Saturday, May 14, 2016

What is Opinion and What is Not? – Part I

There is so much information being bandied around about the Book of Mormon and who has said what and whether or not we should accept without question what this person or that person has said, or is claimed to have said, that one can only wonder where to find the truth.
As an example, those of the Great Lakes or western New York theory that claim the scriptural record Nephite Hill Cumorah in that area is the one discussed in the Book of Mormon, also love to quote the source of Letter VII written by Oliver Cowdery and claimed to have been supported by Joseph Smith. They also love to quote Joseph Fielding Smith who wrote “It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located [in New York] as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."
    Or write that “During Joseph's lifetime, it was universally accepted, as a fact, that the Hill Cumorah—both Mormon's and Moroni's—was in New York.” It was in this context, according to Jonathan Neville, who writes that Joseph wrote D&C 128: "Glad tidings from Cumorah!"
(Funny, I always thought a revelation came from God and was not a writing engineered or initiated by Joseph Smith)
    A student named John Fugal’s comment regarding a class he attended at BYU in which Sidney B. "Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told Elder Smith that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, “Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it.”
    The point is, an opinion is an opinion. Joseph Fielding Smith recognized that he had given his opinion earlier, and that Sidney B. Sperry was giving his opinion now. Neither were doctrines of the Church, nor dealt with official standings of the Church—both were merely what they stated, their opinions.
LtoR: Oliver Cowdery, William Wines Phelps; Jonathan Neville
    The same can be said about Letter VII written by Oliver Cowdery, whose letter is published by Jonathan Neville with the foregoing statement: “This is a work of nonfiction. The author has made every effort to be accurate and complete and welcomes comments, suggestions, and corrections, which can be emailed to All opinions expressed in this work are those of the author alone.” 
    In Chapter 11, Letter VII appears, under this heading: “Letter VII contains the important Cumorah material. Oliver introduces that section with a discussion of Joseph’s deliberations as he experienced the temptation of getting the plates for their monetary value. This is an aspect Joseph never dwelt on in writing, but Oliver could only have learned it from him.”
    While it is possible that Oliver learned this from Joseph Smith, it is just as likely Oliver arrived at this under his own opinion, study and belief. It is equally important to keep in mind that while this Letter VII is promoted today as Oliver Cowdery’s Message on Cumorah to the World, it originally occurred as a letter, one of eight written to W. W. Phelps “on the rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1835 and published in Liverpool, 1844. In these letters, Cowdery conveys the experiences of Joseph Smith receiving the visitations of the Angel Moroni in which he writes: “He could not have been deceived in the fact that a being of some kind appeared to him: and that it was an heavenly one” and “He also saw him depart the light and glory withdraw, leaving a calmness and peace of soul past the language of man to paint. Was he deceived? Far from this; for the vision was renewed twice before morning.”
    In other words, Letter VII has to do with Oliver Cowdery writing to W. W. Phelps to recount Joseph Smith’s experience, from Moroni’s first visit to his obtaining the plates from the local hill later to be called Cumorah by many members of the Church—though never by Joseph Smith himself. About the hill itself, Oliver writes: 
This is the hill Cumorah around the time of Oliver Cowdery. Note it has been stripped of all the trees by local farmers and it can be seen how inconsequential it appears
    I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveler as he passes by.” He also states that “At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former leaving a beautiful vale between.”
    At this point, Oliver breaks from fact, to state his opinion, when he recounts what he believes took place in this vale: “At once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.” He then refers to pages 529 and 530 in the Book of Mormon to tell Phelps of “Mormon’s account of the last great struggle of his people as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah.” At this point, Oliver waxes rather poetic when he inserts his own words to describe a brief statement by Mormon: “In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt.”
    It should be noted that while the overall gist of the information is more or less what took place, the actual wordage is simple and completely Oliver Cowdery’s words, for Mormon did not write it that way at all.
    Oliver then adds, again using his own wordage to add what is not written in the scriptural record in any way: “And having no records, only preserving their history by tradition from father to son lost the account of their true origin, and wandered from river to river from hill to hill, form mountain to mountain, and from sea to sea.” What is written is Moroni stating that “And behold also, the Lamanites are at war one with another; and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war” (Mormon 8:8).
    Oliver then goes on to tie together the name of the Jaredite hill Ramah with that of Cumorah, when he writes: “This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah; by it, or around it, pithced the famous army of Coriantumr their tent. The opposing army was to the west, and in this same valley, and near by.”
However, Moroni does not describe this in those words, showing Oliver’s predisposition to think of the final battles taking place in New York by talking about the vale or valley to the west of the New York hill Cumorah. Moroni states: “and they did flee southward, and did pitch their tents in a place which was called Ogath. And it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred” (Ether 15:10-11).
Note that Moroni does not mention any valley to the west or gives any direction at all. This is the point with Oliver’s descriptions and writing—he is convinced that this Jaredite battle and later Nephite/Lamanite battle took place in New York, that he describes the New York topography as though it was written that way in the scriptural record, which it is not.
    Again, we are dealing with Oliver’s opinion, not facts!
(See the next post, “What is Opinion and What is Not? – Part II,” for more regarding what is fact and what is opinion about the Land of Promise and the scriptural record)


  1. Not sure if you've ever discussed this or not. After the flood of Noah the earth was plunged into an ice age that lasted about a thousand years. The Jaredites were led to South America which happened to be very near the equator. Much of North America was covered with a continental sheet of glacial ice. Nothing is mentioned in the BOM about the terrific cold nor ice if the Jaredites had come to North America. In fact, I believe it would have been impossible for the Jaredites to come here during the ice age. Just one more evidence that the North American model for the BOM is impossible. Ira

  2. An interesting point. Thank you for your comment.


  4. This other blogger (book of Mormon wars) posts a lot of the Great Lakes / North America / heartland model stuff I've sent some to Del but I think the 3 major positions need to just hash it out as the Peruvian model is the least well known of the 3 Adam

  5. I prefer to follow the scriptures and they do not lead to the Great Lakes. Too many things are missing, i.e., western landing site, no island, not in the midst of the ocean, no way to get from ocean to Great Lakes, no mountains of any kind, etc. All they have is some opinions and anyone can have an opinion--I prefer opinions based on the scriptural record. And you are right, Adam, South America is the only one that matches the scriptural record on nearly every point.

  6. At this point, Oliver breaks from fact, to state his opinion, when he recounts what he believes took place in this vale: “At once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.”
    So... when Oliver Cowdery writes the word "fact" you believe he means "opinion". You are here declaring Oliver to be a liar. What other "facts" has Oliver lied about (in your opinion)?

    1. DeVon, I don't believe Oliver was a liar. I'm sure he believed at the time that the events happened in New York. The restoration was a growing process and not everything was revealed all at once. We now know that the Nephites and Jaradites could not have lived in NY. It was revealed later that Lehi landed in Chile - why is that ignored? The Jaredites would have come during the ice age which would have been impossible. And the BOM says nothing about
      extreme cold, ice and snow.

      North American model simply doesn't work. Del has done an exceptional job to prove conclusively that the Nephites and Jaredites lived in South America. I hope that the members would check into South America because everything lines up perfectly. Ira

    2. For some reason, Del forgot to mention that Joseph Smith helped Oliver write these letters, including Letter VII, and that Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his own journal as part of his history. He also had it republished in the Gospel Reflector and the Times and Seasons, both in 1841. In an article that will be out soon, I show that the official history in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History, was based on the letters Oliver wrote.

      As they did when Joseph was alive, every member of the Church today should read Letter VII. You can read it right out of Joseph Smith's journal from the Joseph Smith Papers. Then make up your own mind, in light of all the facts.

    3. Jonathan, I'm quite sure that Joseph Smith thought that the Nephites lived here in North America at the time of the restoration because it wasn't revealed to him. Joseph did not need to know where they actually lived. We now know where they lived down in South America that is where the gathering of the Lamanites will take place. Not in North America as many uninformed members believe.

      The American Indians have almost completely disappeared through assimilation and simply dying out here in North America. That isn't true of them down in South America. That is where the gathering will take place because those living in Peru and Chile are the true pure blood lamanites. The American Indian may or may not be lamanites at all. Ira

  7. Jonathan...I did not forget to mention Joseph's involvement in Letter VII...since when reading the entire letter you see that much of it had to do with Joseph finding the plates there, one can see why without question Joseph had it as part of his history—which I have written about a couple of times. After all, it was Joseph himself who said he had to be very careful about making any statement since members immediately took it as inspired doctrine when it was merely an opinion—no doubt, saying this later in his life, he learned how easily people took out of context the things he did and said.
    In addition, Joseph, for all his talents, and they were many and amazing, was not a writer and generally rarely wrote something himself but had others write things for him--he had a personal secretary at all times, one of which was Frederick G. Williams, who was also his personal physician and Second Counselor in the First Presidency with Joseph, who wrote that Lehi landed at 30º south latitude in Chile--but of course, Letter VII people don't ever mention that. What we are dealing with and we need to come to grips with this is that the early leaders of the Church, who did not know where things always took place regarding events they were not personally involved in, like the Land of Promise setting, had various viewpoints and opinions of which they spoke quite a lot about. Over time, leaders became much more conservative about making broad and far reaching statements that were, after all, only opinions--today, they make very few publicly.
    The example of the experience of Zion’s Camp should be paramount in everyone’s mind regarding this. Six men wrote in their journals the event of bones found and Joseph explanation, several of which later became presidents of the church. Yet, no two accounts are the same, some are extremely different, some call Zelph a Nephite others a white Lamanite, some refer to the Sea East and others the eastern sea, one used the Hill Cumorah in his account, some claim Joseph said one thing others claim Joseph said another—anyone who has ever worked in the communication field know that ten people can see the exact same event from basically the same perspective and record ten different variations of the event. To claim that one is right and the others are wrong is simply foolishness.
    Because Oliver Cowdery made a colorful and poetic statement in a letter addressed to W.W. Phelps, a person by the way who thought Mesoamerica or Central America was the Land of Promise because of Catherwood’s drawings and Stephens book (as did Joseph Smith, by the way) does not mean it is Church Doctrine—only his opinion of the events he was writing about. That Joseph wanted his record, as well as others written down regarding different events, including Zion’s Camp was likely more for the authenticity and evidence of the event, than a word-for-word accuracy of the event, otherwise he would have been more exact in what he told people to the point where they all got it the same way.
    I think that people sometimes miss one of Joseph’s greatest accomplishments in leadership and that is summed up in his statement: “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” We live in a world where people want to control other people, where one person’s beliefs or opinions are not allowed to be criticized because of who they are even when known to be wrong, where “if a lie is told often enough it is believed,” and where it is only natural for people to repeat information, even important information, through their own views—letting people govern themselves, write their views, speak their mind, bear their testimony in their own way, etc., is one of the great tenets of this Church and of God’s kingdom.

  8. (continuing)
    It was John A. Widtsoe who said, “As far as can be learned, the Prophet Joseph Smith, translator of the book, did not say where, on the American continent, Book of Mormon activities occurred. Perhaps he did not know” John A. Widtsoe, Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?- Improvement Era, 53, 7 July, 1950).
    As another leader has stated: “There are many subjects about which the scriptures are not clear and about which the Church has made no official pronouncements. In such matters, one can find differences of opinion among Church members and leaders. Until the truth of these matters is made known by revelation, there is room for different levels of understanding and interpretation of unsettled issues.”
    Joseph Smith relates that once when he was in conversation with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that "a prophet is always a prophet," he told them to the contrary. "But I told them," (these are his words), "that a prophet was only a prophet when acting as such."
    Joseph never made a doctrinal comment regarding the location of any Book of Mormon event—only that it took place on the American Continent (North and South America).
    If he wanted us to know that the Hill Cumorah in New York was the same hill as that described in the scriptural record, surely he would have told us and not left it up to an obscure statement by Oliver Cowdery, who within three years was excommunicated from the Church and in disfavor with the Brethren.

    DeVon…Do I think Oliver Cowdery lied? No. Of course not. I have always felt Oliver was a sincere and devoted man to the cause. I also think he was ambitious, over-zealous, and quite excitable about the gospel and the Book of Mormon. I’m sure he believed what he said to be true—how could he not being part of the coming forth of the Book and having a testimony of its divinity? He also believed he could translate, though it was shown to him he could not without learning a great deal more. Yet, he saw how it was translated, he saw the Hill Cumorah, he saw and experienced the vision of the cave within. All these things he saw and knew to be facts; however, he never saw the battle, never saw or experienced these two forces coming together, never saw but in his mind’s eye, the final battle of the Nephite nation and its annihilation—but he believed in its truthfulness and waxed poetic regarding how it must have been—how he saw it happening in his mind. That the battle took place is a fact, for it is recorded in the scriptural record. Where the battle took place we do not know because we have never been told, thus Oliver’s comments about the location are merely opinion. Interesting and probably fairly accurate in his descriptive wordage, but where it took place we simply do not know. That Oliver had an opinion is clear. However, it is not a fact until an official word is given us on the matter.