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.


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.


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.

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.


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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Oliver's letters to Joseph in 1829

On 28 December 1829, Oliver wrote a letter to Joseph Smith. Oliver was in Manchester, NY; Joseph was in Harmony, PA. You can read the letter in the Joseph Smith papers here. We don't have the original, but the letter was copied into Letterbook 1.

One interesting thing about the letter is that Joseph Smith himself copied it into the Letterbook; i.e., this is in Joseph's own handwriting. In the Joseph Smith Papers, material written in Joseph's own handwriting is put in bold text.

I think it's important for those who consider Letter VII to better understand Oliver Cowdery and what motivated him. These letters give a good feel for what he was trying to do as a follower of Christ.

To me, they help demonstrate that the last thing he would have done in writing Letter VII would be to deceive or confuse the Saints.

Letter 2 Manchester Dececember 28th AD 1829
Brother Joseph Smith Jr–

It may Seam Superfluous for me to write as Father is going directly to your country but knowing that if a line from under my hand is as gladly received by you as one from you would at all times be by me I cannot in duty to my feelings let this oppertunity pass unimproved Your great anxiety will probably be to know of the progress of the work in the which we are So deeply engaged and possibly our Souls wellfare all of which Father can make known unto you it may look rather Strange to you to find that I have So Soon become a printer and you may cast in your mind what I Shall become next but be asured my cahngeing changing business has not in any degree I trust taken my mind from meditateing upon my mission which I have been called to fulfill nor of Slacking my diligence in prayr and fasting but but Some times I feel almost as though I could quit time and fly away and be at rest in the Bosom of my Redeemer for the many deep feelings of Sorrow and the many long Struglings in prayr of Sorrow for the Sins of my fellow beings and also for those who pretend to be of my faith almost as it were Seperateth my spirit from my mortal body do not think by this my Brother that I would give you to understand that I am freed from Sin and temptations no not by any means that is what I would that you Should undersstand is my anxiety at some times to be at rest in the Paradice of my God is to be freed from temptation &c.. You have our prayrs and our best wishes
Yours in Christ Amen
Joseph Smith Jr
P S we Send our respects to Emma &c——

I find it interesting here that Oliver has already become a printer. He writes, "it may look rather strange to you to find that I have so soon become a printer and you may cast in your mind what I shall become next but be assured my changing business has not in any degree I trust taken my mind from meditating upon my mission which I have been called to fulfill." Of course, Oliver would go on to print not just the Book of Mormon, but newspapers and the Book of Commandments.

Joseph also copied a letter that Oliver wrote to Hyrum:

Let 3 Fayette June the 14 1829

These few lines I write unto you feeling anxious for your Steadfastness in the great cause of which you have been called to advocate and also feeling it a duty to write to you at every opportunity remember the worth of Souls is great in the Sight of God behold the Lord  Your God Suffered death upon the cross after the manner of the flesh wherefore he Suffered the pains of all men that all men might repent and come unto him and he and he hath risen again from the dead that he might bring all men unto him upon conditions of repentance and how great is his Joy in the Soul that repents and behold he commandeth all men to every where to repent and baptised and not only men but women children which have arrived to the Years of acountibility Stir up the minds of our friends aganst the time we come unto you that then they may be willing to take upon them the name of Christ for that is the name by which they Shall be called at the Last day and if we Know not not the name by which we are called I fear we shall be found on the hand I have many things to write but if the Lord will I shall Shortly come unto You Please tell Mrs Rockwell that those Shose shoes fit well and I received them as from the Lord tell him that whatever he does in the cause of Zion he will in no wise loose his reward Now may the Grace of God the Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ be and abide with you all Amen this from your BrotheOliver Cowdery A fellow labourer in the cause of Zion
P S give my love to all those who anxiously inquire after my property &c

Obviously it's interesting that this letter quotes from D&C 18, which was given at Fayette in June.

Then there is an earlier letter from Oliver to Joseph, again copied by Joseph Smith himself:

Letter 4 Manchester November the 6th. 1829
Brother Joseph Smith Jr.

I received your leter yesterday bearing date Oct—. 22d I had long time expectted to hear from you and had often enquired at the post office for a letter and of course it was gladly received by us all we rejoice to hear that you are well and we also rejoice to hear that you have a prospect of obtaining Some mony and we further rejoice that you are at rest from your percecutors and we rejoice the most to learn of your faithfulness in christ my dear Brother when I think of the goodness of christ I feel no desire to live or Stay here upon the shores of this world of iniquity only toto Serve my maker and be if posible an instriment in his hands of doing Some good in his cause with his grace to assist me when I consider and try to realise what he has done for me I am astonished and amaised why Should I not be for while I was rushing on in sin and crouding my way down to that awful gulf he yet Strove with me and praised be his holy and Eternal name he has redeemed my Soul from endless torment and wo not for any thing that I have merited or any worthyness there was in me for there was none but it was in and through his own mercy wraught out by his own infinite wisdom by prepareing from all Eternity a means whereby man could be saved on conditions of repentance and faith on that infinite attonement which was to be made by a great and last Sacrifice which Sacrifice was the death of the only begotten of the Father yea the eternal Father of Heaven and of Earth that by his reserection all the Family of man might be braught back into the presance of God if therefore we follow christ in all things whatsoever he commandeth us and are buried with him by baptism into death that like as christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Eternal Father even So we also Should walk in newness of life and if we walk in newness of life to the end of this probation at the day of accounts we Shall be caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air but I need not undertake to write of the goodness of God for his goodness is unspeakable neither tell of the miteries mysteries of God for what is man that he can comprehend and Search out the wisdom of deity for Great is the misteries of Godliness therefore my only motive in this writing is to inform you of my prospects and hopes and my desires and my longing to be freed from Sin and to rest in the kingdom of my Savior and my redeemer when I begin to write of the mercies of God I know not when to Stop but time and paper fails I would inform that Hyram Hyrum Smith and Martin Harris went out to fayette last week they had a joyful time and found all in as good health as could be expected Martin thinks of comeing to the South in the course of two or three weeks and will callculate to take back that horse the printing goes rather Slow yet as the type founder has been sick but we expect that the type will be on and Mr, Granden Egbert B. Grandin Still think he will finish printing by the first of febuary we all send respects to yourself and Emma——
My dear Brother I cannot hardly feel to close this letter as yet without informing you that we received one from Mr—Thomas B. Marsh from Boston Masacuchusetts Massachusetts dated the 25th Oct—. he informs us that he wishes to hear from us and know of our wellfare he says he has talked considerable to Some respecting our work with freedom but others could not because they had no ears my great desire is that we may be faithful and obedient and humble children of Christ here that we may meet together in his kingdom of Eternal Glory to go no more out to Spend an Eternity where the wicked cese from troubling and the humbl and penitent child in christ finds rest I remain with much Esteem and profound respect your Brother and companion in tribulation and persecution in the kingdom of patience and hope of a Glorious reserrection in christ our Savior and redemer Amen
Joseph Smith Jr
Let 5 P S I have Just got to alma commandment to his Son in coppyinng the manscrip we are all in tolerable health here but my Father health is poor

Next is a letter to Oliver from Joseph, copied by Frederick G. Williams:

Harmony— Oct. 22d— 1829——
Letter, 6 Respected sir I would in form you that I arrived at home on sunday morning the 4th. after having a prosperous journy, and found all well the people are all friendly to us except a few who are in opposition to evry thing unless it is something that is axactly like themselves and two of our most formadable persacutors are now under censure and are cited to a trial in the church for crimes which if true are worse than all the Gold Book business. we do not rejoice in the affliction of our enimies but we shall be glad to have truth prevail there begins to be a great call for our books in this country the minds of the people are very much excited when they find that there is a copy right obtained and that there is really books about to be printed I have bought a horse of MrJosiah Stowell and want some one to come after it as soon as convenient Mr Stowell has a prospect of getting five or six hundred dollars he does not know certain that he can get it but he is a going to try and if he can get the money he wants to pay it in immediately for books we want to hear from you and know how you prosper in the good work, give our best respects to Father & Mother and all our brothers and Sisters to Mr. Martin Harris and all the company concerned tell them that our prayers are put up daily for them that they may be prospered in evry, good word and work and that they may be preserved from sin here and from the consequence of sin here after and now dear brother be faithful in the discharge of evry duty looking for the reward of the righteous and now may God of his infinite mercy keep and preserve us spotless untill his coming and receive us all to rest with him in eternal repose through the attonement of Christ our Lord Amen
Joseph Smith Jr