Thursday, January 12, 2017

Oliver's attention to detail and veracity

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are some who seek to persuade members of the Church to distrust Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII because they insist the Hill Cumorah must be somewhere other than in New York.

It's difficult to find someone in Church history who was more concerned about details and accuracy than Oliver Cowdery. Here's an example from Letter VIII.

Oliver spent some time discussing the reputation of Joseph and Emma and their respective families. He explained the reason Josiah Stowell hired Joseph to work in the Harmony region in the first place. Note the section in bold below:

Soon after this visit to Cumorah, a gentleman from the south part of the State, (Chenango County,) employed our brother as a common labourer, and accordingly he visited that section of the country; and had he not been accused of digging down all, or nearly so, the mountains of Susquehannah, or causing others to do it by some art of necromancy, I should leave this, for the present, unnoticed. You will remember, in the mean time, that those who seek to vilify his character, say that he has always been notorious for his idleness. This gentleman, whose name is Stowell, resided in the town of Bainbridge, on or near the head waters of the Susquehannah river. Some forty miles south, or down the river, in the town of Harmony, Susquehannah county, Pa. is said to be a cave or subterraneous recess, whether entirely formed by art or not I am uninformed, neither does this matter; but such is said to be the case,—when a company of Spaniards, a long time since, when the country was uninhabited by white settlers, excavated from the bowels of the earth ore, and coined a large quantity of money; after which they secured the cavity and evacuated, leaving a part still in the cave, purposing to return at some distant period. A long time elapsed and this account came from one of the individuals who was first engaged in this mining business. The country was pointed out and the spot minutely described. This, I believe, is the substance, so far as my memory serves, though I shall not pledge my veracity for the correctness of the account as I have given. Enough however, was credited of the Spaniard's story, to excite the belief of many that there was a fine sum of the precious metal being coined in this subterraneous vault, among whom was our employer; and accordingly our brother was required to spend a few months with some others in excavating the earth, in pursuit of this treasure.

Here Oliver explains he is relying on his memory, but he emphasizes "I shall not pledge my veracity for the correctness of the account as I have given."

Previously, in Letter VII, he stated it was "a fact" that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the valley west of the Hill Cumorah.

Those who seek to discredit Oliver are making the argument that when he wrote Letter VII, he was unconcerned with his "veracity" because he stated as a fact something about which he was speculating at best. Somehow, between July 1835 when Letter VII was published, and October 1835 when Letter VIII was published, Oliver suddenly became concerned about his "veracity."

There are other examples, such as this one I've mentioned from Letter IV. He was concerned about his veracity when he noted the "error in the type" in Letter III and corrected it in Letter IV. (Letter III had referred to the 15th year, but it should have been the 17th year.)

In Letter VII itself, Oliver encourages Phelps to "present such facts as are plain and uncontrovertible. [sic]." He distinguishes between fact and speculation several times in these letters, which is why it is so puzzling to have people accept everything Oliver wrote about except the fact that Cumorah is in New York.

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