Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Elevation of Letter VII to “Sainthood” – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII and how it is being elevated by Jonathan Neville far beyond its level of importance.
    Before moving on with the Cowdery Letter VII, we need to draw attention to two more aspects of the hill Cumorah in New York. Since Mormon tells us that the Nephites pitched their tents all around the hill Cumorah, that would place his troops with their backs to the hill and facing outward to receive the soon to be approaching Lamamites.
    Now, if you are going to put your back to a hill, chances are that hill is going to be a protection to your rear, i.e., making it impossible for the enemy to creep up on your back. So, keeping in mind that this hill served as the rear protection, allowing Lamanites only to attack from the front, the idea of the hill should be one that would deter an attacking force from overrunning, and provide the defenders (Nephites) on the ground in front a feeling of support behind them. Now, if we look at the hill in New York, it provides neither of these two protections.
This low-lying hill provides no protection from the rear, once any part of the Lamanite force broke through the other side, it could run over the hill in short order and sweep down on the rear of the opposite fighting force. This hill would defeat the purpose of having any protection to the rear of your fighting force

The other part is that the hill would need to be of such height or topography as to discourage an attacking force from running up and over it to attack the opposing ranks from the rear. However, the hill in New York is low and narrow without any topography configuration.
This is the height difference of the hill Cumorah in New York. As can be seen, an attacking military force could run up this gentle slope in a minute or two and be down on an unsuspecting force beyond the ridge before they even knew they were under attack. Again, defeating the purpose of having a hill or mountain at your back

In addition, the hill in New York has no width, i.e., an attacking force could run across this hill from side to side in a hand full of minutes and attack the Nephites from their unprotected rear because of its limited height.
    If Mormon’s idea of gaining an advantage of having a mountain or difficult to scale hill at the back of his entire force around Cumorah, this hill in New York would serve absolutely no purpose whatever. And since Mormon gives us no clue as to the advantage to which he was referring other than circling the hill Cumorah with the Nephite encampment of 230,000 men under the command of 24 separate leaders (Mormon and Moroni being two of them), then this concept seems to be the only military-value suggestion, and if so, the hill in New York would simply be out of the question. In fact, anyone even suggesting that the final battle took place here simply has no understanding of military tactics, fighting deathly hand-to-hand combat or what men are capable of doing when the chips are down and life hangs in the balance.
The hill is so low that any attacking force breaking through at one side could easily (yellow arrow) race over the hill and attack (white line and arrows) from the rear of the defenders

To think that 230,000 men came to this inconsequential hill to fight a last-ditch battle without at least a chance at survival is simply not looking at reality. People, especially fighting men with experience, simply do not give up their lives without a murmur like in some novel. They fight to the bitter end, always looking for some way out of a difficult situation. After all, there were alternatives to that last battle, even Mormon thought he might be able to find some advantage over the Lamanites, fully understanding their superior numbers.
    The surrounding area of this hill has no military value whatsoever. It is flat and fully accessible to an attacking force. For 360º around the entire hill, there are no obstructions to stop constant fusillades of arrows, rushing spearmen, sling-throwing stones, etc.
    Now, understanding the lack of value of the hill Cumorah in New York, let’s take a further look at Letter VII. It should be noted that, despite Neville’s claim to the opposite, it was not written with the help of Joseph Smith, and thought it appeared in the Messenger and Advocate in 1835 as part a series of exchanges between Oliver Cowdery and Phelps, it was not specifically about the hill Cumorah, but about numerous visions and events surrounding the organization of the Church.
    After it was published, Joseph Smith instructed his scribes to copy Oliver's letters into his journal as part of his history. Then Orson Pratt copied parts of Letter VII into his widely read pamphlet, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (1840). Then Benjamin Winchester copied it into his Gospel Reflector (March 15, 1841). Then Don Carlos Smith copied it into the Times and Seasons (Vol. 2, No. 12, April 15, 1841). Then the letters were compiled into a pamphlet in England.
The reasons all this copying and repetition took place was because Oliver’s letters continued the fundamental scope of the founding of the Church, from the First Vision to the conclusion. It was intended for publication through W.W. Phelps—who was as an early leader of the Latter Day Saint movement. He published the Evening and Morning Star and later, printed the first edition of the Book of Commandments that became a standard work of the church and wrote numerous hymns, some of which are included in the current version of the Church’s hymnal.
    It is far more likely that Phelps, Pratt, Winchester and Don Carlos used this information because of the visions and outline of events that led to the organization of the Church and founding its various aspects such as baptism and the priesthood, rather than outlining something about the hill Cumorah. Certainly Joseph Smith’s interests in this was his own story which, for the first time, was put down on paper including the First Vision and other important events that he wanted included in his history. To make it sound like Joseph wanted this Letter VII in his history because it named the hill Cumorah in New York as the last battle ground of the Nephites would not have been the deciding factor for the letter to be included in his history, or even in the other publications Neville cites.
    Here's the introduction to the British pamphlet: “We have frequently been solicited to publish, in pamphlet form, the following letters of Oliver Cowdery, addressed to W.W. Phelps. We at last avail ourselves of the opportunity to do so, being fully assured that they will be read with great interest by the Saints generally; while from the peculiar work on which they treat, together with the spirit of truthfulness in which they are written, not forgetting their style as compositions, we have no doubt but that many of the honest-hearted may, by their perusal, be led to a further examination of those principles, the origin of which is therein set forth.
    It should be understood that Phelps wrote answers to these letters, which generally contained some questions upon the subject of Cowdery’s letters to him, accounting for the style in which they are written.
Here is Winchester's introduction: “The following Letters of Oliver Cowdery were first published in the "Messenger and Advocate," in Kirtland, Ohio, 1834-5. Believing they will be read with great interest, and satisfactorily received by all our patrons; therefore, we cheerfully insert them in the "Gospel Reflector.” Indeed, the particularities, and important incidents, connected with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, have ever been, and are now, a subject of inquiry. He added, “The following Letters contain all the information necessary upon that subject. They were written to W. W. Phelps, who wrote answers to them ; but we shall not publish them: for he was also a member of the society; and his letters were generally brief — questions upon the above subject. This will account for the style in which the following are written.”
    The letters were about the formation of the Church—a history so to speak. However, in Letter VII, Cowdery departs from his earlier style of stating the events in factual manner and launches into a romanticized story of the battle of Cumorah, including a lengthy opinion of the battle in which there is almost no inclusion in the scriptural record. It is part of this expansion that Neville and other “one hill Cumorah” advocates base their claims—not on the actual scriptural record.
(See the next post, The Elevation of Letter VII to “Sainthood” – Part III,” for more information about Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII and how it is being elevated by Neville far beyond its level of importance)

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