Tuesday, January 29, 2019

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

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 mentioned in the previous post, there is nothing to suggest, as Oliver does in his speculative account, after describing in a 328-word description regarding the location of the drumlin hill Cumorah in Western New York, where Joseph Smith obtained the golden plates as the same Hill Cumorah where the Nephites perished in their last battle with the Lamanites. In his account, Oliver states how the Hill Cumorah in New York was the setting for important events from the Book of Mormon, and elaborates on this location, describing the long, narrow valley to the west of the hill as the only place the battle took place, even though Mormon tells that the Nephites were encamped all around the hill, when he wrote: “And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah” (Mormon 6:4).
Yellow circle, the encampment of the Nephites “around about” the hill Cumorah. As can be seen, there is plenty of room for the battles to take place all around the hill where the Nephites were located, not just in the West Valley as Oliver claims

After all, the word “around” in 1828 when Joseph was translating Mormon’s record, meant: “about; on all sides; encircling; encompassing; in a circle; on every side.” And the word “about” meant: “around.” Thus, the term “around about” meant strictly all around the hill Cumorah. If the Nephites were all around the hill Cumorah, then why was the battle only on the west? After all, there were valleys to the north, east, and south as well. Oliver decided to place the last battle of the Lamanties and Nephites in a small, narrow valley, where more than three-quarters of a million people were in hand-to-hand battle, and more than one-fourth of them were killed. This valley, it should be kept in mind, is only about one-mile-long and about one-half a mile wide.
The West Valley where Oliver claims the entire battle took place, yet there is flat, open ground all around this hill Cumorah where the Nephites were encamped and certainly the Lamanites would have attacked the entire area, bent on annihilating the entire Nephite army and people

In this little valley, Oliver goes on to add, “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. 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…Mormon himself, according to the record of his son Moroni, was also slain. This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it, pitched the famous army of Coriantumr [and] their tents. Coriantumr was the last king of the Jaredites. The opposing army were to the west and in this same valley, and nearby, from day to day, did that mighty race spill their blood, in wrath, contending, as it were, brother against brother, and father, against son. In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying of our fellowmen. Here may be seen where once sunk to nought the pride and strength of two mighty nations; and here may be contemplated, in solitude, while nothing but the faithful record of Mormon and Moroni is now extant to inform us of the fact."
    However, it should be noted, that while extant means “currently in existence,” Oliver’s wordage “to inform us of the fact,” should be understood that the “fact” is what Mormon wrote in his simple and very brief wordage, not what Oliver wrote, expanding upon and increasing Mormon’s 128-word statement to a speculative and flowery 1,038 comment. Oliver’s comment is not “fact,” but his expansion of an event, including his own aggrandizement of that event beyond anything resembling Mormon’s brief words. The same is true of most of Oliver’s writings, and should be used as doctrinal information only after carefully comparing his words with those of the scriptural record.
    It should also be pointed out, that there is “no historical evidence that Moroni called the hill ‘Cumorah’ in 1823” during his first encounter with the Prophet Joseph Smith. The name Cumorah came into “common circulation (amongst [sic] Latter-day Saints) no earlier than the mid-1830s” (Jed Woodworth and Matt Grow, “Saints and Book of Mormon Geography,” Church History, LDS Church, www.history.lds.org).
The first documented person to identify the drumlin hill in Manchester, New York, where Joseph Smith received the plates with the hill Cumorah appears to have been the writer, teacher, printer, newspaper editor, publisher and lawyer, William W. Phelps left), who read the Book of Mormon a year after it was published and joined the Church in 1831. He was ordained in October of that year, and two years later in 1833 published material referring to the unnamed hill in New York as Cumorah (Michael J. Dorais, “The Geological History of Hill Cumorah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Vol.13, no.1–2, 2004, pp.136–143, pp173–74; William W. Phelps, “The Book of Mormon,” The Evening and the Morning Star, vol.1, no. 8, January 1833, p57).
    Phelps’s identification was later followed by Oliver Cowdery in 1835 in his eight letters on the origin of the Book of Mormon, and the rise of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These letters, including the famed “Letter VII,” were published in Liverpool, England by Thomas Ward and John Cairns in 1844 (first published in Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, vol.1, no.10, July 1835, pp158–159).
    No doubt, due to the popularity of Phelps and Cowdery as early church leaders, their writing and talks held a lot of influence among members regarding the establishment of the hill in New York as the same hill Cumorah mentioned by Mormon as the final battleground of the Nephites. As such, the location of the hill Cumorah in New York became accepted among early Latter-day Saints.
    Of course, the location of where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates from which the translation of the Book of Mormon derived, is well known and not itself contested; however, whether that was the same location as the final battles and Nephite destruction remains open to considerable discussion. Regarding this subject and its importance, Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote in 1950: “the hill from which the Book of Mormon plates were obtained is definitely known. In the days of the Prophet this hill was known among the people as Cumorah. This is a fixed point in Book of Mormon later history. There is a controversy, however, about the Hill Cumorah–––not about the location where the Book of Mormon plates were found, but whether it is the hill under that name near which Nephite events took place,” and further explained, “As far as can be learned, Joseph Smith, translator of the book, did not say where, on the American continent, Book of Mormon activities occurred.” (John A. Widtsoe, “Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?” Improvement Era, July 1950, p547). 
    Controversial writer Grant H. Palmer, writing of Cumorah, has stated: “Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested.”
(See the next post, “The Writings of Oliver Cowdery—a Lesson on his Letter VII Controversy – Part III,” for more explanation regarding Oliver Cowdery’s flamboyant and speculative comments about the location and the battle at Cumorah)


  1. Very interesting, I seem to remember the Mexican researcher Jose Davila and other LDS Mexicans believed Cumorah to be in or around Mexico city.Im sure that some of our So. American brethren have their own ideas. It doesnt make me much difference but those heartland guys really set themselves up as having all the answers.Of course there is a lot of money involved with tours and books.I wonder how many bus tours those guys put on every year? It sure makes me wonder about motives when their that stubborn.

  2. Go on one of Rod L. Meldrum's tours and you will be amazed at the erroneous information he fills his paying customers with. It will amaze you.

  3. I am very well aware of some of the nonsense that is promulgated and I have friends and Associates that have bought into this stuff and sometimes I don't know where to begin it would seem like a small matter and it would seem like it doesn't make any difference but from some small things like this or maybe it's a big thing like this can cause and has the potential to cause much much trouble in the future with the membership of the church in Latin America

  4. It frightens me once somebody becomes financially invested in a theory. Motivations become tainted and truth no longer matters. Admitting a mistake would be to surrender a new found career and source of income.

    Would it be fun to travel to the Andes and look at some of this stuff first hand? Absolutely. Would I take somebody's money to tell them what I think? I couldn't. I'd tell them for free if they wanted to know my opinion, but money taints the best of us.