Did the witnesses actually see the plates on which the Book of Mormon was written?
Some of these witnesses had indeed claimed that there were “wagon loads of plates” inside the Hill Cumorah. David Whitmer is reported of saying, “We not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon but also brass plates…and many other plates…[W]e were overshadowed by light…there appeared as it were a table with many records or plates upon it, besides the Book of Mormon, also the Sword of Laban, the Directors…” (Preston Nibley, The Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, pp 68-69.) Heber C. Kimball also spoke of “the vision that Joseph and others [Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Sr.] had when they went into a cave in the Hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry…books piled upon tables…” (Journal of Discourses [JoD] 4:105.)
Brigham Young talked even more about this, saying, “…when Joseph and Oliver went there [Hill Cumorah] the hill opened, and they walked into the cave…He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as the day. They laid the plates on a table… Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piles up in corners ad along the walls…” (JoD 19:38.) This and other similar stories were repeated by Wilford Woodruff (4th President of the Church), Lucy Smith (Joseph Smith’s mother), William Phelps, and others. (We can only conclude that these people were either very gullible or they were willing participants in this scam).
However, what the Book of Mormon witnesses later said, when they were questioned more in detail, was that they only saw these things in visions, not in reality, in other words, they were only “visionary imaginations”, of obviously very gullible people. When Martin Harris was asked about this, he said, “I never saw the golden plates, only in a visionary or entranced state…” (Early Mormon Documents, 2:346-47, quoted from “Insider’s View of Mormon Origin”, p. 198.) When questioned by another person whether he (Martin Harris) saw the plates and engravings on them with his bodily eyes, he said, “I did not see them as I do that pencil case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith.” (Early Mormon Documents, 2:270.) David Whitmer also agreed that they (the witnesses of the BoM) did not handle the plates physically, only as in vision. More of this in Preston Nibley’s book, “Witnesses of the Book of Mormon”. The fact is that there were no plates. Real plates can be seen with “bodily eyes”, imaginary plates require a “vision” or a dream. History of the Church (vol. 1:52-55) reports that to see the plates they had to pray (for a vision?). All the BoM witnesses (excepting Joseph Smith’s brothers and his father) later left the church and joined other religions or started one of their own.
The Book of Mormon is said to be the foundation of the LDS Church. It is very important for Mormons to dig into the origins of their religion and see what the foundation of Mormonism really is. Fictional books and false prophets cannot direct people to the real God. This matter is important to solve now, while life endures.
(Higley, H.I.S. Ministries October Newsletter, 10/1/09).