The clarity of Letter VII

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On my Mesomania blog, I’ve been discussing the techniques used by Mesoamerican proponents to perpetuate their theories about Book of Mormon geography. So far, I’ve discussed sowing confusion and impeaching the witnesses.

Both of these techniques have been applied to Letter VII. In this post, I outline the reason why Letter VII is so devastating to the Mesoamerican theory and the two-Cumorahs theory on which it depends.
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The first tactic toward Letter VII is to suppress and/or ignore it. When you read Letter VII, you can see why Mesoamerican advocates have done everything possible to hide it from their readers and members of the Church generally.

It’s almost as if Joseph and Oliver knew that in the distant future, after they and all their contemporaries died off, LDS scholars would go to great lengths to deny what they taught. 

Notice how Oliver and Joseph describe the hill so there can be no ambiguity, either for their contemporaries or for future readers:

“You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N. Y. and also, as you pass from the former to the latter place, before arriving at the little village of Manchester, say from three to four, or about four miles from Palmyra, you pass a large hill on the east side of the road. Why I say large, is, because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country. To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that route. The north end rises quite sudden until it assumes a level with the more southerly extremity, and I think I may say an elevation higher than at the south a short distance, say half or three fourths of a mile. As you pass toward Canandaigua it lessens gradually until the surface assumes its common level, or is broken by other smaller hills or ridges, water courses and ravines. I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by.

Two points come to mind here.

First, Joseph and Oliver could have drawn a map and inserted it into the letter, but they didn’t. Perhaps that would have been difficult to print under their circumstances, so instead they provided this detailed description of the hill so anyone who visits the area could find it. I’ve often wondered why Mormon and/or Moroni didn’t just draw a map on the plates to save all the space they needed to write out descriptions. Of course, they may have, but the seer stone gave Joseph words to read instead.

Or, which I think is more likely, Mormon and Moroni knew they were going to give Joseph and Oliver a pin in the map from which we could figure out the rest from the written descriptions they gave.

Did they know LDS scholars would reject the pin? More likely, such an idea would be unthinkable to them. But I suspect Joseph and Oliver had an inkling, so they wrote out this long, clear description.

Second, Oliver seems to anticipate some of the objections that would be raised by future LDS scholars, who say the Hill Cumorah is not significant enough to fit the text. Notice, Oliver emphasizes “it is the largest and risest the highest of any on that route.” Then he reiterates that “this is the highest hill for some distance round.” Yet I often hear, as recently as last week, from people who have never visited the area, that the hill is insignificant.
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Not content to describe just the hill, Oliver continues with a description of the actual scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites. Again, he uses unambiguous specificity. I think he’s trying to inoculate the Saints against the future efforts of first the RLDS scholars, and then the LDS scholars, to deny what he and Joseph sought to establish; i.e., the specific location of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

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.

“By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon, you will read Mormon’s account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (It is printed Camorah, which is an error.) 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. A few had fled to the South, who were hunted down by the victorious party, and all who would not deny the Savior and his religion, were put to death. Mormon himself, according to the record of his son Moroni, was also slain.

“But a long time previous to this national disaster it appears from his own account, he foresaw approaching destruction. In fact, if he perused the records of his fathers, which were in his possession, he could have learned that such would be the case. Alma, who lived before the coming of the Messiah, prophesies this. He however, by Divine appointment, abridged from those records, in his own style and language, a short account of the more important and prominent items, from the days of Lehi to his own time, after which he deposited, as he says, on the 529th page, all the records in this same hill, Cumorah, and after gave his small record to his son Moroni, who, as appears from the same, finished it, after witnessing the extinction of his people as a nation…

“This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it, pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tent. Coriantumr was the last king of the Jaredites. The opposing army were to the west, and in this same valley, and near by. From day to day, did that mighty race spill their blood, in wrath, contending as it were, brother against brother, and father against son. In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying of our fellowmen.”
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It’s difficult to imagine how Oliver and Joseph could have been more explicit, or how they could have made this more widely known to the Saints than they did through repeated republication, including in Philadelphia and England. Joseph referenced it in what became D&C 128.

Perhaps they should have included a specific warning, addressed to the future Saints, to beware of scholars and educators who would reject and suppress their teachings about Cumorah. But maybe they knew such a warning, just like the warning of a future Prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, would go unheeded.

The clarity of Letter VII explains why the scholars and educators have sought to suppress it and ignore it. But they have a fallback position for those who inquire enough to discover Letter VII. They seek to impeach the witnesses.

That’s the topic of my other post at the mesomania blog, here.

This leaves it up to us, the ordinary rank and file of the Church, to read Letter VII and make our own choices about whom to believe.

Source: Letter VII

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