Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bias in reading history

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of my book, Letter VII: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery Explain the Hill Cumorah.

President Cowdery wrote Letter VII with the assistance of Joseph Smith and published it in 1835. Joseph had it copied into his personal history and saw that it was republished in Church publications during his lifetime so every member of the Church could learn the truth.

Letter VII was published in New York City just two days after Joseph was murdered in Carthage.

Here is the text from Chapter 2:

Each of us views the world through our own filters. We have biases. Think about your own biases as you read this (or any other) book. Consider the biases of the author.
Here is my bias. You can agree or disagree, but you should know that this is the filter I use to assess the facts.
I think Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were credible and reliable witnesses. I think they were truthful. I don’t think they would say something was a fact unless they knew it was. (Later in this chapter I’ll explain how they knew Cumorah was in New York.)
Because Joseph and Oliver worked together on these letters, and because Joseph endorsed them repeatedly after they were published, I consider these letters, including Letter VII, as the testimony of two witnesses.
Their dual witness is the foundation of our beliefs about the restoration of Priesthood keys, the translation of the Book of Mormon, and more. Letter VII is no different.
My bias extends to all the prophets and apostles who have affirmed Letter VII’s teaching about Cumorah in New York, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
Scholars and educators who reject Letter VII have a different bias. Because they believe Joseph and Oliver were wrong, they think Letter VII deserves no deference. They think every prophet and apostle who has taught that Cumorah is in New York was perpetrating a false tradition.
Keep these distinct biases in mind as you read the rest of this book, as well as any book on the topic. Ask which bias more closely reflects your own bias.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cumorah in the Joseph Smith Papers

I just returned from nearly 3 weeks in Europe, which is why I haven't posted anything for a while. Now there's a huge backlog of material to cover.

Because I encourage people to use the Joseph Smith Papers as much as possible (these original documents are a tremendously important resource), there are some quirks you need to know about when you use the web page.

One is when you look up the term "Cumorah."

There are 3 issues:
1. Only a few results appear.
2. Additional results are difficult to find.
3. The editorial notes promote the M2C narrative and obscure key points about Cumorah being an ancient name for the hill in New York where Moroni buried the plates.

Few results.

If you do a search on the Joseph Smith Papers for "Cumorah," you get only 11 references to original documents and 5 to commentary. Here's a link to the results I got when I did the search. (The references are listed below in section 2 of this post).

Eleven references are not very many. Plus, many of these are duplicates. Five of the eleven are all to the same letter Joseph wrote, which is now D&C 128. Another reference is to the Book of Mormon itself. Yet another is to the hymn by W.W. Phelps that was dropped from LDS hymnals in 1930. 

This leaves only 4 original references to Cumorah: (i) the reference to the 1834 Zelph account that was compiled from several sources; (ii) Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet; (iii) a reference to Lucy Mack Smith's 1845 history that was later crossed out; and (iv) a reference to President Cowdery's 1835 Letter VIII.

This small number of references may lead readers and researchers to the conclusion that Cumorah was barely mentioned and not until "late" (to use the phrase favored by the M2C* citation cartel). At first glance, this seems to support the M2C argument that the "New York hill" was not really the ancient hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, and that some early members merely applied the name to the hill, thereby establishing a false tradition that Joseph himself adopted because he was an ignorant speculator. Seriously, that's what the M2C proponents are teaching their students.

The employees working for the Joseph Smith Papers and the Church History Department were mostly educated at BYU/CES and have close relationships with the M2C proponents at BYU/CES. Consequently, most of them favor M2C, and this editorial preference shows up repeatedly throughout the notes in the Joseph Smith Papers and the publications of the Church History Department. It even influences their treatment of Cumorah, as I'll show below.

Additional results hard to find.

Your search for "Cumorah" does not produce alternate spellings or even hyphenated versions. This means that a key link doesn't show up in the search, which I'll explain in the section of this post below that discusses Lucy Mack Smith.

Another difficulty is that multiple references in one document don't show up, except as a sort of footnote to the latest search result from that reference, like this:

This search result is listed as "History, 1834-1836, page 101." This looks like a reference to some historian's version of events.

99% of readers would never know that this link goes to a copy of President Cowdery's Letter VIII that was also republished multiple times during Joseph Smith's lifetime, at least twice at his direction.

Worse, most readers do not notice the additional references at the bottom. The link is worded as "Show only results from this document (7)." If you click on it, the link takes you to another page (this one).

This is not a user-friendly approach. First, the language is confusing because it implies that the default is to show all results from all documents, but that is not the case. We are looking at one result from the specified document.

A user-friendly link would allow you to expand the results, not replace all the other references you're looking at. This is normal practice for hyperlinks. The note should say something such as "Show additional results (7) from this document." Then readers could click on that and see how many more references to "Cumorah" there are in the Joseph Smith Papers.

Consequently, not only do readers not learn that this reference is to President Cowdery's Letter VIII, they don't learn the additional references are from Letter VII. You have to be well-versed in President Cowdery's letters to understand what you're looking at here.

Of course, the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers could easily fix this, but their M2C bias makes sure that won't happen.

They don't even include "Cumorah" in the glossary of terms. 

I'll discuss additional problems with the notes in the section below.

Search results.

Here is the list of search results. The duplicates in the search results are marked in red below. These all involve the letter that became D&C 128.

1. Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, circa August 1829–circa January 1830, Page 421

[text of the Book of Mormon]

2. Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1835, Page 22

[discontinued hymn by W.W. Phelps]

[compilation of Zelph accounts]

[Pratt pamphlet that quoted from Letter VII. This pamphlet includes this statement that is omitted from the search results because it was one of two references, so we only see the second. "At length, the Nephites were driven before their enemies, a great distance to the north, and north-east; and having gathered their whole nation together, both men, women, and children, they encamped on, and round about the hill Cumorah, where the records were found, which is in the State of New York, about two hundred miles west of the city of Albany."
In this same pamphlet, Orson Pratt claimed the Lamanites lived in South America while the Nephites lived in North America. He claimed the final battles started at "the Isthmus of Darien" and proceeded north to New York. This is the so-called "hemispheric model."
M2C proponents like to reject Pratt's comments about Cumorah in New York because they also reject his comments about the hemispheric model. The obvious logical fallacy of the M2C approach has two elements. First, Orson Pratt included some reliable information in the pamphlet; we don't reject all of it just because some of it doesn't work. Second, and more importantly, Joseph Smith used this pamphlet as a source for the Wentworth letter, but in doing so, he completely deleted all of Pratt's hemispheric rhetoric and stated simply that the descendants of Lehi are the Indians in this country. This is consistent with D&C 28, 30 and 32, wherein the Lord designates the Indians in New York and Ohio as Lamanites.]

[discussed in a separate section below]

[President Cowdery's Letter VIII. Here's where unsuspecting readers and researches don't see that it was President Cowdery who wrote this reference to Cumorah. We also don't know see the references in Letter VII unless we click on the link below this reference, and then search through the original source until we find where Letter VII begins. 

After describing the "hill in New York" from which Joseph obtained the plates, President Cowdery writes, "By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the book of Mormon120 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 vally fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites." 

The editorial comments in the Joseph Smith Papers don't give any guidance to readers about the significance of the Letter VII explanations of Cumorah. Click on the "Historical Introduction" to see how they try to frame the inclusion of these letters as the work of Oliver Cowdery. Here's the link: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/90

In their Editorial Note prior to the letters, the editors don't even mention Letter VII or the significance of what it contains. See it here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/48]

[NOTE: the search results below all involve editorial notes.]

[The note reads: "JS identified this angel as Moroni. Corrill named Moroni in chapter I as the person who buried the gold plates in the hill named Cumorah. ([JS], Editorial, Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 42–43.)"  This page in the Elders' Journal is found here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/elders-journal-july-1838/11. Joseph didn't name the hill here. 

However, Corrill mentioned Cumorah here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/john-corrill-a-brief-history-of-the-church-of-christ-of-latter-day-saints-1839/5. In that passage, Corrill wrote, "They [Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Ziba Peterson] had with them a new revelation, which they said had been translated from certain golden plates that had been deposited in a hill, (anciently called Camorah,) in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York." This reference doesn't show up directly in the Cumorah search results because of the phonetic spelling, but it is a very important reference because it indicates that Corrill remembered Cowdery and the others saying the hill was called Cumorah anciently.]

[The note (20) reads, "Various individuals, some of whom personally knew JS, recounted decades later having been shown, either in vision or in literal experience, buried Nephite records. (See Packer, “Cumorah’s Cave,” 50–57.) " 

It is standard M2C dogma to characterize these accounts as relating merely a "vision" of a hill in Mexico. However, Brigham Young and others placed the experience directly in New York. 

This patriarchal blessing by Oliver to Joseph Smith to which this note pertains says, "The records of past ages and generations, and the histories of ancient days shall he bring forth: even the record of the Nephites shall he again obtain,19 with all those hid up by Mormon,20 and others who were righteous, and many others, till he is overwhelmed with knowledge." Oliver said Joseph would "again obtain" the record of the Nephites together with those records hid up by Mormon. I infer that Joseph and Oliver had previously obtained all these records when the moved them from the Hill Cumorah, probably back to the Hill Shim. I also infer that Joseph and Oliver intended one day to return and get those records but never could before Joseph was killed.]

[The note reads, "The plates were buried in present-day Manchester, Ontario County, New York, in what is now known as the Hill Cumorah." Notice the M2C editorial slant here. We just saw that Corrill said the hill was called Cumorah anciently, but the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers ignore that. Instead, they refer to the hill by labeling it as "what is now known as the Hill Cumorah." This supports the M2C narrative that the hill in New York was not the ancient Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 but merely a hill that some early LDS mistakenly named Cumorah.

[The note reads, "JS reported learning of gold plates buried in hill in township and visited site, now known as Hill Cumorah, annually, 1823–1827." Again, the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers repeat the M2C revision of history by framing the name as a modern invention.]

Lucy Mack Smith.

Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, provided some very important references to Cumorah. The one that shows up in the search results says this: "up to the time when he took <​it​> out of the stone <​cement​> b0x in the hill of cumorah which took place the mor[n]ing that Mr Knight [Joseph Knight Sr.] missed his horse and waggon"


If you read just this one, it doesn't specify when Cumorah was named. It could have been named later, as a false tradition, the way the M2C intellectuals want us to think.

But look at the other reference to Lucy Mack Smith's book (which you have to click on the link below the first one to read). Lucy says Moroni said this to Joseph:

"you must tell your father of this for he will believe every word you say the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars <​of cement​>— then the angel left him"


Now we have Moroni himself calling the hill Cumorah.

The M2C intellectuals and the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers don't tell readers about this reference. I've seen explanations from them that this passage came late and reflects Lucy's later adoption of the false tradition about the New York Cumorah.

As I've shown in other places, the M2C intellectuals often cite Lucy's work with approval when they think it confirms their biases, but they never cite it when it contradicts their biases--as it usually does.

Here's another reference to Lucy's book that doesn't come up in the search results because of the spelling issue. In this one, she actually quotes Joseph with quotation marks. The incident Lucy is relating occurred before Joseph even obtained the plates, so long before he translated the term Cumorah in 1829.

“Stop, father, Stop.” said Joseph, “it was 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; that the time had come for the record to <​be​> brought forth."


Of course, the M2C intellectuals and the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers disregard this account, even though it's in quotation marks, because it is "late" and reflects Lucy's adoption of the false tradition of the New York Cumorah.

But those of us who accept the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah find these examples from Lucy's history to be highly credible and reliable. 


*M2C is the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory promoted by intellectuals at BYU, CES and the Correlation Departement, as well as the citation cartel that suppresses information that contradicts M2C.