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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Oliver Cowdery and William J. Hamblin

William J. Hamblin is a BYU professor, a Board member of The Interpreter Foundation, and a member of the citation cartel who has published articles and written blog posts about Book of Mormon historicity. I previously mentioned Hamblin on July 20 when I discussed Brant Gardner on Cumorah, here. In that post, I quoted a passage from Hamblin’s piece, in which he argues there is only one Cumorah, and it is somewhere in Mesoamerica. I pointed out there that the confusion Hamblin blamed on the “nineteenth-century interpretation of the Book of Mormon” was instead the result of the Mesoamerican theory.

Hamblin’s article, published on the Maxwell Institute webpage, is titled “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon.” (In my view, a better title would be “Basic Methodological Problems with the Mesoamericanist Approach.”) Hamblin’s piece is aimed at Luke P. Wilson’s critical review of Book of Mormon archaeology. Hamblin touches on Cowdery in a few key places, which I’ll quote and comment on in red below. I’ve inserted relevant footnotes where they are cited in the text.

p. 172. 
“In fact, the earliest explicit correlation of the hill in New York where Joseph Smith found the golden plates and the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon comes not from Joseph Smith, but from Oliver Cowdery.42  [I'm informed that Hamblin has since acknowledged this error, since Cowdery's Letter VII, cited in the footnote, is not the first correlation between NY and BoM Cumorahs.]

Footnote 42: Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saint’s Messenger and Advocate (July 1835): 158–59; see Sorenson, Geography of Book of Mormon Events, 372, for the text and additional references. The original manuscript has been edited by Dean C. Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 1:78–81. [I give Hamblin credit for at least citing Letter VII. Most Mesoamericanists don't even do that. However, the casual reader would infer from Hamblin's language that Cowdery merely made some kind of correlation, vague or otherwise, and certainly not one containing as much specificity as Cowdery's description does.]

Joseph Smith simply describes “a hill of considerable size”; no name is given.43 [A name would not help describe the hill. And when Joseph does name Cumorah, in D&C 128:20--in connection with Moroni, an angel from heaven--the Mesoamericanists complain that he did so much too late for their preference. They actually argue that Joseph was merely repeating a popular, but mistaken, connection between New York and the Book of Mormon Cumorah.]

Footnote 43: JS–H 1:51 = HC 1:15 = Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:281 n. 1; according to this note, this phrase was inserted in the original manuscript by Joseph Smith to clarify the location. Joseph Smith’s History was written in 1838 (JS–H 1:2), three years after Oliver Cowdery’s identification of the hill in New York with Cumorah. If this identification originated with Joseph Smith, or was accepted by him as authoritative, why does it not appear in his History? [I don't know whether Hamblin was unaware of the facts--I suspect he was--but in reality, Cowdery's detailed description in Letter VII is part of Joseph's history. Joseph directed that Cowdery's letters be transcribed into his "large journal" in 1835, now titled in the Joseph Smith Papers as History, 1834-1836. Joseph referred to Cowdery's letters as part of the "history of my life." This is a critically important aspect of Letter VII that I explain in my book, Moroni's America, but the key point here is that Hamblin's question has been answered. Cowdery's identification of the hill in New York as Cumorah is part of Joseph's history. Joseph didn't include it in the history published in the Times and Seasons in 1842, but why should he have? Letter VII had been published in the Times and Seasons just a year earlier!]

But even though Joseph Smith may have accepted this identification, it was never put forward as revelation, and, as will be discussed below, Joseph also supported a version of the Limited Geography Model. [This is an irrational complaint. None of Joseph Smith's history was "put forward as revelation." It was just history, and Cowdery's Letter VII was part of it. True, the version of his history that was canonized did not include Cowdery's letters, per se; but the letters were in the same book as the canonized history. Here we have the translator and the scribe for the Book of Mormon, two men who received angelic visitations, both of whom described the plates and the box where they were found, etc., collaborating on writing the history of the events, including the New York setting for the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites. Yet the Mesoamericanists think they know more about the setting of the Book of Mormon than Joseph and Oliver. Why? Because, as Hamblin alludes in the last clause above, of anonymous articles published in the Times and Seasons in 1842.]

It is interesting to note that this identification contradicts a statement in the Book of Mormon itself. Mormon wrote, “having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record [the Book of Mormon] out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates [the Book of Mormon] which I gave unto my son Moroni” (Mormon 6:6). In other words, the Book of Mormon explicitly states that the records hidden in the Mesoamerican Cumorah were not the plates of the Book of Mormon, but were the other records of the Nephites. The Book of Mormon itself provides no name for the hill in which the golden plates found by Joseph Smith were buried. [Hamblin's claim here, which other Mesoamericanists have repeated, defies the plain reading of the scripture. True, Mormon did bury all the plates in the hill Cumorah except those he gave Moroni. But Mormon could not have said where Moroni buried his record because Mormon was dead by the time Moroni buried his plates. Nothing in the text (or in common sense) would prevent Moroni from burying his plates in the same hill where his father buried the other plates. In fact, Oliver described visiting the sites--in the New York Hill Cumorah--where both sets of plates were buried. Everything Joseph and Oliver wrote about the plates and the Hill Cumorah is consistent with the text.]

This issue poses an interesting dilemma for critics of the Book of Mormon. We are expected to believe that, on the one hand, Joseph consciously forged the Book of Mormon, while, on the other hand, he personally identified the hill in which the golden plates were buried as the Hill Cumorah—the only hill in the world in which the Book of Mormon explicitly states the plates were not buried! [One empathizes with anti-Mormons who become frustrated reading Mormon apologists making arguments such as this. The text never says Moroni's plates were not buried in the Hill Cumorah. Plus, Joseph and Oliver said they were. What's worse, later in this piece Hamblin himself admits, "Nowhere in the Book of Mormon does it state where the Book of Mormon plates were finally buried." What does one do when an author contradicts his own argument?]

Two Cumorahs?
This issue has been dealt with by Latter-day Saint writers; [a footnote here refers to members of the citation cartel] it is unfortunate that Wilson is unwilling or unable to come to grips with the reality of current Latter-day Saint thought on the subject, [current, meaning Mesoamericanist, as opposed to the invalid "nineteenth century" thinking of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery] relying instead on old discredited anti-Mormon arguments. Actually, the Limited Geography Model does not insist that there were two Cumorahs. Rather, there was one Cumorah in Mesoamerica, which is always the hill referred to in the Book of Mormon. Thereafter, beginning with Oliver Cowdery (possibly based on a misreading of Mormon 6:6), [we saw above it was Hamblin, not Cowdery, who misreads Mormon 6:6] early Mormons began to associate the Book of Mormon Cumorah with the hill in New York where Joseph Smith found the plates. [No comment needed.] The Book of Mormon itself is internally consistent on the issue. It seems to have been early nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint interpretation of the text of the Book of Mormon which has caused the confusion on this point. Thus, advocates of the Limited Geography Model are required only to show that their interpretations are consistent with the text of the Book of Mormon itself, not with any nineteenth-century interpretation of the Book of Mormon. [There are so many things wrong with this I'll only mention that the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons article were the nineteenth-century interpretation that has caused confusion. Everything Joseph Smith actually wrote, and everything Oliver Cowdery wrote on the subject, are consistent with the text. It is the Mesoamericanists whose writings change the text, with the Sorenson translation, to fit their preconceived geographical theories.]

1 comment:

  1. Jonathan,

    Thank you for your time, hard work and effort in defending the North America setting for the Book of Mormon from the Mesoamerican advocates. I like Dan Peterson and William Hamblin (and others from the Mesoamerica camp). But they couldn't be more wrong when it comes the setting for Book of Mormon events.

    You don't think I could get a review copy of your book, "Moroni's America" do you? I have been known to occasionally review books for Jeff Needle's "Association for Mormon Letters." Just asking. But again, thank you.