Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Impeaching witnesses

Yesterday I mentioned two main techniques used by criminal defense attorneys: 1) impeach the evidence and 2) confuse the jury.

In that post I focused on the way Mesoamerican advocates confuse the jury to help advance their theory and discourage independent analysis by Latter-day Saints generally.

The "two-Cumorahs" theory is a spectacularly effective confusion tool. The term transforms the most simple and declarative position--that Cumorah is in New York--into a mass of confusion. A basic concept understood and taught by Joseph, Oliver, and their contemporaries has been transformed into an attack on their very credibility and reliability. We have to admire the effectiveness of the technique, but we don't have to accept it. In fact, it's effectiveness requires us to examine it in far more detail, as I will soon.

Another technique of confusion that I addressed yesterday is insisting that the top priority for solving Book of Mormon geography questions should be creating an abstract map from the text. Because the text is inherently ambiguous, this allows the scholars to assert their academic credentials and impose their interpretation on everyone who is less educated or less privileged (e.g., who doesn't work at BYU or CES). It's a brilliant technique because it sounds logical but is based on an irrational premise.

The other technique I discussed yesterday is conflating statements made by Joseph Smith with statements that were 1) known to be made by others, 2) not known to be made by Joseph but nevertheless attributed to him. This raises all kinds of inconsistency, especially when combined with the assumption that Joseph's associates knew what he thought about the topic. This, in turn, sows confusion and lets the scholars and educators endlessly debate the various possibilities. Like the abstract map technique, the scholars can assert their superior credentials to impose their preferred interpretations.

Once it is sowed, the obvious remedy for confusion is clarity.

In the context of Book of Mormon geography generally, and the Hill Cumorah specifically, clarity consists of Letter VII.

Joseph and Oliver made the location of Cumorah in New York as clear as words can be.

[And, just to be clear about Cumorah, we're referring to the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 here. By using the two-Cumorahs theory, the scholars and educators have made even that simple term confusing in the minds of many, to the point I need to invoke Mormon 6:6 each time I discuss the issue.]

So how do LDS scholars and educators maintain confusion despite Letter VII?

First, they ignore and suppress it.

Second, they impeach the authors, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. I'll address impeachment later in this post, but first I want to finish the "sowing confusion" section by examining how the scholars and educators have suppressed Letter VII.

Letter VII is too straightforward to allow LDS scholars and educators to cram confusion into it.

IMO, this is why they have effectively suppressed Letter VII for decades. Until the Joseph Smith papers provided easy search and access, I had no idea Joseph Smith directed his scribes to copy Letter VII into his own journal. Until I studied Benjamin Winchester, I had no idea Joseph encouraged Winchester specifically to reprint these letters, including Letter VII. I also had no idea that the letters were reprinted in England using Winchester's version.

I'm not an expert in Church history, but I'm also not ignorant about it. I've read most of the books about Church history. I've followed FARMS and other scholarly publications for years. I've taught Gospel Doctrine in several wards for many years.

Now that I've focused on Letter VII, I've become quite interested in how well it has been suppressed since the two-Cumorahs theory was adopted by LDS scholars and educators over the objection of Joseph Fielding Smith (who, after all, cited Letter VII in his prophetic warning about the two-Cumorahs theory).

Letter VII appears in no Church manuals. It does not appear in Church history books and materials. It was last published in a Church magazine in 1889. It is nowhere to be found in the Visitors Centers--not even at the Visitors Center at the base of the Hill Cumorah itself. It appears in one reference on all of, a footnote to an article about Joseph obtaining the plates. I've searched the citation cartel's publications in vain for a reference to Letter VII. Even the book based on the seminar on Oliver Cowdery conducted at BYU says nothing about Oliver's Letter VII comment on Cumorah.

The anonymous Times and Seasons articles are cited and discussed in myriad publications about Book of Mormon geography, but Letter VII is ignored in all of them.

To its credit, Book of Mormon Central did post my short book about Letter VII. But shortly thereafter, the published an attack article and declined to publish my rebuttal, so my short book remains an outlier.

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. 

I discuss the clarity of Letter VII on the Letter VII blog, here.

It's completely rational for the scholars and educators to suppress and ignore Letter VII, given their conviction that it represents pure speculation and outright error on the part of Oliver and Joseph. In the light of Mesomania, Letter VII reflects badly on Joseph and Oliver.

Maybe they deem it an instance of jingoism; i.e., Joseph and Oliver thought the United States was the promised land described by the Book of Mormon, which, according to some scholars, reflects their excessive patriotism.

For whatever reason, LDS scholars and educators seem to wish Letter VII (at least the part about Cumorah) had never been written.

But it was.

Given their perspective that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, it is not irrational for LDS scholars and educators to minimize its importance by ignoring it and suppressing it as much as possible, so as not to confuse the Saints. (This might seem at odds with the tactic of sowing confusion, but when confusion is your objective, the last thing you do is add evidence to the mix that contradicts your own position. Better to exclude it from consideration.)

The advent of the Joseph Smith Papers and other digitization has made ongoing suppression is essentially impossible. It's a losing strategy. Ignoring Letter VII has been effective, but the citation cartel surely knew their monopoly would not last forever; in fact, their monopoly is crumbling in the face of challenges such as this blog.

Faced with these developments, Mesoamerican proponents have a final tactic they've employed as a precaution.

They've sought to impeach the witnesses.

Witness impeachment consists of calling into question the credibility of a witness testifying in a trial.

I've observed before that there are two general categories of people who seek to impeach the credibility and reliability of the Three Witnesses and Joseph Smith. They are:

1. Anti-Mormons who claim Joseph Smith was a fraud.

2. LDS scholars and educators who adhere to a two-Cumorah theory.

Despite their common goal of impeachment, there are important distinctions between these groups.

Anti-Mormon groups seek to impeach all three witnesses, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, as well as Joseph Smith. They seek to impeach them regarding everything they said about the Book of Mormon. Their motivation is to undermine the reliability and credibility of the witnesses regarding the origins of the Church and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. If the Three Witnesses and Joseph Smith are reliable and credible, their testimony is devastating to the anti-Mormon arguments.

LDS scholars and educators seek to impeach the same individuals, except for Martin Harris, of whom nothing is recorded regarding Cumorah. Thus, they seek to impeach David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith, but they limit the scope of impeachment to the topic of the Hill Cumorah. Their motivation is to undermine the reliability and credibility of these three men regarding the New York setting for Cumorah, while simultaneously supporting their reliability and credibility regarding the origins of the Church and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. If David and Oliver and Joseph are reliable and credible in their statements about Cumorah, their testimony is devastating to the scholars' two-Cumorah argument.

Usually, it's easier to impeach a witness generally than to impeach a witness about one particular component of his/her testimony while also seeking to establish the reliability and credibility of the witness for the rest of his/her testimony. If you have a witness even you believe is honest, it's difficult to persuade a jury that this witness was honest about everything except the one piece of evidence that destroys your case. 

Usually you look foolish making that argument to a jury. You don't even try.

In this case, though, LDS scholars and educators have to try. Otherwise, their entire case collapses.

They've already committed to the position that New York is too far from Mesoamerica (or Baja, or Panama, or Chile, or wherever); i.e., Cumorah cannot be in New York if Zarahemla is in one of these other places. (Recall the famous statement by John Sorenson in Mormon's Codex that the idea of Cumorah in New York is manifestly absurd and worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie.)

Therefore, if Cumorah is in New York, Zarahemla cannot be in Mesoamerica, Baja, etc. (I actually don't agree with this conclusion, because I think the New York setting commits no one on the rest of the geography, but these LDS scholars and educators have painted themselves into this corner.)

LDS scholars and educators have to thread the needle. They must perform a delicate, surgical impeachment of David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith. 

It's a daunting task, which is why they prefer suppressing and ignoring Letter VII. Again, that approach has been rational, and it has succeeded for a while, but it is no longer viable.

You can see the dilemma they face. They are committed to establishing and supporting the reliability and credibility of David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith regarding everything they said about their experiences with the plates, the translation, and divine messengers, except for their statements about Cumorah in New York.

So how do they do it?


The basic tactic is to carve out the Cumorah statements as exceptions. They claim Joseph, Oliver and David never claimed specific revelation on the location of Cumorah, so these men must have been speculating.

Imagine you're sitting in a jury, listening to lawyers making this argument to you with a straight face. It's difficult to imagine, isn't it?

We don't even need the lawyers for the other side to point out the obvious fallacies of this approach. Running through the mind of every one of the jurors are these points:

- We have only few records of what transpired in the early days of the Church.

- Oliver noted he had access to records that we don't have today.

- Joseph referred to many prophecies and revelations that were never recorded, per se. E.g., Joseph Smith-History 1:73-74.

- Even if Joseph and Oliver didn't receive a specific revelation on the location of the final battles, they visited the records repository (Mormon 6:6) in the hill in New York.

- Joseph referred to Cumorah before he even translated the plates.

- On his first mission in 1830, Oliver taught that the hill was named Cumorah.

- When Moroni visited Joseph, he said the record had been "written and deposited" not far from his home.

- Oliver wrote that it was "a fact" that the final battles took place there, and described with specificity where the battles occurred.

- The hill fits the description in the text, as Oliver explained as clearly as words can be.

- Oliver's Letter I is reliable and credible enough to be included in the canonized scriptures.

- When he wrote and published Letter VII, Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church.

- Oliver was the only witness other than Joseph Smith to the translation of most of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses, to the restoration of the Priesthood, to the restoration of the keys of former dispensations, to many of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, and to the Lord's personal acceptance of the Kirtland temple.

So you're sitting on the jury, listening to this lawyer tell you that everything Oliver wrote and said was reliable and credible, including everything he wrote in these letters, except for the lines that contradict the lawyer's client's position about Mesoamerica.

It's laughable, really. You can't believe this lawyer is standing there, expecting you to believe it.

But he/she does expect you to believe it, and he/she has convinced millions of members of the Church that Joseph, Oliver, and David were basically lying about this one point.  

Let's revisit the two groups who employ impeachment to achieve their goals.

Let's say that the LDS scholars and educators succeed in persuading members of the Church that Joseph, Oliver and David were, let's say "speculating," about the New York location of the Hill Cumorah. This means that even when Oliver said something was a fact, he either didn't mean it was a fact or he was lying because he was actually speculating. Either way, he was deceiving his readers. It also means that when Joseph Smith endorsed Letter VII he was participating in the deceit that originated with Oliver Cowdery.

Now, what impact does this success of the scholars have on the other group of impeaching lawyers?

The anti-Mormons love it.

Basically, the LDS scholars are making their case.

Imagine you're back on a jury, but this time the two sides are the anti-Mormons and the LDS scholars and educators. Now the lawyers for the anti-Mormons stand before you. They say something such as this: "You just heard from faithful, devoted LDS scholars and educators that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were actually speculating about the location of Cumorah, even though they represented it as a fact. If you believe these scholars and educators, you have to believe that, at least in this one instance, Joseph, Oliver and David were deceiving their readers. They were deceiving their fellow members of the Church, right in an official Church newspaper. And that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is really all we're saying. Your own scholars and educators have made our case. If you concede these men misled their own people on such a critical point, you've destroyed their credibility regarding everything else they've said."

And you realize they're correct.

Which is why this is such serious business.


I've previously discussed the details about this impeachment process, so I won't go through it again here. For example, David Whitmer related an account of picking up Joseph and Oliver in Harmony and taking them to Fayette in June 1829. Along the way, he said, they encountered a man who had a knapsack and said he was going to Cumorah. The man was a heavenly messenger who was carrying the plates Joseph gave him before they left Harmony. LDS scholars consider the account reliable in every detail except for the word Cumorah. They claim Whitmer was confused about this term because no one used the term before the Book of Mormon was published; therefore, they claim, Whitmer's memory picked up the false tradition about Cumorah in New York.

They reject Whitmer's statement that this was the first time he heard the word Cumorah.

I've written about this in more detail, but you get the picture. The only reason to reject Whitmer's use of the term Cumorah in this context, when everything else he said was reliable and credible, is because you don't think Cumorah was in New York.

Another example, of course, is Letter VII. LDS scholars seek to impeach Oliver's observations about Cumorah in New York because it contradicts their theories. They realize that when Oliver wrote Letter VII, he was the Assistant President of the Church. He had been the only witness besides Joseph to many significant events, including the restoration of the Priesthood. He had written the Book of Mormon as Joseph dictated the translation. In every respect, historians and scholars recognize Oliver had a high degree of credibility and reliability--except when he wrote or spoke about Cumorah being in New York.

I'll show these efforts to impeach Oliver and David in my videos, but for now I want to make two important points.

First, LDS scholars and educators seek not only to impeach David and Oliver, but also Joseph Smith himself. Joseph helped Oliver write the letters and endorsed them multiple times. The scholars have written that Joseph didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and he relied on scholarship to learn about the geography as he changed his mind over the years and speculated to the end.

Second, LDS scholars and educators seem to misunderstand the basic premise for impeachment. You can't impeach a witness on the ground that the witness disagrees with your own theory of the facts; you have to provide actual evidence to impeach a witness.

Regarding Letter VII, the scholars and educators have made several arguments for impeachment.

First, they claim Oliver was speculating based on a legend or tradition about ancient battles in the area. When he stated it was a fact that the Nephite armies fought to extinction in New York, he actually meant it was a fact that some previous battles had taken place there, and he merely inferred those battles involved the Nephites.

Second, he never claimed revelation, and he was not present for those ancient battles, so he had to be speculating. Of course, the same argument can be made against the theories of the scholars. Except in Oliver's case, he communicated with numerous heavenly beings, including Moroni. We know from the Pearl of Great Price and Brigham Young that Oliver didn't record every revelation he and Joseph had.

Third, the scholars claim the New York hill cannot be Cumorah because it doesn't fit the criteria developed by David A. Palmer. Those self-serving criteria don't come from the text; they are merely tools to confirm the bias that Cumorah is actually in southern Mexico.

I leave it to you to consider whether the LDS scholars and educators have successfully impeached the testimony of David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith on the question of Cumorah.

And if they've done so without impeaching them as witnesses on other points.

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