Defending the Faith: Martin Harris: 'Native honesty' and life-long testimony

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  • terra nova Park City, UT
    Oct. 25, 2013 10:47 p.m.

    Not one shred of evidence? What about the millions who believe? Is that not a witness? What about the millions who have died believing? What about the immense amount of good done as a result of following gospel principles? Is this not a witness? You cannot say there are no witnesses. There are witnesses enough.

    You've dismissed the prophet Joseph. You've dismissed the three witnesses. You've dismissed the eight witnesses. You've dismissed all the apostles of this dispensation and those that came before. You've dismissed ancient and modern scripture that testifies of Christ. For, every witness of this generation witnesses of past dispensations.

    It does not matter how many witnesses you are given. You will not believe. And why will you not believe, because "you have put off the spirit of God that it has no place in you."

    The fruit of restoration theology is solid, strong and tangible. There are innumerable witnesses.

    But you have no witnesses that it is not true. Not a shred of evidence supports you.

    You have nothing.

  • skeptic Phoenix, AZ
    Sept. 23, 2013 10:35 a.m.

    It really doesn't matter what one witnesses to if there is no evidence or prove of its reality. One may swear he/she witnessed men on the moon, it doesn't make it so. In the case of the BOM there is over a thousand years of physical history with no physical evidence, until there is physical evidence to support the Book of Mormon peoples existence all else is just magical dreaming, and people do and can believe in their dreams; doesn't make them true.

  • Moontan Roanoke, VA
    Sept. 21, 2013 3:25 p.m.

    @Who'sLife ... Lucy Harris wouldn't be the first wife to speak of her husband as if he were responsible every evil under the sun. Martin was smart enough to achieve his objectives; the fact that he made no money on the BoM, I think, answers her allegation quite well.

  • Wacoan Waco, TX
    Sept. 21, 2013 11:29 a.m.

    I must defend Martin Harris and my fellow Texan. According to Strong, a man who know Harris and was not kindly disposed to Joseph Smith or his Church wrote highly of Harris' character, including his honesty despite the scorn he received from some neighbors.

    Martin did not hold a position of power, he gave money to help publish the Book of Mormon and got none in return, and he was often the subject of ridicule.

    As to religion in general being used for "power, money and/or control," compared to what other group, organization or institution? Pick a party, Democrat or Republican, they seem more interested in power than even the most politically active religion in the USA. Money? Businesses exist to maximize profits. Religions of all types run or give to charities. As to control, no religious organization can arrest you for violating its laws. Sure, they can tell you your actions will condemn your soul, but that is a weak thread to bind an adherent's actions. If the adherent believes, the threat is not necessary and if she does not, it is ineffective.

  • Old Poet Salt Lake City, UT
    Sept. 21, 2013 1:59 a.m.

    Deathbed Testimony: "David Whitmer died at his home in Richmond, on the 25th of January, 1888," age 84. "His final testimony was given under the following circumstances: On the evening of Sunday, January 22, at half past five o'clock, Mr. Whitmer called his family and a number of his friends to his bedside, and to them delivered his dying testimony. Addressing his attendant physician he said: 'Dr. Buchanan, I want you to say whether or not I am in my right mind before I give my last testimony.' The doctor answered: 'Yes, you are in your right mind, for I have just had a conversation with you.' He then directed his words to all who surrounded him, saying: 'Now, you must all be faithful in Christ. I want to say to you all that the Bible and the record of the Nephites (Book of Mormon), are true, so you can say that you have heard me bear my testimony on my death bed. All be faithful in Christ and your reward will be according to your works. God bless you all. My trust is in Christ for ever, worlds without end. Amen.'" (New Witnesses for God, 2:296)

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Sept. 20, 2013 11:13 p.m.

    Professor Peterson wrote an earlier column, DocHolliday, about J. J. Strang's plates and his witnesses. It's pretty interesting. I apparently can't post a URL here, but you can easily find the article by Googling under "Peterson," "Deseret News," and the title: "The story behind James Strang and his sect."

  • Old Poet Salt Lake City, UT
    Sept. 20, 2013 3:43 p.m.

    Stella Oaks recorded: A young barber in the Clarkston General Store joked Martin Harris, “...I guess now that you are old and wiser you don’t tell about seeing the golden plates and the angel.’” Ninety-one year old Martin Harris turned around, “grasped my arms in a vise-like grip...and looked me straight in the eye. I felt the tremor of his earnest declaration: ‘Young man, the longest day you live I want you to remember what I say to you now: I did see the angel, I did handle the gold plates, and I did hear the voice of God.’ I was silent the rest of this particular occasion. Another time I promised him I would faithfully repeat his testimony.” Parallel statements were made by Cowdery and Whitmer at the end of their lives.

    On August 27, 1835, Joseph Smith, Sr., blessed Martin Harris: “...thy mind shall be enlarged, and thy testimony shall yet convince its thousands; yea, it shall shine like the sun, and though the wicked seek to overthrow it, it shall be in vain, for the Lord God shall bear it off victorious.”

  • 3GrandKeys Walnut Creek, CA
    Sept. 20, 2013 1:10 p.m.

    @the truth

    "I think we all need to question everything."

    What antagonistic nonsense.

    Sorry, but that "nonsense" is what we are taught in LDS Sunday School. What's wrong with that principle exactly?

  • 3GrandKeys Walnut Creek, CA
    Sept. 20, 2013 1:04 p.m.

    The other side of this coin is rarely considered for some reason. Think of the commonly used phrasing "never denied their testimonies" as "never admitted to being liars". If someone makes a claim that would have a huge negative impact on their reputation as well as their family/descendants reputations if they admitted it was false they would have ample motivation to take it to their grave. It's one thing to leave a church organization. It's another to be labeled a liar in the history books. Whether they were is not something I can determine, but I think it's important to frame the context appropriately and consider all possible motivations.

  • DocHolliday reno, NV
    Sept. 20, 2013 11:40 a.m.

    the truth

    Do you believe everything any witness has ever said? Do you know there were also witnesses to the James Strang plates? Do you also believe them? If not, why? There are numerous sworn affadavits of people that claim Joseph told them it was all a hoax, and of people who knew Sidney Rigdon got the manuscript from spaulding, and even people who claim to know that Joseph had a box with a tile in it and used to fool people about that being the plates. Do you believe them? Why are they less credible then Martin Harris and the others? They never denied what they said either.

  • DocHolliday reno, NV
    Sept. 20, 2013 11:19 a.m.


    A pre-written manuscript with 3 mens names on it, along with another one, with 8 mens names on it, without their signatures on it is hardly convincing. The prewritten statement makes it seem like they were all in one room and were shown some gold plates, and looked at them and handled them. This was not the case. As you know the 3 witnesses had to go to a field to pray to see the plates. Isn't that suspicious? The others claimed at some point, to only lift the plates while they were covered. So that is hardly convincing. Why would the 3 witnesses have to pray to see the golden plates, and have them shown to them by an angel when the plates were sitting in Joseph's house? This is a story that makes that little sense, and it is very hard to believe such a story.

  • DocHolliday reno, NV
    Sept. 20, 2013 10:26 a.m.

    David Whitmer: "If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to separate myself from among the Latter-day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so should it be done unto them."

    Sounds like David Whitmer also thought that god told him to separate himself from the latter-day saints.

    So why would David Whitmer be commanded by god to separate from the latter-day saints?

    It all just doesn't add up.

  • Old Poet Salt Lake City, UT
    Sept. 20, 2013 10:17 a.m.

    Research of congregations around Kirtland, Ohio, suggested that Martin Harris never joined other churches, but found great joy in meeting with a variety of congregations, bearing witness of how Bible prophecies were fulfilled in the Restoration of ancient Christianity by Joseph Smith. When Brigham Young arranged for the 87-year old Harris to migrate to Utah on the railroad in August 1879, Harris was surprised that some people thought he had "left the Church." (Many aging Latter-day Saint Christians--like Lucy Mack Smith and Lorenzo Snow's parents--did not migrate to Utah Territory.) Harris had expressed his desire to William Homer and Edward Stevenson to join his family in Utah Territory.
    To Harris's generation, a deathbed testimony was significant: one must not die and face God with a lie on one's lips. William Homer recorded Martin Harris's deathbed witness: "...'Yes, I did see the plates, on which the Book of Mormon was written: I did see the angel; I hear the voice of God; and I know that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, holding the keys of the Holy Priesthood.'" Martin Harris rested back on his bed and died.

  • Whos Life RU Living? Ogden, UT
    Sept. 20, 2013 7:18 a.m.

    In addition to the golden plates, Joseph claimed that he had in his possession a sacred manuscript written by Abraham and Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Did Joseph hide the papyri and have a few of his followers sign a paper that they had seen it?

    Joseph did not use witnesses; he put it on display and charged 25 cents to see it. The whole world was able to see it.

    There are a lot of things that are fishy about our LDS history.

  • Whos Life RU Living? Ogden, UT
    Sept. 20, 2013 6:45 a.m.

    "Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge; for its effects on Martin Harris have been to make him more cross, turbulent and abusive to me. His whole object was to make money out of it. I will give a proof of this. One day at Peter Harris' house (Abigail Harris' husband) I told him he had better leave the company of the Smiths, as their religion was false. To this he replied, "If you would let me alone, I could make money out of it.' It is in vain for the Mormons to deny these facts, as they are well known to most of his former neighbors."

    - Lucy Harris wife of Martin Harris

  • The Caravan Moves On Enid, OK
    Sept. 19, 2013 11:59 p.m.

    When I was younger I used to think it was strange that all of the 'Three Witnesses' left the church for a period of time (David Whitmer, permanently).

    Why disassociate oneself from what one knows to be true?

    But then I realized the reality of the fact that if one did become disassociated with the Church, they do so likely because they became angry or hurt over something the Church leaders did or said. Those angry, hurt feelings tend to fester and cause breaches in loyaty and that breach of loyalty would likely manifest itself via harsh words or claims of "I was tricked!"

    But.....they didn't say that.

    They didn't say anything like that at all.


    Not even David Whitmer, who left the Church and never returned, said anything like that.

    So, to me, the fact that ALL THREE men left the Church for a time, but never denied their angelic witness, STRENGTHENS my faith in their testimony rather than weakening it.

    Isn't it interesting how the Lord works?

    Drive on!

  • The Scientist Provo, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 10:16 p.m.

    A "testimony" is not a fact, it is an opinion, at best.

  • the truth Holladay, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 6:51 p.m.

    @Church member

    "I think we all need to question everything."

    What antagonistic nonsense.

    We need to ask questions to further our understanding and knowledge.

    But questioning for sake questioning is a waste of everyone's time.

    Martin Harris gave his witness and testimony, and no amount of rationalizing or storytelling or inventing reasons why changes that fact.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 3:52 p.m.

    RE: 1.96 Standard Deviations, It's convincing to know some of the witness even became enemies to Joseph Smith for a time but never denied their knowledge of the Book of Mormon. True,

    I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. D.H.C. v 6. P 408,409.

    RE: Kvnsmnsn, “God made Aaron to be the ‘mouthpiece’ for the children of Israel, and He will make me be god to you in His stead, and the Elders to be mouth for me; and if you don’t like it, you must lump it.” —DHC 6:318-320.”

  • The Solution Las Cruces, NM
    Sept. 19, 2013 2:06 p.m.

    Point well taken. You are correct. That did sound like I was implying one had to become perfect. That is incorrect. In fact, I just read a cool story about a man whom God directed to save his life, when he was under the influence and was planning a suicide.

    Thanks for that correction. The correct thing to say then, would be that we need to be striving to rid ourselves of worldly influences, but ultimately it is up to God how he and when he talks to us.

    It may take a lifetime for me to get to the point where I can recognize His voice clearly, without any distraction and doubt. That's all I meant by that line.

    Thanks again.

  • JoeBlow Far East USA, SC
    Sept. 19, 2013 2:00 p.m.

    "conspire to perpetrate a lie or fraud concerning some book? And for what purpose?"

    Religion in general has been used for power, money and/or control. It is not exactly a new theme.
    And it repeats itself constantly

  • Commonman HENDERSON, NV
    Sept. 19, 2013 1:07 p.m.

    Church member said:
    "But then again maybe all the awesome miracles that the Muslims, Catholics, JW's, and FLDS teach are true as well. Every religion has great stories and reasons why their church is true. I think we all need to question everything. We need to be willing to look at both sides of the evidence equally and with an open mind."

    Does Islam have a record of 12 men who saw and handled the record that became the Quran? Do the Catholics, or Jehovah's witnesses, have such witnesses to the their foundational documents? Does the Community of Christ have witnesses to the reason for changing LDS doctrine?

    We have the Book of Mormon. Four men, including Joseph Smith saw an angel and beheld the record. Eight men handled the record with their hands without any divine manifestation. None of these denied what they had seen and touched even though some left the church and some came back. This constitutes a powerful body of evidence. It seems unwise to take such solid evidence lightly.

  • kvnsmnsn Springville, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 12:57 p.m.

    The Solution posted:

    =There is one and only one way to discover God's truth, and it isn't an easy

    I agree completely.

    =You must first become humble enough to accept whatever God tells you.

    This is also true.

    =You must become clean from worldly impurity and influence to be able to hear
    =His (or feel) his voice.

    One must do as much as one can to "become clean from worldly impurity and influence," but I think it's wrong to imply that one must become completely clean before one can count on God talking to that one. How can one become clean like that, if that one can't count on God telling her/him how to become clean? I think one has to do as good a job at getting prepared for divine communication as that one can't, but I disagree that it takes a lifetime of preparation. God wants us to learn His will long before the end of our lives.

  • Old Poet Salt Lake City, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 12:27 p.m.

    Mr. Strong was not the only one to speak well of Martin Harris . Pomeroy Tucker identified Martin Harris a true believer who had committed to memory entire chapters of the Bible. For more information on Martin Harris readers may refer to Richard Anderson's book on The Three Witnesses, to my historical musical drama, Martin Harris: The Man Who Knew (1983, 1993), especially the endnotes, which detail the sources and support the text of the Church production, which now has been visited by over one million visitors. Gunderson and Shelton's Masters work add additional information about the the credible reputation of Martin Harris. Read also the talks of Stella Oaks, the mother of Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and Elder Oaks's April 1999 Conference Sermon on Martin Harris. Sue Easton Black Durrant and Larry Porter's book on Martin Harris will come off the BYU Press soon. Brigham Young sent Edward Stevenson to bring Harris to Utah on the Transcontinental Railroad at when he 87. He jokingly said, I never left the Church, it left me." He cared for the Kirtland Temple and the census showed him to Mormon Preacher. Martin arrived in good health with a bright mind. There is much more!

  • 1.96 Standard Deviations OREM, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 11:32 a.m.

    Church member-

    To Mormons, miracles don't make the church "true." Miracles can happen to many who have faith.

    Here are the primary reasons why Mormons believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church:

    1) Jesus Christ is the Savior - He saves us from physical death through the resurrection and from spiritual death (sin) through his atonement. Obedience to his gospel is required to be saved spiritually.

    2) Jesus Christ gave authority to administer his gospel - This authority is called the Priesthood and can only be found in His church. Only those with this authority can administer Christ's gospel (like baptism) and have it be valid in during mortal life and after mortality.

    3) Revelation through Living prophets/apostles - Since Christ is the head of his own church, he guides living prophets/apostles to ensure the gospel is taught correctly. Revelation is the "rock" Christ mentioned to Peter so the gates of Hell don't prevail against Christ's church. The LDS/Mormon church has living prophets/apostles of Christ today.

    Since Christ is the only way through which salvation is obtained, it is important to find his true church and gospel.

  • The Solution Las Cruces, NM
    Sept. 19, 2013 10:47 a.m.

    There is one and only one way to discover God's truth, and it isn't an easy road.

    You must first become humble enough to accept whatever God tells you. You must become clean from worldly impurity and influence to be able to hear His (or feel) his voice. You must work hard enough at personal meditation and prayer to become familiar with how God will communicate with you. Finally, after receiving communication and answers from Him, you must put it to test and act upon it. This is the trial of Faith.

    It takes a life-time to recognize His voice clearly. That is why you see some who have been deceived, and their fruits do not emulate what you would expect from a messenger of God.

    If you sincerely take on this journey, trusting what God tells you over what man will tell you (with man's version of history), you will be lead to His truth, a single step at a time.

    I found that the fruit of the Prophet Joeseph Smith, namely the Book of Mormon, and the fruit of the many prophets before him, comprising The Bible, is in fact God's truth.

  • Central Texan Buda, TX
    Sept. 19, 2013 10:01 a.m.

    You'll have to remember that these men were just ordinary folks to begin with. On what basis do we believe that these men would, from the beginning, conspire to perpetrate a lie or fraud concerning some book? And for what purpose?

    Why would a simple schoolteacher such as Oliver Cowdery be caught up in a made-up story being fed to him by Joseph Smith's family, go to Joseph Smith himself, then allow himself to get sucked into a fantastic tale that they would publish a "new book of scripture," purportedly an ancient text discovered with the help of an angel -- and Oliver's part would be to assert an angel had visited him, along with a couple of others, to tell about the golden plates?

    And for what? To get in on the ground floor of a budding new mega-church that was certain to sweep the county?

  • Church member North Salt Lake, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 9:53 a.m.

    To 1.96 SD:

    Maybe. Maybe that is all true. Maybe Martin, Oliver, and David never denied that Joseph was a prophet. Maybe God told Joseph to take many wives and keep it from Emma. Maybe the whole story of Mormonism happened the exact way it is taught.

    But then again maybe all the awesome miracles that the Muslims, Catholics, JW's, and FLDS teach are true as well. Every religion has great stories and reasons why their church is true.

    I think we all need to question everything. We need to be willing to look at both sides of the evidence equally and with an open mind.

  • BobDog Salt Lake City, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 9:37 a.m.

    The Church developed line upon line and precept upon precept. The Book of Mormon contains "the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ", but the details of that gospel came later. The Book of Mormon witnesses could not accept some of the later details. Indeed David Whitmer attempted on at least one occassion to organize a church based on what the Church was during the Palmyra and Kirtland periods. Oliver Cowdery appears to have left over the emerging doctrine of polygamy. Essentially these good men saw the fruits of a living prophet, but could not accept what having a living prophet means. That the Book of Mormon witnesses never denied their testimony of the Book of Mormon is true and stands as a testimony today of the Book of Mormon as devinely revealed and translated. But that is about all one can get from these men never denying their testimony. It is Martin and Oliver's later actions returning to the Church that has the greater power.

  • Sneaky Jimmy Bay Area, CA
    Sept. 19, 2013 9:29 a.m.

    Many of the people that left the early church did so because of disagreements with Joseph Smith and new doctrines. They didn't deny their spiritual experiences, just thought Joseph was not leading properly.

  • 1.96 Standard Deviations OREM, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 9:27 a.m.

    Church member-

    Did not, the apostle Peter, deny Christ three times? He knew of Christ's divinity, yet he denied Christ. Peter "came back" too.

    You can know something is true, but fall way because of other things: fear, pride, envy, jealousy, etc. It's convincing to know some of the witness even became enemies to Joseph Smith for a time but never denied their knowledge of the Book of Mormon.

    Consider what Martin Harris said:

    "[…] Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the moon and stars give us light by night, […], 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."

  • Church member North Salt Lake, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 8:59 a.m.

    If they really did see the plates, angels, etc.... why would they leave the church. They would have "known" it was the true church. Leaving would mean they wouldn't get the highest kingdom.

    I think they had a disagreement with Joseph and they knew it was one big lie, so they left. They didn't want to admit later on that they were liars. Back then your word was everything. You would never be trusted again if you were a self proclaimed liar.

    Obviously the other option is they all truly believed they were doing the Lord's work. They believed the Lord was telling them what to do. Just like in Dan Brown's book "Angel and Demons".

  • MapleDon Springville, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 8:53 a.m.

    Is this a plug for an upcoming book? I feel you're reaching into my back pocket again.

  • 1.96 Standard Deviations OREM, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 8:30 a.m.


    It was likely much more "embarrassing" in those days to stay a faithful Mormon than it would have been to fess up to a "lie." In general, since Mormons were extremely persecuted for their beliefs, it wouldn't make much sense to keep going along with a lie.

    In short, do you think someone would prefer being mocked, beaten, raped, pillaged, or even killed (that happened to many faithful Mormons) rather than being embarrassed by confessing a "lie?" Most likely not.

    Overall, the story of the original Book of Mormon witnesses is truly miraculous and is also a powerful witness to the divinity and truthfulness of the restoration of the gospel and Christ's church -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  • Ernest T. Bass Bountiful, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 8:28 a.m.

    I liked his wife's testimony as well.

  • Brave Sir Robin San Diego, CA
    Sept. 19, 2013 8:12 a.m.


    Good point, but taking yourself down by admitting a lie is much more palatable if by doing so you also take down a person with whom you have a personal dislike. If I were lying to protect/help someone, and later our friendship went away, I wouldn't continue to lie about it.

    Bottom line is the fact that these men left the LDS Church but continued to vouch for the authenticity of the plates makes their claims a lot more believable than if they had stayed in the "inner circle".

  • JoeBlow Far East USA, SC
    Sept. 19, 2013 8:03 a.m.

    "Isn't it curious that these men, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer all left the church but never denied their testimonies of the Book of Mormon,"

    Not saying that this is the case, but wouldn't your average person be very reluctant to admit that they outright lied? That would be pretty embarrassing and you would lose all possible credibility going forward. Not to mention all the peoples lives who you would have affected.

  • bandersen Saint George, UT
    Sept. 19, 2013 8:03 a.m.

    The fact that Joseph Smith dealt on a continual basis with men who were by turns loyal confident, then bitter enemies, then loyal followers, etc. should give every Anti-Mormon pause. As has been stated by others, Joseph Smith was either the greatest fraud in American history, or a prophet of God. To try and strike a tone of something in between is either naively ignorant at best or disingenuous to the extreme at worst. I believe he was what he said he was.

  • Red Headed Stranger Billy Bobs, TX
    Sept. 19, 2013 7:45 a.m.

    I am glad that Harris lived such a long time. Primarily because it afforded him the chance to come back to the church.

    The other reason is that it allowed him to correct what some people incorrectly attributed to him. Whether it is from misunderstanding, misinterpreting, mischaracterization or intentional parsing of text, Martin Harris was able to correct what some journalists said about his experience. After he felt he was misquoted, he used words so that people were absolutely clear what he meant. He used tangible, concrete examples like hitting a bed post and saying that the experience was as real as that bed post.

    Few people (save perhaps martyrs) gave as much for their faith as Martin Harris did. He wasn't perfect, but it is nice to see how the Lord works with imperfect people to accomplish His work.

  • fowersjl Farmington, Utah
    Sept. 19, 2013 6:05 a.m.

    Isn't it curious that these men, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer all left the church but never denied their testimonies of the Book of Mormon, etc.? If Joseph Smith had been perpetrating some kind of giant fraud he certainly would have tried to keep these men close, to make sure they didn't turn the tables on him. I believe the circumstances of their lives lends validity to Joseph's work of the restoration.