Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New Survey on Mesomania

I'm getting some great feedback on the poll about covers for the Mesomania book. In response, I've deleted one cover and substituted two questions about the subtitle and topics of interest. You can take the new poll here. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Mesomania2

As a reminder, Mesomania is a book that will be released next week. It looks at the phenomenon of the "Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica" industry, including its development by scholars who rejected Joseph Fielding Smith's advice and the proliferation of the theory through Church media and scholarly books and articles. We consider the psychology behind the focus on Mesoamerica, as well as the implications and ramifications of rejecting the New York Cumorah.

The tone is light-hearted, but still serious. The book is intended as an introduction to a more detailed book on the topic that will be out this fall. Mormon Mesomania will be the same size and length as Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah and Moroni's America: Pocket Edition.


On another blog, I've been discussing the important issue of how expectations are raised and interpretations of the Book of Mormon are imprinted on the minds of members of the Church. You can read that here.

There's a wonderful guest post at the Letter VII blog, too. Check it out here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mesomania book-poll on cover

My next book, Mormon Mesomania, will be released soon. We're seeking additional input on the cover via an online poll.

Mesomania looks at the phenomenon of the "Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica" industry, including its development by scholars who rejected Joseph Fielding Smith's advice and the proliferation of the theory through Church media and scholarly books and articles. We consider the psychology behind the focus on Mesoamerica, as well as the implications and ramifications of rejecting the New York Cumorah.

The tone is light-hearted, but still serious. The book is intended as an introduction to a more detailed book on the topic that will be out this fall. Mormon Mesomania will be the same size and length as Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah and Moroni's America: Pocket Edition.

Here are the covers we are testing in the poll. You can go to the poll here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Expectations and another new blog

I've started another new blog: http://bookofmormonheartland.blogspot.com/. Eventually I'll have a similar one for all the various theories.

In connection with that, I've organized the agree/agree-to-disagree chart by topic, here. It's more useful this way because we can all see where the specific issues remain. I hope this helps people make their decisions on what to believe about Book of Mormon geography and historicity. Obviously there is much more detail on each topic--this is merely an overview. But I welcome suggestions, corrections, clarifications, etc.

On a separate topic, I posted some comments on expectations, psychology and the Book of Mormon geography issues. Check it out. I've touched on it before, but I think this helps explain many of the ongoing problems.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The principle of choice and the new blog

One of the biggest requests I get regarding Book of Mormon geography is to clarify the issues. I started that by listing areas in which people (both scholars and nonscholars) agree, and areas in which they can agree to disagree. That list is here, and I will edit it as I get feedback and comments. I want to be as accurate and specific as possible.

As part of that effort, here's the new blog I mentioned last week:

Eventually I'll have one for each of the theories: bookofmormonchile, bookofmormonbaja, bookofmormonheartland, etc.

I'm starting with Central America because it's the one that has received the most attention, by far. I plan to cut through the clutter and discuss the essence of each theory.

Every theory comes with assumptions, interpretations, implications and consequences. Often these are obscure. In some cases, I suspect they are not completely thought out.

The agree/agree-to-disagree chart is a start. The goal is a more comprehensive analysis, in which the assumptions, interpretations, implications and consequences of each theory are set out so everyone can make an informed decision.

There is no right or wrong here; people can believe whatever they want. It's a question of trade-offs and priorities. 

Some people consider this process contentious, and sometimes it can appear that way, but really, this discussion is a presentation of alternatives. The Book of Mormon teaches the importance of choice, and choice requires alternatives: "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things."

Furthermore, no one should feel compelled or obligated to defer to anyone else's view. Some people might consider this question to be one the scholars should solve, but I disagree. Certainly, one does not need to be a scholar to understand the choices if they are presented clearly. "Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other."

In fact, the more I've thought about this, the more I realize the goal of reaching a consensus may have been a mistake. That goal carries the implication that a group of interested people could reach an agreement that others should follow.

Instead, this process seems designed to enable each individual to make his/her own choice. The key is that the choice be fully informed.

Looking back, that's what I've tried to do on this blog; i.e., examine what has been written on the topic and discuss areas that have not been fully disclosed or analyzed. The discussion of the Hill Cumorah is a prime example.

With these principles in mind, we can all respect one another's choices with no contention or argument. I want to understand fully what others believe and why. If I ever misstate an aspect of a theory, I hope someone lets me know so I can correct it.

Of course, this process bears the risk of people making their choices without considering all the information; i.e., people might make choices based on tradition, emotion, personal relationships, deference to others, etc. But that's true of all the choices we make. We are each responsible for the amount of thought and effort we put into our choices.

This isn't to say everyone needs to become an expert on the topic. But understanding the geography, in my opinion, is important for understanding the purposes of the Book of Mormon and how it can be used in our day to fulfill those purposes.

Another important point: I don't care if anyone agrees with me or not. I do think that a full examination of the assumptions, interpretations, implications and consequences of each theory leads to a conclusion, which I have spelled out in Moroni's America, but certainly that's not the last word, and I'm continually adjusting my thinking as more evidence comes forth and I get more feedback.

I hope that by clarifying these issues, people who want to make informed choices can do so. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

False and misleading geography theories

I've had to delay my new blog for reasons I won't get into, but in the meantime, I wanted make another "final" post here.

The handful of LDS scholars who control LDS scholarly publications continue to insist that Cumorah is in Mexico, so I'm going to try again and make the issue as plain and simple as I can.

No one should be offended by this next paragraph; certainly I intend no offense by it. It's simply a statement of fact.

If Cumorah is in New York, then every geography that puts Cumorah somewhere else is, by definition, false and misleading. This includes so-called "abstract" geographies.

There can be differences of opinion about how the New York Cumorah fits; i.e., arguments can be made about a hemispheric model (Chile to New York), a continental model (Mesoamerica to New York), or a limited geography model (Florida to New York, Iowa to New York, Pennsylvania to New York, or even all within New York).

But if Cumorah is in New York, then it can't be anywhere else.

Which also means that any geography theory that puts Cumorah somewhere other than New York is false.

It's that simple. And that clear.

(I'll stipulate that if Cumorah is not in New York, then any geography that puts Cumorah in New York is itself false and misleading. I'm fine with that. IOW, everything hinges on Cumorah in New York. In my view, if Cumorah is not in New York, then it doesn't really matter where else it is.)

One well-known LDS scholar (whom I respect and like, so I'm not criticizing him/her) observed that "All nineteenth-century writers on Book of Mormon geography apparently assumed that the place where Joseph Smith found the plates and the hill where the Nephites met their destruction were identical."

Now, why would they all "assume" that the Hill Cumorah was in New York?

The answer should be obvious, but apparently it's not, so I'll spell it out.

The first answer is Letter VII, which Oliver Cowdery wrote with the assistance of Joseph Smith. At the time, Joseph was President of the Church and Oliver was Assistant President. They wrote Letter VII as part of a series on Church history. They wrote Letter VII a few months before the Kirtland temple was completed; i.e., a few months before receiving the keys of the gathering and temple work directly from Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Lord Himself.

So clearly (according to this handful of LDS scholars), Joseph and Oliver didn't know what they were talking about.

(Okay, some will accuse me of sarcasm there, but this handful of scholars actually want people to believe that Joseph and Oliver didn't know what they were talking about. They expect people to believe everything Oliver wrote, including what he transcribed as Joseph dictated and his accounts of Church history--except a few paragraphs in Letter VII that contradict their own theories. I discussed this in the lettrvii blog here.)

Our scholar continues, "Aside from this one point, however, the diversity of nineteenth-century opinion is striking."

Actually, what is striking about that statement is the phrase, "aside from this one point."

"This one point" is the most important point of all.

I repeat: If Cumorah is in New York, then every geography that puts Cumorah somewhere else is, by definition, false and misleading. This includes so-called "abstract" geographies.

Now, it's completely true that there is a diversity of opinion beyond the New York location of Cumorah; as I mentioned above, there are all kinds of possibilities with Cumorah being in New York.

But Cumorah is a pin in the map that no one should remove. In my opinion.

The second reason why all of Joseph's contemporaries accepted the New York setting for Cumorah is that Mormon's depository was there.

So far as I can tell, every LDS scholar accepts Mormon 6:6.

 6 And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.

Everyone agrees that Cumorah was Moron's depository.

Wherever that depository is, that's where Cumorah is.

We have multiple accounts of Joseph and Oliver visiting this repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. The most cited is Brigham Young's account given in a special conference in Farmington, Utah, in 1877. It's in the Journal of Discourses here, and I've written about it before, so I won't repeat that. By now, everyone should know what he said. If you don't, go to the link and read it for yourself. I'll mention another thing he said on that occasion in the next section below. Several others corroborated what Brigham said.

Separately from Brigham Young's account, the July 7, 1866, edition of The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star ran a front-page article by Orson Pratt titled "The Hill Cumorah: Or the Sacred Depository of Wisdom and Understanding." I wrote a post about this on the lettervii blog.

In my opinion, there are no legitimate reasons for rejecting Letter VII and the many corroborating evidences for the New York Cumorah. So why is this handful of LDS scholars so adamant about doing so?

The only answer I've come up with so far is tradition and training.

This handful of LDS scholars have all learned from the same people, who in turn learned from the people who learned from the originators of the two-Cumorah theory and the limited geography Mesoamerican theory.

(Readers tell me they want me to name names, but personalities are beside the point and they're distracting because people apparently get offended when they are named. This is not about the people; it's about the theories. The origins, merits, and repercussions of the theories are what matter, not who came up with them originally or is perpetuating them today. It doesn't matter to me whether it is a professor or a Sunday School teacher or a home teacher who is perpetuating these theories; you need to understand what matters most. If you're in a situation where someone is talking about Book of Mormon geography, ask if they accept the New York Cumorah or not. Their answer will tell you what you need to know. You may get a response to the effect that "I don't have an opinion." If that's the case, then they shouldn't be saying anything about the geography at all, beyond explaining the issues; i.e., they should tell you about Letter VII and how a small group of LDS scholars rejects what Oliver Cowdery wrote, while others accept it, and so on. If they don't know about Letter VII, but they still teach anything about geography, then educate them.)

I know how alluring the two-Cumorah and related ideas are. I was taught them myself, and I believed them for many years. But they are fundamentally inconsistent with what Joseph and Oliver taught, and how can anyone living today know more about the topic than Joseph and Oliver?

Not to mention, what Joseph and Oliver taught makes more sense than the modern theories anyway.

I'm working on a chapter about the origins of the two-Cumorah theory that contains some quite surprising material that I didn't know until I dug into it. I think you'll like it. Maybe I'll post the chapter, or portions of it, on the new blog.

In the meantime, I want to end with this excerpt from Brigham Young's sermon in Farmington. It comes after he spoke about the depository. Remember, he said about the depository that "I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost." But to the handful of scholars who reject the New York Cumorah (and those who listen to them and perpetuate their teachings), the things Brigham Young taught are definitely forgotten and lost. (Or, worse, explained away as a vague vision of a mountain in Mexico.)

Brigham next spoke about the the foolishness of seeking after gold and silver instead of paying attention "to the legitimate business that God has given them to perform." People were spending time and money seeking treasure by mining, but Brigham said "what they did get was just sufficient to allure them."

The geography theories that put Cumorah anywhere but New York remind me of that. There's just enough to be alluring, but they are an enormous waste of time and effort and money.

Here's what Brigham said:

The Lord has permitted our enemies to come among us, who would destroy us if they could. They are only allowed to allure the minds of the foolish and those who lack judgment and who know not the things of God. But when we, as individuals and as a people, learn things as they are, we will find this fact—all truth is worthy and worth possessing, while all untruth is not worthy nor worth running after, nor working for, nor spending our lives for. The Gospel of life and salvation which God has revealed to us, incorporates all the systems there are. Every true principle and every true science, and every truth there is, are incorporated within the faith of the Latter-day Saints. This is something worth possessing, this is worth spending our time for; but the religions of the day, independent of their moral worth, are nothing but a myth, a shadow; there is no reality in them.

Based on past experience, no doubt someone will be offended that I republished Brigham's statement in this context. If you're offended, don't be. This isn't directed at you. I've explained before that I think this whole Mesoamerican thing originated with the overzealous efforts of a guy Joseph described as having a "rotten heart," who "would injure the Church as much as he could." Instead, let's take another look and get back to the origins.

In my view, we can rely on Joseph and Oliver. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Mesoamerica vs Moroni's America

Those who care about Book of Mormon geography and historicity need to answer this question:

Is the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah in New York or not?

The answer is really a referendum on the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery, who stated in no uncertain terms that it was in New York (See Letter VII). I have a detailed blog on that in the LetterVII blog today.

For me, it's a simple decision. I go with Oliver Cowdery.

I realize that others reject Oliver Cowdery because the New York Cumorah is incompatible with their preferred geography. There really is no other reason to reject Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII. 

True, there have been some poorly researched, bias-confirming articles about how Cumorah is a "clean hill" in terms of archaeology. But those were transparent efforts to give people a pretext to dismiss Oliver Cowdery. I've addressed those in detail.

I also realize that emotional attachments are not affected by facts. The geography references in the Book of Mormon are vague and fluid enough to accommodate just about anywhere on the planet, especially if you operate under the assumption that Joseph Smith translated the text wrong (e.g., he should have dictated headwaters of Sidon instead of head of Sidon). In a sense, this vagueness is an advantage. It allows people anywhere in the world to apply the text to their own lands. And, in a very real sense, it's true that the Lord's covenants apply to everyone everywhere.  

In that sense, an abstract map is as good as anything else.

People can believe whatever they want. But of course we have to recognize that a universal approach has the downside of transforming the Book of Mormon into a parable instead of an actual history of actual people who lived in an actual place. 

As a parable, the Book of Mormon may work for some people, but it lets people off the hook. People don't have to confront the harsh reality that Joseph Smith translated it by the power of God, and that the book is, literally, true.

As an actual history, the Book of Mormon forces people to confront this reality; i.e., that it could only exist because of divine intervention. Its origin makes it unique in human history.

I think the Book of Mormon can only fulfill its purpose if it is an actual history of actual people who lived in an actual place.

That's why I keep coming back to the geography question.

Once we're out of the parable realm, let's get real. 

There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of ideas about where the Book of Mormon took place. In my view, any idea that puts Cumorah outside of New York fundamentally undermines the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, which in turn pushes the text over into the parable column.

I realize there are people who accept the literalness of the text and also believe it took place in Peru, Chile, Baja, Mesoamerica, Panama, Africa, Southeast Asia, and who knows where else. But when you examine the foundations for those theories, they boil down to a belief in a whole list of questionable assumptions that don't compensate for the rejection of Joseph and Oliver.

The Mesoamerican theory has one thing going for it: the 1842 Times and Seasons articles that, for over 140 years, gave scholars a pretext for claiming Joseph approved, or at least was interested in, the Mesoamerican setting. I've shown from abundant evidence and from a variety of perspectives that Joseph had nothing to do with those articles, but traditions die hard. 

The question of historicity and geography really boils down to Mesoamerica vs. Moroni's America.

Consequently, I'm going to continue examining the Mesomerican theory on a new blog I'll announce tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Journey of Faith: The New World

Just when I thought I was finished with this blog, someone gave me a copy of the DVD Journey of Faith: The New World. I'd forgotten this DVD. This is a production of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University. It comes with a solicitation for donations featuring the BYU logo.

This DVD is a topic I haven't addressed before. I owe it to the faithful readers of this blog to discuss the DVD, but I'm posting my comments on the web page.