Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The "hill in New York" problem

One of the pretexts offered by Church historians for censoring the term "Cumorah" in the first volume of Saints is that Joseph Smith's 1838 history does not use the term "Cumorah."

Here's how the passage (now JS-H 1:51) reads:

51 Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. 

The historians point out that this history was not dictated by Joseph Smith but was instead compiled by Mulholland from records available to him but which we don't have now. That's how they explain why the 1838 history says it was Nephi who visited Joseph in 1823 instead of Moroni.

I discussed that in my analysis of their statement about Cumorah, but people have more questions, so I'll answer a couple of them.

1. Why didn't the 1838 history refer to Cumorah?

The long-held answer was that we don't know, because none of the participants left an explanation. All we could do was make inferences based on the evidence and our own perspectives (biases).

It turns out that we do have an explanation, and it is right in the 1838 history. I'll show you below, after we review how the editors of Saints handled the 1838 history.

Without citing any evidence, the Saints editors claimed the omission from the 1838 history reflected Joseph Smith's uncertainty about the New York Cumorah and this in turn justified their censorship of the term in Saints.

They claim the omission also justified their creation of the false historical narrative about Cumorah in Saints. That is, they created characters in Saints who had never having heard of the word Cumorah or its connection to the New York hill.

I think this was a post hoc pretext, invented after the Book was published because they had been asked for an explanation for the censorship of Cumorah. To understand why they came up with this pretext, you need to know more of the intellectual genealogy of their claim.

The only way M2C (the Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs theory) can retain any credibility whatsoever among Latter-day Saints is by destroying belief in what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah. 

Consequently, M2C intellectuals, their followers, and the historians who accommodate them (including the producers of Saints) claim the omission of Cumorah from the 1838 history reflects  Joseph's uncertainty about the New York Cumorah and/or his "evolving views" about that setting.

You'll notice, though, that they never cite any evidence to support this view. It's the worst kind of confirmation bias--the kind that doesn't even claim to have evidence.

The best they can do is advocate the following logic:

(i) point to the anonymous editorials in the 1842 Times and Seasons that describe ruins in Central America as having been left by Nephites;
(ii) attribute these anonymous articles to Joseph Smith; and
(iii) argue that a New York Cumorah doesn't fit their belief in a limited geography Mesoamerican setting that requires a Mesoamerican Cumorah, so therefore Joseph Smith, too, came to reject the New York Cumorah.

If I have misunderstood or misstated the position of the M2C intellectuals and their followers and facilitators, I'd be happy to correct any errors immediately. They all have my contact information.

But I don't expect them to contact me because they really have no better explanation.

That's what makes the Saints book so fundamentally dishonest the way it portrays this issue.

For an alternative explanation of the omission of Cumorah from the 1838 history, I have a much simpler explanation. Actually, the history itself explains why it did not include the term Cumorah.

The 1838 history was intended for an audience other than members of the Church.

Notice the introduction:

Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession.

The intended audience had never heard of the Book of Mormon. They had never read it. They wouldn't recognize the term Cumorah. Without a detailed explanation far beyond the scope or intention of the history, the term would have only caused confusion to readers.

The term Cumorah was simply irrelevant to the purpose of the 1838 history.

In fact, recall that Mulholland, who compiled the history, mentioned to Joseph that he needed to provide a physical description of the hill to make the history complete. That makes sense because the general public was not familiar with Joseph's story--unlike members of the Church.

Now, consider the 1838 history in the context of 1842, when it was published in the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo.

The year before, Joseph's brother Don Carlos had published President Cowdery's eight historical letters. Joseph had characterized them as essays on Priesthood when he had given them to Don Carlos in the fall of 1840 with instructions to publish them. Don Carlos published them in serialized form. Letters VI and VII overlapped, but the portion of Letter VII that described the New York Cumorah was published in the Times and Seasons under the heading "Rise of the Church" on April 15, 1841.

During the following year, 1842, the 1838 history was serialized. The section describing the "hill of considerable size" was published in the May 2, 1842, Times and Seasons under the heading "History of Joseph Smith."

There may have been some Church members in 1842 who were unaware of the previous year's publication of Letter VII's identification of the hill as Cumorah, but as we just saw, the primary audience for the 1838 history was the public, not members of the Church.

(Some articles were published in the Times and Seasons with the hope that other newspapers would pick them up. Sometimes this succeeded. For example, a few years ago I was doing historical research in Massachusetts when I found an 1842 newspaper that had republished the Times and Seasons material on the Book of Abraham.)

A few months later, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to members of the Church. It is now D&C 128, except the way it's published in the scriptures omits a key detail.

Here's how the letter originally appeared in the Times and Seasons:



Nauvoo, September 6, 1842.

As I stated to you in my letter before I left my place, that I would write to you from time to time, and give you information in relation to many subjects, I now resume the subject of the baptism for the dead; as that subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest, since I have been pursued by my enemies.
(Times and Seasons III.23:934 ¶1–5)

This letter was not addressed to the general public. It was an intimate letter written specifically for members of the Church about a topic that involved members of the Church, not the general public.

In that context, verse 20 makes perfect sense:

20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from CumorahMoroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. 

The audience for D&C 128 was members of the Church who all knew what Joseph meant by the term Cumorah. They had read Letter VII in various Church publications. They had heard Lucy Mack Smith's accounts. They knew what Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, W.W. Phelps, and others had taught. After he joined the Church, Heber C. Kimball had personally visited the hill Cumorah in New York and remarked that the embankments were still there. Brigham Young knew that Joseph and Oliver had visited the depository of Nephite records inside the hill.

The difference in the intended audience for the two documents explains why one refers to Cumorah and the other does not. 

The 1842 letter written to members of the Church refers to Cumorah without further explanation because members of the Church all understood the reference to Cumorah without needing any further explanation.

The 1838 history written to the public does not refer to Cumorah because the public wouldn't understand a reference to Cumorah without further explanation, and such an explanation would have detracted from the point of the history.

This, to me, is the most plausible explanation for the omission of Cumorah from the 1838 history. And it's based on actual facts, including the words of the documents themselves.

Does anyone disagree? If so, I'd like to hear your rationale.

M2C people need not reply unless they offer a additional facts. You don't need to repeat the same semantic arguments you've been making for years.

2. The second question people have is, why did the 1838 history refer to Nephi as the individual who visited Joseph Smith in 1823? 

You can read the original 1838 history here.

Notice the insertion on the original manuscript: <​*Moroni​>. <​*Evidently a clerical error; see Book Doc &amp; Cov., Sec 50, par 2; Sec 106, par 20; also Elder’s Journal Vol. 1, page 43. Should read Moroni.​>

It was published with the Nephi name in the Times and Seasons on April 15, 1842. It had been previously published this way in the Millennial Star in 1841.

The normal explanations by LDS scholars are sort of plausible, but they don't really make sense. Basically they blame a clerical error.

E.g., see https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Moroni%27s_visit/Nephi_or_Moroni

We've already seen how the 1838 history was not written or dictated by Joseph Smith; instead, it was compiled from other documents that are no longer extant.

In 1876, Orson Pratt offered this explanation:

The discrepency in the history … may have occurred through the ignorance or carelessness of the historian or transcriber. It is true, that the history reads as though the Prophet himself recorded [it, that he] was [doing the] writing: but … many events recorded were written by his scribes who undoubtedly trusted too much to their memories, and the items probably were not sufficiently scanned by Bro. Joseph, before they got into print.

In my view, this explanation alone undermines the reliability and credibility of the 1838 history, at least when parsed word-by-word and relied on as a "main historical source" as a pretext for censoring Cumorah from the Saints book.

The problem with the 1838 history also undermines the theory that Joseph Smith was the acting editor of the Times and Seasons in 1842, but that's another topic.

The key question here is, why would Joseph's scribes, historians, or transcribers have come up with the name Nephi in the first place?

The answer implicates the phony story in the Saints book of Mary Whitmer being shown the plates by Moroni.

Mary Whitmer sees the plates.
Painting from Book of Mormon Central Censor.
M2C scholars say this old, heavy-set man
was Moroni. The actual participants said
he was one of the Three Nephites.
As I've previously discussed, Mary said the messenger was "Brother Nephi." David Whitmer said it was the same messenger who he met on the road from Harmony to Fayette, the old man who said he was taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah.

David remembered the event specifically because it was the first time he had ever heard the word Cumorah.

Of course, the description of the old man by David and Mary completely contradicts the description we have of Moroni.

Plus, David said Joseph identified the messenger as one of the Nephites. Joseph's mother Lucy said Joseph got the plates to show the eight witnesses from one of the Nephites.

We know from 3 Nephi that one of the Twelve was named Nephi. We don't know the names of the three who were chosen to remain in mortality, but there's a 25% chance (at least) that Nephi was one of the three.

If one of the Three Nephites was named Nephi (as Mother Whitmer called him), and Nephi was as involved with the plates as these witnesses related (both the Harmony and the Fayette plates), it makes sense that Joseph's scribes could have become confused about whether it was Nephi or Moroni who originally visited Joseph Smith.

IOW, they would have known that both Moroni and Nephi visited Joseph on multiple occasions, and these visits often (or always) had something to do with the plates.

At least, for me, this is the most plausible explanation, and one supported by evidence.

The long-repeated explanation that Joseph's scribes just somehow erroneously invented the name Nephi is nonsensical.

3. Bonus question: Why did Saints use the phony story about Moroni visiting Mary Whitmer?

Based on the pretexts they gave us for censoring Cumorah in the Saints book, we can infer they had a similar motive for writing a phony story about Moroni.

Here's the rationale.

The editors have admitted they had a policy to "uphold" their concept of "neutrality" regarding Book of Mormon geography. To do so, they had to create a false historical "narrative present."

As we've seen, the actual people living as Joseph's contemporaries had no such "neutrality" in mind. They all believed Cumorah was in New York. Several of them wrote about it, and no one questioned it--ever.

The Mary Whitmer story presented a dilemma. It's a great story--a female witness of the gold plates--but as related by the actual participants, it affirms the New York Cumorah. That narrative contradicts the editors' policy of "upholding" the anachronistic "neutrality" narrative.

What to do?

Trusting that most members would neither know nor discover what David Whitmer said about the events, the editors found an article by Royal Skousen that explained how Mary Whitmer's descendants invented the Moroni version--complete with phony dialog that made its way into the Saints book.

Here was the perfect solution.

The editors of Saints now had an actual citation to support their phony narrative present. None of the reviewers would know about David Whitmer's statements. Nor would most readers.

[BTW, the encounter with the messenger going to Cumorah is also being systematically scrubbed from Church history, as I explained here:

Consequently, millions of readers around the world who read Saints will learn a phony story about Church history, purely because the editors wanted to accommodate their M2C peers.

Most of you already know how the phony Mary Whitmer story impacts M2C, right?

For those who don't know, it's simple.

If the messenger (presumably Nephi) was taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah, as he said, what possible explanation could there be?

The only viable explanation is that there were two sets of plates: the original plates (the "Original Book of Mormon" as Joseph described it), and the plates of Nephi (D&C 10) that Joseph didn't get until he got to Fayette.

This, in turn, corroborates what Oliver Cowdery said about Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

But that means Letter VII is correct.

See the problem for M2C?

The M2C intellectuals, their followers and their facilitators, all have to discredit David Whitmer's account of the messenger taking the plates to Cumorah.

The phony Mary Whitmer story is part of that effort.

Of course, our historians are telling us they had no such thing in mind. They simply omitted the actual history and replaced it with a phony account because they wanted to "uphold" "neutrality."

If you're like me, you still have one question.

Does anyone really believe the explanations given to us by the editors of Saints?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Checking references-seer stones, foreign languages, etc.

We can read Saints , volume 1, two ways.  1. Read (or listen to) the narrative and just accept it the editors' spin on Church history. 3...