Operations of the Spirit: Part 7b of 12, The Oliver Cowdery Revelations, D&C 6, 8, and 9
This is the seventh of fifteen parts to an essay entitled "Operations of the Spirit"; this part covers D&C 8. The entire essay is just over one hundred pages if printed out, so it is presented serially in this blog. These parts should be read sequentially, because each builds on the previous parts. Hopefully, readers will have comments, suggestions and criticisms. The fifteen parts are as follows: I. Introduction, Part I II. Confusing Terms, Part II III. Metaphors and Meaning, Parts III through VI A. The still small voice, Part III B. The heart and reins, Part IV C. Light and burning, as in a burning in the bosom, Part V D. Extracting meaning from metaphors,, Part VI IV. The Scriptures and the Spirit, Parts VII through X A. The Oliver Cowdery revelations: D&C 6, 8 and 9, Parts VII(a), (b), and (c) B. Other modern-day scriptures, Part VIII C. Ancient scriptures about the Spirit, Part IX D. Extraordinary events, Part X V. The Spirit and Individual Affectations, Part XI VI. Conclusion, Part XII There are footnotes in this work. You can read the footnotes by hovering your cursor over the note, or you can click on the note to read it as text. There is a symbol at the end of each footnote that allows you to return to the text by clicking on it.
Part VII(a) of this series of posts introduces the Oliver Cowdery revelations given in April and May 1829 during the translation of the Book of Mormon by discussing D&C 6. This post continues with the second revelation, D&C 8, and provides additional elucidation about the workings of the Spirit.1
2. D&C 8: the second revelation on the Spirit. D&C 8 is the second revelation to Oliver Cowdery is the response to his request, recorded in D&C 6, that he be allowed to translate like Joseph Smith. Little is known about the process of translating, but it was not the same sort of spiritual experience usually meant when someone speaks of being prompted or impressed or inspired by the Holy Ghost.2 Individuals usually mean the Holy Ghost told them to do something rather than just illuminating options or pointing them in the right direction, which Joseph Smith recorded was the way Joseph Smith recorded the ancients received knowledge.3 Translating was not repeating what an angel or the Holy Ghost said; rather, it was the same as the tenor discussed in Parts III through VI of this series of posts: mental work.
Mental work means there was a correlation between the remarkable mental powers of Joseph Smith and his translation of the Book of Mormon. So a digression on the nature of the translation process is warranted. Brant A. Gardner has assembled a careful overview of theories about the translation and conjoins this with a discussion of the prophets uncommon perceptiveness.4 Joseph Smith, apparently, had an eidetic memory, an ability that made him the village seer via a seer stone before the visitation of the Father and Son, the seer stone being a convenient means or background for the mental focus required to shift to eidetic-memory mode.5 This sort of memory means that Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon would, of course, contain verbatim copy from the King James bible of his day: Joseph Smith would have relied on his mind when he knew that the substance of the text on the plates embraced the same ideas already contained within the King James bible.
The Encyclopædia Britannica explains a unique feature of such memories that explains how it was that Joseph Smith initially used a seer stone for his translations—and Oliver Cowdery his diving rod—when it observes that the individual with this talent often used an object or surface to switch the mind into eidetic mode:
eidetic image, an unusually vivid subjective visual phenomenon. An eidetic person claims to continue to “see” an object that is no longer objectively present. Eidetic persons behave as if they are actually seeing an item, either with their eyes closed or while looking at some surface that serves as a convenient background for the image. Furthermore, eidetic persons describe the image as if it is still present and not as if they are recalling a past event. The incidence of eidetic imagery is very low in children (2–10 percent) and almost nonexistent in adults.6 This sort of memory may be something that is lost if not fostered, which may explain why it is virtually nonexistent in adults.
Oliver Cowdery shared this same mental prowess using a divining rod to focus his mind rather than the seer stone Joseph Smith used. The original revelation that became section eight assured Cowdery that his work with his rod was a divine gift:
Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod [of working with the rod was changed to the current of Aaron]: behold it has told you many things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature to work in your hands [rod of nature to work in your hands changed to gift of Aaron to be with you].7
A 1974 BYU doctoral dissertation by Robert J. Woodford 8 discusses the substantial changes to section eight. The Book of Commandments (1833) uses the reference to the rod, but this reference was omitted commencing with the 1835 publication of the Doctrine and Covenants. 9 Woodford addresses the “gift of working with the rod” as follows:
In the current text . . .the gift is called the gift of Aaron. One of the gifts given Aaron was that of performing miracles through the use of a staff or rod. [Footnote omitted.] The rod mentioned in this revelation is not necessarily Aaron’s rod, but one that can be used in a similar way. The Book of Mormon prophesied that a rod would be available to a modern Joseph of this day, [footnote omitted] and there is some evidence that a rod was used. [Footnote omitted.] Evidently, not only did Oliver Cowdery have access to it, but also Orson Hyde. [Footnote omitted.] It may even be that there was more than one of these rods [because of testimony that Heber C. Kimball had one, too].10
Section eight as it presently stands continues with a description of this gift:
Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the word of God. And, therefore, whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it.11
The gift used by Oliver Cowdery requires one to step outside the penumbra of today’s religious thought to the everyday world of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Village seers were common at the time. Joseph Smith was one, and, apparently, so was Oliver Cowdery. Those like Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were known as cunning men and wise women, and they occupied an important position in the social order of the rural community.12 They could see and understand things others could not. Both Oliver and Joseph had this gift, and it enabled them to translate.13
The first part of section eight is about the gift of revelation, not the “another gift” Oliver Cowdery had given him,14 The “another gift” was Oliver Cowdery’s ability to use his divining rod—the gift of Aaron—to have things brought to his mind: revealed to him. It, too, was a gift of revelation, but it was revelation via a device that worked so that Cowdery was granted his answer when he would “ask me to tell you by that means.” This revelatory process through the device, however, was still revelation, so the instruction on the nature of revelation in the first five verses is essential:
I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. Therefore, this is thy gift; apply unto it and blessed art thou for it shall deliver you out of the hands of your enemies, when, if it were not so, they would slay you and bring your soul to destruction.15
Most people ignore being told something in their mind and focus, instead, on being told something in their heart; actually, most disassociate I will tell you from in your heart. They do not understand that heart is a metaphor for the mind and, instead, assign to it feelings and emotion.17 in form, a common rhetorical device used in the scriptures and literature to express a single, complex idea. It is helpful to present this definition of revelation in a chiastic format to emphasize the parallels to be drawn.18
I will tell you
in your mind and in your heart
by the Holy Ghost
which shall come upon you
and shall dwell in your heart.
Now behold, this is the spirit of revelation
The cognate levels of the foregoing chiasmus format provoke a different perspective from which to view the Holy Ghost and the complex relationship between the mind and the peace that distills from rational or even subconscious thought that seems right.19 The Holy Ghost or revelation comes after the focus of rational thought and reflection or some experience that has taught someone something.20
The idea of the Holy Ghost coming upon someone is not as common a thought as someone having an idea or thought come to them. Thoughts coming to someone are expressed in phrases like it occurs to me or I just realized, or why didn’t I think of that, or it’s so obvious now that you say it, etc. The sort of satisfying and even startling conclusion followed by such phrases are not often called a revelation in the secular world; rather, such a conclusion is an epiphany.21
Rewording the foregoing “for our profit and learning,”22 can, perhaps, be added to the idea of the Holy Ghost coming upon someone by likening which shall come upon you to the more common experience of today.23
I will tell you
in your mind and in your heart,
by the Holy Ghost,
which will quicken your mind to a conclusion that will seem right.
Now behold, this is the spirit of revelation;
Oliver Cowdery’s attempts and failure to translate was presaged by verses nine through eleven of section eight, verses often read as a pericope rather than in context. The context is crucial. Cowdery has just been told that he has the gift of translating, but these verses bookend the need to ask in faith, and faith means working at it.24 Recasting these verses to show the bookends of faith underscores how working at it supports the process, which leads to the central point of the translation, the knowledge through translation of the mysteries of God contained in the Book of Mormon.
9And, therefore, whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it.
10Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith.
Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not.
11Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and
that you may translate and receive knowledge
from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred;
and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.25
The foregoing versification highlights two points. First, faith or the work-at-it part of this scripture is the outermost level. It is the starting place. The second point is the mixed message of not trifling with the translation of or the asking about these sacred records without working at it. Not asking for what he ought not is two edged because he had to both work at it before asking and then asking only to receive the knowledge he needed to translate. Only one of these injunctions applies, generally, to those seeking the Spirit today, making sure that one only asks after studying it out.
- The capitalization of spirit does denote a particular person in this series of blogs; rather, the connotation is a divine spirit.
- The office of the Holy Ghost is revelation, of course, so anything could be revealed by the Holy Ghost, “But the comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” John 14:26. The masculine pronoun he is an addition by the King James translators. The Greek word so translated is εκεινος or ekeinos which literally means that one, a neuter form. John 16 talks about the necessity of the Savior departing so the new members of the church at the meridian of time could have the blessing of the Comforter, and, again, a masculine pronouns are used, “if I depart, I will send him unto you.” John 16:7. The word him is translated from αυτον or auton, which is feminine, her.
- The revelation on being pointed to the right conclusion is from D&C 121:26–27a, “God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now; Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels . . . .”
- Gardner, Brant, A., The Gift and Power, Translating the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011).
- An eidetic memory is, in essence, a photographic memory, a gift often questioned. However, there are notable individuals who possessed remarkable memories. Nikola Tesla had no problem memorizing entire books verbatim, and his mind gave him the remarkable fluency in eight languages: Serbo-Croation, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin. Teddy Roosevelt could recite entire newspaper pages as if he were reading them. Kim Peek was the real-life “Rainman” after whom Dustin Hoffman’s character was based, and he said he had memorized every word of every book he had ever read, some 9,000. There are a number of startling accounts that discuss this type of phenomenon. Collected at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exceptional_memory#Eidetic_memory (accessed December 25, 2013)
- http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/180955/eidetic-image (accessed December 25, 2013)(bolding added).
- Section eight of the Doctrine and Covenants has a rich textual history with respect to the gift Oliver Cowdery had. See, generally, http://www.withoutend.org/case-cowderys-rod-gift-dc-6/ for a discussion of the various changes to this section.
- Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants,” 3 vols. (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1980).
- Woodford, vol. 1 at 185–192.
- Id. at 188. The footnote omitted in the foregoing quote just after Orson Hyde is a reference to the April 1, 1842, edition of the Times and Seasons which, at 741, contains the following statement by Orson Hyde: “On top of Mount Olives I erected a pile of stones as a witness according to the ancient custom. On what was anciently called Mount Zion, where the Temple stood, I erected another, and used the rod according to the prediction upon my head.”
- D&C 8:8–10. (bolding added).
- ]“Magic in Palmyra: Diving Rods and Seer Stones” Gardner, op cit., at 65–78.
- Some do not think the gift was the same. Brant Gardner opines that the method used by Oliver Cowdery had to be “a binary confirmation of a translation already attempted . . . . I submit that it is this difference between the two media that governed how their users could receive inspiration . . . .” Gardner, op cit. at 314. Gardner thinks Smith saw the text while Cowdery had to figure it out and get a pollice verso if the translation was wrong, but Gardner cites other proposals, as well. Id. at 314–315. Gardner thinks the translation was given in mentalese—the language of thought—which Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery confirmed by different means.
It seems likely, however, that the gift of translation was the same for both Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, and it seems very unlikely that it was some sort of binary confirmation for Oliver Cowdery. The consistency in the operation of the Spirit demands that the gift be the same, although, like facility with reading, writing, analysis, and comprehension, the consistency of the operation of the Spirit does not mean that the Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith had the same facility with it.
- D&C 8:1–5. Section six, likewise, described two gifts
- D&C 8:2–4 (April 1829)9bolding added). The reference to Moses in this scripture is a clear allusion to Aaron’s rod, which was used to perform miracles before Pharaoh, Exodus 7:9, 17–19; 8:16; and take the Israelites through the Red Sea, Exodus 14:16 (Aaron’s rod?).
- The tenor of the heart metaphor is the subject of Part IV of this series[/efn_note} They think that the conjunction of heart with mind by the use of and separates the heart from the mind notwithstanding the fact that and is not disjunctive. They do not realize that in your mind and in your heart is an hendiadys16An hendiadys is a figure of speech in which a single complex idea is expressed by two substantives with a conjunction rather than a substantive modified by an adjective. This rhetorical device is very common in the scriptures, both ancient and modern, so one must be careful not to parse this complexity into a facile construction based on the separate consideration of the two components. For example, nice and warm expresses more than extracting meaning from the separate definitions of warm and nice, which would miss what was intended by the hendiadys. Shakespeare’s use of sound and fury in “Macbeth,” act 5, scene 5, conveys more meaning than a less literary furious sound connotes.
- The presentation here is for illustrative purposes and, therefore, not meant to provoke an argument whether this is actually a chiasmus. Much has been written about what is and is not a chiasmus, see, e.g., Edwards, Boyd F. and Edwards, W. Farrell, “Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance?,” BYU Studies 43, no. 2 (Provo, UT, Brigham Young University, 2004), but none of the minutia about chiasmus affects what can be drawn by viewing this particular scripture from a chiastic perspective.
- Gladwell, Malcolm, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York, Little Brown and Co., 2005) is a fascinating book with many examples of experienced people being perceptive beyond the ken of those without the insight that comes through experience. For example, a fire captain with years of experience goes into a room to check on his fireman and immediately senses danger, so he immediately orders all of his men to get out as fast as they can just before the floor collapses. The real experts on Greek sculpture instantly conclude a sculpture acquired by a museum/gallery is a fake even though it has been authenticated by the curators at the museum. Gladwell’s conclusion is that a person is more likely to reach instant conclusions about something than the tyro because the experienced individual has more knowledge—more experience. It happens in the courtroom to lawyers who have been there a lot. It happens to the person who writes poetry. The experienced mechanic—not the one just out of training—just knows what is wrong with the car. These experienced people often cannot explain how they knew what was wrong or what was about to happen, but it the sort of thing that should happen to every person who has furnished his mind with the knowledge of truth and right as he interacts with his fellow men. The well-furnished person just knows what to say or do and how to say or do it when a new circumstance arises; he has just got a knack or talent or is good; he is close the Spirit in the argot of the Church.
- The importance of observation and experience vis-a-vis the Spirit will be treated in Part IX of these postings..
- Epiphany means, strictly speaking, “A manifestation or appearance of some divine or superhuman being.” Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed. on CD-ROM (v. 4.0)(New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) s.v. epiphany. It means a stroke of genius only in a transference or figurative sense.
- Cf. 1 Nephi 19:23 where Nephi declares that he likened scriptures to his circumstances militates in favor of this reword, replacing the metaphors with the tenor lost on most readers..
- It is always dangerous to recast scripture because many think the scripture are cast in stone as originally written, the inerrant view of the scriptures. However, Nephi felt it appropriate to liken the scriptures “that it might be for our profit and learning,” 1 Nephi 19:23; Matthew clearly likened Old Testament scriptures to the Savior, cp., e,g., Matthew 1:22–23 with Isaiah 7:10–16 (Isaiah gives the wicked King Ahaz a sign, probably using Isaiah’s soon to be born son, about the end of his kingdom); the LDS community commonly likens Ezekiel 37:16 to the Book of Mormon, which was expressly, Ezekiel 37:20–25, not Ezekiel’s purpose with this object lesson. Joseph Smith reworded the scriptures in his “translation” of the bible, and he felt free to reword the revelations while when a better way of saying something occurred to him, cp, e.g., what is now D&C 8 with its original wording. See footnote 109, supra. Brigham Young said, “Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation.” Journal of Discourses 9:311 (July 13, 1862).
- D&C 6:12. Faith in this revelation and in D&C 6:12 must mean here those who do what those with such a gift do, divining that qualified them to translate, not a faith in the sense of a belief; after all, there was not yet a Mormon faith, as the word is often used today. Faith is often if not generally used as a synonym for belief in general discussions, particularly when referring to the Spirit as the you-will-know-it feeling. Faith, however, is used in the scriptures to refer to what someone does to try or test some information-based belief he hopes is true. Hebrews 11 is, perhaps, the best exposition of faith in the scriptures even though some of the translation was bollixed on account of the Protestant prejudice of the translators, a topic requiring analysis beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say, there are two groupings of examples of faith in this chapter, one of seven instances and another of twelve, anagogic groupings. The examples of faith are about what the exemplars did because of their belief.
- D&C 8:9–11.