Friday, February 1, 2019

The Writings of Oliver Cowdery—a Lesson on his Letter VII Controversy – Part V

Continued from the previous post regarding Oliver Cowdery’s flamboyant and speculative comments about the location and the battle at Cumorah found in his Letter VII that is used by Heartland Theorists as the doctrinal account of the last Nephite-Lamanite wars and the annihilation of the Nephite nation.
As has been previously noted throughout these articles, that while Heartland theorists want to selectively claim that some parts of Oliver Cowdery’s letters are inspired, such as the location of the Hill Cumorah (Letter VII), they ignore others that are so obviously not. This latter is seen in such writing or lack of writing as Oliver’s failure to mention the First Vision and inserting Moroni’s visit to Joseph in his room as the first encounter (Letter VIII); his expounding on Mormon’s brief statement in a 1,038-word dissertation (Letter VII), and the embellishing of the account of Moroni’s visit to Joseph Smith (Letter VIII) for what must be considered completely arbitrary and self-serving reasons.
    Again, while one is certainly free to write a speculative account of any event, it should be noted that for them then to turn around and claim such fiction or speculation as doctrinal information is neither creditable, scholarly nor moral—and is certainly and unfortunately misleading to those they deliberately try to convince. While honest and ethical historians do not stoop to such lows, it is found continually by many theorists and critics writing about the Book of Mormon.
    Yet, at the same time, anyone at any time is free to offer their personal opinions on any subject they choose, whether in a leadership position or not, and sometimes such speculation can make for thought-provoking ideas and lead to interesting personal discovery. On the other hand, it must be noted that personal opinion, irrespective of its source, cannot be accepted as, nor suggested or offered to be, doctrinal information, and certainly cannot be claimed as evidence of contrary or lacking scriptural doctrine. The Church leadership has always and consistently distanced itself from issues regarding Book of Mormon geography (John E. Clark, “Book of Mormon Geography,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, Macmillan, New York, 1992, pp1:176).
This has been substantiated several times by official Church statements, Letters from the First Presidency, and official Church statements that are on record for anyone to see. As an example, Elder Harold B. Lee said in 1966, “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?” (Harold B. Lee, “Loyalty,” address to religious educators, 8 July 1966; in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed, Church Educational System and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1982, p.65; also cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth, Eborn Books, Roy, Utah, 2005, pp172-173).
    Though the identification of the drumlin hill in upstate New York as the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah is common in the Church, it should more accurately fall under the heading of urban Church legends, for it is not an official position of the Church, if for no other reason than that the Church has no official Book of Mormon geography.
    As an example, F. Michael Watson, secretary to the First Presidency, clarified a previous 1990 statement he made, stating “The First Presidency would like to clear up that issue,” and the following was given in 1993, “The Church emphasizes the doctrinal and historical value of the Book of Mormon, not its geography. While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations [elsewhere] because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site” (FAX correspondence dated April 23 1993, provided by Carla Ogden, Senior Executive Secretary for the Office of the First Presidency; also correspondence from Michael Watson, Office of the First Presidency, 23 April 1993. Cited with commentary in William J. Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol.2, no.1, 1993, pp161–197).
    It should also be noted that Church leaders have had varying and opposing views on the location of the Book of Mormon lands or Land of Promise, over the years. Many Church leaders have assumed a hemispheric Book of Mormon geography while over time granting space for alternate theories in Church publications like the Ensign and general authority supervised publications like the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Thus it would be disingenuous for any theorist of Book of Mormon geography to claim there is revealed consensus on Book of Mormon geography and the location of Cumorah among modern Church leaders as both Mesoamerican and Heartland theorists often assert.
Neither can Letter VII be used as evidence that Joseph Smith believed or espoused that the geography of the Book of Mormon took place solely in the Heartland, or even North America, since after reading John Lloyd Stephens book Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, and seeing Frederick Catherwood’s illustrations of the Maya ruins, Joseph claimed this was proof of the Book of Mormon.
    Even so, it is clear that the historical record shows that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, like most of their Mormon contemporaries, believed in a hemispheric geography for the events described in the Book of Mormon (Lincoln H. Blumell, et al., Approaching Antiquity, Deseret Book, 2015, pp119–140). Mark Allen Write an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU, stated: “Joseph Smith never showed any interest in creating a geographic model for the Book of Mormon,” notes one scholar. “Any and all artifacts from virtually anywhere in the Americas were treated equally as evidence for the book’s divine authenticity” (Write “Joseph Smith and Native American Artifacts,” Religious Studies Center, BYU, pp130-131).
    The problem with this and most theorists’ arguments in support of their own views, they often pick and choose what they want to use as evidence and ignore opposing facts, even found in the same source they quote. Honest scholars cannot selectively decide which of Oliver’s and Joseph’s views on geography they’re going to believe and ignore other information showing those views are not accurate or conclusive. Evidence is clear that many of these theorists choose what supports their view and discard those that do not. As an example, Heartland theorists often use the story of Zelph and Joseph’s letter to his wife regarding the Plains of the Nephites, while both Heartland and Great Lakes theorists rely on the location of the hill members named Cumorah in western New York, but both discard out of hand the connections in Mesoamerica and Lehi’s noted landing site in South America.
    The historicity of the Book of Mormon, its divinity, its coming forth “by the gift and power of God,” and the inspiration and seership of Joseph Smith, its translator, is not in question in any of this or other of the writings of this blog. What is in question is the tendency of theorists to interpret plain and simple language of Mormon and other ancient prophets in a way that benefits their own personal point of view. John L. Sorenson cannot accept Mormon’s description of a North-South orientation to the Land of Promise, and has to explain that away claiming Mormon and the Nephites did not understand the same cardinal directions that have been known since recorded history, and verified by Nephi himself (1 Nephi 16:13).
Nor do we support such actions as Phyllis Carol Olive’s placement of the hill Cumorah in New York east of her East Sea when Mormon’s descriptions clearly shows it is not. Nor can there be any support for Jonathan Neville’s placement of the Land of Bountiful to the east of the Land of Zarahemla when Mormon tells us it was northward, nor his narrow strip of wilderness running south of Bountiful and between the Land of Bountiful and the Land of Nephi. Nor can we agree with the anonymous editors of MormonThink’s map of the Great Lakes model showing either or both the Sea East and the Sea West between the Land Northward and the Land Southward, when not a single word or hint in the scriptural record suggests such a thing. 
    Nor do we agree with limiting the Land of Promise to just North America as does Rod L. Meldrum, which is in opposition to the scriptural definitions about the Land of Promise, and opposed to so many Church Presidents and leaders who have stated the overall promised land is all of North and South America. Many, many other examples could be discussed, which we have in the past numerous times, but the point is, when commencing any discussion regarding the location of Lehi’s promised land, it must begin with the story of Lehi and follow through to the conclusion of Moroni’s writing. Anything else is doomed to failure, and become misleading to those who read erroneous ideas, speculations, beliefs, and opinions that are contrary to the scriptural record.
    Naturally, while some parts of most theories may well hold some accurate information and agreement with the scriptural record, any serious claim to a Land of Promise location must agree with all of the scriptural information regarding such claims and none can disagree with such models.
    In concluding these articles, we affirm and state, though after 10 years of consistent writing this blog, it seems inconceivable that there should be any question about this, it should be noted that the writers of this blog and all those connected to its production, are unwavering members of the Church, are firmly committed believers in the Book of Mormon—every word of it—and who are in absolute support and sustain without equivocation all Church leaders, and the direct inspiration and revelation that now guides, and has always guided, the Church.
    We also add that in all our writing, we use only the clear and precise language and meanings of the Book of Mormon writers, and affirm Joseph Smith’s translation and his guidance of the Spirit in doing so. We do not believe in altering, explaining away, or in any other way, changing the wordage or the obvious and simple meaning of the scriptural record.


  1. Very good arguments. I remain fully convinced that the Andes model is on the right track.

    One little thing however. If one believes all of the latter-day scriptures, can they not also believe the scriptures that verify that even the eye of the body (the prophet) can fail?

    The right to NOT sustain

  2. All people have free agency. The question is, whose judgment is more likely to be accurate, a prophet or a member? Still, unless speaking officially, all leaders have the right to their opinions and speculations and to voice them in non-official capacity.

  3. D&C 107:22 says: "Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, CHOSEN BY THE BODY, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church."

    There is no revelation that states that the President of the church has to have, or will be given, the gift that was restored to earth again with Joseph to receive and write "Word of the Lord" oracles as the mouthpiece Prophet of God.

    A Prophet who receives the oracles of God is never "chosen by the body" to receive that gift. He is fore-ordained by God to that gift.

    President Young on several occasions said the Prophet does not have to be the President. Joseph himself wanted Hyrum to become the church President, and if that had happened there is no reason to believe the spiritual gift Joseph had would have been taken from him and given to Hyrum.

  4. My point is members should develop their own spiritual gifts and not feel they can pin their salvation on the sleeve, so to speak, of the church President. The church today rejects the Adam-God and Seed of Cain teachings of President Young. What other teachings of church Presidents are wrong?

    "Therefore, let EVERY MAN stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another." --JST Mark 9:44

    Read JST Mark 9:40-48. EVERY MAN is to stand on their own, and not fall with a hand (a brother), or a foot (a leader) or even an eye (a prophet).