Oliver Cowdery’s Divining Rod

Recently I posted a blog about the early renditions of Oliver Cowdery’s “gift of Aaron”, and how the original phrasing of the revelation was “working with the sprout” and his “thing of nature” (later changed to “working with the rod’ and his “rod of nature”). When it came time for the D&C, this revelation was expanded and the phrase was changed to “the gift of Aaron”. The revised revelation now found in D&C 8 makes several points:

  • The power of God caused “the gift of Aaron” to be with him.
  • Oliver would “hold it in [his] hands, and do marvelous works”.
  • “No power [would] be able to take it away out of [his] hands”.
  • Whatever Oliver asks “by that means”, God will grant it unto him.

I am assuming the “gift of Aaron” referred to a supernatural ability of Oliver’s related to a “rod of nature”, or a divining rod. If you want to contend that the revelation does not refer to a physical stick, please do so.

But, if we can agree that that’s what it was, how do you think he received revelation through it? It’s almost as if the rod was Oliver’s equivalent of Joseph’s ability to use a seer stone, except that the way that it would work seems much less clear. With a seer stone, you ask something, and God shows you the answer in the stone. But how could a wooden rod be used to accomplish the same thing? It’s baffling, but apparently, somehow, Oliver used the “gift of Aaron”, his wooden rod, to learn the “mysteries of God”.

Making the issue even more interesting is Oliver’s famous attempt to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon. From the context of D&C sections 8 and 9, it can be deduced that, similarly to how Joseph translated via the use of his seer stone or Urim and Thummim (which were seer stones in themselves), that Oliver actually used his divining rod to attempt to translate.

My modern cultural views have made it nearly impossible for me to juxtapose my modern understanding of “translation” with Oliver somehow using a wooden rod to translate an ancient record. How would that process have gone? I can’t help but imagine him poking the plates with his stick, but little is known about the many varieties of folk magic that existed in New England at the time, but from what we do know, Oliver’s use of the rod was out of the ordinary, even for magical rodsmen.