But from all indications, we’re a long ways from consensus that the Cumorah if Mormon 6:6 is in New York.
No one at BYU or in CES teaches about Letter VII. Most of the faculty has never heard of it. No lesson manuals mention it, etc.*
Consequently, Latter-Day Saints around the world are kept in the dark about what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote about the Hill Cumorah.
Fortunately, thousands of Latter-Day Saints are discovering and sharing Letter VII, and the momentum is just getting started.
It appears that the scholars are hoping no one notices, but they’ve come up with a new approach..
Apparently a memo has gone out about Letter VII.
[Whether this is a literal or figurative memo doesn’t matter for this discussion.]
The way the Mesoamerican advocates (and other advocates of a non-New York Cumorah such as the Baja group) plan to deal with Letter VII is by characterizing it as a “secondary source.”
This is awesome, and here’s why.
The “secondary source” label seeks to undermine the credibility and reliability of Letter VII and its author, Oliver Cowdery.
Letter VII is obviously a huge problem for LDS scholars and educators who reject the New York setting. When they take the position that Oliver Cowdery was speculating about Cumorah, they are really calling him a liar because he wrote it was a fact that the final battles were here. Those are his words. “A fact.”
In other parts of his letters, Oliver made it clear that he was speculating, such as about how deep Moroni buried the stone box. But when it came to Cumorah in New York, he said it was a fact. If you’re speculating,and you’re honest, you don’t explicitly characterize your speculation as a fact. (You might make an argument by stating this or that happened as an assertion, but that’s different from specifically labeling your assertion as a fact.)
And if you’re Joseph Smith, you don’t have a false statement of fact republished multiple times so all the Saints can read it.
As I’ve pointed out before, there are two basic groups of people who claim Oliver Cowdery was a liar: anti-Mormons and Mesoamerican proponents.
So now, apparently, Mesoamerican proponents are trying to avoid this dilemma by calling Letter VII a “secondary source.” It’s not clear what they mean by this, but I’ll assume they mean that Letter VII was not signed by Joseph Smith (although they characterize him as a secondary source, too).
But if that’s their criteria, then they are in an even worse position because there is not a single document that can be directly attributed to Joseph that links the Book of Mormon to Central America.
Let’s think about what a secondary source is. Here’s a standard definition:
“a secondary source of information is one that was created later by someone who did not experience first-hand or participate in the events or conditions you’re researching.”
Now, we could say that any source who was not present during the last battles of the Jaredites or Nephites is secondary. In that sense, Mormon and Moroni are secondary sources for the Jaredite wars. But they were primary sources for the Nephite wars, and Mormon said he buried the records in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6).
This analysis means there can be no modern primary sources, because the wars happened a long time ago. To have a primary source, we would have to have Moroni testifying in court or on television.
Or, we could consider that Joseph and Oliver experienced first-hand and participated in the events about which they wrote. This includes viewing the plates, their experiences with John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Lord Himself.
Presumably, as faithful LDS we can all agree that Oliver wrote the truth about these events. I’ll assume we have a consensus on these points.
IOW, I think everyone can agree that Oliver’s letters are primary sources for these events, whether because he was actually present or because he was co-writing with Joseph on the events that Joseph experienced on his own.
Now, why do the Mesoamerican proponents characterize Letter VII as a “secondary source” on the question of Cumorah?
Because they insist Oliver Cowdery was a liar. Either that, or Brigham Young was a liar. Or both.
Brigham Young explained on multiple occasions that Oliver and Joseph visited the records repository in the Hill Cumorah. Obviously, Brigham wasn’t there; he hadn’t even joined the Church at that point. But he said Oliver told him about it.
The Mesoamerican proponents have insisted for years that either Oliver or Brigham were lying about this.
Think about that for a moment.
It should be obvious why they have to call Oliver and/or Brigham liars, because if Brigham was telling the truth, and Oliver was telling the truth, then that makes Oliver’s Letter VII a first-hand account; i.e., Oliver (and Joseph) experienced first-hand the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.
So the only way to transform Letter VII into a second-hand account is to claim Oliver Cowdery is a liar, and they’re back to the same problem they had before they decided to reject Letter VII as a secondary account.
They’re calling Oliver a liar.
The secondary account argument is also problematic because Joseph embraced it as part of his own history and had it reprinted multiple times so all the Saints could read it.
Yes, you read that right. The Mesoamerican proponents have Joseph Smith directing his scribes to copy lies into his own history.
Now you see why Joseph Fielding Smith said this “two Cumorahs” theory would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith.
There are very few examples in Church history of specific writings that are republished multiple times.
Think of it this way. By 1844, Letter VII was printed in four separate Church-related publications, in addition to Joseph’s own history. By contrast, the Book of Abraham was published once in the Times and Seasons. If you were a member of the Church in 1844, you were more likely to have read Letter VII than the Book of Abraham.
*If I’m wrong about that, I’d like a representative from BYU and/or CES to so indicate in a comment here, or email me. In fact, I have an open invitation for any BYU professor or CES educator to let me know if they have even heard of Letter VII before, or if they’ve read it, or if they teach it to their students. So far, I’ve had only people who have retired from those institutions tell me they embrace Letter VII.
Source: Book of Mormon Concensus