Thursday, March 26, 2020

March 26, 1830 and 2020

This is a great day to think about the Book of Mormon. It's an anniversary, of sorts.

On March 26, 1830, the Wayne Sentinel (a newspaper in Palmyra, NY), published an announcement.

It was the full text of the Title Page of the Book of Mormon, followed by this:

BY JOSEPH SMITH JUNIOR, Author and Proprietor.

(Joseph had to label himself as author for copyright reasons.)

The announcement continued with this:

The above work, containing about 600 pages, large Duodecimo, is now for sale, wholesale and retail, at the Palmyra Bookstore, by
                           HOWARD & GRANDIN.
     PALMYRA, March 26, 1830.

You can see a copy of the original newspaper on the BYU Library web page here:


I've always liked the 1830 edition because it is easy to read. Years ago when I taught in the MTC (then the LTM) I used to give each missionary a copy of their favorite Book of Mormon verse from the 1830 edition. Most of them had never seen what the 1830 edition looked like.

If you don't have a physical copy of the 1830 edition (replica or original), you can read it on several web pages, including the Joseph Smith Papers. Here is a link for 4 early editions.

If you're using Wordcruncher, as I strongly recommend, you can purchase the 1830 edition edited by Royal Skousen, which I also strongly recommend. Here's the link:

The other scripture study tool I recommend is Scripture Notes.


If you don't have a physical copy of the 1830 edition, the replica I like best is here:

In 1879, the Church published an edition of the Book of Mormon with the chapters and verses we're familiar with today. Orson Pratt divided the text this way. For example, he divided the Isaiah chapters so they would exactly resemble the KJV chapters.

The RLDS Church also divided the text into verses, but they retained the original chapters. These chapters were pretty long in some cases, so the RLDS editions have many verses. Some chapters have over 200 verses.

For example, the LDS edition starts the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi with Chapter 12 (equivalent to Isaiah 2). Chapter 13 corresponds to Isaiah 3, and so on.

In the 1830 edition (and the current RLDS/CoC editions), the Isaiah material begins after Jacob's introduction in 2 Nephi Chapter VIII. Chapter VIII continues all the way through the LDS chapter 16.

Here is a table to convert 1830/RLDS chapter to 1879 and later LDS editions:

There are lots of ways to study the Book of Mormon. 

The main point, of course, is to use the Book of Mormon to bring you closer to Jesus Christ. Never lose sight of that.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Oliver Cowdery biography

For those interested in biographical information about Oliver Cowdery, here are two helpful resources.

A biographical overview:

A book of essays about Oliver's life and work:

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Nephite depository in New York vs M2C

Shortly before he died, President Brigham Young felt compelled to remind the Saints of something that he knew would otherwise be forgotten.

It involved "an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery" that was not documented in any writing we have from Oliver. Oliver explained that he and Joseph actually visited the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

President Young said, "I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost."

And yet today, sadly, these things have been forgotten and lost by most members of the Church.


Because President Young reaffirmed the teaching of Letter VII that the Hill Cumorah is in New York. This contradicts the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) so LDS intellectuals and their followers don't want members of the Church to even know about it.

And when people do learn about President Young's teaching, the M2C intellectuals dismiss it as relating a vision of a hill in Mexico.


When he wrote Letter VII and the other letters, Oliver Cowdery mentioned that he was relying on original documents in his possession. We don't know what documents he was referring to, but it could have been the notebook he kept of everything Joseph told him. Or it could have been journal entries, letters, or notes that have since gone missing.

We'll see President Young's teaching below, but first let's look at how our M2C intellectuals dismiss it.

FairMormon has an article on this here:

They quote part of Brigham Young's sermon, omitting the part about other witnesses to the site and Brigham's emphasis that he did not want this account to be forgotten and lost.

Then they make this awesome statement:

The geologic unlikelihood of a cave existing within the drumlin in New York called "Hill Cumorah" suggests that the experience related by the various witnesses was most likely a vision. 

Of course, nothing in President Young's discourse states or implies he was describing a vision. Several other contemporaries of Oliver Cowdery mentioned his visit to the depository of Nephite records. And, of course, in Letter VII President Cowdery reaffirmed that the New York hill was the site of the depository.

To justify their rejection of Letter VII, M2C intellectuals rely on a comment by Heber C. Kimball about the event in which he spoke of a "vision" that Joseph and Oliver had when they entered the Nephite depository.

Does that term really mean the experience was purely spiritual and not physical?

It's a poor argument because Joseph Smith also used the term "vision" to describe the physical experience of Martin Harris seeing the plates as one of the Three Witnesses.

"We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view; at least it was again to me, and I once more beheld, and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparantly in ecstacy of joy, “Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld,” and jumping up he shouted, hosanah, blessing God, and otherwise rejoiced exceedingly."

This is another case of the M2C intellectuals undermining the teachings of the prophets so they can justify M2C.

Instead of repudiating the teachings of the prophets, the M2C intellectuals would do a wonderful service by embracing those teachings and repudiating their own theories instead.

Here's a link to a discussion of President Young's sermon about the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Gratitude for the prophets

This Thanksgiving, we ought to remember the prophets who have brought about and preserved the Restoration of the gospel, beginning with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Together, Joseph and Oliver received the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood and the associated keys in the Kirtland temple.

Together they wrote the first history of the Church, the eight essays that were published as letters in 1834-5. (This includes Letter VII, of course.)

Together they testified that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim, thereby producing the Book of Mormon.

Together they testified of its divine authenticity, including the site of the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, right in western New York. 

All of their faithful contemporaries and successors have reaffirmed their testimony about these topics.

They all deserve our respect and gratitude, as well as our trust.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

David Whitmer and the Cumorah messenger

Some people still dismiss David Whitmer's account of the messenger taking the plates from Harmony to Cumorah before arriving in Fayette with the plates of Nephi.

I discussed this in 2016, but there are a lot of new readers who probably missed those posts so I'm posting updated versions of them here.

Note on Cumorah, David Whitmer and Zina Young

I realize the topic of Cumorah has been discussed a lot lately, but there are still people who claim the founding prophets and their successors were wrong when they taught that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York. 

I've covered this topic in detail here.

This post covers a new bit of information that's always been available but a lot of people don't know much about it.

If you're new to this topic, it has to do with two of the Three Witnesses. Those who advocate the Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs geography (M2C) reject Oliver Cowdery's description of Cumorah in Letter VII. They also reject David Whitmer's explanation of the first time he heard the word Cumorah (which he said was in June 1829, before he'd ever read the text, and he heard it from a heavenly messenger).

The rationale for rejecting David Whitmer's testimony is that he supposedly never talked about it until 50 years after the fact, in interviews he gave to Edward Stevenson in 1877 and to Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt in 1878.

Here's how one scholar articulated the argument:

Edward Stevenson
"The earliest possible connection between the New York hill and the Book of Mormon Cumorah comes from an 1878 interview with David Whitmer by Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,... This report [the Whitmer interview] would be much more conclusive had it not been recorded nearly fifty years later. The passage of time and the accepted designation of “Cumorah” as the name of the New York hill by the time of the recollection argue against the second-hand report from Whitmer as being a definitive statement."

There are all kinds of logical errors in that statement, but I've addressed those before. Today, I want to point out something in the Stevenson statement, taken from his contemporaneous journal.

I obtained a copy of Stevenson's journal recently and here's what his entry says:

Page from Stevenson journal
"I wish to mention an Item of conversation with David Whitmer in regard to Seeing one of the Nephites, Zina Young, Desired me to ask about it. David Said, Oliver, & The Prophet, & I were riding in a wagon, & an aged man about 5 feet 10, heavey Set & on his back, an old fashioned Armey knapsack Straped over his Shoulders & Something Square in it, & he walked alongside of the Wagon & Wiped the Sweat off his face, Smileing very Pleasant David asked him to ride and he replied I am going across to the hill Cumorah. Soon after they Passed they felt Strangeley and Stoped, but could see nothing of him all around was clean and they asked the Lord about it. He Said that the Prophet Looked as White as a Sheet & Said that it was one of the Nephites & that he had the plates."*


Edward Stevenson was a general authority (one of the seven presidents of the Seventy). He was a well-known missionary (one of the MTC buildings is named after him). There's no reason to doubt the credibility of his interview with David Whitmer.

What I find fascinating is that Zina Young asked Stevenson to ask David Whitmer about seeing one of the Nephites. That was the focus of the interview, not the Cumorah question.

Zina Young
This means that Zina had heard this story earlier. 

Why Zina Young? 

And when could she have heard it? 

And from whom?

It could not have been from the interview with Joseph F. Smith, which occurred a year later.

Instead, the evidence indicates she heard it from David Whitmer directly!

Zina was born in 1821. Her family lived in Watertown, New York. In 1835, when she was 14 years old, two missionaries came to town: Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer. Hyrum baptized her on August 1, 1835. The family moved to Kirtland, and eventually to Far West, and then to Nauvoo along with most of the rest of the Saints. Zina married, had two children, and then also married Joseph Smith. After his death, she married Brigham Young. (That's a topic for another day.)

David Whitmer left the Church in 1837-1838 and lived in Missouri for the rest of his life. Zina would have had no contact with him after about 1837, at the latest. If that's the case, then she could only have heard the story from him between 1835 and 1837--just a few years after 1829, when David said the event happened.

Of course, modern Mesoamerican scholars will dispute this somehow, but the argument that David's testimony is unreliable because it was 50 years late contradicts the Stevenson account.

Interestingly, Zina was also the one who inherited Joseph's seer stone after Brigham Young died.

The simplest, historically justified explanation is that David told Zina and her family the story when he contacted them as a missionary. Zina remembered it and told Stevenson to ask David about it in 1877. Stevenson recorded it and wrote about it. 

David Whitmer
Then Joseph F. Smith asked David about it, and he reiterated his account of the event.

It's not a 50-year-old story related from a feeble and tainted memory. It's a retelling of an account related by a missionary to his investigators just a few years after the event.

Other than to defend the M2C ideology, there's no reason to cast doubt on the testimony of the Three Witnesses.

The bottom line is this: 

To accept M2C, you have to disbelieve two of the three main witnesses to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. The M2C advocates seek to persuade you these two men were not reliable witnesses when it comes to the issue of Cumorah being in New York.

By contrast, to accept the North American setting (Moroni's America or the Heartland), you fully embrace what these two men said.


*You can find this account in these references, although apparently not transcribed exactly: "Edward Stevenson Interview (1) 22-23 December 1877, Richmond, Missouri Diary of Edward Stevenson," LDS Church Archives, Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 1993, p. 13; also Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 2003, vol. v, p. 30.


More on David Whitmer, Zina Young, and Cumorah

David Whitmer, circa 1855
(photo links to JSP)
This post offers more detail on David Whitmer and Zina Young.

I've had some feedback on the previous post that there is no evidence Zina had heard about David Whitmer's Cumorah experience from David himself. It's true we don't have written evidence of when she heard the story or from whom, but Stevenson's journal shows Zina had heard it from somewhere before Stevenson visited Whitmer. That's why she told Stevenson to ask Whitmer about it. I imagine the conversation being something such as this:

Zina: "You're going to visit David Whitmer?"
Stevenson: "I plan to. I hope he'll see me."
Zina: "Ask him about the Nephite he met."
Stevenson: "He met a Nephite?"
Zina (nodding): "And he was carrying the plates to the hill Cumorah because Joseph didn't want the responsibility. David, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were riding in a wagon from Harmony to the Whitmer farm. He'll tell you all about it."
Stevenson: "Sounds interesting."
Zina: "You should publish it when you get back."

The M2C advocates who reject David's testimony rely on the "late" retelling to Stevenson and Joseph F. Smith. Their objection is based on the premise that David's experience hearing the term "Cumorah" for the first time occurred in 1829, but he did not tell the story before 1877. Certainly, 50 years after the fact could be considered late; each person has to assess that "lateness" in light of the detail of Whitmer's account, the surprising and unusual circumstances (most people probably remember their first encounter with divine messengers), and the presence of Joseph and Oliver when the event occurred.

The Stevenson account undermines the "lateness" objection, however. Whether Zina heard the story directly from Whitmer in 1835, or heard it from someone else, the point is that she did hear it before Stevenson asked Whitmer about it. From his journal, we have to infer that Stevenson had not heard the story before.

There is no record of anyone knowing this story before Stevenson's interview with David, except for Zina. So all the evidence we have suggests that before the interview, the only two people who knew the story were Zina and David (and Oliver and Joseph, if David's testimony is to be believed, but Joseph and Oliver were dead by then).

And the only evidence we have of David and Zina interacting was when David and Hyrum Smith were missionary companions in 1835 in Watertown, NY, where Hyrum baptized her. [This is no minor point. David Whitmer didn't go on a lot of missionary journeys. When you read Zina's account, notice how she emphasizes how hard David worked to persuade her to get baptized. It seems reasonable to infer he tried everything he could, including his viewing of the golden plates as one of the Three Witnesses. In this context, his claim he saw one of the Nephites carrying the plates to Cumorah would naturally be another thing to bring up.

Later, Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt visited David Whitmer and elicited the same story from him. This suggests they first heard it when Stevenson published it (or told them about it).

Zina published an article, probably taken from parts of her journal we don't otherwise have now, in the April 1893 issue of The Young Woman's Journal. Titled "How I Gained my Testimony of the Truth," the article gives details on how she joined the Church in 1835. It is available online here. In the next section, I show the relevant aspects of Zina's article.

In the following summer Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer came to our house and stayed several days. Father and mother had been baptized in the April of that same year, but neither myself nor my sister were baptized.

David Whitmer persuaded me to be baptized while they were at our home, but some way I did not accept his offer. I had told my sister-in-law, Fanny Huntingdon, that when she was baptized I would go with her.

The morning for the departure of these men from our house arrived, and I had not as yet become a member of the Church. That morning, a short time before they were to start, Hyrum Smith’s cousin rode up with a message that they could not leave that day, as my brother Dimick and his wife Fanny, my dear sister-in-law, were desirous of being baptized.

That morning at prayers I had presented to me a heavenly vision of a man going down into the water and baptizing someone. So when this message came I felt it was a testimony that the time had come for me to receive baptism. Brother Hyrum Smith was mouth in prayer, and in my secret soul I had a wish that he should baptize me. I had refused the coaxing of Brother Whitmer, as I told myself, because mother and father were going away from home, and I had all the home cares on me, and I feared I would be tempted to speak crossly or say something I ought not to after so sacred an ordinance as that; but this strong testimony that the proper time had arrived I did not dare treat lightly.

As soon as I consented to go with my brother and sister-in-law David Whitmer began talking about performing the office for us. Happily for me, however, Brother Hyrum was chosen by the others to be the proper one and I added my preference to their words. Accordingly, we all went down to the water and were baptized by Hyrum Smith, and confirmed under the hands of Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer. [This was on August 1, 1835.]

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Omissions from Joseph Smith - History

Careful readers of Joseph Smith - History in the Pearl of Great Price notice that there are ellipses in some places, such as between verses 65-66, which you can see here:

You can read the full history in the Joseph Smith Papers here:

In this post, I'm showing two of the omissions because it they are relevant to our understanding of the translation process. I wish it could be added back to Joseph Smith - History.

First, though, let's consider two verses from JS-H.

62 By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.

63 Sometime in this month of February, the aforementioned Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates, and started with them to the city of New York.

Here Joseph explains how he prepared for the translation. First, he copied characters off the plates, presumably onto paper. Then he translated "some of them" by means of the Urim and Thummim.

He did this from December through February, in the depths of winter, when there was presumably no farm work to do (other than chopping wood for fires).

There are several artists' depictions of this process. They don't show the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph doesn't say he needed the Urim and Thummim to copy the characters.

Although revisionist Church historians say Joseph didn't use the plates, Joseph says he copied the characters "off the plates." Because we don't have the documents Joseph prepared, we can only speculate how he may have copied the characters (or drawn them off).

There's a good discussion of the three extant character documents here:

There are some details in there that I'll discuss another time. The point here is that Joseph copied characters off the plates. Because Emma said she never saw the plates, he copied the characters either when she was not present (which seems unlikely in the dead of winter) or in a manner that prevented her from seeing the plates. Either way, her "Last Testimony" that Joseph made no attempt to conceal them and that they were covered with a cloth needs to be interpreted somehow to accommodate Joseph's statement about copying the characters off the plates.


Current Joseph Smith History in ordinary blue type, the omitted portion in purple, with my emphasis in bold.

65 “He then said to me, ‘Let me see that certificate.’ I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, ‘I cannot read a sealed book.’ I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”

· · · · · · ·

Mr Harris having returned from this tour he left me and went home to Palmyra, arranged his affairs, and returned again to my house about the twelfth of April, Eighteen hundred and twenty eight, and commenced writing for me while I translated from the plates, which we continued untill the fourteenth of June following, by which time he had written one hundred and sixteen <​pages​> of manuscript on foolscap paper.

[Note: At this point, the Joseph Smith Papers inserts note 34 that says this:

"Emma Smith later stated that she also served as a scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon, as did her brother Reuben Hale. Their inscriptions were likely included in this earliest manuscript, along with Harris’s. (Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, 289–290.)"

In my view, this is additional evidence that Emma's "Last Testimony" is unreliable.  In her "Last Testimony," Emma says she wrote "day after day" while Joseph's face was buried in his hat. But here, Joseph's own history says he translated from the plates. Plus, Joseph specifies that Harris had written the 116 pages. Joseph never once said anything about Emma acting as scribe for the Book of Mormon, just as he never once said anything about using a seer stone in a hat.]

Some time after Mr Harris had began to write for me, he began to tease me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and shew them, and desired of me that I would enquire of the Lord through the Urim and Thummin if he might not do so. I did enquire, and the answer was that he must not. However he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should enquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented but insisted that I should enquire once more. after After much solicitation I again enquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions, which were, that he shew them only to his brother. Preserved Harris, his own wife [Lucy Harris Harris], his father [Nathan Harris], and his mother [Rhoda Lapham Harris], and a Mrs [Mary (Polly) Harris] Cobb a sister to his wife. In accordance with this last answer I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me in the most solemn manner that he would not do otherwise than had been directed. He did so. He bound himself as I required of him, took the writings and went his way.

Notwithstanding however the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did shew them to others and by stratagem they got them away from him, and they never have been recovered nor obtained back again untill this day.

[Note: JSP note 36 here points out that Joseph wrote a preface to the first edition of the Book of Mormon that discussed the 116 pages. Joseph wrote, "some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again." Exactly what those exertions were remains a mystery.]

In the mean time while Martin Harris was gone with the writings, I went to visit my father’s family at Manchester. I continued there for a short season and then returned to my place in Pensylvania. 

Immediately after my return home I was walking out a little distance, when Behold the former heavenly messenger appeared and handed to me the Urim and Thummin again (for it had been taken from me in consequence of my having wearied the Lord in asking for the privilege of letting Martin Harris take the writings which he lost by transgression) and I enquired of the Lord through them and obtained the folowing revelation.

[Note: Here we see that the Urim and Thummim was not a seer stone Joseph found in a well or somewhere else; it was the Urim and Thummim that Joseph obtained with the plates, as he and Oliver said all along. It was not a single seer stone, either; Joseph says he enquired of the Lord through them. If Joseph was using a seer stone instead of Urim and Thummim, aka the Nephite interpreters, it would not have mattered if the heavenly messenger had taken the Urim and Thummim.]

[D&C 3]

After I had obtained the above revelation, both the plates, and the Urim and Thummin were taken from me again, but in a few days they were returned to me. ​when I enquired of the Lord, and the Lord said thus unto me​ 

[Note: Here Joseph lost both the plates and the Urim and Thummim, but again, it wouldn't have mattered if all he was doing was reading words that appeared on a stone in a hat.]

[D&C 9 inserted by James Mulholland]

I did not however go immediately to translating, but went to laboring with my hands upon a small farm which I had purchased of my wife’s father, in order to provide for my family. In the month of February, Eighteen hundred and twenty nine my father came to visit us at which time I received the following revelation for him.

[Note: According to Joseph Smith, Martin Harris wrote the 116 pages. Then Joseph lost the plates, and after he got them back, he did not start translating because he had to work on the farm. The next time Joseph mentions translating is when Oliver showed up in April 1829. Emma's claim does not fit anywhere within Joseph's narrative.]

[D&C 4]

The following I applied for at the request of the aforementioned Martin Harris and obtained.

[D&C 5]

66 On the 5th day of April, 1829, Oliver Cowdery came to my house, until which time I had never seen him. He stated to me that having been teaching school in the neighborhood where my father resided, and my father being one of those who sent to the school, he went to board for a season at his house, and while there the family related to him the circumstances of my having received the plates, and accordingly he had come to make inquiries of me.

67 Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery (being the 7th of April) I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he began to write for me.

The end.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

New site for Oliver Cowdery Memorial in Palmyra, NY

We moved the Oliver Cowdery Memorial to a new location on Main Street in Palmyra. It is now between the park and the Four Corners churches, easily accessible to everyone who visits.

I've observed people from tour groups and EFY participants stop and read the display, take the handouts, etc.

Many more people are learning about Letter VII and the New York Cumorah as a result of this new location.