Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Choice excerpts from Letter VII

Some people find President Cowdery's Letter VII to be a little long, so here are some excerpts to enjoy. These are directly from the version in the Joseph Smith Papers, in Joseph's own history now referred to as History, 1834-1836.


President Cowdery was as specific as possible when he identified the hill Cumorah. He claimed it was a fact that this hill in New York, from which Joseph obtained the plates from Moroni, was also the setting for the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites, as well as the location of Mormon's depository of Nephite records.

Excerpts from Letter VII

You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N.Y. 

[Note: President Cowdery wrote these essays as letters to W.W. Phelps, who was living in Missouri at the time. Here, is referring to what is now State Route 21, the road that runs directly in front of the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center today]

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. To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that rout. 

The north end rises quite sudden until it assumes a level with the more southerly extremity, and I think I may say an elevation higher than at the south a short distance, say half or three fourths of a mile. As you pass toward canandaigua it lessens gradually until the surface assumes its common level, or is broken by other smaller hills or ridges, water courses and ravines. I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by.

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

[Note: President Cowdery was referring to the original edition of the Book of Mormon, which was not divided into chapter and verse. These pages are now Mormon chapter 6]

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.) 

[Note: "Camorah" was a typo in the original edition of the Book of Mormon, but it suggests the way Joseph pronounced the word because Oliver wrote phonetically.]

In this vally [sic] 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. 

A few had fled to the South, who were hunted down by the victorious party, and all who would not deny the Saviour and his religion, were put to death. Mormon himself, according to the record of his son Moroni, was also slain....

He (Mormon), however, by divine appointment, abridged from those records, in his own style and language, a short account of the more important and prominent items, from the days of Lehi to his own time, after which he 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, who, as appears from the same, finished, after witnessing the extinction of his people as a nation.

It was not the wicked who overcame the righteous; far from this: it was the wicked against the wicked, and by the wicked the wicked were punished....

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

[Note: see Ether 15:11]

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. Here may be seen where once sunk to nought the pride and strength of two mighty nations; and here may be contemplated, in solitude, while nothing but the faithful record of Mormon and Moroni is now extant to inform us of the fact, scenes of misery and distress...

In this vale lie commingled, in one mass of ruin the ashes of thousands

[Note: this refers to the Jaredites, of whom there were apparently fewer than 10,000 killed at Cumorah]

and in this vale was destined to consume the fair forms and vigerous [sic] systems of tens of thousands of the human race—blood mixed with blood, flesh with flesh, bones with bones and dust with dust!

[Note: this refers to the Nephites and Lamanites]

Friday, February 9, 2018

The original Gospel Topics essays

Beginning in 2013, the Church has published several "Gospel Topics essays" "to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications and place it in the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org, where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties."

See https://www.lds.org/topics/essays?lang=eng

The original Gospel Topics essays were published in the 1834-1835 Messenger and Advocate in Kirtland, Ohio. Written by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, President and Assistant President of the Church respectively, these essays dealt with many of the same issues that arise today.

Joseph recognized the importance of these essays and had them copied into his own history as part of his life story. He had them republished in every Church-related newspaper in Nauvoo, Philadelphia, New York, and England. They were published in a special pamphlet. Later, they were republished in Salt Lake City by Joseph F. Smith, Second Counselor in the First Presidency.

The letters dealt not only with Church history, but also what it means to be a prophet, how the Restoration fit in with the Old Testament prophecies, and, of course, the real-world setting of the Book of Mormon, with Cumorah in New York.

I think members of the Church should read President Cowdery's letters today just as they did when Joseph Smith was alive.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

They really don't want you to accept Letter VII

Yesterday LDS Living posted an article titled "What Happened to the Sword of Laban, the Liahona, and Other Artifacts Hidden with the Golden Plates." You can see it here:


The article is full of misleading information, but it also contributes to the ongoing--and growing--effort on the part of certain LDS intellectuals to persuade members of the Church not to believe early Church leaders.

Regarding the Liahona, the article says, "We know that the Liahona was safely stored until the early 1800s, when Joseph Smith unearthed its resting place. But what happened to it after that?"

There is no historical evidence that Joseph "unearthed" the Liahona. In fact, both Joseph and Oliver specifically identified the contents of Moroni's stone box: the plates, the interpreters, and the breastplate. No Liahona and no sword of Laban.

Then the article falsely claims this: "We know the weapon eventually ended up in the hands of Moroni, who buried the symbolic sword in the same box with the Nephite record, the Urim and Thummim and their accompanying breastplate."

Misleading exhibit in Visitors' Center on Temple Square
showing Moroni burying the Liahona and the sword of Laban
Moroni never said he had the Liahona or the sword of Laban. No historical account describes those items being in the stone box. Instead, the historical accounts all have those items being in Mormon's depository in a separate department of the hill from Moroni's stone box.

They were in the same hill Cumorah in New York, but a different location in the hill.

Church members such as the author of this LDS Living article understandably think the Liahona and the sword of Laban were in Moroni's stone box, thanks to the misleading exhibits in Church visitors' centers and other media and curriculum materials.

So where were the Liahona and the sword of Laban?

The only historical accounts we have explain that they were in Mormon's depository, not in Moroni's stone box.

The notion that the stone box contained the Liahona and the Sword of Laban was developed by promoters of the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) to explain D&C 17:1 without acknowledging that Oliver Cowdery specifically explained that Mormon's depository was located in the Hill Cumorah in New York (see Letter VII).

Brigham Young and others affirmed that Oliver, Joseph, and Joseph's brothers had visited that depository and had seen the artifacts for themselves.

This is a major problem for M2C intellectuals because they insist that the "real Cumorah" must be in southern Mexico for their theory to work. Therefore, anyone who teaches that Cumorah is in New York must be wrong.

The LDS Living article quotes David Whitmer's statement that he, Joseph and Oliver saw the Liahona and the sword of Laban at the time the angel showed them the plates. This is the only statement to that effect, and there are issues with it that I've discussed before.

The article goes on to falsely claim this:

The only other reference in Church history to the sword comes from the Journal of Discourses. The account tells of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery seeing the sword in a cave when they returned the plates, but this story is not necessarily accepted as truthful.

That sums up M2C scholarship right there: anything that contradicts their narrative "is not necessarily accepted as truthful."

If you want to read more about the many accounts this article ignores, read this article:


I don't know Jannalee Sandau, the author of this article, and I don't blame her for making the false assertions in this article. I suspect she has been educated at BYU and/or CES, which would explain why she doubts the veracity of Brigham Young and other early prophets who taught that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.

This is yet another in the long list of examples of how the M2C intellectuals are successfully indoctrinating LDS people into believing them, the intellectuals, instead of the prophets.

Friday, February 2, 2018

President Cowdery's letters still relevant

Because of Letter VII's declaration about Cumorah, many LDS intellectuals have a serious problem with President Cowdery's historical letters. They would rather not talk about them. They would prefer that people never find out about them.

Consequently, you won't read about them in most Church history publications. I've documented several instances where they are referred to only as obscure letters published in the Messenger and Advocate along with lots of other long, boring articles.

So far as I've been able to discover, until my Letter VII book came out, no one published an explanation of how ubiquitous these letters were. The closest was Peter Crawley's Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church.

This is strange because President Cowdery's letters deal with serious issues that people still confront today. In addition to the details about early Church history he provides, President Cowdery addressed the complaints that prophets are not perfect men (Letters II and VIII). He discussed the reasons why people do and don't accept the gospel. He explained in detail the things Moroni taught Joseph about the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.

Letter VII's teachings about the Hill Cumorah should have resolved that issue long ago, but that letter also deals with the question of worldly temptations when doing the Lord's work, using Joseph's hope to find something valuable to sell along with the plates.

These are just a few of the reasons why people should study these letters. When viewed this way, we can better understand why Joseph Smith made sure all the members of the Church in his day had access to the letters by publishing them in all the Church magazines.

Here's how the Joseph Smith Papers have addressed the letters. They provide a Source Note and an overall Editorial Note or Introduction.

You'll notice that in Joseph's journal entry, he refers to the letters as "President Cowdery" letters, but the Joseph Smith papers refers to them as "Oliver Cowdery's" letters. That's an editorial decision, of course, and I'm not saying it's incorrect. But it does contribute to the sense that these letters contain merely obscure opinions of Oliver's.

For Joseph Smith, though, they were President Cowdery's, reflecting Joseph's recognition that they originated with the First Presidency.

Furthermore, Joseph considered them part of "a history of my life," not merely obscure opinions.

Here is the Source Note:

The next section of the history, begun months later, is a transcript of 
 as his scribe, also records that Parrish “commenced writing in my journal a history of my life, concluding President Cowdery 2d letter to W. W. Phelps, which president Williams had begun.”1

Here is the link to the Editorial Note:  http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/48 

You'll notice that they never mention Letter VII's teachings about Cumorah or even President Cowdery's detailed description of the stone box, both of which are especially important. I think the people working on the Joseph Smith Papers generally agree with the M2C scholars, so they don't want to even refer to these important aspects of the papers.

Also, the note refers to History, 1834-1836, as a "repository" of these letters, but they don't mention how often the letters were republished so all members of the Church could read them and have access to them. This omission contributes to the misperception that these letters were obscure, irrelevant opinions instead of a major part of the context in which Church history was understood while Joseph was alive.

This editorial approach does a disservice to members of the Church who don't understand why so many prophets and apostles have taught that there is one Cumorah and it was in New York.

Editorial Note
The following section includes transcripts of eight letters   wrote in 1834 and 1835 regarding JS’s visions of an angel and his discovery of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. Cowdery addressed the letters to   and published them as a series in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate between October 1834 and October 1835. The titles and formatting employed in this history are similar to those in the published series of articles, indicating that the Cowdery letters were copied into the history from the Messenger and Advocate, not from a manuscript version of the letters.   could have begun the transcription in JS’s history as early as 6 December 1834, the date of Cowdery’s last historical entry in the preceding section of the history. However, Cowdery probably gave the history to Williams around 2 October 1835, when he gave Williams JS’s journal. On 29 October 1835, JS retrieved the history from Williams and delivered it to  , who continued copying the Cowdery letters. It is likely that Parrish finished copying the letters by early April 1836, when he gave JS’s journal (and presumably the 1834–1836 history along with it) to  .
In the first letter,   recounted his experiences with JS beginning when the two first met in April 1829. The letter includes an account of the vision he and JS had of John the Baptist, who gave them the authority to baptize. After composing this letter, but before its publication, Cowdery developed a new history-writing plan: he decided that in subsequent letters he would relate the “full history of the rise of the church,” beginning with JS’s early life and visions. As editor of the Messenger and Advocate, Cowdery prefaced the published version of the first letter with an explanation (also transcribed into the history) of the new plan. Although he had no firsthand knowledge of church history prior to April 1829, Cowdery assured his readers that “our brother J. Smith Jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensible.” Some passages in the ensuing narrative seem to have been related to Cowdery by JS, since Cowdery recounts events in which only JS participated.
 composed the letters to inform the Latter-day Saints of the history of their church, but he also wrote for the non-Mormon public. Employing florid romantic language, frequent scriptural allusions, and much dramatic detail, he clearly intended to present a rhetorically impressive account of early Mormon history. He placed the rise of the church in a dispensational framework, characterizing the time between the end of the New Testament and JS’s early visions as a period of universal apostasy. He included the revivalism of various denominations during the Second Great Awakening, which JS experienced in his youth, as an example of the doctrinal confusion and social disharmony present in Christendom. Throughout the series of letters, he defended JS’s character and that of the Smith family, and his explicitly apologetic statements include apparent allusions to both  ’s Delusions (1832) and  ’s Mormonism Unvailed (1834).
Beginning in the third letter,   provided the most extensive account of the origins of the Book of Mormon published up to that time. He related JS’s initial visions of the angel Moroni and, using biblical prophecies, elaborated on the angel’s message concerning the gathering of Israel in the last days in preparation for the Millennium. Cowdery continued his narrative up to, but did not include, JS’s receiving the gold plates in September 1827.
The transcription of the   letters into JS’s history was evidently conceived in terms of the entire series, not as a piecemeal copying of the individual letters. As noted above, Cowdery probably gave the “large journal” containing the history begun in 1834 to   in October 1835, the month of the Messenger and Advocate issue in which his final installment was published.  By the time Williams received the history, Cowdery may have already written the final letter; he had at least conceived of it as the final installment in his series. With the serialized Cowdery letters complete or nearing completion, the new history kept in the “large journal” could serve as a repository—more permanent than unbound newspapers—for a copied compilation of the entire series.