Monday, May 8, 2017

"From a hill in Manchester Township"

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

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

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

Here's the link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about this a moment.

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

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

Notice he doesn't say he found them.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Moroni and America

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Joseph Smith endorsed Oliver Cowdery's letters

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

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

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

Here is his reason:

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

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

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

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

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

You can see it here:

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

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

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

General Conference preparation

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

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

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

One verse in particular stands out.

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

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

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

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

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


I'll discuss this more in upcoming blog posts.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Timeline of First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve

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

Saturday, March 4, 2017

George Albert Smith on Cumorah

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

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

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

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


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

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

1) by modern apostles who have passed away and

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reminiscences of Edward Stevenson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

He includes this woodcut:

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

Monday, February 27, 2017

Title Page of the Book of Mormon

In my book, Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?, I discuss the Title Page of the Book of Mormon. I can't include images in much detail, so I'm putting them here for my future reference and your use.

The copyright version from 11 June 1829:

The Grandin version, published in the Wayne Sentinel on 26 June 1829:

The page with the entire paper from 26 June 1829

Church History Library reference:

How to find the paper at the Church History Library page:

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates

Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Where did Joseph get the plates of Nephi?”

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

All truth passes through three stages.

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

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

Quickest read ever.

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

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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

First publication of Oliver Cowdery's portrait

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

It is available online here:

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

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

You can see a copy online here.

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

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

Oliver filled in the gaps in Joseph Smith-History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oliver went on to explain an important point:

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

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

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

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

Back to Letter VI, Oliver explains another important point:

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

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

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

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Title Page and Harmony background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

It includes a good map and some useful illustrations.

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Hill Cumorah by President Anthony W. Ivins

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

He introduced his remarks by emphasizing his preparation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Oliver's attention to detail and veracity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mormons Open New Century of their Faith at Cumorah

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

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

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

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

Here is the full-page ad, with details.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Why some people reject Letter VII

Since I published my commentary on Letter VII (Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah, here), there have been several efforts to persuade members of the Church to disbelieve what Oliver Cowdery wrote about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

Before I get to the objections, consider these aspects of Oliver's letters. Part of Letter I is included in the Pearl of Great Price. Oliver's letters give us the first quotations of what Moroni told Joseph. They give us the first account of John the Baptist conferring the Priesthood. They give us the first detailed accounts of most of what happened when Joseph found the plates. They were written with Joseph's assistance and reproduced multiple times in Joseph's day at his personal direction.

Until I started encouraging people to read Letter VII, the main objection to these letters came from anti-Mormons who said Joseph and Oliver made up everything so we shouldn't believe these letters or anything else Joseph and Oliver wrote. Some anti-Mormons used the letters to show how LDS scholars themselves repudiate Joseph and Oliver (and their successors).

Now, we have LDS scholars and educators telling us not to believe the letters because of the New York Cumorah statements in Letter VII. They even reject what Oliver said Moroni told Joseph Smith.

We've actually reached the point where the anti-Mormons and Mesoamerica-promoting LDS scholars agree that Oliver and Joseph didn't know what they were talking about with respect to these letters. 

Remember that as you read these objections related to me by Mesoamerican promoters.

The Objections to Letter VII.

1. The first objection is that Joseph and Oliver never had a revelation about the Hill Cumorah. This one relies on a couple of logical fallacies, but at its heart is the idea that Joseph and Oliver were merely speculating about the location of Cumorah, that they were wrong, and that they thereby misled the Church for a century, so much so that every one of their contemporaries, including all of Joseph's successors as Presidents of the Church in the 19th century at least, were misled by Letter VII. I don't find that persuasive in the least. But the logical fallacies show why the argument doesn't hold up.

First is the self-evident fact that we don't have records of everything Joseph and Oliver said and did. The most we can say is that we do not have a record of a specific revelation that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 (the site of the Nephite records repository) was in New York. But because we don't have a record doesn't mean it didn't happen. We do have Letter VII; what we don't have is a separate document specifically explaining the factual background for what Oliver wrote about Cumorah.

Second, even better than a revelation is personal experience. For example, Joseph didn't dictate a revelation that God and Christ were two separate beings; he had a personal experience with them. Joseph and Oliver didn't record a revelation about the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood by John the Baptist; they related a personal experience with him. In the same way, they didn't record a revelation about the Nephite repository in the New York Hill Cumorah; they related personal experiences with that repository. (On this point, those who reject Letter VII say Brigham Young and the others who related this account are not trustworthy, or are reporting a vision of a hill somewhere in Mexico. Think of those two explanations a moment. Brigham Young is now making stuff up? Or Oliver related a vision of a hill in Mexico that he visited three times, with physical artifacts described in terms of how many men it would take to carry them or what kinds of wagons?)

2. The next objection is that it is impossible to have a cave or room in the New York Hill Cumorah because it is a glacial moraine; i.e., a pile of rocks. It may be unlikely to have a natural cave there, but when you read the accounts of the repository, several terms are used, not just "cave." It was a space inside the hill that had a rock shelf, a table, and plates piled everywhere. There is no reason why a man-made room could not be built into the hill Cumorah. There is the one we have photos of, for one thing. Plus, when they dug the foundation for the Moroni monument, they broke into a room that they filled with cement. So again, reality trumps theory. [Even if you don't want to believe these modern accounts, there is no physical reason why Mormon could not have built a room in the New York hill.]

3. Another objection is that Letter VII has not been quoted in General Conference. I haven't taken the time to verify that, but I've pointed out on this blog that as recently as 1975, President Romney of the First Presidency, in General Conference, spoke about Cumorah (in New York) as the scene of the final battles. Three years later, Elder Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve did likewise. So the follow-up objection is that none of the current members of the Twelve and none of the current First Presidency have quoted Letter VII in General Conference, and no Presidents of the Church have done so in General Conference while they were President. (Being President of the Quorum of the Twelve doesn't count, if you're Joseph Fielding Smith; you have to restate it a third time during the 18 months you are actually President of the Church for you to be credible and reliable, even though you quoted it specifically as a 20-year Apostle and Church Historian, and repeated it 20 years later as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, because those two times don't count.) Therefore, we can't rely on Letter VII or any prior statements about Cumorah being in New York. This is a fascinating objection. It would mean that we should not be reading, let alone relying on, anything said in General Conference prior to the current Q12 and 1P, except for talks given by Presidents of the Church. No more Neal A. Maxwell. No more J. Reuben Clark. No more... well, you get the idea. If people want to take that position, fine. But I can't make sense of it. This is not a one-off oddball theory, but a frequently published and discussed teaching that originated with Oliver Cowdery, at least, and part of the set of letters specifically endorsed by Joseph Smith.

4. Another objection is that there was a typo in Letter III that Oliver corrected in Letter IV. In Letter III, Oliver had referred to Joseph's age as being in the 15th year. In Letter IV, he wrote, "You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr's, age-that was an error in the type-it should have been in the 17th.-"

It's difficult to imagine how correcting a typo in one letter means we should disregard the letter that contained the typo, let alone all the rest of the letters. If anything, the correction of this typo shows Oliver's attention to detail and his desire to be as accurate as possible.

Besides, when Winchester reprinted the letters in the Gospel Reflector, he corrected the obvious typo in Letter III and omitted Oliver's reference to the correction in Letter IV. Don Carlos Smith, who republished the letters in the Times and Seasons in 1840-41, changed Letter III to read "the thirteenth year" but left the correction in Letter IV the same as I've shown above, an odd detail for sure. The Prophet followed the Winchester versions of both Letter III (June 1, 1844) and Letter IV (June 8, 1844).

Related to this objection is the alleged problem that Oliver seemed to be referring to the circumstances leading up to the First Vision when he was actually describing the circumstances of Moroni's visit, and that Oliver gave a different reason for Martin Harris' visit to New York with the so-called Anthon Transcript.

In the first place, Joseph's well-known accounts of the circumstances leading up to the First Vision postdated these letters. (He did write a preliminary version in 1832 that barely touches on the circumstances.) IOW, this is the earliest account of those circumstances. In the second place, Oliver learned about these circumstances from Joseph; if there are mistakes, they can hardly be attributed to Oliver who expressly relied on what Joseph told him (and on other documents we don't have today). Historians who claim the dating is wrong rely on an incomplete record anyway; Dr. Lamb may have made unrecorded visits to the area.

Oliver was aware of the difference between fact and conjecture, as he explained throughout the letters. He was also aware of the difficulty of relating details exactly.

In Letter VI, Oliver wrote, "I may have missed in arrangement in some instances, but the principle is preserved, and you will be able to bring forward abundance of corroborating scripture upon the subject of the gospel and of the gathering. You are aware of the fact, that to give a minute rehearsal of a lengthy interview with a heavenly messenger, is very difficult, unless one is assisted immediately with the gift of inspiration." IOW, Oliver was relying on Joseph's memory, or possibly documents we don't have now (as Oliver claimed he did).

Some parts of these letters involve events that occurred before Oliver got involved, for which he had to rely on what Joseph told him. But the parts of the letters that relate Oliver's own experiences he characterizes as fact. This includes the Letter VII descriptions of Cumorah, which Oliver knew from his own experience was in New York, as related by Brigham Young.

Another related observation involves Letters I and II. Historians note that Letter I seems to be introducing the First Vision, while Letter II skips that vision and goes right to the visit of Moroni. One author proposes that Joseph Smith asked Oliver not to discuss the First Vision, which seems reasonable to me. Here's the link. The point is not that Oliver was loose with the facts, but that he changed course for an unexplained reason. I think this shows how closely Joseph and Oliver worked together, especially when Joseph's eventual explanation of the First Vision adopted some of Oliver's commentary.

5. Yet another objection is that you can't resolve Book of Mormon geography by referring to a single anecdote in Church history. That is axiomatic, and no one I know of claims otherwise, certainly not me. However, an extensive, detailed discussion of the final battles at Cumorah is hardly an anecdote. This is an explicit statement, officially republished many times for nearly 100 years. Second, I don't think Letter VII resolves anything because people are free to believe it or not. Third, Letter VII only establishes the New York location of Cumorah for those who trust Oliver (and Joseph, who helped write it and endorsed it multiple times). It says nothing about a limited or hemispheric geography. People are still free to believe whatever they want about geography.

6. Another objection is that Joseph let mistakes go without correcting them, such as the statement in the April 15, 1842 Times and Seasons that it was Nephi instead of Moroni who visited Joseph Smith. Maybe Joseph didn't care about the error, or maybe he didn't notice it. (I think this is evidence that Joseph wasn't editing the Times and Seasons by this point, so it has nothing to do with his oversight.) There was another error in the Book of Commandments regarding a date on one of the revelations that Joseph supposedly reviewed but didn't bother to change. Again, maybe he didn't care about such details, or maybe he didn't notice, or maybe he forgot the original date. But those one-word details hardly compare with Letter VII's extensive and detailed description of the Hill Cumorah and the final battles, especially when Joseph specifically endorsed the letter multiple times and mentioned Cumorah in D&C 128 in connection with other events that took place in New York.

7. An objection related to the first one is that Joseph adopted a false tradition started by unknown persons at an early date. True, there were things that Joseph believed at one time that he later changed his mind about, such as phrenology. He didn't object to smoking tobacco until he received the Word of Wisdom. He may have given bad medical advice. But these are peripheral matters compared with the location of Cumorah, and there are no accounts of him changing his views on Cumorah. Nor did any of his contemporaries, all the way through the 1879 footnotes in the Book of Mormon. In Feb. 1844, Oliver's letters were published as a pamphlet in England. Later that year they were published in New York in The Prophet. There is no hint of opposition by Joseph to the contents of Letter VII or the other letters; instead, portions of Letter I were canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. It's true that Letter VII was not canonized, but does that make it a false tradition? In my view, it does not. We have lesson manuals full of the teachings of Joseph Smith that were never canonized.

8. The final objection I'll address here is the idea that maybe this was Oliver's statement on his own, without input from Joseph. People forget that Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church when he wrote Letter VII. I've gone through his qualifications before. A few months after writing Letter VII, he and Joseph received the Priesthood keys from Moses, Elias and Elijah in the Kirtland temple, along with the visitation of the Lord Himself. Even assuming Joseph didn't tell Oliver to write about Cumorah, Oliver is independently a credible, reliable and personal witness of these events, which is why Brigham Young and others relied on what he said about the repository. Not to mention, we all rely on Oliver's credibility and reliability as one of the Three Witnesses (and the translation, and John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, and so much more). When people choose to single out Letter VII as Oliver's one big falsehood, a statement of fact that was not actually a fact, and they do so purely because they disagree with Oliver, I don't find that a persuasive argument.

To review: there are two basic reasons to reject what Oliver Cowdery wrote about Cumorah in Letter VII.

First is the basic anti-Mormon reason, that Oliver made the whole thing up, conspiring with Joseph to deceive people, so everything in his letters is false.

Second is the position of those who object to Letter VII because they object to the New York Cumorah because they believe a theory of Book of Mormon geography that is inconsistent with the New York Cumorah; i.e., they disagree with what Oliver wrote, and isolate the Cumorah issue as the one falsehood he wrote because it contradicts what they prefer to believe about Cumorah.

Of course, people can believe whatever they want. I'm perfectly fine with that. I just want to clarify the issues for those who read Letter VII so people can make informed decisions about whether or not to accept what Oliver wrote.

When the only reason a person rejects Letter VII is because he/she disagrees with Oliver Cowdery's statement about Cumorah, I find that puzzling to say the least.

For me, it's an easy choice.

On one hand, we have people living in the 21st century who think they know more about Cumorah, the plates, and all the circumstances of the translation and interaction with angels in New York than Oliver did because of what they've read.

On the other hand, we have Oliver, who was there when Joseph translated, who handled the plates, who saw the angels, who had been in the repository of Nephite records in the hill in New York, and who collaborated with Joseph on these letters.  I think I'll go with that guy.