"Rod of Nature" 1835 Whitewashing?

CES Letter Core Question

Is the 1835 change from "rod of nature" to "Gift of Aaron" an attempt by the church to cover up the early magic elements of the church?

What is a “rod of nature”? It is a divining rod or dowsing rod as illustrated in the above images, which Oliver Cowdery used to hunt for buried treasure (dowsing rod looks for water not treasure)

Cowdery’s use of a divining rod to search for buried treasure (no record of Oliver searching for treasure with a rod) evokes similar images of Joseph Smith hunting for treasure with a peep stone in a hat. Oliver also wished to use his divining rod, in the same way Joseph Smith used his stone and hat, to translate ancient documents. (incorrect reading of this section) Doctrine & Covenants Section 8 indicates that the Lord, through Joseph Smith, granted Oliver’s request to translate using a...rod. (incorrect reading of this section)

If Oliver Cowdery’s gift was really the use of a divining rod – and it was – then this tells us that the origins of the Church are much more rooted in folk magic (folk magic was familiar to early members, not a core doctrine of the church) and superstition than we’ve been led to believe by the LDS Church’s whitewashing of its origins and history.


CES Letter, Page 88

No documentation exists describing the “rod of nature” or how it specifically functioned. Accusations of “whitewashing” assume that the “rod” would have generated controversy, which is undocumented.

Copies of the 1833 Book of Commandments were circulated. No attempts to limit their readership were made. No disclaimers or errata declarations were ever issued concerning the “rod of nature.”

Edits to this portion of the revelation for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants were likely performed by Sidney Rigdon with Joseph's approval.

The text of the revelation indicates that Oliver possessed a gift of working with something alternately referred to as a "sprout," "thing of nature," or "rod of nature." The revelation recognized his special powers and encouraged him. "Behold thou has a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above—." Rather than repudiating Oliver's claims, the revelation redirected the use of the gifts.

According to the Church History website, the "rod" referred to by Sidney Rigdon when he edited the revelation was likely a divining rod. It is possible that "gift of Aaron" was substituted as the revelatory device because if carried fewer negative connotations than "divining rod."

Accusations of “whitewashing” are inconsistent with a change that was performed by committee. It is clear that multiple individuals assisted in editing the revelations before they were to be published in the Doctrine and Covenants.

It is also difficult to claim a "cover up" since "rod of nature" was to be published in the Book of Commandments in 1833, only two years before change to "gift of Aaron" was published in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.

Oliver's gift involved several spiritual blessings including receiving revelation. He attempted to employ it during the period in which the Book of Mormon was being translated but due to a lack of studying it out before making the attempt, he failed. Oliver never complained about the episode or that he felt God had dealt with him improperly.


Additional Resources:

“Oliver Cowdery’s Gift: D&C 6, 7, 8, 9, 13”

Does being a "treasure hunter" or believing in "second sight" make one an unreliable witness?— Some of Joseph's associates were "treasure hunters" and may have believed in "second sight." Does this make them unreliable witnesses? (Click here for full article)

Were the Book of Mormon witnesses not "empirical" or "rational" men because they lived in the 19th-Century?—Some accuse the Book of Mormon witnesses of not being "empirical" or "rational" because they lived in the 19th-Century. (Click here for full article)

“The Private Character of the Man Who Bore That Testimony”: Oliver Cowdery and His Critics–  by Larry E. Morris

The Cowdery Controversies (PDF) (2007 FAIR Conference) by Larry Morris

pt 1, The Cowdery Controversies

pt 2, The Cowdery Controversies

pt 3, The Cowdery Controversies

pt 4, The Cowdery Controversies