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New evidence that Church was organized at Fayette


Scott Lloyd

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This is a redux of this thread in which Alf O'Mega strenuously promoted the notion of Michael Marquardt that the Church was organized in Manchester, N.Y., not at Fayette, as has traditionally been held.

Marquardt bases his contention on the 1833 Book of Commandments, which gives Manchester as the location for D&C 21, which was given at the organization of the Church.

However, there is now evidence that predates the Book of Commandments, evidence in a manuscript found in the First Presidency's vault, called "The Book of Commandments and Revelations." This manuscript gives the setting for D&C 21 as Fayette, thus sustaining the traditional account.

The Book of Commandments and Revelations was discussed in a session of the recent Mormon History Association Conference held in Springfield, Ill. The session was billed as "A Major Documentary Discovery." I reported on the session in my Church News article linked here.

One of the presenters in the session was Steven C. Harper, an editor in the Joseph Smith Papers project. I have transcribed the relevant portion of Harper's presentation as follows:

John Whitmer wrote that the 17th commandment [i.e. D&C 21], revealed 6 April 1830, was a revelation to Joseph the Seer by way of commandment to the church given at Fayette, Seneca County, State of New York. The 1833 Book of Commandments, heretofore the earliest source available, located this revelation in Manchester, N. Y. Wesley Walters and Michael Marquardt thus argued that the traditional story of the Churchâ??s founding in Fayette, N.Y., lacked foundation in the historical record. But we can now see that, in this case, tradition and the historical record match up. The BCR gives Manchester as the location for a series of revelations that are now combined in LDS Doctrine and Covenants Section 23. However, it gives Fayette as the location for the 6 April 1830 revelation that calls for a record to be kept and for Joseph and Oliver Cowdery to be ordained the Churchâ??s leading elders. Moreover in the manuscript BCR, as in the most recent edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, this revelation precedes the series of short ones that are now Section 23. But for some reason, in the published Book of Commandments in 1833, these revelations were put ahead of the 6 April one that precedes them in the BCR. It dates all of the revelations as 6 April, though none of the short personal texts is so specifically dated in the manuscript. The one to Oliver Cowdery is dated only to the month of April, for example, and all the others only to the year 1830. All of them are located in Manchester.

Apparently in the process of printing the BCR, William Phelps and/or his associates changed the order of the revelations and confused or conflated their dates and places.

Whatever happened, it is clear that the earliest available source, presently the BCR, reaffirms Josephâ??s later history and its explicit account for the Church being organized on Tuesday, 6 April 1830 at the Whitmer home in Fayette, N.Y.

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Back in February, I attended a seminar by Dr. Underwood at BYU titled "Recovering the Lost World of Joseph Smith", where he discussed this as well as some other interesting tidbits in the BCR (such as Oliver Cowdery's "Sprout of Nature", that I discussed here).

This is one of the reasons that I can't wait for the next volume of the Joseph Smith Papers.

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Scott, your inbox is full.

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Marquardt bases his contention on the 1833 Book of Commandments, which gives Manchester as the location for D&C 21, which was given at the organization of the Church.

Marquardt bases his contention on a good deal more than the 1833 Book of Commandments. There are multiple strands of evidence pointing to Manchester.

Apparently in the process of printing the BCR, William Phelps and/or his associates changed the order of the revelations and confused or conflated their dates and places.

One of Phelps's associates was Oliver Cowdery. If Cowdery made the changes, then, in my view, Manchester is still the most likely candidate for the April 6th meeting.

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Marquardt bases his contention on a good deal more than the 1833 Book of Commandments. There are multiple strands of evidence pointing to Manchester.

One of Phelps's associates was Oliver Cowdery. If Cowdery made the changes, then, in my view, Manchester is still the most likely candidate for the April 6th meeting.

On the other hand, we now have in the BCR the earliest extant copy of D&C 21, with John Whitmer giving the location as Fayette. Robin Jensen, who also spoke in the Mormon History Association session and whose presentation I covered in my Church News piece, reckons that the BCR was begun in early 1831. That is a scant nine months after the Church was organized and D&C 21 was given, on April 6, 1830. With it having occurred so recently, I doubt Whitmer would have been confused on this matter, especially since he vividly recalled later that the organization transpired in his father's farmhouse in Fayette.

Moreover, it was Whitmer's duty to make an accurate record of such things. He was not appointed Church Historian and Recorder until March 1831, but according to the heading of D&C 47, he had already served as secretary to the Prophet in recording many of the revelations received in Fayette.

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With it having occurred so recently, I doubt Whitmer would have been confused on this matter, especially since he vividly recalled later that the organization transpired in his father's farmhouse in Fayette.

I'm just saying that if Oliver Cowdery made the changes, then you have Oliver's memory vs. John Whitmer's. I think there were quite likely organizational meetings in both Manchester and Fayette during early April. I'm sure Whitmer remembered the one at his father's farmhouse, but I doubt he was present at Manchester. Cowdery, of course, would have been present at both.

If you accept Fayette as the site of the April 6th organizational meeting, you still need to account for the following:

  • the six revelations in D&C 23, given to individuals who were in attendance at the organization meetings on April 6, 1830, were received at Manchester.
  • all references in the Evening and the Morning Star before 1834 refer to Manchester as the location of the April 6th meeting.
  • there is circumstantial evidence that Hyrum Smith was in the vicinity of Manchester on April 6th.
  • the description of the site of an early baptism associated with the organization meeting fits Hathaway Creek in Manchester.

In my estimation, [the] key points in Marquardt's argument have to do with the likelihood that a baptismal service was held the same day the Church was organized, that the service might well have taken place in Manchester, and that some who participated in or witnessed the baptism were also in attendance at the organization. Lucy Mack Smith indicates the baptismal service was held in the morning, but Joseph Smith and Joseph Knight suggest it took place after the organizational meeting, which would make it late afternoon or evening. As Marquardt points out, Manchester neighbors C. R. Stafford and Benjamin Saunders recalled seeing Joseph Sr. and others baptized into the Church.

â?? Paul H. Peterson, review of H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record, in BYU Studies 35, no. 4 (1995-96): 219.

Of course, as you know, all of these points are covered in detail in the thread you linked.

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I'm just saying that if Oliver Cowdery made the changes, then you have Oliver's memory vs. John Whitmer's.

A rather substantial "if". Cowdery and Whitmer carried the BCR to Independence, but it would have been Phelps's responsibility to prepare the revelations for printing.

I think there were quite likely organizational meetings in both Manchester and Fayette during early April. I'm sure Whitmer remembered the one at his father's farmhouse, but I doubt he was present at Manchester. Cowdery, of course, would have been present at both.

I don't discount the possibility of two meetings. But the Prophet and Whitmer place the April 6 one at Fayette.

If you accept Fayette as the site of the April 6th organizational meeting, you still need to account for the following:

[*]the six revelations in D&C 23, given to individuals who were in attendance at the organization meetings on April 6, 1830, were received at Manchester.

Harper addressed this in his presentation. None of those revelations is specifically dated to April 6; D&C 21 is. And D&C 21 was set apart from the others, being placed before them in the BCR, as it is today in our edition of the D&C.

[*]all references in the Evening and the Morning Star before 1834 refer to Manchester as the location of the April 6th meeting.

If the 1833 Book of Commandments had the location as Manchester, it is no great surprise that this would be carried forth in the official Church periodical Evening and Morning Star. It would merely be the perpetuation of an error. What is significant is that in later editions, the location of the revelation we now have as D&C 21 was changed back to Fayette, as it had earlier been given in the BCR.

[*]there is circumstantial evidence that Hyrum Smith was in the vicinity of Manchester on April 6th.

[*]the description of the site of an early baptism associated with the organization meeting fits Hathaway Creek in Manchester.

All of the above is circumstantial. To me, the primary â?? and most persuasive â?? documentation to date is in the Book of Commandments and Revelations.

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This is a redux of this thread in which Alf O'Mega strenuously promoted the notion of Michael Marquardt that the Church was organized in Manchester, N.Y., not at Fayette, as has traditionally been held.

Marquardt bases his contention on the 1833 Book of Commandments, which gives Manchester as the location for D&C 21, which was given at the organization of the Church.

However, there is now evidence that predates the Book of Commandments, evidence in a manuscript found in the First Presidency's vault, called "The Book of Commandments and Revelations." This manuscript gives the setting for D&C 21 as Fayette, thus sustaining the traditional account.

The Book of Commandments and Revelations was discussed in a session of the recent Mormon History Association Conference held in Springfield, Ill. The session was billed as "A Major Documentary Discovery." I reported on the session in my Church News article linked here.

I don't see anything new here. Nevo, as usual, summarizes the matter nicely. (It's nice not to have to address this strenuously, because that only invites stubborn responses.)

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I don't see anything new here.

Then I'm afraid you're not paying attention.

To summarize and reiterate:

The Book of Commandments and Revelations, a manuscript found only recently among documents made available from the First Presidency's vault, contains the earliest extant copy of D&C 21, the revelation associated with the organization of the Church. The copy, written at most within a few months of the day of the organization, identifies the location as Fayette, not Manchester, thus sustaining the traditional account.

This is indeed a new discovery, and it places us closer by at least two years to the actual date, April 6, 1830, than does the 1833 Book of Commandments, which had previously been the earliest documentation.

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Then I'm afraid you're not paying attention.

To summarize and reiterate:

The Book of Commandments and Revelations, a manuscript found only recently among documents made available from the First Presidency's vault, contains the earliest extant copy of D&C 21, the revelation associated with the organization of the Church. The copy, written at most within a few months of the day of the organization, identifies the location as Fayette, not Manchester, thus sustaining the traditional account.

This is indeed a new discovery, and it places us closer by at least two years to the actual date, April 6, 1830, than does the 1833 Book of Commandments, which had previously been the earliest documentation.

This information is available here, a discussion that Nevo linked in that other thread here. Were you paying attention during that thread?

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I am seriously asking this question. What difference does it make if the church was organized in Manchester or Fayette?

It calls into question the traditional account of the Church being organized in the Peter Whitmer farmhouse in Fayette. On the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Church on April 6, 1980, part of the general conference session was televised by satellite linkup from that farmhouse, with President Kimball issuing a proclamation from that small room. It was quite an occasion.

Moreover, the conception of it occurring in Manchester contradicts the Prophet's account and the Church's official history (see History of the Church 1:75-80).

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This information is available here, a discussion that Nevo linked in that other thread here. Were you paying attention during that thread?

It had been a while since I had looked at that thread, and I had forgotten that Nevo provided that link.

But Nevo said there: "Recently it has been suggested that the Book of Commandments and Revelations bolsters the case for Fayette (see here), but as far as I can tell this is not the case."

I think Nevo's dismissal is absurd. It does indeed bolster the case for Fayette, for reasons that I've already enunciated: It's documentary evidence that puts us within a few months of the day of organization, evidence that we didn't have when Marquardt made his case.

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It had been a while since I had looked at that thread, and I had forgotten that Nevo provided that link.

But Nevo said there: "Recently it has been suggested that the Book of Commandments and Revelations bolsters the case for Fayette (see here), but as far as I can tell this is not the case."

I think Nevo's dismissal is absurd. It does indeed bolster the case for Fayette, for reasons that I've already enunciated: It's documentary evidence that puts us within a few months of the day of organization, evidence that we didn't have when Marquardt made his case.

One other point from the Juvenile Instructor discussion that Nevo linked:

It is obvious that this volume was taken to Missouri by John Whitmer and used as a printerâ??s copy for the Book of Commandments. For example, there are several markings found throughout that include the writing, like â??compared thus far by J&O,â? giving a glimpse into the printing process. Further, there is a mark at a certain part in the revelations that denotes how far they had gotten before the press was destroyed.

Phelps printed the book, but it looks like John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery were primarily responsible for the content. The printed version was being proofread by both men (as indicated by the "compared thus far by J&O" comment).

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One other point from the Juvenile Instructor discussion that Nevo linked:

Phelps printed the book, but it looks like John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery were primarily responsible for the content. The printed version was being proofread by both men (as indicated by the "compared thus far by J&O" comment).

For what it's worth, here's what Robin Jensen wrote in the comments section on the "Juvenile Instructor" link:

Hereâ??s the lowdown on the Fayette/Manchester issue:

The revelations which now make up D&C 23 were published in the Book of Commandments as chapters 17 through 21 (it was combined in the 1835 D&C into one revelation [section 45] and has remained so since). The heading for each of the five chapters contains the heading â??given in Manchester, New-York, April 6, 1830.â? The same revelations found in the BCR (predating the BoC versions by about 2 years) contain the date of â??AD 1830â?â??Oliver Cowdery later added an â??Aprilâ? to the revelation dictated for himâ??with the heading of â??given to Hyrum [or other recipients] at Manchester Ontario County state of New York.â? Thus the earlier versions in the BCR does not revise the place of reception, but throws doubt onto the date 6 April 1830 (if the earlier manuscript simply has AD 1830, or AD April 1830, someone later must have added the 6â??throwing doubt onto the later addition). In saying all this, I wouldnâ??t say this is 100% solvedâ??but pretty close, in my opinion. John Whitmer copied the revelations into the BCR; he presumably knew whether these revelations were received on the 6th of April or not. William W. Phelpsâ??the printer of the BoCâ??was not there at the founding of the church and may have inserted the dates into the published versions not knowing any better. (I find it telling that when they revised and combined the revelations together in the 1835 D&C, they did not maintain the 6 April 1830 date, but took a step back to a more general April 1830 date.) However, Oliver Cowdery was also helping with the printing of the Book of Commandments and should have known better. The more I compare the BCR with the BoC, the more I see that there are still a lot of questions regarding the exact relationship between the two and just as many questions raised about the printing process in Missouri.

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For what it's worth, here's what Robin Jensen wrote in the comments section on the "Juvenile Instructor" link:
Hereâ??s the lowdown on the Fayette/Manchester issue:

The revelations which now make up D&C 23 were published in the Book of Commandments as chapters 17 through 21 (it was combined in the 1835 D&C into one revelation [section 45] and has remained so since). The heading for each of the five chapters contains the heading â??given in Manchester, New-York, April 6, 1830.â? The same revelations found in the BCR (predating the BoC versions by about 2 years) contain the date of â??AD 1830â?â??Oliver Cowdery later added an â??Aprilâ? to the revelation dictated for himâ??with the heading of â??given to Hyrum [or other recipients] at Manchester Ontario County state of New York.â? Thus the earlier versions in the BCR does not revise the place of reception, but throws doubt onto the date 6 April 1830 (if the earlier manuscript simply has AD 1830, or AD April 1830, someone later must have added the 6â??throwing doubt onto the later addition). In saying all this, I wouldnâ??t say this is 100% solvedâ??but pretty close, in my opinion. John Whitmer copied the revelations into the BCR; he presumably knew whether these revelations were received on the 6th of April or not. William W. Phelpsâ??the printer of the BoCâ??was not there at the founding of the church and may have inserted the dates into the published versions not knowing any better. (I find it telling that when they revised and combined the revelations together in the 1835 D&C, they did not maintain the 6 April 1830 date, but took a step back to a more general April 1830 date.) However, Oliver Cowdery was also helping with the printing of the Book of Commandments and should have known better. The more I compare the BCR with the BoC, the more I see that there are still a lot of questions regarding the exact relationship between the two and just as many questions raised about the printing process in Missouri.

I think that Robin is focusing on the printing history of the revelations without giving much consideration to the other evidence in favor of Manchester, most of which is absent in that discussion.

As I've said before, it's clear that somebody's recollection is mistaken. I'd like to propose that there may also have been some family dynastic dynamics at play in the discrepancies. The Whitmers are practically, with the Smiths, the co-founding family of the Restoration. If the April 6 meeting occurred in Manchester, the Whitmers may not even have been present. (They aren't mentioned by Joseph Knight, Lucy Mack Smith, or the Manchester neighbors, and none of the five personalized revelations of D&C 23 are addressed to any Whitmers.) But there was a meeting in Fayette just five days later, which organized the Fayette branch. This would have been, for them, the founding meeting. If they even consciously registered the mismatch between the date of that meeting and "the sixth day of the month, which is called April" from D&C 21, it's possible that they didn't consider the church fully organized until they, the Whitmers, were part of it. I don't think it's necessary to impute conscious revisionism to them in this conflation, but knowing their securely central place in the early events of the Restoration, it was probably inconceivable to them that the actual founding occurred without them. I think it was an honest and understandable misrecollection.

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I think that Robin is focusing on the printing history of the revelations without giving much consideration to the other evidence in favor of Manchester, most of which is absent in that discussion.

As I understand it, that evidence mainly consists of reports from Manchester residents who recollected seeing baptisms take place on April 6, 1830. According to Marquardt's Sunstone article, Joseph Smith's scribe James Mulholland wrote in a notation in the Prophet's history that Father Smith and Martin Harris were baptized the evening of that day and that others were baptized two or three days afterward. If, as you say, Manchester is about 25 miles from Fayette, it is conceivable that the organizational meeting could have taken place in Fayette in the morning, leaving time for a return trip to Manchester and the performance of two of the baptisms there in the evening, with the other baptisms taking place within the next few days.

At any rate, it seems to me the BCR's placement of D&C 21 in Fayette takes a great deal of steam out of Marquardt's case. Marquardt, of course, was not aware of it when he wrote his Sunstone piece in 1992. Not only does it tie Section 21 to Fayette, but it contradicts the understanding that April 6 was the date for the Manchester revelations combined in Section 23.

As I've said before, it's clear that somebody's recollection is mistaken. I'd like to propose that there may also have been some family dynastic dynamics at play in the discrepancies. The Whitmers are practically, with the Smiths, the co-founding family of the Restoration. If the April 6 meeting occurred in Manchester, the Whitmers may not even have been present. (They aren't mentioned by Joseph Knight, Lucy Mack Smith, or the Manchester neighbors, and none of the five personalized revelations of D&C 23 are addressed to any Whitmers.) But there was a meeting in Fayette just five days later, which organized the Fayette branch. This would have been, for them, the founding meeting. If they even consciously registered the mismatch between the date of that meeting and "the sixth day of the month, which is called April" from D&C 21, it's possible that they didn't consider the church fully organized until they, the Whitmers, were part of it. I don't think it's necessary to impute conscious revisionism to them in this conflation, but knowing their securely central place in the early events of the Restoration, it was probably inconceivable to them that the actual founding occurred without them. I think it was an honest and understandable misrecollection.

It think it at least as likely that it was not a mis-recollection; rather, that errors were made in the compilation and preparation of the Book of Commandments in 1833, errors that were corrected by 1835, when the Doctrine and Covenants was published, conforming to the BCR, which, having been begun by early 1831, is now the earliest known documentation for D&C 21 and 23.

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I think the church was organized at Fayette, as the "traditional" accounts say.

But I'm puzzled at the assumption that anyone arguing that it was organized at Manchester would be engaged in some sort of effort to embarrass the Church or desecrate sacred history. Yet this is just what was assumed of Mike Marquardt when he put forward this argument several years ago (see the FARMS Review of his book). And similar assumptions are perpetuated on this thread. To say the church was organized at Manchester isn't an accusation; it is a conclusion. It may be a false conclusion--as I think it is, but it would be only that, and nothing more.

Many LDS scholars have felt threatened by "revisionist history," even from within the Church, the Church Historical Department, and BYU. But the whole point of continuing to do history is to revise and refine our views of the past. If we already knew it all, why bother doing history? We can all just read the Documentary History of the Church and B. H. Roberts and call it good. It's precisely because we don't know the past all that well and want to know it better that we have ongoing historical projects--as the Church itself does. The whole enterprise of doing history--or inquiry of any kind--hinges on what we can call "fallibilism"--they view that our present views may be wrong or seriously and therefore in need of correction and enhancement. So let's not shoot historians in the foot when they actually do tell us we need to modify our understanding. If they're wrong, this can be shown by a more careful application of the historical method, not by cries of "Revisionism!" or "You're just trying to embarrass us!"

The present question is not--as Alph rightly says--relevant to whether the Church is true. The point of the having a church has never been for it to be the Church of Fayette of Latter-day Saints, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Manchester would do just as well for organizing the latter as Fayette would. If Joseph Smith's history were in error on this point, would this be the first time a substantial error had been found in his history? Would it mean the whole Restoration was a lie? And if President Kimball broadcast from the wrong location, so what? This would be unfortunate, but it would hardly destroy the meaningfulness of the celebration or the truth of the message he gave from that spot.

Don

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I think the church was organized at Fayette, as the "traditional" accounts say.

But I'm puzzled at the assumption that anyone arguing that it was organized at Manchester would be engaged in some sort of effort to embarrass the Church or desecrate sacred history. Yet this is just what was assumed of Mike Marquardt when he put forward this argument several years ago (see the FARMS Review of his book).

I'd be interested to read the review; can you provide a link?

And similar assumptions are perpetuated on this thread.

Say what? Can you provide a specific example from this thread of someone accusing Marquardt or anyone else of trying "to embarrass the Church or desecrate sacred history"?

To say the church was organized at Manchester isn't an accusation; it is a conclusion. It may be a false conclusion--as I think it is, but it would be only that, and nothing more.

I don't disagree with this. And I searched this thread in vain for an example of someone characterizing Marquardt's theory as an "accusation."

Many LDS scholars have felt threatened by "revisionist history," even from within the Church, the Church Historical Department, and BYU.

This may or may not be true, but I don't see how it applies to this thread, where I had regarded the discussion as being rather low-key, if not cordial.

But the whole point of continuing to do history is to revise and refine our views of the past. If we already knew it all, why bother doing history? We can all just read the Documentary History of the Church and B. H. Roberts and call it good. It's precisely because we don't know the past all that well and want to know it better that we have ongoing historical projects--as the Church itself does. The whole enterprise of doing history--or inquiry of any kind--hinges on what we can call "fallibilism"--they view that our present views may be wrong or seriously and therefore in need of correction and enhancement. So let's not shoot historians in the foot when they actually do tell us we need to modify our understanding. If they're wrong, this can be shown by a more careful application of the historical method, not by cries of "Revisionism!" or "You're just trying to embarrass us!"

The present question is not--as Alph rightly says--relevant to whether the Church is true. The point of the having a church has never been for it to be the Church of Fayette of Latter-day Saints, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Manchester would do just as well for organizing the latter as Fayette would. If Joseph Smith's history were in error on this point, would this be the first time a substantial error had been found in his history? Would it mean the whole Restoration was a lie? And if President Kimball broadcast from the wrong location, so what? This would be unfortunate, but it would hardly destroy the meaningfulness of the celebration or the truth of the message he gave from that spot.

Again, I don't disagree with any of this. Can you help me understand how it applies to the discussion at hand?

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I'd be interested to read the review; can you provide a link?

Say what? Can you provide a specific example from this thread of someone accusing Marquardt or anyone else of trying "to embarrass the Church or desecrate sacred history"?

I don't disagree with this. And I searched this thread in vain for an example of someone characterizing Marquardt's theory as an "accusation."

This may or may not be true, but I don't see how it applies to this thread, where I had regarded the discussion as being rather low-key, if not cordial.

Again, I don't disagree with any of this. Can you help me understand how it applies to the discussion at hand?

Bumping this in the hope that Don Bradley will answer the call for reference to the offending FARMS review of Michael Marquardt's book and that he perhaps will endeavor to clarify how he thinks his rather generic reproval applies to this thread in particular.

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