Wednesday, November 24, 2021

SITH sayers everywhere

Readers of this blog know that I have a relatively naturalistic perspective on events in Church history. I think God works with us through natural means as much as possible, consistent with 1 Nephi 3:7.

I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

God prepares a way, but we have to accomplish the tasks. 

There are lots of examples in the scriptures. God didn't magically move the plates of brass from Laban's treasury to Lehi's tent in the wilderness; God had Nephi procure them. God didn't build a boat for Lehi; instead, He gave instructions to Nephi, who went about the work. 

Jonathan Edwards expressed this concept: Mortal men are capable of imparting the knowledge of human arts and sciences, and skill in temporal affairs. God is the author of such knowledge by those means: flesh and blood is made use of by God as the mediate or second cause of it; he conveys it by the power and influence of natural means. 

When a task is impossible by natural means, the Lord intervenes, such as touching the stones prepared by the brother of Jared. 

In like manner, the Lord prepared Joseph Smith from a young age to be able to translate the plates. 

The Nephites kept records, Mormon abridged them, and Moroni deposited them. 

Moroni told Joseph the records were "written and deposited" in the Hill Cumorah not far from Joseph's home near Palmyra, NY, which makes sense. These records were not "written in Mesoamerica" and then "deposited in New York" by magical or supernatural or superhuman means.

Moroni told Joseph he had to obtain the plates and translate them. 

The one thing Joseph couldn't do on his own was translate the characters, but he copied the characters and studied them with the U&T until he was able to translate the engravings on the plates, using his own lexicon which he had acquired starting at a young age.

Thus, the production of the Book of Mormon involved natural means as much as possible.

Yet our intellectuals want us to believe instead that all Joseph did was read words that appeared on a stone, provided there by the MIST (mysterious incognito supernatural translator).  

_____

Recently there was a debate between "Midnight Mormons" and "RFM." Midnight Mormons purported to represent a faithful interpretation of LDS history, while RFM purported to represent a critical interpretation of LDS history.

Early on, both sides agreed that Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon by reading the words off a the stone-in-the-hat (SITH). 

There are SITH sayers everywhere. It's astonishing how quickly this narrative has become prevalent. It is taken for granted now, even though it is only one of several interpretations of the historical documents.

Repudiating the teachings of the prophets about the translation of the Book of Mormon is nearly as bad as repudiating their teachings about the New York Cumorah. 

_____

Lately, certain LDS historians and intellectuals have promoted a narrative that when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery testified that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummum, they were actually referring to the seer stone Joseph found in a well long before he got the plates from Moroni.

This is important because those who say Joseph used the "peep stone" also say he never used the plates. Instead of an actual translation of ancient Nephite records, the SITH theory leaves us with an entirely spiritual experience with no connection to the plates or any authentic history of real people in a real place.

However, Oliver Cowdery clearly distinguished between the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone. We've discussed before how he published Letter I in response to the "peep stone" claim in the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed. That book had identified two alternative explanations for the translation. One was by means of a "peep stone." The other was by means of the Urim and Thummim. 

In response, Oliver wrote, "Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’"

(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1)

Also in https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/50

Those who promote the stone-in-the-hat narrative (SITH) rationalize that testimony away, mainly by ignoring the context of Letter I.*

However, Oliver made the distinction even more clear when he rejoined the Church at a special conference held at Kanesville, Iowa, Oct. 21, 1848.

You may remember this image of the seer stone, published in the Joseph Smith Papers. 



An article in the Ensign from October 2015 explains some of the history of this stone.

According to Joseph Smith’s history, he returned the Urim and Thummim, or Nephite “interpreters,” to the angel. But what became of the other seer stone or stones that Joseph used in translating the Book of Mormon?

David Whitmer wrote that “after the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, early in the spring of 1830, before April 6th, Joseph gave the stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the stone any more.”26

Oliver, who was outside the Church for a decade until being rebaptized in 1848, planned to go west to be with the Saints in Utah, but he died in 1850 in Richmond, Missouri, before making the trip.27 Phineas Young, who had helped bring Oliver Cowdery back into the Church, obtained the seer stone from Oliver’s widow, who was David Whitmer’s sister, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery. Phineas in turn gave it to his brother Brigham Young.28 


If, as the history indicates, Oliver possessed the stone from 1830 until he died, that means he had it with him in 1848 when he rejoined the Church in Iowa.

Oliver's statement upon rejoining was carefully recorded by Reuben Miller. As you read this, realize that Oliver had the seer stone with him, possibly in his pocket. 

Friends and Brethren, my name is Cowdery—Oliver Cowdery. In the early history of this Church I stood identified with her, and one in her councils. True it is that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Not because I was better than the rest of mankind was I called; but, to fulfill the purposes of God, He called me to a high and holy calling. 

I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages), as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, ‘holy interpreters.’ 

I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the ‘holy interpreters.’ That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.

http://www.scottwoodward.org/oliver-cowdery-testimonies/

On that occasion, Oliver did not produce the seer stone to show the audience as corroboration of his testimony. 

He did not say Joseph translated any portion of the record by means of that seer stone.

He did not equate the seer stone with the holy interpreters. 

Instead, he reaffirmed what he had written in 1834 in response to Mormonism Unvailed

_____

What is the significance of this seer stone?

Readers of A Man that Can Translate know that, based upon detailed analysis of the Original and Printer's manuscripts and the language of the text, I propose Joseph used the seer stone to conduct one or more demonstrations of the translation process. He was forbidden from displaying the plates or the interpreters, but his supporters were curious. 

Presumably they were familiar with the idea of seer stones, which were widely known in western New York. Conducting a demonstration would satisfy their curiosity and leave Joseph and his scribes in relative peace to continue the hard work of actually translating. 

For the same reason, it makes sense that Joseph would use the seer stone in the process of receiving revelations, as several accounts describe. This doesn't mean that words appeared on the stone, but Joseph, receiving revelation directly in his mind, would use SITH as a sort of prop to help build faith and confidence among his supporters.

Once Joseph completed the translation and had begun dictating revelations directly, he had no more use of the seer stone so he gave it to Oliver as a sort of souvenir.

Oliver knew the truth, so he testified about what really happened; i.e., that Joseph translated the plates by means of the Nephite interpreters, which he and Joseph called the Urim and Thummim because that's how Moroni identified the interpreters.

_____

*The article in the Ensign from October 2015 claims that "By 1833, Joseph Smith and his associates began using the biblical term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to any stones used to receive divine revelations, including both the Nephite interpreters and the single seer stone." 

The footnote there cites Wilford Woodruff's ambiguous journal entry from 1841. But once we understand the context of Oliver's Letter I--the clear distinction between the two terms in Mormonism Unvailed-- we see that Oliver's explicit statement that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim negates the effort by revisionist historians to blur the two terms.
_____

BTW, at least for now we have this painting on the Church's website.

https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/joseph-smith-translates-the-gold-plates?lang=eng


The Ensign article goes on to claim that, in "addition to using the interpreters, according to Martin Harris, Joseph also used one of his seer stones for convenience during the Book of Mormon translation. Other sources corroborate Joseph’s changing translation instruments."

An alternative explanation for these witness statements is that they observed demonstrations of the process which they inferred were the translation. Then, to refute the Spalding theory, they related the demonstration as if it was the actual translation.




Friday, November 12, 2021

Francis Kirkham and Oliver's letters

 Francis Kirkham (1977-1972) wrote a book titled New Witness For Christ in America: Evidence of Divine Power in the "Coming Forth" of the Book of Mormon.

A 1954 devotional is available here: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/francis-w-kirkham/attempts-to-prove-the-book-of-mormon-man-made/?M=A

In July 1984, the Ensign published a tribute to Francis W. Kirkham.

https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1984/07/francis-w-kirkham-a-new-witness-for-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng&abVersion=V03&abName=GLOB88

Excerpt:

In A New Witness for Christ, Dr. Kirkham examined five explanations for the origin of the Book of Mormon, showing the validity or weakness of each.

1. The first explanation came from the Prophet Joseph Smith and those who assisted him. The Prophet’s testimony of how the book came about was simple and straightforward. But its simplicity caused difficulty for many people. Joseph Smith explained that he was visited periodically by the angel Moroni during a four-year period. At the end of the four years, Moroni entrusted to him the gold plates, and the Prophet subsequently translated them by the gift and power of God.

A valuable contribution of Brother Kirkham’s books is his compilation of details about the production of the Book of Mormon as related by close associates of the Prophet. The person who recounted these events most thoroughly was Oliver Cowdery, the personal scribe of the Prophet who, as he said, wrote the entire Book of Mormon (except for a few pages) as Joseph Smith dictated. Oliver possessed a very inquisitive mind, and because of his close association with Joseph Smith, he had many opportunities to query the Prophet about Moroni’s visits and the subsequent circumstances which ultimately produced the Book of Mormon.

Oliver wrote a series of letters to W. W. Phelps concerning these events—letters that give us valuable insights not found in Joseph Smith’s history. For example, Oliver was told the location where Joseph had found the plates on the Hill Cumorah: “the west side of the hill, not far from the top.”9 He also learned the approximate time when the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph during the night of 21 September 1823. Although Joseph was not able to tell him the exact time, he said it must have been 11:00 P.M., midnight, or later, “as the noise and bustle of the family, in retiring, had long since ceased.”10 If it was that late at night, Joseph Smith must have prayed for several hours before Moroni appeared.

Oliver discussed the temptation the Prophet had on his first trip to the Hill Cumorah. There were two forces operating upon young Joseph’s mind, one urging him to obtain the plates to glorify God, and the other tempting him to seek wealth so he could live out his life in ease. (This reminds us of Jesus’ temptation when Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. See Matt. 4:8–9.) Elder Cowdery cautioned against judging Joseph too harshly for allowing Satan’s temptation to attract him, since he was young and, like us all, his mind was easily turned from correct principles, “unless he could be favored with a certain round of experience.”11

This accounts for Joseph Smith’s failure to get the record in 1823. After reaching for the plates three times and failing, he cried out: “Why can I not obtain this book?” A voice answered immediately: “Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord.” Moroni then gave him a great vision. Joseph first saw the glory of the Lord; then Moroni said to him,

“Look!” He next saw the prince of darkness and his terrible hosts. This was shown to him, Joseph was informed, so that henceforth he never need to be deceived. Joseph Smith saw that there was nothing desirable in Satan’s program. It could not bring happiness—only misery. On the other hand, those who followed the Lord were blessed with unspeakable joy. This was an important experience for him in determining the difference between divine and satanic influence.

There was another sign by which Joseph would know the work was true. “This is the sign,” Moroni said. “When these things begin to be known … the workers of iniquity will seek your overthrow; they will circulate falsehoods to destroy your reputation, and also will seek to take your life.”12

These falsehoods have been the basis of most anti-Mormon articles and books ever since.

Brother Kirkham concluded this portion of the book by stating that members of the Church accepted Joseph Smith’s explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon. “They were able to learn from persons who participated, including the Prophet himself, and by their study with faith and prayer in the promise of God recorded in the book, that the Book of Mormon had come forth by divine power and that it contained the teachings of the resurrected Christ to the ancient people of the American Continent.

“This, briefly, is the first explanation of the Book of Mormon. If this explanation is true, the greatest knowledge that can come to man has been revealed.” 13

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Multicultural Church history

Back cover the the Lemurs book
Because the Church is increasingly multicultural (and multinational), it is important for Latter-day Saints everywhere to become more familiar with other cultures and people. We're all interested in ways to accomplish this and, as Elder Quentin L. Cook has taught,

With our all-inclusive doctrine, we can be an oasis of unity and celebrate diversity. Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity.

One way to foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity is to teach it and live it within our families, especially starting at a young age.

Hence, the illustrated Church history book this post discusses.

The introductory video is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCmioBzsQpY

Be sure to subscribe to the channel for upcoming videos.

_____

Having lived in Europe for 8 years, as well as in China, the Philippines, and Africa, and having traveled to every continent and over 60 countries for work or pleasure, I'm particularly enthusiastic about the way the Latter-day Saints are creating a worldwide, united community of people dedicated to establishing Zion and bringing people to Christ.

We've attended Church meetings on every continent (except Antarctica, where the only people we met were a few military personnel at a Chilean base). Every time, we make immediate friends and we usually have connections one way or another. 

Latter-day Saints everywhere have faith in Christ, love in their hearts, and unified desires to bless the world.

There's nothing else like it anywhere. It is evidence of the Restoration.

Thousands of missionaries going from one country to another helps immensely to create this worldwide community. Social media, people going to universities, work assignments, the Pathway program--all of these help to establish and deepen the ties among Latter-day Saints.

But for non-Americans, resources are limited, and almost everything has an American orientation, despite the efforts of the Church to become more multicultural. Translation alone is not multi-cultural.

_____

We thought it would be helpful for Latter-day Saints to have an illustrated Church history from a multinational, multicultural perspective. Something a parent (or grandparent) can sit down and read as a bedtime story.

It includes links to original sources for parents who want to learn more.

The book Lemurs, Chameleons and Golden Plates offers such an opportunity. 

Here's a description:

Readers young and old enjoy learning about Church history and gospel principles in a multi-cultural context. In Lemurs, Chameleons and Gold Plates, African artist William Rosoanaivo (POV) provides delightful illustrations of important events in early Church history from the perspective of Latter-day Saints living in Madagascar.

The book introduces a brother and sister who visit their grandparents in the countryside, where lemurs and chameleons join in the fun. Young readers especially enjoy looking for these creatures as they turn the pages.

African culture permeates the book as the grandparents tell their grandchildren about how they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, and how the Church has grown throughout the world. They discuss temple work, missionary work, and caring for one another, all in the context of the African setting.

William Rosoanaivo (POV) is an award-winning artist, a native of Madagascar who currently lives in Mauritius, both African nations. Co-author Jonathan Neville, who met William while living in Mauritius, has written extensively about Church history and related topics. References to the Joseph Smith Papers and other historical sources are provided for readers who seek additional information and insights.

This is the first in a series of planned multicultural books about the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The book is available wherever LDS books are sold, and directly from the publisher: https://www.digitalegend.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=377

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Lesson/fireside outline with references

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

Purpose

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 http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/83, 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: http://jared.pratt-family.org/report-of-elders-orson-pratt-and-joseph-f-smith.html
_____

Discussion questions at the beginning of class.

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

Why do 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 repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) 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 taught (ii) what extrinsic evidence there is to support those teachings, and (iii) 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: http://www.lettervii.com/2017/07/more-about-cumorahs-casualties.html)

From Church history:

The first night he came in 1823, 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, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/69

That night Moroni also identified the hill where the plates were deposited as Cumorah.

Joseph visited the site on the hill annually. In early 1827, when Joseph was returning home after an errand in Manchester, he passed by the hill Cumorah. Moroni stopped him and chastised him for not being diligent, telling him the time was near when he would get the plates.

In September 1827, Joseph 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." http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/times-and-seasons-15-october-1842/1

[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.



_____

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, as mentioned in the first section above.

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. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The simple story of Cumorah (with links)

President Nelson has taught that "good inspiration is based upon good information." A corollary is, "informed decisions are based upon good information." 

People can believe whatever they want, but Latter-day Saints owe it to themselves to seek good information before seeking inspiration and before making decisions. And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118)

Unfortunately, few Latter-day Saints have "good information" about the Cumorah issue. Instead, they are taught the philosophies of men; i.e., the theories of the M2C scholars who claim the prophets have been wrong about the New York Cumorah.

Here's the simple story of Cumorah (with interactive links underlined). 

Ask around. Very few of your Latter-day Saint friends/family will even know about these specific references from Church history, mostly found in the Joseph Smith Papers.

_____

The Simple Story of Cumorah

When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith in September 1823, he "gave a history of the aborigines of this country" and "said this history was written and deposited not far from that place." Moroni said "the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place." 

In 1827, months before he received the plates, Joseph told his parents about his encounter with "the angel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met me and said, that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord."

In 1829, after translating the abridged plates in Harmony, PA, Joseph gave them to a divine messenger. David Whitmer picked up Joseph and Oliver to take them to Fayette. Along the way, the group met the messenger who had the plates. David offered him a ride to Fayette but he said, "'No, I am going to Cumorah.’ This name was something new to me [David], I did not know what Cumorah meant." Joseph explained the messenger was one of the Nephites.

In 1830, during the mission to the Lamanites (D&C 28, 30 and 32), Parley P. Pratt recorded what Oliver Cowdery taught. "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."

In 1834, the book Mormonism Unvailed claimed the Book of Mormon was based on a novel by Solomon Spalding. In response, Oliver Cowdery wrote a series of essays about Church history, focusing on facts to refute the false allegations in Mormonism Unvailed. As Assistant President of the Church and designated spokesman for Joseph Smith, Oliver explained the facts about the New York Cumorah in Letter VII. After describing the hill, Oliver wrote, "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."

The New York Cumorah was accepted and taught consistently by Joseph's contemporaries and successors and has never been repudiated, except by a handful of influential scholars who invented and perpetrated the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). 

M2C originated with RLDS scholar L.E. Hills, whose map of a "limited geography" in Mesoamerica put Cumorah in southern Mexico because New York was "too far" away to make his interpretation work. 

Modern M2C scholars, including those at BYU and in CES, accept that reasoning. They justify their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets by claiming the prophets were merely speculating and misled the Church. 


Now, we have BYU and CES explicitly teaching their students that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah. 

Tragically, the New York Cumorah is consistent with the descriptions in the text and is corroborated by archaeology, anthropology, etc. 

But most Latter-day Saints don't know this because the M2C scholars and their followers have indoctrinated generations of Latter-day Saints to believe their M2C theory instead.

Fortunately, as more Latter-day Saints become educated, they are able to make informed decisions and seek inspiration based upon good information.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Scholars vs prophets and multiple working hypotheses

The discussion about the New York Cumorah presents people with a simple, clear choice about whom you follow and how you interact with the scriptures, particularly the text of the Book of Mormon but also the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.

Choice 1: Scholarly, subjective speculations about the text and extrinsic evidence that guide our interpretation of the location of Cumorah. 

Choice 2: Prophetic, factual statements about Cumorah in New York that guide our interpretation of the text and extrinsic evidence.

In the case of Cumorah, it makes an enormous difference which choice we make. If we accept the teachings of the scholars, we reject the teachings of the prophets. If we accept the teachings of the prophets, we reject the teachings of the scholars. There is no middle ground on this point. It's a binary, either/or choice. The Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is either in western New York, or it's elsewhere. And if the prophets were wrong about the New York setting, it doesn't really matter where the "real Cumorah" is. 

It's a bizarre "tail wags the dog" scenario. The scholars insist the prophets are wrong solely because of their subjective speculations about where the Nephites must have lived, which leads them to develop "criteria" for Cumorah based on extrinsic evidence from their speculations. For example, because they insist the Nephites lived in Mesoamerica, they also insist Cumorah must be in a land of volcanoes, even though the text never mentions volcanoes. They insist Cumorah must be in a place inhabited by millions of ancient people, even though the text never says or implies that was the case.

When we read what the text actually says, as opposed to what commentators have said about what the text says, it's easy to reconcile the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah with the extrinsic evidence. For example, we can see that population estimates based on the text are congruent with extrinsic evidence from archaeology and anthropology in western New York, Ohio, etc. I discussed some of that here: 

http://www.lettervii.com/2021/03/book-of-mormon-populations.html

_____

Discussions about history involve two elements:

A. Historical facts (documents and extrinsic evidence). Because we're dealing with history, and no one is claiming any new revelation about that history, everyone is on a level playing field. No one has "special knowledge" about history because of their experience, credentials, positions, etc. Anyone who can read and understand English has equal access to all the facts.

B. Interpretation of those facts (multiple working hypotheses). This is where it is easy to get confused. Often, historians write in a style that presents their hypotheses as facts. Obviously, they have no personal knowledge of historical facts; they rely on evidence just like everyone else. This is a standard persuasive technique, but don't accept historians' statements as fact without seeing the evidence they rely upon. In the context of Church history, historians who are both believers and unbelievers use this rhetorical style. Discerning readers can tell the difference. 

_____

Ideally, we first establish the facts. Everyone should be able to agree about what the facts are. Proponents often avoid, discount, or even censor facts that contradict their hypotheses, but that's easy to expose. 

For example, ask yourself, did you know that Joseph's mother reported that Moroni identified the hill in New York as Cumorah the first time he visited Joseph Smith in 1823? 

Moroni said, "the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place."

If you don't know that, why don't you know that? 

Ask your BYU or CES teacher. Or ask the teachers of your children or grandchildren. 

It is inexcusable that Latter-day Saints don't know about this.

As a test, if you search for that phrase on Fairlatterdaysaints.org, you get two results, here and here. Both are buried in discussions about the First Vision, and both cite Dan Vogel's Early Mormon Documents book, volume 1, instead of the Joseph Smith Papers. 

If fairlatterdaysaints.org was a legitimate educational organization instead of an advocacy front for the M2C citation cartel, they would feature Lucy's account in their discussions of Cumorah. But they don't and they won't. They don't want Church members to know about anything that contradicts M2C.

_____

Every sincere seeker of truth should be able to agree on what the facts are. 

That's the easy part.

Next, we interpret those facts to develop hypotheses that explain and reconcile the facts in various ways. This involves assessing reliability, credibility, authenticity, and other indicia of truthfulness. Much of that analysis is subjective, but that's fine so long as we clearly explain our reasoning.

Different people develop different hypotheses that reflect their respective biases, desired outcomes, values, priorities, etc. Some people claim they "follow the evidence" but we can all see that is a delusion. The worst extreme of bias confirmation is not recognizing your own biases--or actually believing you have no bias.

To repeat: Because we're dealing with history, and no one is claiming any new revelation about that history, everyone is on a level playing field. We all have access to all the evidence. 

In this short post, I can't list all the evidence about Cumorah (some of it is here), but readers of this blog by now are familiar with it. Really, regarding Cumorah there is very little debate about the evidence itself. The debate involves (i) disclosing and (ii) interpreting the evidence. 

Here's a table that illustrates the two separate approaches to the Cumorah issue. Most references are here: http://www.lettervii.com/p/byu-packet-on-cumorah.html


Facts

Interpretation - Prophets

Interpretation - Scholars

Lucy Mack Smith: When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he told Joseph that "the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place."

Lucy was correct and this explains why everyone knew Cumorah was in New York

Lucy was wrong because she related a false tradition, or else Moroni was referring to a “second” Cumorah because the real Cumorah is in Mexico

Lucy Mack Smith: Joseph said, “as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are

Lucy was correct and this explains why everyone knew Cumorah was in New York

Lucy was wrong because she related a false tradition, or else Moroni was referring to a “second” Cumorah because the real Cumorah is in Mexico

David Whitmer: The messenger who had the abridged plates declined a ride to Fayette and said “No, I am going to Cumorah.” David said, “This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant.”

David was correct and this explains why everyone knew Cumorah was in New York

David was wrong because she related a false tradition, or else the messenger was referring to a “second” Cumorah because the real Cumorah is in Mexico

Oliver Cowdery (quoted by Parley P. Pratt) during the mission to the Lamanites (D&C 28, 30 and 32). "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.”

Oliver and Parley were correct and this explains why everyone knew Cumorah was in New York

Oliver and Parley were wrong because they related a false tradition, or else the Moroni was referring to a “second” Cumorah because the real Cumorah is in Mexico

Heber C. Kimball, who lived in western New York and joined the Church in 1832, visited Cumorah after his baptism and reported he could still see the embankments around the hill (most of which have since been plowed under)

Heber was correct because he had been taught about the New York Cumorah and observed the evidence with his own eyes

Heber was wrong because he didn’t describe the embankments in enough detail to verify his observations and because he was relying on a false tradition anyway

Oliver Cowdery, then Assistant President of the Church (which meant he was Joseph’s spokesman) wrote a series of essays about Church history with the assistance of Joseph Smith, published as letters in the Messenger and Advocate, Times and Seasons, Gospel Reflector, Millennial Star, The Prophet, and the Improvement Era. Joseph also had them copied into his journal as part of his life story.

Letter I. “[Moroni] said this history was written and deposited not far from that place” referring to Joseph’s home near Palmyra

Oliver was correct. If the history was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home, Mormon and Moroni lived in that vicinity when they abridged the Nephite and Jaredite records.

Oliver was wrong because either he or Joseph misquoted Moroni based on a false tradition

Letter VI. Referring to the mile-wide valley west of the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates, “here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.”

Oliver was correct because he and Joseph had visited the depository of Nephite records in the hill mentioned in Mormon 6:6 multiple times, as related by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, David Whitmer, and others

Oliver, David Whitmer, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and others were wrong because either Oliver misled people based on a false tradition or he was relating multiple joint visions of the “real Cumorah” in southern Mexico, but also Oliver and Joseph never had any revelation about Cumorah

Letter VII. “[Mormon] deposited, as he says, on the 529th page, all the records in this same hill, Cumorah and after gave his small record to his son Moroni”

Oliver was correct because he had visited that depository, so he knew exactly where it was and he explained by citing Mormon 6:6

Oliver was wrong because he was merely speculating based on a false tradition

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

Oliver was correct because he had visited that depository and knew from personal experience what it contained

Oliver was wrong because he was merely speculating based on a false tradition

D&C 128:20 (originally a letter published in the Times and Seasons in September 1842): “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.”

Joseph was correct because he had learned the name from Moroni before he ever got the plates, he had visited the depository, and he had helped write and promulgate Letter VII, which had been published in the Times and Seasons a year previously.

Joseph was wrong because he had adopted the false tradition about Cumorah, or else he was referring to the hill in southern Mexico because of speculative articles in the Times and Seasons that anachronistically attributed Mayan ruins to the Nephites

Various other teachings by Joseph’s contemporaries and successors about the New York Cumorah

They were correct because they relied on what Joseph and Oliver taught

They were wrong because they relied on a false tradition, which we know is false because our interpretation of the Book of Mormon requires Cumorah to be in southern Mexico