Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon Church, claim that The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ was translated from gold plates. To substantiate this claim, they usually cite Joseph Smith’s own testimony of the gold plates, and the testimony of the Three and the Eight Witnesses.
However, there are two more witness to the physical gold plates. The first is Mary Whitmer. She was the wife of Peter Whitmer, Sr. and mother of several of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon: Christian, Jacob, David, and Peter Jr.
Here is her account, as told by her grandson John C. Whitmer:
“One evening, when (after having done her usual day’s work in the house) she went to the barn to milk the cows, she met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him, but when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, she was filled with inexpressible joy and satisfaction.”
“He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates, which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given by the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful to the end. The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell. (Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia 1:283)
I’m impressed with this opportunity she had. I’m sure it strengthened her faith. And she probably needed it. As the record shows, the events surrounding the translation and the publication of the Book of Mormon taxed the power and patience of the people involved.
Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church, referring to these trying times, wrote:
“Now my wife had written some for me to translate, and also my Brother Samuel H. Smith. But we had be come reduced in property, and my wife’s father was about to turn me out of doors and I had not where to go. And I cried unto the Lord that he would provide for me to accomplish the work whereunto he had commanded me.” (1832 History. Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 14. Standardized.)
His prayer was answered. God raised up people to help him. Not just men, such as Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmer men, but also women. In addition to Mary Whitmer, there was also Joseph Smith’s wife Emma. She served as a scribe between Martin Harris’s departure and the coming of Oliver Cowdery.
She was not exactly a witness of the gold plates, but she was almost a witness. Here is her story, as told to her son Joseph Smith III:
“The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him [Joseph Smith, Jr.] to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book. … I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. … I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.” (The Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290; spelling modernized.)
So the plates were there, but covered. Like the Eight Witnesses, she handled them, and moved them around as she kept house. Her testimony reflects her unique position as wife of Joseph Smith. It has a folksy charm about it. You can picture Emma sliding the heavy plates around the table as she is dusting.
And as both a wife of the prophet and a scribe of the Book of Mormon, I find her testimony compelling:
“My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father [Joseph Smith] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.” (Ibid.)
I am glad that God raised up these women to help move the Lord’s work along. I have read the Book of Mormon scores of times, and appreciate their part in bringing forth the keystone of our religion, and this new witness of the divinity of Christ.