Mormons; people will be turned off if they display too much bitterness so they need to choose their battles carefully.
Daniel C. Peterson gave a great explanation for the importance of the Book of Mormon witnesses. It is not by accident that CES Letter attacks them after having reduced Mormon testimonies as nothing more than emotion. Suddenly, the witness testimonies of the Book of Mormon are like the positive vibes you feel from watching Forrest Gump?
But we are living in a secular Western world, and ex-Mormons tend to become secularists. The witness testimonies are some of the best secular evidences for the Book of Mormon’s truth. It is one thing for a guy to claim visions, but it gains a lot more credibility when a dozen other men swear they the same thing and know it for a fact. Anti-Mormons are reduced to dismissing the entire 19th century New England area as a bunch of superstitious primitives in order to undercut their testimonies.