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Rewriting Oliver’s Words: Dirty, Filthy, Nasty Scrape? (Part 2 of 12)

Oliver Cowdery has long been quoted that what happened between Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger was a “dirty, filthy, nasty affair.”  But are those really his words?  It turns out that those are not actually Oliver’s words, but the words of his nephew!  In our next conversation with historian Don Bradley, Don will tell us how he came to that conclusion!

Don:  Here you’ve got Oliver Cowdery right around the time he’s excommunicated, writing to his brother, saying, something about Joseph’s dirty, nasty, filthy affair with Fanny Alger. So people are like, “Well, there you go. Oliver Cowdery at the time thought that it was adultery. So why would we think it was polygamy?”

But I noticed when I looked at the Church Archives microfilm, is that there was something funny. The word affair was written over top of another word. And I say, “What’s that word?” Because this seems to be a key, right? If Oliver originally wrote some other word, and then affair is written over it–you have to understand the letterbook was not written by Oliver. Oliver wrote the original letter to his brother. Then Oliver’s nephew took that original letter, copied it into letterbook for Oliver and the change is made in the handwriting of Oliver’s nephew. So the nephew is changing what Oliver said to something else. So the word “affair” isn’t Oliver’s word. Oliver’s original word is underneath that word and I had to know what it was, because everybody for decades cited this like, “Here you go. We’ve got the goods, it was an affair.”

So I could read some of the letters, but I wanted to be really sure. I had Chris [Smith] go look at it and he was able to read most of the word. Then we were able to get detailed images from the Huntington Library that Brian Hales has reproduced that show definitively what the word was. The original word is not affair. The word is scrape. You know S C R A P E, scrape. So if you look at what these words meant at the time, you can actually figure out what Oliver was originally saying and why his nephew changed it. So a scrape, according to the 1828 Webster’s, so just 10 years before Oliver’s letter was [written, the word scrape meant] a perplexity, a distress. It’s like a way of saying somebody got into a jam. They were in a scrape.

So, we’re talking about Joseph and Fanny Alger having gotten themselves into this jam and they need to get out of it. However, Webster indicates that this is, in his words, a low word. So this is actually not a really polite word. It’s sort of like slang. So Oliver’s nephew writes what Oliver had originally said and then he’s like, “I’m not going to leave this slang in there. This is not a great way to speak, to preserve this history.” So he just finds another word to write over it. He writes the word affair. We look at the word affair, and that word triggers all kinds of meanings.

GT:  We think sex.

Don:  We think sex. I’d invite listeners to like explore this for yourself. Go on to Google Books or some other database of 19th century texts and look at all the uses you can find of the word affair around this time, early to mid 19th century. Then look at later uses like late 19th century, 20th century. The connotation of a romantic affair, from just the word affair does not appear until around the end of the 19th century and it doesn’t come to mean pretty much talking about people having sex outside of marriage until even later than that. The word affair, actually, at the time, is a very general word rather than a very specific word. I’m trying to remember his wording there, but Webster defines affair and he actually says a word, a very broad word, a very general and indefinite signification. It’s just a really super broad word. Basically, as Webster defines it, the word just means anything that people do. It’s like using the word thing, right? Joseph and Fanny Alger had this dirty, nasty, filthy thing. There’s something that happened. Now, Oliver is pretty clear that it’s dirty, nasty and filthy. He’s very much against it. However, if you look at Oliver Cowdery’s known views on polygamy, he’s against it. He doesn’t think it’s a clean thing. He thinks it’s a filthy thing. So there’s nothing in Oliver’s wording that would preclude him referring to polygamy there, just referring to it in a very negative way. He says..

GT:  He would normally think it was negative no matter what.

Don:  Yeah. Joseph and Fanny had a dirty, nasty, filthy scrape. Or, they had a dirty, nasty, filthy thing going on between them. What was that thing? Sure, maybe it’s adultery here. Or maybe it’s illicit polygamy as far as Oliver is concerned.

GT:  So Oliver wouldn’t have made the distinction between polygamy and adultery. Is that what you’re saying?

Don:  Not necessarily. So we know that even when Oliver returns to the Church in the late 1840s, people are telling him about polygamy. He’s having a hard time believing it. He says, “I can’t imagine.” This shows a little naivety here when you hear this. But he says, “I can’t imagine that Brigham would condone such a thing.” {Chuckling}

GT:  So it sounds like Eliza [R. Snow] believed that the relationship with Fanny and Joseph was a marriage.

Don:  Yes.

Check out our conversation….

Don Bradley says Oliver Cowdery referred to Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger as a “dirty, nasty, filthy scrape” rather than “affair” as has been frequently cited.

And don’t miss our previous conversation with Don Bradley:   Dating Fanny Alger

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*Surprising Sales at Seventies Bookstore (Part 6 of 6)

In our final conversation with polygamy expert Anne Wilde, Anne will discuss the surprising popularity of Ogden Kraut’s book “Jesus Was Married.”  Christ’s Church apostle David Patrick will also add his final thoughts on why this is such an important and influential book over the past 50 years.

Anne:  At BYU, the religion professors were being asked, was Jesus married? And I’m not going to mention names of the professors but there were two of them that said, “Well, you know, we’re not supposed to talk about this. We’ve been advised.” So anyway, to lay a little groundwork, the next day or two, after we took them down to the Seventies Bookstore, Brother Whitehead calls out and he says, I sold all 10 of those copies. Can you bring me 20 more? So we did, and we couldn’t figure out why. And I don’t know if Brother Whitehead knew until later. What was happening is that these religious professors found out about Ogden’s book down there and Ogden was friends with them. And so they knew the book was coming out. So what they did was they tell the students “As religion professors at BYU, we’re not supposed to say one way or the other. But there’s a book down and Seventies Bookstore if you want to go down and get that, that has the whole story. And so he sold 20 and then 50 more. And then we just kept taking them down there because of BYU students were coming down and buying. So I just thought it was kind of ironic because about the same time you know. And we have sold thousands of copies of that. It’s been an eighth printing. Its Ogden’s best-seller.

Apostle David Patrick of Christ’s Church and polygamy expert Anne Wilde reflect on the past 50 years of the book “Jesus Was Married.”

Sign up for our free newsletter and I will send you a link to the final part of our conversation with Anne and David.  Sign up at GospelTangents.com/newsletter.

Don’t miss our other episodes with David and Anne!

345:  Uniquely Mormon Marriage Theology

344:  “There is No Marriage in Heaven”

343:  Evangelical Arguments about Marriage in Heaven

342: Was Jesus the Groom at Wedding at Cana?

341: Making the Case that Jesus Was Married

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Uniquely Mormon Marriage Theology (Part 5 of 6)

Mormons have a unique theology concerning marriage.  Doctrine & Covenants 132 is a revelation to Joseph Smith stating a man can have multiple wives.  On the other hand, the Book of Mormon states that a man should have just one wife. Polygamy expert Anne Wilde and Christ’s Church apostle David Patrick will talk about these scriptures and more fully explain their beliefs that polygamy is a celestial principle.

David:  The very next Section is section 131. And it reads verse one, “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees. And in order to obtain the highest A man must enter into the order of the priesthood meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into another, but that is the end of his kingdom. He cannot have in an increase.” So, there’s a law, you live the law, you get the blessing. What is the blessing the celestial kingdom? One of the rules is you’ve got to be married. And so, Mormon doctrine in itself basically says an unmarried Jesus wouldn’t make it into the Celestial Kingdom.

Do you think Jesus was required to be married?  Check out our conversation….

David Patrick explains Mormon theology requires Jesus to be married in order to get into the Celestial Kingdom. Do you agree?

Don’t miss our other episodes with David and Anne!

344:  “There is No Marriage in Heaven”

343:  Evangelical Arguments about Marriage in Heaven

342: Was Jesus the Groom at Wedding at Cana?

341: Making the Case that Jesus Was Married