Another milestone in the scholarship on the Book of Mormon

Another milestone in the scholarship on the Book of Mormon June 27, 2020


Oliver Cowdery about to pray
A still photograph taken a few days ago by James Jordan on the set of the Interpreter Foundation’s “Witnesses” film project in upstate New York


My wife and I were delighted just this afternoon to receive the latest massive (“oversized”) volume to emerge from Royal Skousen’s ongoing Book of Mormon critical text project:  Royal Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Part Six, Spelling in the Manuscripts and Editions (Provo: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Brigham Young University Studies, 2020), vi + 590 pages.  Royal and his wife, Sirkku, came by to present a copy to us and a copy to neighbors who have been very supportive of his project, which is now in its thirty-third year.


There has never been a scholarly project in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as big, as sustained, and as meticulous as this one, and there have been very few comparable projects anywhere, at any time.




A preliminary partial draft of one of my manuscripts-in-progress:


In 1848, the year before he died, Oliver Cowdery received rebaptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Kanesville, Iowa.  “I feel that I can honorably return,” he told the high council there.  “I have sustained an honorable character before the world during my absence from you.  This though a small matter with you, is of vast importance.”[1]

Before an audience of approximately two thousand, including non-members of the Church, Cowdery bore witness of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, and the divine calling of Joseph Smith.  “I beheld with my eye and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters. That book is true.”[2]

 It was not an auspicious time to return. The Saints had been expelled from Nauvoo. Some had already arrived the previous year in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, but most were scattered across the plains and still gathering from Europe. En route to stay with the Whitmers in Richmond, Missouri, during the ensuing winter, the Cowderys were forced by a snow storm to seek shelter at a farmhouse in the northwestern part of the state. As fortune would have it, the master of the house was a devout Latter-day Saint by the name of Samuel W. Richards. The storm offered Richards the chance to spend days in conversation with one of the Three Witnesses, the former second elder of the Church, and he used the time well, asking numerous questions about the early days of the Restoration.

This interview with Brother and Sister Cowdery was one of entire freedom and familiarity, although we had never met before; and his experience in connection with the prophet Joseph, when the ministrations of angels were frequent in restoring Priesthood, and the Keys of Knowledge . . . made it all a most divinely and sacred interview to me.[3]

 At the end, Richards asked for a personal statement, in writing, of Oliver’s testimony of the basic divine events of the Restoration. In 1884, the Deseret News published the following “testimony and statement,” dated and signed on 13 January 1849, that, Richards reported, Oliver had “penned, with his own hand and in my presence,” addressed “To Elder Samuel W. Richards”:

While darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the people, long after the authority to administer in holy things had been taken away, the Lord opened the heavens and sent forth his word for the salvation of Israel. In fulfillment of the sacred scripture, the everlasting gospel was proclaimed by the mighty angel (Moroni), who, clothed with the authority of his mission, gave glory to God in the highest. This gospel is the “stone taken from the mountain without hands.” John the Baptist, holding the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood; Peter, James, and John, holding the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, have also ministered for those who shall be heirs of salvation, and with these ministrations ordained men to the same priesthoods. These priesthoods, with their authority, are now, and must continue to be, in the body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Blessed is the elder who has received the same, and thrice blessed and holy is he who shall endure to the end. Accept assurances, dear brother, of the unfeigned prayer of him who, in connection with Joseph the Seer, was blessed with the above ministrations and who earnestly and devoutly hopes to meet you in the celestial glory.[4]


[1] Pottawattamie High Council Minutes for 5 November 1848, cited in Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 175.

[2] Journal of Reuben Miller, 1848, and MS 21 (20 August 1859): 544. [See originals.]  Edward Bunker was still talking in 1894 of the “powerfull testimony” he heard Oliver Cowdery give at Winter Quarters in 1848.  See Larson and Larson, Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, 2:774.

[3] Samuel W. Richards, handwritten statement, 21 May 1907, Ms 3703, LDS Church Archives, as cited in Faulring, “The Return of Oliver Cowdery,” 150-151.

[4] Cited in Anderson, “Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” 44.



Browse Our Archives