Friday, April 28, 2017

Update on abstract maps


Book of Mormon lands according to BYU
Last June I commented on abstract maps of the Book of Mormon. See here.

Everything I wrote there still stands, including the comments, but I'm writing this post because this BYU quasi-official abstract map seems to be on its way to becoming part of the curriculum, if it isn't already.

(Well, I know it is part of the curriculum at BYU, but I suspect it's on the way to becoming part of the broader curriculum).

The Daily Universe published an article about it here:
http://universe.byu.edu/2017/03/15/visual-scriptures-group-creates-interactive-map-of-book-of-mormon/

There is an appeal for donations here:

http://virtualscriptures.org/book-of-mormon-map/

In my opinion, the more this map is disseminated, the more damage it will do.
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In my previous post, I noted this:

"I'm not criticizing the people who put this map together, and I'm not criticizing those who published it, because I think they are well-intentioned and I like the map because it is at least ambiguous (i.e., there is no actual place on Earth that looks like this)...

"However, I think it's a mistake to create an abstract map of the Book of Mormon in the first place, because the process requires a series of assumptions not required by the text, and the mere creation of the map transforms a theory into an artificial reality. Images such as this create their own reality in the mind of the viewer, and it becomes difficult to dislodge the image while reading the text. For example, this abstract map essentially codifies an interpretation of "narrow neck of land" that I think is inconsistent with--or at least not required by--the text."
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The web page makes this claim:

This map is based on the descriptions found in the book, not on any particular place within the known world. Since it is based strictly on those descriptions, it is one of the most accurate maps of the Nephite and Lamanite world.

I'm sure you can already see the logical fallacies here, but I'll point out some anyway.

This map is based on the descriptions found in the book. Actually, as you can see for yourself, the map is not based on the descriptions in the book. It is based on someone's interpretation of the description in the book.

This is the logical fallacy that accompanies all the proposed map--even mine, in Moroni's America. The text doesn't speak for itself; it's inherently too vague. Everyone reads the text according to his/her own interpretation.

Why do people claim their maps are based on the text instead of admitting it's their interpretation of the text? Because when people work together to reach a "consensus" they come to believe they have come up with the "correct" interpretation. Scholars and educators actually think that they have accomplished something that they also think Joseph and Oliver could not and did not; i.e., correctly interpret the Book of Mormon.

(The Council of Springville was another example.)

not on any particular place within the known world. This fallacy is the point of the next section of this blog post, but think about this a moment. Can anyone imagine a Biblical scholar trying to find Sinai without reference to a known spot in the world? What Biblical scholar would use an "abstract" map of the Bible to understand it? What Bible teacher would use an abstract map to teach the Bible?

The obvious "particular place" they want to avoid is Cumorah in New York.

Since it is based strictly on those descriptions. Not content with the inference raised by the first sentence, they here insist they aren't even interpreting the text! Instead, they, unlike everyone else who has proposed a map, are basing this map strictly on "pure" textual descriptions! Okay, I inserted the exclamation marks, but that's the intent of this claim. They apparently actually think they are taking the text literally, without any subjective interpretation. That belief is what makes them impervious to other viewpoints. Any one of us could show that their map doesn't fit the text. It's too easy, but they don't see that because they've convinced themselves of the next part of the sentence.

it is one of the most accurate maps of the Nephite and Lamanite world. Of course, we won't know which if any map is "accurate" unless and until we get more information from people who actually know. (In the world of LDS scholars and educators, Joseph and Oliver don't count as people who actually know.) And yet, this "most accurate map" reflects a "Nephite and Lamanite world" that doesn't exist on Earth. Think about that one a moment.

The concept of an "abstract map" is a classic cart-before-the-horse approach. In the real world, the cart follows the horse, not vice versa. Here, the horse is the known location; i.e., Cumorah in New York. The descriptions in the text can't possibly convey an accurate description of a real-world setting if we don't put the horse first, but the LDS scholars and educators refuse to do that because... well, I'm not sure why they don't. Some say because Cumorah is a "clean hill," but I've addressed that at length. Some say because Joseph said, in anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, that Zarahemla is in Quirigua, but I've addressed that at length as well. Some say the descriptions don't make sense if you put Cumorah in New York, but I've also addressed that. I'm not aware of any objection to Cumorah that I haven't addressed.

Obviously, just because I've addressed it doesn't mean I'm right. And people are always free to agree or disagree about anything. But for me, the arguments against Cumorah are logical and factual fallacies, all the worse because they were contrived in the first place to confirm the biases of people who were relying on a mistake in Church history; i.e., attributing to Joseph the anonymous Times and Seasons articles. My shorthand for that is Mesomania.

But now, instead of correcting the mistake in Church history and jettisoning Mesomania, we risk an even graver mistake because of these abstract maps. We risk turning the Book of Mormon into fiction.
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Today I'm making the point that this abstract map teaches the "two-Cumorahs" theory and so is destined, as Joseph Fielding Smith said, to cause members of the Church to "become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon."

Location of the Hill Cumorah according to BYU
[Note: if you cite Joseph Fielding Smith to many LDS scholars and educators, they'll roll their eyes and tell you he didn't know what he was talking about. Try it with his comments on the two-Cumorahs theory and you'll see what I mean.]

Here's a closeup on the Cumorah portion.

Not exactly New York, is it?

Any student, any investigator, any member of the Church--well anyone at all--who learns the Book of Mormon with this map is learning two important principles that will be imprinted and reinforced constantly, just like the Friberg paintings of jungles, jaguars and jade.

1. Principle 1: The "real" Hill Cumorah is not in New York.
2. Principle 2: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the location of Cumorah.

If you ask about it, the scholars and educators will tell you, "we have said nothing about Joseph and Oliver." But kids being kids, students and investigators will peruse the Internet and soon enough discover that Joseph and Oliver were clear enough about this that Oliver wrote it was a fact that Cumorah was in New York and Joseph directed his brother Don Carlos, as well as Benjamin Winchester, to republish Letter VII, as I've discussed on the Letter VII blog here.

Do we really think people will accept the premise that Joseph and Oliver told the truth and were reliable and credible about everything, except for this one point about Cumorah? 

Do we think they'll ignore this exception as irrelevant because no one cares where the Book of Mormon took place?

That is to say, no one cares except two groups: (i) those who haven't yet read the Book of Mormon and (ii) those who have read it. Or if you don't like those two groups, how about (i) those who don't believe the Book of Mormon is true, and (ii) those who believe it is true.
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The only thing this map lacks to make the two-Cumorahs theory clear is Mayan glyphs. Of course, people can always go to the North Visitors' Center on Temple Square to learn that.


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Aside from the two-Cumorahs theory, there's another problem with this abstract map.

Those of you who play videogames, or know people who do, may think the abstract Book of Mormon map looks familiar.

Both the Book of Mormon map and the video game maps feature imaginary terrain, surrounded by water and clouds. You can travel virtually through the lands, confronting enemies and allies, gathering supplies, defending your base, etc.

The Book of Mormon, it turns out, is a video game.
Maybe you've been playing Pokemon or another game. 

I'm all in favor of relating to the new generations, and maybe teaching the Book of Mormon as a video game will help the kids engage with it, but if so, let's at least use a real-world setting and not an imaginary "abstract" setting that is closer to a video game world or Lord of the Rings than to the actual planet Earth. There are video games of lots of real-world events, such as the Civil War, here.

Let's at least put Cumorah in New York.

In my view, this "abstract map" approach conveys this message: we can best understand the Book of Mormon in a fictional setting.

Which if course is essentially telling people the Book of Mormon is fiction.

And while I know it's the fashion among more and more people, including active LDS, to think of the Book of Mormon as fiction, plenty of LDS still believe it's a real history and also believe Joseph and Oliver knew what they were talking about.

Obviously, I think Moroni's America is the best explanation of the text in a real-world setting. I've always invited others to come up with their own alternatives, based on the New York Cumorah. I think it would be great to have some BYU students work on that as a class project.

What I object to is teaching that Cumorah is not in New York. But that's what is going on at BYU and throughout the Church, thanks to Mesomania and what appears to be its successor, Abstractmania.



Thursday, April 27, 2017

Book Summaries - Before the World Finds Out

After writing 9 nonfiction books about Church history and Book of Mormon issues, I wanted to write a novel.

Many people prefer novels over nonfiction anyway because they are more interested in how people react to situations and new information. You might enjoy reading the book if you wonder what makes people leave the Church and what impact new discoveries might have on them. It's on Amazon right now, here.

We know from the New Testament that the Lord found parables to be excellent ways to teach. Stories enable readers and listeners to liken the scriptures to themselves. They are effective illustrations of gospel principles.

In this novel, I address Church history, Book of Mormon historicity, and elements of the Universal Model. But it's more than just those topics.

It's always difficult to describe a novel without giving away the plot, so you can read about it on Amazon.

:)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The 3-part puzzle of the 116 pages, plus a bonus question

There's an ongoing puzzle in Church history: the lost 116 pages. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism explains the prevailing (should I say consensus?) view here, with my comments in red:

The first 116 pages of the original manuscript of Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon from the plates of Mormon are commonly known as "the 116 pages" or the "lost manuscript." These foolscap-size pages were hand-written in harmony, Pennsylvania, between April and June 14, 1828. Although principally transcribed by Martin Harris from dictation by Joseph Smith, some of the pages may also have been transcribed by Joseph's wife, Emma Smith, or her brother, Reuben Hale. [or Samuel Smith]
The pages contained materials "from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon," as Joseph explained in the preface to the first edition of the Book of Mormon (see also HC 1:56). Lehi's record is mentioned in 1 Nephi 1:17 and,today, is partially preserved through Nephi's abridgment of it primarily in 1 Nephi 1-10.
In June 1828 Martin Harris asked Joseph Smith repeatedly to allow him to show the 116 pages to family members to allay their skepticism and criticism of the translation. After prayerful inquiry of the Lord, Joseph Smith twice emphatically denied these requests. As Joseph's 1832 and 1839 histories indicate, a third request received divine permission for Harris to take the 116 manuscript pages to Palmyra, New York. The Prophet required Harris to solemnly covenant that he would show them only to his brother, his parents, his wife, and her sister.
Harris's failure to return to Harmony as promised caused Joseph great anxiety and necessitated a strenuous journey to Manchester. There, a reluctant Harris reported that someone had stolen the manuscript from his home after he had broken his covenant and indiscriminately showed it to persons outside his family. Grief-stricken, Joseph Smith readily shared responsibility for the loss. The most widespread rumor was that Harris' wife, irritated at having earlier been denied a glimpse of the ancient plates, had removed the manuscript translation from Martin's unlocked bureau and burned it. Not long afterward, she and Martin separated. [The burning story contradicts D&C 10, of course.]
In consequence of this loss and of having wearied the Lord with the requests to let Harris take the pages, Joseph temporarily lost custody of the plates and the Urim and Thummim to the angel Moroni (D&C 3). Lucy Mack Smith notes also that two-thirds of Harris's crop was oddly destroyed by a dense fog, which she interpreted as a sign of God's displeasure (Smith, p. 132). Following much humble and painful affliction of soul, Joseph Smith again received the plates as well as the Urim and Thummim and his gifts were restored. [Some Church scholars claim he didn't receive the Urim and Thummim back, which is why he used only his seer stone from then on. I disagree with them because I think he used the U&T throughout his time in Harmony and returned the U&T, along with the plates, before he left Harmony for Fayette. I think the U&T fit in a compartment in the Harmony plates.]
Joseph Smith was forbidden by the Lord to retranslate that part of the record previously translated because those who had stolen the manuscript planned to publish it in an altered form to discredit his ability to translate accurately (D&C 10:9-13). Instead, he was to translate the Small [the revelation doesn't say "small"] Plates of Nephi (1 Nephi-Omni) down to that which he had translated (D&C 10:41). Those plates covered approximately the same period as had the lost manuscript, or four centuries from Lehi to Benjamin. Mormon had been so impressed with the choice prophecies and sayings contained in the small plates that he had included them with his own abridgment of Nephite writings when told to by the Spirit for "a wise purpose" known only to the Lord (W of M 1:7). [The plates of Nephi were not included with his abridgment; the Lord told Joseph he'd have to translate those plates because he didn't have them yet. Joseph didn't get them until he arrived in Fayette. It took me an entire chapter to go through Words of Mormon to explain this, so I'm not doing it here, but it's fairly obvious when you see it.]
The loss of the 116 pages taught Joseph Smith and his associates several lessons: that one should be satisfied with the first answers of the Lord, that keeping one's covenants is a serious matter, that God forgives the repentant in spite of human weakness, and that through his caring foresight and wisdom the Lord fulfills his purposes. [Unfortunately, the last comment here implies that the Lord knew that Joseph Smith and Martin Harris were going to sin in this specific way hundreds of years before it happened. That raises the question whether they had free agency to choose, or whether they were predestined. The only reason for this confusion is Mesomania; i.e., the insistence by Mesoamerican advocates that the depository of records (Mormon 6:6) was in southern Mexico in the "real" Hill Cumorah. But that's a false notion. Once we accept that the "real" Cumorah, including the depository, is in New York, then it's easy to see how the Lord had a backup plan for any eventuality. Martin lost 116 pages; the Lord has his messenger get the plates of Nephi from the depository in Cumorah and take them to Fayette for translation. Had Martin lost 50 pages, or had part of Alma been lost, etc., the Lord could have replaced it from the depository. If Martin had not lost the 116 pages, we would not yet know about the plates of Nephi (unless the Book of Lehi discussed them). The key point here is that the incident of the 116 pages does not have the philosophical implication of predestination once we get the history right.]
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The loss of the 116 pages is a 3-part puzzle, plus a bonus question.
The first part arises from the long-held but erroneous assumption that the "small plates of Nephi" were included with the abridgment in the set of plates Moroni put in the stone box. I think that aspect of the puzzle has been solved, as described in my notes above.
The second part of the puzzle is how to explain D&C 10. First, we learn the pages were not destroyed; they were retained and, possibly, modified. I say possibly because it says "10 And, behold, Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands. 11 And behold, I say unto you, that because they have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written."
One wonders, would they alter the pages before Joseph retranslated them? It seems more likely they would alter them after he retranslated so they could make sure they differed. It's possible that this language reflects what Mosiah 16:6 says; i.e., "speaking of things to come as though they had already come." 
But let's say these wicked men (note: not Lucy Harris) had already "altered" the words by the time Joseph received D&C 10. Sometimes people think this makes no sense because any such alteration would be obvious. There are two possibilities. 
First, maybe Martin Harris had already made corrections in the form of line outs and writing above the text. Maybe his handwriting was poor, not uniform, or easy to replicate. It wouldn't take much alteration to change the wording of the text.
Second, maybe the "wicked men" never planned to produce the hand-written manuscript, but just a printed version of it. It would be similar enough to see it was the same content as the 116 pages. People would object that they produced it after Joseph retranslated the text, but maybe they planned to print it before the Book of Mormon was printed.
Either way, the objective was not to prove that Joseph was a false prophet; it was not to test Joseph and see if he could translate it word-for-word a second time, because even if he did that--even if he "bringeth forth the same words"--these men altered them.
Their objective was only to give people another reason not to believe. People believe what they want to believe anyway; so long as there would be an alternative version of the 116 pages, those who wanted to reject Joseph as a prophet could always cite the alternative version--especially if it was published first. Here's how the revelation explains it.
"16 And then, behold, they say and think in their hearts—We will see if God has given him power to translate; if so, he will also give him power again; 17 And if God giveth him power again, or if he translates again, or, in other words, if he bringeth forth the same words, behold, we have the same with us, and we have altered them; 18 Therefore they will not agree, and we will say that he has lied in his words, and that he has no gift, and that he has no power; 19 Therefore we will destroy him, and also the work; and we will do this that we may not be ashamed in the end, and that we may get glory of the world."
In the context of the times, this seems like a very plausible scenario. People were opposing Joseph Smith in every conceivable way (just as they do today). So long as there was an "alternative" version of the 116 pages, people who wanted to confirm their biases could say the alternative version disproved the original version. The credibility and reliability of the second translation would be forever in doubt, defeating its purpose. 
In my view, the explanation in D&C 10 makes perfect sense. 
The third part of the puzzle is what the 116 pages contained. I'm speaking about the 116 pages at the Mormon History Association in June in St. Louis, so I'm not going to go through them in detail, but I will mention here that the pages referred to the mounds in North America.
This brings up an extremely important point. Let's say, hypothetically, that the 116 pages exist somewhere. Let's say they explicitly describe the North American setting. What would happen if they were ever found and published?
Our modern LDS scholars have insisted for years that Joseph Smith taught the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. They have managed to establish their "two-Cumorahs" theory so well, it is being taught in LDS visitors' centers and in the missionary editions of the Book of Mormon itself. 
Now, if the 116 pages ever came forth and contradicted the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories, where does that put us?
Because of the "consensus" among LDS scholars and educators, it puts us in the position of having Joseph Smith himself contradicting the 116 pages!
The prevailing narrative has Joseph "changing his mind" about what he translated in the Book of Lehi.
As bad as Mesomania has been for faith so far, the recovery of the 116 pages would be even more devastating.
Except for one thing.
Joseph never once connected the Book of Mormon to Central or South America.
Of course, that's what I've been demonstrating in my books and blogs about Church history. There is not a single reliable historical source that shows Joseph directly connecting the Book of Mormon to Central or South America. 
As important, Joseph did directly link the Book of Mormon to North America. Specifically, the Hill Cumorah in New York, the plains of the Nephites in the Midwest, and Zarahemla across from Nauvoo. (There are others, but I'll stick with these three for now).
With this understanding of Church history, the recovery of the 116 pages would be awesome.
[Of course, there's always the possibility that the 116 pages described Central America. We wouldn't know unless they were actually found. But the descriptions of their content that we do have point directly to the mounds in North America.]
___________________
Bonus question. Why would the Lord allow the 116 pages to be lost in the first place?
Here I'm purely speculating, of course, but I think the translation of the plates of Nephi (1 Nephi through Words of Mormon) were well-suited to 19th century people who accepted the Bible. Early LDS missionaries appealed to the Bible as proof of the Book of Mormon.
That doesn't work much nowadays because people don't believe the Bible any more. 
Instead, we're using the Book of Mormon to prove the Bible.
Rather, we should be using the Book of Mormon this way. But as long as our scholars and educators are perpetuating Mesomania, we can't use the Book of Mormon to prove the Bible because the Book of Mormon itself never mentions Mesoamerica. 
It's beyond absurd, really, to tell people the Book of Mormon describes jungles, volcanoes, and massive stone pyramids when they can read the text for themselves and see it describes anything but Central America. 
Setting that aside for now, I think the plates of Nephi, awesome as they are, are less effective at reaching the current generation than they were previous generations. Even more so, they are ineffective at reaching non-Christians.
Instead, from what we know of the 116 pages, they would be highly effective at reaching the modern generation and non-Christians. 
The reason? 
If, as we expect, the Book of Lehi tells more of the history of the people and less of the religious, apocalyptic, and Isaiah material, everyone in the world would be interested. It would tell us the kind of thing modern society wants to know. More facts, less doctrine. More history, less quoting Isaiah.
Seems to me this would be tailored to the interests and concerns of the modern world. And if those pages clearly identified the Lamanites, as we expect from D&C 28, 30, 32 and the rest, then we could get on with fulfilling the prophecies about the Lamanites.
In retrospect, it would have been a great thing to have lost the 116 pages.
We'll see.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

More confused Church history at Temple Square

The prevailing Mesomania-inspired "consensus" has implications beyond Book of Mormon geography. It has created some weird interpretations of Church history. One of the most fascinating is on display in the North Visitors' Center on Temple Square.

Many Church members are incredulous when they discover that LDS scholars and educators are teaching the two-Cumorahs theory to their children, but look what's happening at the Visitors' Center. I've previously discussed the bizarre exhibit in the North Visitors' Center that teaches 3-5 million visitors every year about the two-Cumorahs theory.

As we've seen, that exhibit contradicts what Joseph, Oliver, and all of their contemporaries taught. If you're new to this problem, read the featured post on this blog.

Why is this exhibit there?

Because for decades, LDS scholars and educators have promoted their Mesomania to LDS students, based on a mistake in Church history that has become the "consensus." These students, by and large, accepted that theory and now it permeates LDS culture, arts, and even this display on Temple Square.

In my opinion, this is a travesty. Sooner or later people learn that this display directly contradicts what Joseph and his successors taught about Cumorah being in New York.*

But it gets worse.

Let's take a close-up look at the display of the Cumorah in New York. This is the one that, according to the Visitors' Center and the Mesoamerican proponents, did not contain Mormon's repository of records (Mormon 6:6).

Recall that LDS scholars and educators consider the New York Cumorah to be a "false" Cumorah. They say the name was applied not by revelation or experience, but by a false tradition that Joseph Smith simply accepted for whatever reason. But they say the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico, and that's why they continue these expeditions there to find it, as I've discussed recently here.

The "two-Cumorahs" theory presents all kinds of problems, of course, but this display highlights two of them.

David Whitmer said he saw the brass plates, the plates of Ether, the sword of Laban, and the Liahona. D&C 17:1 tells the 3 witnesses that they

"shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea."

I'm sure you see the problem by now, but I'll point it out for new readers.

(The history of D&C 17 is interesting on its own. I don't have time to discuss that here, but I did in Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? if you're interested.)

Here's the problem.

Joseph Smith related what was in the stone box to which Moroni directed him. There was a breastplate, the golden plates, and the spectacles (later called the Urim and Thummim). That was it.

Oliver Cowdery provided much more detail about the box and the contents. He said there was a breastplate and the plates. (I discuss the reason why he didn't mention the spectacles in the book.)

Nothing else.

No sword of Laban, no Liahona.

Yet D&C 17 promises the witnesses a view of these artifacts.

The two-Cumorahs theory expects people to believe that the only thing in the hill Cumorah was Moroni's stone box. Therefore, these other artifacts had to be in that stone box. Therefore, this display in the Visitors' Center shows these artifacts being put in the box.

The two-Cumorahs theory requires that Joseph and Oliver simply forgot to relate this detail.

When you read the historical accounts, they tell all about what Joseph did with the plates and the breastplate and the spectacles (Urim and Thummim, or U&T). But no one mentioned the sword or the Liahona!

Why not?

The obvious answer is, they weren't in the box.

And yet this display is teaching millions of people that they were.

This is the kind of mischief the two-Cumorahs theory has to generate. The Mesoamerican proponents have no other explanation. (Well, some say the Lord mysteriously "transported" the sword and the Liahona to New York from Mexico in time for the 3 witnesses to view them.)

On the other hand, if you believe Joseph and Oliver and their contemporaries, Mormon's repository was in another department of the Hill Cumorah in New York. This is where they said they saw the sword and the Liahona and the other plates, etc. No problem for the angel to get the artifacts from here. No need to mysteriously "transport" them from Mexico.

But that explanation contradicts the two-Cumorahs theory, so instead the scholars and educators (and the Visitors' Center) concoct this alternate reality that these items were in Moroni's stone box and everyone just forgot to mention that.

The next part is the letters.

If we believe Joseph and Oliver, then the letters were in the depository. Moroni could get them any time he wanted.

Instead, the Mesomania two-Cumorahs theory requires that Moroni carry the plates, the breastplate, the letters (and the sword and Liahona) all the way from Mexico to Cumorah.

The craziest part isn't the letters, though.

Moroni added to his set of plates twice. Once to add the Book of Ether, and once to add his father's sermon and letters. This means he would have had to either carry these things around with him while hiding from the Lamanites (while also carrying his own plates and the other artifacts), or he would have had to return to the repository twice.

I'll let you decide which makes more sense.

If all of these things took place in New York, it was not a problem.

If he had to return to Mexico twice, that's a problem.

And that still isn't the craziest part.

This is.

When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he told Joseph that the record was "written and deposited" not far from his home.

If you didn't know that, you can thank Mesomania.

Oliver gave us the most detailed account of what Moroni told Joseph, and it included this instruction.

Mormon and Moroni wrote the Book of Mormon not far from Joseph's home. 

Once you understand that, everything makes sense.

Except the two-Cumorahs theory.

And except the display in the North Visitors' Center.



________________

*Joseph, Oliver, and others said the one and only Cumorah was in New York. That's where the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place. That's where the repository of Nephite records was, which they knew because they visited it multiple times. The records are no longer there, which we know from David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, but they are not far from there. If this is a new idea to you, read Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?



Book summaries - Because of this Theory


A lot of people have asked for a printed version of this blog. I've discussed this a few times before. I really wanted a printed version for myself, as well.

Right now it's only on Amazon, here. You might enjoy reading this book because you don't have to be online.

It's also available on the Kindle.

There are currently about 465 posts on this blog, far too many to publish in a book. When I downloaded the blog into a Word document, it ended up at about 1200 pages.

To do the book, I started with March 26, 2017, and went backwards until I had about 100,000 words. This took me back to July 24th, 2016, which seemed like an appropriate date.

I took out some of the time-related posts and edited the rest, added an introduction and pulled in some posts from other blogs.

Consequently, it's not merely a printout of the blog.

Hopefully it's a resource people will find useful. FWIW, I like it a lot. And if I ever decide to delete this blog (which I hope to as soon as the LDS scholarly community comes around), you'll still have the record of what went on during the months covered by the book.





Monday, April 24, 2017

Other Ancient American Records Yet to Come Forth

We have long been promised additional records to come forth, provided we exercise faith in what we already have. In my view, too many our LDS scholars and educators have led us down paths that undermine faith in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. So far, I've mainly focused on the Book of Mormon, but here I'll embark a bit on the others as well.

This is a long post and some people don't like long posts, so I'll give the twitter version here:

Contemporary Mesomania-inspired LDS scholarship is impeding long-promised revelation.
________________

Monte S. Nyman wrote an important article for the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies in 2001 that I want to comment on. It's online here.

At the outset, Brother Nyman is awesome. I'm not criticizing him at all. His article is a valuable explanation of the records I'm talking about. However, as you'll see, he is operating under long-held assumptions that, IMO, are driven by Mesomania.

Here is the abstract:

"Many critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that there cannot be any scripture added to the Bible, thus making the Book of Mormon blasphemous. However, many scriptures refer to other books of scriptures, including the Book of Mormon and other records that are not currently available to the world. Monte S. Nyman discusses here the plausibility of receiving modern revelation and scripture from God. He also suggests that by studying the Book of Mormon and other scriptures in conjunction with the Bible, Latter-day Saints can better prepare for the day when lost records are restored." (emphasis added)

It is this essential preparation that I want to focus on in this post.

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Nyman's article is illustrated with this image of the "Cave of Records" by Robert T. Barrett. This is one of my favorite paintings of the repository, although long-time readers of this blog can immediately see some of the problems, right?

[This post isn't about the problems in the painting, but I don't want people to think I consider this an accurate representation. First, it shows just one set of plates on the table, presumably depicting the plates Joseph translated in the Book of Mormon. But there were really two sets of plates. The abridgments (Harmony plates) were separate from the plates of Nephi (Fayette plates). The sealed portion was not 2/3 of the set of plates. The room was not a natural cave but a man-made room with walls of cut stone, etc.]

I like the painting because it depicts the many records in the repository as described by Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, etc. It's also pleasing artistically.

Best of all, the painting does not depict Mormon's repository of records with Mayan glyphs on it, which is a huge improvement over the depiction in the North Visitors' Center on Temple Square.

Nyman cites Brigham Young's description and notes this:

"Some of the records that the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery saw in the cave [room] were undoubtedly among those that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon."

Nyman then lists the records he analyzes in his article:

(1) the plates of brass,
(2) the plates of Nephi,
(3) the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon plates,
(4) the record of the lost ten tribes,
(5) the 24 Jaredite gold plates,
(6) the Lamanite records, and
(7) other Jaredite records.

I'll discuss each in turn, but first, I note the record Nyman doesn't mention: the lost 116 pages. That is a topic of an upcoming post, but for now, I note that by tradition, people think the lost pages were destroyed (burned). However, the D&C 10 explains the pages were not destroyed. The Book of Lehi was part of the record Nephi prophesied would go to the world, so we would expect that to happen someday.

1. The plates of brass. Nyman notes that "the plates of brass will serve as a third witness to the Bible and also will testify that the Book of Mormon is a witness to the Bible.... the actual ancient records of such prophets as Zenos, Zenoch, and Neum will be restored." David Whitmer said he saw the plates of brass. As I've suggested elsewhere, I think he saw them in the repository in Cumorah but knew he wasn't supposed to talk about that publicly, so he said he saw them with Oliver and Joseph during the 3 witnesses event. LDS scholars don't know what to make of David's statement because, according to them, the repository was merely a vision of a hill somewhere in Mexico. That's what Mesomania does for you. But if we accept Joseph and Oliver and their successors, the Hill Cumorah, including Mormon's repository (Mormon 6:6) is in New York, so we can expect the plates of brass to still be there. Not in Cumorah itself, but not far from there, as David Whitmer explained.

2. The plates of Nephi. Nyman cites 3 Nephi 26:7-8 and writes, "highly valuable contents of the larger plates of Nephi will come forth when a certain portion of the Lamanites, as they are known today, and other church members accept the fulness of the gospel as found in the Book of Mormon."

Nyman writes "larger plates of Nephi" because of his assumption that the so-called "small plates of Nephi" were included in the record Joseph originally received from Moroni, which was the common understanding until we realized there were two sets of plates. D&C 10 refers only to "the plates of Nephi," which Joseph didn't have when he was in Harmony. Nephi himself refers to both sets of plates he created as "the plates of Nephi." The smaller/larger distinction is not made in the text but by scholars who sought a way to distinguish between the two sets of plates. The important thing here is that we don't have the full record of either set of the plates of Nephi because even when the messenger brought the "small" plates of Nephi to Fayette, Joseph translated only until he came to the reign of king Benjamin (D&C 10:41). So we expect to receive both sets of the plates of Nephi in the future.

A key to receiving these plates is that, as Nyman explains, "The abridgment of Nephi’s record was to try the faith of the Lamanites and, more broadly, the Lord’s people in the latter days."

Thanks to Mesomania, we have the major problem of not knowing who the Lamanites are. The Church History Museum and the Joseph Smith Papers tell us that "Early church members viewed contemporary American Indian tribes as the descendants of the Lamanites." 

A lot of people don't believe me when I quote this, but you can see it yourself here: 
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/topic/lamanites. You can also see it on display at the Church History Museum. Some members of the Church--including me--think that it was the Lord who designated these tribes as Lamanites in D&C 28, 30, and 32. Because of Mesomania, however, the scholars have convinced themselves that this was merely a quaint folk belief among "early church members." 

Look at the next sentence in the Joseph Smith Papers: "Since the Book of Mormon was written in part “to the Lamanites,” some of the first missionaries were sent to preach the gospel and establish the church among the American Indians."

The scholars use the passive voice to avoid saying that the Lord sent the missionaries to the Lamanites. 

Just for fun, look at the actual revelation in D&C 28:8. "8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them." Next, go to D&C 30 and 32.

Now, we have a choice to make. We can believe A or B.

A. The Lord sent the missionaries to the Lamanites (D&C 28, 30 and 32).

B. "Some of the first missionaries were sent to preach the gospel and establish the church among the American Indians" because "early church members viewed contemporary American Indian tribes as the descendants of the Lamanites." (Joseph Smith Papers)

In my opinion, B is nothing but Mesomania-inspired scholarly interpretation that outright contradicts the scriptures.

As long as alternative B prevails, we can hardly expect the Lamanites to "believe these things" as the Lord said in 3 Nephi. 

I'm unclear on something Nyman wrote here, but since Journal of Book of Mormon Studies published his article, I assume this sentence is also inspired by Mesomania (and may have been added by the editor): "This suggests that highly valuable contents of the larger plates of Nephi will come forth when a certain portion of the Lamanites, as they are known today, and other church members accept the fulness of the gospel as found in the Book of Mormon."

The clause "as they are known today" seems to fit with the Joseph Smith Papers spin; i.e., not the Lamanites as "early church members" believed (as taught in D&C 28, 30 and 32), but the Lamanites "as the scholars teach are in Mesoamerica."

Fortunately, IMO, this scholarly gloss is being dissolved. How long it will take to fix the Joseph Smith Papers and the Church History museum and the Visitors' Center and all the artwork, etc., I don't know, but the prophecies can't be fulfilled in terms of additional scripture until all of this is fixed, IMO.

3. The Sealed Portion. I'll do a separate post on the sealed portion (I think both the Harmony and the Fayette plates contained separate sealed portions), but for now, note how the current thinking among scholars seems to be that Joseph didn't need the plates to translate. They sat on the table covered up as a sort of token of antiquity while all Joseph did was look at a stone in a hat to translate. IMO, this is pure spin that is not supported by either the historical record, simple logic, or the text of the revelations. One example. Nephi told the future translator “touch not the things which are sealed, for I [the Lord] will bring them forth in mine own due time” (2 Nephi 27:21). If Joseph wasn't using the plates to translate, then why would Nephi care if Joseph "touched" that portion? Same with Moroni's comments. There was no point to even having a "sealed portion" if Joseph wasn't actually translating the plates themselves. It would have been up to the stone to tell him what to "translate" and what to leave alone. More later.

4. The Record of the Ten Tribes. 2 Nephi 29 explains this. Nyman writes, "While these treasures could refer to the records of the lost tribes, they could also include the genealogical records that will be brought to the temples of Ephraim and enable the lost tribes to receive their ordinances, the crowning ones being their endowments and sealings for themselves and their dead ancestors."

I fully agree with this description. I'm going to discuss this in an upcoming book, but like all the other records, we have to exercise faith in what we have first.

5. The 24 Gold Plates. Nyman's description here is excellent. David Whitmer already saw these plates; as with the brass plates, I think he, Joseph, Oliver and probably Don Carlos and Hyrum saw these when they were moving them out of the Cumorah room. Like the other records, we won't get them until we have sufficient faith in what we already have.

6. Lamanite Records. I'll just quote Nyman here: "In commenting upon his recording only a hundredth part of what he had available to him, Mormon wrote that there were many other particular and very large records of every kind that had been kept chiefly by the Nephites (see Helaman 3:13–15). The word chiefly indicates that the Lamanites also kept some records and implies that they were known to Mormon at the time he abridged the Nephite records. It is not stated how he knew of them or whether they were in his possession and had “been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites” (Helaman 3:16). The context of Mormon’s comments does not rule out that possibility. His description of those records is certainly compatible with what the Prophet Joseph and Oliver Cowdery saw: “more plates than probably many wagon loads,” referred to earlier. There is no promise that these records will come forth, but if Mormon knew of them or had them and they were written on plates, that would be a possibility. The future possession of these records and their translation would give us another view of Lamanite history and perhaps help us understand why the Lamanites were the victims of the traditions of their fathers (see Alma 9:16–17)."

According to Mormon, it was the Nephites who were the main record keepers.

From a Mesomania perspective, of course, the "Lamanites" (read Mayans) kept far more records than the Nephites. Even after the Spanish destroyed all they could find, archaeologists are continuing to find extensive Mayan records. This is the source of the illusory "correspondences" the Mesoamerican advocates like to claim.

IMO, every new record uncovered in Mesoamerica is additional evidence that the Mayans were not Lamanites or Nephites.

That said, it seems likely that some day we will get some of the records of the actual Lamanites as identified in D&C 28, 30 and 32.

7. Other Jaredite Records. I like what Nyman says here: "The daughter of Jared referred to “the record which our fathers brought across the great deep[.] Behold, is there not an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory?” (Ether 8:9). This record does not seem to be the same as the 24 plates of gold translated into what Moroni called the book of Ether (see Ether 1:2), although the first part of Ether does speak of the creation and the time from Adam to the great tower (Ether 1:3). There is no mention that this record would be preserved for the last days, but it was durable enough to be available in the fifth generation of the Jaredites. Since the Jaredites kept records on metallic plates, it is possible that the record that the daughter of Jared spoke of is still in existence and will come forth and be translated at some future day. It is even possible that Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadianton robbers, had in mind some version of that record when he said that his secret society had information “of ancient date” that had been “handed down unto us” (3 Nephi 3:9). The subject of this article would be incomplete if these records were not at least mentioned as a possibility."

In addition to these Jaredite records, I wouldn't be surprised if records from the old world--meaning Asia in this case--come forth to corroborate the record of Ether.

I'll end with Nyman's awesome conclusion:

"Thus, the beginning point for the Latter-day Saints today is to accept and use the Book of Mormon and other records (the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Joseph Smith Translation) that the Lord has given us as companion volumes to the Bible. The Lord has promised that when we make full use of the records we now have, he will give us many more records that will greatly benefit us individually and collectively. These records will be consistent with the Book of Mormon in neither adding to nor diminishing from the doctrine and messages of the Revelation of John or of other scriptures."
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The sooner we accept the scriptures we have, the sooner we'll get additional records. This means ceasing the effort by Mesoamerican scholars to sow disbelief in what Joseph and Oliver taught; ceasing the effort to "see" Mesoamerica in the text by redefining terms; and ceasing the effort to establish the two-Cumorahs theory that causes members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith.



Book summaries - Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?

The title of this book reflects one of the most basic questions people have when they first hear about the restoration.

People asked Joseph Smith and the other early saints this same question. How could anyone who hears the story not wonder what happened to the plates?

Although I do offer an answer to the question in this book, most of the book explains the new paradigm about the plates themselves.

Traditional Story

The traditional story is this: the angel Moroni showed Joseph a set of gold plates that he, Moroni, had placed in a stone box when he was still a mortal around 421 A.D. After 4 years, Joseph was allowed to remove the plates from the box. He took them to Harmony, PA, where he translated most of them (Book of Lehi through Book of Moroni). Then he went to Fayette and finished the translation from 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. At that point, he returned the plates to the angel, who later showed them to the 3 witnesses. A few days later, Joseph showed the plates to the 8 witnesses near his parents' home outside of Palmyra. Again, Joseph returned the plates to the angel and they haven't been seen since.

The traditional story is fine as far as it goes, but when you think about it, it doesn't make sense and it doesn't explain numerous historical events.

Here are some examples.

1. The Title Page, which Joseph said was a literal translation from the last leaf of the plates, describes the contents of the plates as two abridgments, plus Moroni's sealing. It says nothing about the original plates of Nephi.

2. Joseph translated the Title Page before he left Harmony. If it was the last leaf, then why didn't he translate 1 Nephi - Words of Mormon in Harmony?

3. Joseph said the title page was from the "original Book of Mormon."

4. Witnesses described the plates as 4" thick and 6" thick.

5. No one can explain where the unabridged plates of Nephi fit into the record if it was included in the plates Moroni gave Joseph.

New Paradigm

After assessing all the evidence, I concluded that the plates Joseph originally obtained from Moroni didn't include the plates of Nephi. You'll see that the more you think about it, the more obvious it is. I thought I'd write an article, but there was so much evidence that it grew into an entire book.

Here's an example.

D&C 9 promises Oliver there would be "other records" for which he would have power to assist to translate. D&C 10 explains what these "other records" are; i.e., the plates of Nephi. But Joseph didn't have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony.

Before he left Harmony, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger who returned them to the repository in the Hill Cumorah. From there, the messenger got the plates of Nephi and took them to Fayette so Joseph could translate 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon.

Implications

Once we understand that there were two sets of plates, we can reconcile the different accounts and make sense of these details of Church history.

We also understand that the repository Mormon referred to in Mormon 6:6 was actually in the Hill Cumorah in New York, as explained by several of the men who knew Joseph Smith, including Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, and Orson Pratt.

Obviously, if the repository was in the New York Cumorah, the entire premise for the Mesoamerican theory collapses.

You can expect Mesoamerican advocates to insist on the traditional one set of plates theory, but they won't be able to show you evidence to support their idea.

Just remember it this way.

There is one Cumorah and two sets of plates.

Not two Cumorahs and one set of plates.