Did D&C 8 Originally Tell Oliver Cowdery To Use A Divining Rod?


CES Letter claims D&C 8 originally told Oliver Cowdery “to translate using a…rod,” the same “divining rod” which he had used “to search for buried treasure.” Is this true?

Never Used A Divining Rod – Totally false. There is no evidence Oliver Cowdery ever used a diving rod. There is zero evidence Oliver Cowdery’s family had anything to do with divining rods. These allegations hinge on an anti-Mormon named Barnes Frisbie who claimed that the Cowdery family was friends with a man named Winchell who was known to use a divining rod:

“The time he came here I cannot give, but it was, undoubtedly, sometime in the year 1799… He first went to a Mr. Cowdery’s, in Well, who then lived in that town… Winchell, I have been told, was a friend and acquaintance of Cowdery’s but of this I cannot be positive, they were intimate afterwards; but Winchell staid at Cowdry’s some little time, keeping himself concealed.”

That’s it. Some guy, who everyone said used a rod, might have stayed over at the Cowdery home once. Therefore, Oliver Cowdery used a divining rod to look for buried treasure? Ridiculous. The only other evidence I could find anywhere to support the claim is a phony interpretation of D&C 8.

Divine Authority – The rod mentioned in D&C 8 was just a symbol for Aaron’s priesthood authority in the Bible. In the Book of Commandments, the revelation begins by telling Oliver Cowdery that he has the gift of revelation:

“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… Remember this is your gift. “

So this is the first gift, the gift of revelation. What other gift does Oliver Cowdery have to deliver him from his enemies?

“Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God; and therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, that you shall know.”

He had the rod of Aaron. Now, Moses and Aaron did not have diving rods, dowsing rods, or anything of the sort. It was a “scepter in token of his authority,” that was passed down from Adam all the way to the Messiah. There is nothing in the bible, ancient literature, or 19th century literature that indicates the rod of Aaron or rod of Moses had anything to do with divining.

Aaron’s rod was called a “rod of nature,” which was a concept was commonly understood in the 19th century. The Swedenborg society wrote in 1865, “the rod of Moses denotes the potency of the Lord as the divine law… his staff, the power proceeding from the divine natural.” Moses possessed a divine rod that transformed into a serpent. But Aaron’s rod, was different. Twelve wooden rods were buried and Aaron’s almond rod blossomed, indicating his priesthood authority and the unification of the twelve tribes. His rod performed a miracle beyond natural abilities and put down murmuring. That’s what the rod of Aaron was all about.

John Peter Lange explained in 1884, “the rod marked with Aaron’s name blossomed the best overnight,” as a “symbolic-spiritual expression” that “the priesthood did not have its root in natural dispositions and natural gifts, but flowed from the power of the Spirit.” Oliver Cowdery was given the same message in D&C 8: “even so sure shall you receive a knowledge… by the manifestation of my Spirit; yea, behold 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.” Like Aaron’s rod, there would be a manifestation to prove the power of the Spirit above his natural abilities.

John Peter Lange frequently refers to Aaron’s rod as “the blossoming rod.” This further proves that D&C 8 was referring to the rod of Aaron, not a diving rod, considering the original revelation to Oliver Cowdery called it a “sprout” rather than a “rod.” The wording was later changed to “rod of nature,” and then to “the gift of Aaron.”

Carl Friedrich Keils explained in his 1866 bible commentary:

“Moses had laid several almond rods in the holy place, which had just been freshly cut, that he might see the next day which of them would flower the best in the night… The miracle which God wrought here as the Creator of nature, was at the same time a significant symbol of the nature and meaning of the priesthood… As a severed branch, the rod could not put forth shoots and blossom in a natural way. But God could impart new vital powers even to the dry rod.”

A dry rod sprouted forth blossoms, like the children of Israel were brought “through the Red sea on dry ground,” as D&C 8:2 explained. Rayner Winterbotham in 1881 pointed out it was important that Aaron’s rod came from an almond tree, as the almond tree was “the first of all trees to awake from the winter sleep of nature, and to herald the vernal resurrection.” Oliver Cowdery was one of the first to proclaim the restored gospel. Aaron’s rod, says Winterbotham, was shown “as the evident symbol of the vigilant haste with which the purposes of God were developed and matured… in Aaron, the grace of God was quick and fruitful to put forth, not the sings only and promise of spiritual gifts and energies, but the ripened fruits as well.” D&C 8 promised Oliver Cowdery not only “manifestation” of the Spirit, and spiritual “gifts,” but also fruits of his faith: “a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith.”

C. Hoxley in 1872 said this was also a symbol for Jesus:

“Behold the twofold marvel! Symbolizing, first–the Anointed Christ–the “Root out of a dry ground, despised (like Moses and Aaron in this rebellion) and rejected of men;” yet blossoming and fructifying into His native majesty and beauty as “The Tree of life.” And, second, symbolizing them that are Christ’s, quickened from spiritual death into the life of righteousness and conformity to the image of Him… a sign of ‘good things to come in the fulness of time.”

The gospel restoration, of course, kicked off fullness of times. Interestingly, this same exact “twofold marvel” is explained the same way in D&C 8 as well. First, he is promiesd deliverance by “the Spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red sea on dry ground.” Then other part: “Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod.” Just as the second part of Aaron’s rod was “conformity to the image of Him,” the other part of D&C 8 is Oliver Cowdery’s ability to do the work of God: “for it is the work of God; and therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, that you shall know.”

C. Hoxley said Aaron’s rod brings forth knowledge: “it envelopes ‘one of those germs of truth which, after thousands of years, have never yet taken root in the world.” D&C 8 tells Aaron that he will know anything that he asks God, “that you may know the mysteries of God,” and that he may help Joseph Smith translate the gold plates to reawaken the world to a knowledge of Christ. In so many ways, D&C 8 is an incredible fulfillment of the lush symbolism in Aaron’s rod.

Not A Divining Rod – D&C 8 is careful to not equate the gift of revelation with the “rod of nature.”

“Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod.”

Two different things.

I do not find any literature from the 19th century or earlier that compares a diving or dowsing rod with Aaron’s rod. I don’t find anything that calls a diving rod “Aaron’s gift,” “the rod of nature,” or a “sprout.” I do not find anything that says the divining rod works by “faith,” which is what D&C 8 says of Oliver Cowdery’s gift, or that it had anything to do with gaining knowledge. It didn’t tell anyone anything. The divining rod was known as an “indicator” in the 19th century and worked as well in one man’s hands as another for finding metal ore or underground water. The British Royal Society said in 1892, “the diving rod is treated just as an ordinary surveying instrument.” Nobody thought it had any kind of revelatory properties. It wasn’t used to gain knowledge, to translate, or for protection.

D&C 8 has literally nothing in common with the 19th century divining rod, except that it refers to a rod.

It was common knowledge that Aaron’s rod was a “sprout” or “rod of nature.” People reading D&C 8 would have immediately recognized the symbolism. Aaron’s rod was a common symbol for divine authority, for assisting the prophet of restoration, and for protection from enemies. CES Letter cherry-picks phrases out of context to make the rod of Aaron sound more like a divining rod. The gift of revelation manifests in the heart, but the rod of Aaron, which is called “another gift” separate from the gift of revelation, has “told you many things,” because it is the priesthood authority that makes Oliver Cowdery qualified to have the gift of revelation. The gift of Aaron was not to lead as prophet or pursue translation using some dowsing rod, but to assist Joseph Smith as he translated the gold plates. Joseph Smith was frequently compared to Moses in scripture and early Mormon documents. Oliver Cowdery was Joseph Smith’s “Aaron.”

A study by Larry E Morris concludes that the stories of Oliver Cowdery’s diving rod are “long on speculation and short on fact.” D. Michael Quinn’s claim that neighbors of Oliver Cowdery’s father described him “as a divining rodsman” is “not accurate.” There is zero evidence the Cowdery’s or Smith family had anything to do with the “Wood Scrape” rodsmen–especially considering they continued to live in Wells, Vermant even after the town got fed up with the rodsmen and drove them all out. There is zero evidence they had anything to do with treasure-searching. They were good, upstanding, Christian people.

He remarks that early in his life, Oliver Cowdery “whose early years had already been traumatized by the loss of his mother faced a double blow just four years later when a plague” killed the couple who he was living with. This is interesting, considering the gift of Aaron symbolized resurrection and budding life. This symbolism must have especially struck Oliver Cowdery to the core.

RLDS Hoax – Like most Big Lies about Joseph Smith and the Mormon church, this appears to be a fabrication from the RLDS splinter-sect. RLDS church historian Richard P. Howard wrote (via Jerald & Susan Tanner):

“Several writers have established that both in Vermont and in western New York in the early 1800’s, one of the many forms which enthusiastic religion took was the adaptation of the witch hazel stick…. For example, the ‘divining rod’ was used effectively by one Nathaniel Wood in Rutland County, Vermont, in 1801. Wood, Winchell, William Cowdery, Jr., and his son, Oliver Cowdery, all had some knowledge of and associations with the various uses, both secular and sacred, of the forked witch hazel rod. Winchell and others used such a rod in seeking buried treasure;… when Joseph Smith met Oliver Cowdery in April, 1829, he found a man peculiarly adept in the use of the forked rod…and against the background of his own experiments with and uses of oracular media, Joseph Smith’s April, 1829, affirmations about Cowdery’s unnatural powers related to working with the rod are quite understandable….”

All lies.

CES Letter Logical Fallacies

Falsehood The premise of this argument is totally false. Oliver Cowdery did not own a divining rod. D&C 8 does not refer to a divining rod. He did not “hunt for buried treasure.” He did not wish to translate ancient documents like Joseph Smith, but rather to assist Joseph Smith in his translating.

CES Letter claims the changes to D&C 8 indicate that the church is “whitewashing of its origins and history.” But why would Joseph Smith change it to “rod of nature” from “sprout” if he was trying to cover up the fact that it referred to a diving rod? Why would he make it more obvious? CES Letter lies when they say “rod of nature” was in the “original revelation.” Actually, the original revelation was “sprout.”

CES Letter misquotes D&C 8: “Now this is not all they gift….”

CES Letter claims some Mormons “base their testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon on these 11 witnesses and their testimonies.” This is silly to the point of falsehood. I have never heard anyone base their testimonies on the 11 witnesses. I have also never heard missionaries be instructed to “teach investigators about the testimonies of the witnesses” as CES Letter claims.

CES Letter claims the “people in early 19th century New England” were “people who believed in… peep stones in hats.” I have never heard or read of 19th century New Englanders with supernatural stones in hats except for the

Circular Argument We know D&C 8 refers to a divining rod because Oliver Cowdery used a divining rod. We know Oliver Cowdery used a diviing rod because it is in D&C 8. This is the kind of logic used by anti-Mormons and “scholars” who push this hoax, such as D. Michael Quinn: “A connection between William Cowdery and the Wood Scrape would help explain why his son Oliver had a rod through which he received revelations.”

CES Letter says the divining rod “evokes similar images of Joseph Smith hunting for treasure with a stone in a hat.” So D&C 8 must refer to a divining rod because Joseph Smith allegedly used peep stones?

Plagiarism CES Letter takes multiple pages of text and images from anti-Mormon website MormonThink, with no attribution. It is interesting that CES Letter would attack the Book of Mormon for quoting from the bible “word for word” yet they copy lengthy paragraphs from a website with no attribution.

Strawman Fallacy CES Letter (or should I say Mormon Think) misportrays the gift of Aaron.
Tu Quoque CES Letter‘s ideology is essentially one of superstition, where we should rely on dubious quotes that are found on the internet, yet Mormonism is what is “rooted in folk magic and superstition”?
Guilt By
Association
CES Letter implicates Oliver Cowdery and Mormons as superstitious and rodsmen because of the community and time they lived in. CES Letter further associates Joseph Smith as “hunting for treasure with a stone in a hat” because of Oliver Cowdery’s alleged divining rod.
Repetition CES Letter spreads this argument over three pages through vast use of repetition. They repeat the argument on p. 55.
Ad Hominem CES Letter attacks the character of Mormons with accusation of “folk magic and superstition,” and of whitewashing the church’s “origins and history.”

The diving rod is a popular myth among LDS scholars, which is unfortunate because it gives fuel to the anti-Mormon narrative that treasure-hunting tools were used to create the Mormon church. It is a narrative that doesn’t really make sense–if the Book of Mormon was all made-up, why would Joseph Smith make up revelations about diving rods and peep stones? Why would he involve folk magic at all? It is all just guilt by association. Joseph Smith supposedly came from a superstitious society. But there is no real evidence for any of it.

One benefit of the superstition narrative for CES Letter is that it covers up their own superstitious ideology. It is interesting that CES Letter attacks the idea of a “testimony” so strongly, considering CES Letter is nothing but a testimony itself. Are a bunch of quote attributions and historical claims that you found on the internet really that reliable? Aren’t they just bearing testimony for why they resent Mormons and the Mormon church? But when we bear testimony of the church, it’s all just rooted in folk magic and superstition? Once again, CES Letter is projecting.

They say Mormonism was rooted in a common 19th century worldview… then why were Mormons immediately persecuted? CES Letter complains that the Priesthood restoration and First Vision weren’t published right away, and then mere paragraphs later they shift and say it was natural for that society to have visions of God? The narrative is all over the place. That’s why it takes three pages of unnecessary repetition to make their case.

Big Lie Tactic – It is important for CES Letter to establish the rock and hat hoax story, because all the other attacks on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon follow this attack. Previous arguments set about to explain how Joseph Smith really produced the Book of Mormon, by copying the bible and random 19th century books. CES Letter set the narrative that Joseph Smith made stuff up on the spot based on books around him and post-rationalized contradictions and changes. One day it was magic seer stones that he used for treasure hunting, and the next day it was the Urim and Thummim spectacles. CES Letter returns to this narrative now that they have attacked the faith process of gaining knowledge.

By building a relationship between treasure hunting stories and the Book of Mormon, CES Letter builds a powerful narrative. When we read of gold plates, we think of phony gold treasure hunts. When we read of divine translation through the Spirit, we think of fortune telling and con jobs. It is easy to assume that Joseph Smith moved from treasure hunt con-jobs and seer-stone divination on to gold plates that nobody can see and seer-stone translation jobs.

To set the big lie, it is important for CES Letter to dismantle the media narrative set by the church. That’s why they ost a bunch of false sinister-looking images of diving rods. Anti-Mormons rely heavily on media influence–the images you see on TV and popular culture. They rely on the mainstream media’s severe anti-Mormon bias, that you see on TV, film, musicals, popular music, magazines, radio, etc. If this copious media bias against Mormons in popular media disappeared, it would make it a lot harder for them to push the big lie. They need “South Park.”

Contradiction Strategy – The surrounding arguments for obscure books that allegedly influenced the Book of Mormon no longer seem very clownish now the CES Letter made the case for Joseph Smith’s rock and hat narrative. The attack on faith and promotion of fake science gains considerable strength with this narrative in place, and the explanation for how Joseph Smith fabricated it suddenly appears more credible.

Well, what is a prophet of the Lord doing digging for buried treasure? Even if he was only looking for a silver mine, would a real prophet of God use his divine powers of seer-ship to look for wealth and glory?

One thing nobody mentions is that Joseph Smith was only a child, a 17-year old boy, when anti-Mormon Willard Chase claims Joseph Smith used the seer stone in 1822. The Josiah Stowel silver mine saga occurred only a few years later. If Joseph Smith indeed did anything more than look around for a silver mine on behalf of a neighbor, it was the exploits of a teenager.

The human mind is trained to find patterns. It is easy to cherry-pick a few vague similarities, dress up the context to sound more similar, and build a narrative that one thing derived from the other. It is especially effective for CES Letter to play this game immediately following arguments where they throw out vague similarities between two books and suggest one book was derived from the other. At this point in their document, our brain is eagerly looking for clues to piece together. We look at these stories of ‘treasure hunts’ and attach them to the gold plates. We look at the stories of ‘stones in a hat’ and attach them to the translation of the gold plates. Our brain is telling us there is no way the gold plates story couldn’t be derived from the teenage treasure hunting years.

This is the same argument that Leftists use against the bible and all the other prophets. The human brain is trained to look for discrepancies and patterns, so this trick is common. Pareidolia is why people see the Virgin Mary in breakfast cereal and human figures on Mars. It is confirmation bias.

When it comes to history, there is so much we don’t know and will never know. In this case, all we have are some angry statements from anti-Mormons and some second or third hand quotes from witnesses. Fools jump to conclusions.We must be careful not to be tricked when it comes to pareidolia and history, take care to use critical thought. If there is vague evidence for something but we mostly don’t know what really happened because it is history, do not jump to lazy conclusions, whatever narrative is hyped on South Park. It is easy to manipulate Satan’s followers when it comes to history because they rely only on what they can see and put no true faith in anything.

It is silly to think Joseph Smith was into black magic and Ouija Boards, and it totally flies in the face of the narrative that CES Letter set thus far–that Joseph Smith made the Book of Mormon by ripping off of other books. But anti-Mormons have been pushing the black magic narrative hard lately, especially among the fake scholarship scene and among Mormon infiltrators in BYU’s faculty. The LDS scholar community these days scoffs in the face of anyone who rejects the narrative.

Occult religion is a splinter sect that ripped a lot of the old church of Jehovah in ancient days, so it is no surprise to see similarities such as the pentagram symbolism in both the occult and LDS temples. Yes, there are similarities if you look only at the surface, which is what anti-Mormons tend to do, from what I’ve seen. It makes it easy for them to generalize all religions as wrong. Ouija Boards, the bible… what’s the difference? Both are myths, pretending to get revelation. Not only does this illogical, lazy thinking rationalize an atheist’s contempt for faith, but it also excuses them if they replace Sunday church with tarot card readings and horoscopes. Either way, the truth is not the rosy image of Joseph Smith with his face studying the pages of the gold plates, right? This mode of thinking leads ex-Mormons to replace their testimony of the gospel with superstition.

What does CES Letter believe in? What tenant of faith do hold that we can verify or discredit with these kinds of comparisons? Global warming? Human evolution? Give us something! Why don’t anti-Mormons discuss their alternative belief to the beliefs of the Book of Mormon and bible, and talk about physical evidences? Instead, they nit-pick and tear down an entire belief system with unscientific appeals to fake science.

This Marxist propaganda technique of finding contradiction is especially insidious as it defines Mormons in a constrained and unfair frame, and it rallies non-Mormons or anybody who was sitting on the fence in solidarity against Mormons and their beliefs. These days, everybody knows about Joseph Smith and his peep stones. It’s all over the media.

Use Opponent As Authority Tactic – This is a popular Marxist tactic that anti-Mormons use. They use Mormonism’s own authorities to discredit the faith, such as an alleged Mormon scholar. What makes this argument powerful is:

  • Deceptively discredits the vast libraries of study on Book of Mormon theology by LDS professionals.
  • Gives more focus to a phony frame that attacks the Mormon church.
  • Divides the ranks of the church.
  • Establishes a frame that demands a clear, modern explanation in the Book of Mormon for every religious issue in existence, and that it be exactly corroborated by every other Mormon source.