Simple deception?

Simple deception? July 15, 2020


Bryce's colorized Cowdery
Oliver Cowdery
For the background of this daguerreotype, colorized by Bryce Haymond, see
(The Interpreter Foundation)


I’ve made no secret of the fact that I regard Richard Lloyd Anderson’s Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981) as one of the most important books ever written by a Latter-day Saint scholar. Brother Anderson (1926-2018) was a hero of mine and, for his last decades, a friend.  He was unusually well trained, with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. in ancient history from the University of California at Berkeley, but, in significant addition to that, he was also remarkably careful, focused, and meticulous.  I’m re-reading his book at the moment, and I intend to share copious (but greatly condensed) notes from it over the next weeks, in not quite random order, more or less as they occur in it.


After years of working with their lives and their words, I am deeply convinced that their printed testimonies must be taken at face value.  (xii)


Those who see the witnesses as victims of simple deception have overlooked the complexity of the experience promised to them, and their later spontaneous mention of seeing the other ancient objects with the plates:

Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.  And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.

And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God.  And this you shall do that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., may not be destroyed, that I may bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men in this work.  (Doctrine and Covenants 17:1-4). (10)


Based on my experience, at least, my sense is that many members of the Church are unaware of the fact that the Three Witnesses saw not just the gold plates but, as a matter of fact, each of the objects mentioned in the June 1829 revelation from which the quotation above is taken.  This makes a comprehensive explanation for their claim (other than their own faithful one) potentially much more difficult to find. 


Oliver Cowdery played an extraordinary role in the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  His title of “second elder” was appropriate, as an examination of incidents in which he was prominent indicates: the translation of the Book of Mormon, restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, printing of the Book of Mormon, the conversion of Sidney Rigdon, and the vision of the Christ and the Old Testament prophets in the Kirtland Temple.  Since he was announced as the sole companion of Joseph Smith in the foundation experiences, no one else stood in the unique position of being able to expose Joseph Smith at all critical points, if he could be exposed.  Because whatever Oliver Cowdery reported about the earliest events of Mormonism is of the greatest significance, it is most important to study the kind of man he was and assess his reliability.  (37)


Posted from Park City, Utah



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