The so-called Heartland model for the geography of the Book of Mormon is built on a foundation of fraud. Fraudulent artifacts, fraudulent science, fraudulent theology, and fraudulent history secured in place by racist ethno-nationalism are the four cornerstones of Heartlanderism.1 (By Heartlanderism I do not mean general belief in a North American setting for the events of the Book of Mormon, but specifically the movement started by Rod Meldrum.) The fraudulence of the history promoted by Heartlanderism is evident in how its proponents treat historical sources such as Oliver Cowdery’s letters published in the Messenger and Advocate in the years 1834–1835.
Book of Mormon Central published a KnoWhy today explaining what these eight letters are and how they are significant for the Book of Mormon. One of the letters, published in July 1835 as “Letter VII,” is worth discussing because in it Oliver Cowdery (despite Mormon 6:6) identified the drumlin in western New York where Joseph Smith obtained the golden plates as the same Hill Cumorah where the Nephites perished in their last battle with the Lamanites.
Heartlanders such as the monomaniacal Jonathan Neville have latched onto Letter VII as some kind of silver bullet that disproves the Mesoamerican model of the Book of Mormon. With an inquisitorial and self-righteous fanaticism, Neville has denounced, variously, Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, the Religious Education Department at BYU, the LDS Church History Department, LDS Seminaries and Institutes, and the Correlation Committee of the LDS Church (which, perhaps Neville is unaware, includes the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve) as useful idiots at best or subversive fifth columnists at worst in spreading apostate views of the Book of Mormon that undermine faith, sow confusion and discord amongst the Saints, retard the Church’s growth, hinder the Church’s missionary efforts, and compromise confidence in Joseph Smith and other prophets. What, you may be wondering, is the shocking crime of these heretical culprits? Failure to pay unwavering obeisance to Letter VII—and thereby Heartlander geography—as the final arbiter in Book of Mormon geography debates.
While the Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy (of which I was the principal author) urges caution in uncritically using Cowdery’s letters, what it doesn’t do is directly address the fraudulent way in which Heartlanders use them, including especially Letter VII, as sources in reconstructing what early Mormons thought about Book of Mormon geography.
But here, on my personal blog, I am happy to oblige.
So consider, if you will, these seven reasons why Letter VII is not some magical silver bullet for Book of Mormon Heartlanders.
I. Joseph Smith did not write Letter VII
Heartlanders often claim that Joseph Smith assisted Oliver Cowdery in composing the Messenger and Advocate letters, including most importantly Letter VII. Therefore, they reason, the letters are authoritative and reflect Joseph Smith’s inspired views on Book of Mormon geography.2 As evidence for this, they point to a letter written by Joseph Smith and published in the Messenger and Advocate in December 1834 which, they claim, indicates the Prophet’s participation in writing the letters. But this text specifically tell us how Joseph intended to help Oliver in composing the letters and it wasn’t in matters related to Book of Mormon geography. Instead, because anti-Mormon publications were alleging that Joseph had a disreputable character, Joseph informed Oliver that he was going to provide him with a brief history of his early youth. He wrote:
I have been induced to give you the time and place of my birth, as I have learned that many of the opposers of those principles which I have held forth to the world, profess a personal acquaintance with me, though when in my presence, represent me to be another person in age, education, and stature, from what I am. (italics added)
Joseph’s early history is not discussed in Letter VII, but it is included in Letter III (December 1834). In other words, the extent of Joseph Smith’s involvement with the authorship of these letters was to provide Oliver with details about his early life which would refute anti-Mormon accusations of illicit behavior during his youth.
As such, contrary to Heartlander assertions, beyond this “there is no evidence that Joseph Smith assigned Cowdery to write the letters,” including Letter VII.3
II. Joseph Smith did not give Letter VII special treatment
Related to the claim made by Heartlanders that Joseph Smith allegedly helped write Letter VII is their claim that he must have found it particularly inspired or useful because he had it copied into his 1834–1836 history. While it’s true that Letter VII was copied into Joseph’s history, Heartlanders typically don’t bother to mention that all of the letters were copied into the history, not just Letter VII. And, what’s more, they were copied as a block of text, with no perceived effort to make any corrections or changes to the contents, including even factually problematic claims in the letters which contradicted other parts of Joseph’s history (more on this in a moment).
It is clear that “the transcription of [these] letters into [Joseph Smith’s] history was evidently conceived in terms of the entire series, not as a piecemeal copying of the individual letters.”4 It is also clear which scribes were tasked with composing this history: Frederick G. Williams, Warren Parrish (who copied Letter VII), and Oliver Cowdery himself. Contrary to the misleading impression given by Heartlanders, this is not a case of Joseph selectively giving preference to Letter VII as some sort of uniquely inspired text worthy of preservation. Rather, it’s a matter of Joseph outsourcing the task of composing his history to scribes who then made use of a large chunk of already accessible material. So the 1834–1836 history “serve[d] as a repository—more permanent than unbound newspapers—for a copied compilation of the entire series” rather than a shrine to the sui generis inspiration of Letter VII.5
III. Letter VII was never published under the supervision of Joseph Smith
There is little doubt that Oliver Cowdery’s letters were popular during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. This can be seen in the many times they were republished beginning in 1840:
- The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star6
- Times and Seasons7
- A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions8
- The Gospel Reflector9
- Letters by Oliver Cowdery, to W.W. Phelps on the Origin of the Book of Mormon and the Rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints10
- The Prophet11
Heartlanders argue that this is evidence that Joseph Smith must have accepted the legitimacy of their contents, including the location of the Hill Cumorah in New York. Several glaring problems with this argument are at once apparent.
First, of the letters that were republished in Joseph Smith’s lifetime, at least half were published in the United Kingdom, far from the Prophet’s supervision. None of these republications of the letters had Joseph’s editorial oversight.
Second, when the letters were republished in the Times and Seasons in 1840–1841 they were done not while Joseph was editor of the paper, but rather under the editorship of his younger brother, Don Carlos Smith. (Joseph would not assume editorship of the paper until February 19, 1842.) This point is especially ironic, since Heartlanders go to great lengths to desperately explain away the Times and Seasons editorials affirming a Mesoamerican connection to the Book of Mormon that appeared under Joseph’s editorial direction between June–October 1842 (see note 1 below). In other words, as my friend Neal Rappleye perceptively observed, according to Heartlanders, publications which appeared in the Times and Seasons at a time when Joseph wasn’t the editor of the paper are more authoritative than ones which appeared when he was the editor! Why? For the simple reason that they affirm the Heartland geography.
Third, the republication of the letters in the Gospel Reflector and The Prophet took place in Philadelphia and New York City, respectively, both outside of the supervision of Joseph Smith. (This is to say nothing of the fact that the letters republished in The Prophet appeared two days after Joseph Smith’s death.) One cannot help but appreciate the additional irony of Heartlanders using The Gospel Reflector, the organ of their arch-nemesis Benjamin Winchester, as evidence for their theory.12
None of this denies that Oliver’s letters were influential, or even that Joseph Smith may have been influenced by them—they certainly were influential among early Mormons.13 Rather, the publication venues contradict the Heartlander claim that Joseph gave them his imprimatur.
IV. Letter VII was never canonized
This point is simple enough: if Letter VII is so foundational, so fundamentally important, so essential in definitively settling the supposedly revealed geography of the Book of Mormon as Heartlanders insist it is, why was it never canonized? It’s not like there has ever been want of opportunity to do so. Two editions of the Doctrine and Covenants were prepared during Joseph Smith’s lifetime: one in Kirtland in 1835 and the other in Nauvoo in 1844 (although the latter finally appear in print only shortly after the Prophet’s death). In neither of these editions of the D&C (nor in any edition up to the present, for that matter) has Letter VII appeared as canonical revelation, despite the fact that other texts attributed to Oliver Cowdery were canonized during Joseph’s lifetime, including declarations on marriage and government.
The fact that Letter VII remains uncanonized today, even after multiple editions of the Doctrine and Covenants have added and removed material,14 should indicate that the letter is either not scripturally binding or Neville and the Heartlanders know something about it that generations of prophets, seers, and revelators overseeing the canon apparently have missed.
V. Oliver Cowdery’s Messenger and Advocate letters contain factual errors and embellishments (which Heartlanders conveniently ignore)
A problem with the Cowdery letters that Heartlanders routinely ignore or downplay is the fact that they contain glaring errors and embellishments. The most obvious example of this is that Oliver was completely silent about the First Vision. The way Oliver tells the story in Letters III and IV, in the year 1823 (!) Joseph Smith was confused by the religious sects and denominations fighting for converts around him and so retired to his bedroom, prayed, and was visited by the angel Moroni, which event kicked off the Restoration. This version of events contradicts Joseph Smith’s own official history, his 1832 journal entry (written in his own hand), and his private retellings of the First Vision, in which he placed the religious excitement in the years 1818–1820 and was visited by God the Father, Jesus Christ, and a host of angels—not a solitary visit from Moroni. The reason Cowdery didn’t mention of the First Vision is unknown. Roger Nicholson has a plausible theory, but it must remain tentative without more definitive evidence.
In addition to his factual errors, Oliver also embellished aspects of Joseph Smith’s early history. This is especially clear in Letter VIII, in which Oliver attributed to Moroni a verbatim quote (!) of well over 1,000 words:
All this is shown, the good and the evil, the holy and impure, the glory of God and the power of darkness, that you may know hereafter the two powers and never be influenced or overcome by that wicked one. Behold, whatever entices and leads to good and to do good, is of God, and whatever does not is of that wicked one: It is he that fills the hearts of men with evil, to walk in darkness and blaspheme God; and you may learn from henceforth, that his ways are to destruction, but the way of holiness is peace and rest. You now see why you could not obtain this record; that the commandment was strict, and that if ever these sacred things are obtained they must be by prayer and faithfulness in obeying the Lord. They are not deposited here for the sake of accumulating gain and wealth for the glory of this world: they were sealed by the prayer of faith, and because of the knowledge which they contain they are of no worth among the children of men, only for their knowledge. On them is contained the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it was given to his people on this land, and when it shall be brought forth by the power of God it shall be carried to the Gentiles, of whom many will receive it, and after will the seed of Israel be brought into the fold of their Redeemer by obeying it also. Those who keep the commandments of the Lord on this land, desired this at his hand, and through the prayer of faith obtained the promises, that if their descendants should transgress and fall away, that a record might be kept and in the last days come to their children. These things are sacred, and must be kept so, for the promise of the Lord concerning them, must be fulfilled. No man can obtain them if his heart is impure, because they contain that which is sacred; and besides, should they be entrusted in unholy hands the knowledge could not come to the world, because they cannot be interpreted by the learning of this generation; consequently, they would be considered of no worth, only as precious metal. Therefore, remember, that they are to be translated by the gift and power of God. By them will the Lord work a great and a marvelous work: the wisdom of the wise shall become as nought, and the understanding of the prudent shall be hid, and because the power of God shall be displayed those who profess to know the truth but walk in deceit, shall tremble with anger; but with signs and with wonders, with gifts and with healings, with the manifestations of the power of God, and with the Holy Ghost, shall the hearts of the faithful be comforted. You have now beheld the power of God manifested and the power of satan: you see that there is nothing that is desirable in the works of darkness; that they cannot bring happiness; that those who are overcome therewith are miserable, while on the other hand the righteous are blessed with a place in the kingdom of God where joy unspeakable surrounds them. There they rest beyond the power of the enemy of truth, where no evil can disturb them. The glory of God crowns them, and they continually feast upon his goodness and enjoy his smiles. Behold, notwithstanding you have seen this great display of power, by which you may ever be able to detect the evil one, yet I give unto you another sign, and when it comes to pass then know that the Lord is God and that he will fulfil [sic] his purposes, and that the knowledge which this record contains will go to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people under the whole heaven.-This is the sign: When these things begin to be known, that is, when it is known that the Lord has shown you these things, the workers of iniquity will seek your overthrow: they will circulate falsehoods to destroy your reputation, and also will seek to take your life; but remember this, if you are faithful, and shall hereafter continue to keep the commandments of the Lord, you shall be preserved to bring these things forth; for in due time he will again give you a commandment to come and take them. When they are interpreted the Lord will give the holy priesthood to some, and they shall begin to proclaim this gospel and baptize by water, and after that they shall have power to give the Holy Ghost by the laying on of their hands. Then will persecution rage more and more; for the iniquities of men shall be revealed, and those who are not built upon the Rock will seek to overthrow this church; but it will increase the more opposed, and spread farther and farther, increasing in knowledge till they shall be sanctified and receive an inheritance where the glory of God will rest upon them; and when this takes place, and all things are prepared, the ten tribes of Israel will be revealed in the north country, whither they have been for a long season; and when this is fulfilled will be brought to pass that saying of the prophet-‘And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord’-But, notwithstanding the workers of iniquity shall seek your destruction the arm of the Lord will be extended, and you will be borne off conqueror, if you keep all his commandments. Your name shall be known among the nations, for the work which the Lord will perform by your hands shall cause the righteous to rejoice and the wicked to rage: with the one it shall be had in honor, and with the other in reproach; yet, with these it shall be a terror because of the great and marvelous work which shall follow the coming forth of this fulness [fullness] of the gospel. Now, go thy way, remembering what the Lord has done for thee, and be diligent in keeping his commandments, and he will deliver thee from temptations and all the arts and devices of the wicked one.-Forget not to pray, that thy mind may become strong, that when he shall manifest unto thee, thou mayest have power to escape the evil, and obtain these precious things.
Oliver Cowdery didn’t so much as even know Joseph Smith in 1827—the two men first met in April 1829—when these words he attributed to Moroni were spoken, let alone witness firsthand the recovery of the plates and the interview between the Prophet and the angel. As a secondhand source publishing eight years after the event, Oliver was certainly embellishing details about the interview supplied to him by Joseph Smith. This would not be out of character for Oliver. Others have already noted his “florid romantic” language and his pedantic and flamboyant literary habits (as opposed to Joseph Smith’s own simple and straightforward authorial style) in these letters and elsewhere.15 “The rhetorical flourishes” in Oliver’s letters published in Messenger and Advocate “carried over into a way of describing events that put himself in the forefront. His feelings and thoughts are always on display, making the story more Oliver’s than Joseph’s.”16
Heartlanders want to selectively claim that some parts of Oliver’s letters are inspired (e.g., the location of the Hill Cumorah) while others are not (e.g., failure to mention the First Vision and embellishing the account of Moroni’s visit to Joseph Smith) for completely arbitrary and self-serving reasons. They are free to do so if they desire, but they’re not accomplishing credible scholarship.
VI. The location of the Hill Cumorah remains open (as does the rest of Book of Mormon geography)
The fact is that “Church leadership officially and consistently distances itself from issues regarding Book of Mormon geography.”17 Neville and other Heartlanders excitedly call attention to general authorities like Joseph Fielding Smith who accepted at face value Oliver’s identification of the Hill Cumorah in New York.
Elder Smith and other general authorities were and are certainly free to offer their personal opinions on the location of the Hill Cumorah and many other subjects that have not been definitively established by revelation. Presumably this would also include Church leaders such as President Harold B. Lee, who said in 1966, “Some say the Hill Cumorah was in southern Mexico (and someone pushed it down still farther) and not in western New York. Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think? And why bother our heads trying to discover with archaeological certainty the geographical locations of the cities of the Book of Mormon like Zarahemla?”
The identification of the drumlin in upstate New York as the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon has been and is very common in the Church, but it is not an official position of the Church for the simple reason that the Church has no official Book of Mormon geography. “The Church emphasizes the doctrinal and historical value of the Book of Mormon,” F. Michael Watson, secretary to the First Presidency, clarified in 1993, “not its geography. While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations [for Book of Mormon geography] because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.”
Traditionally—but not always—Church leaders have assumed a hemispheric Book of Mormon geography while over time granting space for alternate theories (such as the Mesoamerican theory) in Church publications like the Ensign and general authority supervised publications like the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. It’s simply disingenuous for Heartlanders to claim there is revealed consensus on Book of Mormon geography and the location of Cumorah among modern Church leaders.
VII. Joseph Smith (like Oliver Cowdery) was not a Heartlander
Finally, Letter VII cannot be used as evidence that Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery were Heartlanders since neither of them believed the events of the Book of Mormon took place exclusively in the continental United States. Certainly Oliver believed the Hill Cumorah was in New York, and Joseph probably did as well later in his life,18 but the historical record is abundantly clear that, like most of their Mormon contemporaries, both Joseph and Oliver believed in a hemispheric geography for the events described in the Book of Mormon.19 “Joseph Smith never showed any interest in creating a geographic model for the Book of Mormon,” notes one scholar. “Any and all artifacts from virtually anywhere in the Americas were treated equally as evidence for the book’s divine authenticity.”20
Heartlanders cannot pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other end when it comes to what Joseph and Oliver thought about Book of Mormon geography. They cannot selectively decide which of Oliver’s and Joseph’s views on geography they’re is going to believe (e.g. Zelph and the location of the Hill Cumorah) and which ones they’re going to discard (e.g. Mesoamerican connections and the landing place of Lehi in Chile). Individuals are free to accept early Mormon speculation on Book of Mormon geography to whatever extent they are willing, but if Heartlanders have a shred of integrity, they must not consider Joseph or Oliver within their ranks.
Because I know how many Heartlanders will react to this post (assuming any of them ever read it), I will conclude by affirming my total commitment to the historicity of the Book of Mormon, its divinity, its coming forth “by the gift and power of God,” and the inspiration and seership of Joseph Smith, its translator. If it isn’t obvious from my previous blog posts, podcast discussions, publications, and video interviews, I am a firmly committed believer in the Book of Mormon. I am also a committed and active member who sustains the current leaders of the Church.
I am inspired by the testimony of Oliver Cowdery relative to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. By no means do I wish to diminish his sacred calling as one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon or as the Second Elder of the Church of Christ. I am touched and inspired whenever I read his testimony found in Letter I: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as [Joseph] translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”
I am not, however, beholden to Heartlanders’ misappropriation of Oliver’s letters. No matter how much any Heartlander may think me an apostate for insisting otherwise, I reject their pretensions to being the gatekeepers of orthodoxy, faithfulness, and commitment to the Book of Mormon, and refuse to bow to their interpretation of Letter VII as if it were a modern golden calf. Heartlanders are free to believe that I am afflicted by a deranged “Mesomania,” as Jonathan Neville calls it, but until he or they can demonstrate that they have even the slightest desire to handle the primary historical evidence responsibly, and aren’t just waging ideological warfare against perceived enemies of their cult, I am free to dismiss their arguments as fraudulent.
Letter VII is not a silver bullet to the heart of the Mesoamerican geography theory. In the hands of Heartlanders it is, rather, no more harmful than a paper cap in a plastic toy gun.
- For refutations of Heartlander arguments, see “Reviews of DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography,” FairMormon; Gregory L. Smith, “Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA,” The FARMS Review 22, no. 1 (2010): 17–161; Ugo A. Perego, “The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint,” FARMS Review 22, no. 1 (2010): 191–227; Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” FARMS Review 22, no. 2 (2010): 15–85; “Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist ‘Movement’ and the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Review 22, no. 2 (2010): 87–124; Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, and Atul Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2 (2013): 84–97; Matthew Roper, “How Much Weight Can a Single Source Bear? The Case of Samuel D. Tyler’s Journal Entry,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 1 (2013): 54–57; Neal Rappleye, “‘War of Words and Tumult of Opinions’: The Battle for Joseph Smith’s Words in Book of Mormon Geography,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 37–95; Mark Alan Wright, “Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 13 (2015): 111–129; Matthew Roper, “The Treason of the Geographers: Mythical ‘Mesoamerican’ Conspiracy and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015): 161–205; “John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015): 207–253; Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith, Central American Ruins, and the Book of Mormon,” in Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, edited by Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), 141–62; Matthew Roper, Paul Fields, and Larry Bassist, “Zarahemla Revisited: Neville’s Newest Novel,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 17 (2016): 13–61.
- As a corollary to this argument, anybody, like evil Mesoamericanists, who doesn’t accept the letters as such are, obviously, out to throw Joseph Smith under the bus and deceive victims into disbelieving inspired prophets.
- Karen Lynn Davidson et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844 (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church Historian’s Press, 2012), xxi.
- Davidson et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1, 39.
- Davidson et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1, 39, emphasis added.
- “A Remarkable Vision,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 1, no. 2 (June 1840): 42–44; “A Remarkable Vision,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 1, no. 5 (September 1840): 105–109; “A Remarkable Vision,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 1, no. 6 (October 1840): 150–154; “A Remarkable Vision,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 1, no. 7 (November 1840): 174–178.
- “Copy of a Letter written by O. Cowdery,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 1 (November 1, 1840): 199–201; “Letter II,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 2 (November 15, 1840): 208–212; “Letter III,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 3 (December 1, 1840): 224–225; “Letter IV,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 4 (December 15, 1840): 240–242; “Letter VI,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 11 (April 1, 1841): 359–363; “Rise of the Church,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 12 (April 15, 1841): 376–379; “Letter VIII,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 13 (May 1, 1841): 390–396.
- Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840), 8–12)
- “O. Cowdery’s Letters to W. W. Phelps,” Gospel Reflector 1, no. 6 (March 15, 1841): 137–176.
- Letters by Oliver Cowdery, to W.W. Phelps on the Origin of the Book of Mormon and the Rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Liverpool: Ward and Cairns, 1844).
- “O. Cowdery’s Letters to W. W. Phelps,” The Prophet 1, no. 7 (June 29, 1844).
- Roper, “The Treason of the Geographers,” 161–205.
- Contrary to Neville’s bald assertion, however, there is no evidence that Joseph Smith quoted Letter VII in his 6 September 1842 letter to the Saints.
- See Richard E. Turley Jr. and William W. Slaughter, How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2012).
- Davidson et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1, 38. See also Arthur Henry King, The Abundance of the Heart (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1986), 204.
- Richard L. Bushman, “Oliver’s Joseph,” in Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, ed. Alexander L. Baugh (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 7.
- John E. Clark, “Book of Mormon Geography,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1992), 1:176.
- The Prophet waffled on the location of the hill Cumorah throughout his life. In his 1832 history, Joseph spoke only of an unnamed “place . . . where the plates [were] deposited.” History, circa Summer 1832, p. 4. Six years later he described the location where he found the plates as merely “a hill of considerable size.” History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834], addendum, p. 7. That same year Joseph spoke only of “a hill in Manchester, Ontario County New York” as the location where he found the plates. Elders’ Journal (July 1838): 43. The Prophet first speaks of the location as Cumorah in a letter dated 6 September 1842, where he poetically describes heading “Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, An Angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets.” “Letter to ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,’ 6 September 1842 [D&C 128],” p. 7. It’s reasonable to assume that Joseph eventually accepted the identity of the hill Cumorah as the hill in Palmyra after this theory became popular amongst Latter-day Saints. Even so, there’s nothing in the historical sources to suggest Joseph came to identify the Palmyra drumlin as Cumorah because of revelation.
- See Matthew Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations,” FARMS Review 16, no. 2 (2004): 225–275. Mark Alan Wright, “Joseph Smith and Native American Artifacts,” in Approaching Antiquity, 119–140.
- Wright, “Joseph Smith and Native American Artifacts,” 130–131.