Friday, May 20, 2016

More on David Whitmer, Zina Young, and Cumorah

 

David Whitmer, circa 1855
(photo links to JSP)
This post offers more detail on David Whitmer and Zina Young.

I've had some feedback on the previous post that there is no evidence Zina had heard about David Whitmer's Cumorah experience from David himself. It's true we don't have written evidence of when she heard the story or from whom, but Stevenson's journal shows Zina had heard it from somewhere before Stevenson visited Whitmer. That's why she told Stevenson to ask Whitmer about it. I imagine the conversation being something such as this:

Zina: "You're going to visit David Whitmer?"
Stevenson: "I plan to. I hope he'll see me."
Zina: "Ask him about the Nephite he met."
Stevenson: "He met a Nephite?"
Zina (nodding): "And he was carrying the plates to the hill Cumorah because Joseph didn't want the responsibility. David, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were riding in a wagon from Harmony to the Whitmer farm. He'll tell you all about it."
Stevenson: "Sounds interesting."
Zina: "You should publish it when you get back."

The Mesoamerican advocates who reject Whitmer's testimony rely on the "late" retelling to Stevenson and Joseph F. Smith. Their objection is based on the premise that Whitmer's experience hearing the term "Cumorah" for the first time occurred in 1829, but he did not tell the story before 1878. Certainly, 50 years after the fact could be considered late; each person has to assess that "lateness" in light of the detail of Whitmer's account, the surprising and unusual circumstances, and the presence of Joseph and Oliver when the event occurred.

The Stevenson account undermines the "lateness" objection, however. Whether Zina heard the story directly from Whitmer in 1835, or heard it from someone else, the point is that she did hear it before Stevenson asked Whitmer about it. From his journal, we have to infer that Stevenson had not heard the story before.

There is no record of anyone knowing this story before Stevenson's interview with David, except for Zina. So all the evidence we have suggests that before the interview, the only two people who knew the story were Zina and David (and Oliver and Joseph, if David's testimony is to be believed, but Joseph and Oliver were dead by then).

And the only evidence we have of David and Zina interacting was when David and Hyrum Smith were missionary companions in 1835 in Watertown, NY, where Hyrum baptized her. [This is no minor point. David Whitmer didn't go on a lot of missionary journeys. When you read Zina's account, notice how she emphasizes how hard David worked to persuade her to get baptized. I think it's safe to infer he tried everything he could, including his viewing of the golden plates as one of the Three Witnesses. In this context, his claim he saw one of the Nephites carrying the plates to Cumorah would be another thing to bring up.

Later, Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt visited David Whitmer and elicited the same story from him. This suggests they first heard it when Stevenson published it (or told them about it).

Zina published an article, probably taken from parts of her journal we don't otherwise have now, in the April 1893 issue of The Young Woman's Journal. Titled "How I Gained my Testimony of the Truth," the article gives details on how she joined the Church in 1835. It is available online here. In the next section, I show the relevant aspects of Zina's article.
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In the following summer Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer came to our house and stayed several days. Father and mother had been baptized in the April of that same year, but neither myself nor my sister were baptized.

David Whitmer persuaded me to be baptized while they were at our home, but some way I did not accept his offer. I had told my sister-in-law, Fanny Huntingdon, that when she was baptized I would go with her.

The morning for the departure of these men from our house arrived, and I had not as yet become a member of the Church. That morning, a short time before they were to start, Hyrum Smith’s cousin rode up with a message that they could not leave that day, as my brother Dimick and his wife Fanny, my dear sister-in-law, were desirous of being baptized.

That morning at prayers I had presented to me a heavenly vision of a man going down into the water and baptizing someone. So when this message came I felt it was a testimony that the time had come for me to receive baptism. Brother Hyrum Smith was mouth in prayer, and in my secret soul I had a wish that he should baptize me. I had refused the coaxing of Brother Whitmer, as I told myself, because mother and father were going away from home, and I had all the home cares on me, and I feared I would be tempted to speak crossly or say something I ought not to after so sacred an ordinance as that; but this strong testimony that the proper time had arrived I did not dare treat lightly.

As soon as I consented to go with my brother and sister-in-law David Whitmer began talking about performing the office for us. Happily for me, however, Brother Hyrum was chosen by the others to be the proper one and I added my preference to their words. Accordingly, we all went down to the water and were baptized by Hyrum Smith, and confirmed under the hands of Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer. [This was on August 1, 1835.]

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Note on Cumorah, David Whitmer and Zina Young

I realize the topic of Cumorah has been discussed a lot lately, so don't read this if you're tired of the Cumorah topic. I actually covered this topic in detail last August, 

here. I'm writing today because of a new bit of information that's always been available but I didn't really notice until now and I wanted it here on the blog as a note for future reference.

If you're new to this topic, it has to do with two of the Three Witnesses. Those who advocate a Mesoamerican geography reject Oliver Cowdery's description of Cumorah in Letter VII. They also reject David Whitmer's explanation of the first time he heard the word Cumorah (which he said was in June 1829, before he'd ever read the text, and he heard it from a heavenly messenger).

The rationale for rejecting David Whitmer's testimony is that he supposedly never talked about it until 50 years after the fact, in interviews he gave to Edward Stevenson in 1877 and to Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt in 1878.

Here's how one scholar articulated the argument (I won't mention names, but you can get it from my August post if you're interested):

Edward Stevenson
"The earliest possible connection between the New York hill and the Book of Mormon Cumorah comes from an 1878 interview with David Whitmer by Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,... This report [the Whitmer interview] would be much more conclusive had it not been recorded nearly fifty years later. The passage of time and the accepted designation of “Cumorah” as the name of the New York hill by the time of the recollection argue against the second-hand report from Whitmer as being a definitive statement."

There are all kinds of logical errors in that statement, but I've addressed those before. Today, I want to point out something in the Stevenson statement, taken from his contemporaneous journal.

I obtained a copy of Stevenson's journal recently and here's what his entry says:

Page from Stevenson journal
"I wish to mention an Item of conversation with David Whitmer in regard to Seeing one of the Nephites, Zina Young, Desired me to ask about it. David Said, Oliver, & The Prophet, & I were riding in a wagon, & an aged man about 5 feet 10, heavey Set & on his back, an old fashioned Armey knapsack Straped over his Shoulders & Something Square in it, & he walked alongside of the Wagon & Wiped the Sweat off his face, Smileing very Pleasant David asked him to ride and he replied I am going across to the hill Cumorah. Soon after they Passed they felt Strangeley and Stoped, but could see nothing of him all around was clean and they asked the Lord about it. He Said that the Prophet Looked as White as a Sheet & Said that it was one of the Nephites & that he had the plates."*

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Edward Stevenson was a general authority (one of the seven presidents of the Seventy). He was a well-known missionary (one of the MTC buildings is named after him). There's no reason to doubt the credibility of his interview with David Whitmer.

What I find fascinating is that Zina Young asked Stevenson to ask David Whitmer about seeing one of the Nephites. That was the focus of the interview, not the Cumorah question.

Zina Young
This means that Zina had heard this story earlier. 

Why Zina Young? 

And when could she have heard it? 

And from whom?

It could not have been from the interview with Joseph F. Smith, which occurred a year later.

Instead, it's highly likely she heard it from David Whitmer directly!

Zina was born in 1821. Her family lived in Watertown, New York. In 1835, when she was 14 years old, two missionaries came to town: Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer. Hyrum baptized her on August 1, 1835. The family moved to Kirtland, and eventually to Far West, and then to Nauvoo along with most of the rest of the Saints. Zina married, had two children, and then also married Joseph Smith. After his death, she married Brigham Young. (That's a topic for another day.)

David Whitmer left the Church in 1837-1838 and lived in Missouri for the rest of his life. Zina would have had no contact with him after about 1837, at the latest. If that's the case, then she could only have heard the story from him between 1835 and 1837--just a few years after 1829, when David said the event happened.

Of course, modern Mesoamerican scholars will dispute this somehow, but the argument that David's testimony is unreliable because it was 50 years late contradicts the Stevenson account.

Interestingly, Zina was also the one who inherited Joseph's seer stone after Brigham Young died.

The simplest, historically justified explanation is that David told Zina and her family the story when he contacted them as a missionary. Zina remembered it and told Stevenson to ask David about it in 1877. Stevenson recorded it and wrote about it. 

David Whitmer
Then Joseph F. Smith asked David about it, and he reiterated his account of the event.

It's not a 50-year-old story related from a feeble and tainted memory. It's a retelling of an account related by a missionary to his investigators just a few years after the event.

Other than to defend the Mesoamerican ideology, there's no reason to cast doubt on the testimony of the Three Witnesses.
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The bottom line is this (adapted from my August post):

Think about this. To accept the Mesoaemerican setting you have to disbelieve two of the three main witnesses to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. The Mesoamerican advocates seek to persuade you these two men were not reliable witnesses when it comes to the issue of Cumorah being in New York.

By contrast, to accept the North American (or Heartland) setting, you fully embrace what these two men said.
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References: http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/BYUIBooks/id/3527

*You can find this account in these references, although apparently not transcribed exactly: "Edward Stevenson Interview (1) 22-23 December 1877, Richmond, Missouri Diary of Edward Stevenson," LDS Church Archives, Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 1993, p. 13; also Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 2003, vol. v, p. 30.