long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More on Oliver Cowdery

As I mentioned before, the more I look, the worse it gets. You probably won't believe what I'm posting here, so I'm including lots of links for you to see for yourself.

A previous post discusses how FAIR MORMON has resorted to Orwellian tactics to obscure a key point in Church history; namely, that Oliver Cowdery unquestionably and unambiguously identified the New York Hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites. I also posted a comparison of Oliver Cowdery's letter to the anonymous Times and Seasons articles that are the basis for the Mesoamerican theory.

There's more to this story.

John W. Welch

John W. Welch, Editor in Chief of BYU Studies and founder of FARMS, wrote a chapter titled "Oliver Cowdery as Editor, Defender, and Justice of the Peace in Kirtland," which was published by Deseret Book in a book titled Days Never to be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery. The book is from a BYU Church History Symposium that was held in 2005. In his piece, Welch discusses Cowdery's letters. He writes, "Joseph Smith fully supported Cowdery's efforts to publish his history and even offered to assist him with it. Cowdery said that Joseph Smith's labor on the project and 'authentic documents now in our possession' would give him the ability to write a historical narrative that was 'pleasing and agreeable' to his readers.... Cowdery's history is invaluable because it contains details that are unique to it, and it is much more detailed than those accounts left by the Prophet himself." p. 263. (my emphasis)

Here, Welch omits a key part of Cowdery's sentence. Here is the entire sentence: "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." (my emphasis) You won't be surprised to know that instead of encouraging the examination and perusal of these letters, the Mesoamericanists have omitted these letters from their materials, as mentioned in the posts above.

Welch, who is an exceptional scholar, is also a supporter of the Mesoamerican theory. When you look at his writing, you can see how he tailors his work to avoid material that contradicts that theory. Here are some examples from this paper. [Granted, space is limited, but in my view the paper misleads readers by completely omitting any reference to the geography question, about which Cowdery's detail is crucial evidence. He wrote far more about Cumorah than about Moroni's appearance, for example.]

Welch includes some examples of how Cowdery's history is invaluable, such as Oliver's physical description of Moroni and Moroni's instructions to Joseph, from which he quotes two paragraphs. But he ends his quotation at a critical point, apparently because the next lines refute the Mesoamerican theory. Here's what Cowdery wrote: "He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." (my emphasis) The Mesoamericanists want you to believe that Moroni here was referring to Mesoamerica when he appeared to Joseph in New York and said "this country." That argument is weak, to say the least, and relies on semantic gyrations, but it may explain why Welch omitted that sentence from his essay. 

Oliver proceeds to write, "He [Moroni] said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record." The Mesoamericanists want you to believe that Moroni wrote his history somewhere in Mesoamerica and then hauled the plates all the way to New York, but Cowdery has Moroni telling Joseph he [Moroni] wrote the record in New York, as well as deposited it there. Again, no wonder Welch omitted this sentence. 

Welch continues with examples, such as the location and detailed description of the box in which the plates were deposited and the vision Joseph received after being denied the plates (all from Letter VIII). What Welch does not mention is Cowdery's statement about Cumorah that is found between the quotations Welch does give: "I have now given sufficient on the subject of the hill Cumorah-it has a singular and imposing appearance for that country, and must excite the curious enquiry [sic] of every lover of the book of Mormon." You might wonder, where did Cowdery discuss Cumorah in such detail? In Letter VII. Welch skips over Letter VII completely. Otherwise he might have had to tell readers about one of Cowdery's significant doctrinal claims; i.e., that the New York Cumorah is the Book of Mormon Cumorah. 

Cowdery claims that the hill Cumorah "must excite the curious enquiry of every lover of the book of Mormon," but nowhere does Welch even mention it.

Even in his otherwise excellent book, Opening the Heavens, which includes numerous accounts of early Church history, Welch omits any reference to Cowdery's letter about Cumorah (although he does include other excerpts from Cowdery's letters). Another book, Charting the Book of Mormon, includes a table on the final battles but says nothing about Cowdery's detailed description of what occurred--and where it happened. The index to Charting lists Cowdery but never mentions the letters he wrote about the Book of Mormon. 

BYU Studies

If you go to the BYU Studies web page and do a search for "Cumorah" you get this result:

Hill Cumorah – Palmyra, NY
Explore the categories below and find BYU Studies articles, books, and resources relating to Hill Cumorah. Use the Navigation button above to view and visit other historic site pages. 

"Joseph Smith: The Palmyra Seer," by Ronald W. Walker, BYU Studies, Volume 24, no. 4 [Editor's Note: Please be aware that the document described in this article is a Mark Hofmann forgery. ]

"The Visionary World of Joseph Smith," by Richard L. Bushman, BYU Studies, Volume 37, no. 1 [My note: this is a piece about Solomon Chamberlain and others that mentions one of Cowdery's letters, but not VII]

Links and Resources

"Angel Moroni Statue," by Cory H. Maxwell, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
"Cumorah," by David A. Palmer, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
"Cumorah Pageant," by Gerald S. Argetsinger, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
"Gold Plates," by Grant R. Hardy, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
"Visions of Joseph Smith," by Larry C. Porter, Encyclopedia of Mormonism

IOW, not a word about Cowdery's detailed description of the site.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

The above links to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism made me curious. I was shocked at what I found.

David Palmer wrote the entry on Cumorah. You can find it here. Not only does he omit any reference to Cowdery's description of the hill, but he writes this:

This annual pageant has reinforced the common assumption that Moroni buried the plates of Mormon in the same hill where his father had buried the other plates, thus equating this New York hill with the Book of Mormon Cumorah. Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better (Palmer), there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested.

I was going to bold the key parts but this whole passage is key. Can you believe that even the Encyclopedia of Mormonism omits any reference to Cowdery's description of the hill Cumorah? That it claims the New York site doesn't even fit the description in the text? And that it promotes a MESOAMERICAN geography?

No wonder members and investigators are confused. No wonder so many find it difficult to have faith in what Joseph and Oliver wrote when even the Encyclopedia of Mormonism casts doubt on what they wrote!

David A. Palmer, who wrote the entry on Cumorah for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, also wrote a book titled In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico. I doubt I will ever have time to do a full review, but here's how he addresses the Cowdery issue:

p. 20. "Designation of the Hill in New York State as Cumorah
"There is no record of Moroni having told Joseph Smith that the place where the abridgement was buried was Cumorah, or that the hill was once a great battleground. If this had been the place of those great final battles, it would be rather surprising tht it was not mentioned. We have only the scantiest of inferences that Joseph Smith ever called the hill "Cumorah." (D&C 128:20). However, he does not appear to have corrected Oliver Cowdery, who may have been the one to first name the New York hill 'Cumorah.' (Cowdery, 1835)."

That's it. Seriously.

It's possible that when Palmer wrote the book (it was published in 1981), the historical records were not as widely available as now. However, he specifically cited Cowdery's Letter VII in the July 1835 Messenger and Advocate. He characterizes that letter as merely showing that Cowdery "may have been the one to first name the New York hill 'Cumorah'." An unsuspecting reader would have little incentive to pursue such an inconsequential footnote and then look up the page number in the then-obscure 1835 newspaper.

What Palmer doesn't relate is that Cowdery's letter unequivocally identifies the hill Cumorah in New York as the Book of Mormon hill, that Cowdery wrote 1400 words of detailed description, that Joseph assisted Cowdery with the letters, that Joseph specifically authorized the republication of these letters, that they were reprinted in both the Times and Seasons and the Gospel Reflector, and that they were published as a separate pamphlet in 1844.

Palmer also doesn't mention--in fact, he denies--that Moroni told Joseph Smith the record was "written and deposited not far from that place," meaning where he appeared to Joseph in the house in Palmyra. Instead, Palmer adopts the two-Cumorah theory, meaning that Moroni carried the plates from Mesoamerica to New York. But Cowdery reports that Moroni told Joseph he wrote and deposited the record near Joseph's home. How could Moroni have written his record in New York if he didn't have the plates from which to abridge the Book of Ether? Or are we now also supposed to believe that Moroni carted his abridgment along with the record of the Jaredites from Mesoamerica to New York?


This has been more detail than most people want to know, probably, but it illustrates a widespread pattern of intransigent dogma that permeates LDS scholarship. I'm optimistic that soon, open minds will take another look at these issues and realize what has been going on for far too long.

N.B.: There's more about all of this that I'll get to when I get a chance. Let me know what other examples of suppression of Cowdery's Letter VII you've found.

No comments:

Post a Comment