Fawn Brodie says Joseph may have had a "makeshift deception" (forged plates) to show the Eight Witnesses.

Fawn Brodie

Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, The Mormon Prophet, 2nd rev. ed. (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1971), 79–80

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Emma Hale Smith, Fawn Brodie, Joseph Smith, Jr., LaRoy Sunderland, Thomas Ford, William Smith
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One of the most plausible descriptions of the manner in which Joseph Smith obtained these eight signatures was written by Thomas Ford, Governor of Illinois, who knew intimately several of Joseph's key men after they became disaffected and left the church. They told Ford that the witnesses were "set to continual prayer, and other spiritual exercises." Then at last "he assembled them in a room, and produced a box, which he said contained the precious treasure. The lid was opened; the witnesses peeped into it, but making no discovery, for the box was empty, they said, 'Brother Joseph, we do not see the plates.' The prophet answered them, 'O ye of little faith! how long will God bear with this wicked and perverse generation? Down on your knees, brethren, every one of you, and pray God for the forgiveness of your sins, and for a holy and living faith which cometh down from heaven.' The disciples dropped to their knees, and began to pray in the fervency of their spirit, supplicating God for more than two hours with fanatical earnestness; at the end of which time, looking again into the box, they were now persuaded that they saw the plates."

Yet it is difficult to reconcile this explanation with the fact that these witnesses, and later Emma and William Smith, emphasized the size, weight, and metallic texture of the plates. Perhaps Joseph built some kind of makeshift deception. If so, it disappeared with his announcement that the same angel that had revealed to him the sacred record had now carried it back into heaven.

Exactly how Joseph Smith persuaded so many of the reality of the golden plates is neither so important nor so baffling as the effect of this success on Joseph himself. It could have made of him a precocious and hard-boiled cynic, as a little experimentation with the new art of "mesmerism" made of the famous preacher LaRoy Sunderland some years later. But there is no evidence of cynicism even in Joseph's most intimate diary entries. The miracles and visions among his followers apparently served only to heighten his growing consciousness of supernatural power. He had a sublime faith in his star, plus the enthusiasm of a man constantly preoccupied with a single subject, and he was rapidly acquiring the language and even the accent of sincere faith.

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