Oliver Cowdery’s Divine “Sprout of Nature”

Those who have studied the history of Joseph Smith’s revelations may be familiar with Oliver Cowdery’s “gift of Aaron” mentioned in D&C 8:6-7. For those who aren’t, I’ll give a quick overview: The phrase “gift of Aaron” was absent from the first published version of the revelation in the Book of Commandments, the 1833 precursor to the D&C; instead the text originally used the phrases “working with the rod” and the “rod of nature,” which referred to Cowdery’s method of receiving revelation through a divining rod.

Something far more interesting is in the recently “discovered” manuscript The Book of Commandments and Revelations (hereafter the BCR). The BCR was uncovered in the First Presidency’s collection relatively recently after the effort began to gather documents for publication in the Joseph Smith Papers. The BCR is the earliest manuscript of most of the revelations available as well as the earliest extant compilation. The BCR was penned around 1831, mostly in the handwriting of David Whitmer.

In the BCR version, the phrase “working with the rod” and “rod of nature” appears, as in the later Book of Commandments. Except that they weren’t the original words: in the first instance, the word “rod” appears over the cross-out word “sprout”, then in the second instance appears over the crossed-out word “thing”. So the original writing actually read “working with the sprout” and the “thing of nature”. Obviously these weren’t exactly eloquent ways to present a divine gift, so the “sprout” and “thing of nature” would ultimately be edited by Joseph Smith into the “gift of Aaron”.

(This comes from my notes from the presentation given by Dr. Grant Underwood on February 12, 2009, “Recovering the Lost World of Joseph Smith”.)

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