Monday, June 10, 2019

KnoWhy #519 Abridgment

The email notification for KnoWhy #519 says this:

The Title Page of the Book of Mormon refers to its primary records as abridgments. An abridgment is a shortened version of a text, which means that the abridgments found in the Book of Mormon are only summaries of larger recorded histories. Exploring how the Book of Mormon’s various source texts contribute to its message about Christ can be intellectually enlightening, spiritually satisfying, and faith promoting.
“Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites … An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also.”
Title Page

Let's examine that a moment.

First, recall that Joseph explained "the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates."

IOW, Joseph translated the actual plates. He didn't just read words that appeared on a stone in a hat.

[At BYU Education Week a couple of years ago, I was in a session on Church history when the instructor actually said, "We don't know how Joseph knew this because he didn't use the plates during the translation." That's how befuddled our LDS scholars are.]

Anyway, the Title Page explains the contents:

“Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites … An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also.”

The abridgment contains quotations of original sermons and letters, but the narrative was written by Mormon (and Moroni) as an abridgment of original records.

But we also see that the Book of Mormon we have today contains original records (1 Nephi through the first 11 verses of Words of Mormon) that we usually refer to as the "small plates of Nephi." 

The reason, of course, is that small plates of Nephi were not in Moroni's stone box. Joseph got those later, as we know from D&C 9 and 10. Accounts in Church history show us that the messenger to whom Joseph gave the Harmony plates took those plates to Cumorah. From the depository of Nephite records in Cumorah, the messenger found the small plates of Nephi and took them to Fayette.

You won't know about this if you only read material published by the M2C citation cartel and the revisionist historians, but you can read the background for yourself in the links I've provided, as well as in my book, etc. 

Now, look at how Book of Mormon Central (BMC) frames this.

First, in the email:

The Title Page of the Book of Mormon refers to its primary records as abridgments. 

No, the Title Page refers to all its contents as abridgments. BMC wants people to believe the original, unabridged plates of Nephi were in the stone box because they reject Oliver Cowdery's testimony that he and Joseph and others had entered the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah.

An abridgment is a shortened version of a text, which means that the abridgments found in the Book of Mormon are only summaries of larger recorded histories. 

This part is fine, but as we just saw, about 25% of the Book of Mormon consists of Nephi's original records, not an abridgment. 

Exploring how the Book of Mormon’s various source texts contribute to its message about Christ can be intellectually enlightening, spiritually satisfying, and faith promoting.


The KnoWhy itself is fine, except for the illusory "Mesoamerican" connection that I won't take the time to discuss because by now, everyone can see the logical fallacy.

Here's the link:

I do want to point out how BMC tries to fit Nephi's original record into the Title Page.

The prophet Nephi similarly referred to a portion of his writings as “an abridgment of the record of my father” (1 Nephi 1:17).

If you read the whole verse in context, Nephi tells us he's writing his own original account, starting with an abridgment of his father's record to explain how the events in his father's record affected him, Nephi, personally. This "abridgment" consists mainly of his father's dream. The rest of his account includes his journeys to Jerusalem (which could not have been part of his father's record unless his father wrote what Nephi told him), his building a ship, sailing to America, separating from his brothers, etc.

There is a stark difference between Nephi's original record (passed down all the way to Omni, with original writings all along the way), and the explicit abridgments by Mormon and Moroni from Mosiah through Ether, with Moroni sealing the account with his own few words.

You can see a graphic of the two sets of plates here:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Basic psychology - new pages

Because I think basic psychology is the greatest impediment to thinking clearly about Book of Mormon historicity, I've created separate pages on this blog for my posts about psychology and M2C.

This is a resource you can use and refer people to.

You can see the pages on the upper right of the main page on your computer screen.

The mobile version requires you to click on Home to see all the pages (or go to web version).

Here are the direct links that you can share:

Monday, December 17, 2018

No-wise #493 - artifacts

BOMCC at work
Book of Mormon Central Censor published No-wise #493, a delightful example of censorship and misdirection designed to accomplish these two objectives:

1. Fulfill the corporate mission of Book of Mormon Central Censor to "increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex;" and

2. Frame Joseph Smith as an ignorant speculator who misled the Church, thereby keeping readers of BOMCC ignorant and confused so they cannot make informed decisions about choosing between the prophets and the scholars.

First, some context.

The existence of ancient Hebrews in North America is not an LDS/non-LDS issue. There are plenty of people, both LDS and non-LDS, who believe, based on the evidence, that ancient Hebrews lived in North America. There are plenty of people, LDS and non-LDS, who believe an ancient civilization migrated from Ohio to western New York and vanished around 400 A.D. The evidence they rely on happens to also corroborate the teachings of LDS prophets.

Of course, there are also people, both LDS and non-LDS, who reject the evidence. Evidence is not the same as proof. Proof is whatever convinces someone, and everyone has different biases they seek to confirm, which affects the threshold of evidence they require to "prove" or "disprove" a proposition.

That said, there's a big difference when it comes to M2C.

M2C is purely an LDS (and Community of Christ) concept, developed and promoted by a handful of intellectuals over the objection of LDS prophets. There are no non-LDS who believe there were ancient Hebrews in Mesoamerica. Plus, M2C repudiates the teachings of the LDS prophets.

Book of Mormon Central Censor pretends to rely on science and evidence, but their arguments are completely unpersuasive to their academic peers, and they never tell their followers how isolated their beliefs are; i.e., they don't tell their followers that no non-LDS people believe there were ancient Hebrews in Mesoamerica. 

IOW, the evidence for Hebrews in North American is accepted by both LDS and non-LDS people, but the evidence for Hebrews in Mesoamerica is accepted only by a few LDS M2C advocates and their followers.

No-wise #493 addresses several specific artifacts. These are not the evidences to which I referred in the previous paragraphs. In my view, these artifacts are irrelevant to the discussion, except as a distraction. I don't think they prove or disprove anything about the Book of Mormon, and the controversy over them is a gift to detractors who dispute the historicity of the Book of Mormon narrative.

I think it's a mistake for anyone, pro or con, to use these artifacts to promote an agenda.

That said, the approach taken by Book of Mormon Central Censor is fascinating. The case against these artifacts is not as iron-clad as they want readers to believe; they simply censor counter-arguments. Furthermore, the sources they cite, such as the Smithsonian, also refute the claims of M2C.

But they don't tell their readers that, either.

Not only does BOMCC censor the teachings of the prophets and the evidence that supports the prophets, but BOMCC censors the conclusions of the very sources they otherwise rely upon when those conclusions contradict M2C. The approach taken by BOMCC is the opposite of objective, scientific analysis and presentation.

Naturally, we wonder, why does BOMCC continue to seek to undermine evidence from North America that supports the Book of Mormon?

The answer: 

The fundamental premise of M2C is that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah. Everyone associated with BOMCC, including their donors, necessarily agrees with this premise.

I've pointed out many times that the New York Cumorah does not preclude any other geography for the rest of the events in the Book of Mormon. However, the M2C intellectuals have decided that the New York Cumorah is incompatible with their Mesoamerican setting, so they necessarily must persuade people that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah. To accomplish this, they must persuade people that the Book of Mormon narrative could not have taken place in North America.*

In this no-wise, for example, they start by undermining Joseph Smith:

Joseph Smith, on a few occasions, offered speculative arguments for the book’s authenticity by drawing from what was known in his day about ancient American antiquities.1

Let's consider what this means. Speculative is defined as engaged in, expressing, or based on conjecture rather than knowledge and based on a guess and not on information.

Another definition:

conjectural consideration of a matter; conjecture or surmise: a report based on speculation rather than facts. engagement in business transactions involving considerable risk but offering the chance of large gains, especially trading in commodities, stocks, etc., in the hope of profit from changes in the market price.

Book of Mormon Central Censor insists that people believe Joseph was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church. The choice of the term "speculative" also imputes an element of high-risk, high-reward motivation on Joseph's part.

In my view, this claim by M2C proponents is not even suggested by the historical facts, let alone demonstrated by them. The claim is outrageous, actually, but the M2C intellectuals have to persuade people to accept it or the entire M2C edifice will collapse.

Look at footnote 1:

See Mark Alan Wright, Joseph Smith and Native American Artifacts,” in Approaching Antiquity: Joseph and the Ancient World, edited by Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2015), 119–140.

I think the no-wise citation here is wishful thinking more than an accurate summary of Brother Wright's article. Brother Wright is a great guy and a careful scholar, but he has also said he "can't unsee" Mesoamerica when he reads the Book of Mormon. He's "all-in" when it comes to M2C. Yet I don't think he makes the claim that Joseph made speculative claims.

You can click on the link to read his article. He cites the Zelph incident, which those present specifically described as a revelation, not as speculation. He discusses the "ruins at Adam-Ondi-Ahman" and claims a statement not clearly attributable to Joseph was speculative. Next he discusses the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons, which M2C advocates attribute to Joseph (an obvious misreading of history, not supported by any historical facts). Finally, he discusses the Kinderhook plates.

But notice, at no point does Brother Wright discuss the Hill Cumorah in New York, either Letter VII and its multiple reproductions, nor the statements of Joseph's contemporaries on that subject.

Nevertheless, no-wise #493 wants you to believe Joseph and Oliver were merely speculating about the New York Cumorah, and thereby misled their contemporaries and successors as leaders of the Church. 

That's what happens when intellectuals think they know more than the prophets.

If you read or listen to No-wise #493, you quickly realize the No-wise is only telling one side of the story. It's true that each of these artifacts has critics who claim the artifacts are fake. But there are also others, LDS and non-LDS, who accept some of these artifacts as authentic, also based on evidence.

I'm not going to revisit the debates over these artifacts because, as I said, I think the artifacts are irrelevant distractions. You can find all the arguments on the Internet if you want. But I'll relate an experience I had that influences my approach.

Years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in Lebanon with an archaeologist, visiting sites throughout the country for a documentary I was filming. At one site, we purchased some "ancient" Roman coins. The archaeologist told me that usually these are fakes, but the vendors can't tell the difference so sometimes they sell authentic coins as well, because people dig them up all over the place. She examined the coins and picked out some likely candidates. I bought a handful that she recommended. I tested one of them and found it was fake. Maybe they're all fakes (I should get them all tested some day), but according to sources I've consulted, some appear to be authentic.

The point is, the fakes appear real because they are copied from real artifacts. They match photos of real coins. They're well worn. It's the material composition that distinguishes between fake and real coins.

A guy making fake coins who used an image of the Queen of England instead of Caesar wouldn't be able to sell his fakes. There is no incentive to create such an obvious fake.

Consequently, I'm skeptical when people claim someone created an obvious fake that is not copied from a real artifact.

When you read the analysis of the experts on both sides, the arguments boil down to what "should" or "should not" be present, such as an error in the Hebrew characters. Those arguments are unpersuasive to me because they are conjectural.

As to specifics, there is good evidence that the Michigan tablets, at least most of them, are fakes. I accept that evidence, but I also realize not all the artifacts have been tested, and many have been destroyed. But it does not seem impossible to me that there were authentic tablets that Soper and Savage copied.

The evidence regarding the Newark Holy Stones is equivocal enough to justify confirmation bias on all sides. Same with the Bat Creek Stone. I suspect the same is true of the other artifacts, but I don't care about them enough to investigate further. As I said, it doesn't matter to me whether they are authentic or fake because they are irrelevant.

No-wise #493 follows the typical pattern we see in most of what Book of Mormon Central Censor publishes. In their effort so persuade people that the Book of Mormon is a Mesoamerican codex, they censor information that contradicts M2C, they repudiate the teachings of the prophets, and they apply inconsistent standards as they apply science, all while applying sophistry to confuse readers.

These tactics, in my opinion, reveal the paucity of actual evidence to support M2C.

When I unseal the indictment of M2C in January, this will all become much clearer.
*Yes, I know Mesoamerica is technically part of North America, but M2C means a limited geography in Mesoamerica that excludes anything north of Mexico, especially the new York Cumorah. For purposes of this discussion, North America means the current U.S. and Canada, while Mesoamerica means southern Mexico and parts of Central America.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

No-Wise #489 Where is the Hill Cumorah?

No-Wise #489 is a definite keeper. It exposes the paucity of evidence to support M2C's repudiation of the prophets. Let's take a look.

Here's the link. Here's the opening image:

They chose an image that makes the Hill Cumorah in New York appear insignificant, which supports their M2C narrative.

Notice how Book of Mormon Central Censor (BOMCC) superimposes their Mayan logo.

This is the logo that conveys their corporate mission to "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." 

The logo tells you everything you need to know about the content of no-wise #489. Like all the other no-wise articles published by BOMCC, this one promotes M2C.

BOMCC has zero interest in pursuing the truth, wherever it leads, because their main objective is to persuade members of the Church that the Book of Mormon is a Mesoamerican codex.

They take this objective so seriously that they repudiate the teachings of the prophets in its pursuit.

Let's observe how they do so in no-wise #489.

Here's an extract from the no-wise in blue, along with my comments in red.

Not much is known about the land and hill Cumorah. 

To the contrary, quite a bit is known about the land and hill Cumorah. Prophets have described what they've seen from the top of the hill. Letter VII explains the facts of what happened there, including the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites and the depository of Nephite records. Soon after he joined the Church, Heber C. Kimball visited the hill and observed the embankments that have since been plowed under. Joseph, Oliver and others visited the repository in the hill.

The only Book of Mormon authors to discuss the location were Mormon and Moroni. 

Plus Ether. We know from Ether 15 that Coriantumr's army pitched their tents by the hill, and that the final Jaredite war took place there, consisting of a few thousand followers of Coriantumr vs. a few thousand followers of Shiz. Extrapolating backward from the numbers Ether gave us, the total number of combatants was apparently fewer than 10,000, which corroborates Letter VII. 

Based on a statement given by Mormon, the land of Cumorah was “a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4). 

This is consistent with western New York, as I discussed here:

Other geographical clues given in the Book of Mormon appear to situate Cumorah north of the narrow neck of land and near an eastern seacoast (cf. Mormon 2:3, 20, 29; Ether 9:3).1 

You can read these verses yourself and see they don't say what is claimed here. Mormon 2 doesn't even refer to the "narrow neck of land." That was a Jaredite term, found only in Ether 10:20. Mormon 2:29 refers to a "narrow passage." Conflating these different terms is one of the major logical fallacies behind M2C, along with the M2C assumption that the "land northward" is a proper noun instead of a relative term. Ether 9:3 says Ablom, not Cumorah, was by the seashore. 

The hill itself was tall enough that it could be used as a strategic defensive position as well as an observation point for surveillance of the surrounding countryside (Mormon 6:2, 7, 11).

Nothing in the texts suggests it was the height of Cumorah that made it a strategic defensive position, although we can't exclude that as a possibility. Alternatively, Mormon could have chosen it because he knew Coriantumr had constructed a fortress there. Maybe the embankments that Heber C. Kimball observed were originally constructed by the Jaredites, so Mormon could use or rebuild those. It's true that Mormon could see 20,000 of his dead people from the top, and presumably an equivalent number of Lamanites. The valley west of Cumorah can easily accommodate this many people. Thousands of visitors attend the pageant every year. Audiences of 5,000, including all their cars and buses and concession stands, don't fill even the area between the hill and the highway.

Now, let's turn to the sophistry.

There is “no historical evidence that Moroni called the hill ‘Cumorah’ in 1823” during his first encounter with the Prophet Joseph Smith. 

This is a red herring. We know from Lucy Mack Smith that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah in 1827, before he obtained the plates (and well before he translated them). Whether he learned the name in 1823 or during any of the subsequent visits is immaterial.

The name Cumorah came into “common circulation [amongst Latter-day Saints] no earlier than the mid-1830s.”2 The first documented person to identify the drumlin hill3 in Manchester, New York where Joseph Smith received the plates with the hill Cumorah appears to have been William W. Phelps in 1833.4

Notice the sophistry here. No-wise #489 wants you to think Cumorah is not in New York because this 1833 publication is "late" and was published by Phelps.

The question is not when the name Cumorah was first published, but but when it was first known (which as we just saw was before Joseph even got the plates, and we'll discuss this more below). The no-wise is trying to get you to think past the sale; i.e., it wants you to think "common circulation" is relevant, when it's actually nothing more than a function of when members of the Church were able to publish a newspaper.

The term "common circulation" means something published. The first Church newspaper was The Evening and the Morning Star, published in Missouri by W.W. Phelps starting in June 1832. 

Not surprisingly, Phelps didn't publish everything in the first issue. He covered a variety of topics, including the Ten Tribes and the Resurrection, in the first issues. He also published the early revelations that were later published in the Book of Commandments and today's D&C.

Issue #8, January 1833, focused on the Book of Mormon. He published this:

But before the glorious and happy results of this book are set forth, it seems necessary to go back to the time it was brought forth. In the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty seven, the plates came forth from the hill Cumorah, which is in the county of Ontario, and state of New-York, by the power of God.

You can read this yourself here:

IOW, the very first LDS publication declared that Cumorah was in New York in its eighth issue. If Phelps had published it in the first issue, would that have made a difference? If he had waited until the 10th or 12th issue to focus on the Book of Mormon, would that have made a difference?

Book of Mormon Central Censor wants you to believe that Phelps unilaterally invented the New York Cumorah in 1833.

A more realistic way to consider this evidence is that the New York Cumorah was so well known among those who knew Joseph and Oliver that there was no urgency in announcing it sooner. Why? 

Notice that Phelps doesn't make a big deal about the New York Cumorah. He published it as a fact, not as speculation. He explains where Cumorah is, but doesn't feel any need to justify the name or explain why he calls it Cumorah. When you read the statement in context, you see that he is reporting to the world facts that were already well known to the Saints.

Phelps’s identification was later followed by Oliver Cowdery in 1835.5 

This is beautiful sophistry. 

Remember, Book of Mormon Central Censor wants you to believe that Phelps invented the New York Cumorah. Here, they suggest that Oliver Cowdery merely copied Phelps' lead. 

You have to go to the footnotes to see that the reference is to Letter VII. Then they give you a link to Book of Mormon Central Censor's own site, not to an original source (such as the Joseph Smith Papers). This allows BOMCC to editorialize through their "More Like This" to link to M2C-oriented material. 

This misleading link allows BOMCC to obscure the fact that Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his own history, and that Joseph encouraged others to republish Letter VII, as we'll see next.

Probably due to the popularity and influence of these two early leaders’ writings, the identification of the hill in New York as same the hill Cumorah mentioned by Mormon in Book of Mormon became commonplace amongst early Latter-day Saints.6

Here, no-wise #489 glosses over a key fact that perceptive readers have already noticed. First, though, notice what they're trying to establish here. According to Book of Mormon Central Censor, the only reason people believed Cumorah was in New York is because a couple of obscure articles from 1833 and 1835 became "popular." 

BOMCC doesn't tell you that Phelps' article was so "popular" that it was never reprinted and had limited circulation in the first place. Instead, they try to persuade you that it "influenced" Oliver Cowdery.

So then we ask, why were Oliver's letters, including Letter VII, popular?

Here are some reasons that Book of Mormon Central Censor will never tell you. In fact, they removed from their archive a little book that explained all of this and instead issued another no-wise that tries to persuade Church members to disbelieve Letter VII.

1. Joseph Smith helped write the letters.
2. Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church when he wrote and published Letter VII. The entire First Presidency endorsed the letters, as did every member of the Twelve who ever commented on them (through the present day).
3. Joseph had his scribes copy the letters, including Letter VII, into his personal history, where you can read it today in the Joseph Smith Papers. See link here:
4. Joseph authorized Benjamin Winchester to reprint the letters in the Gospel Reflector newspaper.
5. Joseph gave the letters to his brother Don Carlos to reprint in the Times and Seasons.
6. Joseph's brother William reprinted them in the New York City newspaper called The Prophet.
7. Parley P. Pratt reprinted them in the Millennial Star.
8. The letters were so popular in England that, in response to popular demand, they were compiled into a special pamphlet that sold thousands of copies.

As far as can be determined, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself only associated the hill in New York with the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon towards the end of his life.

This is outstanding sophistry and misdirection.

By using the passive voice--"as far as can be determined"--the anonymous author conveys the false message that no one can find anything to the contrary. 

Earlier in this post I pointed out the well-known statement from Lucy Mack Smith, where she specifically quoted Joseph referring to the hill as Cumorah in 1827 before he even got the plates. (We'll see how BOMCC deals with that in a moment.) 

Notice also the term "himself" in this sentence. That's there because Joseph expressly helped Oliver write the historical letters, including Letter VII. It's also there to exclude statements from everyone else, as we'll see.

The no-wise next mentions D&C 128:20, Joseph's 1842 letter that refers to Cumorah. But then it tells us this:

Before then, Joseph left the name of the New York hill where Moroni gave him the plates unnamed in his accounts of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.8 

I discussed this here: 

Now, notice this sentence:

Whether the Prophet arrived at this conclusion about the location of Cumorah by revelation, or by conforming to usage that had become common among the early members of the Church about Book of Mormon geography, or in some other way is historically unknown.9

Do you see how they are salting the earth here? They want members of the Church to believe that Joseph Smith misled the Church by "conforming" to a false "usage" created by unknown early members of the Church.

That assertion by M2C intellectuals is the first step toward their eventual repudiation of all the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah. They actually expect you to believe that Joseph Smith adopted and endorsed a false tradition, and that this false tradition is now canonized in D&C 128.

Plus, as we've seen, it's not "historically unknown" that Joseph learned the name Cumorah before he even obtained the plates. Furthermore, David Whitmer learned the name Cumorah for the heavenly messenger who was taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah. 

But wait. It gets worse.

In the decades after Joseph Smith’s death, other prominent early Latter-day Saints, including Lucy Mack Smith,10 Parley P. Pratt,11 and David Whitmer,12 recounted earlier incidents in which the New York hill was identified as Cumorah by the angel Moroni and by Joseph Smith. Since these statements are somewhat late recollections, coming after the identity of Cumorah as a hill near Palmyra, New York, had become widespread, they should be used cautiously.13

Here, Book of Mormon Central Censor wants you to believe that Lucy, Parley, and David all lied about the New York Cumorah, and thereby, like Joseph, misled the Church. 

Furthermore, BOMCC wants you to believe that all subsequent prophets and apostles who have ever addressed the topic likewise misled the Church. 

The rest of the no-wise is a rehash of old material, and I've responded to all of it in detail. But I need to comment on two more passages.

However, most Church leaders have simply and accurately said that the geography of the Book of Mormon is not revealed.17 

Note 17 is one of my favorites. It consists of an obscure, out-of-context quotation by Harold B. Lee that is currently being used by people in the Correlation Department to screen out any material that contradicts M2C. It's also a favorite of Fairly Mormon. I've addressed it before here:

Notice how they quote their misleading excerpt from Elder Lee's 1966 comment, but they don't quote from President Marion G. Romney's 1975 General Conference address. They don't expect you to look that up. They also don't cite the other prophets who have corroborated the New York Cumorah. 

Their audacity knows no bounds.

In reality, every Church leader who has addressed the topic has affirmed the New York Cumorah. They have also affirmed the equally consistent and persistent teaching that we don't know for sure where the other events took place. This has been the case from the early days of the Church through the present, but Book of Mormon Central Censor and the rest of the M2C citation cartel constantly try to conflate the two separate issues to confuse and mislead members of the Church.

Additionally, several Latterday Saint scholars have questioned whether the hill in New York could feasibly be the hill Cumorah described in the Book of Mormon. 

Here it is. They want you to believe the scholars, not the prophets. They follow this with a long paragraph about how the prophets couldn't possibly be right, complete with a citation to the M2C Bible, Mormon's Codex, which declares that the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are "manifestly absurd."


When we read the polemical and agenda-drive no-wise such as #489, we are reminded of Orwell's NEWSPEAK and old Soviet Pravda articles. This no-wise is pure censorship, dressed up to look as if it is balanced or neutral. You have to read it carefully to detect what's going on, but the message is clear.

Book of Mormon Central Censor doesn't want you to know what the prophets have taught. 

They want you to believe the scholars, who, according to the M2C intellectuals, have been hired by the prophets to guide the Church.

I write all of this with the greatest respect and kind feelings toward the M2C intellectuals, their followers and their victims. I have no personal animosity toward any of them. I think they're all great people, faithful members of the Church, etc. I just wish they would at least inform members of the Church about all the facts and let us make informed decisions instead of engaging in this sophistry designed to persuade us to believe the scholars instead of the prophets.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

No-wise #453: How Are Oliver Cowdery’s Messenger and Advocate Letters to Be Understood and Used?

Today we'll look at my new all-time favorite no-wise, #453. This is the most outrageous assertion of academic arrogance published by Book of Mormon Central so far, and that's saying a lot.

This no-wise demonstrates how freely and openly the M2C intellectuals repudiate the prophets, as well as how carefully they use sophistry, misdirection and censorship to confuse and mislead the Saints.

Below in red are the comments I would have made had they asked for my input as part of a legitimate peer review. (Of course, we know that nothing published by the M2C citation cartel ever undergoes a legitimate peer review--their work wouldn't withstand such a review--but it's fun to think about what such a peer review would look like.)

NOTE: I'm writing this as a helpful insider; i.e., as someone who wants to see Book of Mormon Central (BOMC) become legitimate.

So far, BOMC has engaged in pure confirmation bias, which is why it is not taken seriously be non-LDS or LDS who don't share the bias of the M2C intellectuals.

It's tragic, because BOMC has raised a lot of money from Church members who have been, let's say "misled," by BOMC's claim that BOMC follows the Church's policy of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography issues. 

This no-wise is just the latest example of how BOMC is instead nothing but an M2C advocacy group that actively teaches people to disbelieve the prophets.

Theoretically, BOMC has the potential to do so much good. My peer reviews are my effort to dislodge BOMC from its Groupthink M2C mentality that is so counterproductive and destructive of faith in the prophets and the Book of Mormon itself.

Original in blue, my comments in red.

How Are Oliver Cowdery’s Messenger and Advocate Letters to Be Understood and Used?

[This needs to be reworded for two reasons. 

First, the prophets have long told us how to understand and use these letters. The letters have been reprinted multiple times in official Church publications. Portions of Letter I are canonized. Portions of Letter VII have been repeatedly taught by the prophets, and no prophet has ever repudiated or even questioned Letter VII's teaching. 

Second, we cannot presume to tell Church members how to understand and use these letters, especially when we're contradicting the prophets. The title should be something such as "Understanding the context and significance of Oliver Cowdery's Messenger and Advocate letters."]

The Know
Oliver Cowdery is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the Church was headquartered in Kirtland, Ohio, Oliver served as the editor of the Church’s newspaper Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate from October 1834 to May 1835 and again from April 1836 to January 1837.1
[This paragraph is misleading because of a glaring omission that can be easily corrected. In December 1834, Oliver Cowdery was ordained Assistant President of the Church, an office that made him senior to the Counselors in the First Presidency and the successor to Joseph Smith. As written, the paragraph implies that President Cowdery's only office and responsibility was as editor of the newspaper.]
During his early tenure as editor of the paper, Oliver wrote a series of letters to William W. Phelps, another prominent Mormon figure, detailing the early history of Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the gospel, and the gathering of Israel. These letters, eight in total,2 
[The footnote has issues that I discuss directly in the footnote below] 
were written partly to combat anti-Mormon opposition and partly to increase the faith of Church members by publishing “a more particular or minute history of the rise and progress of the church of the Latter Day Saints [sic]; and publish, for the benefit of enquirers, and all who are disposed to learn.”3
[This footnote cites, consistent with my recommendation above. The note is misleading in several respects, which I address in my comments on the note itself below.]
Although the Prophet Joseph Smith began composing his personal history in 1832,4 this early draft remained unpublished during his lifetime, effectively making Oliver’s letters in the Messenger and Advocate the earliest public history of Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and several other related topics.5
[See comments on this footnote below.]
The letters by Oliver Cowdery. Image via BYU Harold B. Lee Library
The letters by Oliver Cowdery. Image via BYU Harold B. Lee Library

Title and Publication Date
Content Summary
“Dear Brother,” [Letter I] (October 1834)
Introductory remarks; Oliver’s first meeting with Joseph Smith; translating the Book of Mormon; visitation of John the Baptist
“Letter II.” (November 1834)
Discussion of apostasy and restoration; past examples of opposition to the work of God
“Letter III.” (December 1834)
Early history of Joseph Smith; the “great awakening” and “excitement” around religious topics during Joseph Smith’s youth
“Letter IV.” (February 1835)
Visitation of Moroni to Joseph Smith in 1823; description of Moroni’s physical appearance and instructions to Joseph Smith
“Letter V.” (March 1835)
Discussion on the nature and calling of angels; discussion on “the great plan of redemption”; discussion on the preaching of the gospel and the gathering of Israel
“Letter VI.” (April 1835)
Further discussion on the gathering of Israel; biblical prophecies on the restoration of Israel; “rehearsal of what was communicated” to Joseph Smith by Moroni; summary of Book of Mormon teachings concerning the redemption of Israel in the latter days
“Letter VII.” (July 1835)
Description of Joseph Smith’s discovery of the golden plates; description of the hill in Palmyra, N.Y. “in which these records were deposited”; location identified as the “hill Cumorah”; identified as the same location where the Nephites and Jaredites were exterminated [and the location of the depository of all the Nephite records, the same depository that Joseph and Oliver and others visited multiple times in the New York hill.]
“Letter VIII.” (October 1835)
Description of the topography of the hill Cumorah; description of the “cement” box in which the plates were deposited; description of Joseph Smith’s first attempt to retrieve the plates; extensive quotations of Moroni’s teachings and instructions to Joseph Smith; history of Joseph Smith from 1823–1827; concluding remarks

The impact and authority of Oliver’s letters can be measured by several factors. First, “there is no evidence that Joseph Smith assigned Cowdery to write the letters.”6 
[This is a deceptive quotation used here to contradict the meaning of the cited source. The original sentence should be quoted in full: "Although there is no evidence that Joseph Smith assigned Cowdery to write the letters, he offered his assistance to ensure that the 'narrative may be correct.'"
Besides deceiving readers, the excerpt is a gratuitous and irrelevant consideration because Cowdery never claimed Joseph directed him to write them. It doesn't matter anyway because in addition to Joseph's assistance, Cowdery assured readers he was relying on facts, used original documents then in his possession, and relied on his own experience.]
Second, the Prophet gave some support by providing Oliver details about “the time and place of [his] birth” and information about his adolescence that would help Oliver correct anti-Mormon misconceptions as a main concern,7 but it is unclear how much information Joseph supplied about other things. 
Third, Joseph was impressed enough with Oliver’s letters that when he commissioned his 1834–1836 history, copies of them were included. 
[This passive voice is deceptive, as though the letters appeared there randomly. To correctly inform readers, the following should replace this passive voice. 
On 29 October 1835, Joseph’s journal entry notes: “Br W. Parish [Warren Parrish] commenced writing for me… my scribe commenced writing in my journal a history of my life, concluding President [Oliver] Cowdery 2d letter to W.W. Phelps, which president Williams had begun.” Journal, 1835-1836, in The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 1: 1832-1839, p. 76-77. A digital version is available online here:!/paperSummary/journal-1835-1836&p=11
Frederick G. Williams, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, began the transcription, but Warren Parrish completed it. Joseph Smith himself considered these letters as part of "a history of my life."]
But they were included as a block and without any corrections or clarifications. [Uh, this is evidence that Joseph accepted them as is, whether because he helped write them as Oliver declared, or because he considered them to be based on facts, or both.]
“The transcription of [these] letters into [Joseph Smith’s] history was evidently conceived in terms of the entire series, not as a piecemeal copying of the individual letters.”8 
[This is another deceptive extract from the JSP comments. The final sentence of the paragraph containing the quoted sentence suggests an important reason for copying them this way: "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." 
Later, in 1840, Joseph gave the letters to his brother Don Carlos to republish them in the Times and Seasons. It's not known whether he gave him a copy of the Messenger and Advocate, or loaned him the "large journal," or gave him another copy, but the only known copy Joseph kept in his possession was the "large journal," so this is the most likely copy he gave Don Carlos.]
The men tasked with composing this early history were Frederick G. Williams, Warren Parrish, and Oliver himself, making the inclusion of the Cowdery letters an understandable move.9
[The purpose of this sentence is unclear. Are you implying President Cowdery put the letters in the large journal because he wrote them? That implication is implausible because Cowdery didn't copy any of the letters into the journal. The only one who commented on their including in the journal was Joseph Smith himself.]
Finally, Oliver’s letters were republished on multiple occasions by Church presses in both North America and Europe, making them effective missionary tools in early Mormon proselytizing efforts, but again without the benefit of any improvements or the supervision of Joseph Smith.10
[This sentence is deceptive because Joseph gave specific permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish the letters in the Gospel Reflector, and he gave the letters himself to his brother Don Carlos to publish in the Times and Seasons. The sentence also implies that Joseph did not improve or supervise the writing of the letters before they were originally published, an implication that contradicts both what President Cowdery said and how Joseph Smith acted when he had the letters republished.]
Even though Oliver’s history was undoubtedly popular among early Mormons, historians recognize that it does not tell the whole story and cannot be taken entirely at face value. 
[No written document can "tell the whole story" so that is sophistry that should be deleted. The phrase "cannot be taken entirely at face value" is meaningless because it casts doubt on the entirety of the letters, including the portion canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. Specific examples are necessary. Besides, President Cowdery himself explained the difference between speculation and fact throughout the letters.]
For instance, Letter III provides a retelling of Joseph’s youth which includes the religious excitement that caused Joseph to reflect on where he could turn for answers to his soul-wrenching questions,11 but then, Oliver omits any description of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1820.12 
[There could be many reasons for the omission of the First Vision, all of which are speculative, but the omission does not contradict what is included in the letters.]
At first glance, Oliver’s narrative “appears to be leading up to the story of the First Vision,”13 but then it abruptly skips the First Vision and instead places the religious excitement not between the years 1818­–1820, as Joseph himself would do in his 1838 history,14 but in the year 1823 with the visitation of Moroni.15 Furthermore, instead of depicting Joseph as praying to God in the woods in consequence of this turmoil in 1820, as Joseph made clear in his own official history,16 Oliver describes him as praying in his bedroom.17 
[This is a bizarre criticism that should be reconsidered. The article just explained that Oliver omitted the First Vision account, so he could not have been writing about Joseph's first prayer in the woods. There was religious excitement throughout these decades, as is evident from the response to the Book of Mormon itself in the 1830s.]
Besides these errors, 
[The article has not pointed to any errors, apart from the author's own belief that the narrative "appears to be leading up to the story of the First Vision" but then doesn't fulfill the author's expectations. That's an error on the part of the author, not on the part of Cowdery..]
Oliver includes lengthy quotations of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith which are unlikely to be a verbatim recapturing.18 
[Speculation about likelihood is pure confirmation bias and argument, not factual analysis. President Cowdery noted where he was not quoting verbatim, which implies that the balance was verbatim, or at least to the best of Joseph's recollection. Whether Cowdery was reporting what Joseph told him in 1834-5, what Joseph told him in 1829 as Cowdery recorded in his notebook, or what was contained in other "original documents" that Cowdery referred to but are no longer extant, it is impossible to determine at this point. But any of these sources could have been Joseph's verbatim recitation, so we cannot judge the likelihood of Cowdery's quotations being verbatim. I would delete this argumentative rhetoric and stick with known facts and reasonable inferences from those facts.]
Given that this depiction of Moroni’s interviews with Joseph between 1823–1827 was published some years after their occurrence, and given the fact Oliver was not present during these visits, it is more likely that, true to his extravagant literary style, Oliver somewhat embellished his account to enhance its readability and appeal.19 
[This speculation is more confirmation bias, designed to cast doubt on the words of the prophets. I would delete it]
This is not to say Oliver’s letters should be dismissed wholesale, only that they should be used carefully in historical reconstructions. 
[Is this the same standard we apply to all historical sources, regardless of content, or is this a viewpoint-driven observation?]
Portrait of Oliver Cowdery via the Joseph Smith Papers
Portrait of Oliver Cowdery via the Joseph Smith Papers

The Why

Oliver Cowdery was undeniably an important witness to the foundational events of the Restoration and his letters as published in the Messenger and Advocate offer a glimpse into these events. He was intimately familiar with the production of the Book of Mormon, having written it “with [his] own pen . . . as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, 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 the book, Holy Interpreters.”20 And, although Oliver fell into apostasy for a period, he never denied his testimony and returned to the Church a few years before his death.21
While Oliver’s letters certainly convey his moving personal testimony of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, they don’t definitively establish other matters for which there is contrary historical evidence or which remain open to discussion. 
[This argumentative rhetoric appears to be leading to the real point of this article.]
This includes Book of Mormon geography. 
[Aha, now we reach the real purpose of this article. This explains the rhetorical efforts to cast doubt on President Cowdery's work. The article is viewpoint oriented, after all. We're seeing the work of M2C intellectuals here.]
While it is true that Oliver understood the hill near Palmyra, N.Y. where Joseph retrieved the plates to be the same hill Cumorah described in the Book of Mormon where the Nephites and the Jaredites perished,22 [see comments on this footnote below] it is unknown where Oliver got this idea. 
[It is only "unknown" when one ignores facts that contradict M2C. We've already seen Parley P. Pratt's account in which the hill in New York was named Cumorah anciently and Lucy Mack Smith's account that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah before he even got the plates. Oliver was present when the messenger carrying the Harmony plates from Harmony to Cumorah referred to the hill as Cumorah. Plus, of course, Oliver had actually visited the repository of Nephite records in the New York hill on multiple occasions.] 
Was it from assumptions he made based on his reading of the Book of Mormon, from prophetic insights offered by Joseph Smith, or from some other source?23 
[See the comment on the footnote below.]
In any case, unlike the Lectures on Faith in 1835, or Joseph's Smith's epistles to the Church in 1844, or the Pearl of Great Price in 1880, or even other texts attributed to Oliver such as the “Declaration of Government and Law" (now D&C 134),24 none of Oliver Cowdery's letters from this series, including Letter VII, were ever canonized as binding revelation.25 
[This is very poor argument that should be deleted or at least rethought. During Joseph's lifetime, President Cowdery's letters were reprinted more often than all the other items mentioned here. They were ubiquitous and well understood among the Saints when Joseph wrote the letter that refers to Cumorah (D&C 128:20). Relatively few of Joseph's own teachings have been canonized; not even his entire personal history has been because only excerpts appear in the Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith-History consists of excerpt from Joseph's history, as well as excerpts from President Cowdery's letters. In addition, President Cowdery's letters, including Letter VII's declaration about the New York Cumorah, have been repeatedly and consistently cited with approval by subsequent prophets, and never questioned.]
As many comments by Church leaders have made clear, the Church has no official position on the geography of Book of Mormon events.26
[This statement, although oft repeated by M2C intellectuals, is simply false and should be edited to read, "apart from the New York Cumorah, the Church has no official position..." The New York Cumorah has been consistently taught for over 150 years by many Church leaders, including members of the First Presidency in General Conference. It has never been questioned, disputed, or repudiated by any member of the Quorum of the Twelve or First Presidency. For comments on this, see the comments to note 26 below.]
Image of Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII. Image via BYU's Harold B. Lee Library
Image of Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII. Image via BYU's Harold B. Lee Library
It is therefore more appropriate that, rather than seeing Oliver’s views on the topic of Book of Mormon geography as being authoritative, prophetic pronouncements, they should be seen as reflections of, if not the main cause behind, popular nineteenth-century Mormon speculation on Book of Mormon geography.
While it is clear that Joseph said he was visited by the angel Moroni on the west side of the unnamed hill near his family’s Manchester, N.Y., home,27 that is a separate matter from how far and wide Moroni had wandered during the 36 or more years after the final battle in A.D. 385 before he deposited the plates in A.D. 421 in their designated resting place.
So, Oliver’s Messenger and Advocate letters need to be approached cautiously. Although they are not entirely free from error and embellishment, they are, of course, quite valuable to students of early Mormon history. They provide many important insights into the translation of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the priesthood, matters with which Oliver was personally acquainted. Most of all, these letters are intended to be read and used for increasing faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in affirming belief in the Book of Mormon as the word of God.

Further Reading

John W. Welch, “Oliver Cowdery as Editor, Defender, and Justice of the Peace in Kirtland,” in Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, ed. Alexander L. Baugh (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 255–77.
Roger Nicholson, “The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver’s Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1834 and 1835,”Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8 (2014): 27–44.
Book of Mormon Central, “Where Did the Book of Mormon Happen?,” KnoWhy 431 (May 8, 2018).

  • 1.J. Leroy Caldwell, “Messenger and Advocate,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1992), 2:892.
  • 2.The letters can be read online at the Book of Mormon Central archive.
  • [The footnote cites the Book of Mormon Central (BOMC) archive. While this might be useful to drive traffic to the archive, a better reference would be the version, is searchable (unlike the BOMC archive),  easier to read than the BOMC archive, and lets readers see the letters in context. 
    Most readers would also appreciate a link to the Joseph Smith Papers where they can read these letters in Joseph's own history:]
  • 3.“Letter II,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1, no. 2 (November 1834): 27–28. In October of the same year [actually, the same year and month] that Oliver began [publishing] his letters, the anti-Mormon author E. D. Howe published his highly influential work Mormonism Unvailed [sic] in nearby Painesville, Ohio. In it, Howe attempted to prove that the Book of Mormon was a modern fabrication based on a manuscript written by a certain Solomon Spalding and that Joseph Smith’s reputation, including his honesty and moral character, was suspect. Howe’s book can be accessed online at Unlike other anti-Mormon writers, like Alexander Campbell, whom Oliver also responded to elsewhere in the Messenger and Advocate, Howe was never mentioned by name in any of Oliver’s letters to Phelps. [Naming Howe would only draw more attention to his book.] Nevertheless, the timing of the publication of Howe’s book, the considerable influence it wielded in popular discourse on Mormonism, and the overall content and focus of Oliver’s letters all make it seem very likely that Oliver was at the very least indirectly responding to Howe. 
  • [This note should inform readers that most of Howe's book attacked the character of Joseph Smith and his family, a topic Oliver specifically addressed in Letter II (which was quoted at the beginning of this note).]
  • On Oliver’s efforts to defend the Church, see generally John W. Welch, “Oliver Cowdery’s 1835 Response to Alexander Campbell's 1831 ‘Delusions’,”in Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness, ed. John W. Welch and Larry E. Morris (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2006), 221–239; John W. Welch, “Oliver Cowdery as Editor, Defender, and Justice of the Peace in Kirtland,” in Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, ed. Alexander L. Baugh (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 267–270.
  • [These are all typical citation cartel references that are not directly on point. The note should reference the only book ever published that focuses specifically on these letters, the first edition of which can be read in the BOMC archive here: 
  • Later editions of the book provide more detailed analysis and context and should be cited. Jonathan Neville, Letter VII: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery Explain the Hill Cumorah, Digital Legend, 2018.]
  • 4.See “History, circa Summer 1832,” online.
  • 5.One year earlier, the Church’s newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star ran editorials by William Phelps on the content and message of the Book of Mormon and the early progress of Mormon missionary efforts, but these articles provided neither a substantive history behind the early life of Joseph Smith nor a clear narrative describing the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. See “The Book of Mormon,” The Evening and the Morning Star 1, no. 8 (January 1833): 56–58; “Rise and Progress of the Church of Christ,” The Evening and the Morning Star 1, no. 11 (April 1833): 83–84. On the importance of Oliver’s letters as an early Church history, see Richard Bushman, “Oliver’s Joseph,” in Days Never to Be Forgotten, 6–10.” Phelps, “The Book of Mormon,” 57, appears to be the first recorded [published] instance of the hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates being called Cumorah.
  • [The earliest recorded instance is probably Oliver's notebook in which he wrote everything Joseph told him when they were in Harmony in 1829. Although we don't have that notebook, there are references to its existence and content. Another early record is Parley P. Pratt's autobiography, in which he wrote of the 1830-1 missionary to the Lamanites that ""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.” Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 43. Of course, Joseph's mother quoted Joseph referring to the hill as Cumorah even before he got the plates, but we don't know if she recorded that at the time, or merely recalled it later. Any of these, or another written or verbal source, could have provided the basis for Phelps' article.]
  • 6.Karen Lynn Davidson et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844 (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church Historian’s Press, 2012), xxi.
  • 7.Joseph Smith letter to Oliver Cowdery, “Brother O. Cowdery,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1, no. 3 (December 1834): 40. It seems very likely that Joseph provided his support in an effort to counter the accusations made in Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed. Additionally, it seems that that Oliver had access to Joseph’s 1832 history and incorporated elements of it in his sketch of Joseph Smith’s early life. See the discussion in “JS Defended Himself in Letter in Messenger and Advocate,” online; Roger Nicholson, The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver’s Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1834 and 1835,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8 (2014): 27–44.
  • 8.Davidson et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1, 39.
  • 9.Pages 46–103 of the 1834–1836 history are written in the hands of these scribes. The history can be accessed online.
  • 10.Republications of Oliver’s letters began appearing in 1840 when Parley P. Pratt reprinted Oliver’s depiction of the visitation of Moroni to Joseph Smith. See “A Remarkable Vision,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 1, no. 2 (June 1840): 42–44; “A Remarkable Vision,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 1, no. 5 (September 1840): 105–109; “A Remarkable Vision,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 1, no. 6 (October 1840): 150–154; “A Remarkable Vision,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 1, no. 7 (November 1840): 174–178. The letters were further republished in 1840 (“Copy of a Letter written by O. Cowdery,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 1 [November 1, 1840]: 199–201; “Letter II,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 2 [November 15, 1840]: 208–212; “Letter III,” Times and Seasons2, no. 3 [December 1, 1840]: 224–225; “Letter IV,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 4 [December 15, 1840]: 240–242; Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions [Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840], 8–12), 1841 (“Letter VI,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 11 [April 1, 1841]: 359–363; “Rise of the Church,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 12 [April 15, 1841]: 376–379; “Letter VIII,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 13 [May 1, 1841]: 390–396; “O. Cowdery’s Letters to W. W. Phelps,” Gospel Reflector 1, no. 6 [March 15, 1841]; 137–176), 1843 (“O. Cowdery’s First Letter to W. W. Phelps,” The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 3, no. 9 [January 1843]: 152–154), and 1844 (Letters by Oliver Cowdery, to W.W. Phelps on the Origin of the Book of Mormon and the Rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Liverpool: Ward and Cairns, 1844]; “O. Cowdery’s Letters to W. W. Phelps,” The Prophet 1, no. 7 [June 29, 1844]).
  • [This footnote cites The Prophet, which published Letter VII on June 29, 1844 (2 days after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith), but doesn't include the other letters, which were published beginning with the first issue of The Prophet. The note doesn't tell readers that William Smith, Joseph's brother, was the editor when Letter VII was published in The Prophet. It also doesn't disclose that the letters were later published in the Improvement Era when Joseph F. Smith was the editor.]
  • 11.“Letter III,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1, no. 3 (December 1834): 42–43.
  • 12.Joseph’s journal entry on November 9, 1835, which was copied by Warren Cowdery into the 1834–1836 history project, clearly recounted the 1820 vision in which Joseph saw and heard two beings. See Dean C. Jessee, “The Earliest Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestation, 1820–1844, ed. John W. Welch, 2nd ed. (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 2017), 9–12. For a recent attempt at making sense of Oliver’s omission of the 1820 vision, see Nicholson, “The Cowdery Conundrum,” 27–44.
  • 13.Bushman, “Oliver’s Joseph,” 6.
  • 14.History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834], p. 1. “Sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester [1819], there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion.”
  • 15.“Letter IV,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1, no. 5 (February 1835): 78. “You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr’s, age—that was an error in the type—it should have been in the 17th.—You will please remember this correction, as it will be necessary for the full understanding of what will follow in time. This would bring the date down to the year 1823.”
  • 16.History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834], p. 3. “I at last came to the determination to ask of God, concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally and not upbraid, I might venture. So in accordance with this my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful clear day early in the spring of Eightteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had <​made​> such an attempt, for amidst all <​my​> anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.”
  • 17.“Letter IV,” 78–79. “On the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, previous to retiring to rest, our brother's mind was unusually wrought up on the subject which had so long agitated his mind—his heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was so lost to every thing of a temporal nature, that earth, to him, had lost its claims, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God. . . . While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room.”
  • 18.See “Letter VIII,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2, no. 1 (October 1835): 197–198, where Oliver quotes Moroni for an astounding 1078 words.
  • 19.Oliver’s overwrought verbosity, his penchant for “rhetorical flourishes” which make “the story more Oliver’s than Joseph’s,” his telltale “flowery journalese,” and his ”florid romantic language“ have been noted by careful readers. See for instance the remarks of Bushman, “Oliver’s Joseph,” 7; Arthur Henry King, The Abundance of the Heart (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1986), 204; Davidson et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1, 38.
  • 20.“Last Days of Oliver Cowdery,” Deseret News (April 13, 1859)” 48.
  • 21.See Scott H. Faulring, “The Return of Oliver Cowdery,” in Oliver Cowdery, 321–362.
  • 22.Oliver makes his views plain in “Letter VII,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1, no. 10 (July 1835): 155–159.
  • 23.As made clear in Joseph Smith’s December 1834 letter cited above, the extent of the Prophet’s involvement with the compositions of the Messenger and Advocate letters was to provide Oliver with information about his youth and upbringing. In the absence of any corroborative evidence attesting to Joseph’s input beyond this, any comments made by Oliver in these letters concerning the geography of the Book of Mormon must therefore have been his alone.
  • 24."On August 17, 1835, in the midst of the Saints’ attempts to petition the government for help, Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon presented a document titled 'Declaration of Government and Law' to Church members in Kirtland, Ohio. The declaration—now Doctrine and Covenants 134—sought to address all of the Saints’ concerns." Spencer W. McBride, "Of Governments and Laws," online at
  • 25.An excerpt from Letter I providing Oliver Cowdery's firsthand testimony of the translation of the Book of Mormon and the visitation of John the Baptist was included in the 1851 Pearl of Great Price as a footnote to republished portions of Joseph Smith's 1838 history. The Pearl of Great Price was canonized as scripture in 1880. This excerpt is present in the current 2013 edition of the Pearl of Great Price (Joseph Smith—History 1:71 footnote). Beyond this footnote reproducing part of Letter I, no material from the letters has been canonized, including any material from Letter VII concerning the location of the hill Cumorah.
  • 26.“Church leadership officially and consistently distances itself from issues regarding Book of Mormon geography.” John E. Clark, “Book of Mormon Geography,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1:176. See also Book of Mormon Central, “Where Did the Book of Mormon Happen?” KnoWhy 431 (May 8, 2018). While a number of later Church leaders felt confident in following Oliver in identifying the hill Cumorah as the hill in New York, 
  • [Classic deception here. Every member of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency who has ever addressed the topic has affirmed the New York Cumorah, including specific witnesses given in General Conference. None has disputed or repudiated Letter VII.]
  • others, such as apostle and later Church president Harold B. Lee, demurred. “Some say the Hill Cumorah was in southern Mexico (and someone pushed it down still farther) and not in western New York. Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think?” 
  • [The M2C intellectuals continue to deceive Church members by taking this obscure, unofficial comment out of context, as I explained here: 
  • For the Lee citation, and additional citations showing some variance amongst Church leaders on the issue of the location of the hill Cumorah, see FairMormon’s collection of Hill Cumorah Quotes.
  • [No surprise to see FairMormon, a charter member of the M2C citation cartel, cited here. I've addressed all of this and more in these blog posts:

  • My series on getting real about Cumorah, starting with my observations about John Clark:

  • 27.Joseph Smith himself appeared somewhat ambivalent towards the location of the hill Cumorah. In Joseph’s earliest history the “place . . . where the plates [were] deposited” goes unnamed. History, circa Summer 1832, p. 4. In his 1838 history the Prophet again merely describes the location where he found the plates as “a hill of considerable size” without positively identifying it as Cumorah. History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834], addendum, p. 7. Also in 1838, while describing how he obtained the Book of Mormon, Joseph spoke generally of "a hill in Manchester, Ontario County New York" as the repository of the plates, again without identifying it as Cumorah. Joseph Smith, Elders' Journal (July 1838): 43. 
  • [By this standard, Joseph was "ambivalent" about most of the Book of Mormon. He never referred to most of the Book of Mormon prophets by name, nor did he quote most of the passages in the Book of Mormon. He could have had good reasons to avoid naming the hill, such as to avoid encouraging people to dig it up looking for treasure.]
  •  Some 4 years later, however, in a letter dated 6 September 1842, Joseph exulted at hearing “Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, An Angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets.” “Letter to ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,’ 6 September 1842 [D&C 128],” p. 7. It’s conceivable that Joseph eventually accepted the identity of the hill Cumorah as being the hill in Palmyra after this theory became popular amongst early Church members. 
  • [This is an especially poor argument. It claims that it is "conceivable" that Joseph accepted a false folk theory, while it is not conceivable that (i) Joseph and Oliver actually visited the depository in the hill as explained by several prophets, (ii) that Joseph's mother and Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were telling the truth in their accounts of the origin of the name Cumorah, and (iii) that all the prophets who have affirmed the New York Cumorah were also telling the truth.]
  • Be that as it may, it would still appear that, as with Oliver, Joseph Smith’s views on Book of Mormon geography were the product of his being informed by popular nineteenth century Mormon speculation, not revelation.
  • [This is even worse than the previous argument. The article claims Joseph learned Book of Mormon geography from a popular travel book because he, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and all the other prophets who have affirmed the New York Cumorah are merely ignorant speculators who have misled the Church.]
  •  See Matthew Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations,” FARMS Review 16, no. 2 (2004): 225–275; “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” FARMS Review 22, no. 2 (2010): 15–85; Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, and Atul Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2 (2013): 84–97; Neal Rappleye, “‘War of Words and Tumult of Opinions’: The Battle for Joseph Smith’s Words in Book of Mormon Geography,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 37–95; Matthew Roper, “John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015): 207–253; Mark Alan Wright, “Joseph Smith and Native American Artifacts,” in Approaching Antiquity: Joseph and the Ancient World, edited by Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2015), 119–140; Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith, Central American Ruins, and the Book of Mormon,” in Approaching Antiquity, 141–162.
  • [These articles are all classic examples of confirmation bias that I've addressed in detail. You can search for them on my blog. The bottom line of all of these M2C scholars is this:
  • The prophets and apostles are ignorant speculator who misled the Church until the M2C scholars, including Matt Roper, Neal Rappleye, Mark Alan Wright, etc. came along and corrected them.]