Friday, December 23, 2016

December 23

December 23

Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805. This was the day after the winter solstice that year; i.e., Joseph was born on the day after the shortest, and darkest, day of the year. 

Beautiful symbolism for the light he helped bring to the Earth and all of humanity.

It's up to each one of us to help bring light to the Earth through the our actions and words. 

I hope we each take a moment today to think about whether we're adding light or extinguishing it.

For Joseph, the Hill Cumorah was never far from his thoughts. In 1842, at one of the most stressful points of his life, he wrote a letter to the Saints about joy and optimism that pointed directly to Cumorah. 

It has been designated as Section 128:

19 Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth! As the dews of Carmel, so shall the knowledge of God descend upon them!
 20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Letter VII was ubiquitous

LDS people don't realize how ubiquitous Letter VII was during Joseph's lifetime. I've made the point before, but our favorite scholars keep downplaying it, so I thought I'd mention some more historical facts.

I've mentioned before that a pamphlet of Oliver Cowdery's letters to W.W. Phelps, including Letter VII, was published in England in January 1844. This is before Joseph Smith was assassinated. It was on sale in New York as early as August 10, 1844, when it was advertised in The Prophet under "Mormon Book Depository."

It's kind of fun to see what was on sale in New York City in August, 1844. Here is the list:

MORMON BOOK DEPOSITORY.
NO. 7 SPRUCE STREET, 
2ND. FLOOR.
Where may be found, a general assortment of Books and Papers illustrative of the doctrine and faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, among which are the following:—

Prof. Orson Pratt’s Prophetic Almanac, for 1845.—price 4 dolls. per hundred, 56 cts. per doz, 6 cts. single.

A Treatise on the Fulness of the Everlasting Gospel.—per hundred $8—single 1 s.

P. P. Pratt’s reply to Le Roy Sunderland--$6. single 10 cts.

An appeal to the inhabitants of the State of New York; Letter to Queen Victoria; The Fountain of Knowledge; Immortality of the Body, and Intelligence and Affection, by P. P. Pratt. $8 per hund. 1 s. single.

The Testament of the twelve Patriarchs, the sons of Jacob.

Correspondence between Gen. Jos. Smith, Col. Wentworth, Gen. Jas. Arlington Bennet and Hon. J. C. Calhoun: $8 per hund. 1 s. single.

An interesting account of several remarkable visions. By O. Pratt. $6 per hundred 10 cts. single.

O. Cowdery’s letters to W. W. Phelps, on the origin of the Book of Mormon.

A History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day [Latter-day] Saints—by John Corrill a member of the Legislature of Missouri.

Synopsis of parallel passages in the Scripture. price 5s.

Gospel Reflector. $1.25.

Times & Seasons, bound. 2,00

History of the Priesthood, by Benj. Winchester. 25 cts.

Millen[n]ium, a poem by P. P. Pratt. price 50 cts.

Index to the Book of Mormon, 2nd edition: per hun. $2. sing. 6 cts.

Address to the People of the U. States: 25 cts. per hun.

Gospel Light—$2 per hundred, single 3 cts.

Gen. Jos. Smith’s views on the policy of Government; Appeal to the Green Mountain Boys; Correspondence between Gen. Smith, Col. Wentworth and J. C. Calhoun, and a Memorial to the Legislature of Missouri.—6 dolls. per hun. 1 s.

Prof. Orson Pratt’s Prophetic Almanac for 1845.—Calculated for the Eastern, Middle, and Western States and Territories, the Northern portions of the slave States, and British provinces, it contains much matter interesting to the Saints.

Orders, with cash remitted, for any of the above works, will be attended to with despatch [dispatch].
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The pamphlet of Cowdery's letters is listed as item 197 in Peter Crawley's indispensable work, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church,1848–1852 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 1997), which is online here. Crawley notes it was published by Thomas Ward and John Cairns, and that they used Benjamin Winchester's Gospel Reflector version as their source.

The pamphlet was advertised in the Millennial Star in February 1844 and November 1846. Crawley observes, "the European Mission financial records show that during 1847 the Millennial Star office sold about nine hundred copies at a wholesale price of 2d. each."

This is 900 copies more than any other reprint of Letter VII until about a year ago, when my little book was published. We've sold far more than that (and Book of Mormon Central has had more views than that on their web page), but there were only 18,000 members of the Church in England at the time, and this was the third year the pamphlet was on sale. This gives a good idea of how much Oliver's letters, including Letter VII, were in demand.

Let's say a comparable number of Saints bought the pamphlet between 1844-1846, for a total of 3,600 in four years. Assuming one copy per family, and an average family size of 4, this would mean there were 4,500 LDS families in England in 1847.

In other words, 80% of the Saints bought the pamphlet of Oliver's letters. 80% is ubiquitous by any definition.

Obviously, some of these might have been purchased for missionary purposes, but it's also likely that the sales numbers were higher in the first year or two after publication.

Using the same assumptions about family sizes today, we have roughly 3.75 million families in the Church. (I know, family sizes are smaller now, but these are rough numbers). To reach the level of gospel literacy the British Saints had in 1847, there should be 3 million copies of these letters in the homes of the Saints today.
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Imagine if 80% of the families in the Church today were familiar with Letter VII. It's not possible at present because Letter VII has never been translated, but we're working on that.

If and when 80% of today's membership reaches the same level of awareness as the people did during Joseph's lifetime, the Mesoamerican theory would be a faint memory.

Actually, it would never have gotten off the ground.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Letter VII in The Prophet


Few Latter-day Saints are familiar with the LDS newspaper published in New York City during 1844-5 titled The Prophet. William Smith was the editor from June 29 through November 16, 1844.

I mentioned The Prophet in The Lost City of Zarahemla, and I have more discussion of it in my upcoming book titled The Editors: Joseph, William and Don Carlos Smith.

For now, I find it interesting that Letter VII was reprinted in The Prophet in the first issue William Smith edited, which was published on June 29, 1844.

Of course, this was just two days after Joseph Smith was killed in Carthage. The people in New York did not learn about his martyrdom for a while. In the July 13, 1844 edition, William relates some of the accounts that were circulating, but he dismisses them when he writes, "We do not believe the report of the death of our Brethren, and shall leave the matter until we get intelligence from the Saints in the West."

I'm sure it's merely a coincidence, but it is interesting that Letter VII was published to the world in New York within 2 days of Joseph's death. This means it was likely being printed at the time of the martyrdom.

Now we have Letter VII in these publications:

Messenger and Advocate (Kirtland)
Gospel Reflector (Philadelphia)
Times and Seasons (Nauvoo)
The Prophet (New York City)
Improvement Era (Salt Lake City)

So far, it has not shown up in the Ensign. Maybe some day?

Of course, if you have Mesomania, these reprints of Letter VII are misleading the Saints by perpetuating the false rumor started by Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith that Cumorah really was in New York.

Many of those who have recovered from Mesomania have done so because of Letter VII. If you haven't read Letter VII yet, you owe it to yourself to do so ASAP.



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The clarity of Letter VII

On my Mesomania blog, I've been discussing the techniques used by Mesoamerican proponents to perpetuate their theories about Book of Mormon geography. So far, I've discussed sowing confusion and impeaching the witnesses.

Both of these techniques have been applied to Letter VII. In this post, I outline the reason why Letter VII is so devastating to the Mesoamerican theory and the two-Cumorahs theory on which it depends.
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The first tactic toward Letter VII is to suppress and/or ignore it. When you read Letter VII, you can see why Mesoamerican advocates have done everything possible to hide it from their readers and members of the Church generally.

It's almost as if Joseph and Oliver knew that in the distant future, after they and all their contemporaries died off, LDS scholars would go to great lengths to deny what they taught. 

Notice how Oliver and Joseph describe the hill so there can be no ambiguity, either for their contemporaries or for future readers:

"You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N. Y. and also, as you pass from the former to the latter place, before arriving at the little village of Manchester, say from three to four, or about four miles from Palmyra, you pass a large hill on the east side of the road. Why I say large, is, because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country. To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that route. The north end rises quite sudden until it assumes a level with the more southerly extremity, and I think I may say an elevation higher than at the south a short distance, say half or three fourths of a mile. As you pass toward Canandaigua it lessens gradually until the surface assumes its common level, or is broken by other smaller hills or ridges, water courses and ravines. I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by."

Two points come to mind here.

First, Joseph and Oliver could have drawn a map and inserted it into the letter, but they didn't. Perhaps that would have been difficult to print under their circumstances, so instead they provided this detailed description of the hill so anyone who visits the area could find it. I've often wondered why Mormon and/or Moroni didn't just draw a map on the plates to save all the space they needed to write out descriptions. Of course, they may have, but the seer stone gave Joseph words to read instead.

Or, which I think is more likely, Mormon and Moroni knew they were going to give Joseph and Oliver a pin in the map from which we could figure out the rest from the written descriptions they gave.

Did they know LDS scholars would reject the pin? More likely, such an idea would be unthinkable to them. But I suspect Joseph and Oliver had an inkling, so they wrote out this long, clear description.

Second, Oliver seems to anticipate some of the objections that would be raised by future LDS scholars, who say the Hill Cumorah is not significant enough to fit the text. Notice, Oliver emphasizes "it is the largest and risest the highest of any on that route." Then he reiterates that "this is the highest hill for some distance round." Yet I often hear, as recently as last week, from people who have never visited the area, that the hill is insignificant.
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Not content to describe just the hill, Oliver continues with a description of the actual scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites. Again, he uses unambiguous specificity. I think he's trying to inoculate the Saints against the future efforts of first the RLDS scholars, and then the LDS scholars, to deny what he and Joseph sought to establish; i.e., the specific location of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

"At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.

"By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon, you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (It is printed Camorah, which is an error.) In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt. A few had fled to the South, who were hunted down by the victorious party, and all who would not deny the Savior and his religion, were put to death. Mormon himself, according to the record of his son Moroni, was also slain.

"But a long time previous to this national disaster it appears from his own account, he foresaw approaching destruction. In fact, if he perused the records of his fathers, which were in his possession, he could have learned that such would be the case. Alma, who lived before the coming of the Messiah, prophesies this. He however, by Divine appointment, abridged from those records, in his own style and language, a short account of the more important and prominent items, from the days of Lehi to his own time, after which he deposited, as he says, on the 529th page, all the records in this same hill, Cumorah, and after gave his small record to his son Moroni, who, as appears from the same, finished it, after witnessing the extinction of his people as a nation...

"This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it, pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tent. Coriantumr was the last king of the Jaredites. The opposing army were to the west, and in this same valley, and near by. From day to day, did that mighty race spill their blood, in wrath, contending as it were, brother against brother, and father against son. In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying of our fellowmen."
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It's difficult to imagine how Oliver and Joseph could have been more explicit, or how they could have made this more widely known to the Saints than they did through repeated republication, including in Philadelphia and England. Joseph referenced it in what became D&C 128.

Perhaps they should have included a specific warning, addressed to the future Saints, to beware of scholars and educators who would reject and suppress their teachings about Cumorah. But maybe they knew such a warning, just like the warning of a future Prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, would go unheeded.

The clarity of Letter VII explains why the scholars and educators have sought to suppress it and ignore it. But they have a fallback position for those who inquire enough to discover Letter VII. They seek to impeach the witnesses.

That's the topic of my other post at the mesomania blog, here.

This leaves it up to us, the ordinary rank and file of the Church, to read Letter VII and make our own choices about whom to believe.




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Letter VII in the Improvement Era


In 1899, Joseph F. Smith was the Editor of the Improvement Era. He was also Second Counselor in the First Presidency under President Wilford Woodruff. He had been an Apostle for 33 years by that point, and had served as a counselor in the First Presidency under both Brigham Young and John Taylor.

The July 1899 issue of the Improvement Era published Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII.

Here's the link to the cover page:
https://archive.org/stream/improvementera29unse#page/n0/mode/2up.

Those who have been following this blog know that Letter VII was published in 1835 in the Messenger and Advocate, in 1841 in the Times and Seasons, and also in 1841 in the Gospel Reflector. It was published as part of a special pamphlet in England in 1844. Joseph Smith personally directed his scribes to copy it into his history as part of his life story.

Short of adding it to the Pearl of Great Price, what more could the leaders of the Church do to make sure everyone knew about Cumorah in New York?

And yet, modern LDS scholars and educators completely ignore Letter VII because it contradicts their theories about two Cumorahs and the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.
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Of Oliver Cowdery's eight letters on Church history, Letter I is the best known because it was included in the Pearl of Great Price. But Letter VII and the other letters were published multiple times in Church magazines.

Think of how beneficial it would be to have it republished in today's Ensign.

In this case, we have a counselor in the First Presidency publishing Letter VII in the Improvement Era. This isn't just a run-of-the-mill member of the First Presidency, either. He served in the First Presidency under 4 Presidents of the Church before becoming President himself.

Critics might point out that Joseph F. Smith was only 5 years old when his father, Hyrum, and his uncle, Joseph, were murdered at Carthage. Presumably he had not heard, first-hand, anything about Book of Mormon geography from Joseph Smith himself.

Maybe he unilaterally decided to republish Letter VII. Maybe Wilford Woodruff didn't know he was going to reprint Letter VII. Maybe John Taylor and Brigham Young never discussed Cumorah with Joseph F. Smith.

Maybe he was acting on his own.

Or maybe he consulted with the President of the Church and obtained Woodruff's blessing to republish Letter VII.

The fact is, Joseph F. Smith did republish Letter VII. And his son, Joseph Fielding Smith, cited Letter VII when he warned about the spiritual dangers of the two-Cumorahs theory that LDS scholars and educators have embraced.

Just more food for thought.
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Here's the link to page 652, where Letter VII appeared:
https://archive.org/stream/improvementera29unse#page/652/mode/2up

The article continues on this page:
https://archive.org/stream/improvementera5307unse#page/n61/mode/2up

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Cumorah was once great

In previous generations, the Hill Cumorah in New York was considered great among Latter-day Saints. Now, our scholars relegate it to a nameless hill that is important only because Moroni buried the plates there after traveling 3400 miles from Central America.

But we don't have to accept what modern scholars say.

We can Make Cumorah Great Again.

Here's an example from The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star from 1866.

The link.

The image:


The text (excerpt):

"Cumorah was the name by which the hill was designated in the days of the Prophet Moroni, who deposited the plates about four hundred and twenty years after the birth of Christ... And all the ancient plates, Mormon deposited in Cumorah, about three hundred and eighty-four years after Christ. When Moroni, about thirty-six years after, made the deposit of the book entrusted to him, he was, without doubt, inspired to select a department of the hill separate from the great sacred depository of the numerous volumes hid up by his father...."

Monday, October 3, 2016

This Is the Place

In Salt Lake City, there is a monument titled "This is the Place." It has its own web page here, which explains the monument: "This obelisk is the first permanent "This Is The Place" Monument, erected in 1921, to commemorate the arrival into the Salt Lake Valley of the Mormon pioneers. It is near the actual location where Brigham Young halted his wagon on July 24, 1847 and declared, "This is the right place. Drive on." The monument was refurbished and rededicated in 2007 under the direction of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers."

I know the site well because many years ago, I worked for the company that did the landscaping. I laid out the walkways and installed the sprinkler system.

But I think it's time for a second "This Is the Place" monument.

In New York.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Letter VII memes

I showed these at the conference 10 days ago and a lot of people want to have them to repost on Instagram, Twitter, etc.

I keep hearing reports that more and more people are reading and discussing Letter VII. We're still a long way from having every member of the Church read it during 2016, but we're getting closer all the time. Sharing these memes is one way to help.

You can share the link to Letter VII in the Joseph Smith Papers so people can read Letter VII right out of Joseph's own history, here.

You can share the link to the original publication in the Messenger and Advocate here.

You can share the link to the Second Edition on Amazon here.

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Here's the meme to help people remember which of Oliver Cowdery's letters explains the Hill Cumorah is in New York:


These are some of the other Letter VII memes. I'll post Mesomania, two-Cumorah, and other memes in the next few days.






You can also find links to Letter VII in the Times and Seasons and the Gospel Reflector.

Or, people can read the first edition of my little book at Book of Mormon Central here. (Note: if you refer people to that site, be sure to warn them that Book of Mormon Central (BOMC) promotes Central America exclusively. BOMC still refuses to remain neutral on Book of Mormon geography or to even inform members of the Church that there are alternatives to Mesoamerica. A perfect example is how they keep insisting the 3 Nephi destruction was caused by volcanoes, even though the text never once mentions a volcano.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Presidents Joseph F. Smith and George Albert Smith on Cumorah

Lucy Woodruff Smith standing on top
of the Hill Cumorah with Pliny T. Sexton
The LDS scholars who continue to promote the Mesoamerican setting like to say Joseph Fielding Smith didn't know what he was talking about when he denounced the two-Cumorah theory. They say the same about two other Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith and George Albert Smith. See my comments at the end of this post.

At the April 1906 conference, George Albert Smith related events that took place during his visit to New York with President Joseph F. Smith. You can read his comments here:

https://archive.org/stream/conferencereport1906a#page/n57/mode/2up/search/cumorah

The photo shows his wife, Lucy, standing on top of the Hill Cumorah with Pliny t. Sexton, who owned the hill at the time. This photo is in the manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. Here is the entire caption: "George Albert Smith was among the General Authorities assigned to purchase and preserve important Church history sites. In this photograph is Lucy Woodruff Smith standing on top of the Hill Cumorah with Pliny T. Sexton, who was the owner of most of the hill. By 1928 the Church acquired the Hill Cumorah and all of the property around it."
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Here are the comments by George Albert Smith:

"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. Upon the hill, near a
little grove of timber, the party stood and sang that glorious hymn:

An angel from on high
The long, long silence broke;

Descending from the sky,
These gracious words he spoke:

Lo! in Cumorah's lonely hill,
A sacred record lies concealed.

"And then, under the inspiration of the Lord, President Smith offered one of the most profound and beautiful prayers I have ever listened to. Everyone present was melted to tears. We felt the presence of the Spirit of our Father; and all who were there can testify that it was one of the most supremely happy moments of their lives."
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Over a hundred years later, some prominent LDS scholars still insist Parley P. Pratt, who wrote the words to that hymn (which is still in our hymnal), was merely repeating a false tradition started by unknown early Church members, because the "real" Hill Cumorah is somewhere in Mexico.

These scholars insist Joseph F. Smith, George Albert Smith, and Joseph Fielding Smith didn't know what they were talking about. They insist these men, like Joseph Smith himself, adopted and embraced the false tradition that Cumorah is in New York.

These scholars insist the hill in New York is "clean" with no artifacts.

These scholars, including the contributors to FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, and the rest of the scholarly publications, insist the hill Cumorah is actually somewhere in Mexico, although they're not sure where. Other scholars insist the hill Cumorah is in Baja, or Panama, or elsewhere--just so long as it is not in New York.

Again, regarding the Hill Cumorah in New York, it's a clear choice: Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph F. Smith, George Albert Smith, and Joseph Fielding Smith vs. modern LDS scholars.
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Another report of the trip explained that President Smith's prayer was not recorded:

"They visited the Hill Cumorah, from which place a most excellent view of the country round is afforded. The party of course was reminded of the great and final battle of the Jaredites which took place around this hill, and later between the Lamanites and Nephites, and as souvenirs some of them brought flint arrow heads, which are continually being gathered now and sold as souvenirs. Prayer was offered on the hill and the site was pointed out as near as possible where the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated were concealed. President Smith offered the prayer, but much to the regret of all it was not reported."

http://lds-church-history.blogspot.com/2012/01/george-albert-smith-january-4-1906.html

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For more history about Cumorah, go here:
http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/jbms/13/1/5101b46407de713-1-2.pdf

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Wentworth learns about Cumorah in 1841

Mr. Wentworth, the Chicago editor to whom Joseph wrote the Wentworth letter (published in the Times and Seasons on March 1, 1842), had an interview with a missionary in Chicago the year before. Wentworth's summary circulated nationally; here's a clipping from the Boston Post, 8 April 1841.

Notice what Wentworth said. "Elder Joseph Smith, in 1827, when seventeen years of age, was warned by an angel of the Lord to go to the town of Manchester, Ontario County, N.Y., and bring forth the record, which the prophet Moroni had sealed up and placed in Mount Cumon, 1400 years ago."

The name Cumorah was obviously misspelled, but the missionary didn't tell Mr. Wentworth that the record was placed in an unnamed hill.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Assistant President of the Church

I'm still hearing from LDS scholars that we shouldn't believe Letter VII.

Here's another thing I'd like people to consider. Joseph Smith's History, 1834-1836, is the one that contains Oliver's letters, including Letter VII. You can find it in the Joseph Smith Papers. This link starts with Chapter 1 on page 17. Oliver's letters appear several pages later.

The first entry deals with the ordination of Oliver Cowdery to the office of assistant President of the Church. This was on December 5, 1834.

Because I suspect many people have never read this entry, I'll copy it here. Read this and then see what you think about Oliver's credibility and reliability. Recall that he had already started writing his series of letters, but Letter VII came a few months after this ordination. About six months after that, in April 1836, Joseph and Oliver together received the keys of the Priesthood from Moses, Elias,and Elijah.

Just to put Letter VII in historical perspective...

I'm just copying the material below, with bold for emphasis. Enjoy.

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Chapter 1.
5 December 1834 • Friday
Friday Evening, December 5, 1834. According to the direction of the Holy Spirit, President Smith, assistant Presidents, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, assembled for the purpose of ordaining first High Counsellor Oliver Cowdery to the office of assistant President of the High and Holy Priesthood in the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.

It is necessary, for the special benefit of the reader, that he be instructed into, or concerning the power and authority of the above named Priesthood.

First. The office of the President is to preside over the whole Church; to be considered as at the head; to receive revelations for the Church; to be a Seer, Revelator and Prophet— having all the gifts of God:— taking Moses for an ensample. Which is the office and station of the above President Smith, according to the calling of God, and the ordination which he has received.7
Second. The office of Assistant President is to assist in presiding over the whole church, and to officiate in the abscence of the President, according to his rank and appointment, viz: President Cowdery, first; President Rigdon Second, and President Williams Third, as they were severally called. The office of this Priesthood is also to act as Spokesman—taking Aaron for an ensample.8
The virtue of the above Priesthood is to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven, or the Church militant.9
The reader may further understand, that the reason why High Counsellor Cowdery was not previously ordained to the Presidency, was, in consequence of his necessary attendance in Zion, to assist Wm W. Phelps in conducting the printing business; but that this promise was made by the angel while in company with President Smith, at the time they recievd the office of the lesser priesthood.10 And further: The circumstances and situation of the Church requiring, Presidents Rigdon and Williams were previously ordained, to assist President Smith.
After this short explination, we now proceed to give an account of the acts, promises, and blessings of this memorable Evening:
First. After assembling, we received a rebuke for our former low, uncultivated, and disrespectful manner of communication, and salutation, with, and unto each other, by the voice of the Spirit, saying unto us: Verily, condemnation resteth upon you, who are appointed to lead my Church, and to be saviors of men:11 and also upon the church: And there must needs be a repentance and a reformation among you, in all things, in your ensamples before the Chuch, and before the world, in all your manners, habits and customs, and salutations one toward another—rendering unto every man the respect due the office, calling, and priesthood, whereunto I the Lord have appointed and ordained you. Amen. [p. 17]

________________

It is only necessary to say, relative to the foregoing reproof and instruction, that, though it was given in sharpness, it occasioned gladness and joy, and we were willing to repent and reform, in every particular, according to the instruction given. It is also proper to remark, that after the reproof was given, we all confessed, voluntarily, that such had been the manifestations of the Spirit a long time since; in consequence of which the rebuke came with greater sharpness.

Not thinking to evade the truth, or excuse, in order to escape censure, but to give proper information, a few remarks relative to the situation of the Chuch previous to this date, is necessary. Many, on hearing the fulness of the gospel, embraced it with eagerness; yet, at the same time were unwilling to forego their former opinions and notions relative to Church government, and the rules and habits proper for the good order, harmony, peace, and beauty of a people destined, with the protecting care of the Lord, to be an ensample and light of the world. They did not dispise government; but there was a disposition to organize that government according to their own notions, or feelings. For example: Every man must be subjected to wear a particular fashioned coat, hat, or other garment, or else an accusation was brought that we were fashioning after the world. Every one must be called by their given name, without respecting the office or ordinance to which they had been called: Thus, President Smith was called Joseph, or brother Joseph; President Rigdon, brother Sidney, or Sidney, &c. This manner of address gave occasion to the enemies of the truth, and was a means of bringing reproach upon the Cause of God. But in consequence of former prejudices, the Church, many of them, would not submit to proper and wholesome order.12 This proceeded from a spirit of enthusiasm, and vain ambition—a desire to compel others to come to certain rules, not dictated by the will of the Lord; or a jealous fear, that, were men called by thier respective titles, and the ordinance of heaven honored in a proper manner, some were in a way to be exalted above others, and their form of government disregarded. In fact, the true principle of honor in the Church of the Saints, that the more a man is exalted, the more humble he will be, if actuated by the Spirit of the Lord, seemed to have been overlooked; and the fact, that the greatest is least and servant of all, as said our Savior,13 never to have been thought of, by numbers. These facts, for such they were, when viewed in their proper light, were sufficient, of themselves to cause men to humble themselves before the Lord; but when communicated by the Spirit, made an impression upon our hearts not to be forgotten. [p. 18]

________________________

Perhaps, an arrangement of this kind in a former day would have occasioned some unpleasant reflections, in the minds of many, and at an earlier period, in this church, others to have forsaken the cause, in consequence of weakness, and unfaithfulness; but that the leaders of the church should wait so long before stepping forward according to the manifestation of the Spirit, deserved a reproof. And that the church should be chastened, for their uncultivated manner of salutation, is also just. But to proceed with the account of the interview.

After addressing the throne of mercy,14 President Smith laid hands upon High Counsellor Cowdery, and ordained him to the Presidency of the High priesthood in the Church, saying:

Brother, In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who was crucified for the sins of the world, that we through the virtue of his blood might come to the Father,15 I lay my hands upon thy head, and ordain thee a President of the high and holy priesthood, to assist in presiding over the Church, and bearing the keys of this kingdom—16 which priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek— which is after the order of the Son of God—17 And now, O Father, wilt thou bless this thy servant with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding— give him, by the Holy Spirit, a correct understanding of thy doctrine, laws, and will— Commune with him from on high— let him hear thy voice, and receive the ministring of the holy angels— deliver him from temptation, and the power of darkness— deliver him from evil,18 and from those who may seek his destruction,— be his shield, his buckler, and his great reward—19 endow him with power from on high,20 that he may write, preach, and proclaim the gospel to his fellowmen in demonstration of the Spirit and of power—21 may his feet never slide— may his heart never feint— may his faith never fail. Bestow upon him the blessings of his fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and of Joseph— Prolong his life to a good old age, and bring him in peace to his end, and to rejoice with thy saints, even the sanctified, in the celestial kingdom;22 for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.23

Presidents Rigdon, and Williams, confirmed the ordinance and blessings by the laying on of hands and prayer, after which each were blessed with the same blessings and prayer.
Much light was communicated to our minds, and we were instructed into the order of the Church of the saints, and how they ought to conduct in respecting and reverencing each other. The praise of men, or the honor of this world, is of no benefit; but if a man is respected in his calling, and considered to be a man of righteousness, the truth may have an influence, many times, by which means they may teach the gospel with success, and lead men into the kingdom of heaven. [p. 19]

________________

6 December 1834 • Saturday
On Saturday, December 6, Presidents Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Sidney Rigdon assembled with High Counsellors Joseph Smith sen. Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith,24 in company with Reynolds Cahoon, Counsellor to the Bishop, High Priest William Smith, and Elder Don Carlos Smith.
The meeting was opened by prayer, and a lengthy conversation held upon the subject of introducing a more refined order into the Church. On further reflection, the propriety of ordaining others to the office of Presidency of the high priesthood was also discussed, after which High Counsellor Hyrum Smith was ordained to the Presidency under the hands of President Smith, and High Counsellor Joseph Smith sen. under the hands of President Rigdon. The others present were blessed under the hands of Presidents J. Smith jr. Cowdery, and Rigdon, and the meeting closed, after a happy season, and a social intercourse upon the great subject of the gospel and the work of the Lord in this day. [24 lines blank] [p. 20]

__________________

After several blank pages, Oliver Cowdery's letters are copied into this history.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Letter VII in Histories, Volume 1

For those who have the Joseph Smith Papers in hard copy, Volume 1 of Histories contains Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII as it appears in Joseph Smith's own history, beginning on p. 72. The comments about Cumorah in New York start on page 76.

The Editorial Note explaining how the letters were copied into Joseph's journal begins on page 38.

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Error in Joseph Smith Papers

Histories Volume 1 also contains what I consider one of the most serious errors in the Joseph Smith Papers. It's actually a disastrous error, in my opinion. I've blogged about it before.

On p. 519, the Historical Introduction to Orson Pratt's pamphlet titled A Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions includes this comment:

"In his description of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt superimposed his understanding of Book of Mormon geography onto the Western Hemisphere by placing the Nephites in South America and the Jaredites in North America. Pratt’s association of Book of Mormon peoples with the history of all of North and South America matched common understanding of early Latter-day Saints. Shortly thereafter, when John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan became available in Nauvoo in about 1842, JS greeted it enthusiastically and church members used it to map Book of Mormon sites in a Central American setting.6"

Note 6 says:

John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841); see also “Facts Are Stubborn Things,”Times and Seasons, 15 Sept. 1842, 3:921–922; “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 3:927–928; JS, Nauvoo, IL, to John Bernhisel, New York City, NY, 16 Nov. 1841, JS Collection, CHL; and Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, chaps. 4–5.  

Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
Smith, Joseph. Collection, 1827–1846. CHL. MS 155.
Givens, Terryl L. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
______________________

Think about this a minute. 

Orson Pratt's pamphlet was important because, as the Joseph Smith Papers volume points out, it was a source for the Wentworth letter, including the Articles of Faith. I've done a side-by-side comparison so anyone can see how the Wentworth letter compares with Pratt's pamphlet. One of the most important comparisons involves Book of Mormon geography.

You can read the Wentworth letter in its original form here. Remember, you can't read the entire letter in the Church manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, because the curriculum committed edited out Joseph's comments about the geography question, which I'll mention below.

I'm going to repeat the comment and note and insert my comments in red.

"In his description of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt superimposed his understanding of Book of Mormon geography onto the Western Hemisphere by placing the Nephites in South America and the Jaredites in North America. [Pratt wrote several pages of comments on this topic, claiming among other things that Lehi "landed upon the western coast of South America" and that "in process of time, the Nephites began to build ships near the Isthmus of Darien, and launch them forth into the western ocean, in which great numbers sailed a great distance to the northward, and began to colonize North America." As the Joseph Smith Papers comments explain, Pratt's pamphlet was apparently a source for the Wentworth letter. But instead of copying or adapting Orson Pratt's imaginary account of Book of Mormon geography, Joseph Smith replaced it with the simple statement that "The principal nation of the second race fell in battle to wards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." These are the sentences that the Curriculum Committee edited out of the manual. People ask me why. Of course, I have no idea, but I infer that they didn't want teachers taking time to explain how that statement can be rationalized with a Mesoamerican setting. It obviously cannot be reconciled; the statement is consistent with D&C 28, 30 and 32, which also specifically identify the Lamanites as the Indians living in the United States. The significance of this is that Joseph corrected Orson Pratt, but none of the scholars seem to care about that. Actually, apathy would be an improvement over the Curriculum Committee editing it out, especially when Joseph made the point at the beginning of the Wentworth letter that "all  that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished,  and without misrepresentation." Joseph didn't need to be concerned about Mr. Wentworth; he should have been concerned about the Curriculum Committee.] 

Pratt’s association of Book of Mormon peoples with the history of all of North and South America matched common understanding of early Latter-day Saints. [That should read, "early Latter-day Saints besides Joseph Smith. There is not a single reference to a hemispheric model that can be directly linked to Joseph. In fact, everything that can be directly linked to Joseph refers exclusively to a North American setting. The only location that early Latter-day Saints--including Joseph Smith--agreed upon was that the Hill Cumorah was in New York. Compare that to the current situation, when those of us who support the New York setting are rejected and ridiculed by LDS scholars.] 

Shortly thereafter, when John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan became available in Nauvoo in about 1842, JS greeted it enthusiastically and church members used it to map Book of Mormon sites in a Central American setting.6" [This one is the most difficult to justify. Note 6 below gives the usual suspects as authority for the statement. The anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, as even Terryl Givens points out, cannot be directly tied to Joseph Smith. As I've proposed elsewhere, William Smith was the acting editor of the Times and Seasons when those articles were published, and Benjamin Winchester is by far the most likely author, with editorial input from William and/or W.W. Phelps. The note also cites the Bernhisel letter, which I've shown was almost certainly written by Wilford Woodruff, the only person we know of who actually read the Stephens books before these articles were published in the Times and Seasons. This concept that Joseph "enthusiastically" greeted the Stephens books flies in the face of the Wentworth letter, which as I just pointed out, deleted Orson Pratt's hemispheric model and reaffirmed the North American setting by specifying that Lehi's descendants were the Indians living in this country; i.e., the United States. The "enthusiastically" characterization is derived from a particular uncited paper, but I won't identify that paper here.]

Note 6 says:

John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841); see also “Facts Are Stubborn Things,”Times and Seasons, 15 Sept. 1842, 3:921–922 [an anonymous article]; “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 3:927–928 [an anonymous article]; JS, Nauvoo, IL, to John Bernhisel, New York City, NY, 16 Nov. 1841, JS Collection, CHL [Although the brief thank-you note was written on behalf of Joseph Smith, o one knows whose handwriting this letter is in. What we do know is Wilford Woodruff received the books from Dr. Bernhisel in New York, read them on his way to Nauvoo, and commented about them in his journal. He never mentions giving them to Joseph, but a few days after seeing Joseph for the first time, he mentions in his journal that he wrote a letter to Bernhisel. He had no reason to write to Bernhisel other than on behalf of Joseph Smith. Woodruff's letter is not extant--unless it's the one now attributed to Joseph. I go into much more detail about this in a chapter in one of my books]; and Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, chaps. 4–5.  [Givens is apparently a staunch supporter of the Mesoamerican theory. He wrote the Foreword to John Sorenson's book Mormon's Codex, the widely admired and most extensive book about the Mesoamerican setting to date. In By the Hand of Mormon, p. 100, Givens writes of the Stephens books, "This book [sic] was the major catalyst that moved Joseph Smith and others to consider Mesoamerica as the seat of Book of Mormon civilization." He also writes that the Book of Mormon "was not a history of the North American Indians then extant," completely contradicting what Joseph Smith told those Indians on multiple occasions (not to mention the Wentworth letter). Givens continues: "Joseph was quick to see how the Book of Mormon had arrived on the scene of this mystery [origins of Mayans as identified by Stephens] with impeccable timing. Responding immediately to the Stephens account, Joseph wrote back to Berhnisel, thanking him for the 'kind present' and ecstatically declaring that it 'corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon." To conclude from this brief thank-you note that Joseph was "ecstatic" about Meosamerica is a stretch, at best. Givens proceeds to discuss the anonymous Times and Seasons articles based on the traditional inference that Joseph was acting as editor and wrote or approved of these articles. As I've written before, these are not irrational inferences; they just aren't reasonable inferences in light of all the facts we have now. So as of the time the Joseph Smith Papers published Histories, Volume 1, this was probably the best anyone could do. It's only a question of whether the online material will be corrected, or at least more completely explained, and whether the books will eventually be corrected.]

Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
Smith, Joseph. Collection, 1827–1846. CHL. MS 155.
Givens, Terryl L. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
______________________

You can see this same comment and note in the online version here. Look under the Historical Introduction, third paragraph, including note 6.

Feel free to send in a comment to the Joseph Smith Papers. I already have, but I don't think they're listening to me.

:)



Monday, August 22, 2016

Guest Post: One Cumorah - historical accounts

Some LDS scholars continue to insist that the Hill Cumorah is not in New York but somewhere in Mexico. This comes as a surprise to most members of the Church, but the idea is pervasive in Church media, as well as in the various LDS scholarly publications.

These scholars claim there is a consensus behind their two-Cumorah theory, which is the foundation for their theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America.

Those who have read this blog know that I completely disagree with the scholars about Cumorah. I think their position contradicts the text, early Church history, archaeology, and every other framework for analysis.

Among other things, the scholars claim 1) Joseph never said the hill in New York was named Cumorah, and 2) he passively accepted a folk tradition started by unknown persons at unknown times. As always, I encourage people to read the evidence for themselves, ignore any scholar who has an agenda, and make up their own minds.
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Here is an excellent summary of historical evidence about the New York Hill Cumorah, compiled by Theodore Brandley:

One Cumorah (Moroni’s Cumorah)

By J Theodore Brandley

There are at least seven documentary sources that confirm it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, that the hill in Palmyra was anciently known as Cumorah.

1. The only first-person source comes from the epistle that Joseph Smith dictated on September 6, 1842, which was later canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 128.

Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets — the book to be revealed. (D&C 128:20)

The inference is that Joseph knew the name “Cumorah” before the book was revealed. That knowledge could only have come from Moroni. This is substantiated in the subsequent documents.

2. An early documentary source confirming the above are the lines from a sacred hymn, written by W.W. Phelps. William Phelps lived with the Prophet in Kirtland and was in essence his executive secretary during the Nauvoo period.

An angel came down from the mansions of glory,
And told that a record was hid in Cumorah,
Containing the fulness of Jesus’s gospel;
(Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1835, Hymn 16, page 22,

It was the angel who told Joseph that the record was hid in “Cumorah.” This hymn was selected by Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet, approved by the Prophet, and published in 1835 with a collection of hymns, under instructions and directions from the Lord. “And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.” (D&C 25:1)

This hymn was also included in the 1841 edition as hymn #262.

3. Oliver Cowdery, Second Elder of the Church and Co-President with Joseph Smith, stated the following in 1831:

This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him Cumorah, which hill is now in the state of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County. (Autobiography of P.P. Pratt p 56-61)

The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt was complied, edited and published in1881 by his son, from the documents and records left by his father after his death. From the length and detail of the address given by Oliver Cowdery in 1831, from which the above quote is taken, it had to have been recorded by Parley P. Pratt at the time it was spoken. “In writing his autobiography, Pratt relied heavily on his previous writings. After extensive analysis, Pratt family historian Steven Pratt concluded that almost ninety percent of the text is either based on or copied from earlier works” (Matt Grow, assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Indiana.)

4. The Prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, provides two separate items of evidence in the original manuscript of her memoirs. In the first item, Lucy is remembering what Joseph told her after Moroni first appeared to him. The quote begins with what Moroni had told Joseph:

Now Joseph <or> beware <or> when you go to get the plates your  mind will be filld with darkness and all man[n]er of evil will  rush into your mind. To keep <prevent> you from keeping the comman dments of God <that you migh may not suceced in doing his work> and you must tell your father of this for  he will believe every word you say the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove  the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone  pry that up and you will find the record under it  laying on 4 pillars <of cement>— then the angel left him. [sic] (Lucy Mack Smith, History 1844–1845, Original Manuscript, page 41)

Lucy dictated the above about 20 years after the fact, but it is consistent with other evidence. In the following, Lucy recalls directly what her son said in her presence. Following Joseph’s meeting with Moroni at Cumorah, one year before Joseph received the plates, Joseph told his parents that he had “taken the severest chastisement that I have ever had in my life.” Joseph said:

it was the an gel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumo rah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met  me and said, that I had not been engaged enough  in the work of the Lord; that the time had come  for the record to <be> brought forth; and, that I must  be up and doing, and set myself about the things  which God had commanded me to do: [sic] (Lucy Mack Smith, History 1844–1845, Original Manuscript, page 111)

In both of these quotes from the Prophet’s mother, she demonstrates that in her mind it was Moroni, who told Joseph, prior to the translation of the plates, that the hill in Palmyra was named Cumorah.

5. David Whitmer confirmed this in an interview in his later years when he stated:

[Joseph Smith] told me…he had a vision, an angel appearing to him three times in one night and telling him that there was a record of an ancient people deposited in a hill near his fathers house called by the ancients “Cumorah” situated in the township of Manchester, Ontario county N.Y…” (Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration,” p. 233)

6. David Whitmer also recounted an incident that occurred while he was with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in a wagon going to Fayette, NY to finish the translation. They came across an old man with a knapsack on his back who told them he was headed for Cumorah. Joseph identified the man as Moroni. (Deseret Evening News 16 November 1878)

7. Hymn written by Parley P Pratt which we still sing. #328 in the current LDS hymnbook, “An Angel From On High”:

An angel from on high
The long, long silence broke;
Descending from the sky,
These gracious words he spoke:
Lo! in Cumorah's lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.
Lo! in Cumorah's lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.

Notice that Parley P Pratt is quoting Moroni in paraphrase, “Lo! in Cumorah's lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.”

All of the documentary evidence is consistent that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, that the ancient name of the hill in Palmyra was “Cumorah.” There is no documentary evidence to the contrary.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Joseph assisted Oliver

I've mentioned before the book Days Never to Be Forgotten. This is the published version of a Church History Symposium held on November 10, 2006, at BYU. It contains thoughtful articles that focus on the life and times of Oliver Cowdery.

The entire book is available online here (BYU's Religious Studies Center). RSC is a resource I highly recommend to everyone.

Today I want to focus on the parts of the book that discuss Oliver's role as editor and author when he wrote and published the eight letters about Church history. Of course, the seventh letter--Letter VII--is the main topic of this blog, but all the letters are important.

Chapter 1 makes this observation. "From October 1834 through October 1835, Oliver published eight letters in the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate. This was the first published account of Joseph's "marvilous experience" and one of three major sources dealing with his early years along with Lucy Smith's Biographical Sketches and Joseph's own manuscript history. Joseph wrote a brief history in 1832 but did not publish it. His longer account was not begun until 1838. Lucy's narrative was dictated after the Prophet's death. Thus, for a number of years, Oliver's account stood alone."

Chapter 9 adds additional commentary, noting that "Taken together, [the eight letters] constitute one of the earliest recorded histories of the Palmyra period. [Oliver] was not able to cover the swath of history he had hoped (from the First Vision to the expulsion from Jackson County), but he was able to cover from the First Vision to the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. Cowdery's history is invaluable because it contains details that are unique to it, and it is much more detailed than those accounts left by the Prophet himself. But because Cowdery writes that Joseph assisted him with the writing of this history, the division between Cowdery's and Joseph's versions may be a false construct."

These are important points to remember. Oliver's account was the first one to relate many of the critical early historical events and it was the most detailed. Plus, the details about what Joseph was thinking and his experiences with Moroni indicate that these letters were a joint effort between Joseph and Oliver. That's why Joseph had his scribes copy them into his journal as part of his history, and why he approved their republication in the Gospel Reflector and the Times and Seasons.

Those scholars who reject Oliver's Letter VII explanation of the Hill Cumorah being in New York must explain how Oliver's work could be so important on every other point but that one.

________________

The handful of scholars who continue to reject Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII basically say that neither Oliver nor Joseph claimed to receive revelation about the site of the final battles. But why would they need specific revelation on that point when they had visited the room that contained all the Nephite records Mormon said he deposited in the Hill Cumorah? (See Mormon 6:6).

I know this is redundant, but I want this to be clear for the non-scholars who don't study this all the time, so let me state this another way, by analogy.

The scholars' argument is akin to this:

Let's say someone (let's call him Fred) visits the Salt Lake temple today and from that concludes that the Salt Lake Valley is the valley Brigham Young entered in 1847, based on the contemporaneous accounts of Brigham Young specifying the site for the temple and overseeing its initial construction. He writes down his conclusion.

Then, let's say the Salt Lake temple is destroyed 100 years from now, and a group of scholars comes along and read's Fred's statement. The scholars decide it was impossible for a temple to have been built in Salt Lake because there's no granite in the valley. Instead, these scholars decide Fred must have merely had a vision of the temple, and the temple was actually someplace in Mexico.

These same scholars insist Fred could not have "known" Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley because 1) he didn't really see the temple there, despite what he wrote, and 2) he never claimed to have received a revelation about where Brigham Young actually built the temple.
_____________



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Hill Cumorah: the sacred depository

On July 7, 1866, The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star ran a front-page article by Orson Pratt titled "The Hill Cumorah: Or the Sacred Depository of Wisdom and Understanding." This is in volume 28, No. 27. At the time, the Millennial Star was "Edited, Printed and Published by Brigham Young, Jun." in Liverpool.

You can see it in the original format on google books here.

The article was republished in The Contributor in September, 1882, Vol. III, No. 12. online here. The Contributor was an independent Mormon magazine intended for the Young Men's and Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Associations.

Because a lot of people have never seen this article, I'm republishing it here.

I'm not going to comment much, except to say we have to keep in mind that although Orson Pratt knew Cumorah was in New York, he speculated about the rest of the Book of Mormon geography. This is reflected in his 1879 footnotes to the Book of Mormon, in which he stated unequivocally that Cumorah was in New York but referred to other locations as possibilities; e.g., "it is believed that. Orson was not Joseph or Oliver; he didn't experience the repository directly, so he may not have all the details correct, but there's a lot of great material here for those who have eyes to see.

Pratt uses a lot of flowerly rhetoric, so the style seems strange to modern readers. I've divided the article into smaller paragraphs for easier reading. I've bolded some key points.

____________________

THE HILL CUMORAH;
or the Sacred Depository of Wisdom and Understanding

The Hill Cumorah is situated in western New York, between the villages of Palmyra and Canandaigua, about four miles from the former. It is celebrated as the ancient depository of the sacred gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Cumorah was the name by which the hill was designated in the days of the Prophet Moroni, who deposited the plates about four hundred and twenty years after the birth of Christ. The Prophet Mormon, the father of Moroni, had been entrusted with all the sacred records of his forefathers, engraved on metalic [sic] plates. New plates were made by Mormon on which he wrote, from the more ancient books, an abridged history of the nation, incorporating therewith many revelations, prophecies, the Gospel, &c.

These new plates were given to Moroni to finish the history. And all the ancient plates, Mormon deposited in Cumorah, about three hundred and eighty-four years after Christ.

When Moroni, about thirty-six years after, made the deposit of the book entrusted to him, he was, without doubt, inspired to select a department of the hill separate from the great sacred depository of the numerous volumes hid up by his father. 

The particular place in the hill, where Moroni secreted the book, was revealed, by the angel, to the Prophet Joseph Smith, to whom the volume was delivered in September, A.D. 1827. But the grand repository of all the numerous records of the ancient nations of the western continent, was located in another department of the hill, and its contents under the charge of holy angels, until the day should come for them to be transferred to the sacred temple of Zion.

The hill Cumorah, with the surrounding vicinity, is distinguished as the great battle-field on which, and near which, two powerful nations were concentrated with all their forces, men, women, and children, and fought till hundreds of thousands on both sides were hewn down, and left to moulder upon the ground.

Both armies were Israelites; both had become awfully corrupt, having apostatized from God: the Nephites, as a nation, became extinct: the Lamanites alone were left. This happened, according to their faithful records, near the close of the fourth century of the Christian era. The American Indians are the remnants of the once powerful nation of Lamanites.

The hill Cumorah is remarkable also as being the hill on which, and around which, a still more ancient nation perished, called Jaredites: this unparalleled destruction is recorded in the Book of Ether; and happened about six centuries before Christ.

The Jaredites colonised [sic] America from the Tower of Babel. After about sixteen centuries, during which they became exceedingly numerous, they, through their terrible wars, destroyed themselves. The hill Cumorah, by them, was called Ramah. Millions fought against millions, until the hill Ramah, and the land round about, was soaked with blood, and their carcases left in countless numbers unburied, to moulder back to mother earth.

There is no spot on this wide world of ours, which is calculated to excite more vivid reflections, than the wonderful hill of Cumorah. There the history of one-half of our globe, reposed, for fourteen centuries, in profound unbroken silence: there, ‘the everlasting Gospel,’ engraved, not on tablets of stone, but on plates of gold, awaited the voice of the heavenly angel to reveal the priceless treasure: there, buried in the holy archives of Cumorah’s sacred hill, are plates of brass, plates of gold, undimmed by time; sacredly guarded as the temple of heaven: there shines the Urim and Thummim, the stones of light, the gems of immortality: there, reposes in words of light, the hidden knowledge of ages past, the prophetic history of ages to come: there wisdom has selected her palace, and understanding her dwelling place, until "the spirit is poured out from on high" and "the skies pour down righteousness;" then, "the earth opens and brings forth salvation."

Well did the inspired Patriarch, Job, inquire "Where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?" (28:12) "The place" cannot be sought out by man; "neither is it found in the land of the living. The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me." If neither the depths of the sea, nor the generations of the living, know the holy hidden place, where shall it e sought? Is it in some sequestered wild? in some uninhabited desert or wilderness, where roams the beasts of prey? Is it on the surface of the earth, exposed to the vultures gaze, or to the keen eye of the lofty eagle?

It is in "a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: the lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it." "It is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air." If neither man, nor beast, nor fowl hath seen it; if it has been withheld from mortal gaze; where shall we turn to renew our researches?

The Patriarch exclaims, "Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears." How truthful is this saying! The countless millions, whose dust and ashes enrich the soil of Cumorah's hill, "have heard the fame thereof." Let the nations of the dead speak from their lonely sepulchres, and "whisper from the dust" the doings of bye-gone ages! Let the faithful records of hte ancient dead, declare the holy dwelling place of wisdom, the sacred depository of understanding!

Though hidden from the gaze of covetous man, and protected from the poluted [sic] touch of unholy beings, yet, "God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven; to make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure. When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of thunder; then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yeah, and searched it out."

From days of old, he ordained it; on the land that is afar off, He selected for it a habitation; "on the sides of the north," in a land of fountains, rivers, and lakes, he constructed for wisdom a house, and said unto knowledge, here shalt thou dwell, until the heavens shall reveal thy hiding place, and thy presence is sought again among the sons of men; then shalt thou teach mortals in "the fear of the Lord," and light the candle of understanding in their hearts; then shalt thou dwell in Zion, and light up the habitations thereof with thy glory.

These holy treasures, these sacred archives are too precious to be bought with the riches of this world. Hence, Job says, "It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies. The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, either shall it be valued with pure gold."

All the wealth of ages is valueless, compared with the records of eternal wisdom, the inexhaustible fountain of understanding, hidden in the secret recesses of the wonderful—the beautiful—the lovely hill Cumorah! O, Cumorah! the hill of ancient Seers and Prophets! the hill
 of God! Sanctified by holy angels’ feet! 

From thy bowels is heard a voice, low, sweet, mild, of heavenly tones! yet it thrills through every fibre of the heart! It speaks of man—of God— of earth—of heaven—of hell! It speaks of the past—of the future—of the destiny of nations— the reign of Messiah—the resurrection—the final judgment! 

O holy, lovely mount! The sacred resting place of Zion’s law! In thy chambers dwell eternal riches! In thy lovely bosom are fountains that never dry! Speak! O speak again! 

Let Zion hear thy voice! for thy voice is not the voice of feeble helpless man! but the voice of the Eternal One, speaking from the ground.

Let Zion sing for joy! let the heavens be full of praise; for thou, O Lord, makest the earth to disclose its wonders; though bringest forth truth from the bowels thereof! thou openest the gates of wisdom, and showest thy word unto the sons of men! Hidden things are brought to light--things most precious to the soul! let th hills and mountains break forth into signing! let the earth itself utter songs of everlasting joy! let glory, honor, and everlasting power, be unto Him who sitteth upon throne, who beholdeth the keys of Creation and Redemption forever more.

O. Pratt