Revelation, , Susquehanna Co., PA, to , Apr. 1829. Featured version, titled “6th. Commandment AD 1829,” copied [ca. Mar. 1831] in Revelation Book 1, pp. 12–13; handwriting of ; CHL. Includes redactions. For more complete source information, see the source note for Revelation Book 1.
In April 1829, soon after JS and met and began working together on the of the , Cowdery not only wanted to write but also “became exceedingly anxious to have the power to translate bestowed upon him.” Several experiences related to the translation may have intensified his desire, including a revelation JS dictated for Cowdery in early April. “If thou wilt inquire,” the revelation promised Cowdery, “thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous,” and further: “Behold I grant unto you a gift if you desire of me, to translate even as my servant Joseph.”
As JS dictated the translation of the Book of Mormon to , even the words that Cowdery recorded described the gift of translation. Soon after translation work began, JS dictated several passages describing other ancient records and the divine means of translating them. A king by the name of Limhi, for example, told a man named Ammon that he possessed “twenty-four plates . . . filled with engravings” that he could not decipher, nor did he know anyone who could. Ammon told Limhi that he knew of a man who could translate the plates: “for he hath wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters. . . . And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called [,] . . . a revelator, and a prophet.”
The revelation featured below assured that he could translate if he asked “with an honest heart” and with faith, and it declared, “Behold I will tell you in your mind & in your heart by the .” By implication, the revelation indicated that the gift to translate was not unlike other spiritual gifts that he possessed. Cowdery’s first gift, according to this text, was “the spirit of Revelation,” the same “spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the red Sea on dry ground.” Cowdery’s second gift was identified as “the gift of working with the sprout,” or rod. Like many of his contemporaries, Cowdery probably used divining rods to find water or minerals, and though this gift may have been a “thing of Nature,” the revelation confirmed it was also a gift from God.
According to Revelation Book 1, JS dictated four revelations in April 1829, all of them associated with translation. While these texts have a closely related historical context, the precise order of their dictation is unknown. One of the four, a revelation that declared itself the translation of an ancient Johannine parchment, was arranged before this revelation in the Book of Commandments and in all editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. JS’s history follows the order of the Doctrine and Covenants by suggesting that the translation of the parchment may have come before this second revelation to Cowdery. Nevertheless, ’s ordering in Revelation Book 1, the earliest extant compilation of revelations, places the revelation featured here before the parchment. In the absence of more definitive information, Whitmer’s ordering is followed here.
This affirmation of Cowdery’s use of a “rod” as a divine gift illustrates the compatibility some early Americans perceived between biblical religion and popular supernaturalism. “From the outset,” according to historian Robert Fuller, “Americans have had a persistent interest in religious ideas that fall well outside the parameters of Bible-centered theology. . . . In order to meet their spiritual needs . . . [they] switched back and forth between magical and Christian beliefs without any sense of guilt or intellectual inconsistency.” (Fuller, Spiritual, but Not Religious, 15, 17; see also Ashurst-McGee, “Pathway to Prophethood,” 126–148; and Agreement of Josiah Stowell and Others, 1 Nov. 1825.)
Fuller, Robert C. Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Ashurst-McGee, Mark. “A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet.” Master’s thesis, Utah State University, 2000.
A Revelation to he being desirous to know whether the Lord would grant him the gift of Revelation& th◊ given in Susquehannah Pennsylvania
Verily Verily I say unto you that as Shuredly as the Lord liveth which is your God & your Redeemer even so shure shall ye receive a knowledge of whatsoever things ye shall ask with an honest heart believeing that ye [p. 12]