Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Oliver Cowdery was solid except...

We saw in a previous post how certain LDS intellectuals apply logical and factual fallacies to reject Lucy Mack Smith's account regarding the hill Cumorah.

Today we'll look at similar fallacies regarding Oliver Cowdery's account.


Just as certain LDS intellectuals reject Lucy Mack Smith's account whenever it contradicts their theories about Book of Mormon Geography, they have made a similar argument to justify their repudiation of Letter VII; i.e., because Oliver did not relate the First Vision in his essays on Church history, therefore we should not believe what he did write about Moroni's visit and the hill Cumorah.

M2C proponents reject what Oliver wrote not because Oliver was not credible, not because Oliver did not have personal knowledge of the location of the depository, and not because Oliver was not an Apostle and Prophet and a member of the First Presidency. 

They reject what he wrote solely because their own interpretation of the text of the Book of Mormon requires them to put Cumorah in Mexico. As ridiculous as that looks on the surface, it's even worse when LDS historians manipulate the historical record to censor, omit, or otherwise downplay the historical record about Cumorah.

Any historian who does this to promote (or even to accommodate) M2C, without expressly explaining that bias to readers, is committing historian malpractice.


As Oliver explained from the outset, he relied on Joseph Smith to give him details of what transpired before he, Oliver, met Joseph. Oliver explained that Joseph agreed to assist with the narrative. 

we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints....

That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, 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. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.—

To do <​Justice to​> this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readears, [sic] assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts


We don't know what "authentic documents" Oliver had, but they may have included Joseph's 1832 history and Oliver's own notebook that he had when he met Joseph in Harmony in which he recorded what Joseph told him. That notebook has never been found, but we can infer that Oliver relied on it, or his memory of what Joseph told him, in addition to his interaction with Joseph in 1834/5.

Throughout these essays, Oliver was candid about what he knew and what he didn't know, what was fact and what was estimated. He assured readers the narrative was "founded upon facts." 

For example, Oliver asked Joseph for details about Moroni's first visit. The family had retired for the night and Oliver wondered when, exactly, Moroni appeared.

In this situation hours passed unnumbered—how many or how few I know not, neither is he able to inform me; but supposes it must have been eleven or twelve, and perhaps later, as the noise and bustle of the family, in retiring, had long since ceased.


This example explicitly explains Joseph's direct involvement, but, as Oliver explained at the outset, everything he wrote about Joseph's experiences prior to Oliver meeting him had to come from Joseph. 


Historians who reject Oliver's account of Cumorah because he didn't mention the First Vision are committing a logical fallacy.

Given Joseph's participation in the preparation of these essays, Oliver's failure to mention the First Vision cannot be attributed to error on his part. The omission was either because Joseph hadn't described it or because Joseph didn't want Oliver to write about it. There are several possible explanations for this,* but none of them involve Oliver inventing fake history.

When President Cowdery (he was Assistant President of the Church at the time) wrote the essay that was published as Letter VII, he declared it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill in New York from which Joseph obtained the plates, which was named Cumorah anciently. 


He also said the repository of Nephite records was in that hill, a fact he knew from personal experience, as we learn from David Whitmer and Brigham Young, who both said Oliver told them about visiting the repository.

Oliver expressly distinguished between fact and speculation, such as here:

How far below the surface these records were placed by Moroni, I am unable to say; but from the fact they had been some fourteen hundred years buried, and that too on the side of a hill so steep, one is ready to conclude that they were some feet below, as the earth would naturally wear more or less in that length of time. But they being placed toward the top of the hill, the ground would not remove as much as at two-thirds, perhaps.


As we saw at the outset, there are some LDS historians who reject Oliver's account about Cumorah, not based on any historical analysis of what he wrote about Cumorah, but solely because Oliver's explanation contradicts M2C.

This is pure apologetics to defend their M2C theory, not historical analysis. It's not even textual interpretation or evaluation of the extrinsic evidence, both of which support what Oliver wrote.


* The debate about the First Vision revolves around the differences in the various accounts. Only the brief 1832 account predated Oliver's historical essays, and we don't know whether Oliver even had access to that one because it was never published. 

Some say that Joseph gave different versions of the experience to suit different audiences or for different purposes. Others say the different versions suggest it was a constructed memory that changed over time. Another possibility is that Joseph, having been criticized for telling the Methodist minister about his experience (JS-H 1:21, although we don't know what he actually told him), may have concluded it was wise to avoid mentioning the topic publicly. Perhaps he felt, or had been warned, that relating the experience in detail would be dangerous until the Church was well established. 

Regardless of the reason, based on the available evidence, the best explanation why Oliver didn't mention the First Vision in these essays is because Joseph didn't want him to. The best explanation for why Lucy Mack Smith didn't mention it in her recollection is because Joseph hadn't told her about it.

At any rate, the omission of the First Vision from Oliver's essays and Lucy Mack Smith's history have no relevance to the credibility of their accounts regarding Cumorah.

First Vision accounts.


Thursday, January 20, 2022

Lucy Mack Smith was solid except...

Lucy Mack Smith

Those Latter-day Saints who are familiar with Lucy Mack Smith universally admire her determination and faithfulness. She suffered tremendous losses and hardships. By the time she dictated her history in the fall of 1844, her husband and her sons Alvin, Hyrum, Joseph, Samuel and Don Carlos had all died, but her son William and daughters Sophronia, Katherine and Lucy were still living.

She deserves our respect.

Yet many LDS intellectuals are schizophrenic about Lucy Mack Smith. They think her history is credible and reliable about everything* except (i) Cumorah and (ii) the First Vision, which she didn't mention.

For example, in the Joseph Smith Papers, Translations and Revelations, Vol. 5, Original Manuscript, the Introduction cites or refers to Lucy 36 times.** But the editors carefully avoid what she said about Cumorah.

The Saints book, Volume 1, follows the same approach, citing Lucy's history dozens of times but omitting what she said about Cumorah.

And yet, there is nothing inherently suspect about Lucy's recollections regarding Cumorah. 

Lucy dictated her history in 1844-5. An 1845 second draft includes clarifications and insertions by others. 

Lucy explained that she dictated her history because she had recounted it so many times she was weary. 

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—


When she related what Joseph said about Moroni's visit, she recalled that Moroni told Joseph "the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place.

When Joseph was late returning home from Manchester in early 1827, he explained to his parents that he had encountered the angel as he "passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are." 

The intellectuals who reject (and censor) these accounts offer two justifications for their choice, both patently outcome-driven rationales designed to accommodate the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

- Some say Lucy's reference to Cumorah must be attributed to her erroneous adoption of a supposedly false tradition about Cumorah started by unknown early persons at an unknown time. 

- Others say Lucy wasn't credible because she didn't describe the First Vision in her original dictated account (the 1844/5 version).

Obviously, these two objections contradict one another.

While it's true that Lucy didn't mention the First Vision in her history, that is consistent with the actual history; i.e., Joseph didn't say he told anyone other than the Methodist minister about his vision (JS-H 1:21), and we don't know what he actually told the minister anyway.

Given that Joseph never told his mother contemporaneously about the First Vision, why would anyone fault Lucy for not relating a memory of something that didn't happen? [I.e., she didn't relate a false account that Joseph told tell her about the First Vision, which is not the same as saying the First Vision didn't happen.]

In Lucy's 1845 draft, someone inserted Joseph Smith's 1838 account of the First Vision, but Lucy did not say Joseph told her about it when it happened.

IOW, Lucy's omission of the First Vision in her dictated history is evidence that her memory was intact and accurately related, even when people expected her to relate something about the First Vision.

Yet the M2C scholars and the historians who accommodate their theories want us to believe that 

(i) because Lucy didn't relate a false retrospective memory of the First Vision, 

(ii) she did relate a false retrospective memory of what Joseph said about the hill Cumorah. 

If not for their obsession with accommodating M2C, no historian would propose such an analysis. 

This is the type of irrational thinking and deceptive presentation that occurs when people become apologists for a theory instead of unbiased historians seeking to relate accurate history.

A far better, more scholarly and honest approach would be to accurately report the entire historical record, without seeking to accommodate modern theories about Book of Mormon geography. 


*The Historical Introduction in the Joseph Smith Papers explains: "Though there are errors in the dating of some events and occasionally in place and individual names, overall her account is of inestimable value, providing a rarely heard woman’s voice as it traces JS’s life from beginning to end. She was present at many seminal events and offered insights no one else could provide."

**Excerpts from the Introduction below. In addition, the Introduction cites Lucy's history 23 times.

- Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, recorded that her son acquired the plates in the early morning of 22 September 1827

Lucy Mack Smith, who remembered seeing the spectacles before her son's move to Harmony, gave a description of the instrument that is similar to Harris's

Lucy Mack Smith, who was still living in Manchester when the loss occurred, recalled in her 1845 history that her son returned to Harmony almost immediately after learning the manuscript had been lost: 

Lucy Mack Smith did not learn that her son had received the plates again until she and her husband, Joseph Smith Sr., visited Harmony in early September 1828.   

Lucy Mack Smith recorded that it was with delight that her son stated he had “commenced translating,” with Emma's assistance. 

Lucy Mack Smith recorded that when the angel returned the plates to Smith, he also promised “that the Lord would send [him) a scribe.”

- Given the antagonism of their neighbors, Lucy Mack Smith and her husband were reluctant to share their son's experiences with their new acquaintance. 

- According to Lucy Mack Smith's reminiscence, Cowdery eventually gained the trust of the Smiths.

- Cowdery told Lucy Mack Smith and her husband, “There is a work for me to do in this thing and I am determined if there is to attend to it.” 

Lucy Mack Smith stated later that “evil designing people were seeking to take away Joseph's life in order to prevent the work of God from going forth among the world.”

- When Lucy Mack Smith received word that the translation was complete, she, her husband, and Martin Harris traveled to the Whitmer home. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022