Wikipedia’s Deconstruction of Martin Harris

Posted on by

Editor’s note: This blog post is a reprint Roger Nicholson’s two-part article in Meridian Magazine (part 1, part 2), and is published here with their kind permission.

The Martin Harris We Know

Every Latter-day Saint who has attended Sunday School is familiar with the story of Martin Harris. We learn that Martin was a relatively wealthy man for the area in which he lived, and that he mortgaged his farm to finance the publication of the Book of Mormon. The importance of this act cannot be underestimated,

The cost of printing 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon was $3,000—a huge sum (approximately $73,000 in today’s economy). It was simply impossible for the Smith family to raise even a small fraction of that amount. But Martin… proved his devotion once again by pledging his valuable farm to cover the tremendous expense.[1]

We also learn of Martin’s honesty. Despite his support for the prophet, Martin still wanted assurance that Joseph Smith was truly able to translate the ancient record contained on the gold plates. Martin carried a transcription of some of the characters from the plates to Charles Anthon, and Dr. Anthon fulfilled Biblical prophecy by claiming that he could not read a sealed book.

We also know that Martin was far from perfect. He was, in fact, referred to several times in the revelation comprising Doctrine and Covenants Section 10 as a “wicked man,”

Now, behold, I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them. . . . And for this cause I said that he is a wicked man, for he has sought to take away the things wherewith you have been entrusted; and he has also sought to destroy your gift. (D&C 10:1, 7)

This is pretty strong language to direct at an individual who was to become a special witness to the Book of Mormon. The Church’s Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual states that, “Martin Harris was ‘wicked’ in persisting to ask for what God at first refused to grant. He was ‘wicked’ in not keeping the sacred pledge to guard the manuscript. But otherwise he was not a wicked man, as that term is generally understood.” [2] Furthermore, Martin’s actions, “placed the Prophet in the uncomfortable position of having to revitalize his trust in a man the Lord had labeled ‘wicked’ because of his compromise of sacred covenants in the loss of the 116-page manuscript.” [3]

We know also that Martin eventually left the Church during a period of apostasy in Kirtland, and that he remained behind in Kirtland as the Saints moved westward. Finally, we also know that Martin Harris never denied having viewed the plates and the angel. His testimony of the Book of Mormon remained intact throughout his life. Martin was quite vocal about his testimony, even when he had every reason to deny it due to his disagreements with Joseph Smith. Martin eventually rejoined the Church toward the end of his life and traveled out to Salt Lake City. This is the Martin Harris that we know.

Martin Harris According to Wikipedia

Today we have many easily accessible sources of information, many of which are as close as our desktop computer or smart phone. Type the words “Martin Harris” into Google. What appears at the top of the results list? A Wikipedia article called “Martin Harris (Latter Day Saints).” [4]

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. One does not have to have any specific qualifications in order to be allowed to create or edit a Wikipedia article. All that is required is the desire to spend the time to edit articles and the ability to collaborate with others who wish to edit the same article. In fact, Wikipedia is one of the only places where it is common for believers and critics to work together to craft articles about Mormon history. The Wikipedia article on Martin Harris is no exception.

Upon reading the Wikipedia article about Martin Harris, we encounter quite a contrast from those things that we learn in church. The first thing that we learn about Martin is that he “was a prosperous farmer,” and that his neighbors “considered him both an honest and superstitious man.” The article then goes on in detail to note that Harris’s “imagination was excitable,” that he “once imagined that a sputtering candle was the work of the devil,” and that he was considered “a visionary fanatic.” The article continues by stating that “his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy,” and that “he was a great man for seeing spooks.” [5] It is easy to see which aspects of Harris’s life the Wikipedia article attempts to emphasize. There are a few token mentions of honesty and prosperity, followed by extensive recitations of Harris’s superstitious qualities.

What is going on here? Why is Wikipedia describing a different individual than the one that we learn of in church? The story that emerges from Wikipedia is that of a superstitious man who was driven from religion to religion based upon which way the wind was blowing at the time. Which account is correct? The honest, generous Martin Harris, or the superstitious visionary fanatic who was known for “seeing spooks?” In reality, both accounts contain accurate information related to Martin Harris. Wikipedia articles are required to be “balanced.” The accuracy of the “balance” in this article simply depends upon the perspective of the person who succeeds in editing it. It is a matter of emphasis on which particular aspects of Harris’s life the editor chooses to concentrate on.

According to Wikipedia rules, it would not be appropriate to emphasize only the positive aspects of Harris’s personality. Wiki articles are supposed to be balanced from a “neutral point-of-view.” An examination of Harris’s Wikipedia article, however, shows obvious signs that it seems to go out of its way to emphasize aspects that would cast doubt upon Harris’s credibility as a witness to the Book of Mormon. This has very much to do with the fact that these particular elements related to Martin’s history were added by a wiki editor who is hostile to the Church.

One might be surprised to learn that much of this uncomplimentary material about Martin’s life was culled from a 1986 essay written by a believing LDS scholar, Ronald W. Walker.[6]  For those who wish to discredit the Church using Wikipedia, it is always desirable to use the words of LDS scholars to do so. In this case, the Wikipedia editor justifies his use of this source,

The reason I chose to quote Walker is because he’s a BYU faculty member and highly regarded in the LDS community. If even he doesn’t attempt to deny the stories about Harris’s superstitiousness, then they need to be taken seriously. Of course, I included the phrase “hostile and perhaps unreliable accounts” as my tip of the hat to you.[7]

The use of the phrase “doesn’t attempt to deny” is of particular interest. Walker, as anyone attempting to interpret history ought to, documented the opinions expressed by Harris’s neighbors, some of whom did not view him highly after his involvement with Mormonism.

The use of LDS scholars to provide negative material for Wikipedia is typically accomplished by extracting phrases which appear negative from their context and by subordinating any which are positive. Thus, when we examine Walker’s essay directly, we find that the treatment of Harris is much more balanced. Walker’s essay spends a considerable amount of time talking of Harris’s industriousness, his honesty, and his standing within the Palmyra community. It was primarily after Harris associated himself with Mormonism that his neighbors and acquaintances began to view him as a man who was easily swayed. Wikipedia uses Walker’s essay to support the claim that “Harris’s neighbors considered him both an honest and superstitious man.” Walker does indeed note that Harris was “visionary,” but only after describing his “talent and growing prosperity,” his election to a variety of “minor offices appropriate to his growing status,” his work to raise donations during the Greek Revolution, and his intense interest in religion along with his ability to “quote more scripture than any man in the neighborhood.”

Martin was judicious in his acquisition of land, and, after acquiring a total of 320 acres, and by 1825, “was in a position to transport produce and livestock raised on his lands to eastern markets” on the newly completed Erie Canal.   Martin’s determination to use a portion of his farm to cover the printing debt for the Book of Mormon was a significant commitment, and it ultimately cost him his farm and his marriage. This was not the act of a man who vacillated without being able to make a commitment.

Martin Harris the “Visionary Fanatic”

The fact that an assertion is cited in Wikipedia does not mean that the assertion is accurate. For example, Wikipedia states that “Harris once imagined that a sputtering candle was the work of the devil.” However, a Wikipedia footnote for this sentence provides the following detail from Walker’s essay, “Once while reading scripture, he reportedly mistook a candle’s sputtering as a sign that the devil desired him to stop.” [8]

This isn’t simply a matter of excluding some of Walker’s comments. Note the subtle evolution of what was “reportedly” said by Harris in the footnote into solid “fact” in body of the Wikipedia article. Note also that the reference to Harris reading his scriptures has been omitted – one has to read the footnote in order to see it. Rather than viewing the sputtering as a “sign that the devil desired him to stop,” Wikipedia makes it appear that Harris credited a random event as “the work of the devil.” Wikipedia also omits Walker’s conclusion, “But such talk came easy. [Harris’s] exaggerated sense of the supernatural naturally produced caricature and tall and sometimes false tales.” [9]

Consider Wikipedia’s portrayal of Martin as a “visionary fanatic” with a reputation for being “crazy,”

The local Presbyterian minister called him “a visionary fanatic.” [10] A friend, who praised Harris as being “universally esteemed as an honest man,” also declared that Harris’s mind “was overbalanced by ‘marvellousness’“ and that his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy. [11] Another friend said, “Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks.” [12]

Again, Wikipedia cites Walker’s essay as the source. Further examination of Walker’s essay, however, provides the missing insight. Martin Harris was called a “visionary fanatic” by the local Presbyterian minister because he irritated the local religious ministers due to his outspoken nature and promotion of his own ideas regarding religion. Walker notes that “whatever Harris believed and preached during the early 1820, it was sufficiently unusual to stir neighborhood gossip and nettle the established clergy. During this time, some Palmyrans described Harris as a skeptic who was ‘not very religious’ – a charge that probably stemmed from his refusal to accept the teachings of the traditional churches.” [13] None of this detail, however, was selected for inclusion in the Wikipedia article.

Regarding the wiki article’s assertion that Martin had “the local reputation of being crazy,” let’s consider what Pomeroy Tucker actually said in 1858, some 28 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. Tucker states,

His mind was overbalanced by “marvellousness,” and was very much exercised on the subject of religion; and his betrayal of vague superstitions, with a belief in ‘special providences,’ and in the terrest[r]ial visits of angels, ghosts, &c., brought upon him the imputation of being “crazy.” He was possessed of a sort of Bible monomania, and could probably repeat from memory every line of the scriptures, quoting chapter and verse in each instance. [14]

According to the 1828 Webster’s dictionary, the word “imputation” means “the act of imputing or charging; attribution; generally in an ill sense; as the imputation of crimes of faults to the true authors of them.” [15] Tucker is stating that some of the locals were insinuating that Harris was “crazy.” This does not necessarily imply that he had a “local reputation of being crazy” as the wiki article asserts.  Note also that the wiki editor extracts mentions of  “marvellousness,” “angels” and “ghosts” from the cited source as the reason for Harris’s alleged “reputation,” while skipping over Tucker’s mention of Harris being “very much exercised on the subject of religion” and his ability to extensively quote the Bible from memory. This selective extraction of the religious elements from the primary source alters Tucker’s original meaning by removing mention of religious fervor as being a contributing factor of Harris’s alleged “craziness.”

The Lorenzo Saunders interview took place 54 years after the events surrounding the publication of the Book of Mormon. By this point in time, everyone was well aware that Harris had claimed to have seen the Angel Moroni and the plates, that he had been testifying of it for years, and that he continued to hold to that story despite having left the Church. It should therefore be no surprise that by this point in time that Saunders remembered Harris as “a great man for seeing spooks.”

Martin Harris Changing His Religion

The Wikipedia article “Martin Harris (Latter Day Saint)” [16] portrays Harris as being unstable by highlighting his changes in religion.

Even before he had become a Mormon, Harris had changed his religion at least five times. [17]  After Smith’s death, Harris continued this earlier pattern, remaining in Kirtland and accepting James J. Strang as Mormonism’s new prophet, a prophet with his own set of supernatural plates and witnesses to authenticate them.

The wiki article implies that Mormonism was simply one of many religions in a long string of changes, ignoring the fact that Harris’s commitment to Mormonism far outweighed anything that he had committed to either prior or subsequently. Harris did not mortgage his farm during any of his previous religious affiliations. He did not claim to have seen an angel or testify of the truthfulness of what he had seen for the remainder of his life. Martin didn’t simply “change his religion” at least five times – he was actively attempting to determine which one was correct. Ronald W. Walker notes that “Harris doubted that any church was properly authorized to act for God,” and that Harris concluded, “I might just as well plunge myself into the water as to have any one of the sects baptize me.” [18]

That search culminated in his association with Mormonism, where he played a pivotal role in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The Wikipedia editor, however, feels that “Harris’s continual changes of religion speak to his character as much as do his honesty and diligence.”[19] In other words, the editor perceives Harris’s changes in religion to indicate a weakness in Harris’s character. A seeker of true religion is recast as a man who is simply following a “pattern” of instability.

It is well known that Martin Harris had a falling out with Joseph Smith, and he never accepted polygamy. He remained behind in Kirtland, Ohio as the Church moved west. During this time, he continued to try and recapture what he had lost when he left the Church. Late in his life, Martin “confessed that he had lost confidence in Joseph Smith, consequently, his mind became darkened, and he was left to himself; he tried the Shakers, but that would not do, then tried Gladden Bishop, but no satisfaction; [he] had concluded he would wait until the Saints returned to Jackson Co., and then he would repair there.”[20] With regard to Martin’s stability and commitment, he “was called to give freely of his considerable means, knowing full well that external consequences could further place his reputation, financial standing, and already-strained marriage in harm’s way.” [21] This is certainly not the act of a man who cannot commit himself to a particular course of action that he believes to be correct.

The Wikipedia article further attempts to diminish Harris’s importance as one of the Three Witnesses by noting Harris’s association with James Strang. Strang attempted to reproduce the experience of Joseph Smith and establish himself as the leader of a new church by producing a set of plates. However, there was no “supernatural” aspect to these plates as the wiki article asserts – there was no witnessed angelic visit associated with them, although Strang claimed that an angel had given him the location of the plates. Martin was one of a number of people who felt that Strang might be the rightful successor to Joseph Smith. Martin, however, was ultimately dissatisfied with the variety of attempts to re-create the Church that Joseph Smith had founded, and eventually traveled to Utah to rejoin the Saint. Yet, throughout his period away from the Church, Martin never wavered in his testimony of the Book of Mormon, and continued to testify that he had seen an angel until the day he died.

Martin Harris and the “Spiritual Eye”

In Church we learn that Martin stood by his testimony that he saw the angel and the plates, Wikipedia’s version of Martin Harris portrays him as a man who was not quite sure about what he saw. The article takes great pains to cast doubt on whether or not Harris actually viewed the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. A typical tactic is to state a positive, followed by a collection of negatives, and ending with a positive in order to demonstrate contradiction. In Harris’s case, the words of second- and third-hand accounts from hostile witnesses of what he allegedly said are used to offset what Harris himself actually said. Wikipedia begins by noting that Harris testified of the Book of Mormon, but then immediately attempts to cast doubt upon what Harris said. The wiki article states,

Although he was estranged from the LDS Church for most of his life, Harris continued to testify to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, at least during the early years, Harris “seems to have repeatedly admitted the internal, subjective nature of his visionary experience.” [22]

The article then notes that Harris is said to have claimed to have viewed the plates with his “spiritual eye.” In the Pearl of Great Price, the term “spiritual eyes” is a term used by Moses to describe how he was able to see God.

But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him. (Moses 1:11)

Wikipedia then devotes half of the “Testimony of the Book of Mormon” section of the article to Harris’s “spiritual eye” comments,

The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris “used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and ‘seeing with the spiritual eye,’ and the like.” [23] John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the book, said that he had asked Harris, “Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?” According to Gilbert, Harris “looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.’“ [24] Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with “the eye of faith” or “spiritual eyes.” [25] In 1838, Harris is said to have told an Ohio congregation that “he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination.”[26] A neighbor of Harris in Kirtland, Ohio, said that Harris “never claimed to have seen [the plates] with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision.”[27]

Let’s examine one of the references for the “eye of faith” claim. The Wikipedia footnote supporting the “eye of faith” comment cites “Martin Harris Interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828.” (Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 2:270).

John A. Clark, a former pastor who considered Joseph Smith a fraud and the Book of Mormon “an imposture,” states,

To know how much this testimony [of three witnesses] is worth I will state one fact. A gentleman in Palmyra, bred to the law, a professor of religion, and of undoubted veracity told me that on one occasion, he appealed to Harris and asked him directly,-”Did you see those plates?” Harris replied, he did. “Did you see the plates, and the engraving on them with your bodily eyes?” Harris replied, “Yes, I saw them with my eyes,-they were shown unto me by the power of God and not of man.” “But did you see them with your natural,-your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Harris replied,-”Why I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see any thing around me,-though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.[28]

Rather than being an interview between Clark and Harris, as implied by the title of reference work using in the citation, Clark’s actual statement clearly says that he received his information from a “gentleman in Palmyra…a professor of religion,” who said that he had talked with Harris. This is not an interview between Clark and Harris. Larry E. Morris notes that the “claim that ‘Harris told John A. Clark’ is not accurate. This is not secondhand testimony but thirdhand—’he said that he said that he said.’….As if that weren’t enough, Clark does not name his source—making it impossible to judge that person’s honesty or reliability. What we have is a thirdhand, anonymous account of what Martin Harris supposedly said.” [29]

The “spiritual eyes” comment is sourced using “Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 December 1833,” (Early Mormon Documents 3:22). Jesse Townsend, another hostile source, writes a letter to Phineas Stiles in which he describes Harris’s involvement with Joseph Smith. He does not claim that Harris communicated with him. In his letter, Townsend refers to Harris as a “visionary fanatic” and a “dupe” who was fooled by the “wily deceiver” Joseph Smith and who subsequently claimed to have seen the plates with his “spiritual eyes.” [30]

Neither Clark’s “eye of faith” comment nor Townsend’s “spiritual eye” comment quote Martin Harris directly, yet they are used to source Wikipedia’s claim that two Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with “the eye of faith” or “spiritual eyes.” A more accurate portrayal of the sources would be to state that two Palmyra residents heard rumors from other people that Harris had made these comments. Unfortunately, the existence of these statements in Wikipedia, supported by two sources, implies to the casual reader that the statements are simply factual.

Although Wikipedia certainly attempts to drive the “spiritual eye” comments home, such thorough treatment is not given to Harris’s own numerous statements regarding what he saw.

Did Harris Recant His Testimony?

Next, Wikipedia continues the attempt to destroy Harris’s testimony by offering a paragraph claiming that a number of members who apostatized during the Kirtland period did so because of Harris’s “recantation” of having seen or handled the gold plates. According to Wikipedia,

In March 1838, disillusioned church members said that Harris had publicly denied that any of the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon had ever seen or handled the golden plates—although he had not been present when Whitmer and Cowdery first claimed to have viewed them—and they claimed that Harris’s recantation, made during a period of crisis in early Mormonism, induced five influential members, including three Apostles, to leave the Church.[31]

The Wikipedia editor then implies that Harris from this point onward denied his testimony even until the end of his life by stating,

Even at the end of his long life, Harris said that he had seen the plates in “a state of entrancement.”[32]

The facts, however, are quite the opposite of what Wikipedia is attempting to portray. At the “end of his long life,” while on his deathbed, Martin was quite clear about what he saw,

I stood by the bedside holding the patient’s right hand and my mother at the foot of the bed. Martin Harris had been unconscious for a number of days. When we first entered the room the old gentleman appeared to be sleeping. He soon woke up and asked for a drink of water. I put my arm under the old gentleman, raised him, and my mother held the glass to his lips. He drank freely, then he looked up at me and recognized me. He had been unconscious several days. He said, “I know you. You are my friend.” He said, “Yes, I did see the plates on which the Book of Mormon was written; I did see the angel; I did hear the voice of God; and I do know that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, holding the keys of the Holy Priesthood.” This was the end. Martin Harris, divinely-chosen witness of the work of God, relaxed, gave up my hand. He lay back on his pillow and just as the sun went down behind the Clarkston mountains, the soul of Martin Harris passed on.[33]

This testimony, unsurprisingly, is not used or referenced by the Wikipedia article.

After all of the effort to discredit Martin Harris through the words of second- and third-hand witnesses, the Wikipedia article then finally includes quotes from interviews with Harris himself. He clearly and unequivocally states that he saw and handled the plates. According to Wikipedia,

Nevertheless, in 1853, Harris told one David Dille that he had held the forty- to sixty-pound plates on his knee for “an hour-and-a-half” and handled the plates with his hands, “plate after plate.”[34] Even later, Harris affirmed that he had seen the plates and the angel with his natural eyes: “Gentlemen,” holding out his hand, “do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Or are your eyes playing you a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the Angel and the plates.”[35] The following year Harris affirmed that “No man heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon [or] the administration of the angel that showed me the plates.”[36]

It would be nice if Wikipedia gave as much attention to Martin’s statements regarding what he actually saw as it does to his “spiritual eye” and “eye of faith” comments. Martin testified of the Book of Mormon many times in such clear language.

“Young man,” answered Martin Harris with impressiveness, “Do I believe it! Do you see the sun shining! Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the [moon] and stars give us light by night, just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the fulness of times; so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the Angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the divine calling of Joseph Smith.”[37]

Can Wikipedia Be Trusted?

Wikipedia articles are simply the sum of the efforts of the individual editors that choose to focus on a particular subject. Rather than simply dismiss what Wikipedia says, the reader should be encouraged to independently check the sources when a questionable claim is encountered. Every figure involved in the Restoration of the Gospel has a rich and complex history behind them. They were human, they were not perfect, and they were subject to the influences present in their society at that time. Martin Harris was no exception. This does not diminish in any way the importance of his role in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.



[1] Larry E. Morris, “The Life of Martin Harris: Patterns of Humility and Repentance,” Ensign, July 2012. https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/07/the-life-of-martin-harris-patterns-of-humility-and-repentance?lang=eng

[2] Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, Section 3 “The Works and the Designs…of God Cannot be Frustrated.” Found on the Church website “lds.org”:  http://www.lds.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-student-manual/sections-1-9/section-3-the-works-and-the-designs—of-god-cannot-be-frustrated?lang=eng&query=martin+harris+%22wicked+man%22

[3] “For the Sum of Three Thousand Dollars” Susan Easton Black, and Larry C. Porter, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies Vol. 14, Issue 2, p. 6.  (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2005) http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=14&num=2&id=373

[4] This essay addresses the contents of Wikipedia article “Martin Harris (Latter Day Saint) as it existed on October 14, 2012. Wikipedia articles are subject to constant revision, and the contents may have changed since this essay was written.

[5] Phrases contained in Wikipedia article “Martin Harris (Latter Day Saint) as of October 13, 2012.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Harris_%28Latter_Day_Saints%29

[6] Walker, Ronald W. (Winter 1986), “Martin Harris: Mormonism’s Early Convert”, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (4): 29–43. https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/issues/V19N04.pdf

[7] Wikipedia editor “John Foxe” responding to editor “gldavies” on Martin Harris (Latter Day Saint) Wikipedia Talk page, 19 March 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Martin_Harris_(Latter_Day_Saints)

[8] Walker, pp. 34-35. Walker states, “Once while reading scripture, he reportedly mistook a candle’s sputtering as a sign that the devil desired to stop him (Stephen Harding in Gregg 1890, 42-43).”

[9] Walker, p. 35.

[10] The Wikipedia article cites “Walker 1986, pp. 34–35.”

[11] The Wikipedia article cites “Pomeroy Tucker reminiscence, 1858, in Vogel 1996-2003, 3: 71.” This is found in Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel, (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2000)  3:71.

[12] The Wikipedia article cites “Lorenzo Saunders Interview, November 12, 1884, in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 149.”  This is found in Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel, (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998) 2:149. Saunders said, “Martin was a good citizen. Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks & believed in all these things. I never knew or heard Martin talk infidelity. They claimed that he was an infidel; but I never heard him talk infidelity on matters of Religion or anything of that.”

[13] Walker, 34.

[14] “Pomeroy Tucker reminiscence, 1858,” in Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel, (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2000) 3:71.

[15] 1828 edition of Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language.

[16] This essay addresses the contents of Wikipedia article “Martin Harris (Latter Day Saint) as it existed on October 14, 2012. Wikipedia articles are subject to constant revision, and the contents may have changed since this essay was written.

[17] The Wikipedia article provides the following citation: “Harris had been a Quaker, a Universalist, a Restorationist, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and perhaps a Methodist. (Walker 1986, pp. 30–33)”

[18] Walker, Ronald W. (Winter 1986), “Martin Harris: Mormonism’s Early Convert”, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (4): 33. https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/issues/V19N04.pdf

[19] Wikipedia editor “John Foxe,” 20 March 2007 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Martin_Harris_(Latter_Day_Saints)

[20] Letter of Elder Thomas Colburn to Erastus Snow, 2 May 1855, St. Louis Luminary 1/24 (5 May 1855) quoted in Susan Easton Black, and Larry C. Porter, “Rest Assured, Martin Harris Will Be Here in Time,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture: Vol. 20, Issue 1. http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=20&num=1&id=589#_edn9

[21] “For the Sum of Three Thousand Dollars” Susan Easton Black, and Larry C. Porter, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies Vol. 14, Issue 2, p. 6.  (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2005) http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=14&num=2&id=373

[22] Dan Vogel, “Introduction to Martin Harris Collection” Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel, (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998) 2:255.

[23] “Pomeroy Tucker Account, 1867,” Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel, (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2000) 3:122.

[24] “John H. Gilbert, ‘Memorandum,’ 8 September 1892”  Early Mormon Documents 2:548. Gilbert was the typesetter for the Book of Mormon.

[25] Wikipedia cites “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,”  in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 270 and , “Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 December 1833,”  in Vogel 1996-2003, 3: 22.

[26] “Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 April 1838,” in Early Mormon Documents 2:291.

[27] “Reuben P. Harmon statement, c. 1885, “ Early Mormon Documents 2:385

[28] “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.

[29] Morris, FARMS Review, Vol. 15, Issue 1. Note also that the date assigned to these comments places them prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, yet Clark’s statement appears to include elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as a witness. Harris “saw them” with his eyes when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, but he only saw them through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his being a witness. Clark’s third-hand hostile relation of another hostile source, makes no distinction between these events, and instead portrays Harris as contradicting himself.

[30] “Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 December 1833,” Early Mormon Documents 3:22.

[31] “Stephen Burnett to Luke S. Johnson, 15 April 1838, “ Early Mormon Documents 2:290-92.

[32] “Martin Harris Interview With Anthony Metcalf, Circa 1873-1874,” Early Mormon Documents 2:347.

[33] William Harrison Homer, “The Passing of Martin Harris,” Improvement Era Vol. 29, No. 5 (March 1926): 472

[34] “Martin Harris interview with David B. Dille, 1853,” in Early Mormon Documents 2:297.

[35] “Martin Harris interview with Robert Barter, circa 1870,” Early Mormon Documents 2:390.

[36] “Martin Harris to H. B. Emerson, January 1871,” Early Mormon Documents 2:338.

[37] Homer, “The Passing of Martin Harris,” 470.

2 thoughts on “Wikipedia’s Deconstruction of Martin Harris

  1. Pingback: 23 January 2013 | MormonVoices

  2. Velska

    It is indeed important to note, that the quality and reliability of Wikipedia articles are only equal to their treatment of the sources they quote. And when writing about religion or politics, the oldest trick in the book is selective quoting.

    I’ve been a Wikipedia “evangelist” for years, and have always given the warning that upon those two subjects one cannot necessarily take them as fair representations of the facts.

    Some time ago, I was party to an “edit war” considering an article about LDS subject. I was relieved when the system rendered the article uneditable. At that time, I decided it would be best to wait. A fair proportion of these warring parties drop out, and with the long-suffering ones, one can usually reason.

    I would hope that anyone with a bit of time in their hands would learn the ropes and become an editor. It helps if you’re an academic, but all you really need is the ability to form coherent sentences to concisely describe the content of lengthy and multiple sources.

    You’ll soon be able to answer why they have the “no original research” rule: you are only supposed to rely on published sources. Published, because that is the absolute minimum requirement to assess reliability when you are not necessarily an expert in the subject. This way, the reader doesn’t need to rely on your word alone.

    And always, but always check the sources. If they take you to an opinion blog, watch out!

Comments are closed.