Date: March 15, 2016 03:37AM
In another thread, RfM poster Myron Donnerbalken recommends that we "should check this out," going on to say that "[i]t's interesting reading; someone discovered the cave dug by the Josephs Smith (father/son) while looking for buried treasure. It was apparently more work than we give them credit for."
The story is under the general topic, "Rational Faiths: Mormon Blog--Keeping Mormonism Weird," and notes, in part, the following:
"Earlier this month [September 2015], my friend Greg Pavone and I lead an initiative to locate and excavate a cave located in Miner’s Hill, in Manchester New York. This project was the culmination of over a year’s worth of exploring, research, and coordination. After a great deal of hard work, tenacity, and a few strokes of good fortune, we . . .were successful in finding and unearthing the cave. It was was truly a remarkable and unforgettable experience.
"According to some sources, the cave we found was manually dug into the hill by Joseph Smith and/or his father in the early 1820s, and may have been the setting for some of the Book of Mormon’s pre-publication activities. . . .
"When I first learned of the possibility of a forgotten cave associated with early Mormon history, I felt an increasing sense of urgency to prove or disprove its existence once and for all. The fact that no one had gotten to it yet–but that someone might yet beat me to it–further motivated me to put some plans into action. . . .
"As I swung the pickaxe and filled the wheelbarrow for hour after hour, I acquired a new-found respect for money-diggers. With sweat dripping off my brow and nose and streaming down my face, I realized this was really hard work. They earned every ounce of Spanish treasure they ever found. As I dug in the very spot that Joseph Smith carved out of a hill nearly 200 years ago (some accounts say it was Father Smith who did most of the digging), I felt an unexpected sense of solidarity with the Smiths. These were their stomping grounds. What events might have transpired here? . . .
"Prior to putting boots on the ground, I set out to collect a comprehensive database of sources related to the cave. . . . -[That search] offered a few notable lessons [as] . . . I pored through the surviving records and accounts that speak of the cave. . . .
" . . . [A] good deal of the sources I found mention the cave in connection with the gold plates and/or the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. . . .[I]s not the forthcoming discovery of records still a part of the LDS belief system, and an integral part of Mormon eschatology? Is that still a tenet we subscribe to and a doctrine we value? If so, what form might that type of discovery actually take? If not from a rediscovered long-lost cave dug by Mormonism’s founder, then from where? Were we part of a greater plan to bring about divine purposes? Would be we joined by 'a mighty one…in a cave…who shall do his work . . .' to '[translate] the plates, which are sealed'? . . .
"It was interesting [for us] to hear [the] perspectives [from current] . . . Palmyra/Manchester locals . . . . [D]espite their proximity to LDS folks and early Mormon locales, one neighbor was unaware that the tours of church history sites were free, none of the neighbors had ever seen a copy of the Book of Mormon, and another neighbor’s knowledge about Joseph Smith was limited to the story that 'he was a horse thief who was hanged.' . . .
"The whole experience, while very satisfying, felt somewhat anti-climactic. While I wasn’t expecting anything (other than a cave) to turn up in the dig, I wondered with great excitement if something might. There is still more excavating to do. The cave floor might go several levels deeper than we reached. Picking up where we left off will require some funding, some interested parties, and some expertise. Is this where the story of the Lost Mormon Cave ends? Is there someone eager to run with the baton?"
("Reflections on Discovering the 'Lost Mormon Cave,'" by KCKern, September 2015)
What a heap of overly-dramatic bullpucky.
Let's look at the record that the above breathless yarn spinner didn't go into any detail on.
Although Joseph Smith's co-Mormon Church president and sidekick, Oliver Cowdery, couldn't get his personal dowsing stick to function when it came to the Book of Mormon's translation junction, early Mormon leaders claimed that Joseph Smith was nonetheless able to locate caves in the Hill Cumorah piled high with ancient plates. Grant H. Palmer, in his book "An Insider's View of Mormonism" (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2002), describes the “discoveries” thusly:
“The ability to see into hidden crevices within the local hills was not limited to Joseph Jr. and his father. Heber C. Kimball spoke of 'the vision that Joseph and others had [Joseph Sr. and Oliver Cowdery are identified] when they went into a cave in the Hill Cumorah and saw more records than 10 men could carry . . . books piled upon tables, book upon book.'
"[Brigham] Young named more witnesses in connection with these visits to Cumorah's cave . . . : 'Oliver [Cowdery] says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon-loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates . . . . I tell you this as coming not only from Oliver Cowdery, but others who were familiar with it . . . . Carlos Smith . . . was a witness to these things. Samuel Smith saw these things, Hyrum saw a good many things but Joseph was the leader.'
". . . In 1873, Brigham Young informed Elizabeth Kane and others that the plates that Cowdery saw 'were in a cave; that Oliver Cowdery . . . would not deny that he had seen [and handled] them. He had been to the cave.'" Palmer adds that "Hyrum Smith related more about [Cowdery's Cumorah spelunking] to William W. Phelps, identifying still others who made the excursion to the hill's interior. Phelps recounted: 'Joseph, Hyrum, Cowdery and Whitmer[s?] went to the Hill Cumorah. As they were walking up the hill, a door opened and they walked into a room about 16-feet square. In that room was an angel and a trunk. On the trunk lay a Book of Mormon and gold plates, Laban's sword, Aaron's breastplate.'" In this regard, Palmer adds that in another statement, Young mentioned that they saw "a Messenger' who was the "keeper of the room" and that they conversed with him.”
Palmer raises doubts that Cowdery physically located such gold-crusted caverns, noting that Brigham Young's version of “recounted statements by Cowdery [of walking into a treasure-laden cave inside the Hill Cumorah] . . . may have been misremembered [as] . . . real events rather than visionary”--serving to further underscore that Cowdery was “seeing” things with his magic stick. Palmer notes, “It appears that this cave was not a physical reality but rather something that was visited in a dream-vision” by Cowdery and others.
In an examination titled, "The Cave at Hill Cumorah," researchers for Mormonthink.com provide an enlightening glimpse into the bizarre fables of underground Cumorah caverns supposedly packed with precious treasure, historical collectibles and heaps of sacred records waiting to be translated:
" . . . [S]everal nominal and prominent early Church members indicated that not only were the gold plates (from which the Book of Mormon was purportedly translated) buried at the Hill Cumorah, but that there was an entire cave of records and artifacts inside the hill itself. Here are a few select quotes to illustrate this incredible claim [made by Brigham Young and expanded somewhat from Palmer's recitation above]:
"'I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which the Book of Mormon was translated and I know a great many things pertaining to that country. I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family.
"'Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the Hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls." (Brigham Young, "Journal of Discourses," vol. 19, p. 38)"
Also eagerly reporting on the treasure-chested caves of Cumorah was Apostle Wilford Woodruff, who let be known that he, too, had heard from Brigham Young about what lay within (as well as passed along Joseph Smith's description of the cave's glorious contents:
"President Young said in relation to Joseph Smith returning the plates of the Book of Mormon that he did not return them to the box from wh[ence?] He had received [them]. But He went [into] a cave in the Hill Cumorah with Oliver Cowdry and deposited those plates upon a table or shelf. In that room were deposited a large amount of gold plates containing sacred records and when they first visited that room, the sword of Laban was hanging upon the wall and, when they last visited it, the sword was drawn from the scabbard and [laid?] upon a table and a Messenger who was the keeper of the room informed them that that sword would never be returned to its scabbard until the Kingdom of God was established upon the Earth and until it reigned triumphant over every enemy. Joseph Smith said that cave contained tons of choice treasures and records." (Wilford Woodruff journal, 11 December 1869)
W.W. Phelps had his own cave stories that he shared with other members of the Church. This from William Horne:
"[I] [a]ttended meeting a discourse from W. W. Phelps. He related a story told him by Hyrum Smith which was as follows: Joseph, Hyrum, Cowdery and Whitmer went to the Hill Cumorah. As they were walking up the hill, a door opened and they walked into a room about 16-foot square. In that room was an angel and a trunk. On that trunk lay a Book of Mormon and gold plates, Laban's sword, Aaron's breastplate." (William Horne Dame Diary, 14 January 1855)
As noted above, apostle Heber C. Kimball had his own tall tales of treasure to tell:
"In response to a Brother Mills's statement about the handcart pioneers, Heber C. Kimball said, 'How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the Hill Cumorah and saw more records than ten men could carry?' There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts, and keep the commandments." (Heber C. Kimball, "Journal of Discourses," 28 September 1856)
As also indicated earlier, Brigham Young was likewise available, brimming with exotic tales describing secret forays into the treasure troves whispered to be hidden within the heart of the Hill Cumorah, that he could not seem to keep to himself:
"President [Heber C.] Kimball talked familiarly to the brethren about Father Smith, [Oliver] Cowdery, and others walking into the hill Cumorah and seeing records upon records piled upon table[s,] they walked from cell to cell and saw the records that were piled up." ("Manuscript History of Brigham Young," 5 May 1867)
As mentioned above, Elizabeth Kane was regaled by Brigham Young with cave stories:
"Although not a member of the Church, Elizabeth Kane lived in St. George, Utah, and entertained the company of Brigham Young. She recorded the following discussion:
"'[I] asked where the plates were now and saw in a moment from the expression of the countenances around that I had blundered. But I was answered that they were in a cave; that Oliver Cowdery though now an apostate would not deny that he had seen them. He had been to the cave. . . . Brigham Young's tone was so solemn that I listened bewildered like a child to the evening witch stories of its nurse. Brigham Young said that when Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were in the cave this third time, they could see its contents more distinctly than before. . . . It was about 15 feet high and 'round its sides were [ar]ranged boxes of treasure. In the center was a large stone table empty before, but now piled with similar gold plates, some of which lay scattered on the floor beneath. Formerly the sword of Laban hung on the walls sheathed but it was now unsheathed and lying across the plates on the table; and One [a divine messenger] that was with them said it was never to be sheathed until the reign of Righteousness upon the earth.' (Elizabeth Kane journal, 15 January 1873)
"The Cave at Hill Cumorah" article further reports the contribution of another Church member who was let in on the secrets of Cumorah:
"A southern Utah Saint, Jesse Nathaniel Smith, heard Brigham Young speak in Cedar City, Utah, and recorded:
"[I] heard him [Brigham Young] at an evening meeting in Cedar City describe an apartment in the Hill Cumorah that some of the brethren had been permitted to enter. He said there was great wealth in the room in sacred implements, vestments, arms, precious metals and precious stones, more than a six-mule team could draw." (Jesse Nathaniel Smith journal, February 1874)
David Whitmer joined in on the cave yarns, as reported by Church member Edward Stevenson:
"It was likewise stated to me by David Whitmer in the year 1877 that Oliver Cowdery told him that the Prophet Joseph and himself had seen this room and that it was filled with treasure, and on a table therein were the breastplate and the sword of Laban, as well as the portion of gold plates not yet translated, and that these plates were bound by three small gold rings and would also be translated, as was the first portion in the days of Joseph. When they are translated much useful information will be brought to light. But till that day arrives, no Rochester adventurers shall ever see them or the treasures, although science and mineral rods testify that they are there. (Edward Stevenson, 'Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet,' 1877)
"The Cave at Hill Cumorah" report that "[in] an interview with P. Wilhelm Poulson, David Whitmer gave another account of the cave:
"[Poulson]: 'Where are the plates now?'
"[Whitmer]: 'In a cave, where the angel has hidden them up till the time arrives when the plates, which are sealed, shall be translated. God will yet raise up a mighty one, who shall do his work till it is finished and Jesus comes again.'
"[Poulson]: 'Where is that cave?'
"[Whitmer]: 'In the State of New York.'
"[Poulson]: 'In the Hill of Cumorah?'
"[Whitmer]: 'No, but not far away from that place.' (David Whitmer, 'Deseret Evening News,' 16 August 1878)
So, too, Orson Pratt chimed in withwhat he had heard:
"But the grand repository of all the numerous records of the ancient nations of the western continent, was located in another department of the hill and its contents put under the charge of holy angels, until the day should come for them to be transferred to the sacred temple of Zion." (Orson Pratt, "The Contributor," September 1882)
"The Cave at Hill Cumorah" article concludes with this observation:
"It is apparent from the existing records that many of the early Church leaders viewed the cave experience as a legitimate event, whether an actual physical experience or a visionary one."
("The Cave at Hill Cumorah," under "Hill Cumorah")
In closing the door on this cave caveran claptrap, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, in their book, "The Changing World of Mormonism" (Chicago, Illinois: The Moody Bible Institute/Moody Press, 1980-81), quote LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie in his "Mormon Doctrine":
"It is reported by President Brigham Young that there was in the Hill Cumorah a room containing many wagon loads of plates (p. 454)."
Mormonism certainly carries wagon loads of something, but it ain't gold plates.As the Tanners observe:
"An ordinary person would probably see nothing of importance about this hill but to Mormons this is one of the most important places on Earth."
Indeed, making a mountain out of a bull hill.
No gold in Joe's Kirtland "bank" vault. No gold in Joe's Hill-Cumorah under-the-stone-box vault.
Psssst, Joe: Cut your losses and build a mall. And good luck with any metal detectors you might have, folks. May I suggest that anyone considering scouring Cumorah for buried treasure consider ditching them and investing in a lottery ticket, instead.
You’d have better luck.
(posted previously by Steve Benson, RfM)