Wednesday, July 29, 2020

1829 account of Hill Cumorah

This post relates the second-oldest account of the New York Cumorah that I'm aware of. It's a recollection of a statement by Martin Harris in 1829 as the Book of Mormon was being printed in Palmyra, NY.

The oldest account was from Lucy Mack Smith, who remembered Joseph referring to Cumorah in early 1827 when he was late coming home from Manchester.
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Currently in the United States there is a controversy about federal officers in cities such as Portland, Oregon, who are protecting federal property. This is reminiscent of the challenges faced by Stephen S. Harding, the fourth territorial Governor of Utah.

In 1862, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln appointed Harding as Governor of the Utah Territory.  Harding had conflicts with Brigham Young and was unable to enforce federal law. In 1863, President Lincoln appointed Harding as Chief Justice of the Colorado Territory's Supreme Court.
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Harding was born in Palmyra, NY, on February 24, 1808. His family moved to Indiana in 1820, but he remembered Joseph Smith, Jr., from seeing him fishing often.

In 1829, Harding returned to Palmyra to visit friends, including Pomeroy Tucker. While visiting the printing shop, he met Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and Joseph's father. When he expressed interest in the Book of Mormon that was being prepared for printing, he was invited to spend the night at the Smith home. Oliver Cowdery read from the manuscript.

Harding left to visit his brother, but two weeks later he ran in to Martin Harris again in Palmyra. Here's the account Harding wrote in a published letter.

"About two weeks after this I met Martin Harris. He was glad to see me; inquired how I felt since my dream. He told me that since he saw me at Mr. Smith's he had seen fearful signs in the heavens. That he was standing alone one night, and saw a fiery sword let down out of heaven, and pointing to the east, west, north, and south, then to the hill of Cumorah, where the plates of Nephi were found."

https://archive.org/details/GR_1666/page/n65/mode/2up

Harding wrote this letter in 1882, but he relates several details that attest to his solid memory. Of course, this is not proof that the hill in New York is the same as the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, but it does show that at least Martin Harris believed it was, even before the Book of Mormon was printed.

That Harris would refer to Cumorah this way is another corroboration of other accounts that Joseph Smith's contemporaries understood that the hill where Joseph found the plates was the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Hill Cumorah in western New York is still the Hill Cumorah

The Hill Cumorah is one of the Church history sites that didn't get a name change, which makes it all the more bizarre that the Hill Cumorah has been de-correlated everywhere else, such as in Saints, volume 1.

https://www.thechurchnews.com/history-revisited/2020-06-15/historic-sites-new-names-restoration-sacred-grove-joseph-smith-birthplace-186644

The following is a list of names of historic sites that did not change:
  • Beehive House
  • Far West Temple Site
  • Hill Cumorah
  • Historic Kirtland
  • Historic Nauvoo
  • Independence Visitors’ Center
  • Kanesville Tabernacle
  • Priesthood Restoration Site
  • St. George Tabernacle

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Glad tidings from Cumorah

Let's consider D&C 128:20.

And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. 


D&C 128 in the Times and Seasons
D&C 128:20 is a letter Joseph wrote to the Saints on September 6, 1842. He sent it to the Times and Seasons, which published the letter in the October 1, 1842, issue of the newspaper.

(BTW, this is another indication that Joseph was not editing the paper. The same Oct 1 issue contains the infamous (and ridiculous) anonymous editorial titled "Zarahemla" that the M2C promoters claim Joseph wrote or "edited" somehow.)

You can see a copy of the original publication at this link:

https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/NCMP1820-1846/id/9963

Click on the "expand" button at the upper right of the document and then scroll down to the end of page 935 to see the reference to Cumorah.
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When you read this, put yourself in the place of the Saints to whom Joseph wrote the letter. In September 1842, you're probably living in Nauvoo or England. You read the Times and Seasons regularly. The year before, in the same newspaper, you read yet another republication of Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII, which Oliver wrote in 1835 with the assistance of Joseph Smith. Joseph asked his brother Don Carlos to republish it in the Times and Seasons. Here's what you read:

You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N. Y. and also, as you pass from the former to the latter place, before arriving at the little village of Manchester, say from three to four, or about four miles from Palmyra, you pass a large hill on the east side of the road. Why I say large, is, because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country.... 

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

By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the book of Mormon you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (It is printed Camorah, which is an error.) In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites-once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt.... 

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 valley, and near by, from day to day, did that mighty race spill their blood, in wrath, contending, as it were, brother against brother, and father, against son. In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying of our fellowmen.

You can see a copy of this issue of the Times and Seasons here:

https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/NCMP1820-1846/id/8864/rec/3
Letter VII in the Times and Seasons

Click on the "expand" button at the upper right of the document and then scroll down to the end of page 378 to read about Cumorah. Continue on page 379 and 380.

Every Church member who read Joseph's 1842 letter understood this context.
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Despite this straightforward declaration in D&C 128:20 and its context, there are some LDS scholars who keep trying to persuade the modern Saints that Joseph didn't know what he was talking about.

These are the scholars who promote M2C (the Mesoamerican/Two Cumorahs theory).

They say Oliver didn't know what he was talking about.

They say that all of Joseph's contemporaries and successors were misled by the incorrect speculations from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Consequently, if you believe M2C, then you also believe that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah. 

And that's fine with me. People can believe whatever they want.

I object only when these M2C intellectuals prevent ordinary members of the Church from making informed decisions.
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One of my favorite rationalizations about  D&C 128:20 comes from Book of Mormon Central (America) in no-wise #489.

Look at how they try to persuade the Saints to question Joseph Smith's credibility and reliability, solely to defend and promote M2C.

Original in blue, my comments in red.

As far as can be determined, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself only associated the hill in New York with the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon towards the end of his life. 
Notice the clever rhetoric "as far as can be determined." Informed Church members can easily "determine" from historical sources that Joseph first identified the hill as Cumorah in 1827 before he even got the plates. They know that in 1831, missionaries were explaining that Moroni himself called the hill Cumorah. But if you have only been taught M2C, you don't know these things. 
In an 1842 epistle the Prophet spoke of hearing “Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:20).7 Before then, Joseph left the name of the New York hill where Moroni gave him the plates unnamed in his accounts of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.8 
This is a red herring fallacy because the name Cumorah meant nothing to nonmembers who were the intended audience for these references. 
For members, Joseph and Oliver had explicitly identified the hill as Cumorah in Letter VII, which was republished in every Church magazine during Joseph's lifetime. It was sung in a popular hymn.
1. The 1832 history doesn't even mention a hill, so there was no point in naming it.
2. The 1838 history was intended for the general public. "I have been induced to write this history so as to disabuse the publick mind, and put all enquirers after truth into possession of the facts as they have transpired in relation both to myself and the Church as far as I have such facts in possession." James Mulholland added a description of the hill because, as he explained "I mentioned to President Smith that I considered it necessary that an explanation of <​the location of​> the place where the box was deposited would be required in order that the history be satisfactory." Once again, the name Cumorah was irrelevant as a matter of Church history and would not be understood by nonmembers anyway.
3. The Elders' Journal answered questions posed by nonmembers to whom the name Cumorah would be meaningless.
Whether the Prophet arrived at this conclusion about the location of Cumorah by revelation, by conforming to usage that had become common among the early members of the Church about Book of Mormon geography, or in some other way is historically unknown.9
The M2C claim that Joseph Smith adopted a false tradition when he wrote D&C 128 and that his successors canonized his false speculations is audacious sophistry. 
It is inexcusable, really.
The alternative M2C "requirement" that Joseph had to learn the "location of Cumorah" by revelation is equally audacious. Informed Latter-day Saints know that Joseph and Oliver actually visited the repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) inside the hill Cumorah in New York. They know that Joseph learned the name of the hill before he even got the plates. And, of course, they have read and understood Letter VII, just as all of Joseph's contemporaries did.
If you want to see a perfect illustration of the M2C citation cartel, read footnote 9. It's a series of articles from FARMS and its successor, the Interpreter, both published by M2C advocates who repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. Here's the link: https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/knowhy/where-is-the-location-of-the-hill-cumorah#footnote9_0bpjjij
In the decades after Joseph Smith’s death, other prominent early Latter-day Saints, including Lucy Mack Smith,10 Parley P. Pratt,11 and David Whitmer,12 recounted earlier incidents in which the New York hill was identified as Cumorah by the angel Moroni and by Joseph Smith. 
Let's look at each of these.

1. Lucy Mack Smith began her history a few months after Joseph and Hyrum were murdered (not "in the decades after"). She explained why:

"People are often enquiring of me the particulars of Joseph’s getting the plates seeing the angels at first and many other thing which Joseph never wrote or published I have told over many things pertaining to these matters to different persons to gratify their curiosity indeed have almost destroyed my lungs giving these recitals to those who felt anxious to hear them I have now concluded to write down every particular as far as possible and if those who wish to read them will help me a little they can have it all in one piece to read at their leasure—"

Lucy specifically recounted things "Joseph never wrote or published," yet these M2C scholars want us to disbelieve Lucy's account because Joseph never wrote or published what she recounted! 

Their objection is the entire reason why Lucy gave us her history. Lucy not only explained that Joseph knew the name Cumorah before he got the plates, but she actually quoted what Joseph said.

Although she began dictating her history in the fall of 1844, she pointed out that she had been reciting this history for some time before then.

Yet these M2C scholars frame her account as unreliable because it came "decades" later.

2. Parley P. Pratt's autobiography includes this quotation of what missionaries taught in 1831: "This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the State of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario county." 

That's pretty specific; in fact, it's as specific as words can be, and it corroborates Lucy's quotation of what Joseph said. But our M2C scholars, in their effort to cast doubt and confusion, frame this as a "late" recollection by citing the date of publication in 1874.
Actually, Parley began writing his autobiography in 1854. 

More significantly, the 1839 hymnal includes Pratt's hymn "An Angel from on High" which includes these lyrics.

An angel from on high
The long, long silence broke;
Descending from the sky,
These gracious words he spoke:
Lo! in Cumorah's lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.
Lo! in Cumorah's lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.

Rather than Parley's teaching arising "in the decades after Joseph's death," Parley taught that Moroni referred to the "hill in New York" as Cumorah as early as 1839, and this was sung by the Saints during Joseph's lifetime. 

3. David Whitmer. Footnote 12 refers to David's 1878 account of meeting the divine messenger who was taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah. David repeated this account to others; Zina Young heard about it before 1878, probably in 1832, as we've discussed before. http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2016/05/more-on-david-whitmer-zina-young-and.html

The logical fallacy of the "late recollection" argument is that in David's case, it was precisely because this was the first time he heard the word "Cumorah" that he remembered the event. When he heard the messenger refer to Cumorah, David had not read the Book of Mormon; it hadn't even been completely translated yet. This is the type of detail that makes David's recollection more credible, not less.
 
Since these statements are somewhat late recollections, coming after the identity of Cumorah as a hill near Palmyra, New York, had become widespread, they should be used cautiously.13

As we've seen, these are not "late recollections." And how do they think "the identity of Cumorah... had become widespread" if not from the repeated republication of Letter VII and the singing of Parley's hymn, all with the approval of Joseph Smith? 

Our M2C intellectuals, their employees and followers, often use the phrase "used cautiously" as a euphemism for "repudiated." 

They know members of the Church are reluctant to outright repudiate the teachings of the prophets. Because M2C explicitly repudiates the teachings of the prophets, they frame the issue as "using cautiously" those teachings. 

Notice, they never encourage Church members to use their own M2C teachings "cautiously."
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The identify of the New York Cumorah has been well established by the prophets and apostles. Because of the influence of certain M2C intellectuals, however, most members of the Church have been persuaded to repudiate the teachings of the prophets in favor of an imaginary "Cumorah" somewhere in southern Mexico.

As long as Church members continue to value the teachings of the scholars over the teachings of the prophets, we can hardly expect the Lord to reveal more about the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Instead of starting with the known pin in the map of the New York Cumorah, our scholars have led Church members on an adventure into confusion and ignorance.

10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
(Alma 12:10)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

March 26, 1830 and 2020

This is a great day to think about the Book of Mormon. It's an anniversary, of sorts.


On March 26, 1830, the Wayne Sentinel (a newspaper in Palmyra, NY), published an announcement.

It was the full text of the Title Page of the Book of Mormon, followed by this:

BY JOSEPH SMITH JUNIOR, Author and Proprietor.

(Joseph had to label himself as author for copyright reasons.)

The announcement continued with this:

The above work, containing about 600 pages, large Duodecimo, is now for sale, wholesale and retail, at the Palmyra Bookstore, by
                           HOWARD & GRANDIN.
     PALMYRA, March 26, 1830.

You can see a copy of the original newspaper on the BYU Library web page here:

https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/BOMP/id/218

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I've always liked the 1830 edition because it is easy to read. Years ago when I taught in the MTC (then the LTM) I used to give each missionary a copy of their favorite Book of Mormon verse from the 1830 edition. Most of them had never seen what the 1830 edition looked like.

If you don't have a physical copy of the 1830 edition (replica or original), you can read it on several web pages, including the Joseph Smith Papers. Here is a link for 4 early editions.

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/the-papers/revelations-and-translations/jsppr4

If you're using Wordcruncher, as I strongly recommend, you can purchase the 1830 edition edited by Royal Skousen, which I also strongly recommend. Here's the link:

https://wordcruncher.com/

The other scripture study tool I recommend is Scripture Notes.

https://scripturenotes.com/

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If you don't have a physical copy of the 1830 edition, the replica I like best is here:

https://www.cumorahlandpress.com/product-page/1830-book-of-mormon-replica

In 1879, the Church published an edition of the Book of Mormon with the chapters and verses we're familiar with today. Orson Pratt divided the text this way. For example, he divided the Isaiah chapters so they would exactly resemble the KJV chapters.

The RLDS Church also divided the text into verses, but they retained the original chapters. These chapters were pretty long in some cases, so the RLDS editions have many verses. Some chapters have over 200 verses.

For example, the LDS edition starts the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi with Chapter 12 (equivalent to Isaiah 2). Chapter 13 corresponds to Isaiah 3, and so on.

In the 1830 edition (and the current RLDS/CoC editions), the Isaiah material begins after Jacob's introduction in 2 Nephi Chapter VIII. Chapter VIII continues all the way through the LDS chapter 16.

Here is a table to convert 1830/RLDS chapter to 1879 and later LDS editions:

http://centerplace.org/hs/bofm/BofM_RLDS-LDSCrossReference.pdf
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There are lots of ways to study the Book of Mormon. 

The main point, of course, is to use the Book of Mormon to bring you closer to Jesus Christ. Never lose sight of that.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Oliver Cowdery biography

For those interested in biographical information about Oliver Cowdery, here are two helpful resources.

A biographical overview:


A book of essays about Oliver's life and work: