Monday, September 5, 2016

Separating Speculation and Opinion from Fact - Part I

There is a difference in the Church between what is official Church policy and the opinion of people, even its leaders. Joseph Smith made that quite clear when he told some of the brethren who wanted his opinion on something, that he did not enjoy the right vouchsafed to every American citizen; that of free speech. He said to them that when he ventured to give his private opinion on any subject of importance his words were often garbled and their meaning twisted and then given out as the word of the Lord because they came from him. ("LaFayette C. Lee, Notebook," LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah; also in Remembering Joseph) 
    It is interesting that a blogger named Jonathan Neville who writes the blog Book of Mormon Wars, among others, makes several specific comments that seem to ignore his own advice.
    He writes: “If you encounter, correspond with, or read or hear the work of anyone who writes or speaks about Book of Mormon geography or historicity, ask whether they agree with the Cumorah facts I listed on the blog here. If they reject these facts or equivocate, then you know they're pursing an agenda, not the truth.”
    One might ask of Jonathan this very same thing, for what he lists as facts are not facts at all, but his opinion, and he most definitely seems to be pursuing an agenda about the Great Lakes and the Hill of Cumorah.
Oliver Cowdery (left) was the first baptized Latter Day Saint, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon's golden plates, one of the first apostles, and the Second Elder of the church. In 1838, Cowdery left and was excommunicated from the church and later became a Methodist. He was invited to return to the Church through a letter from Joseph Smith (HC, Per I, vol V, p368), after being excommunicated and was rebaptized in November 1848. Like all members, Oliver Cowdery was free to state his own opinions and beliefs regarding the Book of Mormon as members are today 

    As he writes in Book of Mormon Consensus “Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII unequivocally identifies the New York hill as the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah.” The problem is, Oliver Cowdery is not speaking for the Church, nor can we unequivocally say he was speaking for Joseph Smith. All we can say is that Cowdery was speaking of his own opinion, no matter how it was derived. If it was from Joseph Smith, then it would carry some official weight of the Church, which has for 186 years denied time and again that the Church considers any location as the Book of Mormon lands
    1a. Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII unequivocally identifies the New York hill as the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah.
    Response: The word “unequivocally” means indisputable, incontrovertible, unquestionable, undebatable, incontestable and undeniable. One can certainly user that word to describe Oliver’s attitude and belief, but hardly use that word to describe Oliver’s opinion beyond his own beliefs—certainly not the Church or even Joseph Smith, who neither stated it was an official policy of the Church or Joseph Smith’s absolute statement of fact.
    For those who have not read Letter VII, from Oliver to W. W. Phelps, a portion of what is written in Letter VII is a poetic description of the final battle between the Lamanites and Nephites over which Oliver waxes lyrically in describing where the final battle took place, which in his mind was to the west of the hill Cumorah in western New York. However, Oliver Cowdery and his Letter VII does not provide any reason for his claim of this being the Hill Cumorah in western New York as the same one in the scriptural record. He merely hangs his tail on the fact that Joseph Smith never corrected his writing—however, Joseph never stated he officially accepted every word, either.
A 1895 view of the Hill Cumorah in western New York, taken at a time when the hill is mostly denuded and the most recognizable, yet from this half-mile away it is hardly that prominent as Cowdery claims. As seen from any other angle, can hardly be seen as a hill at all 

    1b. He wrote: "At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact… 
    Response: No fact has been shown, only Oliver Cowdery’s opinion.
    1c. …that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.  
    Response: Nowhere in the scriptural record is there a mention of “hills,” or that any battle took place between hills, or in a valley, or that the Nephites marched to hills or anything more than simply the hill Cumorah. To fact check this: Mormon writes: “we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites” (Mormon 6:4, emphasis mine). There is no mention of other hills—in fact, no mention of anything at all other than the land around Cumorah was a land of many waters, rivers and fountains.
    1d. By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon, you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah… 
    Response: Actually, Mormon states that they “did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah” (Mormon 6:4, emphasis mine). Around about means around the hill (i.e., on all sides, “around the hill”). They were not just camped on the west side in a valley between two hills according to the scriptural record. Oliver states it that way because that is what he sees and envisions as he stands on the hill Cumorah in New York and tries to visualize that last battle. But his visualization is not the same as Mormon’s account, which obviously means that Oliver is making up what he writes regarding this issue of the entire battle being on the west of he hill in this small valley. 
    1e. In this 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. 
    Response: Oliver inserts his own feelings into this comment, it is not what Mormon felt beyond what he wrote on the matter which was very little. Nor could half a million (230,000 Nephites, 270,000 Lamanites) been able to get into this valley in any configuration, especially one of a desperate, running battle where people in large numbers were being killed and dying all over the ground.
    1f. 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. 
    Response: It was the next morning—they would not have been able to see much at the conclusion of the fighting that night, besides Mormon was severely wounded. Again, Oliver waxes poetic in his description and write what is merely his opinion.
Because this hill is a drumlin, shaped like half a barrel cut lengthwise and placed upside down (the rounded part on top), is long and narrow and not very high, there is nowhere on this hill where one could have obtained the view that Mormon describes—you would have to walk all the way around the top of this hill, about a two mile walk, to view the dead on the battlefield below—hardly something people in hiding would do 

(See the next post,” Separating Speculation and Opinion from Fact – Part II,” for more information on the facts (or lack of them) behind Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII)

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