Sunday, November 6, 2016

1842 Bernhisel letters released by JSP

The 1842 documents recently released by the Joseph Smith Papers include 3 new Bernhisel letters. One is from Joseph to Dr. Bernhisel. Two are from Bernhisel to Joseph. In all three cases, the salutation is to Brother, not Dear Sir.

This is awesome.

Better than I expected. I didn't know we'd get more Bernhisel letters, and these three confirm the pattern that I previously identified.

The letters are found here:

I realize this is a relatively obscure point of evidence, but it corroborates a very important point in Church history that refutes the basic assumption long held by Church historians that Joseph Smith wrote a November 16, 1841, letter to Dr. Bernhisel.

I'm going to digress here a moment to explain how this relates to Book of Mormon geography.

In addition, it refutes a longstanding argument made by the advocates of the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography.

Mesoamerican advocates frequently cite a November 16, 1841, letter* purporting to be from Joseph Smith to Dr. Bernhisel, a Church leader in New York. The letter is a thank-you note, recognizing the two John Lloyd Stephens books that Bernhisel gave to Wilford Woodruff to deliver to Joseph Smith. Because the note claims the books support the testimony of the Book of Mormon, Mesoamerican advocates argue the note is evidence that Joseph Smith 1) read the Stephens books and 2) embraced them as evidence for the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

Of course, that assertion is a stretch on its face, but the key point is, there is no evidence that Joseph wrote, dictated, or even saw the letter. No one knows who actually wrote the letter because the handwriting has never been identified.

Those who have read my book The Editors: Joseph, William and Don Carlos Smith have seen my chapter on the November 1841 Bernhisel letter. I take the position that Wilford Woodruff drafted the letter and had the unidentified person write it out in final draft. I reference several categories of evidence.

One category is the salutation. When I wrote the book, I had only 7 letters between Joseph and Dr. Bernhisel. In all but the November 16, 1841, letter, Joseph and Bernhisel address each other as Brother.

The November 16, 1841, letter instead uses the salutation Dear Sir, which is how Woodruff addressed every subsequent letter he wrote to Bernhisel.

IOW, the November 16 letter is an outlier.

The just-released 1842 Bernhisel letters confirm the pattern between Joseph and Bernhisel, as they are addressed "Dear Brother" and "Dr & respected Brother."

I already considered it a high probability that Wilford Woodruff wrote the November 16th letter, but now the probability is even higher.

This is a significant development in understanding Church history that hopefully will be recognized in future papers and books that discuss the Bernhisel letter.

*The relevant portion of the letter reads:

I received your kind present by the hand of Er. [sic] Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes [sic] many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of The Book of Mormon; I have read the volumnes [sic] with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprehensive.—

1 comment:

  1. That is indeed significant. Thanks for your untiring efforts in trying to "Make Cumorah Great Again."


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