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Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever
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June 24, 2021 9:50 pm

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever

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June 24, 2021 9:50 pm

This week Bill and Eric go to the movies, taking a look at a Mormon-produced film titled Witnesses. Some things the film gets right, but other things leave the wrong impression. See whether or not the two from MRM give their thumbs up or down.


Viewpoint on Mormonism, the program that examines the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from a Biblical perspective. Viewpoint on Mormonism is sponsored by Mormonism Research Ministry. Since 1979, Mormonism Research Ministry has been dedicated to equipping the body of Christ with answers regarding the Christian faith in a manner that expresses gentleness and respect. And now your host for today's Viewpoint on Mormonism. I'm your host, Bill McKeever, founder and director of Mormonism Research Ministry, and with me today is Eric Johnson, my colleague at MRM.

This week we've been talking about a film that was released on June 4, 2021. Primarily, I would assume, in the state of Utah. I don't know if this would be popular in California or back east, though there may be special showings of this film, but certainly it's popular here because of the subject matter having to do with the Book of Mormon. And so this faith promoting type of film would naturally garner a lot of interest among many of the locals here in the state of Utah. Even though the film itself focused primarily on the three witnesses whose testimony is found in the front of every edition of the Book of Mormon, there were also eight other witnesses. Now, they get a slight mention, but there are characters that play some of these people having to do with the Whitmer family because even though David Whitmer was one of the three witnesses, his brother, Jacob Whitmer and Peter Whitmer Jr. and John Whitmer also have their testimony in there under the testimony of the eight witnesses and something that wasn't brought out in the film.

It shows Oliver Cowdery, and it talks about Oliver Cowdery's wife, but it doesn't mention that Oliver Cowdery's wife was a Whitmer. It talks about Hiram Page, but it doesn't bring out that Hiram Page was a brother-in-law of David Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer and so forth. You have basically three families here that are involved in this. The Smith family, because Joseph Smith Sr. is one of the eight witnesses, Hiram Smith is one of the eight witnesses, and Samuel H. Smith. So you have the Smiths, the Whitmers, Cowdery, who's married to a Whitmer, and Page, who's also married to a Whitmer.

That sounds like a little bit of nepotism here. Their testimony isn't really highlighted in this, but in their testimony, this is what it says. And this we bear record with words of soberness that the said Smith, that would be Joseph Smith, has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. Now, this can be misleading, because again, as we were bringing out yesterday, it appears that the three witnesses saw the plates in a vision.

It says that very specifically on page 55 of the first volume of the documentary History of the Church. And here again, we are told that these men, these eight witnesses, have seen and hefted. So they actually include something that they were able to do that the three witnesses didn't appear to do, and that is actually hold the plates. However, did they see and hold the plates at the same time? This is where it gets really cloudy, because even Mormon historians have testified that though they may have hefted the plates, they no doubt were either in a wooden box at the time, or they were wrapped up in a cloth of some sort. So they're not seeing and hefting simultaneously, even though that's what their testimony seems to imply. Now Marvin Hill is a Mormon historian, and Marvin Hill brings out some very interesting information regarding what these eight witnesses claim to have seen.

And I think Marvin Hill's take on this cannot be discounted. He's responding to Fawn McKay Brody's classic book titled No Man Knows My History. This is what he says, and this is found in Dialogue Volume 7, number 4, and this is page 83. What of the prophet's story about gold plates, and what about his witnesses? Given Brody's assumptions, was there not deception here, if not collusion? Brody maintains that the prophet exercised some mysterious influence upon the witnesses, which caused them to see the plates, thus making Joseph Smith once more the perpetrator of a religious fraud. The evidence is extremely contradictory in this area, but there is a possibility that the three witnesses saw the plates in vision only.

For Stephen Burnett, in a letter written in 1838, a few weeks after the event, described Martin Harris's testimony to this effect. Quote, When I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imaginations, neither Oliver nor David, the last pedestal, gave way in my view, are foundations. This is what he says in Dialogue Volume 7, number 4, pages 84 and 85. With only a veiled reference to what I saw, Page does not say he saw the plates, but that the angels confirmed him in his faith. Neither does he say that any coercion was placed upon him to secure his testimony. Despite Page's inconsistencies, it is difficult to know what to make of Harris's affirmation that the eight saw no plates in the face of John Whitmer's testimony. The original testimony of these eight men in the Book of Mormon reads somewhat ambiguously, not making clear whether they handled the plates or the leaves of the translated manuscript. Thus, there are some puzzling aspects to the testimonies of the witnesses. If Burnett's statement is given credence, it would appear that Joseph Smith extorted a deceptive testimony from the eight witnesses. But why should John Whitmer and Hiram Page adhere to Mormonism in the Book of Mormon so long if they only gave their testimony reluctantly? It may be that, like the three witnesses, they expressed a genuine religious conviction.

The particulars may not have seemed as important as the ultimate truth of the work. That's an interesting phrase. So, they believe in this. They believe in the cause, you might say. They believe in the existence of the plates. So, it doesn't really matter as far as we are concerned that these plates were tangible or not. See, to me, it's very important. I'm really not so much concerned about the eight witnesses.

I don't really care about the religious attitude that a Hiram Page or a Joseph Smith Sr. or a Christian Whitmer have at this time. I want to know, are these actual literal plates? Because that's what we are told we must believe. And I think that's the emphasis that is in this film. Do you get any other impression, Eric, after we saw this film, that we were to walk away thinking that this was simply an ethereal vision? That we just merely go on the story of these three men, that even though we can't be sure, that they saw physical plates? See, in that scene where the older David Whitmer is talking to the reporter by the name of Kelly, and he says that he saw the plates, what does that really mean to a man like David Whitmer? If he saw them with the eye of faith, a phrase that has been used when describing how these gentlemen saw these alleged plates, then that doesn't carry a lot of weight with me. It might make them feel assured that what Joseph Smith had were real gold plates, but it doesn't make me feel assured. And if this movie is supposed to help me understand better that these men would give their testimony to seeing actual tangible plates, I think the film comes far short of accomplishing that.

Bill, I'm going to throw out another issue. I'm going to move away from the gold plates, and I'm going to talk about Fanny Alger, Joseph Smith's first polygamous wife. They actually introduce the name, and don't give us a whole lot in the movie about who this woman was. Yeah, there's a scene where Oliver Cowdery comes in, and he wants to speak to Joseph Smith privately. So, Signe Rigdon leaves the room, and at that point, Oliver Cowdery starts to really lay into Joseph Smith, mentioning, as he says, Fanny Alger. Now, do they pronounce it Alger or Alger?

We've heard it both ways, doesn't really matter. But the film brings out this Fanny Alger. Joseph Smith kind of blows it off, like, wait, the Lord told me it's okay, kind of a thing.

Cowdery is not convinced, he leaves angry, but you really don't know what he's talking about. Basically, what he's talking about is what Oliver Cowdery described as a dirty, filthy, nasty affair, that Joseph Smith was rolling around in the hay with Fanny Alger, who was working in the Smith home as the maid of some sort. That nasty affair that you're talking about, I was thinking when I saw that they were talking about Fanny Alger, that they might actually use those words, but they did not. They did not use those, but see, some of the things that Joseph Smith started doing caused these witnesses to have some doubts about Joseph Smith. Not only does the subject of the Fanny Alger or Fanny Alger affair come up, but it also talked about the Kirtland Bank fiasco of 1837. The scene was very clear that people were losing their money after following the guidance of Joseph Smith to put their money into this Kirtland Bank. Well, the bank fails, and as the film brought out, it was a bad time to start a bank anyway, but you would think Joseph Smith being a prophet might have been a little bit more in tune to that, and probably would be more reluctant into starting something that was so questionable at that time. Well, the Kirtland Bank fails, and a lot of people lose faith in Joseph Smith over it. They even showed in the film a scene of a fight going on in the Kirtland Temple.

That really happened. I was kind of surprised that these kind of subjects were thrown in there. Perhaps this was maybe Dr. Peterson's way of showing he's being transparent.

I don't know. I'm kind of glad they did it, but it would have helped had they had more time to develop those stories, because if you didn't really know the background of those stories, you would probably walk away very confused. But at the same time, did those stories and what little we saw of those stories being mentioned, does that really bolster a faith in Joseph Smith?

To me, it doesn't. One other topic I want to just introduce as we finish out this series is the Carthage jail scene. What was your impression of how they depicted how Joseph Smith died as a martyr? Well, it all goes very quickly, of course, and you see a body fall down to the ground, which I assume that that is Hiram Smith, who was shot through the door. But it doesn't show Joseph Smith with the smuggled pistol that he received from Cyrus Wheelock. It didn't show the pistol that was given to them that Joseph Smith handed to his brother.

It doesn't show anything like that. It doesn't show Joseph Smith going to the window, giving the Masonic signal of distress, where he only gets the first four words, O Lord my God, out before he's shot. The rest of it would have been, is there no help for the widow's son? It actually shows him kind of doing a shoulder block into the window and then falling out of the window. And then there's this scene, it just shows him falling and falling and falling. Well, it was just a two-story building, so certainly that was given for theatrical effect. But there were a lot of things that were left out in that story as well. And I know the Carthage jail scene is very emotional. You and I have been to Carthage jail on numerous occasions, and we know how emotional it is when the tour guides are telling the story about how Joseph Smith died as a martyr.

They never mentioned the gun there either, and they certainly didn't do it in this film. Bill, this was meant to be a faith-promoting film. Would you recommend Christians see it?

I wouldn't have a problem at all with anybody really going to see it. I just think that if you're going to understand a lot more of what you're seeing, you have to have a basic knowledge of Mormon history, which I don't think a lot of people have, including many Latter-day Saints, unfortunately. A Christian going to see it could get some good information to maybe bring up with their Mormon neighbors, but I don't think it's going to convince too many non-believers into joining the Church.

Thank you for listening. If you would like more information regarding Mormonism Research Ministry, we encourage you to visit our website at, where you can request our free newsletter, Mormonism Researched. We hope you will join us again as we look at another viewpoint on Mormonism. You can follow the instructions. MRM is a Christian non-profit 501c3 organization, and your gifts are tax deductible. Not only that, they are greatly appreciated. Thank you for your support of this ministry.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-26 23:35:57 / 2023-09-26 23:41:28 / 6

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