Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Letter VII - Joseph and Oliver Knew

When Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote Letter VII, they were responding to critics who claimed the Book of Mormon was fiction, derived from an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding.

They knew the best way to respond to critics was by citing facts. They made sure there was no question about which hill in New York was Cumorah. They also made sure there was no question about the location of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites, or the location of Mormon's depository.

They explained at length that there is one Hill Cumorah and it is in New York.

Here are excerpts from Letter VII.

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

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

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

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

This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it, pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tent. Coriantumr was the last king of the Jaredites. The opposing army were to the west, and in this same valley, and near by. From day to day, did that mighty race spill their blood, in wrath, contending as it were, brother against brother, and father against son. In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying of our fellowmen....

In this vale lie commingled, in one mass of ruin, the ashes of thousands, and in this vale were destined to be consumed the fair forms and vigorous systems of tens of thousands of the human race—blood mixed with blood, flesh with flesh, bones with bones, and dust with dust!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Letter IV-What Moroni said

Here is an excerpt from Letter IV:

"He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a cerrect [correct] knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."

Let's break it down a bit.

He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers,

[Oliver provided a detailed list and analysis of the verses Moroni quoted.]

and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country,

["this country" could refer to the immediate vicinity or the nation in which he spoke to Joseph; i.e., the United States. This is the same language Joseph used in the Wentworth letter.]

and said they were literal descendants of Abraham.

["literal" suggests there should be DNA evidence]

He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a cerrect [correct] knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place,

[It was "written and deposited" near Joseph's house, meaning Mormon and Moroni lived in the vicinity when they abridged the record.]

and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

the life and character of our esteemed friend and brother, J. Smith JR

Oliver Cowdery's eight historical letters were written in 1834 and 1835, partly in response to anti-Mormon attacks that focused on two issues:

1. The character of Joseph Smith

2. The historicity and authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

In 2017, critics of the Church continue to focus on these two issues, so we can learn a lot from the way that Joseph and Oliver addressed the issues in their day.

I'll post some excerpts from the letters to illustrate how effective they were. You will see why Joseph made sure these letters were republished so often during his lifetime.

October 1834

The following communication was designed to have been published in the last No. of the Star; but owing to a press of other matter it was laid over for this No. of the Messenger and Advocate. Since it was written, upon further reflection, we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints.-If circumstances admit, an article on this subject will appear in each subsequent No. of the Messenger and Advocate, until the time when the church was driven from Jackson Co. Mo. by a lawless banditti; & such other remarks as may be thought appropriate and interesting.

That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Though we are imperfect...

From time to time I hear people object to Letter VII because Oliver Cowdery left the Church for a while, so we shouldn't trust anything he wrote.

That's the weakest excuse so far for rejecting Letter VII. When he wrote Letter VII in July 1835, Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church. In nine months, April 1836, he would receive the keys of the Priesthood from Moses, Elijah and Elias with Joseph Smith in the Kirtland temple, along with a personal visitation from the Savior Himself.

Last Saturday in General Conference, President Uchtdorf offered important perspective on Oliver Cowdery:

This past summer our family had a wonderful opportunity to visit some early Church history sites in the eastern United States. In a special way, we relived the history of that time. People I had read so much about—people like Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and Thomas B. Marsh—became more real to me as we walked where they walked and pondered the sacrifices they made to build the kingdom of God.
They had many great traits that allowed them to make significant contributions to the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. But they were also human, weak, and fallible—just as you and I are. Some found themselves at variance with the Prophet Joseph Smith and fell away from the Church. Later, many of the same people had a change of heart, humbled themselves, and once again sought and found fellowship with the Saints.
We might have a tendency to judge these brethren and other members like them. We might say, “I would never have abandoned the Prophet Joseph.”
While that may be true, we don’t really know what it was like to live in that time, in those circumstances. No, they were not perfect, but how encouraging it is to know that God was able to use them anyway. He knew their strengths and weaknesses, and He gave them the extraordinary opportunity to contribute a verse or a melody to the glorious anthem of the Restoration.
How encouraging it is to know, though we are imperfect, if our hearts are turned to God, He will be generous and kind and use us for His purposes.

Friday, September 22, 2017

September 22, 1827

Today is the 190th anniversary of the day when Joseph obtained the Harmony plates from Moroni. The plates were in a stone box on the Hill Cumorah in western New York. This was in a department of the hill separate from the depository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6).

Maybe by the 200th anniversary, in 2027, everyone in the Church will accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah in Letter VII.

Actually, I hope that day arrives sooner. Maybe in 2023, the 200th anniversary of the date when Joseph first saw the plates?

Or 2020, the 200th anniversary of the First Vision?

But why wait? How about this year, in 2017?

Think of what a difference it would make int he Church and in the world if all of our LDS scholars and educators decided, finally, to embrace what Joseph and Oliver and all of their successors taught?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Camorah" in 1830

Letter VII's observations about Cumorah reflected teachings that were known before the translation of the Book of Mormon was even finished, as we know from David Whitmer's account of the trip from Harmony to Fayette.

Nevertheless, some scholars claim that the association of the "New York hill" with ancient Cumorah was a later invention. They say it was a false tradition started by unknown persons, and that Joseph Smith passively adopted this false tradition.

One of the Histories included in the Joseph Smith Papers was written by John Corrill. Titled A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1839, Corrill relates his experience with the missionaries in Ohio in 1830.

You can read it here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/john-corrill-a-brief-history-of-the-church-of-christ-of-latter-day-saints-1839/5

Notice what he writes about Cumorah:

"Sometime in the fall of 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer [Jr.] and Tiba [Ziba] Peterson, came through the county of Ashtabula, Ohio, where I then resided, on their way westward. They professed to be special messengers of the Living God, sent to preach the Gospel in its purity, as it was anciently preached by the Apostles. They had with them a new revelation, which they said had been translated from certain golden plates that had been deposited in a hill, (anciently called Camorah,) in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York. They were deposited about 1400 years since by one Moroni, under the direction of Heaven, with a promise that in the Lord’s own due time, they should be brought forth, for the special benefit of the remnant of his people, the house of Israel, through Joseph, of Egypt, as well as for the salvation of the Gentiles upon this continent. This soon became the topic of conversation in that section of country, and excited the curiosity of the people..."

If you remember from Letter VII, Oliver pointed out that Camorah was an incorrect spelling. But the point here is these early missionaries, including Oliver Cowdery, were teaching that the hill in New York was "anciently called Camorah."

Oliver was with David Whitmer and Joseph Smith in May/June 1829 when they met the divine messenger who was going to Cumorah with the Harmony plates. It was this messenger who identified Cumorah as a real place to which he was traveling in New York.

Later, of course, Oliver, Joseph and others visited Mormon's depository of records in the same hill, which Mormon labeled Cumorah in Mormon 6:6.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Why Letter VII is awesome

From time to time, I like to remember how significant Letter VII was in Church history and why it's so important today.

Joseph and Oliver wrote these eight historical letters to edify and educate the early Saints. In part, they were responding to anti-Mormon publications. They assured readers that the letters were "founded upon facts."

One of the things they specifically identified as a fact was that the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites took place on the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

They also said Mormon's depository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill. To Joseph and Oliver, this was not a matter of theory or conjecture; they had actually been in the depository, as Brigham Young and others explained.

It's not just Letter VII that is awesome.

Part of Letter I has been canonized in the Pearl of Great Price.

Other letters tell us details about Moroni's first visit, about Joseph's visit to the Hill Cumorah, about how the stone box was constructed, and more. For example, thanks to these letters we know that Moroni told Joseph the record was "written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home. This means Mormon lived in the area when he abridged the Nephite records in the depository that, also, was not far from Joseph's home.

It's no wonder that Joseph Smith had his scribes copy these letters into his own history.

It's no wonder that Joseph encouraged others to reprint these letters so everyone would have access to them.

(I don't think it's ironic that the first thing published after Joseph's martyrdom, The Prophet newspaper in New York on June 29, 1844 (published by William Smith, Joseph's brother), included Letter VII.)

It's no wonder that all of Joseph's contemporaries and successors accepted what he and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

But we do have to wonder why some of our modern LDS scholars and educators continue to reject and oppose what Joseph and Oliver taught in these letters.

In October 1834, the first anti-Mormon book was published in Painesville, Ohio, not far from Kirtland. Written by E.D. Howe, the book was titled Mormonism Unvailed, and it portrayed the Book of Mormon as fiction (claiming it was copied from a romance novel by Solomon Spalding). Even today, critics of the Church make this claim, now called the Spalding theory. 
Mormonism Unvailed by E.D. Howe

When we look at Church history, how did Joseph and Oliver, the President and Assistant President of the Church, respond to Mormonism Unvailed?

They wrote a series of eight historical letters and published them in the Messenger and Advocate. In the first issue, published in October 1834 (the same month as Mormonism Unvailed), Oliver explained that "our opponants [opponents] have cried an alarm, and used every exertion to hinder the spread of truth; but truth has continued its steady course, and the work of the Lord has rolled on."

He introduced the series of historical letters by writing, "we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints... 

"That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts."

This is a rational and effective response to the allegation in Mormonism Unvailed that the Book of Mormon was fiction. What better way to confront error than with facts?

In 1834, these letters were a response to Mormonism Unvailed.

Today, in 2017, these letters are a response to the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.

Among the facts that Oliver and Joseph presented was the detailed explanation that Cumorah was in New York. They explicitly stated it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill in New York where Joseph first obtained the plates from Moroni. They said Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill. And they specifically identified it as Cumorah.

But some of our BYU scholars reject what they wrote, claiming that these were not facts but opinions, and that they were wrong.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Documentary evidence for the New York Cumorah

A reader of this blog emailed me an awesome summary of the documentary evidence for the New York Cumorah. Here it is:

Cumorah: Six Documentary Testimonies That Moroni Told Joseph Smith The Name Of The Hill in Palmyra, New York, Prior To The Translation Of The Plates.

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. Parley P Pratt wrote the following, which was published in 1841:

“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.””

How often have we sung this song without noticing that it was a quote from Moroni?

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 evidence to the contrary.

h/t to Theodore Brandley

Notice that proponents of the two-Cumorahs theory disbelieve all of this evidence, on top of Letter VII.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Question about numbers at Cumorah

A question has arisen about the numbers of people (Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites) killed at Cumorah.

This is another reason why I keep saying, every member of the Church should be familiar with Letter VII.

On July 27, 2017, I published a post about this issue. I pointed out that in Letter VII, "Oliver described the remains of the Jaredites as "the ashes of thousands." Not millions, but thousands. Not even tens of thousands. Just thousands."

This is consistent with the text, which gives us specific numbers for the last two days of the Jaredite battle. A careful reading of Ether 13 shows that the two million people mentioned were killed long before Cumorah.

"There were additional battles leading up to Cumorah. Even after four years, they could gather only a relatively few people to Cumorah, so few that after six days of battle, there were only 121 people left. The next day, there were only 59 left. Even if we assume that half the people were killed each day, that calculates to about 7,744 on the first day of battle."

Oliver also wrote that, regarding the Nephites and Lamanites, only "tens of thousands" were killed. This, too, is apparent from a careful reading of Mormon 6 as I explained in that post.

Then why, people are asking, have much greater numbers been assumed for so many years?

First, who says larger numbers were killed?

Book of Mormon Central (BOMC), for one.

They published a KnoWhy that attempts to explain hundreds of thousands of Nephites killed at Cumorah by offering four suggestions:

1. "Mormon May Have Exaggerated."

2. "A Thousand May Not Actually Mean A Thousand."

3. "The Army May Actually Have Been Massive."

4. "230,000 Could Represent Entire Population."

I was going to make comments on each, but I think anyone can see the serious problems these suggested answers raise. To support their Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories, BOMC is questioning the accuracy of the scriptures and Mormon's own credibility and reliability.

BOMC includes 15 footnotes, mostly to their like-minded, citation sharing associates such as John Sorenson, FARMS publications, and their own Kno-Whys. But they never once cite Letter VII.

The suitably massive "Hill Cumorah" in Mexico (one of several
proposed by Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs advocates)
This is another example of the Groupthink that justifies the two-Cumorahs theory by claiming huge numbers of people died at Cumorah, so the hill in New York doesn't "qualify." "It would seem that a hill of 500-1,000 meters in altitude would be required," writes David Palmer, who claimed in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that "the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description."

This theme is a basic premise for the two-Cumorahs theory. You'll find it throughout the Mesoamerican-promoting LDS literature.

That's why they'll never quote or cite Letter VII.

Our current LDS scholars and educators are not the only ones who have ignored what Oliver and Joseph had to say about Cumorah.

On July 7, 1886, the Millennial Star published an article by Orson Pratt titled "The Hill Cumorah: or the Sacred Depository of Wisdom and Understanding." This is the article in which Pratt made an important contribution by explaining there were two departments in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

First was Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) and, second, in a different area of the same hill, was Moroni's stone box from which Joseph obtained the "Original Book of Mormon" consisting of the abridged plates (which I call the Harmony plates, because he translated all of them in Harmony, except the sealed portion).

[As a reminder, the second set of plates Joseph translated, the plates of Nephi (D&C 10), came from the depository itself. Joseph received these in Fayette, where he translated them into 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. That's why I call them the Fayette plates.]

Orson Pratt's explanation was not new; it simply corroborates what Oliver taught, and what Brigham Young and others said Oliver taught, about the depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

However, Pratt either forgot about or ignored Letter VII when he, Pratt, wrote about the battles at Cumorah:

"The hill Cumorah, with the surrounding vicinity, is distinguished as the great battlefield 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." Not the tens of thousands Letter VII teaches, but "hundreds of thousands on both sides."

Regarding the Jaredites, he wrote, "millions fought against millions until the hill Ramah and the land round about was soaked with blood and their carcasses left in countless numbers unburied, to moulder back to mother earth." Again, not the "thousands" Letter VII teaches, but "millions."

This wasn't the first time Orson Pratt lapsed into exaggeration. He wrote an 1840 pamphlet that Joseph later edited to write the Wentworth letter. In his pamphlet, Pratt went on and on about how the descendants of Lehi filled the hemisphere. Joseph edited out all the hemispheric rhetoric and corrected it by explaining that "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."

Simple, plain, clear, and unambiguous.

But the scholars reject what he wrote in the Wentworth Letter.

Just like Letter VII.

(Don't forget that the Curriculum Committee even edited out this passage from the Wentworth letter when they prepared the Joseph Smith lesson manual.)

We don't find fault with Orson Pratt for his enthusiasm and failure to pay attention to what Joseph and Oliver wrote, but we also recognize the mistakes he made and seek to correct them. We certainly shouldn't be perpetuating them the way BOMC and other proponents of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory continue to do.

I'll repeat: every member of the Church should be familiar with Letter VII.

Joseph and Oliver wanted us to know that Cumorah was in New York, Mormon's depository was in the same hill, and thousands (not millions) of Jaredites died there, along with tens of thousands of Nephites and Lamanites (not hundreds of thousands of Nephites alone).

Friday, August 11, 2017

Letter VII in British pamphlet

I've mentioned the 1844 pamphlet published in Liverpool that includes Letter VII.

The Millennial Star began publication in May 1840. The second issue, June 1840, contained excerpts from Oliver's letters. The first letter was published in full in January 1843, accompanied with a promise to publish all of them in a pamphlet.

Oliver was not a member of the Church when these reprints were published, but he had been Assistant President of the Church when he wrote the letters and members considered them important and authoritative (unlike Phelps' answers, which were never approved by Joseph Smith or reprinted).

This publication history shows that Oliver's letters were reprinted continuously from 1840 through 1847 with Joseph's express permission and encouragement, as well as his implicit approval.

You can see copies of the original here:

and here:

People have asked about it so here is the background information provided by Peter Crawley, who has done a phenomenal job with his Descriptive Bibliography.

This entry is available here:

197 COWDERY, Oliver. Letters by Oliver Cowdery, to W. W. Phelps, on the origin of the Book of Mormon, and the rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Liverpool: Published by Thomas Ward and John Cairns, 36, Chapel Street. 1844

48 pp. 17.5 cm. Yellow printed wrappers.
Oliver Cowdery’s eight letters to W. W. Phelps, first published in the Messenger and Advocate between October 1834 and October 1835, constitute the earliest printed account of the birth of Mormonism. Extracts from the letters were included in the Millennial Star for June and September–November 1840, and the letters were reprinted more or less in full in the Times and Seasons of November 1–December 15, 1840, and March 15–May 1, 1841. They were again republished in the sixth number of the Gospel Reflector (item 95). A comparison of the various printings makes it clear that the pamphlet Letters by Oliver Cowdery was taken from the Gospel Reflector.[226]
Thomas Ward included the first letter in the Millennial Star of January 1843 and announced there that he intended to publish all eight in pamphlet form. One year later the Star noted that Letters by Oliver Cowdery was in press, and in February 1844 it advertised the pamphlet as just published, price 6d. each, or 5s. per dozen. The Star advertised it again in November 1846, now at 3d. And the European Mission financial records show that during 1847 the Millennial Star office sold about nine hundred copies at a wholesale price of 2d. each.[227]
It is the second work co-published by John Cairns (see item 102). The verso of the title page bears the imprint Liverpool: Printed by James and Woodburn, Hanover-Street, while the colophon at the foot of p. 48 reads Liverpool: Printed by James and Woodburn, South Castle Street. It was issued in yellow wrappers, the title page, with an added line “Truth will prevail” following Latter-day Saints, reprinted within an ornamental border on the front, and book advertisements on the back.
Cowdery’s first letter describes his initial contact with Joseph Smith, his participation in translating the Book of Mormon, and the appearance of John the Baptist which he and Joseph Smith shared. In the third letter he moves back in time and discusses the revival led by Rev. Lane in the Palmyra area, the attendant religious excitement, and the Smith family’s religious seeking—events that are usually associated with Joseph Smith’s 1820 vision. At this point a curious textual change occurs. The version of this letter in the Messenger and Advocate states that this religious excitement occurred during Joseph Smith’s fifteenth year. In the pamphlet 15th is changed to 17th. The fourth letter picks up the narrative and, in the original version, it states that the reference to the fifteenth year in Letter III was “an error in the type—it should have been in the 17th. . . .This would bring the date down to the year 1823.” The pamphlet version eliminates any reference to an error and, like the original, proceeds from this point with an account of the appearance of the angel to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823, an event that is entirely unrelated to the religious excitement described in the third letter. These changes follow the Gospel Reflector, so Benjamin Winchester must have been responsible for them.[228]
Whatever was intended in Letter III, certain problems persist. Joseph Smith’s seventeenth year was 1822, not 1823. And Rev. George Lane was most prominently in the Palmyra area in 1824–25.[229] It is conceivable that Cowdery shifted the date after realizing he had introduced Lane at the wrong time. It is also possible that he described the events leading up to Joseph Smith’s 1820 vision in Letter III with the intent of recounting it in Letter IV; then, after Letter III was printed, he decided not to mention the vision, which at the time was not openly discussed (see item 82).
Letter VII continues the account of the angelic visitation on September 21, 1823, and of the events just following. It includes a description of the Hill Cumorah, where Joseph Smith obtained the plates. Letter VIII further describes Cumorah and relates the vision he had at this spot. The next-to-last paragraph refers to a trial he was subjected to sometime between 1823 and 1827—undoubtedly the trial at South Bainbridge, New York, in 1826.[230] The pamphlet concludes with a short letter from Joseph Smith, first published in the Messenger and Advocate of December 1834, in which he comments on his early life.
Flake 2546. CSmH, CtY, CU-B, DLC, ICHi, MoInRC, UHi, UPB, US1C, UU.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Letter VII Background

For new readers (and old) I prepared this brief background on Letter VII that you can use to explain to other people.

Letter VII background

With the assistance of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery wrote a series of eight letters about the early history of the Church. They were initially published in the Messenger and Advocate in 1834-1835. Part of Letter I is included in the Pearl of Great Price. Letter VII is especially noteworthy because it declares it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah in New York was the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites. Letter VII also specifies that Mormon’s depository was located in the same hill, a teaching later reaffirmed by Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, and others.

Shortly after the letters were published, Joseph directed his scribes to copy all eight letters into his personal history (History, 1834-1836, found at http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/83).

In 1840, Orson Pratt reprinted portions of the letters (including Letter VII) in his pamphlet, “A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions.” Joseph later adapted portions of this pamphlet when he wrote the Wentworth Letter in March 1842, although he replaced Pratt’s hemispheric concept with the simple statement that “The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.”

Joseph desired that all members of the Church be aware of these letters. In the fall of 1840, Joseph gave them to his brother, Don Carlos, to reprint in the Times and Seasons. Letter VII was published in the April, 1841, edition of the Times and Seasons. Also in 1840, Joseph gave permission to Benjamin Winchester to reprint the letters in the Gospel Reflector, Winchester’s Mormon newspaper in Philadelphia. All eight letters were printed as a special edition of the Gospel Reflector in March 1841.

Responding to strong demand, the eight letters were reprinted as a pamphlet in England in February 1844.

Beginning in May 1844, The Prophet newspaper reprinted the letters in New York City. William Smith reprinted Letter VII on June 29, 1844—two days after the martyrdom.

All eight letters were reprinted in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era. All of Joseph’s contemporaries and successors accepted Letter VII’s teachings about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

However, beginning in the 1920s, RLDS scholars reassessed the Book of Mormon and decided the narrative took place in a limited area of Central America. This meant that Cumorah, too, was actually somewhere in Southern Mexico. LDS scholars gradually adopted the same rationale.

Alarmed at the development, Joseph Fielding Smith, then Church Historian and an Apostle for 20 years, declared:
This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.”

When he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Joseph Fielding Smith reissued his warning about the two-Cumorahs theory. However, LDS scholars and educators rejected his counsel, claiming it was merely his opinion and their own ideas were correct. Even now, in 2017, LDS scholars and educators actively teach that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. They teach that Joseph adopted a false tradition about Cumorah, and that all the Prophets and Apostles who reaffirmed the teaching of Letter VII were also expressing personal opinions—even when they spoke in General Conference.

The influence of these scholars permeates the Church. The two-Cumorahs theory is now being taught at BYU (where it is an integral component of the required Book of Mormon classes), in CES, and in Visitors Centers throughout the Church. Unlike in Joseph’s day, few Church members even know about Letter VII.

As President Smith warned, the two-Cumorahs theory has led many thousands of members of the Church—especially the youth—to lose their faith. It is an obstacle many investigators cannot overcome. The tragedy is Joseph and Oliver answered this question all the way back in 1835 and yet LDS scholars reject them.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Letter VII published in New York on June 29, 1844

William Smith, Joseph's brother, was the editor of The Prophet, a Mormon newspaper based in New York City. William republished Letter VII in the June 29, 1844, edition. This was two days after Joseph and Hyrum were martyred at the Carthage jail in Illinois.

The timing is purely coincidental, but it is an interesting historical fact that people in New York were reading Letter VII which explains that the Hill Cumorah is in New York right about the time that Joseph was sealing his testimony with his blood in Carthage.

News traveled slowly in those days. On June 29, 1844, L.O. Littlefield wrote a letter from Nauvoo describing what had happened in Carthage. He sent it to the Editor of The Prophet, but it wasn't published until the July 27, 1844, issue.

The June 29th issue also announced that William Smith was the editor of The Prophet.

It's interesting that the first issue of The Prophet, published in May 18, 1844, included Oliver's Letter I. The paper showed how significant these letters were to members of the Church in Joseph's day by introducing the letters with this statement:

"As the important particulars, and incidents, connected with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, have ever been, and are now, subjects of enquiry, we shall insert, for the benefit of those who are not acquainted with the coming forth of the above named work, one of the following letters, each week until we are published." 

Each subsequent issue published another of his letters.

My point here is that although Oliver's letters had been published four times already (1835 - Kirtland, 1841 - Nauvoo, 1841 - Philadelphia, and 1844 - England), the editor of The Prophet thought they were so important that he republished them yet again, this time in New York.

The June 29th issue happened to be issue no. 7, which is why it contained Letter VII.

A fascinating coincidence, isn't it?

Some readers may not be familiar with The Prophet. Here is an explanation from the DVD that accompanies Susan Easton Black's excellent book titled The Best of the Prophet.

The Latter-day Saint Experience in the East, 1844–1845
Susan Easton Black
The Prophet is the key to understanding the Latter-day Saint experience in the East from 1844 to 1845. Although only one volume of newsprint, the newspaper contains fifty-two issues, spanning four pages in length, with each page divided into five columns. This translates into approximately twenty-five hundred single-spaced pages on 8½" x 11" paper. And the masthead of the first weekly issue1 on Saturday, May 18, 1844, proudly proclaimed, "We Contend for the Truth." From the eighth issue on Saturday, July 6, 1844, to the final issue on Saturday, May 24, 1845, the proclamation was revised to include "Devoted to the Dissemination of Truth, Moral, Religious, Political, and Scientific."2
Editors of The Prophet printed an unrelenting defense of Mormonism to counteract exaggerated reports and slanderous claims stemming from Hancock County, Illinois, and printed in eastern newspapers. Editors George T. Leach, William Smith, Samuel Brannan, and Parley P. Pratt confronted politicians, newspaper columnists, and even the governor of Illinois on statements that misrepresented Mormon faith and vilified discipleship. In contrast, they wrote in glowing terms of Joseph Smith and the thousands of Mormons gathered on the banks of the Mississippi in the Zion-like society of Nauvoo. They wrote words of encouragement to fellow believers in the East who were planning to migrate to the Illinois capital of Mormonism.

Here is an excerpt from the book, pages 7-8
[William] Smith wrote to Leach (the founder of The Prophet) on June 3, 1844, "I mentioned to them [Church leaders in Nauvoo] concerning your publishing a paper in New York, and the Prophet bid it God speed: the council also sanctioned it by a loud and general vote, so 'go ahead' and do the best you can--which I have no doubt you will do--and the rest I will tell you when I get there."
With John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff engaged in publishing the Times and Seasons [in Nauvoo], Church leaders believed that a man equal to their apostolic status was needed to fill the editorship of The Prophet. Since William Smith was already serving a mission in the East, having been called on April 19, 1843, the choice seemed obvious. Church leaders met with Smith in May 1844 to ascertain his interest in being named editor of The Prophet. With the approbation of his brother Joseph and fellow members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Smith agreed to take the helm of The Prophet.
1Two weekly printings of The Prophet were missed—October 26, 1844, and May 17, 1845.
2"Masthead," The Prophet 1, no. 1 (May 18, 1844): p. 1, col. 1. Editors William Smith and Samuel Brannan added a scriptural caveat to the masthead: "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the Prophets” (Amos 3:7). See "Surely the Lord God . . ." The Prophet 1, no. 8 (July 6, 1844): p. 1, col. 1.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon is the question

Oliver wrote the eight historical letters, including Letter VII, partly in response to the book Mormonism Unvailed that was published in Painesville, Ohio, in October 1834. In that book, on p. 38, the author writes, "The divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon is the question now before us."

He then follows with a series of criticisms of the text as well as Joseph Smith. Among other things, the author criticizes the 3 Witnesses. "But if the plates were hid by the angel so that they have not been seen since, how do these witnesses know that when Smith translated out of a hat, with a peep-stone, that the contents of the plates were repeated and written down?" (p. 78)

When viewed in this context, we can better understand why Oliver Cowdery wrote about Cumorah the way he did. He said it was a fact that the final battles took place there. He said Mormon's depository was in the same hill. He explained that "thousands" of Jaredites died there, and "tens of thousands" of Nephites and Lamanites.

In short, Oliver wrote Letter VII to establish facts that contradict the messages of anti-Mormons as early as 1844. In our day, we also need to be familiar with Letter VII and the other historical letters for basically the same reasons.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

More about Cumorah's casualties

A few days ago, I commented on what Oliver Cowdery taught about the battles at Cumorah in New York I wrote this:

Oliver explained that Mormon foresaw the approaching destruction and its parallel to the Jaredite destruction in the same place. Speaking from Mormon's perspective, and after describing the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah, Oliver wrote:

"In this vale lie commingled, in one mass of ruin the ashes of thousands, and in this vale was destined to consume the fair forms and vigerous systems of tens of thousands of the human race—blood mixed with blood, flesh with flesh, bones with bones and dust with dust!"

Oliver described the remains of the Jaredites as "the ashes of thousands." Not millions, but thousands. Not even tens of thousands. Just thousands.

When we read the Book of Mormon carefully, we recognize that Oliver was correct. The 8-day Jaredite battle at Cumorah could not have involved more than a few thousand, as we see from the count of the actual number killed on the last two days. Coriantumr realized that two million of his people had been killed long before they reached Ramah, or Cumorah. (Ether 13) There were additional battles leading up to Cumorah. Even after four years, they could gather only a relatively few people to Cumorah, so few that after six days of battle, there were only 121 people left. The next day, there were only 59 left. Even if we assume that half the people were killed each day, that calculates to about 7,744 on the first day of battle.

Hence, Oliver wrote that there were the "ashes of thousands," not even tens of thousands.

Same with the Nephites.

Oliver says "tens of thousands" were to be killed, including Lamanites and Nephites. 

Mormon said he could see 20,000 from the top of Cumorah. (Mormon 6:11-12). The rest of his people, the ones Mormon lists in verses 13-15, had died long before the final battle at Cumorah. Mormon and Moroni could not see those dead people from Cumorah. Let's say an equivalent number of Lamanites were killed. That totals 40,000. This fits the "tens of thousands" Oliver mentioned.

You can read this right out of Joseph Smith's own history, titled History, 1834-1836, which is found in the Joseph Smith Papers here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/83. The portion I quoted is from this page: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/92

Questions have been raised about my comments on the numbers of Nephites killed. Here are the verses from Mormon 6, with my commentary.

7 And it came to pass that my people, with their wives and their children,
[When Mormon wrote "my people" here, was he referring only to men? If he meant only men, why write "people" here? I think he was speaking about all the people, using the term "with" to mean "including." Other interpretations are also possible.]
did now behold the armies of the Lamanites marching towards them; and with that awful fear of death which fills the breasts of all the wicked, did they await to receive them.

8 And it came to pass that they came to battle against us, and every soul was filled with terror because of the greatness of their numbers. [This is a relative term, of course. There were lots of Lamanites, presumably more than there were Nephites, but Mormon gives not absolute or even estimated numbers.]

9 And it came to pass that they did fall upon my people with the sword, and with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the ax, and with all manner of weapons of war. [In terms of evidence, we would not expect to find metal or wood implements after 1400 years of exposure in western New York. Stone implements and components have been found in the vicinity of Cumorah, as well as on the hill itself.]

10 And it came to pass that my men were hewn down, yea, even my ten thousand who were with me,
[the phrase "yea, even" is used about 182 times in the Book of Mormon, usually to expand on or explain the previous thought. E.g., "becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites" "hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God" "they came to a land, yea, even a very beautiful and pleasant land." Following this usage, I think Mormon is saying, "my men were hewn down; in fact, all ten thousand of my people were killed."]
and I fell wounded in the midst; and they passed by me that they did not put an end to my life.

11 And when they had gone through and hewn down all my people
[here, Mormon uses "my people" to refer to everyone, not just his men, unless we want to believe there were women and children in addition to the 24 survivors, which doesn't make sense.]
save it were twenty and four of us, (among whom was my son Moroni) and we having survived the dead of our people, did behold on the morrow, when the Lamanites had returned unto their camps, from the top of the hill Cumorah, the ten thousand of my people who were hewn down, being led in the front by me.
[There is an argument that the "ten thousand" refers to a military unit. But it can also refer to a group of people including men, women and children, which is how I think Mormon uses it here.]

12 And we also beheld the ten thousand of my people who were led by my son Moroni.
[Again, he doesn't specify men, but refers to "my people" who were led by Moroni. The other key point here is that from the top of Cumorah, Mormon could see his ten thousand and Moroni's ten thousand. But he doesn't say he can see anyone else.]

13 And behold, the ten thousand of Gidgiddonah had fallen, and he also in the midst.
[Notice the change. Instead of writing "we beheld" or "we did behold," Mormon writes "And behold." This phrase is used about 250 times in the Book of Mormon. It is used to call attention, not to recount what the writer is seeing. This is why the transition from verse 12 to 13 can be confusing if we're not reading carefully. The word "behold" can be a transitive verb meaning to observe. But is also used as an intransitive verb in the imperative to call attention to something. That's how Mormon uses it here. Notice, in verses 11 and 12 it's transitive because he writes "we beheld" and "we did behold," but in verse 13, it's intransitive. Here are other examples from the text. "he has testified aright unto us concerning our iniquities. And behold they are many." "And behold, there was peace in all the land."  "And this is the commandment which I have received; and behold, they shall come forth."
The question is, why would Mormon write about his previous leaders and their people who had fallen? 
First, he was with his son on top of the Hill Cumorah in New York looking back on everything that had happened. In verses 17-22, he reflects on the loss of his entire nation, the people who had refused his call to repent all the way back to the time when he was 15 and saw their wickedness and wanted to preach, but was prevented (Mormon 1:15). This was around 325 A.D., and in Chapter 6, he's writing around 385 A.D. He's looking back at 60 years of his life. In Chapter 5, he recounts how he agreed to lead the Nephite armies again in 379 A.D. He describes the conflict, the Lamanites burning towns, villages and cities, treading the Nephites under their feet, and sweeping down and destroying all the Nephites who were not fast enough to flee, even after the Nephites "did stand against them boldly." After 380, Mormon says he stopped writing about the "awful scene of blood and carnage" until he writes the letter in 384 and gathers "all the remainder of our people unto the land of Cumorah." It's possible they gathered more than 20,000 to the land of Cumorah, but by the time they retreated to the hill Cumorah, there were only the 20,000 left. That's why Oliver wrote that there were tens of thousands of bodies left, which presumably included dead Lamanites.]

14 And Lamah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Gilgal had fallen with his ten thousand; and Limhah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Jeneum had fallen with his ten thousand; and Cumenihah, and Moronihah, and Antionum, and Shiblom, and Shem, and Josh, had fallen with their ten thousand each.
[These were all people killed earlier in the Lamanites wars, or possibly killed in the land of Cumorah, but not at the hill (because Mormon couldn't see them from the top of the hill).]

15 And it came to pass that there were ten more who did fall by the sword, with their ten thousand each; yea, even all my people, save it were those twenty and four who were with me, and also a few who had escaped into the south countries, and a few who had deserted over unto the Lamanites, had fallen; and their flesh, and bones, and blood lay upon the face of the earth, being left by the hands of those who slew them to molder upon the land, and to crumble and to return to their mother earth.
[Over the course of years of fighting, it's not surprising that some would escape to the south and others would desert over to the Lamanites.]

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Oliver's qualifications to write Letter VII

The LDS scholars and educators who try to discredit Letter VII because Oliver wasn't qualified to write it generally base their position on the premise that Oliver never "claimed revelation" about the Hill Cumorah.

The obvious response is, why would Oliver claim revelation when he had personally visited Mormon's depository of records, right there in the hill Cumorah in New York?

There's another consideration.

On April 19, 1834, Joseph gave Oliver a special blessing related to writing and publishing.

Brothers Joseph, Sidney, and Zebedee then laid hands upon bro. Oliver, and confirmed upon him the blessings of wisdom and understanding sufficient for his station; that he be qualified to assist brother Sidney in arranging the church covenants which are to be soon published; and to have intelligence in all things to do the work of printing. 

Here's the link to the original: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-1832-1834/79

Aside from all his other qualifications, this blessing from Joseph Smith tells us that Oliver had "the blessings of wisdom and understanding" he needed to write the eight historical letters, including Letter VII.

There are also some who oppose Letter VII who say that Joseph didn't really help Oliver write the letters. Here's one reason to think Joseph and Oliver worked together.

On August 17, 1835, the Presidency of the Church met to examine and approve the book of commandments and covenants, which had been compiled and written by the committee. This took place when Oliver was still writing and publishing the letters.

Here are the minutes:

General Assembly,
Convened in   August 17th. A.D. 1835 by the  of the  , for the purpose of Examining a book of commandments and covenants, which has been compiled and written by the following committee, which was appointed by a general assembly of the Church in  Sept. 24th 1834 & instructing the writers of said Book. This committee was nominated, by the Speaker of the  , seconded & voted into this office, by the whole body of the church then assembled. The names of the Committe are as follows Joseph Smith Junr.   &  . This Committe having finished said Book according to the instructions given them, it was deemed necessary to call the general assembly of the Church to see whether the book be approved or not by the Authoroties of the church, that it may, if approved, become a law. unto the church, and a rule of faith and practice unto the same. Therefore, this assembly was called to order & organized as follows. First the Presidents of the church in  , (Viz.)
}present and took the lead of the meeting
Joseph Smith Junr.}absent


Joseph and Oliver worked on this committee to "compile and write" the revelations. It seems strange to argue that they did not also work together on the historical letters that Oliver was publishing in the same time frame.