Literary Dependence in the Book of Mormon: Two Studies
Appendix 3 — Extract from a letter written by Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, regarding the testimony of Martin Harris viewing the Book of Mormon Plates1
Orange Township, Geauga Co., Ohio
15th April 1838
Br[other]. [Lyman E.] Johnson — Dear Sir I have with pleasure just received your favor post marked 26th ult and now you see I take a large sheet that I may have ample room to write — my heart is sickened within me when I reflect upon the manner in which we with many of this Church have been led & the losses which we have sustained all by means of two men in whom we placed implicit confidence, that Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon are notorious liars I do not hesitate to affirm, & can prove by a cloud of witnesses & this is not all, Joseph [Smith] has prophecied [prophesied] in a public congregation lies in the name of the Lord & by undue religious influence he has filched the monies of the Church from their pockets and brought them nigh unto distruction [destruction], leaving helpless innocence [innocents] destitute of a confortable [comfortable] support while he has squandered the hard earnings of these to whom it justly belonged.
I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it — loth to give it up — but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in a public congregation that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver [Cowdery] nor David [Whitmer] & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument2 for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins, I therefore three week[s] since in the Stone Chapel3 gave a full history of the church since I became acquainted with it, the false preaching & prophecying [prophesying] of Joseph [Smith] together with the reasons why I took the course which I was resolved to do, and renounced the Book of Mormon with the whole scene of lying and deception practiced by J[oseph]. S[mith] & S[idney]. R[igdon] in this church, believing as I verily do, that it is all a wicked deception palmed upon us unawares.
I was followed by W[arren]. Par[r]ish[,] Luke Johnson & John Boynton all of who concurred with me, after we were done speaking M[artin] Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight [witnesses] was false, if it had not been picked out of [h]im but should have let it passed as it was — Now br[other] Johnson if you have any thing to say in favour [favor] of the Book of Mormon I should be glad to hear it.
* * *
there are in Kirtland Esqrs [Cyrus] Smalling, [Joseph] Coe, [Martin] Harris and others who still believe the Book of Mormon &c but discard Joseph [Smith] & Mr [Joseph] Coe proposed an investigation of the subject, and [Warren] Par[r]ish took up on the negative, but I have not heard how they got along with it, I am well satisfied for myself that if the witnesses whose names are attached to the Book of Mormon never saw the plates as Martin [Harris] admits that there can be nothing brought to prove that any such thing ever existed for it is said on the 171 page of the book of covenants4 that the three [witnesses] should testify that they had seen the plates even as J[oseph] S[mith] Jr & if they saw them spiritually or in vision with their eyes shut - J[oseph] S[mith] Jr never saw them any other light way & if so the plates were only visionary and I am well satisfied that the 29 & 37 Chap[ter]s of Isai[a]h & Ezekiel together with others in which we depended to prove the truth of the book of Mormon have no bearing when correctly understood but are entirely irrelevant - but if any man differs from me I can adopt the language of Josephus, he is at liberty to enjoy his opinions without any blame from me - we are all well in usual health, my respects to your family & all our old friends, I am with respect yours &c
1 Letter of Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 April 1838. On 24 May 1838 a copy of the original letter was made. This copy was then recopied in 1839 into a letterbook. The above extract is from the 1839 copy, located in Joseph Smith Letterbook 2:64-66, LDS archives. This letterbook contains copies of letters from 20 April 1837 to 8 Feb. 1843 with a few letters of other years.
2 Their testimony.
3 Meeting held on 25 March 1838 in the Kirtland Temple.
4 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, section 42, Kirtland, Ohio; cf. LDS D&C 17; RLDS D&C 15.