The eight-witness statement appears to be a prosaic legal affidavit, yet one that has borrowed much of its phraseology from the three-witness statement. There are at most only two instances of phrases that could be said to have been taken from the Book of Mormon text proper: “of curious workmanship” and “we lie not”. In striking contrast to the three-witness statement, there are numerous phrases and word uses that are not at all found in the Book of Mormon text itself. I mark each of these below with an asterisk. Some of these are contemporary with the English language spoken in the United States in the 1820s and 1830s. A few may be traceable to King James usage. These findings suggest that the eight-witness statement was not a revealed text but was constructed more as a legal document by Joseph Smith (or maybe even Oliver Cowdery). Along with the three-witness statement, I treat the eight-witness statement as extracanonical. But there is a difference: the eight-witness statement is of human origin. Thus the 1837 change that Joseph Smith introduced into it (namely, the replacement of author and proprietor with translator) is perfectly acceptable since it more accurately reflects Joseph’s role in receiving the Book of Mormon as a revealed text.
“and also the testimony of eight witnesses”
3-witness the testimony of three witnesses
“be it known unto all nations kindreds tongues and people”
3-witness be it known unto all nations kindreds tongues and people
“unto whom this work shall come”
3-witness unto whom this work shall come
* “that Joseph Smith Junior”
There are no examples of Joseph Smith’s name in the Book of Mormon text or in the three-witness statement. The use of Junior is clearly contemporary usage.
* “the translator of this work” (originally, “the author and proprietor of this work”)
Both the three-witness and the eight-witness statements use the phrase this work to refer to the Book of Mormon. It is also found in the Book of Mormon itself.
There are no examples of the noun translator in the Book of Mormon text or in the three-witness statement. More problematic, to be sure, is the original phrase, “author and proprietor”, which was borrowed from the statutory copyright language. This phrase was famously used on the original title page of the Book of Mormon, in the 1830 edition: “by Joseph Smith, Junior, author and proprietor”. The legal language was originally in the plural, in order to protect the copyright of “authors and proprietors” of literary works. In the eight-witness statement (as on the 1830 title page), the phrase was merely revised to the singular, “author and proprietor”. For the 1837 edition, Joseph Smith emended the language to state that he was the translator. See the discussion regarding “author and proprietor” in part 1 of volume 4 of the Book of Mormon critical text, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, pages 35-36.
“has shewn unto us the plates”
3-witness we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates and they have been shewn unto us by the power of God and not of man
“of which hath been spoken”
3-witness the people of Jared which came from the tower of which hath been spoken
* “which have the appearance of gold”
There are two examples of the phrase “to have the appearance of X” in the eight-witness statement; both mean ‘to look like X’. No such usage occurs in the actual Book of Mormon text. Although appearance occurs there four times, it always refers to becoming visible, as in 2 Nephi 4:31 (“wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin”) or as in three references to the appearance of an army (Mosiah 23:26 and 3 Nephi 4:7-8).
* “and as many of the leaves”
This is the only reference to the leaves of the plates or to a book in the codex form. There is one occurrence of leaves in the Book of Mormon text proper, but this is in an Isaiah quotation and refers to the leaves of trees: “as a teil tree and as an oak whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves” (2 Nephi 16:13 / Isaiah 6:13). The singular form leaf never occurs.
* “as the said Smith has translated”
mh2811 and after having translated and caused to be written the records
mh2813 and now he translated them by the means of those two stones
The reference to “the said Smith” (which occurs three times in the eight-witness statement) is legalistic language and is noticeably different from the language of both the Book of Mormon text and the three-witness statement.
* “we did handle with our hands”
This is the only instance of the word handle. The Book of Mormon text has examples of verbs that take the prepositional phrase “with one’s hands”, such as labor, make, and build. In actuality, the phrase “to handle with one’s hands” is etymologically redundant since handle is lexically derived from hand.
“and we also saw the engravings thereon”
3-witness and we beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon
* “all of which has the appearance of ancient work”
As noted above, appearance with this meaning is unique to the eight-witness statement.
The adjective ancient, with the meaning ‘having existed for a long time’, occurs in the Book of Mormon text, but never in reference to physical objects. However, this gap many simply be the result of limitations on subject matter. There are examples of ancient in “ancient days” (2 Nephi 8:9 / Isaiah 51:9), “of ancient date” (Mosiah 8:13, 3 Nephi 3:19), “ancient priests” (Alma 30:23), “ancient prophecies” (Alma 30:24), and “ancient inhabitants” (Ether 1:1) as well as in reference to the Lord’s “ancient covenant people” (2 Nephi 29:4-5 and Mormon 8:15).
The word work, referring to a physical object, is never used this way in the Book of Mormon text except in two biblical quotes where the word work means ‘something made’ in Hebrew: “for shall the work say of him that made it : he made me not” (2 Nephi 27:27 / Isaiah 29:16) and “and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work” (3 Nephi 22:16 / Isaiah 54:16).
“and of curious workmanship”
1n1610 he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship
1n1801 and we did work timbers of curious workmanship
aa3739 there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship
er1027 and they did work all manner of work of exceeding curious workmanship
The reference to curious workmanship is a particular expression found fairly often in the Book of Mormon text and may have been borrowed from the text as a result of its familiarity to Joseph Smith (or to his primary scribe, Oliver Cowdery). In this phrase, the adjective curious takes the archaic meaning ‘careful or skilled’. The King James Bible has one example of the related curious works (in Exodus 35:32). And the Book of Mormon has an instance of curious man (in Alma 63:5) and one of curious workmen (in Helaman 6:11).
“and this we bear record with words of soberness”
3-witness the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it
3-witness and we declare with words of soberness that an angel of God came down from heaven
“that the said Smith has shewn unto us”
8-witness Joseph Smith Junior … has shewn unto us the plates
As noted earlier, the phrase “the said Smith” is unique to the eight-witness statement.
* “for we have seen and hefted”
3-witness and we also testify that we have seen the engravings
The verb heft occurs only here. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb derives from the archaic noun heft, which derives from the verb heave. The OED notes that the verb heft is colloquial in American English.
“and know of a surety”
3-witness wherefore we know of a surety
* “that the said Smith has got the plates”
2n2903 a Bible / a Bible / we have got a Bible
2n2906 a Bible / we have got a Bible and we need no more Bible
Once more the legalistic sounding “the said Smith” intrudes.
The verb phrase “to have got”, meaning ‘to possess’, is colloquial in American English, but is found (as cited above) in the Book of Mormon text proper but – it should be noted – only when quoting people’s reaction to the Book of Mormon. Even then, the two instances in 2 Nephi 29 could be interpreted as equivalent to “we have gotten a Bible” – that is, ‘we have obtained a Bible’. This interpretation seems unlikely for “the said Smith has got the plates” in the eight-witness statement. The meaning there seems to be that Joseph Smith has possession of the plates.
“of which we have spoken”
8-witness Joseph Smith Junior … has shewn unto us the plates of which hath been spoken
aa1227 and after death they must come to judgment / even that same judgment of which we have spoken
* “and we give our names unto the world to witness unto the world”
mn0316 and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard
mi0602 save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and witnessed unto the church
Nowhere else does the text use the phrase “to give one’s name” with the meaning ‘to publicly provide one’s name’. In the Book of Mormon text, for instance, a father can “give names” to his children (Helaman 5:6), or the Nephite monetary units are “given names” (Alma 11:4).
“that which we have seen”
8-witness for we have seen and hefted and know of a surety that …
3n2721 for that which ye have seen me do / even that shall ye do
“and we lie not”
mi1026 and I speak it according to the words of Christ and I lie not
mi1027 for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not
The Apostle Paul, in the language of the King James Bible, uses the phrase “I lie not” five times, as in two instances that parallel the usage in Moroni 10:26: “I say the truth in Christ / I lie not” (Romans 9:1) and “I speak the truth in Christ and lie not” (1 Timothy 2:7). It is possible that the biblical usage may have influenced the language here in the eight-witness statement.
* “God bearing witness of it”
This is the only place where the phrase “to bear witness” occurs in the Book of Mormon. There are two instances of “to bear false witness”, once when the Ten Commandments is quoted in Mosiah 13:23 (“thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”) and once paraphrastically in Helaman 7:21 (“for the which ye do murder and plunder and steal and bear false witness against your neighbor”). The King James Bible has quite a few instances of “to bear witness of X”, with 11 instances in the Gospel of John, as in “and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me” (John 8:18).
A CONCLUDING CONTRAST
It has often been observed that the three-witness experience was completely different than the eight-witness one. The three witnesses saw the angel Moroni, who showed them the plates and other artifacts but did not allow them to handle anything. They heard the voice of the Lord declaring that the translation was correct and then commanding them to bear record of what they had seen. In some sense the experience was visionary, with Martin Harris claiming that he saw the plates with his spiritual eye. In fact, the statement itself says that they were shown the plates “by the power of God and not of man”. Joseph Smith was there with the three witnesses, but he himself did not participate. It was a completely spiritual experience. And the language of the three-witness statement is a spiritual one, ending with the liturgical phraseology “and the honor be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost which is one God” and the word Amen.
On the other hand, the eight-witness experience was completely physical and secular. The eight witnesses went out into the woods, and Joseph Smith met them there, with the plates. Each of these witnesses held the plates and examined the individual leaves. There was no angel, no voice of God, no artifacts except for the plates, and everything was done in broad daylight. There was nothing visionary about the experience. The emphasis in their statement is on what they saw. For instance, the plates had “the appearance of gold”, and the engravings had “the appearance of ancient work and of curious workmanship”. They did not claim the plates were made of gold; they did not claim that the work was ancient or skillfully done – but from what they could see, it was so! The plates were heavy – they hefted them. Their testimony would hold up in a court of law. The only reference to God is at the end, where they state that he will witness they are telling the truth. There is no liturgical language, no final Amen.
The origin of the two statements correlates with this fundamental experiential and linguistic difference. We can now see from the source analysis of the statements that the three-witness statement was a revealed text given word for word to Joseph Smith, just like the Book of Mormon text itself. The three-witness statement is a spiritual document, one that was spiritually derived. On the other hand, the eight-witness statement was written by a human participant – probably Joseph Smith, in my opinion – who drew upon the language of the three-witness statement (especially the opening words) but used his own language to describe the experience of the eight witnesses: what the plates looked liked (their “appearance”), plus how these witnesses “hefted” the plates and “did handle with our hands” the leaves. They conclude with their summary declaration that Joseph Smith really “has got the plates”. Included in the statement is legal language (multiple uses of “the said Smith” as well as the original designation of Joseph Smith as “author and proprietor of this work”). There may be a little biblical phraseology (“and we lie not”) and even a noted Book of Mormon phrase (“of curious workmanship”), but overall the eight-witness statement is a secular document. And like the experience of the eight witnesses, the statement itself was created without any spiritual intervention. It was not revealed from the Lord, but was constructed as a matter-of-fact human statement of a physical event.