Appendix 5: Testimony of Eight Witnesses, Late June 1829
Testimony of Eight Witnesses, [, Seneca Co., NY, late June 1829]. Featured version typeset [ca. Mar. 1830] for Book of Mormon, . For more complete source information, see the source note for the Book of Mormon.
This document is a statement by eight men who testified that they had seen and handled the . It was published at the end of the Book of Mormon, alongside a similar statement by three other witnesses. A passage in the Book of Mormon , likely dictated in May 1829, may have anticipated these additional witnesses. It stated, “Ye may be privileged that ye may shew the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work; and unto three shall they be shewn by the power of God.” Additionally, in mid- to late June, shortly before the translation was finished, JS dictated a passage mentioning three witnesses but also hinting at others: “And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few, according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men.” In accordance with these passages, two groups, later known as the Three and the Eight Witnesses, were shown the plates. Although others had also assisted to “bring forth” the book and therefore might have met the criterion given in the Book of Mormon passage to be witnesses, , , , , , , , and were the “few” chosen “according to the will of God” to see the plates and testify of them.
According to the account in JS’s history, the Eight Witnesses saw the plates in late June, “soon after” the Three Witnesses had seen them. After the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, JS traveled to the area, where the eight chosen witnesses, all from the Smith or Whitmer families, were shown the plates. related later that the eight men “repaired to a little grove where it was customary for the family to offer up their secret prayrs,” and there “those 8 witnesses recorded in the Book of Mormon looked upon the plates and handled them.” She also reported that after they were shown the plates, “that evening we held a meeting, in which all the witnesses bore testimony to the facts.”
Several later reports affirmed the witnesses’ published statement. For example, stated, “I have most assuredly seen the plates from whence the book of Mormon is translated, and . . . I have handled these plates.” Decades later, he provided further details: “At that time Joseph showed the plates to us, we were four persons, present in the room, and at another time he showed them to four persons more.” Whitmer reported that this event occurred at the Smith family’s log home near . recalled hearing that at a 25 October 1831 conference, “the eleven witnesses to the Book of Mormon, with uplifted hands bore their solemn testimony to the truth of that book; as did also the Prophet Joseph.” The witnesses were often questioned about their experience handling the plates. , for example, wrote, “After getting acquainted with them, I was unable to impeach their testimony, and consequently thought that it was as consistent to give credit to them as to credit the writings of the New Testament, when I had never seen the authors nor the original copy.” , in giving a “testimony to the world of the truth of the book of Mormon,” wrote, “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.”
The text featured here is from the first printed edition of the Book of Mormon, representing the statement’s likely purpose as a testimony to be included with the book. The earliest extant copy of this document is found on the last page of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon and is in the handwriting of . It is unknown whether the Eight Witnesses signed the original statement, and it is likewise unknown who wrote the statement. Unlike the earlier testimony signed by the Three Witnesses, which borrowed most of its language from the Book of Mormon, this statement reads like a legal document. Its language distances the Eight Witnesses from JS by referring to him as “the said Smith.” Whereas the testimony of the Three Witnesses described a visitation by an angel and attested to the authenticity of the translation, this document describes a sensory experience that involved both sight and touch as the witnesses handled and lifted the plates. Though it is unknown who originally composed this statement, it is included as an appendix in this volume because a JS document, the Book of Mormon, mandated showing the plates to witnesses, and this statement was published in the Book of Mormon.
Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 548 [Ether 5:2–3]. In this quotation, John Gilbert, the typesetter of the Book of Mormon, supplied the punctuation. The semicolon marks a division between two separate clauses, which suggests that there would be two groups of individuals who would view the plates. A modern linguist, Royal Skousen, concurs that the two clauses were originally intended to be divided, indicating that two groups would be shown the plates. (Skousen, Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, 685.)
Skousen, Royal, ed. The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.
JS History, vol. A-1, 26. Both David Whitmer and Lucy Mack Smith later reported that the Eight Witnesses’ experience occurred just days after the Three Witnesses’ experience. (“Mormonism,” Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, 1; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 9, .)
Kansas City Daily Journal. Kansas City, MO. 1878–1891.
Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 9, ; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, 157. According to this account, “Joseph had been instructed that the plates would be carried there [to the grove] by one of the ancient Nephites,” but the witnesses themselves reported only that they were shown the plates by JS.
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come, that Joseph Smith, Jr. the Author and Proprietor of this work, has shewn unto us the of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has , we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record, with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shewn 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. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen: and we lie not, God bearing witness of it.