Sunday, December 1, 2019

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

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.
    The Wentworth Letter, which Neville mentions as something Joseph wrote regarding Letter VII, obviously appears to have been for another purpose—that is in answer to a request of the Church as a whole.
This letter in 1842 was written to John Wentworth, the editor of a Chicago newspaper, who had written a letter to Joseph asking about the basic beliefs and history of the Church. President Smith answered the letter, which has come to be known in the Mormon church as the Wentworth letter.
    Joseph Smith began: “March 1, 1842—At the request of Mr. John Wentworth, editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, I have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder.
    Mr. Wentworth says that he wishes to furnish Mr. Bastow [Barstow], a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands is that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.”
   Joseph’s comments then go on to indicate when he was born and where, the places he lived, moved to, et., and his arrival in Palmyra in 1815. “My father was a farmer and taught me the art of husbandry.” He discusses his interest in religion when he was 14 and carefully goes through the events that led him into the Sacred Grove and the First Vision. He outlines his introduction to the Gold Plates. “After having received many visits from the angels of God, unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22nd of September, A.D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands.”
    Joseph continued on in the letter to write: “Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim, I translated the record by the gift and power of God. In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era.” He went on to indicate what was on the plates and how it was received by the people around him. “As soon as the news of this discovery was made known, false reports, misrepresentation, and slander flew, as on the wings of the wind, in every direction; the house was frequently beset by mobs and evil designing people. Several times I was shot at, and very narrowly escaped, and every device was made use of getting the plates away from me; but the power and blessing of God attended me, and several began to believe my testimony.”
The Book of Mormon was published and on April 6, 1830, the Church was organized

He goes on to write about the Church being organized in April 1830, that the early Saints saw devils cast out, and that churches were formed in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. Of Missouri, Joseph wrote: “We made large purchases of land; our farms teemed with plenty; and peace and happiness were enjoyed in our domestic circle and throughout our neighborhood. But as we could not associate with our neighbors (who were, many of them, of the basest of men, and had fled from the face of civilized society to the frontier country to escape the hand of justice) in their midnight revels, their Sabbath breaking, horse racing, and gambling, they commenced at first to ridicule, then to persecute, and finally an organized mob assembled and burned our houses, tarred and feathered and whipped many of our brethren, and finally, contrary to law, justice, and humanity, drove them from their habitations, who, houseless and homeless, had to wander on the bleak prairies till the children left the tracks of their blood on the prairie.”
    Joseph went on to outline the progress of the Church, and added the Articles of Faith. In the letter Joseph eludes to the Jaredites, that they were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. He then mentioned the plates were hid up in the earth “and that it should come forth and be united with the Bible for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days.”
    In the entire Wentworth Letter, there is simply no mention of anything from Letter VII dealing with the hill Cumorah—in fact, the word “Cumorah” is not even mentioned in the entire letter, even though Neville makes it sound like the Wentworth Letter supports his view of Letter VII.
    What the Wentworth Letter supports is our point of view that these early printings of Letter VII was because Olivery Cowdery set forth a good explanation of the First Vision and Joseph’s early dealings with the plates and the subsequent events that led to the formation of the Church. Of course Church publications and Church members would find this type of information interesting.
    It is hard to understand, however what Neville has in mind regarding mentioning this, for it shows no connection to Oliver Cowdery, the Nephites’/Lamanites, their last battle, or the hill Cumorah in New York.
Joseph allowed Oliver’s writing of the early Church and Joseph’s involvements with the Angel Moroni and the First Vision to be used in the history

Jonathan goes on to write: “Oliver Cowdery emphasized that he wrote the letters with the assistance of Joseph Smith and assured his readers that the account "shall be founded upon facts."
Response: Since most of the content of the letters have to do with the First Vision and the subsequent events of Joseph founding the Church, Neville can accurately say that Joseph Smith helped in the development of the information Oliver Cowdery included in his letters, which were mostly about Joseph Smith and the founding of the Church. That is not the same thing as saying Joseph Smith had anything to do with Cowdery writing the information pertaining to the last battle at the New York hill Cumorah. There is no evidence that Joseph was involved in that description whatever.
Jonathan adds: “By contrast, Phelps' responses contained speculation and rhetorical flourishes that far overstepped the bounds of fact, such as this: "the Commissioners stated that "thirty tribes, containing a population of 156,310, have held treaties with the United States, and that there is an Indian population east of the Mississippi, of 92,676,"-making a total of 405,286. Now allowing the same number west of the Mountains, and suppose 800,000, in the northern regions of the Canadas, and 500,000 in South America, there will be 2,110,562 of the sons of Joseph, and of the remnants of the Jews."
Response: How interesting a view when Oliver Cowdery goes into a discussion pertaining to the battle that he never witnessed in much the same “overstepping the bounds of fact” and with “speculation and rhetorical flourishes, without a single suggestive comment regarding it by Neville. Take as an example Mormon’s minimal description of an event Cowdery elaborates on extensively. Mormon wrote: “And it came to pass that my people, with their wives and their children, did now behold the armies of the Lamanites marching towards them; and with that awful fear of death which fills the breasts of all the wicked, did they await to receive them. And it came to pass that they came to battle against us, and every soul was filled with terror because of the greatness of their numbers” (Mormon 6:7-8).
Now, see what Cowdery wrote of this event: “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.” Oliver goes on in his description of the hill Cumorah, to say: “At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.”
The Hill Cumorah in New York is a drumlin hill, and as in all drumlin hills It has a unique shape—a low crown that slopes down to ground level, and all are small with little height

We have shown before that the valley Cowdery is discussing is about one-mile square. It would be next to impossible to fit a half million fighting men into this tiny valley and not have them, in their fighting such a desparate battle, not overflow to the north, south and around the hill, though Cowdery makes it clear that they fought only in this small valley between the two drumlin hills—a point Neville stresses in his book.
    Oliver Cowdery goes on to write in his Letter VII, completely listing his own thinking and feelings on the matter: “The Nephites who were once enlightened, had fallen from a more elevated standing as to favor and privilege before the Lord, in consequence of the righteousness of their fathers, and now falling below, for such was actually the case, were suffered to be overcome, and the land was left to the possession of the red men, who were without intelligence, only in the affairs of their wars…” Cowdery goes on to add, “…This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it, pitched the famous army of Coriantumrin  their tents.”
    Again, it is not that the information does not fit into the overall events, but that they are not the words of the scriptural record and almost all of Cowdery’s comments are added to the record through his own speculation. One can hardly say that this information is anything more than Cowdery’s assumptions of events, including his speculation about the Hill Cumorah, which he already showed his lack of understanding of that final battle by placing it entirely in the West Valley. Just like his suggesting that Coriantumr’s army pitched tents around the hill Ramah when the scriptural record says his army “did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah” (Ether 15:11). It seems clear that basing an entire concept of the Land of Promise on a letter Oliver Cowdery wrote, in which much of it regarding the hill Cumorah is obviously speculative and by no means is covered in such detail or so explicitly as found in the writings of Mormon.
    Thus, Letter VII, though an interesting read, cannot replace the actual scriptural record itself, and certainly cannot be elevate to a basis for a complete location or theory.

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