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.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Oliver and Joseph in 1835

Letter VII was published in the Messenger and Advocate in July 1835. When he wrote the letters to Phelps, Oliver said Joseph Smith helped him. Scholars who promote the Mesoamerican "two-Cumorah" theory respond in these ways to Letter VII (which unequivocally rejects the two-Cumorah theory and places the Hill Cumorah squarely in western New York):

1. They question Oliver's statement that Joseph helped write the letters.

2. If they accept that Joseph helped write the letters, they claim Joseph himself was also speculating about the Hill Cumorah (or that Joseph passively accepted Oliver's speculation).

Here I present evidence on the first point; i.e., how Joseph and Oliver worked together during 1835.

We have very little of Joseph's own writing. He kept journals on and off during 1832-1835. We have nothing he wrote between 1 April 1834 through 22 September 1835.

In September, Joseph made three entries in a book titled "Sketch Book for the use of
Joseph Smith, jr" (referred to in the Joseph Smith Papers as Journal, 1835-1836). The book was titled by Oliver Cowdery, who also wrote the first entry. Joseph made three subsequent entries, and then Oliver took over again.

You can get a sense of how closely these two men worked together from this image of the first page from the journal. The title at the top and the first paragraph is in Oliver's handwriting. The next paragraph is in Joseph's handwriting.

You can see this yourself at this link.


Here is what the text says. The part in italics is Oliver, the part in bold is Joseph:

Sketch Book for the use of
Joseph Smith, jr.
22 September 1835 • Tuesday
September 22, 1835. This day Joseph Smith, jr.  labored with Oliver Cowdery, in obtaining and  writing blessings. We were thronged a part of the  time with company, so that our labor, in this thing,  was hindered; but we obtained many precious things, and  our souls were blessed. O Lord, may thy Holy Spirit be with  thy servants forever. Amen.
September 23.th [22nd] This day Joseph Smith, Jr. was at home  writing blessings for my most beloved Brotheren <I>, have  been hindered by a multitude of visitors but the Lord  has blessed our Souls this day. May God grant <to> continue his mercies unto my house, this <night,> day For Christ sake. This day my Soul has desired the salvation of Brother Ezra, Thay[e]r. Also Brother Noah,  Packard. Came to my house and let the Chappel Committee have one thousand dollers, by loan,  for the building the house of the Lord; Oh may  God bless him with an hundred fold! even of the  <things of> Earth, for this ritious [righteous] act. My heart is full of  desire to day, to <be> blessed of the God, of Abraham;

The writing styles are different, but the narrative is continuous.

These two writing samples also show us why Joseph relied on Oliver to do the writing. Oliver's sentences are clear and accurate, while Joseph's are more like spoken language.

You can see the differences more clearly in this image, with Oliver inside the red box and Joseph inside the blue.

Later, when Joseph finished his entries, Oliver resumed writing in this journal. You can see that here.

When we read this shared journal, it's not surprising or strange that Joseph would direct his scribes to copy Oliver's letters into his own journal as part of his own life history.

The only thing that is surprising and strange is that LDS scholars reject Letter VII.


  1. That Joseph had his scribes copy the series of letters into his journal as part of his history, I think, is by itself sufficient endorsement. And it certainly supports the idea that, as Oliver claimed, Joseph helped draft the letters.

    The only reason I can think of for people to reject the letters is that acceptance of them, to be intellectually consistent, would necessarily require rejection of a favorite pet theory on Book of Mormon geography.

    1. Yes, exactly. These letters contain the first account of the restoration of the Priesthood and much more. The Mesoamerica proponents just can't reconcile the letters with their theories.

  2. To clarify, I mean the two Cumorah theory must be rejected. I recognize there are a handful of "Mesoamerica = Book of Mormon lands" theories that allow for the Hill Cumorah to be in upstate New York. Whether those theories are correct or not, I cannot (and will not) say.

    1. Yes. That is a separate discussion. Right now, it is the two-Cumorah theory we need to resolve?

    2. Russ and Jonathan,

      I know that the early brethren firmly believed that North America was where the Nephites/Jaredites lived. I do not believe it came by revelation to them however. There has been quite a bit of work done on this over the years now and if you compare the scriptural record geography to NY area for the BOM lands you will have to reject the idea that Cumorah where the Nephites and Jaredites were destroyed is in North America. Just because several of the early brethren thought that it was there doesn't make it so.

      You seem to be making the starting point what the brethren say about it. Why not make the scriptures your starting point and compare the geography as described in the BOM to existing lands. If you do that you'll have to reject the NA model. Nothing matches the scriptural record. You are correct that it doesn't match MesoAmerica too. But South America matches perfectly when you look at all the evidence.

      South America was mostly submerged before the death of Christ. The 3 hour earthquake raised the continent out of the water. The Amazon Basin was submerged before that time. The Island measured roughly 1,500 miles long North to South along the Andes which were much lower by about 150 to 200 miles east to west. It was an Island then as Jacob described. The narrow neck would have been about 50 to 75 miles wide at that time. After the death of Christ the narrow neck was never mentioned again because it was gone. The
      Andes were thrust up at the time of Christ to great heights and many Nephites and Lamanites were killed.
      That alone disqualifies North America because there isn't any earthquakes on that scale in upper State NY.

      Since this model describes a catastrophe the professors at BYU who are steeped in uniformatarism and old earth will reject the idea. That is why they have settled on MesoAmerica. But that model has many flaws as you've already discovered. Sorenson's book is badly flawed when you compare it to the scriptural record.

      Well, that's my take on things. I enjoy reading the letters and discussion by the early brethren though.


  3. Hi Ira. Thanks for your comments. I agree that starting with the scriptures is a good approach, although I think the pursuit of an abstract model based on the scriptures is pointless, for reasons I've explained elsewhere.

    I'm not sure what New York geography you're referring to. You're correct that there aren't records of massive earthquakes in New York dating to the time of Christ, and that's one of many reasons why I don't accept the theory that the entire Book of Mormon took place in New York.

    However, the 3 Nephi destruction fits perfectly in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys. The North American model (Florida to Tennessee to Illinois and Iowa and east across Ohio to New York) matches up with the text very well. The New York Cumorah is supported not only by Joseph, Oliver, and David Whitmer, but by the text of the Book of Mormon and by geography, archaeology, anthropology, DNA, etc. No matter how you approach the question of Book of Mormon geography--scriptures first, Joseph's statements first, archaeology first, etc.--you'll find the North American setting works very well.

    I'm familiar with the South American model you describe. The problem is, the map is imaginary. It's true that much of the Amazon Basin was submerged at one time, based on salt-water fossils found in that area, but the entire continent has been above sea level since well before 600 B.C., as evidenced by the extensive human (pre-Lehi) population living in those areas.

    I encourage you to take another look at the North American setting.

    1. Jonathan, I'm glad you've at least looked at the South American model. I've looked extensively at the North A and it simply doesn't work.

      One of the problems you are going to have is dating fossils. It is a fact that South America was underwater, but the timing is important of course. I know from being a geologist that you cannot rely on the current dating systems because they believe in an old earth time frame. That is your first problem.

      The next point is a 3 hour earthquake. Where on this continent is there any evidence of that kind of an earthquake. You don't have that in Ohio/New York. You don't have any exceedingly high mountains there. There is no narrow neck as described in the scriptures. Nothing works. You don't even have the ore deposits in abundance that they talk about. The geography simply doesn't work Jonathan. Where did they land and how did they get here? They weren't Harry Potter you know.

      I look at your map of Zarahemla and Cumorah and it's all fiction. Zarahemla (the city) was located by the west sea. Where is your west sea? Where is your sea east? Where did Hagoth sail? He didn't build a ship in Lake Erie and sail North never to be heard from again. It couldn't have happened. If he sail 50 miles in Lake Michigan why was he never heard from again? Why would he need a ship? They would have known these were lake. Nothing makes since.

      When I see members try to defend this model they get into pure fiction to explain it away. The BOM is reality to me and the place where they lived exists somewhere on this planet. The best location is South America. The maps that have been generated by Venice Priddis in particular are very well done. Everything fits very well. Even the wall of Helaman 4 still exists in Peru. It is called the great wall of Peru. Where is your wall in North America? Where are all you cement buildings? They are all over the place in South America.

      The oldest civilization exists in Ecuador. That's a fact. Those were the Jaredites. Nothing like that in North America.

      I've heard this stuff about the DNA in the past and I'm not convinced you have anything there.

      There is another reason that North America doesn't work and that is that it is questionable that they are even Lamanites here. Because they never joined the Church. Most of the Indians are gone now or assimilated. That ought to tell you something that this isn't the place. Later on they all will be gathered but it will be down in South America where the true blood Lamanites live.

      Look at the model again Jonathan because it works very well. I've given you just a snap shot of the problems. There are so many that it's hard to list them all. Meso-America fits much much better than North America. At least there is a kindof narrow neck down there, but it still doesn't work of course.