Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Separating Speculation and Opinion from Fact – Part II

Continuing with the idea that there is a difference in the Church between what is official Church policy and the opinion of people, even sometimes with its leaders over non-doctrinal issues. 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)
2. Oliver Cowdery's letter was published in the Messenger and Advocate.
    Response: A lot of things were published in the Messenger and Advocate, the Times & Seasons, and other early church news. Some of it is speculation and opinion, and some of it was factual and doctrinal. Letter VII’s presence in an early church news is not the same as being doctrinal and official church policy or doctrine.
3. Joseph Smith had his scribes copy this letter into his journal as part of his own history. 
    Response: Joseph Smith recognized as we should today, that while about 1/7th of the letter is about Oliver Cowdery’s opinion of Cumorah, the other 6/7ths has to do with Joseph’s work, the purpose of the Book of Mormon, and the importance of its coming forth, which was the emphasis of what Oliver was writing to Phelps.
4. Joseph Smith gave express permission to Benjamin Winchester to reprint Letter VII in the Gospel Reflector, which Winchester did in 1841. 
    Response: See response to #5 next.
5. Don Carlos Smith reprinted Letter VII in the Times and Seasons in 1841. 
    Response: We should keep in mind that Letter VII, though oft quoted by Great Lakes people, contains 3,512 words, of which only 491 have to do with Cumorah as the location of the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon. The rest of the letter has to do with very factual information of Joseph Smith’s work, where he found the plates, where the hill is and how to identify it, the Angel Moroni’s blessings, and leading Joseph to the place to find the records. The fact that this letter was printed in its entirety seems to make sense when one reads the entire letter, its purpose of outlining the work of Joseph Smith, etc. It is not, as Great Lakes people want to make it sound, a letter only about Cumorah being the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon—a fact that is included and Oliver Cowdery weaves the events of that last battle very poetically around what he imagines to have happened when there is no specific knowledge of the subject in the actual scriptural record.
6. D&C 128 refers to Cumorah in the same paragraph that refers to Moroni's visit to Joseph in his home near Palmyra, the three witnesses in Fayette, and the events in Harmony and along the Susquehanna River. 
Response: 128:20, where Cumorah is mentioned, it begins: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah!” It is a Good tidings message, a shout of hosanna, the Lord has sent more information, disclosed more of the gospel, in this case, the Book of Mormon, which Joseph found written on the plates in the ground at Cumorah, where the Angel Moroni showed him it was deposited. It is not a verification of anything to do with the past but a shout of joy for the present and future for the words of the Nephites and God’s dealings with them is now known, as the ancient prophets foretold (Moroni 10:27-28). This verse goes on about the book to be revealed, a voice out of the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! It has nothing to do with the location of Cumorah in the Book of Mormon, but of the message that plates have been brought forward. The Gospel was now available to all mankind, these glad tidings would eventually release many from spirit prison, etc.
7. Every Church leader who ever wrote on the topic agreed that the Book of Mormon Cumorah was in New York, at least through at least 1920. 
Church leaders today are very cautious what they say in public regarding the Church and its doctrines 

    Response: At least through 1920, Church leaders were not cautioned about making personal opinions known. Since that time, and especially today when comments, opinions and speculation are so easily turned into “official Church statements” by members, the brethren are far more careful what they say about such matters and the official stand of the Church, and all its leaders, is that the Church has no official policy on this matter of where Book of Mormon lands or locations were or are. In addition, what was speculative thought in the early days of the Church has no bearing on what is factual—take for instance the understanding that the vast majority of the early members, including leaders, thought the Land of Promise was North and South America, with the Land Northward being North America, the Land Southward being South America and the narrow neck of land being Central America. In fact, this was the prevalent view of most members as late as the 1950s when I first became aware of the Land of Promise landscape. This idea, of course, has been shown to be inaccurate with a more accurate and in-depth reading of the scriptural record.
8. Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes were equivocal about many Book of Mormon locations, but not about Cumorah--which he unequivocally stated was in New York. 
    Response: This was Orson Pratt’s opinion and later this information was removed from the footnotes since it is not and never was an official Church statement. Many Church leaders in the early days of the Church stated their opinions about the Book of Mormon—some were accurate, others were merely their speculation and, as yet, none regarding the location of Land of Promise events are officially acknowledged by the Church.
9. As an Apostle and Church Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith unequivocally declared that the Book of Mormon Cumorah was in New York, and that because of the two-Cumorah theory, "some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. Consider, however, the numerous names of lands and places in the Book of Mormon that are also found either in the Old World or the U.S., especially in Utah, showing that a duplicate of names is not only common, but expected. 
There are at least fifteen place names in the Book of Mormon that are also found in Utah or Iowa or in the Old World, Israel or where Nephi build his ship. Duplicating names is not a new idea and should not be rejected out of hand for two hills named Cumorah

    Response: Joseph Fielding Smith was speaking of his own opinion, of which he later declared it to be and that others can have different opinions, which is a constant attitude among leaders of the Church. When the Church officially says that the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon was and is in western New York, the same hill where Joseph Smith found the records, then it will “officially” do so and it will become part of the historical knowledge of the Church. It will not appear in a book written by one of the Church leaders. Several Church First Presidencies have declared that this information is unknown to the Church today and is merely a matter of speculation--making Oliver
10. No Church leader has officially stated that Cumorah was anywhere but New York. 
    Response: Let’s not go by reverse hypothesis. That is, no Church leader, meaning General Authority (First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve—the only ones authorized to speak officially for the Church on such matters) has ever officially stated that the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah is in New York. There may well be some who think that, like Oliver Cowdery, as well as others who think differently. What they all agree on is that the Hill Cumorah in New York is where Joseph Smith extracted the plates at Moroni’s direction and guidance.
    Whether a person agrees with Oliver Cowdery’s views on this matter or not is not the issue here—the issue is that Oliver’s writing is merely his opinion about the hill Cumorah and to try and make it more than it was in not a scholarly or effective approach to the truth.

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