Wednesday, January 30, 2019

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

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. 
Joseph Smith (left) and Oliver Cowdery (right), who was the scribe to whom Joseph dictated many messages. However, Oliver’s writings in what are now called Letter I through VIII were written solely by Oliver Cowdery, except for the part where Joseph tells Oliver of his youth

In his book, Letter VII, Jonathan Neville spells out the circumstances that determine the Hill Cumorah in New York as being the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon, claiming that Oliver’s published letter (Letter VII) “unequivocally refutes the ‘two-Cumorah theory,’ was written by Oliver Cowdery with the assistance of Joseph Smith, who repeatedly endorsed it” (emphasis added).
    However, Joseph Smith’s involvement with the letters Oliver Cowdery wrote regarding the origin and rise of the Church, had to do with answering a volatile question of the time among non-members about Joseph’s background, which had been impugned by numerous critics and enemies of the new Church. 
    After seeing Oliver’s first letter published in the Messenger and Advocate, Joseph wrote: “Dear Brother, Having learned from the first number of the Messenger and Advocate, that you were, not only about to ‘give a history of the rise and progress of the church of the Latter-day Saints,’ but, that said ‘history would necessarily embrace my life and character,’ I have been induced to give you the time and place of my birth; as I have learned that many of the opposers of those principles which I have held forth to the world, profess a personal acquaintance with me, though when in my presence, represent me to be another person in age, education, and stature from what I am.” Joseph then went on to write about his birth, his ancestors, the folly of his growing years, and ending with “I do not deem it important to proceed further. I only add, that I do not, and never have, pretended to be any other than a man, ‘subject to passion’ and liable, without the assisting grace of the Saviour [sic], to deviate from that perfect path in which all men are commanded to walk! By giving the above a place in your valuable paper, you will confer a lasting favour [sic] upon myself as an individual, and, as I humbly hope, subserve [sic] the cause of righteousness. I am, with feelings of esteem, your fellow-labourer [sic] in the gosepl [sic] of our Lord, Joseph Smith” (Published in Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol.1, No.3, Kirtland, Ohio, December, 1834; also published in Letters by Oliver Cowdery to W.W. Phelps on the rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Liverpool, England, 1844).
All of Oliver Cowdery’s letters to W.W.Phelps were first published in Cowdery’s “Messenger and Advocate” newspaper which replaced the Evening and Morning Star, which was destroyed by a mob ion Independence, Missouri

Oliver Cowdery’s first letter, or installment, to appear was published in Norton, Medina County, Ohio, on Sunday, September 7, 1834 in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate; the second installment, or Letter II, was published in Kirtland, Ohio, November 1834; the third installment, or Letter III, was published in Kirtland, December 1834; the third installment, or Letter IV, was published in Kirtland, February 1835; and the last or eighth installment, or Letter VIII, was published in Kirtland, October 1835.  Letter VII was published July 1835.
    Joseph Smith is mentioned only once in all eight letters, and that is in Letter I, when Oliver recounts a journey with Joseph Smith from Kirtland to New Portage, Ohio (about 7 miles south of Akron), to attend a Church conference; the name Joseph is mentioned 4 times in Letter VII, all referring to Joseph, the husband of Mary, and twice in Letter VIII, referring to Joseph, who was sold into Egypt; however, Letters III and IV contained the early history of Joseph Smith, the visitation of Moroni, and the angel’s appearance and instructions to Joseph; Letter VI covers what was communicated to Joseph by Moroni, and Letter VII contained Joseph’s discovery of the gold plates.
    In these eight letters, which were written during Oliver Cowdery’s early tenure as editor of the paper, he wrote these letters to William Wines Phelps, another prominent Church figure, detailing the early history of Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the gospel, and the gathering of Israel. These letters were written partly to combat anti-Mormon opposition and partly to increase the faith of Church members by publishing “a more particular or minute history of the rise and progress of the church of the Latter Day Saints; and publish, for the benefit of enquirers, and all who are disposed to learn (published in Letter II).

Now it should be kept in mind that the Heartland model regarding the geography of the Land of Promise is based on a foundation of Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII, in which he claims in the most flowery terms that the drumlin hill, later called Cumorah, in Manchester New York, was the hill Cumorah of the scriptural record. The importance of this Letter VII (and his other seven letters to W.W. Phelps) is clearly understood in the circumstances of Joseph Smith’s history. Although the Prophet began composing his personal history in 1832—currently still in Joseph Smith’s personal handwriting under History circa Sumer 1832, “A History of the Life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvelous experience—the early draft remained unpublished during his lifetime. This, in turn, made Oliver’s letters in the Messenger and Advocate the earliest public history of Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and several other related topics. In fact, though a year earlier, The Evening and the Morning Star ran editorials by William W. Phelps on the content and message of the Book of Mormon and the early progress of Mormon missionary efforts, these articles provided neither a substantial or meaningful history behind the early life of Joseph Smith nor a clear narrative describing the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (“The Book of Mormon,” The Evening and the Morning Star vol.1, no.8, January 1833, pp56–58).
    Unfortunately, as stated earlier, when reading Oliver’s letters, one gathers a very speculative and pedant, though general understanding of events, but is also led down a very speculative path regarding details. The one letter (Letter VII). On the other hand, that information which was the result of Joseph Smith’s input and assistance, have resulted in both an accurate and meaningful record. As an example, part of Letter I is included in the Pearl of Great Price. Other such information Joseph Smith gave Oliver was the first quotations of what Moroni told Joseph, and the first account of John the Baptist conferring the Priesthood, as well as the first detailed accounts of most of what happened when Joseph found the plates—all of which these events were written by Oliver with Joseph Smith’s help and under his personal direction.
    On the other hand, the much vaunted Letter VII, espoused by Neville and Rod L. Meldrum, regarding the so-called statement that the hill Cumorah in New York was the same as the hill Cumorah in the scriptural record regarding the hill where both the Jaredites and Nephites were annihilated, was not given by Joseph Smith, who at no time in his life, made such a suggestion. The record of this in Letter VII was completely Oliver Cowdery’s speculative and theoretical verbiage. That the battle he describes took place is not in question, but what took place during the battle and the information about the valley to the west of the Manchester hill was where so much violence and death of the Nephites occurred is strictly Oliver’s presumed conjecture.
In fact, Jonathan Neville, author of the book Letter VII, and huge supporter of the Heartland theory, admits: ““We do not have a record of a specific revelation that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 (the site of the Nephite records repository) was in New York. But because we don’t have a record doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We do have Letter VII; what we don’t have is a separate document specifically explaining the factual background of what Oliver wrote about Cumorah” (Jonathan Neville, “Why some people reject Letter VII,” Moroni’s America—The North American Setting for the Book of Mormon, January 9, 2017).
    It should be noted that this is one of the fallacies that theorists often work under. That is, “we don’t have any record of something happening, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.” However, more importantly, we should work under the premise that if we don’t have a record of it happening, we need to reject that it did happen as doctrinal or gospel truth. It is merely speculation.”
(See the next post, “The Writings of Oliver Cowdery—a Lesson on his Letter VII Controversy – Part IV,” for more explanation regarding Oliver Cowdery’s flamboyant and speculative comments about the location and the battle at Cumorah)

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