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.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Classic Post #3 - Letter VII and No-wise #453

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

Today we'll look at my 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.

Just look at the title. They assert the authority to tell us what to think, as if we can't be trusted to read and think for ourselves.

This is the No-wise that tries to persuade Latter-day Saints that it is "more appropriate" to reject the explicit, factual teachings of the Assistant President of the Church (and other prophets/apostles) than to even question the theories of modern scholars. 

In my opinion, this is an example of the worst of LDS apologetics, relying on sophistry, obfuscation, censorship, deceptive rhetoric, and inconsistent, outcome-driven standards of evidentiary burdens of proof.

NOTE: I'm writing this as a helpful believer in the Book of Mormon; i.e., as someone who wants to see Book of Mormon Central (BMC) become legitimate. About 80% of what BMC does is awesome, but the entire organization is tainted by their insistence that M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) is the only acceptable interpretation of the text and of Church history. 

BMC should recognize that there are multiple working hypotheses, all faithful, productive, and supported by evidence, for Latter-day Saints to consider. 

Instead of telling people what to think and trying to enforce M2C with poorly researched and written  "Kno-Why's" such as this one, BMC should help people make informed decisions by presenting all the evidence along with alternative interpretations so people can compare and contrast.

But let's not hold our breath. BMC has raised and spent millions of dollars to promote M2C. Their principals have taught M2C to thousands of students and millions of Latter-day Saints. Their Mayan logo teaches M2C. 
They are too deeply invested in M2C to change now, and this No-wise exemplifies the seriousness of the problem.

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 so they used peer approvals instead--but it's fun to think about what such a peer review would look like.)

BMC's cognitive dissonance is on full display in this No-wise. Faced with specific factual statements by Church leaders that directly contradict M2C, they are forced to openly repudiate the prophets. Then they resort to sophistry, misdirection and censorship to confuse and mislead the Latter-day Saints and other believers in the Book of Mormon.

It's tragic, because BMC has raised a lot of money from Church members who have been persuaded by BMC's claim that BMC follows the Church's policy of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography issues. Instead, as we can all see, BMC adamantly promotes M2C and aggressively repudiates the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. 

Like its corporate owner, BMAC, BMC is little more than an M2C advocacy group that actively teaches people to disbelieve the prophets.

My peer reviews are intended to offer people the alternative faithful interpretations that BMC refuses to offer or even acknowledge. Someday, we hope to dislodge BMC from its Groupthink M2C mentality.

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, but Oliver wrote Letter VII as the Assistant President of the Church; i.e., as President Cowdery.]
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 
[Although they were published as letters, Oliver wrote these essays for the benefit of the public as well as the Latter-day Saints generally. Footnote 2 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
[That quotation comes from Letter II. However, the No-wise fails to quote Oliver's explanation for the essays:   Footnote 3 cites the Messenger and Advocate and gives links to BMC's own database. Unsuspecting readers might conclude these are merely isolated letters published in an early Church newspaper. The letters were far more important than that, as we'll see. You can read the quotation from Letter III in the Joseph Smith Papers, right in Joseph's own history:
Note 3 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 Footnote #4 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 
[The No-wise quotation itself is deceptive because it contradicts the meaning of the cited source. The original sentence should be quoted in full. Look at what the No-wise omitted (in bold): "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. 
Surely the author of this No-wise understands that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Joseph could have assigned Oliver to write the history. But the No-wise implies a lack of authority or credibility if Oliver acted on his own initiative. That's sophistry.
From the beginning, Oliver "was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church," (D&C 20:3), who ordained Joseph Smith and was designated as "the first preacher of this church unto the church, and before the world," (D&C 21:10-11). His stewardship over the printing office "and all things that pertain unto it" was designated by revelation (D&C 104:29). 
Oliver was qualified to write about his own experiences, as he did in these essays. He was the principal scribe, the only one besides Joseph who was authorized to translate, and the only witness besides Joseph Smith to the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods (and the temple blessings restored in 1836).  
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. 
This is another deliberately misleading framing. In his introduction, Oliver explained that "there are many items... that render [Joseph's] labor indispensable." It is only "unclear" about how much information Joseph supplied because Oliver didn't always distinguish between what he knew and what Joseph knew from their respective personal experiences. For example, Oliver pointed out that, regarding Moroni's visit, Joseph couldn't tell him exactly what time it was, but he did relate other details.
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, as he explained in his introduction to the essays:
That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. Smith Jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensible. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.—
To do <​Justice to​> this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts.]


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. See: http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/?target=JSPPJ1_d1e14445#!/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. 
[This is evidence that Joseph accepted them as correct as they were, whether because he helped write them as Oliver explained, 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. Does the No-wise want us to believe 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 personally gave the letters to his brother Don Carlos to publish in the Times and Seasons. Joseph's brother William published them again in 1844 in The Prophet.
The sentence contains two misleading implications. First, it 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 actually said and how Joseph Smith acted when he had the letters republished.
Second, the sentence implies that the essays as published needed improvements or Joseph's supervision, another implication that contradicts the evidence. 
This sentence reveals the wishes of the No-wise that the letters had not been published because they contradict the M2C narrative that BMC has been promoting for years.]
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 setting up a false ideal. It 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. 
The omission of the First Vision is actually consistent with other historical sources, including Lucy Mack Smith's recollections, when she "omitted" the First Vision and described the visit of Moroni in 1823 instead. The 1845 revision of her history simply inserted Joseph's published account instead. 
Joseph explained that he told no one about the First Vision other than the one Methodist minister who treated Joseph's account "with great contempt." (JS-H 1:21)]
None of Joseph's early associates said they remembered him relating the First Vision. His 1832 history, which apparently wasn't published or disseminated, doesn't relate it in any detail. 
On November 14, 1835, (after all of the essays had been published), Erastus Holmes asked Joseph about the history of the Church. Joseph "gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from 6, years old up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14, years old and also the visitations that I received afterward, concerning the book of Mormon." Joseph Smith, Journal, 1835-1836, available online at https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-1835-1836/38
Thus, even after the essays were published, Joseph merely referred to the first vision as involving "Angels" without elaborating. 
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 looks at a history compiled 3 years later by Joseph's scribes to cast doubt on what Oliver explained that Joseph directly told him. Normal historical analysis favors earlier accounts over later ones. Both accounts were published in the Times and Seasons, but only Oliver's was published in multiple Church publications during Joseph's lifetime. This isn't to cast doubt on the 1838 account of the First Vision, but it makes no logical sense to blame Oliver for not relating an account that Joseph himself didn't relate until three years later. Perhaps Joseph had asked Oliver not to publish the First Vision because the time wasn't right. Maybe Joseph waited until he had a second witness of the Savior, which didn't occur until the Kirtland temple experience in 1836. 
The No-wise had just explained that Oliver omitted the First Vision account, so Oliver could not have been writing about Joseph's first prayer in the woods. Oliver's account of the context of Moroni's visit is consistent with Lucy's recollection as well. 
Oliver specifically explains that Joseph related the account of Moroni's visit. 
"In this situation hours passed unnumbered—how many or how few I know not, neither is he able to inform me; but supposes it must have been eleven or twelve, and perhaps later, as the noise and bustle of the family, in retiring, had long since ceased."
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 and the No-wise, 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. It should be deleted, particularly because Oliver explained that Joseph couldn't tell him exactly how many hours passed before Moroni appeared, but supposed it was around 11 or 12 pm.]
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
[The claim that Oliver "fell into apostasy" is unfounded and pejorative. The circumstances of his excommunication are murky, but no one claimed Oliver taught false doctrine or repudiated what he wrote in these essays or any other of his writings.] 
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 the historical evidence because that evidence contradicts 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 accounts that Moroni himself identified the hill as Cumorah during his first visit and that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah before he even got the plates. Oliver was present with Joseph and David Whitmer when the messenger carrying the abridged 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 footnote 23 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.
[Here the No-wise tells us that it is "more appropriate" to reject the explicit, factual teachings of the Assistant President of the Church (and other prophets/apostles) than to question the theories of modern scholars. The No-wise frames Oliver's statements of fact as merely his "views," despite Oliver's explicit distinction throughout these essays between statements of fact and statements of speculation. Although Oliver separately related his accounts of visiting the repository of Nephite records in the hill, this No-wise frames Oliver's statements of fact as mere "popular nineteenth-century Mormon speculation." 
By any standard, this dismissal of President Cowdery's essays is not only not "more appropriate," but it is unconscionable. It's all the worse because the only rationale--literally, the only rationale--for repudiating President Cowdery's statements of fact is that they contradict the M2C theories of modern scholars, including the author of this No-wise. 
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.
The hill was anything but unnamed, as we've seen.
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.
This is classic apologetic dissembling. Note how the No-wise approves of "matters with which Oliver was personally acquainted" but nowhere mentions Oliver's personal experience in the repository in the hill. It also glides right over Oliver's explicit reliance on Joseph Smith for matters not within Oliver's personal experience. Then it reassures faithful LDS readers that he, the author of the No-wise, is carefully affirming faith in Christ and belief in the Book of Mormon. 
It is difficult to imagine a more dishonest, manipulative analysis that we see in this No-wise. 
That's why it's my favorite of all the No-wise.
And, of course, we get a full course of M2C citation cartel publications in the "Further Reading" and Notes. 

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 (BMC) archive. While this might be useful to drive traffic to the archive, a better reference would be the archive.org version of the Messenger and Advocate, https://archive.org/stream/latterdaysaintsm01unse#page/12
    which 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 https://archive.org/details/mormonismunvaile00howe. 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 and VIII (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 could once be read in the BOMC archive here: 
  • https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/letter-vii-0. Later editions of the book provide more detailed analysis and context and should be cited.  Letter VII: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery Explain the Hill Cumorah, Digital Legend, 2018.
  • Note that BOMC removed the book from their archive because they realized too many people were learning about Letter VII.]
  • 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 related that Moroni referred to the hill as Cumorah when he first visited Joseph, and she 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 forgot to explain that Joseph Smith gave Benjamin Winchester express permission to publish the essays in the Gospel Reflector in 1841.  It 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 President 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.
  • [This is the first account that mentions two beings (although it doesn't identify them as the Father and the Son). But it, like the 14 November 1835 discussion with Erastus Holmes discussed above, postdates Oliver's essays. There is no evidence that Joseph related the First Vision prior to this time, to Oliver or anyone else. In the cited article, Nicholson suggests possible reasons why Oliver omitted the First Vision. "One possibility is that Joseph saw where Oliver was going with the first installment of the story and then decided that he was not ready to have Oliver introduce the story of his First Vision publicly.... There is clearly no reason for him to have skipped such an important foundational event in the prophet’s life unless the Prophet requested it of him.... Oliver, it appears, knew more than he was allowed to write about at the time."
  • Yet the No-wise frames this as an error on Oliver's part.
  • 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.
  • [This subjective and gratuitous criticism of President Cowdery's style is irrelevant to the reliability and credibility of the facts President Cowdery related.]
  • 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. 
  • [What President Cowdery declared as facts, the No-wise dismisses as "his views."]
  • 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.
  • [The premise is false because, as we've seen, Oliver related specifics that Joseph told him about Moroni's visit, including Joseph's inability to remember the exact time of Moroni's visit. The language of the December letter indicates that Joseph wrote it before Oliver had published the articles anyway. Note 23 is yet another example of the problem with claiming absence of evidence is evidence of absence. If everything beyond Joseph's youth and upbringing came from Oliver's imagination, speculation, or experience alone, which the No-wise implies would make the essays unreliable, Joseph was complicit in perpetuating these falsehoods by having the letters copied into his own history and by approving and directing their republication in Mormon publications.]
  • 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 history.lds.org.
  • 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: 
  • http://bookofmormoncentralamerica.blogspot.com/2017/10/fairmormons-famous-harold-b-lee.html]
  • 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:

  • http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2017/11/what-is-official-mormon-doctrine.html
  • My series on getting real about Cumorah, starting with my observations about John Clark:
  • http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2018/01/getting-real-about-cumorah-part-1-john.html

  • 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, but he would have had no reason to name the hill when all his contemporaries knew the name already.]
  •  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. Plus, the same Times and Seasons that published Joseph's 6 September 1842 letter had published Letter VII in 1841. Readers already knew the hill in New York was the hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 to which Joseph alluded.]
  • 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 No-wise 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. This repudiation of the teachings of the prophets undermines their reliability and credibility on other topics.]
  •  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 the M2C citation cartel's 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.]

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