Monday, May 8, 2017

"From a hill in Manchester Township"

Even when the Joseph Smith Papers editors quote Letter VII, they won't identify the hill in New York as Cumorah. The reason, apparently, is that they favor the Mesoamerican setting which requires that Cumorah be located in Mexico.

Here's the latest example: footnote 5 to the Preface to Book of Mormon, circa August 1829. It reads:

"In September 1827, JS removed the plates from a hill in Manchester Township. (See JS History, vol. A-1, 8; and Oliver Cowdery, “Letter VII,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, 1:158.)"

Here's the link:

In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery not only identified the Hill Cumorah as the hill where Joseph found the plates, but he also stated it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley to the west.

This makes it all the more striking that the note refers to "a hill" as though the generic hill had no name and was not a critical location in Church history and Book of Mormon geography.

I came across this bizarre omission in footnote 5 because I was noticing something fascinating in this Preface. Joseph was explaining the lost 116 pages and the commandment he received from the Lord to "translate from the plates of Nephi" to replace what was lost. The Preface paraphrases parts of D&C 10 and quotes other parts but without quotation marks.

For example, D&C 10:41 says, "you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi," but the Preface says, "thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi."

In my view, both passages refute the popular narrative that Joseph kept the plates under a cloth the entire time, as depicted in the latest movies you can see on request on Temple Square. The Lord told Joseph to "translate the engravings" and "translate from the plates." You can't do either if the plates are under a cloth or somewhere else.

More to the point of this post, in the Preface Joseph mentions two sets of plates. First, he mentions the "plates of Lehi" from which Mormon abridged the "Book of Lehi" that was on the 116 pages. Second, he mentions the "plates of Nephi" which he, Joseph, translated. He doesn't mention the plates containing the abridgment (the "Harmony" plates he originally obtained from Moroni's stone box).

At the end of the Preface, Joseph writes, "I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York." This is where footnote 5 kicks in, with the "a hill" comment.

What I find significant here is that Joseph is explaining he used different plates--the plates of Nephi--to replace the Book of Lehi. He found it necessary to explain to readers of the Preface that these plates of Nephi "were found" in Manchester township.

Think about this a moment.

It was widely known at the time and in the area that Joseph got the original plates from the stone box in the Hill Cumorah. People tried to steal them from him. He had to move to Harmony to translate the original plates to get away from the would-be thieves. There was no need for Joseph to explain where the original plates came from--and he did not.

The Preface is an explanation for why Joseph translated a second set of plates--the plates of Nephi. He explains these plates were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York.

Notice he doesn't say he found them.

Instead, he writes they "were found," using the passive voice.

That's important because it's another indication that Joseph did not find the plates of Nephi. Instead, the divine messenger delivered these plates to Joseph after Joseph arrived in Fayette.

IOW, Joseph found the original plates--the ones containing the abridgments written by Mormon and Moroni--in the stone box on the Hill Cumorah, as directed by Moroni. These plates contained "the original Book of Mormon" as Joseph called it. He took these plates to Harmony and translated all of them, from the Book of Lehi through the Book of Moroni, including the "last leaf" which was the Title Page. Then he gave the plates to a divine messenger and left for Fayette with David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery.

After Joseph arrived in Fayette, the messenger delivered the plates of Nephi. Joseph translated these as 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. In this Preface, Joseph is telling readers that these separate plates were also found--albeit, not by him--in Manchester township. (The Hill Cumorah is in the Manchester township.)

It's pretty cool to see how the Preface itself explains the two sets of plates. Now, if only we could get the Joseph Smith Papers to acknowledge that the Hill Cumorah--the only Hill Cumorah--is in New York, we could make some good progress.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Moroni and America

Oliver Cowdery spent some time in his letters discussing Moroni and his mission. I've previously explained the reasons why I titled my book on geography Moroni's America. Here's another reminder of what Orson Hyde said about Moroni on July 4, 1854. This is in the Journal of Discourses, here.

After discussing the American Revolution, Elder Hyde related Moroni's involvement with the country. Notice the part I emphasized in bold below.

In those early and perilous times, our men were few, and our resources limited. Poverty was among the most potent enemies we had to encounter; yet our arms were successful; and it may not be amiss to ask here, by whose power victory so often perched on our banner? It was by the agency of that same angel of God that appeared unto Joseph Smith, and revealed to him the history of the early inhabitants of this country, whose mounds, bones, and remains of towns, cities, and fortifications speak from the dust in the ears of the living with the voice of undeniable truth. This same angel presides over the destinies of America, and feels a lively interest in all our doings. He was in the camp of Washington; and, by an invisible hand, led on our fathers to conquest and victory; and all this to open and prepare the way for the Church and kingdom of God to be established on the western hemisphere, for the redemption of Israel and the salvation of the world.

This same angel was with Columbus, and gave him deep impressions, by dreams and by visions, respecting this New World. Trammeled by poverty and by an unpopular cause, yet his persevering and unyielding heart would not allow an obstacle in his way too great for him to overcome; and the angel of God helped him—was with him on the stormy deep, calmed the troubled elements, and guided his frail vessel to the desired haven. Under the guardianship of this same angel, or Prince of America, have the United States grown, increased, and flourished, like the sturdy oak by the rivers of water.

To what point have the American arms been directed since the Declaration of our National Independence, and proven unsuccessful? Not one!

The peculiar respect that high Heaven has for this country, on account of the promises made to the fathers, and on account of its being the land where the mustard seed of truth was planted and destined to grow in the last days, accounts for all this good fortune to our beloved America.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Joseph Smith endorsed Oliver Cowdery's letters

From time to time I still hear objections to Letter VII based on the idea that Oliver wrote them by himself and Joseph didn't endorse them. These objections are from Mesoamerican advocates, of course.
Here's how the conversation typically goes.
Me - "Oliver said Joseph helped him write the letters."
Meso - "Oliver did say that, but we don't know how much Joseph assisted."
Me - "Joseph had his scribes copy the letters into his own history."
Meso - "Yes, but he wrote another history later, in 1838. If he approved of Oliver's letters, he could have just used those."
Me - "First, Joseph did rely on those letters. Second, he didn't need to repeat the detail Oliver had written, such as when Joseph said Moroni quoted other scriptures he couldn't relate at that time. Third, Joseph's history covered topics in addition to what Oliver covered."
Meso - "But still, Joseph never expressly endorsed Oliver's letters."
Me - "He expressly gave Benjamin Winchester permission to reprint them in the Gospel Reflector."

Today I'm posting an additional detail from my book, The Editors: Joseph, William, and Don Carlos Smith, which will be released (finally) this week. I've never seen anyone write about this before and I think it's significant.

In the last issue of the first volume of the Times and Seasons (October 1840), Don Carlos announced he was going to expand the paper by publishing it twice a month. (You can see this issue at this link:

Here is his reason:

"We should be pleased to publish our paper weekly, as we have an abundance of matter for the instruction of the saints, as President Joseph Smith jr. is furnishing us with essays on the glorious subject of the priesthood, also giving us extracts of the new translation to lay before our readers, of the second volume,-but our circumstances will not permit us to publish oftener than twice a month."

In the next issue, Don Carlos began the Times and Seasons with "Extract from the Prophecy of Enoch." That fulfills the promise of "extracts of the new translation."

But what about "essays on the glorious subject of the priesthood" that were promised?

Don Carlos does publish an essay "on the restoration of the Priesthood," presumably also "furnished" by President Joseph Smith, Jr. But what is this essay?

It is Letter I of Oliver's series of letters.

You can see it here:

When you go to that page, search for "Priesthood" and you'll see the term appears only in Oliver's letter.

Don Carlos proceeded to publish all of Oliver's letters in the following months, including Letter VII. In fact, the next issue of the Times and Seasons, November 15, 1840, starts off with Letter II. And again, this letter contains the only mention of the Priesthood in an article in that issue.

So here again, we have direct evidence that Joseph Smith formally and fully endorsed Oliver's letters.

Friday, March 31, 2017

General Conference preparation

One way to prepare for General Conference is to re-read favorite conference addresses from the past. I've posted a few on the bookofmormonwars blog lately.

Another way is to study the scriptures about how the Lord works with the prophets to teach the people. Each of the standard works explains different aspects of this process.

An interesting example is D&C 77, online here. This is a series of questions and answers. I think of it as a model for how we can ask the Lord for understanding of the scriptures when we read them. It's also an example of how prophetic leaders can help answer questions we may have as we listen to General Conference.

One verse in particular stands out.

6 Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.

I looked up this verse in the scriptural index to General Conference and found the passage I highlighted in bold has never been quoted, but it was paraphrased three times.

Orson Pratt said, "We know that it was not six thousand years from the creation to the birth of Christ. How do we know this? God has told us in new revelation that this earth is destined to continue its temporal existence for seven thousand yearsand that at the commencement of the seventh thousand, he will cause seven angels to sound their trumpets."

Orson F. Whitney said, "But not only was John shown what should occur after the time in which he was living, but he was shown what had already taken place; not as the imperfect records of profane history have given it to us, but he saw it typified in its fullness. The events of the seven thousand years of the world's temporal existence passed before him, like the scenes of a mighty panorama. If you will read the book which he left, you will there find portrayed symbolically each of the seven thousand years."

Sterling W. Will said, "Then in programming the world's mortal or temporal existence, God gave it a time allotment of 7,000 years (see D&C 77:6-7), 1,000 years to represent each of the seven days of creation. The first 4,000 years began at the fall of Adam and ended at the birth of Christ. To this have been added the 1967 years that have passed since that time, so that on the divine calendar we are now living in the year of the world 1967, which is the late Saturday evening of the world's history. This divine time table as well as God's signs of the times indicate that the earth's Sabbath, which is the seventh 1,000-year period, is about to be ushered in."


I'll discuss this more in upcoming blog posts.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Timeline of First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve

Here's a wonderful graphical timeline to see the history of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Click on the link to see the interactive version.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

George Albert Smith on Cumorah

President George Albert Smith, speaking as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in General Conference, April 1906, discussed his visit to Cumorah.

“We visited the Hill Cumorah and were accorded the courtesy of going thereon by the wife of Mr. George Sampson, a brother of Admiral Wm. Sampson, who before his death owned the property. When we went up there and looked around, we felt that we were standing on holy ground. The brethren located, as near as they thought was possible, the place from which the plates of the Book of Mormon were taken by the Prophet. We were delighted to be there. Looking over the surrounding country we remembered that two great races of people had wound up their existence in the vicinity, had fought their last fight, and that hundreds of thousands had been slain within sight of that hill. Evidence of the great battles that have been fought there in days gone by are manifest in the numerous spear and arrow-heads that have been found by farmers while plowing in that neighborhood. We were fortunate enough to obtain a few of the arrowheads.” (George Albert Smith, Conference Report, April 1906, Third Day—Morning Session p. 56).

As readers here know, lots of war implements have been found on and near Cumorah.

President Smith's address was published in the Deseret News on June 30, 1906, here:


I think it's cool to see what the modern prophets and apostles have said about Cumorah, but as I've discussed before, there are LDS scholars who want members of the Church to reject Letter VII and the New York Cumorah. They are saying we cannot pay attention to what modern prophets and apostles have said about Cumorah, with only two exceptions: currently living Apostles and Presidents of the Church when speaking as President. So far as I know, no one in these two categories has mentioned Cumorah publicly.

In other words, these LDS scholars reject anything said or written

1) by modern apostles who have passed away and

2) by Presidents of the Church before they became President.

If that sounds weird to you, you're not alone. It sounds weird to me as well, but that's what they're saying. According to these LDS scholars, you're supposed to disbelieve what George Albert Smith said in General Conference because he was not President of the Church at the time.

The passage I quoted above was cited at, where it elicited a classic response from a Mesoamerican advocate. It follows the standard Mesomania format; i.e., 1) establish fake criteria designed to describe Mesoamerica that don't exist in New York, 2) deny the evidence that does exist in North America, and 3) ask why the Book of Mormon doesn't mention snow (it doesn't mention weather at all, with one exception, and it never mentions volcanoes, jungles, jade or jaguars (or any other Mesoamerican species.) You have to read it to believe it: They even posted clips from "In Search of Ancient Cumorah." It's awesome.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reminiscences of Edward Stevenson

When you research the statements of David Whitmer, you often find references to a book by Edward Stevenson titled Reminiscences of Joseph the Prophet and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (1877). The book is difficult to find but it's on here:

This woodcut is from page 9. According to Stevenson, it was taken "from a painting made from a photograph which Apostle F. D. Richards had taken while on a visit to this historic hill and country."

Stevenson wrote, "Brother Edward Holt, of South Jordan Ward, had a vision of the hill (similar to the one the prophet Joseph Smith had,) and described it very minutely before seeing the picture of it. He said, just above where he saw a portion of the top of the stone box there was a tree, and upon this point I interrogated him closely, stating that only two years previous Bishop Black, Brother Andrew Jenson and I had visited the spot of ground, and there was no tree there; but he insisted that there was a tree just above the stone box, a clumpy tree, for he saw one there. It became necessary for an explanation before he should see the picture.

"At the period of the discovery of the gold plates, there stood upon the side of the hill, about fifteen feet above where the stone box had so long reposed, a lone, solitary, sugar maple tree, and there continued to grow until twenty-two years ago, just as described by Brother Hold, who was so highly favored of God as to see the whole scene in a vision or dream.

"What made Brother Holt's vision all the more deeply interesting to me was that in 1871 I had enjoyed the great privilege and pleasure of visiting the hill in person, and of seeing the very identical spot of ground where Mormon concealed the stone box and its precious records and where Moroni, his son, finished the writing and sealed up these records."

I'm curious what made Stevenson think Mormon concealed the stone box.

Stevenson interviewed David Whitmer in 1870, 1877, 1879 and 1886. He was acquainted with David in 1833 and in 1838, when David was disfellowshipped at Far West, Missouri. Stevenson made this interesting comment about what David Whitmer told him in 1877. It's on page 14 of the book.

"It was likewise stated to me by David Whitmer in the year 1877 that Oliver Cowdery told him that the Prophet Joseph and himself had seen this room and that it was filled with treasure, and on a table therein were the breastplate and the sword of Laban, as well as the portion of gold plates not yet translated, and that these plates were bound by three small gold rings, and would also be translated, as was the first portion in the days of Joseph. When they are translated much useful information will be brought to light. But till that day arrives, no Rochester adventurers shall ever see them or the treasures, although science and mineral rods testify that they are there. At the proper time when greed, selfishness and corruption shall cease to reign in the hearts of the people, these vast hoards of hidden treasure shall be brought forth to be used for the cause and kingdom of Jesus Christ."

We can ask ourselves, have we removed greed, selfishness and corruption from our hearts? Probably not, since we don't have these records yet.

Stevenson mentioned the Rochester Company on page 13. He saw cavities made on the east side of the hill by these Rochester treasure seekers.

He cited this account by David Whitmer to corroborate Brigham Young's June 17, 1877 statement about the repository of records in the Hill Cumorah.

President young said "I take this liberty of referring to these things so that they will not be forgotten and lost." Stevenson pointed out that President Young made the statement "just two months and twelve days before his death." Page 14.

A fun part of Stevenson's book is his belief that Lehi landed in South America and that the ruins in Palenque were one of the Nephite temples. Then he writes, "But who is there that is able to tell the story of those mound builders, excepting their own revealed history?"

It's an interesting point, because today archaeologist and linguists are uncovering and translating numerous Mayan records. We know details of dates and names for many of the civilizations in Mesoamerica. But the ancient inhabitants of North America left no record--except for the Book of Mormon.

Stevenson like his contemporaries believed in a hemispheric model of Book of Mormon geography. He claimed the Book of Mormon contained "an explanation of the ruins found in North, South and Central America."

Stevenson writes, "At one time a fierce battle was fought near where Buffalo, N.Y., now stands, wherein two million were lying strewn upon the earth, slain in battle and no one to bury them, till the stench drove them southward to the Hill Ramah, which was called Cumorah by the Nephite race."

Later, he writes, "Coriantumr, weak, wounded and alone, had to wend his way about 3,000 miles to Zarahemla, where he remained until his death and was buried by this strange people."

Of course, I think he only had to "wend his way" about 1,000 miles down the rivers to the land of Zarahemla, probably somewhere between modern-day Cairo, IL and St. Louis, MO.


On page 20, after relating the account from Lucy Mack Smith's History regarding Moroni delivering the plates to Joseph Smith, Stevenson writes "In 1834 I first listened to this Prophet of God, who related this vision he had been favored with. The honest and power of his expression carried conviction with it."

He includes this woodcut:

This is an awesome illustration you don't see often. I don't remember seeing it other than in this book.