Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Understanding Church History by Study and Faith - part 1

In 2017, the Ensign published an article titled "Understanding Church History by Study and Faith" by Keith A. Erekson, Church History Library Director: 

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2017/02/understanding-church-history-by-study-and-faith?lang=eng

Excerpt:

Frequently, so-called problems with the past are actually just bad assumptions made in the present.

A good example of this is the treatment of the New York Cumorah. 

The historical record is clear and unambiguous regarding the New York Cumorah. 

However, the record contradicts the modern assumptions made by our M2C scholars, who insist Cumorah cannot be in New York but must be somewhere in Mesoamerica.

Therefore, these scholars, and the Church historians who accommodate the M2C theory, cast doubt on the historical sources. 

Worse, they censor them, as we've seen in the Saints books and the editorial content of the Joseph Smith Papers. 

_____

More tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Neurophysiology and M2C

Many readers of this blog have noticed that whenever the topics of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) or the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) arise in a conversation, the M2C/SITH-sayers resort to rote statements such as "the Book of Mormon doesn't mention snow" or "Emma said Joseph used SITH." 

These are programmed responses, the type of thing an NPC (non-player character) would say. We don't blame or criticize NPCs; they are unable to think for themselves, by definition.

But it's not merely M2C NPCs who speak this way.

Readers here are also puzzled at the way the M2C scholars and their followers deal with Cumorah. We would think they would welcome all faithful interpretations of the Book of Mormon and Church history.

And they would, if they were legitimate scholars. Legitimate scholars are eager to consider multiple working hypotheses based on known, relevant facts. They engage in respectful conversations and dialog. They invite various points of view to participate in their journals and conferences.

But that's not the case with the M2C/SITH citation cartels. 

Book of Mormon Central, FAIRLDS, the Interpreter, and the rest of the M2C citation cartel continue to insist that M2C is the only viable theory. Lately they've also adopted SITH.

These scholars continue to misrepresent the issues involving Cumorah, they castigate "Heartlanders" with straw man arguments, and they manipulate the historical record to accommodate M2C. As we've seen, even the Joseph Smith Papers manipulates Church history to accommodate this theory of Book of Mormon geography.

Why?

Why would well-educated, experienced scholars cling to M2C and SITH, knowing that these theories repudiate the teachings of the prophets they claim to honor, respect and follow?

Maybe it's simple Groupthink; they're in a bubble because they've been trained/educated by M2C/SITH sayers, and everyone they work with thinks alike.

Maybe it's traditional, ordinary academic arrogance, the not-invented-here syndrome. 

And maybe it is a result of neurophysiology. 

_____

For M2C/SITH-sayers, the idea that Cumorah really is in New York is unfamiliar and even threatening. The implications: a New York Cumorah means that these faithful LDS teachers have been misleading generations of Latter-day Saint students. 

The idea that Joseph Smith actually translated the plates is also unfamiliar and threatening for the same reasons. 

An excerpt from Whole Brain Living explains how people who are threatened cannot access their rational thinking brains. 

When something does not feel familiar, however, our amygdalae tend to label that unfamiliar thing as dangerous, and they respond by triggering our fight-flight-or-play-dead fear response. If it has been your natural tendency to fight, you probably rage, get big and loud, go on the attack or try to shoo the thing away. If it is your style to run like the wind or play dead, then that response may be your best choice.

When our amygdalae are triggered and we feel fear, we are not able to run the learning and memory circuitry of our hippocampi. Until we push the pause button and take a moment to calm down and feel safe again, we will not be able to think clearly. This is why anyone who is freaking out with test anxiety tends to perform poorly, regardless of how well prepared they are. When our limbic anxiety circuit is triggered, we are neuroanatomically cut off from accessing our higher cortical thinking centers, which is where our learned knowledge is stored.

When we understand the physiological connection between these parts of the brain, we can re-assess the work of the M2C/SITH-sayers with greater understanding and empathy.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Free energy and multiple working hypotheses

Two miles north of my house here in Oregon, a research project is underway that holds the potential for producing constant, carbon-free, and inexpensive energy. 

It relies on the principle of multiple working hypotheses. Several methodologies are being tested.


https://pacwaveenergy.org/south-test-site/

This is a good metaphor for understanding Church history and Book of Mormon historicity/geography. 

When we're open to new ideas, we discover that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were right all along. 

There is one Cumorah and it's in New York. Joseph Smith actually translated the engravings on the plates.

It's simple, clear, direct. Just like the message of the Restoration.

We have new, clean energy that solves old problems.

The future is bright and exciting. 

_____

On the other hand, the M2C/SITH* citation cartel is stuck with old "technology" because they are so deeply invested in M2C and SITH they cannot even imagine a scenario in which Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery told the truth.

M2C and SITH are the dirty coal of the Restoration.

It's time to move on from M2C and SITH.

*M2C is the Mesoamerican/Two Cumorahs theory promoted by Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, FAIRLDS, and the rest of the citation cartel.
SITH is the "stone-in-the-hat" theory promoted by the same cartel, which claims that Joseph Smith not only didn't translate anything, but he didn't even use the plates.




Monday, January 10, 2022

Original Manuscript: Vol 5 of JSP, but full of agenda-driven content

The long-anticipated volume of the Joseph Smith Papers containing the Original Manuscript was released in December 2021. It's available at Deseret Book here.

The description: 

Volume 5 of the Revelations and Translations series presents all extant fragments of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon. For the first time ever, researchers will have access to a photograph and color-coded transcripts of each fragment of the manuscript, showing every change made and which scribe make it.

I bought one of the first copies when I was in Salt Lake in December. With high-resolution images and an excellent transcript, this is a spectacular volume, even better than I hoped for.

Except for the commentary.

IMO, the Introduction manipulates the historical sources to promote the editors' theories about Book of Mormon geography (M2C) and the translation (SITH). It's inexcusable for such a professional, beautiful book to be tainted by this type of editorial interference.

I faced a choice. Should I say nothing and watch as these editorial decisions continue to obfuscate the historical sources in favor of modern theories, or should I comment about my observations in the hope that our scholars will adopt a more serious academic approach? I chose the latter, and I posted a detailed analysis here: https://www.academia.edu/s/5728ebc3d7?source=link. The Abstract is at the end of this post.

I hope the scholars at the Joseph Smith Papers will take my observations as I intend them; i.e., I want the Joseph Smith Papers to present accurate history from the perspective of the people who lived that history. Readers should be able to trust the editors to provide useful insights and background that illuminate, but do not taint, the historical documents. Context is obviously important and welcome, but not when it is manipulated to accommodate modern theories, particularly about Book of Mormon geography and the manner of translation. 

Or, if they insist on accommodating modern theories, they should at least acknowledge multiple working hypotheses, including the possibility that Joseph, Oliver and their contemporaries told the truth.

_____

Readers often contact me to ask why the dominant LDS scholars continue to promote M2C and SITH. I've discussed the intellectual genealogy of those theories, but the origins of M2C and SITH are well know. Their persistence is more inexplicable.

From all my discussions and reading, the best explanation I can come up with is academic inertia.

Groupthink among scholars is a perennial problem. Scholars typically seek to make a name for themselves by finding a new historical source or proposing a new theory. That's how we ended up with the "New Mormon History." But once accepted, theories such as M2C and SITH become entrenched. Scholars devote their time and energy defending and upholding their theories, particularly when they've taught them for decades. 

Their admiring students naturally incorporate their mentors' theories as mental filters through which they see the world.


I've referred to this as the academic cycle.

This problem seems to be exacerbated in the LDS community, partly because students are primed to believe their LDS teachers at BYU and CES, and partly because some LDS scholars claim they've been hired by the prophets to guide Church members in these areas. 

Thus, we have a journal titled The Interpreter, as if "the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20), along with other members of the M2C citation cartel that tell us such things as how the teachings of the prophets "are to be understood and used."

We have the Saints books that change Church history to accommodate M2C and SITH. We have notes in the Joseph Smith Papers that promote M2C and SITH. I've blogged about this problem since 2018, and the problem is getting worse.

IMO, the worst demonstration of this editorial agenda is in the notes and commentary in volume 5 of Revelations and Translations: The Original Manuscript. 

A far healthier academic approach would be to acknowledge multiple working hypotheses, always subject to revision and improvement as new information comes forward. 

_____

Abstract of paper:

Abstract: This volume is a monumental achievement. The eagerly awaited publication of high-resolution images of the extant pages of the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, with detailed transcripts, enables students of the Book of Mormon to explore the earliest text for themselves. The volume editors, Royal Skousen and Robin Scott Jensen, also edited the equally impressive Volume 3, parts 1 and 2, which contained the Printer’s Manuscript. The bulk of Volume 5 consists of the documents and transcripts, which speak for themselves. Appendixes (226 pages) provide additional images and information. All of this is excellent. The 16-page Volume 5 Introduction provides historical context about the discovery, translation, and usage of the material. However, the editorial content in several instances impedes an objective analysis because the editors have manipulated the historical record to reflect their own editorial positions on controversial topics, specifically the manner of translation and the historicity of the narrative of the Book of Mormon. This paper points out numerous specific examples. Like other volumes in the Joseph Smith Papers, the editors here have gone to extraordinary measures to avoid mentioning the hill Cumorah, consistent with the editorial effort throughout the Joseph Smith Papers to accommodate the prevailing academic theory that the events of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, aka M2C). The editors also skew their quotations and citations toward the academic theory that Joseph Smith didn’t really translate the plates but instead merely read words off the stone in the hat (the SITH theory). Because the Joseph Smith Papers are published by the Church Historian’s Press and should be held to a high standard of scholarship and objectivity, agenda-driven editorial manipulation of historical sources is inappropriate. A future addendum, or perhaps revisions in the digital version of this volume, could alleviate these problems by providing a more comprehensive and accurate historical context for understanding the Original Manuscript.  



Classic Post #4 - Why does Cumorah matter?

Why does Cumorah matter?

Some people new to this blog ask why I focus on the New York Cumorah. It's a good question, and recent events have prompted a clearer explanation. 

The simple answer: 

The New York Cumorah is the only known touchstone between the real world and Lehi's promised land. 

By repudiating the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, M2C scholars have 

(i) distorted the text of the Book of Mormon, 

(ii) cast doubt on the credibility and reliability of the prophets, and 

(iii) misdirected the pursuit of evidence to support the claims of the Book of Mormon.

_____

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said Cumorah was in western New York because (i) they learned it from their personal experience visiting the repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) and (ii) they knew Cumorah's location was an essential fact to refute the claim that the Book of Mormon was fiction. 

Understanding these key points, Joseph's contemporaries and successors as Church leaders frequently reiterated the New York location of Cumorah.  

But--and this is a key point--we don't even have to take their word for it. The New York Cumorah is consistent with the text itself and with extrinsic evidence including archaeology, anthropology, geography and geology. 

Nevertheless, a handful of LDS scholars decided the prophets were wrong. These scholars adopted the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) that had been developed by RLDS scholars in the early 1900s. Because of their privileged academic status at BYU and CES, these scholars have managed to impose their theories on Latter-day Saints throughout the world.

I think all of these scholars are honorable, fine people with good intentions. They make important and useful contributions to our knowledge base. I like them all personally, but that has nothing to do with the problem of scholars vs. prophets. We can trust, more or less, but we should also verify by making our own informed decisions.

_____

Some time ago on MormonStories.org, Jim Bennett discussed the "Heartlander thing." (If you don't know Brother Bennett, he is known for a lengthy response to the CES Letter, which we'll discuss below). Judging by Brother Bennett's comments, our LDS credentialed class continue to miss the point. 

Jim Bennett on MormonStories

During the interview, he said, "This is a huge controversy now. I don't know if you follow the whole "Heartlander thing." I think it's fascinating because you've got these guys that, the most important principle of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the location of the Hill Cumorah. To me I think, what the heck is your problem? Who cares? It doesn't matter to me at all. That has nothing to do with anything." (see reference below)

Saying it doesn't matter is a natural response for someone experiencing cognitive dissonance. 

Despite Brother Bennett's pejorative characterization, those of us labeled by these scholars as "Heartlanders" spend most of our time serving in the Church, doing missionary and temple work, and testifying of Christ. We think the Book of Mormon is an authentic history, supported by strong evidence in addition to the teachings of the prophets, but we don't accept the speculations of scholars who repudiate those teachings. Naturally, the scholars are upset.

Those who follow this blog know how sensitive the M2C scholars are about the question of Cumorah. Their cognitive dissonance can't reconcile the inherent contradiction between claiming to believe and follow the prophets, but also repudiating what the prophets have taught about Cumorah (such as in Letter VII).

(click to enlarge)

On one hand, they openly say the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah, that they were speculating, expressing their own incorrect opinions as men, etc. Realize, they are talking not only about Joseph and Oliver, but members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference. 

On the other hand, these same scholars get upset when people point out they are repudiating the prophets. They get defensive. Some get aggressive. (Oddly, some of my critics try to debate these issues, as if I couldn't make their arguments as well as they do. My time is better spent seeking ways to support and corroborate the teachings of the prophets instead of seeking ways to undermine and disavow--repudiate--those teachings.) 

Cognitive dissonance is unpleasant. Usually people deal with it by telling themselves the issue, whatever it is, "doesn't matter," the way Brother Bennett did. In the LDS context, this is called "putting it on the shelf," meaning they'll set it aside and try not to think about it, hoping for a future resolution.

But the issue is not going away.

_____

The question of Cumorah is not a harmless bit of academic speculation. 

Many faithful Latter-day Saints can't understand why LDS scholars would speculate about Cumorah when we have the unambiguous teachings of the prophets on this topic. We can't read the minds of the M2C intellectuals, but we can read their publications. 

We can see that Book of Mormon Central is spending millions of dollars annually to persuade people that the prophets were wrong and the scholars are correct. There is nothing so predictable as scholars insisting their theories are correct because of their superior credentials. The credentialed class need people to be dependent on them to justify their employment (and fundraising). The handful of LDS scholars who promote M2C have created a facade of like-minded publications and organizations that publish and cite one another's work, which I call the M2C citation cartel. 

Their logo is a repudiation of the New York Cumorah; the Mayan glyph represents their insistence that the Book of Mormon is actually a  Mayan codex that Joseph (or whoever put the words on the stone in the hat) mistranslated because he didn't understand Mayan culture.

Their cognitive dissonance is evident in their disparate treatment of Oliver Cowdery. When discussing Oliver's teachings about the angel showing him and David Whitmer the plates, they scour every possible source. They examine every letter, newspaper article, or mention in third-party accounts. 

See https://evidencecentral.org/evidence/oliver-cowdery.

But when it comes to Cumorah, they ignore (or worse, reject as ignorant speculation) what Oliver explicitly wrote in his essays about Church history, particularly Letter VII. These essays were written with the assistance of Joseph Smith, copied into Joseph's personal history, and republished at Joseph's direction multiple times (Times and Seasons, Gospel Reflector, Millennial Star, the Prophet), but Book of Mormon Central claims Oliver's formal, explicit, and official teaching was wrong--solely because their academic theories contradict what Oliver taught.

_____

We've reached the point where BYU professors use the BYU fantasy map to teach students about the Book of Mormon, portraying the Book of Mormon as taking place in a fictional setting. Surveys show that more and more active Latter-day Saints think the Book of Mormon is not an actual history. That trend can only accelerate as the BYU fantasy map becomes de facto doctrine in the minds of BYU and CES students.

Modern LDS scholars claim Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah. They say Joseph "didn't know much about the Book of Mormon," and whatever he thought at first, by 1842 he changed his mind because of a popular travel book and came to depend on scholarship instead of what he learned directly from Moroni and his personal experiences.

Leveraging their positions of trust as teachers at BYU and CES, they have used the academic cycle to persuade several generations of LDS students to prefer their M2C theories over the teachings of the prophets--mostly by censoring Cumorah.

Influential scholars have sought to eliminate cognitive dissonance among Church members by censoring the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. They have managed to "disappear" references to Cumorah from curriculum, media, visitors centers, and even Church history, as we see in the Saints book. The current version of the Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon geography doesn't mention Cumorah; instead, it frames Joseph Smith as equivocal and uncertain, exactly how our M2C citation cartel wants him to appear. (That entry was revised after I pointed out obvious errors, and it could and should be revised again to address Cumorah.)

We even have the Interpreter Foundation, which completely rejects Oliver's teaching about Cumorah, creating a movie about the Three Witnesses--as if people won't see the absurdity of claiming Oliver was only correct when he agreed with what modern scholars believe. Actually, all three of the witnesses referred to the "hill in New York" as the ancient Cumorah, but you won't see that in their movie.

The problem is, the teachings of the prophets are available for everyone to see. People can read Letter VII right in Joseph's own history, right in the Joseph Smith Papers. 

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/90

Fortunately, there are faithful Latter-day Saints who still accept the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah and can help others understand them. (Not just me, but many others.)

Unfortunately, there are many critics and nonbelievers who use the futile censorship efforts of the M2C citation cartel to sow confusion among new and young Latter-day Saints who have been taught M2C exclusively and have never heard the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

Which brings us to the CES Letter. 

_____

Some time ago, Brother Bennett wrote a response to the CES Letter that (according to Bennett) Book of Mormon Central spent a lot of money promoting. That's not surprising because in his response, Brother Bennett promoted both M2C and SITH. He claimed M2C started with the anonymous 1842 editorials in the Times and Seasons. 

Outside of the M2C bubble, informed Latter-day Saints know that the 1842 editorials said nothing about Cumorah. They know that in 1841, the Times and Seasons published the essays about Cumorah that unambiguously placed the site in western New York. They know that in 1842, in two signed letters published in the Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith refuted Orson Pratt's theory about Central America and referred to Cumorah in New York.

Those living inside the M2C bubble, however, either don't know these details of Church history or have rationalized them away. 

_____

Let's look at how Brother Bennett dealt with the Cumorah question in his response to the CES Letter. Here (in green) are the passages from the CES Letter. Brother Bennett's responses are in blue. My comments in red. (To see this in the original, go to https://canonizer.com/files/reply.pdf and search for "Cumorah.")

6. Archaeology: There is absolutely no archaeological evidence to directly support the Book of Mormon or the Nephites and Lamanites, who were supposed to have numbered in the millions.

Short Answer: Nonsense. There is a great deal of direct Old World archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, as well as a growing body of archaeological evidence in the New World, too. 

[Brother Bennett discusses the Old World evidence, then says] I’ll get to the New World evidence as I address the rest of your question. 

This is one of the reasons why unofficial apologists have developed the Limited Geography Model (it happened in Central or South America)… 

No. The theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Central or South America can be documented to have been around since at least 1842, when the Times and Seasons, the Church paper edited by Joseph Smith at the time, published three unsigned editorials detailing Mesoamerican Book of Mormon theories. 

[These are the anonymous articles that say nothing about Cumorah and, contrary to Brother Bennett's representation here, reflected the hemispheric model. IOW, CES Letter was correct, and Bennett was wrong. 

Ironically, just a few months earlier, the Times and Seasons published Joseph Smith's signed Wentworth letter, in which Joseph rejected Orson Pratt's hemispheric model (including Central America) by emphasizing that the remnant of Lehi's posterity are "the Indians that live in this country." 

Bennett also cited the equivocal Bernhisel letter that was obviously drafted by Wilford Woodruff and not even signed by Joseph Smith. Nevertheless, he writes...] 

To say that the idea of the Book of Mormon in a Central American setting is a late product of “unofficial apologists” is to ignore the words of the prophet himself.

… and claim that the Hill Cumorah mentioned as the final battle of the Nephites is not in Palmyra, New York but is elsewhere. This is in direct contradiction to what Joseph Smith and other prophets have taught.

It is not, in fact, in direct contradiction to anything Joseph Smith taught. Joseph never made reference to the hill in New York as Cumorah. 

[The M2C citation cartel simply censors historical evidence that contradicts their theories. Again, CES Letter is correct and Bennett is wrong. Joseph's mother quoted Joseph referring to the Hill Cumorah in 1827, before he even got the plates. He could only have learned that from Moroni. In 1831, Parley P. Pratt explained that Moroni called the hill Cumorah anciently. And, of course, Joseph helped write Letter VII, had it copied into his history as part of his life story, etc.]  

No identification of the drumlin in New York as Cumorah can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants or any canonized revelation.

[D&C 128:20 was published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons as a letter from Joseph Smith to the Church. "And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed." 

A year earlier, the Times and Seasons had published Letter VII, declaring it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the valley west of the "drumlin in New York" named Cumorah. Joseph's contemporaries who read the Times and Seasons knew what the term "Cumorah" referred to. It was common knowledge. And if the "glad tidings" did not refer to the Book of Mormon that came from the "drumlin in New York," to what was Joseph referring by the phrase "the book to be revealed" in this verse? Why would Joseph refer to "glad tidings from Cumorah" if Cumorah was a hill in southern Mexico that contained the repository of Nephite records but not the abridged plates?]

Even a cursory reading of the Book of Mormon makes it clear that the Hill Cumorah isn’t the hill in upstate New York where Joseph got the plates. 

[Notice, instead of a reading here, cursory or intense, Brother Bennett gives us his own M2C speculation, about what Moroni "presumably" did.]

In Mormon 6:6, Mormon states that he “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 which I gave unto my son Moroni.” [Emphasis added.] So the plates Moroni had after the massive bloody battle at Cumorah were specifically not plates that had been buried there. Moroni then spends decades wandering with these plates, presumably getting as far away from Cumorah as possible, and then buries them up for Joseph to find in an area far removed the Cumorah carnage.

[Orson Pratt explained that the repository was in a separate department of the hill from where Moroni constructed his stone box. This is consistent with what David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery said. But our M2C citation cartel has to persuade us that two of the three witnesses misled the Church about Cumorah. Actually, Martin Harris also referred to the hill as Cumorah in 1830 as well.]

It is correct to say that many Church leaders have equated the New York Hill with Cumorah, but the Church’s official position on Book of Mormon geography has always been one of neutrality, and they have scrupulously avoided officially jumping in to the long-running debate over where the Book of Mormon took place. 

[This is revisionist history and rhetorical commingling. Church leaders have always taught that Cumorah is the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates--no prophet or apostle has ever questioned that teaching. That's separate from the question of where other events took place, a topic about which Church leaders have not taken a position. The Gospel Topics entry on this conflates the two issues by omitting any reference to Cumorah, but that does not negate the clear historical record.]

Now is it true that many – but not all – prophets, apostles, and members have long believed, and many still believe, that the New York his [sic] is the BoM Cumorah. We keep coming back to infallibility and the lack thereof, and so many of your objections are rooted in the idea that if even apostles make mistakes like this, the Church can’t be true. 

[This isn't a question of "making mistakes." We have specific declarations that the New York Cumorah is a fact, repeated by many Church leaders for over 150 years. The M2C citation cartel asserts these are mistakes solely because they disagree with the Church leaders and disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver said, based on their personal experience. People can believe and disbelieve whatever they want, but everyone should make informed decisions, not just rely on the obfuscation of the M2C citation cartel.] 

That’s not just wrong; it’s bad doctrine. 

Mormons ought to realize that agency trumps infallibility every single time. In the absence of direct revelation, speculation fills the gaps. There is no direct revelation about the specific whereabouts of any Book of Mormon location, so prophets and anyone else are perfectly capable of acting in good faith and still reaching incorrect conclusions, which seems to be precisely what they did in this instance. Like it or not, that’s how agency works. That’s mortality. That’s life, in and out of the Church.

[This is clever rhetoric, but it's a straw man. No one is claiming that Joseph and Oliver taught the New York Cumorah based on revelation (although the absence of a written revelation does not mean they did not receive revelation on the topic). Instead, Joseph said he learned the name even before he translated the plates. Oliver said he and Joseph visited Mormon's repository of records in the "drumlin in New York" multiple times. David Whitmer said the messenger (one of the 3 Nephites) took the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah.]

It also makes little sense in light of the Church’s visitor’s center near the Hill Cumorah in New York and the annual Church-sponsored Hill Cumorah pageants.

It makes a great deal of sense. It’s still the hill where Joseph got the plates, so it’s quite significant to Book of Mormon history.

CES letter makes more sense here. Why refer to the hill as Cumorah if it was just a drumlin in New York thousands of miles away from the "real Cumorah" in southern Mexico? The answer is, because the prophets declared this was the actual hill Cumorah. 

Thanks to the efforts of the M2C citation cartel, visitors to the Hill Cumorah today never learn why the hill is named Cumorah! There is no exhibit of the teachings of the prophets. Site missionaries are not allowed to even read Mormon 6:6 with visitors.  

We read about two major war battles that took place at the Hill Cumorah (Ramah to the Jaredites) with deaths numbering in the tens of thousands – the last battle between Lamanites and Nephites around 400 AD claimed at least 230,000 deaths on the Nephite side alone. No bones, hair, chariots, swords, armor, or any other evidence of a battle whatsoever has been found at this site.

None in upstate New York, no, which is not at all surprising, as the Book of Mormon itself makes it crystal clear that that’s not where either Cumorah or Ramah actually was

[Now we see the serious problem our M2C scholars have created. CES Letter is merely repeating the expectations raised by the scholars, who have to inflate Book of Mormon populations to be consistent with their Mesoamerican setting. They continually reinterpret the text to fit whatever new discoveries are made in Mesoamerica.

The other approach is to look at the text to inform our expectations. 

The text points out that the bodies were not buried. Unburied bodies (including bones and hair) disintegrate rapidly; otherwise, our forests and fields would be full of carcasses of deer, elk, buffalo, etc.  

CES Letter exaggerates by mentioning chariots and armor. Mormon 6:9 explains that they had the sword, the bow, the arrow, the ax, and "all manner of weapons of war." Upstate New York has had abundant evidence of such weapons, dating to Book of Mormon time frames, which are found in museum and collections throughout the area. In the Cumorah area, farmers used to give them to tourists. The Bean children used arrowheads as skipping stones because they were so abundant. The exception, arguably, is "swords," but even there, the text describes swords "cankered with rust" which means iron, which means we wouldn't find them after a few years or decades.

In Letter VII, Oliver explained there were fewer than 10,000 Jaredites in their final battles and the numbers of Nephites and Lamanites were in the tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands. A careful reading of the text shows there were at most 20,000 Nephites killed there, and that's assuming the phrase "ten thousand" is a literal count and not a translation of a term such as "unit" or "patrols" like in the Old Testament. I compare this to the Battle of Hastings, where 10,000 men were killed without a trace.] 

The rest of this section continues with CES Letter repeating the expectations raised by the M2C scholars, with Brother Bennett pointing toward Mesoamerica as the answer. 

Instead, informed Latter-day Saints can point to museums and private collections throughout the midwestern and northeastern U.S. to show evidence of exactly the descriptions contained in the Book of Mormon. 

By repudiating the teachings of the prophets and refocusing our attention on Mesoamerica, our M2C scholars have created unnecessary problems. The have adopted their own interpretations of the Book of Mormon to fit Mesoamerica. They say Joseph (or whoever put the words on the stone in the hat) mistranslated the text by failing to describe pyramids, Mayans, tapirs, jaguars, jade, and jungles, so they "find" these elements of Mesoamerica themselves. They regularly contort the text to align with the latest archaeological discoveries in Mesoamerica.  

___________

To review:

The New York Cumorah was a specific, evidence-based rebuttal to the claim of critics that the Book of Mormon was fiction, composed by Joseph Smith and/or Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Solomon Spalding, etc. Joseph and Oliver never claimed a revelation about Cumorah; instead, they claimed personal experience. Joseph learned the name from Moroni even before he translated the plates. Oliver explained that he and Joseph had visited the repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) inside the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates in Moroni's stone box--a separate department of the hill (as Orson Pratt explained). 

But a handful of LDS intellectuals disagreed. They rejected what the prophets taught and instead sided with a couple of RLDS scholars who, in the early 1900s, had concluded that Cumorah was actually somewhere in southern Mexico. (This is M2C, or the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory).

Through the academic cycle (because they were teaching at BYU) and over a couple of decades they've managed to persuade most of their students to repudiate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. Now, the New York Cumorah is being systematically disappeared (I call it de-correlated), to the point where even the Saints book revised Church history to eliminate Cumorah from the historical record.  

Consequently, it is critics such as the CES Letter who are educating Latter-day Saints about what the prophets actually taught.

Hopefully, future Latter-day Saints will learn what the prophets have taught about Cumorah within a framework that supports and corroborates these teachings, instead of learning from our M2C scholars that the prophets were wrong.

_____

Transcript of Brother Bennett's interview on MormonStories.org.


1:53:50

JB: This is a huge controversy now. I don't know if you follow the whole "Heartlander thing." I think it's fascinating because you've got these guys that, the most important principle of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the location of the Hill Cumorah. To me I think, what the heck is your problem? Who cares? It doesn't matter to me at all. That has nothing to do with anything. The point is, they point to all of these statements that were made by all of these prophets, seers and revelators and insist that the Book of Mormon has a hemispheric geography, that Cumorah was in fact the drumlin in New York where Joseph Smith got the plates, and that Joseph claimed that. But Joseph never did. 

JD: He called it the Hill Cumorah.

JB: No, he never did. Oliver did. There was a letter from Oliver where he defines that. Joseph, the only time we have Joseph referring to Cumorah is in the 128th section of the Doctrine and Covenants where it talks about "glad tidings from Cumorah." But when he recounts his history he does not refer to the hill where he got the plates as Cumorah. I think he probably believed it was. But there was no statement by any prophet, seer or revelator that claims a revelation that delineates where Cumorah is or delineates a hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon. 

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.]

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/48 

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.]