Forgeries related to Mormonism/Oliver Cowdery's 1839 Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints

Table of Contents

Oliver Cowdery's alleged 1839 "Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints"

Summary: Although this document purports to have been published in 1839 by Oliver Cowdery, the earliest copies in existence are dated 1906. The document was "discovered" by the Reverend R. B. Neal, who was a leader in the American Anti-Mormon Association. No references to this document exists prior to 1906. This document was believed to be authentic for many years, until it was discovered that it consists primarily of a selection of Cowdery's phrases taken from various issues of the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate that were removed from their original context and placed in a different context. A number of talking points appear to have been reworded from David Whitmer's 1887 An Address to All Believers in Christ. Historians now agree that this document is a forgery.

Jump to Subtopic:

Background

This is a document, critical of Joseph Smith and his prophetic calling, that purports to have been published in 1839 by Oliver Cowdery. The earliest copies in existence are dated 1906. The document was "discovered" by the Reverend R. B. Neal, who was a leader in the American Anti-Mormon Association. No references to this document exist prior to 1906. This document was believed to be authentic for many years, until it was discovered that it consists primarily of three sources: 1) a selection of Cowdery's phrases taken from various issues of the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate that were removed from their original context and inserted into statements that are not Oliver's, b) criticisms of Joseph Smith borrowed from David Whitmer's 1887 An Address to All Believers in Christ, and 3) original material (i.e., written by the forger) in which most of the serious attacks on Joseph Smith are to be found. Historians now agree that the 1906 document is a forgery.

Richard Lloyd Anderson summarized the difficulties with the provenance of the document in an Ensign article in 1987:

In 1906 the “mountain evangelist” R. B. Neal, a leader in the American Anti-Mormon Association, published a document with much fanfare but without evidence of the document’s authenticity. Reverend Neal claimed that the publication was a reprint of an 1839 document explaining Oliver Cowdery’s apostasy: Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints. “No more important document has been unearthed since I have been engaged in this warfare,” R. B. Neal asserted. With such convictions, one can be sure that Reverend Neal would have produced evidence to prove that the original actually existed. But all we have is his 1906 first printing, which is silent about why no one had ever heard of the document until a half century after Oliver Cowdery’s death.
—Richard Lloyd Anderson, "I Have a Question," Ensign, April 1987. off-site

Ronald Huggins has recently summarized the problems with the content of the document:

This makes it all but certain that the Defence was plagiarized from the Messenger and Advocate. The only way someone could make a case for its authenticity at this stage would be to prove that Cowdery was in the regular habit of plundering phrases and paragraphs from his earlier writings and dropping them without rhyme or reason into his later ones.
—Ronald V. Huggins, "Jerald Tanner's Quest for Truth - Part 3," Salt Lake City Messenger, Issue 111 (November 2008)

A detailed analysis showing the reliance of the forged Cowdery document on the two historical sources is presented below.

Comparison against sources

The text of the alleged Cowdery document was produced using a combination of phrases written by Oliver Cowdery in the Messenger and Advocate during the time that he was editor, and a rephrasing of information from David Whitmer's An Address to All Believers in Christ.

Index Cowdery's alleged "Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints" Source text and/or commentary Actual source

Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints

By Oliver Cowdery

Second Elder of the Church of Christ

This Defence is not protected by a copyright, as I wish no man to be confined alone to my permission in printing what is meant for the eyes and knowledge of the nations of the earth.

The author desires this work circulated as much as possible, and will grant the Privilege of reproduction to any reliable house that will make application to him.

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

“God doth not walk in crooked paths; Neither doth he turn to the right hand, Nor the left; neither doth he vary From that which he hath said.”

Pressley’s Job Office, Norton, Ohio, 1839

There was no "Pressley's Job Office" in Norton Ohio

DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD:-I offer you a “Defence” which I am grieved to make, but my opposers have put me to the necessity, and so far as my memory serves, I pledge my veracity for the correctness of the account.

I deny that I have ever conspired with any, or ever exerted any influence to destroy the reputation of the First Elder, although evidence which is to be credited assures me that he has done everything he could to injure my standing and his influence has been considerably exerted to destroy my reputation and, I fear, my life.

While employed here he became acquainted with the family of Isaac Hale, of whom you read in several of the productions of those who have sought to destroy the validity of the book of Mormon. It may be necessary hereafter, to refer you more particularly to the conduct of this family, as their influence has been considerably exerted to destroy the reputation of our brother, probably because he married a daughter of the same contrary to some of their wishes

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:200.

You will remember in the meantime, that those who seek to vilify my character have been constantly encouraged by him.

You will remember, in the mean time, that those who seek to vilify his character, say that he has always been notorious for his idleness. This gentleman, whose name is Stowel, resided in the town of Bainbridge, on or near the head waters of the Susquehannah river.

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:200.

There was a time when I thought myself able to prove to the satisfaction of every man that the translator of the Book of Mormon, was worthy of the appellation of a Seer and a Prophet of the Lord, and in which he held over me a mysterious power which even now I fail to fathom; but I fear I may have been deceived, and especially so fear since knowing that Satan has led his mind astray.

I trust I shall be indulged, for the purpose of satisfying many, who have heard so many slanderous reports that they are lead to believe them true because they are not contradicted; and besides, this generation are determined to oppose every item in the form or under the pretence [pretense] of revelation, unless it comes through a man who has always been more pure than Michael the great prince; and as this is the fact, and my opposers have put me to the necessity, I shall be more prolix, and have no doubt, before I give up the point, shall prove to your satisfaction, and to that of every man, that the translator of the book of Mormon is worthy the appellation of a seer and a prophet of the Lord. In this I do not pretend that he is not a man subject to passion like other men, beset with infirmities and encompassed with weaknesses; but if he is, all men were so before him, and a pretence [pretense] to the contrary would argue a more than mortal, which would at once destroy the whole system of the religion of the Lord Jesus; for he anciently chose the weak to overcome the strong, the foolish to confound the wise, (I mean considered so by this world,) and by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:200.

1. When the Church of Christ was set up by revelation, he was called to be First Elder, and I was called to be the Second Elder, and whatever he had of Priesthood (about which I am beginning to doubt) also had I.

2. But I certainly followed him too far when accepting, and reiterating, that none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the Gospel, as I had then forgotten that John, the beloved disciple, was tarrying on earth and exempt from death.

I am well aware that a rehearsal of these things at this day will be unpleasant reading to the First Elder; yet so it is, and it is wisdom that it should be so. Without rehearsing too many things that have caused me to lose my faith in Bro. Joseph’s seership, I regard his frequent predictions that he himself shall tarry on the earth till Christ shall come in glory, and that neither the rage of devils nor the malice of men shall ever cause him to fall by the hand of his enemies until he has seen Christ in the flesh at his final coming, as little short of a piece of blasphemy; and it may be classed with that revelation that some among you will remember which sent Bro. Page and me so unwisely to (3) Toronto with a predication from the Lord by Urim and Thummim that we would there find a man anxious to buy the First Elder’s copyright. I well remember we did not find him, and had to return surprised and disappointed. But so great was my faith, that, in going to Toronto, nothing but calmness pervaded my soul, every doubt was banished, and I as much expected that Bro. Page and I would fulfill the revelation as that we should live. And you may believe, without asking me to relate the particulars, that it would be no easy task to describe our desolation and grief.

Brother Hyrum said it had been suggested to him that some of the brethren might go to Toronto, Canada, and sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon for considerable money: and he persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it. Joseph concluded to do so. He had not yet given up the stone. Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copy-right, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada.

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

Bro. Page and I did not think that God would have deceived us through “Urim and Thummim,” exactly as came the Book of Mormon; and I well remember how hard I strove to drive away the foreboding which seized me, that the First Elder had made tools of us, where we thought, in the simplicity of our hearts, that we were divinely commanded.

Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada. Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

And what served to render the reflection past expression in its bitterness to me, was, that from his hand I received baptism, by the direction of the Angel of God whose voice, as it has since struck me, did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon, who, I am sure had no part in the transactions of that day, as the Angel was John the Baptist, which I doubt not and deny not.

Not only have I been graciously preserved from wicked and unreasonable men, with this our brother, but I have seen the fruit of perseverance in proclaiming the everlasting gospel, immediately after it was declared to the world in these last days, in a manner not to be forgotten while heaven gives my common intellect. And what serves to render the reflection past expression on this point is, that from his hand I received baptism, by the direction of the angel of God—the first received into this church, in this day.

Oliver Cowdery, (October 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:14.

When I afterward first heard Elder Rigdon, whose voice is so strikingly similar, I felt that this “dear” brother was to be in some sense, to me unknown, the herald of this church as the Great Baptist was of Christ. 4. I never dreamed however, that he would influence the Prophet, Seer and Revelator to the Church of the Latter Day Saints, in to the formation of a secret band at Far West, committed to depredations upon Gentiles and the actual assassination of apostates from the church, which was done in June last and was only one of many wrong steps.

Sydney Rigdon was the cause of almost all the errors which were introduced while he was in the church. I believe Rigdon to have been the instigator of the secret organization known as the "Danites" which was formed in Far West Missouri in June, 1838.

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

These are facts which I am rehearsing, and if they shall be called in question, I am able to establish them by evidence which I can bring forward in abundance.

I have now given you a rehearsal of what was communicated to our brother, when he was directed to go and obtain the record of the Nephites. I may have missed in arrangement in some instances, but the principle is preserved, and you will be able to bring forward abundance of corroborating scripture upon the subject of the gospel and of the gathering.

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:112.

Still, although favored fo God as a chosen witness to bear testimony to the divine authority of the Book of Mormon, and honored of the Lord in being permitted, without money and without price, to serve as scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon, I have sometimes had seasons of skepticism, in which I did seriously wonder whether the Prophet and I were men in our sober senses when he would be translating from plates through “the Urim and Thummim” and the plates not be in sight at all.

No men in their sober senses, could translate and write the directions given to the Nephites, from the mouth of the Savior, of the precise manner in which men should build up his church, and especially, when corruption had spread an uncertainty over all forms and systems practiced among men, without desiring a privilege of showing the willingness of the heart by being buried in the liquid grave, to answer a "good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:15.

But I believed both in the Seer and in the “Seer Stone,” and what the First Elder announced as revelation from God, I accepted as such, and committed to paper with a glad mind and happy heart and swift pen; for I believed him to be the soul of honor and truth, a young man who would die before he would lie.

Man may deceive his fellow man, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may seduce the unstable, untaught in the ways of righteousness and peace, for I felt a solemn awe about me, being deep in the faith, that the First Elder was a Seer and Prophet of God, giving the truth unsullied through “Urim and Thummim,” dictated by the will of the Lord, and that he was persecuted for the sake of the truth which he loved. Could I have been deceived in him?

Man may deceive his fellow man; deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till nought but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind! The assurance that we were in the presence of an angel; the certainty that we heard the voice of Jesus, and the truth unsullied as it flowed from a pure personage, dictated by the will of God, is to me, past description, and I shall ever look upon this expression of the Savior's goodness with wonder and thanksgiving while I am permitted to tarry, and in those mansions where perfection dwells and sin never comes, I hope to adore in that DAY which shall never cease!*

Oliver Cowdery, (October 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:16.

I could rehearse a number of things to show either that I as then deceived, or that he has since fallen from the lofty place in which fond affection had deemed him secure.

I remembered his experience as he had related it to me, and lacking wisdom, I went to God in prayer. I said: “O! Lord, how dark everything is! Let thy glory lighten it, and make bright the path for me. Show me my duty. Let me be led of thy Spirit.”

Shall I relate what transpired? I had a message from the Most High, as from the midst of eternity; for the vail was parted and the Redeemer Himself, clothed in glory, stood before me. And He said:

This was not long desired before it was realized. The Lord, who is rich in mercy, and ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble, after we had called upon him in a fervent manner, aside from the abodes of men, condescended to manifest to us his will. On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the vail was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the gospel of repentance!

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:15.

“After reproving the Latter Day Saints for their corruption and blindness in permitting their President, Joseph Smith, Jr., to lead them forth into errors, where I led him not, nor commanded him, and saying unto them,

The revelation on polygamy was given fourteen years after the translation of the Book of Mormon, and after Brother Joseph had drifted into error and blindness. As I have stated, the scriptures are plain concerning the matter of a prophet or any man once chosen of God, being afterwards deceived and led into error.

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

‘Thus saith the Lord,’ when I said it not unto him, thou shalt withdraw thyself from among them.”

God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to "separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so should it be done unto them."

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

And I testify that Jesus whose words I have been rehearsing, hath even so commanded me in an open vision.

I believe that the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing, who communicated the knowledge of the record of the Nephites, in this age

Oliver Cowdery, (April 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:112.

The Lord revealed to me that the First Elder is leading the Saints astray, and ordered me to quit them after delivering the message which this “Defence” delivers. I shall ever remember this expression of the Saviour’s grace with thanksgiving, and look upon his amazing goodness to me with wonder.

We have seen from a revelation given to Brother Joseph, that he broke the commandments of God from the beginning. Now, as the wicked will be cut off, the people being clean before the Lord, and this Choice Seer being a holy man, the people in this condition will be fitted to give heed to him, and they will not be led astray by him

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

When I had sufficiently recovered my selfpossession to ask in regard to the errors into which Joseph Smith, Jr., was taking the Saints,

God only knows how I have grieved and suffered and plead with him for you for the past forty-eight years, that you might repent and be enlightened by the Holy Ghost to see the errors into which you have been led.

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

the Redeemer instructed me plainly: “He hath given revelations from his own heart and from a defiled conscience as coming from my mouth and hath corrupted the covenant and altered words which I had spoken. He hath brought in high priests, apostles and other officers, which in these days, when the written Word sufficeth, are not in my church, and some of his deeds have brought shame to my heritage by the shedding of blood.

You have changed the revelations from the way they were first given and as they are to-day in the Book of Commandments, to support the error of Brother Joseph in taking upon himself the office of Seer to the church. You have changed the revelations to support the error of high priests. You have changed the revelations to support the error of a President of the high priesthood, high counselors, etc.

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

He walketh in the vain imaginations of his heart, and my Spirit is holy and does not dwell in an unholy temple, nor are angels sent to reveal the great work of God to hypocrites.”

But so it is, and it is wisdom that it should be so, because the Holy Spirit does not dwell in unholy temples, nor angels reveal the great work of God to hypocrites.

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

I bowed my face in shame and said: “Lord! I intreat thee, give me grace to bear thy message in print where I fear to take it by word of mouth.”
And he said, “The grace is given thee,” and he vanished out of my sight.

Prepare your hearts, O ye Saints of the Most High, and come to understanding. The prophet hath erred and the people are gone astray through his error. God’s word is open. We may read it.

Prepare your hearts, O ye saints of the Most High, for great things await you! Hasten ye, hasten ye, to the places of gathering, for after a little the indignation of the Lord will cease toward those who are called by his name, and when his arm must fall upon the wicked. His sword is bathed in heaven, and must fall upon Idumea, and who can stand amid the crash and fall of empires?

Oliver Cowdery, (October 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:204.

There is no “First Presidency” there, no “High Priesthood” save that of Christ himself, no Patriarch to the church, and wonderful to tell, the “First Elder” hath departed from god in giving us these things,

High Priests were only in the church before Christ; and to have this office in the "Church of Christ" is not according to the teachings of Christ in either of the sacred books: Christ himself is our great and last High Priest.

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

and in changing the name of the church.

but when the heads of the church changed the name of the church to "The Church of Latter Day Saints," (leaving out the name of "Christ" entirely) when they did this, and compiled the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835, God had then given them over to blindness of mind

David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).

Oh, the misery, the distress and evil attendant upon giving heed unto the “doctrines of men!” The gospel has been perverted and the Saints are wandering in darkness, which a full cup of suffering is poured upon them. A society has been organized among them to inflict death upon those who are deemed apostates, with the knowledge and sanction of the First Elder.

Alas, the calamity of war, the extinction of nations, the ruin of kingdoms, the fall of empires and the dissolution of governments! O the misery, distress and evil attendant on these! Who can contemplate like scenes without sorrowing, and who so destitute of commiseration as not to be pained that man has fallen so low, so far beneath the station in which he was created?

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:159.

This, I confess, is a dark picture to spread before those whom I am to warn, but they will pardon my plainness when I assure them of the truth of what I have written.

On Friday, the 5th, in company with our brother JOSEPH SMITH jr. I left Kirtland for this place (New Portage,) to attend the conference previously appointed. To be permitted, once more, to travel with this brother, occasions reflections of no ordinary kind. Many have been the fateagues [fatigues] and privations which have fallen to my lot to endure, for the gospel's sake, since 1828, with this brother. Our road has frequently been spread with the "fowler's snare," and our persons sought with the eagerness, of the Savage's ferocity, for innocent blood, by men, either heated to desperation by the insinuations of those who professed to be "guides and way—marks" to the kingdom of glory, or the individuals themselves!—This, I confess, is a dark picture to spread before our patrons, but they will pardon my plainness when I assure them of the truth. In fact, God has so ordered, that the reflections which I am permitted to cast upon my past life, relative to a knowledge of the way of salvation, are rendered "doubly endearing."

Oliver Cowdery, (October 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:14.

Bearing this message to them is the hardest work of my life, although many have been the privations and fatigues which have fallen to my lot to endure for the Gospel’s sake since April 5th, 1829.

She was driven, last fall, from Jackson county, by the mob, and was necessarily compelled to endure, with others, further afflictions and privations.

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:13.

It is disgraceful to be led by a man who does not scruple to follow his own vain imagination, announcing his own schemes as revelations from the Lord. And I fear he is led by a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web. Having cleared my soul by delivering the message, I do not deem it necessary to write further on the subject now.

The mind is easily called up to reflection upon a matter of such deep importance, and it is just that it should be; but there is a regret occupying the heart when we consider the deep anxiety of thousands, who are lead away with a vain imagination, or a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider's web.

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:78.

Jesus has saved men in all ages and saves them now, and not by our Priesthood either. The “First Elder” errs as to that. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast as the eternal hills, that to him who knocks it shall be opened, and whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely; but a curse will surely fall upon those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.

"This cannot be brought about until first certain preparatory things are accomplished, for so has the Lord purposed in his own mind. He has therefore chosen you as an instrument in his hand to bring to light that which shall; perform his act, his strange act, and bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder. Wherever the sound shall go it shall cause the ears of men to tingle, and wherever it shall be proclaimed, the pure in heart shall rejoice, while those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him, will seek its overthrow, and the destruction of those by whose hands it is carried. Therefore, marvel not if your name is made a derision, and had as a by-word among such, if you are the instrument in bringing it, by the gift of God, to the knowledge of the people."

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:79-80.

I no longer believe that all the other churches are wrong.

Get right, O! ye people, get right with God, and may the Lord remove his judgments from you, preserve you in his kingdom from all evil, and crown you in Christ.

May the Lord preserve you from evil and reward you richly for all your afflictions, and crown you in his kingdom. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:112.

Amen.
March 3, 1839
O. COWDERY