Question: Did Oliver Cowdery ever deny his Book of Mormon witness because he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?

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Question: Did Oliver Cowdery ever deny his Book of Mormon witness because he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?

There is a wealth of evidence which demonstrates that Oliver never denied his testimony, even after his disagreements with Joseph Smith

As a lawyer, while writing to Phineas Young, Oliver said:

I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit; but I ought to be so—you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and looked down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce,—you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest.[1]

Surely Oliver's concern for his testimony included his testimony as a witness.

Eventually Oliver left the law practice he had started after leaving the Church, and journeyed to Kanesville, Iowa, with his wife and daughter and finally reunited with the Church in 1848. Before he was baptized he bore his testimony to the congregation that had gathered for a conference.

I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by the book, Holy Interpreters. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the Holy Interpreters. That book is true. ...It contains the everlasting gospel, and came forth to the children of men in fulfillment of the revelations of John, where he says he saw an angel come with the everlasting gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. It contains principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high.[2]

Oliver rejoined the Church and prepared to journey to Utah to unite with the main body of the Latter-day Saints but he died while living temporarily in Richmond, Missouri. Oliver Cowdery had contracted tuberculosis. In March 1850, while on his deathbed, Oliver used his dying breaths to testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Lucy P. Young, his half-sister, was at his bedside and reported:

Oliver Cowdery just before breathing his last, asked his attendants to raise him up in bed that he might talk to the family and his friends, who were present. He then told them to live according to the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, and promised them, if they would do this, that they would meet him in heaven. He then said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep.’ A few moments later he died without a struggle.[3]

In November 1881, over 30 years after Oliver's death, his former law partner Judge W. Lang claimed in a letter that Oliver had admitted that the Book of Mormon was a fraud. Lang's letter claimed that the Book of Mormon was derived from the Spalding manuscript by Oliver, and that Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith approved the final draft. This claim cannot be considered credible for a number of reasons, among them the fact that the Spalding manuscript bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon (something even the critics agree with), and the fact that Sidney Rigdon was never associated with Joseph Smith prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. The basis for Lang's claim seems to be the standard Spalding theory of Book of Mormon authorship.

Notes

  1. Oliver Cowdery to Phineas Young, 23 March 1846, Oliver Cowdery Collection, "Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith Jr." (kept by George W. Robinson), 22, LDS Church Historical Department (published in Scott H. Faulring, ed, An American Prophet's Record.— The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), emphasis in original; cited in Scott H. Faulring. “The Return of Oliver Cowdery”, FARMS Featured Paper, no date.
  2. Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901), 1:246.
  3. Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901), 1:246.