Monday, December 18, 2017

Which narrative makes sense to you?

Letter VII presents LDS readers with a narrative that makes sense; i.e., the Hill Cumorah is in New York. This means Mormon's depository of records (Mormon 6:6) and the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites took place in New York.

But this narrative contradicts the prevailing Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory that some intellectuals in the Church have promoted for decades.

See which narrative fits your concept.

Two narratives*

A common theme in the scriptures, literature, and even psychology is the existence of two narratives from which people choose. Of course, there are usually far more than two, but often there are two fundamentally different narratives.

For example, the New Testament describes two narratives about Christ:

John 10:19-21 There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?

There are lots of examples. I'm sure you can think of several right now.

Lehi gave an explanation here:

2 Nephi 2:11, 15 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad... it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.


With regard to Book of Mormon geography and historicity, we can choose between two narratives. I'll compare them side by side below.

Note that "Mesoamerica" is a proxy for every theory that places Cumorah somewhere other than in New York.

As always, I emphasize that people are free to believe whatever they want. The table is intended to clarify what others think so you can compare your own beliefs and make up your own mind.

Which do you find more compatible with your beliefs? Which is more compatible with the historical evidence? Which is best corroborated by the sciences?

Moroni’s America
Mormon and Moroni lived in Mesoamerica.
Mormon and Moroni lived in North America.
Mormon wrote his abridgment somewhere in Mesoamerica and hid up all the Nephite records in a repository in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6), a hill somewhere in southern Mexico, before giving "these few plates" to Moroni.
(Note: Moroni told Joseph the record was "written and deposited near" Joseph's home.)
Mormon wrote his abridgment in the vicinity of western New York and hid up all the Nephite records in a repository in in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6), the hill near Palmyra, New York, before giving "these few plates" to Moroni.
(Note: Moroni told Joseph the record was "written and deposited near" Joseph's home.)
Thinking he would not live long, Moroni adds a couple of chapters to his father’s record, travels 3,400 miles to New York, and hides the plates in the stone box, thinking he would not live long. Or, he keeps the plates with him while he roams around Mesoamerica for decades before taking them to New York. Or he hides them somewhere else until he is ready to take them 3,400 miles to New York.
Thinking he would not live long, Moroni adds a couple of chapters to his father’s record and hides the plates in the stone box he built in the hill Cumorah in New York, separate from his father's depository in the same hill. 
Later, Moroni retrieves the plates of Ether from the repository in southern Mexico and abridges them. He adds the abridgment to his father’s abridgment, along with a sealed portion, and hides the plates again in New York. Or, Moroni abridges the plates of Ether right after his father died, and the plates of Ether were among the few his father gave him, and after he abridges them, he returns the original plates to his father's depository. Or the plates of Ether are the sealed portion.
Later, Moroni retrieves the plates of Ether from the depository in New York and abridges them. He adds this abridgment to his father’s abridgment, along with a sealed portion and his own commentary, and puts this collection of plates into his stone box. He returns the original plates of Ether to the depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.
Later, Moroni returns to the repository in southern Mexico and gets a sermon and letters from his father. He adds this material to his final comments—the Book of Moroni—and returns to New York to put the finished record back in the stone box.
Later, Moroni returns to the depository in New York and gets a sermon and letters from his father. He adds this material to his final comments—the Book of Moroni—and puts his finished record back in the stone box. He returns the source material to the depository.
Moroni visits Joseph Smith in 1823 and tells him the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home. But this is a mistake because the record was written in Central America and deposited in New York. Either Joseph or Oliver misunderstood, or else Moroni misspoke.
Moroni visits Joseph Smith in 1823 and tells him the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home. Moroni accurately describes where the record was written.
Joseph Smith obtained the abridged record of the Nephites and the Jaredites from Moroni’s stone box. He translated part of these plates in Harmony and gave them back to an angel. The Lord told him to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10), even though he had reached the end of the plates (the Title Page) and hadn't found these plates of Nephi yet.
Joseph Smith obtained the abridged record of the Nephites and the Jaredites from Moroni’s stone box. He translated these plates in Harmony and gave them back to an angel because he was finished with them. The Lord told him to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10), but he didn’t have those yet.
In Harmony, Joseph translated the Title Page from the last leaf of the plates. He had it printed and delivered to the U.S. federal district court in New York as part of his copyright application.
In Harmony, Joseph translated the Title Page from the last leaf of the plates. He had it printed and delivered to the U.S. federal district court in New York as part of his copyright application.
On the way from Harmony to Fayette, David Whitmer said he, Joseph and Oliver encountered an old man bearing the plates who was heading for Cumorah. Joseph said it was one of the three Nephites. But David was mistaken because he conflated the false tradition of the New York Cumorah with another unspecified event.
On the way from Harmony to Fayette, David Whitmer said he, Joseph and Oliver encountered an old man bearing the plates who was heading for Cumorah. Joseph said it was one of the three Nephites. This was the messenger who had the Harmony plates and was returning them to the repository.
In Fayette, an angel returned the Harmony plates to Joseph.
In Fayette, an angel gave Joseph the small plates of Nephi which came from the repository in Cumorah.
In Fayette, Joseph translated the small plates of Nephi (1 Nephi – Words of Mormon).
In Fayette, Joseph translated the small plates of Nephi (1 Nephi – Words of Mormon).
Joseph and Oliver Cowdery and others had multiple visions of Mormon’s depository in the “real” Hill Cumorah, which is somewhere in southern Mexico.
Joseph and Oliver Cowdery and others actually visited Mormon’s depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York and saw the stacks of plates and other Nephite artifacts.
Cumorah cannot be in New York because it is a “clean hill.”
Cumorah is in New York because hundreds of artifacts, including weapons of war, have been recovered from the vicinity of the hill.
Cumorah cannot be in New York because it is a glacial moraine that cannot contain a natural cave.
Cumorah is in New York because an actual room that matches the description given by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others has been found there.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery never claimed revelation about the location of Cumorah. They merely speculated. They adopted a false tradition and misled the Church. Joseph later changed his mind and, by writing anonymous articles, claimed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America and that only scholars could determine where the Book of Mormon took place.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery didn’t need revelation about the location of Cumorah because they visited Mormon’s depository. They may also have had revelations that they didn’t write or even relate. E.g., JS-H 1:73-4. They did not mislead the Church. Joseph never changed his mind and never linked the Book of Mormon to Central America, through anonymous articles or otherwise.
All the modern prophets and apostles who have identified the Hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles were speaking as uninspired men. They were speculating, giving their own opinions, and they were wrong. This includes members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
All the modern prophets and apostles who have identified the Hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles were speaking as their roles as prophets, seers and revelators. This includes members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
The two-Cumorahs theory originated with scholars from the Reorganized Church and was adopted and promoted by LDS scholars because it’s the only explanation that fits their criteria. Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong to condemn the theory and didn’t know what he was talking about.
The two-Cumorahs theory originated with scholars from the Reorganized Church and was adopted and promoted by LDS scholars because it’s the only explanation that fits their criteria. These scholars have rejected Elder Joseph Fielding Smith when he warned the two-Cumorahs theory would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.
The scholars’ two-Cumorah theory is correct because whenever the current Brethren have a question about the Book of Mormon, they consult the scholars at BYU who promote the two-Cumorahs theory.
The scholars’ two-Cumorah theory doesn’t fit the historical record, the affirmative declarations of Joseph and Oliver, or the prophetic statements of numerous modern prophets and apostles.


The Mesoamerican (two Cumorahs) setting is depicted in the North Visitors' Center on Temple Square, with Mormon surrounded by Mayan glyphs in one hill, while Moroni is far away burying the plates in New York:

The panels at the exhibit include Arnold Friberg's famous paintings of Book of Mormon scenes in Central America. A photo of "Mormon's hill" in Mesoamerica can be found on here.

[Note: these displays would be consistent with the Church's official position of neutrality if there were no glyphs painted on the walls of Mormon's repository, although it would still be problematic to physically separate the depository from Moroni's stone box.]


The New York (one Cumorah) setting as described by Orson Pratt:

“The particular place in the hill, where Moroni secreted the book, was revealed by the angel to the Prophet Joseph Smith, to whom the volume was delivered in September, 1827. But the grand depository of all the numerous records of the ancient nations of the western continent, was located in another department of the hill, and its contents under the charge of holy angels, until the day should come for them to be transferred to the sacred temple of Zion.”  
Orson Pratt, “The Hill Cumorah”, Millennial StarVol. 28, July 7, 1866, p. 417

Friday, December 15, 2017

Lesson/fireside material

Readers often ask for help in sharing/presenting the information about the Hill Cumorah. Here is some material you can use.

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery explain the Hill Cumorah


To help class members understand what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught about the Hill Cumorah and how that helps readers understand the Book of Mormon and early Church history

Scriptures and references: 

- D&C 9 & 10; 128:20
- Book of Mormon Title Page
- Mormon 6:6
- Joseph Smith-History 1:71
- Letter VII, in Joseph Smith, History, 1834-1836, online at, in print: Joseph Smith Papers, Histories Volume 1, p. 72.
- David Whitmer interview, Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt, report to President John Taylor and Council of the Twelve, September 17, 1878, online here:

How many have visited the Hill Cumorah? How long ago? What did you observe?

Why we visit the Hill Cumorah. What happened there?

Responses will include: Joseph found the plates there, Moroni visited Joseph there, Joseph returned to the hill annually for four years before getting the plates, etc. Some may say the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites were there, while others may disagree, saying those battles were in Central America or Mesoamerica. Some may say Mormon's depository of Nephite records was there, while others may disagree.

The purpose of the lesson is not to debate questions about geography, but to educate people about (i) what the prophets and apostles have said and (ii) how the Book of Mormon covenants relate to the promised land.

Emphasize that the Church currently has no official position on Book of Mormon geography and therefore each person is free to believe whatever he/she wants to believe on that topic.


What do we know about Cumorah?

From the scriptures:

Mormon 6:6 (the "last struggle" of the Nephites took place there; Mormon "his up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted" to him)

Mormon 6:11-12 (20,000 Nephites died at Cumorah. Note that verses 13-15 refer to Nephites who had died earlier in the wars leading up to the final battles at Cumorah, such as Mormon 4:11.)

Mormon 8:2-2 (Moroni was the lone survivor of the final Nephite battle at Cumorah)

Ether 15:11 (Ramah was the Jaredite name for Cumorah. Explain that fewer than 10,000 Jaredites died at Cumorah. See my post here for the explanation:

From Church history:

Moroni told Joseph Smith that the record of the Nephites was "written and deposited" not far from his home. Letter IV, Joseph Smith, History, 1834-1836,

Joseph visited the site on the hill after Moroni's visits. After four years, he obtained the plates.


What happened after Joseph obtained the plates?

Joseph took them home, but a few months later, Joseph and Emma moved to Harmony, PA.


What was on the plates?

The Title Page, which Joseph translated in Harmony before moving to Fayette, explains what the book contains. The Title Page was "a literal translation, taken from the vert last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates."

[Read the Title Page] 

According to the Title Page, the record consisted of:

(i) an abridgment of the record of the Nephites, 
(ii) an abridgment of the record of the people of Jared.
(iii) original material by Moroni (sealed by Moroni)

Notice, no original plates are mentioned; i.e., the plates of Nephi were not included in the plates Joseph obtained from Moroni's stone box in the Hill Cumorah. (We call these the Harmony plates.)

In Harmony, Joseph first translated the Book of Lehi. This was the 116 pages that Martin Harris lost. 

When Oliver Cowdery arrived in April 1829, Joseph began translating the Book of Mosiah. They finished with the Book of Moroni and the Title Page at the end of May.

There's a helpful timeline of the translation here:

Why didn't Joseph re-translate the Book of Lehi?

When Oliver Cowdery tried and failed to translate, he continued writing for Joseph. The Lord told him "I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him. And then, behold, other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate." D&C 9:1-2

"This record" refers to the record Joseph and Oliver were working on; i.e., the Harmony plates that Joseph obtained from Moroni's box, described by the Title Page.

What are the "other records" to which the Lord referred?

D&C 10 tells us. The section starts by explaining to Joseph that the people who stole the 116 pages would change the words and publish them if Joseph re-translated that part of the plates. Instead of re-translating the Book of Lehi, Joseph would have to translate the "plates of Nephi."

38 And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands [the Book of Lehi on the 116 pages], is engraven upon the plates of Nephi; [except Joseph didn't have the plates of Nephi yet]

39 Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings [the 116 pages] that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.

40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—

41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained; [Joseph apparently retained some of the translation he did with Martin Harris, which we refer to as page 117, and this is probably Words of Mormon 1:13-18. Verse 12 appears to be Joseph Smith's bridge between the plates of Nephi (with Mormon's sealing in verses 1-11) and the part he retained (page 117).]

42 And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words.

How did Joseph get the plates of Nephi?

Before leaving Harmony, Joseph gave the Harmony plates to a divine messenger. David Whitmer came from Fayette to pick up Joseph and Oliver. During the trip to Fayette, they encountered a man on the road who greeted them. David offered him a ride to Fayette but the man declined, saying he was going to Cumorah. David did not know what Cumorah was. He asked Joseph. Joseph explained that was the messenger with the plates.

[See the report of Joseph F. Smith for one of several accounts of this event.]

After Joseph arrived in Fayette, the messenger delivered the plates. Joseph translated them as 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon 1:11.


How do we know the Hill Cumorah is in New York?

Joseph's mother reported that the Angel Moroni referred to the hill as Cumorah even before Joseph obtained the plates. 

In 1834-5, Oliver Cowdery wrote a series of eight historical letters that were published in the official Church newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate, in Kirtland, Ohio. Portions of Letter I are included in the Pearl of Great Price as a footnote to Joseph Smith History 1:71. Joseph had his scribes (starting with Frederick G. Williams, Second Counselor in the First Presidency) copy the letters into his history as part of his life story. 

Letter VII focuses specifically on the Hill Cumorah. When he wrote it, Oliver was Assistant President of the Church, a calling that includes acting as spokesman. 

In Letter VII, Oliver described the hill this way:

At about one mile west [of the hill Cumorah] 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 [Mormon 6] you will read Mormon’s account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah....

[Mormon] deposited, as he says, on the 529th page, all the records in this same hill...

This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tents.

Coriantumr was the last king of the Jaredites The opposing army were to the west, and in this same vally, 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 fellow men.


How would Oliver know that the hill where Joseph obtained the plates was the actual Hill Cumorah from the Book of Mormon?

1. Oliver was with David Whitmer when the messenger who had the Harmony plates said he was going to Cumorah.

2. Oliver visited the hill: "It was at the second mentioned place where the record was found to be deposited, on the west side of the hill, not far from the top down its side; and when myself visited the place in the year 1830, there were several trees standing: enough to cause a shade in summer, but not so much as to prevent the surface being covered with grass—which was also the case when the record was first found." Letter VIII.

3. On multiple occasions, Oliver actually entered the depository of Nephite records. Brigham Young and others explained this. [Brigham's comments are here:

4. Oliver worked closely with Joseph Smith from the time he met him in April 1829. He kept a notebook of what Joseph told him. Joseph approved of Letter VII on multiple occasions, showing he considered it valid. 

What have the prophets and apostles said about Letter VII and the New York Cumorah?

Several of the original Quorum of the Twelve republished Letter VII and/or taught that the Hill Cumorah was in New York, including Parley P. and Orson Pratt, William Smith, Brigham Young, and Heber C. Kimball. Subsequent prophets and apostles, including Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Anthony W. Ivins, LeGrand Richards, Marion G. Romney, and Mark E. Petersen, have affirmed that the Hill Cumorah is in New York. No prophet or apostle has said Cumorah is anywhere else.

Why would Moroni put the plates in a stone box instead of inside his father's depository?

Orson Pratt explained that there were two departments in the hill.

When Joseph Smith first went to see the plates, he was tempted by the wealth they represented. He knew he could not sell the plates, but he hoped to find other artifacts he could sell. The gold in the plates was worth about $1 million in today's dollars, and an equivalent value in Joseph's day. It took four years of diligent patience for him to overcome that temptation. 

Had Moroni led him to the depository instead, it seems unlikely that Joseph could have withstood the temptation. It was only after he had translated the Harmony plates that he realized Mormon's depository was in the same hill; after all, he had only translated Mormon 6:6 a few days before. Later, he had enough experience with revelation that he was able to resist the temptation when he and Oliver entered the depository and saw all the artifacts.

Why is this important to know?

There is a lot of confusion about Book of Mormon geography. So far, the Lord has not revealed the details to us, but the prophets and apostles, starting with Joseph and Oliver, unambiguously gave us the one pin in the map: Cumorah is in New York.

This helps us understand the prophecies and promises in the Book of Mormon relating to the promised land and the obligation for its occupants to (i) keep the commandments and (ii) take the Gospel to the world. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

More on Mormon doctrine

My blog posts merely reflect my opinions and thought processes as I evaluate issues. Recently I wrote a post about "What is official Mormon doctrine," here.

To avoid confusion, I want to clarify that I'm not saying Letter VII is official Mormon doctrine. Obviously, that's a statement that can only come from the Church.

What I did in that and subsequent posts was evaluate Letter VII based on the criteria set out in mormonnewsroom, which are the criteria given to the media to guide them in understanding what is and what is not official Mormon doctrine. There is no book of official Mormon doctrine, so the question often arises. Aside from the scriptures themselves, and the official proclamations signed by all of the Apostles, it can be difficult to figure out what is and what is not official Mormon doctrine. Hence the guidance in mormonnewsroom.

The key elements in mormonnewsroom are (i) the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve counseling together to establish doctrine, and (ii) having it consistently proclaimed in official Church publications.

If I was a journalist, I would think that Letter VII fits the criteria because Letter VII was consistently proclaimed in official Church publications multiple times and because it was written by the spokesman for the Church who was also the Assistant President (Oliver Cowdery) with the assistance of the President (Joseph Smith) and the approval of at least Sidney Rigdon (First Counselor). That makes 3 out of the 4 members of the First Presidency at the time. The 4th, Frederick G. Williams (Second Counselor), began the transcription of the letters into Joseph's History, 1834-1836, so it seems fair to assume he also approved of the letters.

So far as I know, there is no specific evidence that Joseph and Oliver did or did not counsel together with the Twelve on the topic of Cumorah before publishing Letter VII. But the Quorum of the Twelve was new; they had been ordained by Oliver Cowdery in February 1835, and Letter VII was published in July 1835.

The Twelve at that time could not have provided factual input anyway because none of the Twelve, so far as we know, was present on the occasions when Joseph and Oliver entered Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah. This experience is presumably the reason why Oliver wrote it was a fact that the hill in New York is the same hill as the one Mormon describes in Mormon 6:6. He wrote from personal experience.

Plus, there is evidence that at least Oliver (First Presidency) and Brigham Young (Quorum of the Twelve) counseled together about the topic. When Brigham Young taught about Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah, he explained that Oliver "did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting." This means he could only have learned about it from Oliver in some kind of private setting, such as a council. Heber C. Kimball, another of the original Twelve, also related details about the depository. William Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and Orson Pratt, all original members of the Twelve, each published Letter VII, which indicates agreement with it. We could question whether this approval was given between February and July 1835 or afterward, but the mormonnewsroom criteria does not preclude counseling together after doctrine has been established.

No members of the original Twelve, so far as I know, rejected or even questioned Letter VII. (Actually, I know of no modern prophets or apostles who have rejected or questioned the New York location of Cumorah.)

But as I said, this is merely an application of the guidance from mormonnewsroom, not a claim that Letter VII is official Mormon doctrine.

The other obvious question is whether Letter VII qualifies as doctrine even if the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve counseled together about it and consistently proclaimed it in official Church publications.

Mormon Newsroom goes on to explain this:

Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. This is especially common among reporters or researchers who rely on how other Christians interpret Latter-day Saint doctrine.

No one is elevating the New York setting of Cumorah to a core doctrine. I think we can all agree that the location of Cumorah is more akin to the location of the Garden of Eden than it is to the atonement.

But that doesn't mean the location of Cumorah is unimportant or irrelevant.

The location of Garden of Eden is irrelevant to the Restoration. (Note: Eden is not Adam-ondi-Ahman, which is mentioned in the scriptures). Eden could be anywhere and it wouldn't matter.

By contrast, the location of Cumorah remains relevant today for the reasons it was announced in Letter VII; i.e., to refute claims that the Book of Mormon is fiction, to anticipate the future publication of additional Nephite records from the same area, and to identify the promised land and nation of destiny described in the text.

When Oliver wrote Letter VII, critics were claiming that the Book of Mormon was fiction, copied from an unpublished book by Solomon Spalding. Oliver's statement that it was a fact that the final battles took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York was a rebuttal of the fiction argument. Letter VII was republished multiple times for the same purpose. Subsequent apostles and prophets have cited the New York location of Cumorah in General Conference for over 150 years, not only as evidence of the historicity of the book but also because more records will come forth from that area and as evidence that America is the promised land.

Identifying the location of Eden serves no such purposes.

In addition to the respective relevance of the topics, the location of the Garden of Eden was never declared as a fact by someone with personal knowledge of Eden, the way Oliver identified the location of Cumorah. The source of the Eden teaching is Brigham Young, who said Joseph declared that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County. But Brigham also said he never went to Jackson County. Joseph never had his scribes copy such a statement into his history. No member of the First Presidency wrote and published an article declaring it was a fact, and Joseph didn't encourage others to republish any such statements about Eden being in Jackson County. Certainly the location of Eden has not been "consistently proclaimed in Official Church publications" as the New York Cumorah has been.

In all these respects, Letter VII's statement of fact about the New York Cumorah is different.

Continuing with the mormonnewsroom criteria, Letter VII is not an obscure teaching; it was published in most official Church publications over 50 years and has been cited and referenced by several prophets and apostles, including in General Conference, for 150 years. Because the New York setting has been used by prophets and apostles to establish the historicity of the Book of Mormon itself, it does not seem peripheral to the Church's purpose.

Really, if not for the objections from intellectuals in the Church, Letter VII would be accomplishing today exactly what it accomplished in the past; i.e., it gives investigators (and members) another reason to read the Book of Mormon, feel the Spirit and come unto Christ. Tying the Book of Mormon to a pin in the map, as Letter VII does, grounds the book in reality.

It takes the book out of the realm of fiction that critics put it in. (I criticize the BYU "abstract" map that portrays the Book of Mormon in a fantasy land because I think it conveys the same message as the Spalding theory does; i.e., that the Book of Mormon is fiction.)

As we saw from the experience in the British Mission, many people (I think most) need a reason to believe the Book of Mormon is true before they can exercise faith enough to read the book and pray about it for themselves. Knowing there is at least one real-world pin in the map--the New York Cumorah--gives people a reason to believe. 

The intellectuals object to Letter VII partly because they've convinced themselves, by their own subjective interpretation of the text, that the "New York hill" cannot "qualify" as the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. They teach that Oliver Cowdery created a false tradition about Cumorah by speculating, that Joseph passively adopted this false tradition, and that subsequent prophets and apostles were also wrong when they repeated this false tradition, even when they spoke in General Conference.

In my view, when you pull on the threads of the arguments of the intellectuals, their theories unravel quickly. I've discussed all of this at length in my blogs for anyone interested, but the easiest way to resolve questions about Cumorah is to believe the prophets, not the intellectuals. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Oliver Cowdery and the Apostles

Some people wonder why it was Oliver Cowdery who wrote Letter VII.

It's an easy answer. Recall that Oliver Cowdery was ordained as the Assistant President of the Church in December, 1834. The notes from the meeting describe the significance of that calling this way:

"The office of Assistant President is to assist in presiding over the whole Church, and to officiate in the absence of the President, according to his rank and appointment, viz: President Cowdery, first; President Rigdon Second, and President Williams Third, as they were severally called. The office of this priesthood is also to act as spokesman, taking Aaron for an example. The virtue of the above priesthood is to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven or of the Church militant."

Oliver, the spokesman designated by the Lord, would naturally be the one to write important doctrinal and historical matters, such as the eight historical letters, including Letter VII. Joseph assisted him, but it was up to Oliver to do the writing. For Letter VII, it didn't matter which of them wrote the words anyway; both Joseph and Oliver had visited Mormon's depository of Nephite records right inside the Hill Cumorah in New York.

Because of his responsibility as spokesman, it was Oliver, not Joseph, who gave the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles an explanation of their calling and a Charge on how to fulfill it. Oliver ordained all of the Apostles. He was assisted in some cases by Joseph and Sidney Rigdon.

He gave the charge shortly after the Apostles were ordained.

Think about this the next time some intellectual tells you that Oliver was merely an ignorant speculator who misled the Church about Cumorah when he wrote Letter VII.

You can read the charge in the Joseph Smith Papers here:

The following Charge was given to the Twelve by President O. Cowdery.

Dear Brethren, previously to delivering the charge I shall read a part of a revelation. It is known to you that previous to the organizing of this church in 1830 The Lord gave revelations or the Church could not have been organized. The people of this Church were weak in faith compared with the ancients. 

Those who embarked in this cause, were desirous to know how the work was to be conducted. They read many things in the Book of Mormon, concerning their duty and the way the great work ought to be done; but the minds of men are so constructed, that they will not believe without a testimony of seeing or hearing. The Lord gave us a revelation, that in process of time there should be Twelve chosen to preach his gospel to Jew & Gentile. Our minds have been on a constant stretch to find who these Twelve were. [p. 158]

When the time should come, we could not tell, but we sought the Lord by fasting and prayer, to have our lives prolonged to see this day, to see you, and to take a retrospect of the difficulties through which we have passed. but, having seen the day, it becomes my duty to deliver to you a charge. and first, a few remarks respecting your ministry. 

You have many Revelations put into your hands. Revelations to make you acquainted with the nature of your Mission. You will have difficulties by reason of your visiting all the nations of the world. You will need wisdom in a tenfold proportion to what you have ever had. You will have to combat all the prejudices of all nations. 

He then read Revelation, and proceeded to say, Have you desired this ministry with all your hearts, If you have desired it, you are called of God not of man, to go into all the world. He read again, from the Revelation, what the Lord said to the 12 Brethren, you have your duty presented in this revelation. You have been ordained to the Holy Priesthood, You have received it from those who had their power and authority from an angel.— 

[Note: they were all ordained by Oliver, with Joseph and David Whitmer participating in some cases.]

You are to preach the gospel to every nation. should you in the least degree, come short of your duty, great will be your condemnation. for the greater the calling, the greater the transgression. I, therefore, warn you to cultivate great humility, for I know the pride of the human heart. Beware, lest the flatterers of the world lift you up. Beware lest your affections are captivated by worldly objects. Let your ministry be first. 

Remember the souls of men are committed to your charge, and if you mind your calling you shall always prosper. You have been indebted to other men in the first instance for evidence, on that you have acted. But <it> is necessary that you receive a testimony from Heaven for [p. 159] yourselves, so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon. 

And that you have seen the face of God: that is more than the testimony of an Angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God. This testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out. although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will, therefore, see the necessity of getting this testimony from Heaven. Never cease striving until you have seen God, face to face. 

Strengthen your faith, cast off your doubts, your sins and all your unbelief and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid his hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us. God is the same. If the Saviour in former days laid his hands on his deciples. Why not in the latter Days. 

With regard to superiority I must make a few remarks. The ancient Apostles sought to be great. but, brethren, lest the seeds of discord be sown in this matter, understand particularly the voice of the spirit on this occasion. God does not love you better or more than others. You are to contend for the faith once deliverd to the saints. Jacob, you know wrestled till he obtained. It was by fervent prayer and diligent search that you have obtained the testimony you are now able to bear. You are as one, you are equal in bearing the keys of the kingdom to all nations. You are called to preach the gospel of the son of God to the nations of the earth. [p. 160]

It is the will of your Heavenly Father that you proclaim his gospel to the ends of the earth. and the Islands of the sea. Be zealous to save souls. The soul of one man is as precious as the soul of another. You are to bear this message to those who consider themselves wise. and such may persecute you, they may seek your life. The adversary has always sought the life of the servants of God. You are, therefore, to be prepared at all times to make a sacrafice of your lives, should God require them in the advancment and building up of his cause. 

Murmur not at God. Be always prayerful, be always watchful. You will bear with me while I relieve the feelings of my heart. We shall not see another day like this. The time has fully come; The voice of the spirit has come to set these men apart. You will see the time when you will desire to see such a day as this, and you will not see it. Every heart wishes you peace & prosperity. but the scene, with you, will inevitably change. Let no man take your bishopric, and beware that you lose not your crowns. It will require your whole souls. It will require courage like Enoch’s. 

The time is near when you will be in the midst of congregations, who will gnash their teeth upon you. This gospel must roll and will roll till it fill the whole Earth. Did I say congregations would gnash upon you, yea I say nations will gnash upon you. You will be considered the worst of Men. Be not discouraged at this, When God pours out his Spirit, the enemy will rage, but, God, remember is on your right hand and on your left. A man, though he may be considered the worst, has joy who is conscious that he pleases God. 

The lives of those who proclaim the true gospel will be in danger; this has been the case ever since the days of righteous Abel. The same opposition has been manifest whenever [p. 161] men came forward to publish the gospel. The time is coming when you will be considered the worst by many & by some the best of men. The time is coming when you will be perfectly familiar with the things of God. This testimony will make those who do not believe your testimony, seek your lives. But their there are whole nations, who will receive your testimony. They will call you good men. Be not lifted up when you are called good men. Remember you are young men, and you shall be spared, I include the other three. Bear them in mind in your prayers carry their cases to a throne of grace. Although they are not present, yet you and they are equal. This appointment is calculated to create an affection in you, for each other, stronger than death.

You will travel to other Nations, Bear each other in mind. If one or more is cast into prisons, let the others pray for him, and deliver him by their prayers. Your lives shall be in great jeopardy, but the promise of God, is that you shall be delivered. Remember you are not to go to other nations, till you receive your endowment. Tarry at Kirtland until you are endowed with power from on high. You need a fountain of wisdom, knowledge, and intelligence such as you never had. 

Relative to the endowment, I make a remark or two, that there be no mistake. The world cannot receive the things of God. He can endow you without wor[l]dly pomp or great parade. He can give you that wisdom, that intelligence and that power which characterized the ancient Saints and now characterizes the inhabitants of the upper world. The greatness of your commission, consists in this; you are to hold the keys of this ministry. You [p. 162] are to go to the nations afar off; nations that sit in darkness. The [day] is coming when the work of God must be done. Israel shall be gathered, The seed of Jacob shall be gathered from their long dispersion. There will be a feast to Israel, the elect of God. 

It is a sorrowful tale but, the gospel must be preached and his <God’s> ministers be rejected. but where can Israel be found, and receive your testimony, and not rejoice? No where. The Prophecies are full of great things that are to take place in the last days. After the Elect is gathered out, destruction shall come on the inhabitants of the Earth; All nations shall feel the wrath of God, after they have been warned by the saints of the Most High. If you will not warn them others will and you will lose your crowns. You must prepare your minds to bid a long farewell to Kirtland. even till the great day come. You will see what you never expected to see. You will need the mind of Enoch or Elijah & the faith of the brother of Jared.

You must be prepared to walk by faith, however, appalling the prospect to human view. You, and each of you should feel the force of the imperious mandate, “Son go labor in my vineyard” and cheerfully receive what comes, but in the end you will stand while others will fall. You have read in the Revelation concerning ordination. Beware how you ordain, for all nations are not like this nation. They will willingly receive the ordinances at your hand to put you out of the way. 

There will be times, when nothing but the angels of God can deliver you out of their hand. We appeal to your intelligence, we appeal to your understanding, that we have so far discharged our duty to you. We consider it one of the greatest condescentions of our Heavenly Father in pointing you out to us. You will be stewards over this ministry. [p. 163]

We have work to do, that no other men can do. You must proclaim the Gospel in its simplicity and purity. and we commend you to God and the word of his grace. You have our best wishes, you have our most fervent prayers, that you may be able to bear this testimony, that you have seen the face of God. Therefore, call upon him in faith and mighty prayer, till you prevail, for it <is> your duty and your privelege to bear such testimony for yourselves. 

We now exhort you to be faithful to fulfil your calling, there must be no lack here. You must fulfil in all things, and permit is us to repeat, all nations have a claim on you. You are bound together as the three witnesses were. You, notwithstanding can part & meet & meet and part again till your heads are silvered o[v]er with age.

He then took them separately by the hand and said, Do you with full purpose of heart take part in this ministry, to proclaim the gospel with all diligence with these your brethren, according to the tenor and intent of the charge you have received, each of which answered in the affirmative. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mormon doctrine, Letter VII, and the Apostles

In the previous post we looked at the criteria for knowing whether something is official Mormon doctrine.

- Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. 

- A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. 

- With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications

- This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted."

I discussed how Letter VII (1) originated with the First Presidency and (2) was "consistently proclaimed in official Church publications." In fact, it was proclaimed in every official Church publication during Joseph's lifetime, (except for the Elders' Journal which consisted of only four issues). It was proclaimed after Joseph's death as well.

As far as I know, Letter VII has not yet been published in the Ensign, but the teachings of prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah have been published in the Ensign's conference reports. This is not surprising, really; the Ensign rarely reprints historical documents, and Letter VII has already been reprinted so many times that it is well-established in Church literature.

Because the Mormon Newsroom article also refers to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, today I am considering what members of the Quorum of the Twelve have said about Letter VII and the New York Cumorah.

In February 1835, Oliver Cowdery, along with David Whitmer and Martin Harris, selected the first twelve Apostles of this dispensation. There's a nice article about it here:

Original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Members of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Top row, left to right: Thomas B. Marsh (no picture available), David W. Patten (no picture available), Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball. Middle row: Orson Hyde, William E. Mc’Lellin, Parley P. Pratt, Luke S. Johnson. Bottom row: William B. Smith, Orson Pratt, John F. Boynton, Lyman E. Johnson

These men constituted the Quorum of the Twelve through 1837. (For a brief summary of each individual's role, see this page.) We don't have complete records for each of these men, but for the records we do have show that each of them who ever spoke or wrote about Cumorah reaffirmed what Joseph and Oliver wrote in Letter VII.

-Brigham Young related Oliver's accounts of entering into Mormon's depository of Nephite records in the New York hill Cumorah.

-Heber C. Kimball affirmed the account.

-Parley P. Pratt not only republished Oliver's letters in England, but he related events from his mission to the Lamanites, during which he accompanied Oliver. He said Oliver told people about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

-William Smith told people about Cumorah in New York and published Letter VII in the Prophet just two days after Joseph was martyred in Carthage.

-Orson Pratt not only reprinted Oliver's letters but identified Cumorah in his footnotes to the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. Orson speculated about other Book of Mormon sites as he indicated in those notes, but he unequivocally stated that Cumorah was in Manchester, New York.

Consequently, we have Letter VII originating from the First Presidency, sustained and taught by the Quorum of the Twelve, and consistently proclaimed in official Church publications for many years.

Subsequent members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have reaffirmed the New York setting for Cumorah as well. This includes members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, as I've discussed before.

No prophet or apostle has ever rejected the teaching of Letter VII.

The only ones who have rejected Letter VII and are teaching members of the Church to disbelieve it are the intellectuals who promote a two-Cumorahs theory. Most of these also promote the Mesoamerican setting, but others promote a setting in Baja, in Panama, in Chile, etc.

I think that, once educated about Letter VII, most Church members will choose to believe the prophets and apostles instead of the intellectuals.

The intellectuals have successfully promulgated their theory by keeping members of the Church ignorant of the context, content, and legitimacy of Letter VII.

Hence the need for more members of the Church to read and share Letter VII.