Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates

Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?

For the last few months, I have been speaking a lot about about the "two-sets-of-plates" scenario. It's an easy concept, but because it is a new paradigm in Church history (so far as I know), I did a lot of research and analysis and discussed it with knowledgeable people as a sanity check.

Right now, this is my favorite topic because it answers so many questions about Church history.

(Readers of this blog already appreciate the importance of the New York Cumorah. The two-sets-of-plates scenario is just another corroboration of what Joseph and Oliver said all along about Cumorah.)

Those of you who have read my blogs and books and attended my presentations know that I've approached Church history backwards:

I started with 1842 Nauvoo (The Lost City of Zarahemla, Brought to Light).

Then I looked at 1835 Kirtland (Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah).

Now I've gone all the way back to 1829 Harmony and Fayette.

A lot of people have been asking about it and I can't answer individual questions due to time constraints. That's why I wrote the book.


Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? is about 200 pages long in the 5 x 8 format that most people seem to like. The book includes 107 footnotes. I've reduced footnotes and details in printed versions to keep page counts and prices low, but more material is available to readers online as explained in the book.

You can go on Amazon and read sample pages, here. The sample includes the Introduction, which explains why I wrote the book.

I wrote this book to share what I consider an exciting new development in Church history. It has always been assumed that Joseph Smith translated one set of plates—the ones he got from the box in the Hill Cumorah. But my research suggests that there were in fact two sets: one set containing abridgments by Mormon (Lehi—the lost 116 pages—and Mosiah through Mormon 7) and Moroni (Mormon 8 through Moroni 10), which Joseph translated in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and the other set containing the small plates of Nephi (1Nephi to Words of Mormon), which Joseph translated in Fayette, New York.

If true, this insight may reconcile details of Church history that seem out of place, random, or just strange.

We can’t accept every historical account on its face, unexamined. But in the cases of the evidences I’ll discuss in this book, previously inexplicable accounts seem to fit together to answer important questions that continue to gnaw at us today. Questions such as:

“Where did Joseph get the plates of Nephi?”

[If you think they were part of the record Moroni left in the box on Cumorah, you may be surprised when you take another look at material you’ve read your entire life.]

“Where was the repository of Nephite records Mormon mentioned in Mormon 6:6?”

“Where did Joseph get the plates he showed to the Eight Witnesses?”

And, of course, “Whatever happened to the golden plates?”


Chapter one tells you everything you need to know--except all the details.


My basic thesis could fit in a tweet: “Joseph translated two separate sets of plates.”

This concept is so obvious to me now that it’s difficult to remember thinking he translated only one set.

And yet, the one-set interpretation of Church history has been taken for granted for decades. Maybe it’s never been challenged before.

Arthur Schopenhauer’s observation is overused, but I think it applies here because my simple tweet, by itself, is not going to overcome the long-held assumption.

All truth passes through three stages.

First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

The rest of this book explains the rationale for my thesis. It’s possible that for some people, the idea alone will suffice. They’ll think back on what they know of Church history and realize that the two-sets-of-plates theory explains a lot of things. It makes sense of the Title Page and D&C 9 and 10. If you already get it, you’re done.

Quickest read ever.

But if you’re like me, you want to explore the facts and the reasoning. So here goes.

I hope you get as much out of this new paradigm as I have!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

First publication of Oliver Cowdery's portrait

BYU Studies (Vol 36, Issue 4, Article 7, 1996) published a wonderful article about the publication of the first portrait of Oliver Cowdery titled "James H. Hart's Contribution to Our Knowledge of Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer," by Edward L. Hart.

It is available online here:

I highly recommend the article for anyone who wants to know more about this fascinating story.

Here's the first LDS publication of the portrait. It appeared in the October 1883 Contributor.

You can see a copy online here.

One detail to note is the upper right corner, which portrays the angel showing the plates to the Three Witnesses. Of course, this is how the witnesses originally described the event. Much later, David Whitmer said there was a table with artifacts on it, etc. I suggest a reason why in my book, Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?

Here is how the portraits appeared in the Contributor, which you can find at this link:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Oliver filled in the gaps in Joseph Smith-History

Joseph's formal account of the visit of Moroni, contained in the Pearl of Great Price as Joseph Smith-History, is relatively short. Joseph says Moroni quoted from Malachi 3-4, Isaiah 11, Acts 3:22-23, and Joel 2:28-32. Then he says "And he further stated the fullness of the gentiles was soon to come in. He quoted many other passages of scripture and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here." (Joseph Smith-History 1:41.))

This history is taken from History, 1838-1856, volume A-1, which you can see here:

I've always been curious why Moroni's explanations of "many other passages of scripture" could not be mentioned in this history. Presumably Joseph and his scribes were short on time. Maybe they intended to provide a more complete explanation of what Moroni said.

But I think the main reason why Joseph did not tell us more about what Moroni told him is that Oliver Cowdery had already told us all about it.

In Letters IV, V and VI, Oliver gave us the most detailed explanation we have of what Moroni taught Joseph Smith.

In Letter IV, Oliver writes, "It is no easy task to describe the appearance of a messenger from the skies... But it may be well to relate the particulars as far as given." Oliver then explains how Moroni quoted 1 Corinthians 1:27-28, portions of Isaiah 28 and 29, the "promises made to the fathers," and more.

In Letter V, Oliver explains that "In my last I gave an imperfect description of the angel, and was obliged to do so, for the reason, that my pen would fail to describe an angel in his glory, or the glory of God. I also gave a few sentences which he uttered on the subject of the gathering of Israel, &c." Then he explains that in his next letter, he "will give a further detail of the promises to Israel, hereafter, as rehearsed by the angel."

In Letter VI, Oliver fulfills his promise by writing, "I have thought best to give a farther detail of the heavenly message, and if I do not give it in the precise words, shall strictly confine myself to the facts in substance."

He then proceeds to quote and explain Isaiah 1, Deuteronomy 32, Psalms 107, Isaiah 2 and 4, Jeremiah 30 and 31, Isaiah 43, Jeremiah 50, Isaiah 11, Jeremiah 2, and more. Among other things, Oliver writes this interesting commentary. It's not clear whether this came from Moroni or Oliver.

"And thus shall Israel come: not a dark corner of the earth shall remain unexplored, nor an island of the seas be left without being visited; for as the Lord has removed them into all corners of the earth, he will cause his mercy to be as abundantly manifested in their gathering as his wrath in their dispersion, until they are gathered according to the covenant."

After quoting scriptures and commentary, Oliver writes, "I have now given you a rehearsal of what was communicated to our brother, when he was directed to go and obtain the record of the Nephites."

In June 1839, when Joseph Smith and his scribes began working on History, 1838-1856, Oliver Cowdery's letters were well known. They had been published in the Messenger and Advocate in 1834-1835. Joseph's scribes had copied them into his own history--the same book that contained History, 1838-1856.

I think Joseph wrote his history with Oliver's letters in mind. When he explained the scriptures Moroni quoted, including Malachi, I think he was supplementing Oliver's letters, not supplanting or replacing them. Joseph's history should be read together with Oliver's letters.

In Letter VI, Oliver went on to explain his approach:

"I may have missed in arrangement in some instances, but the principle is preserved, and you [he was writing to W.W. Phelps] will be able to bring forward abundance of corroborating scripture upon the subject of the gospel and of the gathering."

Once we recognize that Moroni taught Joseph about all the scriptures Oliver included, other aspects of Church history become clearer. Church writers including Phelps, Parley P. Pratt, and Benjamin Winchester were well known for elaborating on the Old Testament passages, but the foundation of their interpretations came from Moroni, who taught these things to Joseph Smith before Joseph even obtained the plates.

Oliver went on to explain an important point:

"You are aware of the fact, that to give a minute rehearsal of a lengthy interview with a heavenly messenger, is very difficult, unless one is assisted immediately with the gift of inspiration. There is another item I wish to notice on the subject of visions. The spirit you know, searches all things, even the deep things of God. When God manifests to his servants those things that are to come, or those which have been, he does it by unfolding them by the power of that Spirit which comprehends all things, always;  and so much may be shown and made perfectly plain to the understanding in a short time, that to the world, who are occupied all their life to learn a little, look at the relation of it, and are disposed to call  it false."

I think Oliver was speaking from personal experience here. In his History 1:73-4, Joseph describes what happened when he and Oliver were baptized:

73 Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation.

 74 Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.

Back to Letter VI, Oliver explains another important point:

"You will understand then, by this, that while those glorious  things were being rehearsed, the vision was also opened, so that our  brother was permitted to see and understand much more full and  perfect than I am able to communicate in writing. I know much may be conveyed to the understanding in writing, and many marvellous truths set forth with the pen, but after all it is but a shadow, compared to an open vision of seeing, hearing and realizing eternal things. And if the fact was known, it would be found, that of all the heavenly communications to the ancients, we have no more in comparison than the alphabet to a quarto vocabulary."

I've noticed that some LDS scholars complain about Oliver Cowdery being too verbose and flowery. I disagree. I'm glad he gave us all this additional information about what Moroni told Joseph. There are some interesting details in here that I'll write about when I get a chance.

As I've discussed throughout this blog, LDS scholars have largely ignored Letter VII because of the implications for Book of Mormon geography. Some of them still think Oliver didn't know what he was talking about. I think we'll find that as the Mesoamerican nonsense fades into history, more and more LDS scholars will take another look at Oliver's letters. I think we'll discover that it was Moroni who established the foundation for interpreting the Bible to explain the LDS view of the gathering of Israel and other topics.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Title Page and Harmony background

The Title Page plays an important role in understanding that Joseph translated two separate sets of plates.

First, it was the last leaf of the set of plates Joseph translated in Harmony. If the small plates of Nephi were in that set of plates, Joseph would have translated the small plates before leaving Harmony.

Second, the title page refers only to abridgments and Moroni's sealing comments. No mention whatsoever of the original writings of Nephi and his successors.

Third, Joseph said the title page was part of the "original Book of Mormon," meaning the plates that Moroni deposited in the stone-and-cement box. We don't have the "original" Book of Mormon, partly because we don't have the 116 pages (Book of Lehi) and partly because we do have the small plates of Nephi.

The two most extensive discussions of the Title Page I know of are Daniel Ludlow's article here, and Alan Miner's analysis here. Although they quote and analyze the Title Page extensively, neither one seems to have thought about the 3 points I mentioned above.

Here's how Joseph's explanation appears in History, 1838-1856:

"I wish also to mention here, that the Title Page of the Book of Mormon is a  literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection  or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; and not by any means  the language of the whole running same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that,  said Title Page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other  man’s who has lived or does live in this generation. 

Therefore, in order to correct an  error which generally exists concerning it, I give below that part of the Title Page  of the English Version of the Book of Mormon, which is a genuine and literal translation  of the Title Page of the Original Book of Mormon, as recorded on the plates."

Ludlow stops the quotation at "generation" so he never considers what Joseph meant by "the Original Book of Mormon." Miner never considers that either. As far as I can tell, no one has analyzed that phrase before, although I'm sure someone has.


Elder Steven Snow wrote a useful background titled "Joseph Smith in Harmony." It was published in the Ensign in September 2015 in connection with the Priesthood Restoration site. Here's the link:

It includes a good map and some useful illustrations.

Jack Welch wrote a useful article on how long it took Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon. It was published in the Ensign in January 1988, here:

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Hill Cumorah by President Anthony W. Ivins

Anthony W. Ivins
On April 6, 1928, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency spoke in General Conference about the Hill Cumorah in New York, which had recently been purchased by the Church.

He introduced his remarks by emphasizing his preparation:

"Reference has been made by the President of the acquisition by the Church of the spot of ground in the state of New York known as the hill Cumorah. It appears to me to be an event of such importance that I desire to devote the short time which is at my disposal this morning to a discussion of that subject. There have been some differences of opinion in regard to it, and in order that I might be correct in the statements which I make I have this morning finished a short manuscript which I would like to readthe first time. I believe, in my experience, that I have ever addressed a congregation in this manner, and I do it for the purpose stated."

You can read the entire talk on Gospelink here, or on here.

President Ivins spoke about the "final disposition" of the records.

So far as we have information, this was the final disposition which was made of the records given into the custody of Mormon, from the plates of Nephi. This latter, with the addition of the Book of Ether, and the few chapters written by Moroni, constitute the record contained in the Book of Mormon.
All of the remaining records, Mormon tells us, were deposited in the hill Cumorah.
That the hill Cumorah and the hill Ramah are identical is shown by the following: Moroni, in the Book of Ether, says:
"And it came to pass that the armies of Coriantumr did press upon the armies of Shiz [he is telling the story now of this first people who came to the American continent from the Tower of Babel] that they beat them, that they caused them to flee before them; and they did flee southward, and did pitch their tents in a place which was called Ogath. And it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred."
The passages which I have quoted from the Book of Mormon and the more extended discussion of this subject by Elder B. H. Roberts which was published in The Deseret News of March 3 definitely established the following facts: 
That the hill Cumorah, and the hill Ramah are identical. 
That it was around this hill that the armies of both the Jaredites and Nephites fought their great last battles. 
That it was in this hill that Mormon deposited all of the sacred records which had been entrusted to his care by Ammaron, except the abridgment which he had made from the plates of Nephi, which were delivered into the hands of his son, Moroni.
We know positively that it was in this hill that Moroni deposited the abridgment made by his father, and his own abridgment of the record of the Jaredites, and that it was from this hill that Joseph Smith obtained possession of them.

I note two significant points here that I'll write more about next week. First, Mormon deposited all the sacred records except his abridgment into the records repository in the hill Cumorah. Second, that the hill in New York was the location of the depository.

President Ivins continued:
This sealed portion of the record which came into the hands of Joseph Smith but was not translated by him so far as we are aware, with the abridgment made by Mormon, the record of Ether, and the other sacred records which were deposited in the hill Cumorah still lie in their repository, awaiting the time when the Lord shall see fit to bring them forth, that they may be published to the world.
Whether they have been removed from the spot where Mormon deposited them we cannot tell, but this we know, that they are safe under the guardianship of the Lord, and that they will be brought forth at the proper time, as the Lord has declared they should be, for the benefit and blessing of the people of the world, for his word never fails.
According to the Book of Mormon, many hundreds of thousands of people fell in battle around this hill and in the immediate vicinity. It was here that two once-powerful nations were exterminated so far as their national existence was concerned. It was here that these nations gathered together for their last great struggles.
These people were human, as we are; they carried with them their most precious possessions until the last, and when the end of the mighty struggle came and the result was in doubt, they hid them away in order that they might not fall into the hands of their enemies.
Without doubt, these treasures lie concealed today, some of them, at least, to be brought forth in the not-distant future. How soon this will be we do not know, but this is certain, we are more than a century nearer that time than we were at the time when Joseph Smith took from their resting place, in the hill Cumorah, the plates from which he translated the contents of the Book of Mormon.
All of these incidents to which I have referred, my brethren and sisters, are very closely associated with this particular spot in the state of New York. Therefore I feel, as I said in the beginning of my remarks, that the acquisition of that spot of ground is more than an incident in the history of the Church; it is an epoch—an epoch which in my opinion is fraught with that which may become of greater interest to the Latter-day Saints than that which has already occurred. We know that all of these records, all the sacred records of the Nephite people, were deposited by Mormon in that hill. That incident alone is sufficient to make it the sacred and hallowed spot that it is to us. I thank God that, in a way which seems to have been providential, it has come into the possession of the Church.
I bear witness to you that the words which I have read here, quoted from the Book of Mormon, which refer to the future will be fulfilled. Those additional records will come forth, they will be published to the world, that the children of our Father may be converted to faith in Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, through obedience to the doctrines which he taught. May God our Father hasten that day, is my humble prayer, and I ask it through Jesus Christ. Amen.

I realize there are many LDS scholars and educators who disagree with President Ivins because of their own private interpretation of the scriptures. That's fine. These are the same people who disagree with everything I've posted on this blog so far, from Letter VII forward.

We can all believe whatever we want to believe. But there are many members of the Church who, like me, agree with what President Ivins said here. The LDS scholarly community continues to seek to suppress the views of those who agree with President Ivins, but we'll continue to speak out on this blog and elsewhere.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Oliver's attention to detail and veracity

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are some who seek to persuade members of the Church to distrust Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII because they insist the Hill Cumorah must be somewhere other than in New York.

It's difficult to find someone in Church history who was more concerned about details and accuracy than Oliver Cowdery. Here's an example from Letter VIII.

Oliver spent some time discussing the reputation of Joseph and Emma and their respective families. He explained the reason Josiah Stowell hired Joseph to work in the Harmony region in the first place. Note the section in bold below:

Soon after this visit to Cumorah, a gentleman from the south part of the State, (Chenango County,) employed our brother as a common labourer, and accordingly he visited that section of the country; and had he not been accused of digging down all, or nearly so, the mountains of Susquehannah, or causing others to do it by some art of necromancy, I should leave this, for the present, unnoticed. You will remember, in the mean time, that those who seek to vilify his character, say that he has always been notorious for his idleness. This gentleman, whose name is Stowell, resided in the town of Bainbridge, on or near the head waters of the Susquehannah river. Some forty miles south, or down the river, in the town of Harmony, Susquehannah county, Pa. is said to be a cave or subterraneous recess, whether entirely formed by art or not I am uninformed, neither does this matter; but such is said to be the case,—when a company of Spaniards, a long time since, when the country was uninhabited by white settlers, excavated from the bowels of the earth ore, and coined a large quantity of money; after which they secured the cavity and evacuated, leaving a part still in the cave, purposing to return at some distant period. A long time elapsed and this account came from one of the individuals who was first engaged in this mining business. The country was pointed out and the spot minutely described. This, I believe, is the substance, so far as my memory serves, though I shall not pledge my veracity for the correctness of the account as I have given. Enough however, was credited of the Spaniard's story, to excite the belief of many that there was a fine sum of the precious metal being coined in this subterraneous vault, among whom was our employer; and accordingly our brother was required to spend a few months with some others in excavating the earth, in pursuit of this treasure.

Here Oliver explains he is relying on his memory, but he emphasizes "I shall not pledge my veracity for the correctness of the account as I have given."

Previously, in Letter VII, he stated it was "a fact" that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the valley west of the Hill Cumorah.

Those who seek to discredit Oliver are making the argument that when he wrote Letter VII, he was unconcerned with his "veracity" because he stated as a fact something about which he was speculating at best. Somehow, between July 1835 when Letter VII was published, and October 1835 when Letter VIII was published, Oliver suddenly became concerned about his "veracity."

There are other examples, such as this one I've mentioned from Letter IV. He was concerned about his veracity when he noted the "error in the type" in Letter III and corrected it in Letter IV. (Letter III had referred to the 15th year, but it should have been the 17th year.)

In Letter VII itself, Oliver encourages Phelps to "present such facts as are plain and uncontrovertible. [sic]." He distinguishes between fact and speculation several times in these letters, which is why it is so puzzling to have people accept everything Oliver wrote about except the fact that Cumorah is in New York.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mormons Open New Century of their Faith at Cumorah

On September 22, 1923, President Heber J. Grant celebrated the first 100 years since Joseph Smith's first vision by assembling atop "Mount Cumorah" with his counselor Joseph Fielding Smith and Elder James E. Talmage and President Rudger Claweson of the Twelve, and 500 Latter-day Saints. A Rochester paper, the Democrat and Chronicle, noted the occasion.

"Proudly the purple, gold and blue of 'Cumorah-Ramah,' banner of the Mormon belief, was raised beside the Red, White and Blue of the National colors, each signifying a never-ending struggle for liberty of thought and speech, for in the 100 years since Joseph Smith, Jr., received his vision, the history of Mormonism is one of oppression from many sources."

I find it quite interesting that President Grant used the banner "Cumorah-Ramah." This is a specific designation, tying the hill in New York to the Jaredite record. I posted the full page illustrated article, published on October 7, 1823, below.

The St. Louis Star and Times and other newspapers reported on the anniversary with a syndicated piece.
"One hundred years ago Joseph Smith, prophet, founded the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." He received from heaven gold plates, mysteriously engraved, and from them, divinely guided, translated the book of Mormon.
"At least, that's his story. His followers say it should not be questioned by Christians that accept a similar story from Moses, about the tablets of the law.
"Those that wisely respect all religions, denying none, are interested especially in the changes that hve come over Mormonism, still full of vitality after 100 years. Joseph Smith made a particular virtue of many wives for one man--so did wise King Solomon, by the way.
"Modern Mormonism, rallying under the purple, blue and gold banner, 'Cumorah-Ramah,' says 'One wife is enough.' That does not mean repudiating Joseph Smith. Many good Christians tone down Jonah and the whale and, knowing that the earth is round, do not insist that the four angels actually stood at the four corners of the earth. All life is a compromise."

Here is the full-page ad, with details.