Monday, December 9, 2019

The Nephite depository in New York vs M2C

Shortly before he died, President Brigham Young felt compelled to remind the Saints of something that he knew would otherwise be forgotten.

It involved "an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery" that was not documented in any writing we have from Oliver. Oliver explained that he and Joseph actually visited the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

President Young said, "I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost."

And yet today, sadly, these things have been forgotten and lost by most members of the Church.


Because President Young reaffirmed the teaching of Letter VII that the Hill Cumorah is in New York. This contradicts the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) so LDS intellectuals and their followers don't want members of the Church to even know about it.

And when people do learn about President Young's teaching, the M2C intellectuals dismiss it as relating a vision of a hill in Mexico.


When he wrote Letter VII and the other letters, Oliver Cowdery mentioned that he was relying on original documents in his possession. We don't know what documents he was referring to, but it could have been the notebook he kept of everything Joseph told him. Or it could have been journal entries, letters, or notes that have since gone missing.

We'll see President Young's teaching below, but first let's look at how our M2C intellectuals dismiss it.

FairMormon has an article on this here:

They quote part of Brigham Young's sermon, omitting the part about other witnesses to the site and Brigham's emphasis that he did not want this account to be forgotten and lost.

Then they make this awesome statement:

The geologic unlikelihood of a cave existing within the drumlin in New York called "Hill Cumorah" suggests that the experience related by the various witnesses was most likely a vision. 

Of course, nothing in President Young's discourse states or implies he was describing a vision. Several other contemporaries of Oliver Cowdery mentioned his visit to the depository of Nephite records. And, of course, in Letter VII President Cowdery reaffirmed that the New York hill was the site of the depository.

To justify their rejection of Letter VII, M2C intellectuals rely on a comment by Heber C. Kimball about the event in which he spoke of a "vision" that Joseph and Oliver had when they entered the Nephite depository.

Does that term really mean the experience was purely spiritual and not physical?

It's a poor argument because Joseph Smith also used the term "vision" to describe the physical experience of Martin Harris seeing the plates as one of the Three Witnesses.

"We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view; at least it was again to me, and I once more beheld, and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparantly in ecstacy of joy, “Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld,” and jumping up he shouted, hosanah, blessing God, and otherwise rejoiced exceedingly."

This is another case of the M2C intellectuals undermining the teachings of the prophets so they can justify M2C.

Instead of repudiating the teachings of the prophets, the M2C intellectuals would do a wonderful service by embracing those teachings and repudiating their own theories instead.

Here's a link to a discussion of President Young's sermon about the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Gratitude for the prophets

This Thanksgiving, we ought to remember the prophets who have brought about and preserved the Restoration of the gospel, beginning with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Together, Joseph and Oliver received the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood and the associated keys in the Kirtland temple.

Together they wrote the first history of the Church, the eight essays that were published as letters in 1834-5. (This includes Letter VII, of course.)

Together they testified that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim, thereby producing the Book of Mormon.

Together they testified of its divine authenticity, including the site of the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, right in western New York. 

All of their faithful contemporaries and successors have reaffirmed their testimony about these topics.

They all deserve our respect and gratitude, as well as our trust.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

David Whitmer and the Cumorah messenger

Some people still dismiss David Whitmer's account of the messenger taking the plates from Harmony to Cumorah before arriving in Fayette with the plates of Nephi.

I discussed this in 2016, but there are a lot of new readers who probably missed those posts so I'm posting updated versions of them here.

Note on Cumorah, David Whitmer and Zina Young

I realize the topic of Cumorah has been discussed a lot lately, but there are still people who claim the founding prophets and their successors were wrong when they taught that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York. 

I've covered this topic in detail here.

This post covers a new bit of information that's always been available but a lot of people don't know much about it.

If you're new to this topic, it has to do with two of the Three Witnesses. Those who advocate the Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs geography (M2C) reject Oliver Cowdery's description of Cumorah in Letter VII. They also reject David Whitmer's explanation of the first time he heard the word Cumorah (which he said was in June 1829, before he'd ever read the text, and he heard it from a heavenly messenger).

The rationale for rejecting David Whitmer's testimony is that he supposedly never talked about it until 50 years after the fact, in interviews he gave to Edward Stevenson in 1877 and to Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt in 1878.

Here's how one scholar articulated the argument:

Edward Stevenson
"The earliest possible connection between the New York hill and the Book of Mormon Cumorah comes from an 1878 interview with David Whitmer by Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,... This report [the Whitmer interview] would be much more conclusive had it not been recorded nearly fifty years later. The passage of time and the accepted designation of “Cumorah” as the name of the New York hill by the time of the recollection argue against the second-hand report from Whitmer as being a definitive statement."

There are all kinds of logical errors in that statement, but I've addressed those before. Today, I want to point out something in the Stevenson statement, taken from his contemporaneous journal.

I obtained a copy of Stevenson's journal recently and here's what his entry says:

Page from Stevenson journal
"I wish to mention an Item of conversation with David Whitmer in regard to Seeing one of the Nephites, Zina Young, Desired me to ask about it. David Said, Oliver, & The Prophet, & I were riding in a wagon, & an aged man about 5 feet 10, heavey Set & on his back, an old fashioned Armey knapsack Straped over his Shoulders & Something Square in it, & he walked alongside of the Wagon & Wiped the Sweat off his face, Smileing very Pleasant David asked him to ride and he replied I am going across to the hill Cumorah. Soon after they Passed they felt Strangeley and Stoped, but could see nothing of him all around was clean and they asked the Lord about it. He Said that the Prophet Looked as White as a Sheet & Said that it was one of the Nephites & that he had the plates."*


Edward Stevenson was a general authority (one of the seven presidents of the Seventy). He was a well-known missionary (one of the MTC buildings is named after him). There's no reason to doubt the credibility of his interview with David Whitmer.

What I find fascinating is that Zina Young asked Stevenson to ask David Whitmer about seeing one of the Nephites. That was the focus of the interview, not the Cumorah question.

Zina Young
This means that Zina had heard this story earlier. 

Why Zina Young? 

And when could she have heard it? 

And from whom?

It could not have been from the interview with Joseph F. Smith, which occurred a year later.

Instead, the evidence indicates she heard it from David Whitmer directly!

Zina was born in 1821. Her family lived in Watertown, New York. In 1835, when she was 14 years old, two missionaries came to town: Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer. Hyrum baptized her on August 1, 1835. The family moved to Kirtland, and eventually to Far West, and then to Nauvoo along with most of the rest of the Saints. Zina married, had two children, and then also married Joseph Smith. After his death, she married Brigham Young. (That's a topic for another day.)

David Whitmer left the Church in 1837-1838 and lived in Missouri for the rest of his life. Zina would have had no contact with him after about 1837, at the latest. If that's the case, then she could only have heard the story from him between 1835 and 1837--just a few years after 1829, when David said the event happened.

Of course, modern Mesoamerican scholars will dispute this somehow, but the argument that David's testimony is unreliable because it was 50 years late contradicts the Stevenson account.

Interestingly, Zina was also the one who inherited Joseph's seer stone after Brigham Young died.

The simplest, historically justified explanation is that David told Zina and her family the story when he contacted them as a missionary. Zina remembered it and told Stevenson to ask David about it in 1877. Stevenson recorded it and wrote about it. 

David Whitmer
Then Joseph F. Smith asked David about it, and he reiterated his account of the event.

It's not a 50-year-old story related from a feeble and tainted memory. It's a retelling of an account related by a missionary to his investigators just a few years after the event.

Other than to defend the M2C ideology, there's no reason to cast doubt on the testimony of the Three Witnesses.

The bottom line is this: 

To accept M2C, you have to disbelieve two of the three main witnesses to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. The M2C advocates seek to persuade you these two men were not reliable witnesses when it comes to the issue of Cumorah being in New York.

By contrast, to accept the North American setting (Moroni's America or the Heartland), you fully embrace what these two men said.


*You can find this account in these references, although apparently not transcribed exactly: "Edward Stevenson Interview (1) 22-23 December 1877, Richmond, Missouri Diary of Edward Stevenson," LDS Church Archives, Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 1993, p. 13; also Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 2003, vol. v, p. 30.


More on David Whitmer, Zina Young, and Cumorah

David Whitmer, circa 1855
(photo links to JSP)
This post offers more detail on David Whitmer and Zina Young.

I've had some feedback on the previous post that there is no evidence Zina had heard about David Whitmer's Cumorah experience from David himself. It's true we don't have written evidence of when she heard the story or from whom, but Stevenson's journal shows Zina had heard it from somewhere before Stevenson visited Whitmer. That's why she told Stevenson to ask Whitmer about it. I imagine the conversation being something such as this:

Zina: "You're going to visit David Whitmer?"
Stevenson: "I plan to. I hope he'll see me."
Zina: "Ask him about the Nephite he met."
Stevenson: "He met a Nephite?"
Zina (nodding): "And he was carrying the plates to the hill Cumorah because Joseph didn't want the responsibility. David, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were riding in a wagon from Harmony to the Whitmer farm. He'll tell you all about it."
Stevenson: "Sounds interesting."
Zina: "You should publish it when you get back."

The M2C advocates who reject David's testimony rely on the "late" retelling to Stevenson and Joseph F. Smith. Their objection is based on the premise that David's experience hearing the term "Cumorah" for the first time occurred in 1829, but he did not tell the story before 1877. Certainly, 50 years after the fact could be considered late; each person has to assess that "lateness" in light of the detail of Whitmer's account, the surprising and unusual circumstances (most people probably remember their first encounter with divine messengers), and the presence of Joseph and Oliver when the event occurred.

The Stevenson account undermines the "lateness" objection, however. Whether Zina heard the story directly from Whitmer in 1835, or heard it from someone else, the point is that she did hear it before Stevenson asked Whitmer about it. From his journal, we have to infer that Stevenson had not heard the story before.

There is no record of anyone knowing this story before Stevenson's interview with David, except for Zina. So all the evidence we have suggests that before the interview, the only two people who knew the story were Zina and David (and Oliver and Joseph, if David's testimony is to be believed, but Joseph and Oliver were dead by then).

And the only evidence we have of David and Zina interacting was when David and Hyrum Smith were missionary companions in 1835 in Watertown, NY, where Hyrum baptized her. [This is no minor point. David Whitmer didn't go on a lot of missionary journeys. When you read Zina's account, notice how she emphasizes how hard David worked to persuade her to get baptized. It seems reasonable to infer he tried everything he could, including his viewing of the golden plates as one of the Three Witnesses. In this context, his claim he saw one of the Nephites carrying the plates to Cumorah would naturally be another thing to bring up.

Later, Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt visited David Whitmer and elicited the same story from him. This suggests they first heard it when Stevenson published it (or told them about it).

Zina published an article, probably taken from parts of her journal we don't otherwise have now, in the April 1893 issue of The Young Woman's Journal. Titled "How I Gained my Testimony of the Truth," the article gives details on how she joined the Church in 1835. It is available online here. In the next section, I show the relevant aspects of Zina's article.

In the following summer Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer came to our house and stayed several days. Father and mother had been baptized in the April of that same year, but neither myself nor my sister were baptized.

David Whitmer persuaded me to be baptized while they were at our home, but some way I did not accept his offer. I had told my sister-in-law, Fanny Huntingdon, that when she was baptized I would go with her.

The morning for the departure of these men from our house arrived, and I had not as yet become a member of the Church. That morning, a short time before they were to start, Hyrum Smith’s cousin rode up with a message that they could not leave that day, as my brother Dimick and his wife Fanny, my dear sister-in-law, were desirous of being baptized.

That morning at prayers I had presented to me a heavenly vision of a man going down into the water and baptizing someone. So when this message came I felt it was a testimony that the time had come for me to receive baptism. Brother Hyrum Smith was mouth in prayer, and in my secret soul I had a wish that he should baptize me. I had refused the coaxing of Brother Whitmer, as I told myself, because mother and father were going away from home, and I had all the home cares on me, and I feared I would be tempted to speak crossly or say something I ought not to after so sacred an ordinance as that; but this strong testimony that the proper time had arrived I did not dare treat lightly.

As soon as I consented to go with my brother and sister-in-law David Whitmer began talking about performing the office for us. Happily for me, however, Brother Hyrum was chosen by the others to be the proper one and I added my preference to their words. Accordingly, we all went down to the water and were baptized by Hyrum Smith, and confirmed under the hands of Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer. [This was on August 1, 1835.]

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Omissions from Joseph Smith - History

Careful readers of Joseph Smith - History in the Pearl of Great Price notice that there are ellipses in some places, such as between verses 65-66, which you can see here:

You can read the full history in the Joseph Smith Papers here:

In this post, I'm showing two of the omissions because it they are relevant to our understanding of the translation process. I wish it could be added back to Joseph Smith - History.

First, though, let's consider two verses from JS-H.

62 By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.

63 Sometime in this month of February, the aforementioned Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates, and started with them to the city of New York.

Here Joseph explains how he prepared for the translation. First, he copied characters off the plates, presumably onto paper. Then he translated "some of them" by means of the Urim and Thummim.

He did this from December through February, in the depths of winter, when there was presumably no farm work to do (other than chopping wood for fires).

There are several artists' depictions of this process. They don't show the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph doesn't say he needed the Urim and Thummim to copy the characters.

Although revisionist Church historians say Joseph didn't use the plates, Joseph says he copied the characters "off the plates." Because we don't have the documents Joseph prepared, we can only speculate how he may have copied the characters (or drawn them off).

There's a good discussion of the three extant character documents here:

There are some details in there that I'll discuss another time. The point here is that Joseph copied characters off the plates. Because Emma said she never saw the plates, he copied the characters either when she was not present (which seems unlikely in the dead of winter) or in a manner that prevented her from seeing the plates. Either way, her "Last Testimony" that Joseph made no attempt to conceal them and that they were covered with a cloth needs to be interpreted somehow to accommodate Joseph's statement about copying the characters off the plates.


Current Joseph Smith History in ordinary blue type, the omitted portion in purple, with my emphasis in bold.

65 “He then said to me, ‘Let me see that certificate.’ I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, ‘I cannot read a sealed book.’ I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”

· · · · · · ·

Mr Harris having returned from this tour he left me and went home to Palmyra, arranged his affairs, and returned again to my house about the twelfth of April, Eighteen hundred and twenty eight, and commenced writing for me while I translated from the plates, which we continued untill the fourteenth of June following, by which time he had written one hundred and sixteen <​pages​> of manuscript on foolscap paper.

[Note: At this point, the Joseph Smith Papers inserts note 34 that says this:

"Emma Smith later stated that she also served as a scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon, as did her brother Reuben Hale. Their inscriptions were likely included in this earliest manuscript, along with Harris’s. (Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, 289–290.)"

In my view, this is additional evidence that Emma's "Last Testimony" is unreliable.  In her "Last Testimony," Emma says she wrote "day after day" while Joseph's face was buried in his hat. But here, Joseph's own history says he translated from the plates. Plus, Joseph specifies that Harris had written the 116 pages. Joseph never once said anything about Emma acting as scribe for the Book of Mormon, just as he never once said anything about using a seer stone in a hat.]

Some time after Mr Harris had began to write for me, he began to tease me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and shew them, and desired of me that I would enquire of the Lord through the Urim and Thummin if he might not do so. I did enquire, and the answer was that he must not. However he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should enquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented but insisted that I should enquire once more. after After much solicitation I again enquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions, which were, that he shew them only to his brother. Preserved Harris, his own wife [Lucy Harris Harris], his father [Nathan Harris], and his mother [Rhoda Lapham Harris], and a Mrs [Mary (Polly) Harris] Cobb a sister to his wife. In accordance with this last answer I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me in the most solemn manner that he would not do otherwise than had been directed. He did so. He bound himself as I required of him, took the writings and went his way.

Notwithstanding however the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did shew them to others and by stratagem they got them away from him, and they never have been recovered nor obtained back again untill this day.

[Note: JSP note 36 here points out that Joseph wrote a preface to the first edition of the Book of Mormon that discussed the 116 pages. Joseph wrote, "some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again." Exactly what those exertions were remains a mystery.]

In the mean time while Martin Harris was gone with the writings, I went to visit my father’s family at Manchester. I continued there for a short season and then returned to my place in Pensylvania. 

Immediately after my return home I was walking out a little distance, when Behold the former heavenly messenger appeared and handed to me the Urim and Thummin again (for it had been taken from me in consequence of my having wearied the Lord in asking for the privilege of letting Martin Harris take the writings which he lost by transgression) and I enquired of the Lord through them and obtained the folowing revelation.

[Note: Here we see that the Urim and Thummim was not a seer stone Joseph found in a well or somewhere else; it was the Urim and Thummim that Joseph obtained with the plates, as he and Oliver said all along. It was not a single seer stone, either; Joseph says he enquired of the Lord through them. If Joseph was using a seer stone instead of Urim and Thummim, aka the Nephite interpreters, it would not have mattered if the heavenly messenger had taken the Urim and Thummim.]

[D&C 3]

After I had obtained the above revelation, both the plates, and the Urim and Thummin were taken from me again, but in a few days they were returned to me. ​when I enquired of the Lord, and the Lord said thus unto me​ 

[Note: Here Joseph lost both the plates and the Urim and Thummim, but again, it wouldn't have mattered if all he was doing was reading words that appeared on a stone in a hat.]

[D&C 9 inserted by James Mulholland]

I did not however go immediately to translating, but went to laboring with my hands upon a small farm which I had purchased of my wife’s father, in order to provide for my family. In the month of February, Eighteen hundred and twenty nine my father came to visit us at which time I received the following revelation for him.

[Note: According to Joseph Smith, Martin Harris wrote the 116 pages. Then Joseph lost the plates, and after he got them back, he did not start translating because he had to work on the farm. The next time Joseph mentions translating is when Oliver showed up in April 1829. Emma's claim does not fit anywhere within Joseph's narrative.]

[D&C 4]

The following I applied for at the request of the aforementioned Martin Harris and obtained.

[D&C 5]

66 On the 5th day of April, 1829, Oliver Cowdery came to my house, until which time I had never seen him. He stated to me that having been teaching school in the neighborhood where my father resided, and my father being one of those who sent to the school, he went to board for a season at his house, and while there the family related to him the circumstances of my having received the plates, and accordingly he had come to make inquiries of me.

67 Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery (being the 7th of April) I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he began to write for me.

The end.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

New site for Oliver Cowdery Memorial in Palmyra, NY

We moved the Oliver Cowdery Memorial to a new location on Main Street in Palmyra. It is now between the park and the Four Corners churches, easily accessible to everyone who visits.

I've observed people from tour groups and EFY participants stop and read the display, take the handouts, etc.

Many more people are learning about Letter VII and the New York Cumorah as a result of this new location. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Sacred places

For thousands of members of the Church, the Hill Cumorah is a sacred place.

It is sacred not only because Joseph found the plates there, but because:

- it is the site of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites, and

- the former site of the depository of Nephite records (which are now not far from there.)

Cumorah sunset, June 2019
We feel the same reverence President Marion G. Romney did when he spoke in General Conference about Cumorah.

We agree with what other prophets and apostles have taught when they spoke about Cumorah.

We believe what President Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII.

We think there is abundant physical evidence that supports the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, including archaeology, anthropology, geology, and geography.

We understand that certain intellectuals in the Church think we're wrong. They think this is just "a hill in New York" that has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon, apart from Moroni hiking 2,400 miles to put the plates here.

They're entitled to their opinions.

But even if they don't accept the teachings of the prophets and apostles about Cumorah, these intellectuals should at least acknowledge and respect our beliefs.

Sacred places are hallowed ground for believers.

At the Mission Presidents Seminar this week, the topic of sacred places came up.

President Ballard spoke about sites in early Church history. He emphasized how being on the actual spot where events took place has special significance.

Over the years President Ballard has visited Carthage Jail at least 10 times. One special occasion was the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom in 1994, when then-Elder Ballard accompanied President Howard W. Hunter and President Gordon B. Hinckley and spoke at the Church history site.

"It was overwhelming to stand on that hallowed ground pondering that most significant day of June 27, 1844," President Ballard said. "This visit stirred tender thoughts and feelings in me as we considered the traumatic events that took place there. On the day we were there, we felt a calm and peaceful assurance that they had completely fulfilled their great mission."

During other visits to Carthage Jail, President Ballard vividly recalls climbing the stairs to the upper room where the mob attacked Joseph, Hyrum, John Taylor, and Willard Richards. With bullet holes in the jail walls still visible, they read the harrowing account, including Doctrine and Covenants section 135, John Taylor's tribute to Joseph.

"You can't go in there and read what actually happened without being touched because you are in the room where the brothers gave their lives," President Ballard said.

When President Joseph F. Smith — the Church's sixth president and President Ballard's great-grandfather — visited Nauvoo in 1906, he pointed out the very spot in the road where his father, Hyrum Smith, rode up on a horse, bent over in the saddle and lifted him up for a good-bye kiss before riding off with Joseph and others to Carthage, President Ballard said.

On the same trip, while President Joseph F. Smith was in Carthage Jail for the first time, a guide pointed to a spot in the upper room's floor and said, "that stain is the blood of Hyrum Smith." President Smith sat on the bed and wept like a child.

"You get a little feeling for what it was like for the son of Hyrum to experience that," President Ballard said. "As the great-great-grandson, I have the same feelings."

Likewise, for many members of the Church, we "get a little feeling for what it was like" for Mormon and Moroni to view the dead and dying of their people from the top of the Hill Cumorah.

We read what President Romney said after his visit here:

"In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hilladmiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation.

"You who are acquainted with the Book of Mormon will recall that during the final campaign of the fratricidal war between the armies led by Shiz and those led by Coriantumr “nearly two millions” of Coriantumr’s people had been slain by the sword; “two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.” (Ether 15:2.)

"As the conflict intensified, all the people who had not been slain—men “with their wives and their children” (Ether 15:15)—gathered about that hill Cumorah (see Ether 15:11)....

"Thus perished at the foot of Cumorah the remnant of the once mighty Jaredite nation, of whom the Lord had said, “There shall be none greater … upon all the face of the earth.” (Ether 1:43.)

"As I contemplated this tragic scene from the crest of Cumorah and viewed the beautiful land of the Restoration as it appears today, I cried in my soul, “How could it have happened?”


We also fully agree with the point made by Elder Christofferson at the Mission Presidents Seminar, although the news report was a little misleading.

Elder Christofferson also played a video clip of President Gordon B. Hinckley testifying that the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon lies not in archaeology or anthropology — but within the covers of the book itself:

“The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable men may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it came forth by the gift and power of God ‘to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ’.” (Book of Mormon title page.)

President Hinckley's statement was a little different from how this article summarized it.

The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. 

The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable men may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it came forth by the gift and power of God “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” (Book of Mormon title page.)

It is here. It must be explained. It can be explained only as the translator himself explained its origin.

All those who believe the Book of Mormon agree that the truthfulness of its message is by far the most important.

But President Hinckley also made the point that archaeology and anthropology are helpful to some. Everyone has different spiritual gifts, as Moroni 10 explains. Faithful members of the Church have the gift of great faith. Most of the people in the world have different gifts, including the gift of knowledge. For them, archaeology and anthropology are important predicates for even considering the Book of Mormon.

Even faithful members of the Church, though, experience reverence in sacred places, including the Hill Cumorah as well as the Sacred Grove, the sites in Nauvoo, the sites in Israel, etc.

Friday, May 31, 2019

What to read

I saw this on twitter today. Excellent point!

(And if you know anyone who hasn't read Letter VII yet, share it with them ASAP.)

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. ―Haruki Murakami 📚

Monday, April 29, 2019

Cumora and the Feynman learning strategy

Great advice from Richard Feynman:

1. Continually ask "Why?"

2. When you learn something, learn it to where you can explain it to a child.

3. Instead of arbitrarily memorizing things, look for the explanation that makes it obvious.

Here are 3 "Why?" questions for Cumorah.

1. Why did Martin Harris say, in 1859, that "The plates were kept from the sight of the world, and no one, save Oliver Cowdrey, myself, Joseph Smith, jr., and David Whitmer, ever saw them.”

2. Why did witnesses give different descriptions of the plates, including size and weight?

3. Why doesn't the Title Page, which describes the contents of the Original Book of Mormon, make no reference to any original plates (i.e., the plates of Nephi we call the small plates)?

Traditional assumption; graphic from
The traditional assumption about the plates cannot answer any of these questions.

1. If there was only one set of gold plates, Martin Harris could not have made such a basic mistake as to forget there were 8 witnesses in addition to the 3 witnesses. Martin knew all of the 8 witnesses personally. The testimony of the 8 witnesses was included in every copy of the Book of Mormon.

2. If there was only one set of plates, the witnesses would have described the plates similarly. We wouldn't have Joseph's father saying they weighed 30 pounds while his brother William said they weighed 60 pounds.

3. If there was only one set of plates, then the Title Page, which was on the last leaf of the plates and listed the contents of the Original Book of Mormon, should have listed the plates of Nephi, which were not abridged. Instead, the Title Page lists only the two abridgments, plus Moroni "sealing" them with his own testimony. The absence of the plates of Nephi from the Title Page indicates that they were not included in the Original Book of Mormon.

The answers to these "why" questions is very simple. You can easily explain them to a child. (You'll have more difficulty explaining it to someone who rejects what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah, however.) The explanation is obvious once you see it.

You no longer have to avoid these questions, put them "on the shelf," or engage in elaborate sophistry to explain them away.

Here's the explanation: Joseph Smith translated two entirely separate sets of plates.

Current understanding
Joseph translated the "Original Book of Mormon," the set of plates he got from Moroni's stone box in the Hill Cumorah, in Harmony, Pennsylvania.

When he approached the end of the plates, he and Oliver considered retranslating the plates of Lehi (the 116 pages Martin Harris lost).

Instead, the Lord told him he would have to translate the plates of Nephi. (D&C 10)

But he didn't have the plates of Nephi yet.

Before leaving Harmony, Joseph gave the plates (the Original Book of Mormon) to a divine messenger. 

This is the same messenger that Joseph, Oliver, and David Whitmer met when they were traveling from Harmony to Fayette.

The messenger said he was going to Cumorah. David observed he had a knapsack that contained the plates. Joseph explained he was one of the Nephites.

The messenger took the plates (the Original Book of Mormon) to the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah.

While there, the messenger searched through the piles of Nephite records, located the original plates of Nephi (the small plates), and then took them to Fayette, where he gave them to Joseph to translate.


A lot of people ask why they haven't heard about this before. There's a simple answer for that, too.

The intellectuals who prepare curriculum for CES, BYU, and Church lessons don't believe what the prophets have taught about the Hill Cumorah in New York. They believe and teach that the "real" Hill Cumorah is in Mexico.

They are so attached to their theory that they would rather have members of the Church remain confused about these "Why" questions than provide the simple answer that there were two sets of plates.

These intellectuals also teach that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others did not tell the truth about the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah. There's a good example of this here.

Summary of the answers to the "why" questions.

1. Martin Harris said only he, Joseph, David, and Oliver saw the plates because the Three Witnesses saw the Original Book of Mormon (the abridged plates Moroni put in the stone box in the hill Cumorah). They may have also seen the unabridged plates of Nephi, along with the brass plates, the original plates of Ether, etc., but the Eight Witnesses did not see the Original Book of Mormon.

2. The 8 witnesses saw the plates of Nephi. That's why Joseph's father, one of the Eight witnesses, said they weighed 30 pounds. Joseph's brother William, not one of the 8 Witnesses, presumably hefted the Original Book of Mormon a year earlier.

3. The Title Page omitted the original plates of Nephi because they were not part of the Original Book of Mormon. The Title Page listed the contents as the abridgment of the record of the Nephites and the abridgment of the record of the Jaredites, which Moroni sealed with his testimony. Had Martin Harris not lost the 116 pages, we would have the Original Book of Mormon today. Instead, we have part of the Original Book of Mormon, plus part of the original plates of Nephi. (The first verses of Words of Mormon serve as a separate Title Page for the plates of Nephi.)

This is so simple that any child can understand it.

In fact, this explanation makes it obvious.

Just as Feynman suggested.

You will undoubtedly encounter people who resist this explanation. They have been taught their entire lives that the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico, so it is impossible for the depository of Nephite records is in New York.

They think President Oliver Cowdery was wrong when he wrote Letter VII. They actually think the Assistant President of the Church, with the cooperation and endorsement of Joseph Smith, misled the Church about the New York Hill Cumorah.

You will find that, once they learn about the evidence from Church history, they will experience cognitive dissonance. They will try hard to confirm their bias because they really don't believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.

Be patient. Eventually the right thing happens. Cognitive dissonance is a power psychological reality, but for many people, hopefully most, it will eventually yield to reality.


And, in many cases, they have never known what the prophets have taught.

This is especially true if they are under 40 years old. The rising generation has never been taught what the prophets have taught about Cumorah. Those over 40 have mostly forgotten, or have been persuaded by the intellectuals that the prophets were wrong.

Fortunately, most members of the Church, once they learn what the prophets have taught, are happy to accept their teachings.

BTW, the details of all of this are in my book, Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Oliver's Apostolic Blessing

Today's Come Follow Me lesson included a portion of Oliver Cowdery's blessing to the original Quorum of the Twelve.

A lot of people haven't read it, so I'll post it below.

It was Oliver Cowdery who ordained and blessed the original Twelve. In some cases, the minutes note that Martin Harris and David Whitmer assisted. For other cases, we can infer that all three witnesses participated in the ordination, but the record is not clear.

Traditionally, we've all been taught that the Three Witnesses ordained the original Twelve. That's why everyone's Priesthood line of authority shows the Three Witnesses. It's possible that happened, but the record for February 14, 1835, shows that the Three Witnesses ordained (blessed) Lyman Johnson, Brigham Young, and Heber C. Kimball.

The minutes say that on Feb. 15, 1835, "President Cowdery called forwarward [sic] Orson Hyde, David W. Patten and Luke Johnson and proceeded to their ordination & blessing."

After recording the blessings of these three men, the minutes record the "blessing" of William E. McLellin, John F. Boynton, and William Smith, without explaining who ordained them.

Later, on Feb. 21, Parley P. Pratt was ordained as one of the Twelve by Joseph Smith, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery. Oliver acted as voice and after the ordination, gave Elder Pratt a charge.

The same day Oliver Cowdery "blessed" Thomas B. Marsh. David Whitmer sealed that blessing. Then Orson Pratt was ordained and David Whitmer confirmed the ordination. Following that blessing, Prsident Cowdery gave the charge to the Twelve (below).


The Three Witnesses received their priesthood authority this way:

Oliver Cowdery - Peter, James and John

David Whitmer - ordained a High Priest by Oliver Cowdery on October 25, 1831

Martin Harris - ordained a High Priest by Lyman Wight on June 3, 1831. Wight had been ordained an Elder by Oliver Cowdery on Nov. 20, 1830. [Note: Wight was ordained to the "high Priesthood" by Joseph Smith in June 1831, and then Wight ordained Joseph Smith to the "high Priesthood" at the same meeting.] and


The following Charge was given to the Twelve by President .

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 Revilation, 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.— 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 sacrifice of your lives, should God require them in the advancement 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  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 [time?] 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 . 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 steward over this ministry. [p. 163]

We have work to do, that no other man 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.