Friday, December 15, 2017

Opening the Heavens but censoring history


Readers have asked my thoughts about the presentation given by Professor John W. (Jack) Welch in November 2017 titled "Hours Never to Be Forgotten: Timing the Translation of the Book of Mormon."

You can read about it and watch the video here: There is also a link to the handout, which you can see here:

After watching the video, you may not immediately realize why people have asked about it. I'm writing this post to explain.

First, I highly recommend the presentation and the materials to anyone who wants to know more about the topic. The timeline included in the handout is worth printing and keeping with your scriptures as a reference. The video is an excellent overview and perfectly presented by Brother Welch, who has always been an awesome Book of Mormon scholar. I acknowledged him and his work in the Preface to Moroni's America. He is a prolific author/editor and has made important contributions far beyond his wonderful discovery of chiasmus in the text. On most topics, he is open-minded and fair.


There is an ongoing problem that, in my view, taints this presentation and the new book it features. It's the same problem we see at Book of Mormon Central, which is widely referred to as Book of Mormon Central America because it censors information that contradicts its editorial posture of promoting exclusively the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. Book of Mormon Central (America) purports to be a neutral repository/clearing house for Book of Mormon research, but it is in really an advocacy group for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography.*

Brother Welch is Chairman and Co-Founder of Book of Mormon Central, as you see here. They have a lot of people, including BYU professors, who are working hard to promote the Mesoamrican/two-Cumorahs theory throughout the Church, in English as well as Spanish.

It's unfortunate because their Mesomania affects pretty much all of the work they do, as we'll see now.

The book referenced in the presentation is the Second Edition of Opening the Heavens. The first edition of the book was important because it collected sources that most people don't otherwise have access to. I cited the first edition often in my own books. I highly recommend the book as a resource.

It's available online at BYU Studies, here:

The introduction to both editions explains the editorial intentions:

In submitting his Wentworth letter to the publisher of the Chicago Democrat, Joseph Smith made only one request: "All that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation." In this book, we hope to have complied with this request. [emphasis added] Here are six major collections of key Restoration documents, in their full authenticity and veracity.


Obviously, Opening the Heavens is an editorial selection of material. The second edition is 507 pages long, plus the Index, and it includes a lot of commentary in addition to the original documents. Lyndon Cook's book David Whitmer Interviews alone is 262 pages long, so we can't expect the entirety of these interviews to be contained in Opening the Heavens. In fact, Opening the Heavens includes only about 15 pages of excerpts of David Whitmer's interviews and statements.

It's completely legitimate to edit the original material this way. But does this book do so in a manner that can be fairly said to "publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation?"

Not in my opinion.

And I think there is a very specific reason why the authors made the editorial choices they did: M2C (aka Mesomania, or an obsession with Mesoamerica as the only legitimate setting for the Book of Mormon).

You're thinking, not again!

And I'm thinking, I wish it wasn't the case, too. But let me show you.

First, it's ironic that the editors invoke the Wentworth letter. I've written before about the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. The lesson on the Wentworth letter edited out the section of the letter that discusses the Book of Mormon people. In the original Wentworth letter, Joseph wrote about the Nephites: "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." Because that contradicts the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography (or because it was deemed "controversial" because it contradicts the Mesoamerican theory), that sentence was deleted from the lesson manual. You can see it for yourself by following the links in my previous blog post. The deletions appear as ellipses in the lesson manual.

Consequently, millions of Latter-day Saints who studied the manual have no idea what Joseph taught about the remnant of the Nephites.

On its face, this deletion (it's really censorship) violates Joseph's request of Mr. Wentworth--the same request cited in the introduction to Opening the Heavens. As I've said before, Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Wentworth not publishing his account "entire, ungarnished and without misrepresentation." Instead, he needed to worry about the Curriculum Committee.

One thinks of George Orwell's observation in 1984: "He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past."

As we'll soon see, a similar thing is taking place in Opening the Heavens.

Readers of this blog (and readers of Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?) know that while traveling from Harmony to Fayette, David, Joseph and Oliver encountered an old man along the road. You can read either edition of Opening the Heavens and never learn about this event.

Here is what Opening the Heavens relates about the trip from Harmony to Fayette (p. 108).

June 1-4, 1829. Joseph and Oliver moved with David Whitmer from Harmony to Fayette, Seneca County, New York, to the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. The journey from Harmony to Fayette (ninety-eight miles direct) would have taken about three days.84 Emma came a short time afterward (document 91).

You can see this online here (just search for key words):

Here is note 84, added to the second edition (also in the online link above).

84. As reported by Joseph F. Smith, David Whitmer told him and Orson Pratt that Joseph prophesied to Oliver "a perfect description of what David did on the way" before David arrived. Joseph F. Smith, Statement, written April 25, 1918, transcript, 2, Church History Library, available on Church History Library They traveled on "an ordinary wagon with two long poles in it at each end across the end gates of the wagon box, and then two boards laid across that for seats on those hickory poles. Joseph and Emma were on the hind seat and Oliver and David on the front seat." Joseph F. Smith, Statement, 2. The plates were carried to Fayette by Moroni in a bundle on his back. [emphasis added] Joseph F. Smith, Statement, 3. "Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844-1845," book 8, p. 10, does not include Emma on this trip to Fayette (Waterloo). See also Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 114-15, 197.

This passage and its footnote are fascinating for several reasons.

1. Both Opening the Heavens (OTH) and Brother Welch's presentation are supposed to be giving us important details about the timing of the translation, yet here the book entirely censors a very key point about the timing; i.e., the messenger taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah before going to Fayette.

This has to do with the order of translation and D&C 10. If Joseph started translating 1 Nephi when Oliver arrived in Harmony in April 1829, as some people thought in the past, then 1 Nephi would have been included in the Harmony plates. But Joseph didn't start translating 1 Nephi until he arrived in Fayette; i.e., he didn't translate any of the Fayette plates in Harmony.

On page 103, OTH notes that "the conclusion that Joseph and Oliver began on April 7 very near the beginning of the book of Mosiah is widely accepted." While this is possible, the earliest passage that bears Oliver's handwriting is Alma 10:31 because all of Original Manuscript from Mosiah through Alma 10:30 has been lost or destroyed. In my view, it is more likely that Emma scribed Mosiah for all the reasons I discussed in A Man that Can Translate

On page 110, we read "June 5, 1829. About this day, Joseph began translating the small plates of Nephi, beginning with 1 Nephi 1."

That's a reasonable conclusion because the Whitmer brothers began working as scribes in Fayette (starting with 1 Ne 3:7).

Now, what about D&C 10? D&C 10 tells Joseph not to re-translate the Book of Lehi and instead to translate the "plates of Nephi." Aside from the obvious point that this commandment was pointless if Joseph was reading words off a stone instead of translating the plates, I think the Lord told Joseph he would have to translate the plates of Nephi precisely because he didn't have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony.

Among other reasons, we can tell Joseph didn't have the plates of Nephi in Harmony because the Title Page--the last leaf of the plates--refers only to abridged plates. The plates of Nephi were original writings, not abridgments.

In other words, in D&C 10 the Lord is telling Joseph he has to translate other plates--plates he didn't have at the time. These are the records alluded to in D&C 9:1-2, in which the Lord tells Oliver Cowdery, "I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him. And then, behold, other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate."

In my view, "this record" refers to the plates Joseph got from Moroni's box on the Hill Cumorah, which he took to Harmony and translated there, from the Book of Lehi through the Title Page, except for the sealed portion. "Other records" refers to the plates of Nephi, which Joseph did not have at Harmony but received in Fayette. In fact, Oliver did have power to assist to translate these "other records" in Fayette.

Here's the key point. If Joseph received D&C 10 after he arrived in Fayette, then D&C 10 would make less sense because by then, he already had the plates he needed to translate; i.e., the plates of Nephi. In that case, it would not have made sense for the Lord to tell him to translate different plates.

(NOTE: this whole narrative contradicts the current fashionable theory that Joseph didn't actually translate the plates. This is the idea that he merely looked at a stone in a hat, with the plates sitting under a cloth on the table, or out in the woods. If that were the case, it would have been pointless for the Lord to tell Joseph in D&C 10 to translate the engravings on the plates of Nephi. D&C 10 would have said, in effect, "Just keep reading the words on the stone.")

On page 106, OTH discusses the dating of D&C Section 10. "During the lifetime of Joseph Smith the date was consistently reported as May 1829." Of course, this is before they left Harmony on or around June 1. Some people have suggested D&C 10 was received about the time Joseph translated 3 Nephi.

The question involves the first part of D&C 10, which appears to have been received in 1828. But everyone agrees that the latter portion, in which the Lord tells Joseph he's going to have to translate "the plates of Nephi," was received in May. In other words, D&C 10 is a combination of two separate revelations. This makes sense, but it could also be a single revelation received in May.

Either way, D&C 10 appears to be direction given by the Lord once Joseph neared or reached the end of the Harmony plates and was wondering whether he should return to the beginning and re-translate the Book of Lehi that Martin Harris lost. OTH seems to agree with this scenario.

However, in the "Day-by-Day Translation" chart on page 123, OTH makes this observation under June 4: "Travel to Fayette and unpack. About this time D&C 10 was finalized, telling Joseph to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10:41)."

IOW, the chart claims D&C 10 was not finalized until after Joseph arrived in Fayette, which doesn't make sense with the rest of the chronology.

Joseph said the Title Page was on the last leaf of the plates. He translated that before he left Harmony (because he had to get it printed and sent or delivered to the federal court). (BTW, I think I know where he got it printed but that's another blog post.)

The question is, given that D&C 10 is direction to Joseph when he was considering re-translating the Book of Lehi, at what point would Joseph consider that? Naturally, it would be when he neared or reached the end of the plates. That would put the receipt of D&C 10 before they left Harmony. So the narrative in OTH is correct, but the chart is wrong.

2. OTH's Footnote 84 quotes from an undated typewritten account of minutes from a meeting on April 25, 1918, purporting to relate Joseph F. Smith's account of his 1878 interview with David Whitmer here. The account varies in some respects from the contemporaneous formal report JFS submitted to President John Taylor and the Twelve 40 years previously. Here is the entire passage in blue, with the part quoted and paraphrased in Opening the Heavens in fuchsia and significant omissions in red.

When they started for New York Joseph told them how they would travel over the rolling country and over the prairie. He came to one of those rolling prairies as they were driving along and he described his wagon just as an ordinary wagon with two long poles in it at each end across the end gates of the wagon box, and then two boards laid across that for seats on those hickory poles. Joseph and Emma were on the hind seat and Oliver and David on the front seat

In the middle of this prairie, all of a sudden, there appeared a man walking along the road, and David said he raised his hat and rubbed his brow, as if it were a little warm, and said good morning to them, and they said good morning. Oliver and David looked at each other and began to marvel and wonder: Where did he come from, what does it mean? David described him saying he had on something like an old-fashioned knapsack, but of course a little differently formed, right across his shoulders, and on his back he was carrying something of considerable weight. 

They looked round to Joseph inquiringly: What does it mean? And Joseph said, "Ask him to ride." So David, who was teamster, asked him if he would get in and ride with them. He said, "No, I am just going over to Cumorah." David said, "Cumorah? Cumorah? What does that mean?" He had never heard of Cumorah, and he said, I thought I knew this country all around here, but I never heard of Cumorah" and he inquired about it. While he was looking around and trying to ascertain what the mystery was the man was gone, and when he looked back he did not seem him any more. Then he demanded, "What does it mean?" 

Joseph informed him that the man was Moroni, and that the bundle on his back contained plates which Joseph had delivered to him before they departed from Harmony, Susequehanna County, and that he was taking them for safety, and would return them when he (Joseph) reached father Whitmer's home. There was a long talk about this.

Opening the Heavens paraphrases the last two paragraphs this way: "The plates were carried to Fayette by Moroni in a bundle on his back." 

In both Joseph F. Smith's contemporaneous 1878 statement and the typed 1918 statement, the messenger (whether it was Moroni or not) specifically said he was going to Cumorah, not Fayette. David related this on other occasions as well, as I've discussed here.

[as for the Moroni claim, I've discussed that here:]

Notice how perplexed David was when he heard the word Cumorah for the first time. Yet Opening the Heavens makes no mention of this. Unwary readers will conclude that the messenger said he was taking the plates to Fayette, not Cumorah, which contradicts the main point of the encounter because the messenger actually declined the ride to Fayette.

We wonder, why would Opening the Heavens censor and misrepresent David's account this way?

Because if the messenger was going to Cumorah, it means Cumorah is in New York.

That detail contradicts the premise for the entire Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

If you read the work of the intellectuals who promote M2C, you will see that they all treat this account as anathema. According to them, David Whitmer's memory was poor--after all, he made this statement in 1878--and he was incorporating the false tradition about the New York Cumorah started by Oliver Cowdery in 1835 when he wrote Letter VII.

Think about that a moment.

When you read Joseph F. Smith's account, you realize Oliver Cowdery was also present. Even if this was the only experience Oliver had with Cumorah (it wasn't), then this alone may have justified Oliver in concluding that the real Cumorah was in New York. In this sense, Letter VII corroborates David's account. Letter VII was first published in 1835, which contradicts the argument that David made up the Cumorah reference in 1878.

Historical interpretation is subjective, especially when there are conflicting accounts of an event. Like any jury, we try to reconcile such accounts based on the facts we have and our understanding of human perception and behavior. We end up choosing among the accounts and drawing inferences to derive a plausible explanation.

But here, regarding the Cumorah reference, there are no conflicting accounts. On multiple occasions, David Whitmer related this account of the messenger who said he was going to Cumorah. There are variations in the details about what the wagon was like, what Joseph said in response, and who was present (as the note says, other accounts say Emma was not there). This 1918 account by Joseph F. Smith itself varies in some details from his original report of his 1878 interview with David Whitmer, which he submitted to John Taylor. But in every case, the messenger said he was going to Cumorah and David did not know what that meant.

Interpreting history is fair game, but censoring important facts solely because they contradict one's preferred theory about Book of Mormon geography should not be condoned.

3. One could make the argument that the Cumorah reference is irrelevant to the timing of the translation, so omitting it is not censorship; i.e., it's an editorial decision. No harm, no foul. After all, everyone agrees the plates of Nephi did end up in Fayette. Does the Cumorah detour make a difference?

Obviously it makes a difference. A big difference. 

For one thing, Joseph gave the plates to the messenger before he left Harmony. Yet they encountered the messenger en route. This means Joseph, David and Oliver were traveling faster than the messenger. Plus, the messenger had the Cumorah detour. This means it is unlikely that the plates were available immediately when Joseph arrived in Fayette. He could have had a day or two or more in Fayette without any plates to translate.

According to the data in OTH and the presentation, Joseph translated the following number of pages in each location:

                    Harmony    Fayette
#words        201,143      68,367
#days                    53             21
words/day        3,795       3,256

OTH proposes that the speed of translation was slower in Fayette than in Harmony, even though Joseph was living with the Whitmer family and presumably had his physical needs met (unlike in Harmony when he had to seek help from Colesville, etc.).

It's possible that the additional scribes (two of the Whitmer brothers) worked slower than Oliver. Maybe there were other disruptions.

But it's also possible that he had fewer than 21 days because the messenger did not bring him the plates of Nephi for a few days. At least, this is a factor to consider.


Now, we know that the messenger did bring plates to Fayette because Joseph translated 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon 1:11 there. The question is, why did the messenger take a detour to Cumorah? And does this have anything to do with the timing of the translation beyond what I wrote above?

For me, the answer to the first question is obvious. Joseph took the original plates--the "original Book of Mormon" that he obtained from Moroni's stone-and-cement box on the Hill Cumorah--from Palmyra to Harmony. He translated them in full (except the sealed portion) when he was in Harmony. That's why he translated the Title Page--the very last leaf of the plates--when he was in Harmony. He was finished with "this record," as suggested in D&C 9.

Joseph gave the Harmony plates to the messenger, who returned them to the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6).

Then, because the Lord told Joseph to translate the original plates of Nephi (which we call the small plates), the messenger picked these up where Mormon had left them and brought them to Fayette. Joseph translated the plates of Nephi in Fayette.

This scenario explains many other anomalies in Church history. It's simple and straightforward.

So why is it not more widely known?

Because certain intellectuals in the Church insist there was no depository in the New York hill.

Promoters of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory say David Whitmer made up the story, or was forgetful, but either way, he was wrong. They also say Oliver Cowdery was wrong when he said it was a fact that the final battles and Mormon's depository were in the same hill where Joseph got the plates. They say Joseph Smith perpetuated this false tradition. They say that when Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and others related Oliver's account of actually visiting the depository in the New York hill, they were actually speaking of a vision Oliver had of a hill somewhere in Mexico. Actually, multiple visions. They say all the other prophets and apostles who have specifically affirmed Letter VII's teaching about the New York Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, were also wrong.

Any time you see the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, you are seeing a repudiation of the prophets and apostles.

And they seek to censor all of these historical accounts and prophetic teachings, just as they've done in OTH.

Notice the logo for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute that is on the podium of the first photo in this blog. It incorporates a Mayan glyph to represent the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. I've discussed this here.

Every time you see this logo, you are looking at the repudiation of the prophets and apostles who have declared that Cumorah is in New York.

Ironically, this doesn't have to be. It is these intellectuals themselves who have insisted that Cumorah is not in New York because of their limited geography theory.
The podcast logo emphasizes the
Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory

I happen to agree that the events in the Book of Mormon could not have taken place throughout the western hemisphere, but if you have to choose between a Mesoamerican setting and a New York Cumorah, the choice is easy for me.

All the prophets and apostles who have spoken on this issue have said Cumorah is in New York.

And most important of all, the people who had actual experience there--Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery--taught this.

The intellectuals think they know more than the prophets and apostles. They like to say Joseph himself changed his mind over time and relied on scholars to determine where the Book of Mormon took place. They teach their students that Joseph, Oliver, and all their contemporaries were wrong about Cumorah because the New York hill "doesn't fit" the criteria the intellectuals have developed to support their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

This example of Mesomania is not the most egregious, but it is important for people to know how subtle Mesomania is. An otherwise outstanding presentation and reference book misleads its readers about the covered events solely to promote a particular agenda; i.e., promoting the Meosamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

I'm grateful to the readers who asked about this presentation. I learned from it, and from the second edition of OTH.

But I also realized, sadly, that we have a lot of work left to do if we want people to know what the prophets and apostles have actually taught about the New York Cumorah.

*Book of Mormon Central (BMC) is a subsidiary of Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF), which announces its goals here:

"Our goals are (1) to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex, 
(2) to correlate and publish works of LDS and CofC scholars, 
(3) to help promote unity and cooperation among scholars and students of the Book of Mormon, and 
(4) to provide a forum where responsible scholars can present current ideas and discoveries."

[Note: after I publicized their goals, they modified their website somewhat, but retained all the M2C-promoting content.]

Goals 2-4 are subservient to goal 1; i.e., they not only refuse to correlate, publish or provide a forum for scholars and students who disagree with the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, they go out of their way to attack any such scholars and students and refuse to publish responses to their attack articles.

Naturally, BMC fulfills its owner's mission statement. You can look at its web site and see how it promotes the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory exclusively in its "kno-why" articles, the material it puts in its archive, and its social media outlets.

I give BMC credit for one effort at honesty and neutrality: they put the first edition of my little book, Letter VII, in their archive. Of course, they followed that with a lengthy article attacking the book and refused to post my response to the attack article. But at least people who go to the site have one chance to learn about Letter VII. This one exception to their editorial policy prevents them from being a 100% censor. They only censor about 99.5% of the material that contradicts their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

[Note: After I wrote this blog, BMC removed my Letter VII book from their archive.]

The GTE and the Wilford Woodruff quotation

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