Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Mary Whitmer problem

Long term, the biggest tragedy of Saints is the censorship of everything the early Church leaders said about the New York Cumorah.

But in the short term, the story of Mary Whitmer is an inexcusable error.

Volume 1 commits a considerable amount of words to relate this account, which is great because it's a fascinating account of a female witness of the plates. In the Ensign, the account is even accompanied by an illustration to draw attention to it.

The problem is, Saints relates a false version of the account.

Now, thanks to Saints, future generations will believe it was Moroni who showed Mary the plates, solely because of (i) a mistake made by her descendants and (ii) the M2C agenda. 

This has several repercussions.

- the inclusion of this false account undermines the credibility of Saints.
- people who read Saints and believe this account will be confused when they read the actual history.
- the false account in Saints will undermine belief in the reliability and credibility of David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses.
- readers will wonder why Joseph and Oliver described Moroni so much differently than Mary Whitmer did.
- readers will miss the far more fascinating aspect of the account that links the Book of Mormon to Church history.
- the false account enables Saints to omit a key event in Church history that teaches us about the Hill Cumorah and the two sets of plates.

Here is the passage in blue, with my comments in red:

Once Joseph, Emma, and Oliver moved to Fayette, David’s mother had her hands full. Mary Whitmer and her husband, Peter, already had eight children between the ages of 15 and 30, and the few who did not still live at home resided nearby. Tending to their needs filled Mary’s days with work, and the three houseguests added more labor. Mary had faith in Joseph’s calling and did not complain, but she was getting tired.17
Note 17 reads: 
Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, Interview with David Whitmer, Sept. 7-8, 1878, [10], in Joseph F. Smith to John Taylor and Council of the Twelve, Sept. 17, 1878, draft, Joseph F. Smith, Papers, Church History Library.
image 44
If you click on the link, it takes you to the hand-written version of the account. This is image 44 in the series, as you see in the right column when you go to the link.
It's not easy to read, but it's a nice link because this relates David Whitmer's account of the messenger taking the plates to Cumorah. Saints did not include this account. 
There are printed versions of the account that are easier to read and translate.* I put the printed version at the end of this post.

The heat in Fayette that summer was sweltering. As Mary washed clothes and prepared meals, Joseph dictated the translation in an upstairs room. Oliver usually wrote for him, but occasionally Emma or one of the Whitmers took a turn with the pen.18 Sometimes, when Joseph and Oliver tired of the strain of translating, they would walk out to a nearby pond and skip stones across the surface of the water.
Mary had little time to relax herself, and the added work and the strain placed on her were hard to bear.
One day, while she was out by the barn where the cows were milked, she saw a gray-haired man with a knapsack slung across his shoulder. His sudden appearance frightened her, but as he approached, he spoke to her in a kind voice that set her at ease.
“My name is Moroni,” he said. “You have become pretty tired with all the extra work you have to do.” He swung the knapsack off his shoulder, and Mary watched as he started to untie it.19
This is a phony quotation that doesn't belong in Saints. If you read the Skousen article in footnote 19, you will see this quotation was made up by Mary Whitmer's descendants, decades after she passed away. 
The Skousen article refers to the Historical Record. The relevant page is shown on the left here. Look at the passage in the middle of the left column:
"I have heard my grandmother (Mary M. Whitmer) say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by an holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi. (She undoubtedly refers to Moroni, the angel who had the plates in charge.)"
You can see what happened. Mary Whitmer always referred to the messenger as "Brother Nephi." This is consistent with what David Whitmer said about the messenger who took the Harmony plates to Cumorah; i.e., that he was one of the Nephites. 
The grandson simply inferred Mary was wrong!
The grandson didn't accept his grandmother's statement about the name of the messenger, but instead assumed she was wrong because it had to have been Moroni, according to his belief. True, we don't know the names of the Three Nephites (3 Ne. 28:25-32), but one of the disciples Christ called was named Nephi. (3 Ne. 19:4), so the chances are 3 in 12 that one of the Three Nephites was Nephi.  I think the grandmother was correct, but the grandson made a huge mistake when he misunderstood.
Subsequent descendants relied on this 1878 account and elaborated, inventing this quotation: "My name is Moroni. You have become pretty tired with all the extra work you have to do," etc. 
Recall that this account describes the so-called "Moroni" as "a short, heavy-set, gray-haired man," which matches David Whitmer's description of the messenger taking the plates to Cumorah. Joseph and Oliver never described Moroni as anything of the sort. Instead, Joseph said that messenger was one of the Three Nephites.
I find it astonishing that Saints omits the important and oft-repeated direct testimony of David Whitmer about the messenger taking the plates to Cumorah and then inserts this phony quotation about Moroni. I suppose they think readers will like the idea of a female witness of the plates, which is definitely awesome, but why elaborate with a phony quotation and then state it as a fact? It is much more interesting that she named one of the Three Nephites. 
This editorial treatment does not inspire confidence in the accuracy of Saints.
“You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors,” he continued. “It is proper, therefore, that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.”20
golden plates
Moroni opened his knapsack and removed the gold plates. He held them in front of her and turned their pages so she could see the writings on them. After he turned the last page, he urged her to be patient and faithful as she carried the extra burden a little longer. He promised she would be blessed for it.21
The old man vanished a moment later, leaving Mary alone. She still had work to do, but that no longer troubled her.22
The Mary Whitmer account does belong in Saints, but not this false version.

It would be far better to relate the actual history instead of the invented quotations from people who were not there.

David Whitmer related this account several times, as I've discussed before on another blog. On one occasion, he was interviewed by Edward Stevenson.

I obtained a copy of Stevenson's journal and here's what his entry says:
Page from Stevenson journal
"I wish to mention an Item of conversation with David Whitmer in regard to Seeing one of the Nephites, Zina Young, Desired me to ask about it. David Said, Oliver, & The Prophet, & I were riding in a wagon, & an aged man about 5 feet 10, heavey Set & on his back, an old fashioned Armey knapsack Straped over his Shoulders & Something Square in it, & he walked alongside of the Wagon & Wiped the Sweat off his face, Smileing very Pleasant David asked him to ride and he replied I am going across to the hill Cumorah. Soon after they Passed they felt Strangeley and Stoped, but could see nothing of him all around was clean and they asked the Lord about it. He Said that the Prophet Looked as White as a Sheet & Said that it was one of the Nephites & that he had the plates."**


Edward Stevenson was a general authority (one of the seven presidents of the Seventy). He was a well-known missionary (one of the MTC buildings is named after him). There's no reason to doubt the credibility of his interview with David Whitmer.

What I find fascinating is that Zina Young asked Stevenson to ask David Whitmer about seeing one of the Nephites. That was the focus of the interview, not the Cumorah question.

* You can google a phrase from the account and find lots of printed versions. One I like is here:
Just go to the page and in your browser, search for "suddenly approached."

**You can find printed versions of this account in these references, although not transcribed exactly: "Edward Stevenson Interview (1) 22-23 December 1877, Richmond, Missouri Diary of Edward Stevenson," LDS Church Archives, Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 1993, p. 13; also Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 2003, vol. v, p. 30.

Transcript of the handwritten passage:

[Bottom of image #44]

When I was returning to Fayette with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned 

[image #45]

wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, we were suddenly approached by a very pleasant, nice looking old man in a clear open place, who saluted us with 'Good morning, it is very warm,' at the same instant wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way, but he said very pleasantly, 'No, I am going to Cumorah.' This was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant, and as I looked enquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again." 

Joseph F. Smith: "Did you notice his appearance?" 

David Whitmer: "I should think I did. He was, I should think, about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches and heavy set, about such a man as James Vancleave, there, but heavier. His face was as large. He was dressed in a suit of brown, woolen clothes; his hair and beard were white, about like Brother Pratt's, but his beard was not so heavy. I also remember that he had a sort of knapsack on his back, and something was in it which was shaped like a book. It was the messenger who had the plates. 

"Soon after our arrival home, 

[image #46]

I saw something which led me to the belief that the plates were placed or concealed in my father's barn. I frankly asked Joseph if my supposition was right, and he told me it was. 

"Sometime after this my mother was going to milk the cows when she was met out near the barn by this same old man, (as I suppose from her description of him) who said to her `you have been very faithful and diligent in your labours but you are tried because of the increase of your toil, it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness, that your faith may be strengthened' and thereupon he showed her the plates. My Father and Mother had a large family of their own. The addition to it therefore of Joseph, Emma and Oliver very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother and altho she had never complained she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much or at least she was beginning to feel so. This circumstance however completely removed all such feelings and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities." 

Orson Pratt: "Have you any idea when the records will be brought forth?" 

David Whitmer: "When we see things in the Spirit and by the power of God they seem to be right here present. The signs of the times indicate the near approach of the coming forth of the other plates, but when it will be, I cannot tell. 

The Three Nephites are at work among the lost tribes and elsewhere. John the Revelator is at work, and I believe the time will come suddenly, before we are prepared for it." 


  1. Brother Neville,
    Again your scholarship and efforts preserve the accuracy, and confront false narratives with authentic sources and references.
    Bless you for your dedication to the Truth!

    Best Regards
    Jayson Stump

  2. But you believe the intellectuals like Richard Bushman who stated that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon using a dark stone in the hat? I am having a hard time with your inconsistency. You believe Joseph Smith when he said there is only 1 Hill Cummorah. Yet you don't believe Joseph Smith when he said he translated the BOOK OF Mormon with the Urim and Thummim?? Mote, eye, Kettle, Black

    1. Actually, Jonathan Neville does NOT believe Joseph Smith used the stone in the hat to translate the Book of Mormon. He wrote a book on it called "A Man that Can Translate: Joseph Smith and the Nephite Interpreters".


Checking references-seer stones, foreign languages, etc.

We can read Saints , volume 1, two ways.  1. Read (or listen to) the narrative and just accept it the editors' spin on Church history. 3...