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."]
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.
[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,
[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.”
[This footnote cites archive.org, 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, 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.
[See comments on this footnote below.]
The letters by Oliver Cowdery. Image via BYU Harold B. Lee Library
Title and Publication Date
“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.”
[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, 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.
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.”
[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.
[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.
[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, but then, Oliver omits any description of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1820.
[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,” 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, but in the year 1823 with the visitation of Moroni. 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, Oliver describes him as praying in his bedroom.
[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.
[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.
[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
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.” 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.
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, [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?
[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), none of Oliver Cowdery's letters from this series, including Letter VII, were ever canonized as binding revelation.
[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.
[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
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, 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.