Oliver Cowdery is one of the most intriguing and puzzling figures in early Church history, due in part to his being "the chief beneficiary of one of Joseph Smith's most peculiar qualities: his generosity in sharing his vision," said Richard L. Bushman, the keynote speaker at the Oliver Cowdery symposium held Nov. 10.
Brother Bushman, emeritus professor of history at Columbia University in New York, is author of two books on Joseph Smith.
Regarding Joseph's generosity in sharing his spiritual gifts, Brother Bushman observed, "He showed a singular willingness to admit others into the revelatory process."
He added, "Almost immediately after Oliver's arrival in Harmony (Pa.) in 1829, Joseph gave him a chance to try his hand at translating.
The incident, he said, is a reminder of the likelihood that W. W. Phelps, Warren Parrish and Frederick Williams, along with Oliver Cowdery, were invited to assist with the translation of the Book of Abraham. "Joseph wanted to bring his brethren into the act as far as he possibly could.
"There is undoubtedly a theological reason for this the need for a second witness," Brother Bushman added. "But Joseph's inclusion of a second person into these visionary experiences is really unmatched in sacred history. The closest we come is the combined vision of the three apostles at the Mount of Transfiguration, and possibly the repeat of Lehi's vision of the tree of delicious fruit. Joseph went further than any preceding prophet in having Oliver as a witness at the bestowal of the Aaronic Priesthood, the bestowal of the Melchizedek Priesthood, the vision of the plates and the angel, the visit of Christ and the prophets in Kirtland.... For him, sharing visions was one of the highest forms of communion."