Friday, May 19, 2017

Expectations and art - missionary work

Because there are so many new readers here, I'm going to repost some of the most popular posts from the past that they might have missed. This one is the most popular (so far) from the consensus blog.


Expectations and art - missionary work

Missionary work involves a variety of expectations, but here I'm focusing solely on the expectations raised by the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon.

Over the years, the official editions of the Book of Mormon have contained sets of illustrations. I have copies of many of these that I'll use to make this important point: The expectations of missionaries, investigators and members are set largely by these illustrations.

The illustrations that accompany the official edition of the Book of Mormon are tremendously influential. I suspect that far more people look at the illustrations than read the text. Probably 100 times more.

Obviously, the message in the text is ultimately the most important, but unless people read the text,they don't get the message. If the illustrations convey ideas that contradict the text (and Church history), then they cause confusion.

The fact that these illustrations have changed over the years shows that they can be changed again. At the end of this post, I have a suggestion along those lines.

The history of these illustrations reflects a shift from a hemispheric model (the one that Friberg apparently intended) to the limited geography two-Cumorah Mesoamerican model that modern scholars support. For example, notice that the earlier editions showed both Mormon and Moroni at the New York Cumorah, while the newer editions show only Moroni in New York.

I suggest it's time to shift back to a one-Cumorah model, based on New York.

I have a copy of a 1961 Book of Mormon that contains the following illustrations at the front of the book:

The caption: When Jesus Christ organized His Church, He called and ordained his disciples.

Caption: The Prophet Joseph Smith. He translated the ancient writings inscribed on gold plates from which the first edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.

Caption: The Hill Cumorah, near Manchester, New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Caption: The beautiful monument to the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni was erected on the top of the Hill Cumorah in July, 1935.

Caption: Gold tablet found in Persia in 1961, dating to the time of Darius II (Fourth Century B.C.)...

Caption: Ancient copper and bronze tools dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Gold plates from Peru fastened together with gold rings. Ancient Americans were skilled craftsmen in gold and precious metals.
Caption: Textiles from Peru, dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Egyptian-like murals found on temple walls in Mexico.

Caption: Looking across the main plaza of Monte Alban (sacred mountain). This city dates back to 800 years before Christ.
Caption: Temple of the Cross in Mexico. This temple, believed to have been erected during the Maya Classic Period, contains the famous Cross of Palenque. Many archaeologists now agree that these artistic masterpieces date back to the beginning of the Christian era.

In addition to these illustrations, eight of the twelve Arnold Friberg paintings are interspersed in the text.

The exact same set of illustrations are in the 1980 English edition I'm looking at right now.

[Note: I also have a 1973 Spanish edition that contains the same illustrations except it substitutes Machu Picchu for Monte Alban. I suspect the reason is to show a hemispheric model that would appeal to people in South America.]


The 1981 English edition changed the illustrations to what we have now, both in print and on here. This is the edition that added the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to the cover.

If I'm an investigator, missionary, or member, here's what I take away from these illustrations. First, Christ is the most important (the first illustration) and the Heinrich Hoffman painting depicts the traditional Christ accepted by Christianity generally. Awesome.

Second, Joseph Smith. Makes sense.

Third, finding the Liahona in the Arabian desert. One of the best Friberg paintings, set in the right place, and emphasizing a key element of the text. Nice.

Fourth, arriving at the promised land. So long as I don't realize that Friberg intentionally used a bird species that exists only in Central America, and so long as I don't notice the high mountains in the background, the painting is ambiguous enough that Lehi could have landed almost anywhere in the Americas. Okay, but not great.

Fifth, the waters of Mormon in the depths of a thick jungle featuring high mountains. Hmm, now it's inescapable. I have to conclude that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America somewhere (or maybe somewhere in the Andes). Let's say, not good because it conveys a specific setting the text does not support. Worse, it endorses the scholars' two-Cumorah theory that rejects Letter VII and Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses.

Sixth, Samuel the Lamanite on the Mayan walls of the city of Zarahemla. Now there's no doubt about it. As a reader, I have to believe the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. But when I read the text, I'll be seriously disappointed and confused to discover the text never mentions huge stone pyramids and temples. It never mentions jungles. And when the answer to my obvious questions about Cumorah is that there are actually two Cumorahs, I'll become even more confused.

Seventh, Jesus Christ visits the Americas by John Scott. This painting combines a variety of ancient American motifs to convey the idea (I think) that Christ visited people throughout the Americas. This is a reasonable inference from the text. (I like to think the clouds represent North America, but it would be far better to show something actually from North America, such as an earthwork, that is described in the text. Of course, the text never mentions pyramids, stone buildings, or even high mountains where the Nephites lived.) The biggest problem with including this illustration is the inference that Christ is visiting the Nephites in Central America. The painting is incorrectly labeled "Christ teaching Nephites" on, for example. If the webmaster at misunderstands the painting, surely investigators, missionaries, and members make the wrong inference as well.

Eighth, Moroni burying the plates. Awesome. Except the caption doesn't say where Moroni is burying them; it doesn't mention Cumorah or New York. The Introduction says Moroni "hid up the plates in the Hill Cumorah," so as a reader, I infer this painting is supposed to be the New York hill. But then how could all the other events take place somewhere in Central America? More confusion, especially when the explanation I'm given is the two-Cumorah theory.


My suggestion.

A member, missionary, or investigator who looks at the official edition of the Book of Mormon, online or in print, will naturally turn to these illustrations and take away the message that the Book of Mormon events occurred in Central America. There is really no other feasible conclusion to be drawn from the illustrations.

But the illustrations contradict the text itself in many ways.

The only certain connection we have between the Book of Mormon and the modern world is the Hill Cumorah. People who read the text should not be influenced by depictions of huge Mayan temples, massive stone walls, jungles, and the like. Artistic representations should rely on the text. Some of the Arnold Friberg paintings are set in places that conform to the text; i.e., Lehi in Arabia, brother of Jared on a high mountain, Mormon and Moroni on the New York Hill Cumorah. Others, however, have created expectations among members and nonmembers alike that simply cannot be reconciled with the text or satisfied in the real world.

The sooner they are replaced with text-based illustrations, the better.

Given the existing artwork, here's what I would like to see in the way of Book of Mormon illustrations:


I'd like to go back to the emphasis on the Hill Cumorah in New York, both because of its central role in the restoration, and because of its importance in the text. This spot, in New York, is where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations came to an end.

I'd like to see a quotation from Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII here in the caption. After all, Oliver's testimony as one of the three witnesses is already in the introductory material. Maybe instead of the statue, we could have a photo of the valley to the west where the final battles took place.

Keep this illustration of Lehi and the liahona because it is consistent with the text; i.e., a Middle-Eastern setting.

Add this one back because it's an important story and shows the coast of the Arabian peninsula.

Add this one because it is important to show actual sheep from the text instead of the tapirs and agouti in Central America, although the tropical plants are still problematic.

Add this one back because of how important the story is and the setting, somewhere in Asia, doesn't matter.

Add this one back because it shows both Mormon and Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in New York. This is eliminates any confusion about Cumorah. It reaffirms what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII.
Keep this one because it shows Moroni burying the plates in New York in the stone and cement box he constructed, away from the repository of the Nephite records that his father Mormon concealed elsewhere in the hill.


Illustrations that are consistent with the text can help encourage people to read the text and engage with it. Illustrations that are inconsistent with the text--i.e., illustrations of jungles and massive stone pyramids--are confusing and off-putting. When people discover that illustrations in the official editions rely on the scholars' two-Cumorah theory, it's even worse. The scholarly theories that the Hill Cumorah is actually anywhere but in New York, and that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were speculating about all of this, are hardly conducive to faith.

If we could have a consistent narrative based on the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah, and eliminate the confusing images based on Central America, the message of the text would be free from distractions, which would enhance understanding and faith. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Zombie geography at BYU

Some ideas just won't die. They're zombies. They don't know they're dead, and they are mere shells of living beings, but they keep on coming.

The Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is a zombie. It continues to prowl around BYU.

The textbook definition of a zombie is: a will-less and speechless human held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated.

In the world of software, a zombie is "A process or task which has terminated but was not removed from the list of processes, typically because it has child processes that have not yet terminated."

The Mesoamerican theory is like zombie software. It is dead, but it has child processes that still live, like little zombies.

Here are some of the reasons why the Mesoamerican theory died.

1. Its origin--the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, wrongly attributed to Joseph Smith--has been exposed as a historical mistake.

2. Thanks to Letter VII, few people even try to defend the two-Cumorahs theory any more. (The Mesoamerican theory claims the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico, so it was a mistake to give the hill in New York the name Cumorah.) Once members of the Church realize that accepting the Mesoamerican theory requires you to also believe that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church, most members reject the Mesoamerican theory quickly.

3. The illusory "correspondences" between Mesoamerica and the text of the Book of Mormon are really just ordinary characteristics of most human civilizations that are not evidence of the purported link between Book of Mormon peoples and the Mayans.

Although the Mesoamerican theory is dead, Mesomania lives in its children. Once we finish them off, we will be rid of the zombie geography. But to finish them off, we have to first identify them, starting with BYU connections.

1. BYU Studies, "the premier Mormon academic journal since 1959," continues to promote the zombie Mesoamerican setting, right on its main page.
Go to the bottom of the page under "Popular Pages" and click on the first one, titled "Charting the Book of Mormon." Scroll to section 13 and read the entries, including 13-161, here.

Presenting BYU's zombie geography map of Mesoamerica!

2. Officially, BYU is supposed to be neutral about Book of Mormon geography. And that would be fine, in a vacuum. But for years, BYU promoted the Mesoamerican theory, including taking faculty to Mesoamerica on educational "Book of Mormon" trips. The zombie theory was widely taught for decades. To claim "neutrality" with this history would be like a strip mining company suddenly claiming "neutrality" after cutting all the trees and shearing the mountaintops. It's not neutral when the damage is not remediated. The zombie children of the Mesoamerican theory are present throughout the University (on all the campuses). Besides, faculty are not really neutralHere is a discussion of an article by a BYU Professor who claimed BYU destroyed Ancient (Mesoamerican) Book of Mormon Studies:
Other current BYU Professors have written extensively about the zombie Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

3. BYU students are taught to understand the geography of the Book of Mormon as presented by the abstract map I blogged about here:

It is obviously designed to look like Central America, because it interprets the text according to the Mesoamerican theory. 

That map is not Central America!
Faculty have been told not to link the text to any real-world site. Instead, they came up with this "virtual reality" version. But it teaches the same thing as the two-Cumorahs theory; i.e., Cumorah is not in New York and Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.  

4. Let's say BYU finishes off the on-campus zombie geography somehow. Will that solve the problem? 


The children of the zombie Mesoamerican theory live in the minds of most of the students who have been educated at BYU for decades. That's why we see the Arnold Friberg Mesoamerican paintings everywhere. It's why Mesomania is ubiquitous.

Whenever you see these books and paintings, you are looking at zombie Mesomania.

It's up to each of us to help deal with the zombie geography of Mesoamerica.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sharing posts

I've been asked how to share my posts on social media. I had forgotten about my twitter account, so it was a good reminder.

At the end of every post on this blog there is a sharing icon. It looks like this:

You just have to click on the icon for the social media you want to use. For example, if you want to share a post on twitter, click the twitter icon.

Here's an example from my BeyondTheRivers twitter account:

You can retweet from BeyondTheRivers as well.

(For those new to the blog, "BeyondTheRivers" is an allusion to Isaiah 18:1, which explains how Nephi knew he'd have to sail around Africa to get to the promised land.)

Happy Tweeting!

Of course, you can also use the Facebook icon to share on Facebook, Printerest icon to share on Printerest, etc.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Book of Mormon Translation

I get a lot of questions about how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. I have a section on that topic in the Whatever Happened book.

Today I want to mention three points to consider.

1. Only the Title Page is a literal translation. 

Joseph Smith's History, circa June - October 1839 [Draft 1], here, reads,

"I would mention here also in order to correct a misunderstanding, which has gone abroad concerning the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it is not a composition of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation, but that it is a literal translation taken from the last leaf of the plates, on the left hand side of the collection of plates, the language running same as the <all> Hebrew <wr[i]ting> language <in general>. And that no error can henceforth possibly exist I give here the Title so far as it is a translation."

With some wording changes, the same passage appears in History, circa June 1839-circa 1841 [Draft 2], here.

"I wish also to mention here, that the Title Page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; and not by any means the language of the whole running same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said Title Page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation. Therefore, in order to correct an error which generally exists concerning it, I give below that part of the Title Page of the English Version of the Book of Mormon, which is a genuine and literal translation of the Title Page of the Original Book of Mormon, as recorded on the plates."

In History, circa 1841, fair copy, in the handwriting of Howard Coray, Joseph Smith's history reads:

"I wish to mention here that the title page of the book of Mormon is a literal translation taken from the last leaf on the left hand side of the collection of plates which contained the record that has been translated. The language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writings writings; and that said title page is not a modern composition. Therefore in order to correct an error which generally exists concerning it I give below that part of the title page which is a genuine and literal translation of the title page of the book of Mormon recorded on the plates."

Those who have read Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? know the significance of the phrase "Original Book of Mormon." It was not in the 1839 draft, but it was in Draft 2. Howard Coray omitted it, but it appears in the Times and Seasons, Oct. 15, 1842, here.

"I wish also to mention here, that the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said title page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation. Therefore, in order to correct an error which generally exists concerning it, I give below that part of the title page of the English version of the Book of Mormon, which is a genuine and literal translation of the title page of the Original Book of Mormon, as recorded on the plates."

This is significant for two reasons. First, it refutes the idea that Joseph merely read the words off the stone in the hat. He was making a "literal translation" from the plates themselves.

Second, it implies that the rest of the translation may not have been literal. I'll discuss this more in upcoming posts.

2. Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon translation.

The essay, found here, is a good overview. Unfortunately, it starts off with the inaccurate quotation of Joseph Smith, which was actually Wilford Woodruff's summary of a day's teaching and not a direct quotation. I'm working on an annotated version of the essay.

3.. Conference in Logan.

In March 2017 there was a conference at Utah State (Logan, Utah) titled "New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation." I had a conflict so I couldn't attend, but videos from the session are now available. Info is here:

I'll have more to say on this soon, but I just wanted to give the information now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

the first question to ask

If you're interested in Book of Mormon geography, the first question to ask is this:

Where is Cumorah?

The answer, of course, is in western New York, where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said it was. If someone tells you it's somewhere else, or that there are "two Cumorahs," you know they are repudiating Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

For me, there's no point in considering geography theories that put Cumorah anywhere else but in New York. This also applies to the "abstract maps," including those being taught at BYU.

You will find dozens, even hundreds, of different maps if you look online. You can assess them easily by seeing how they treat Cumorah.

One of the best known is the one at BYU Studies, here.

Scroll to the bottom of the page. The first item under "Popular Pages" is "Charting the Book of Mormon." Click on that.

You'll find some useful material here, but there is also some misleading material. Scroll to

Section 13: Geography in the Book of Mormon

Here's the direct link:

This entire section is a disaster, IMO, Look at this one, for example.

13-149 Ten Essential Features of Book of Mormon Geography

These "Essential Features" have little if anything to do with the text. They are pure Mesomania, an effort to persuade people that the text actually described Mesoamerica.

The first one says "A narrow neck (isthmus) separated the land northward from the land southward and was flanked by an east sea and a west sea."

Of course, the text never uses the term isthmus. This is classic for Mesomania. The text doesn't describe anything about Mesoamerica--no jungles, no volcanoes, no huge stone pyramids, and even no Mayans--so the Mesoamerican advocates have to change the wording in the text to make it work.

You can go through all of the items in Section 13, and you'll see how they use this substitution technique throughout to justify their Mesoamerican theory.

Regarding the narrow neck, there are exactly, and only, two verses, and they're talking about two different features:

Alma 63:5

And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an aexceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land bBountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the cnarrow neck which led into the land northward.

Ether 10:20

20 And they built a great city by the anarrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land.
Right here you see there are two different features described as a "narrow neck."

In Alma, the "narrow neck" led into the land northward. This is the one by which Haboth launched his ships, implying this is a narrow neck of water.

In Ether, it was a "narrow neck of land" which is a different term; i.e., this verse distinguishes the narrow neck from the one in Alma 63 by calling it a "narrow neck of land."

And yet all the Mesomania scholars conflate the two terms to fabricate their Mesoamerican setting.

The other analytical and logical fallacy used by Mesomania scholars is to treat the terms "land northward" and "land southward" as proper nouns instead of relative terms. If you're in Provo, Utah, Salt Lake City is "northward." But it you're in Logan, Salt Lake City is "southward."

The terms "northward" and "southward" describe locations relative to the location of the speaker or author at the time he/she speaks or writes.

This is just one example of how far afield people can get when they ignore what Joseph and Oliver said about Cumorah in New York.

You'll find plenty more. But you can avoid all of that by going to

As always, I'm interested in anyone who can come up with a better explanation of Book of Mormon geography with Cumorah in New York.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Brother Scott's Book of Mormon Witness Presentation

Yesterday a friend gave me a cutout from the newspaper:

You might want to attend, or not. You might want to tell your friends, or not. I'm just making you aware of what's going on. (I blogged about this already here, complete with illustrations.)

"Brother Scott" is holding these events every Thursday from May 11-Jun 1 from 7-8:30 pm in Sandy. You can get the info from his web page here:

I applaud the effort to make the Book of Mormon better known. I found Brother Scott to be engaging and enthusiastic. Apparently he went on one of the infamous "Book of Mormon tours" to Central America and is on fire now.

Unfortunately--very unfortunately--Brother Scott is promoting the Mesoamerican setting with lots of classic Mesomania. He's telling people Izapa Stela 5 is Lehi's dream, that Joseph wrote the articles in the Times and Seasons, etc. 

Of course, he forgets to tell the audience about Letter VII, Zion's camp, the numerous General Conference addresses, President Joseph Fielding Smith's warning about the two-Cumorahs theory, and anything else that contradicts his theories.

Brother Scott didn't want to hear what I have to say.

He's actively soliciting invitations to come speak at firesides, as you can see here:

I'm sure he'll have no problem getting invitations, and I'm also sure he'll have no problem presenting his material in Church buildings because he's promoting Mesoamerica. As long as you promote the two-Cumorahs theory, you're good to go. You can even use the artwork on the walls of the Church buildings as illustrations. As well as the illustrations in the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon itself.

But if his audience thinks carefully about his presentation, or spends 5 minutes on the Internet, they'll soon realize that he, like all good Mesoamerican advocates, is saying Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York, the plains of the Nephites being in Ohio, etc.

I think Brother Scott could do a lot of good if he would simply consider an alternative to Mesoamerica and focus on critical aspects of Church history, such as Letter VII.

The CES letter

I've had several requests to address the CES letter. If you're not familiar with that, it's a letter written in 2013 by Jeremy Runnells, who explains the background on his web page here:

"In February 2012, Jeremy experienced a crisis of faith, which subsequently led to a faith transition in the summer of 2012. In the spring of 2013, Jeremy was approached and asked by a CES Director to share his concerns and questions about the LDS Church's origins, history, and current practices. In response, Jeremy wrote what later became publicly known as Letter to a CES Director."

Although the letter was originally written in 2013, the controversies it spawned continue. I've seen discussions about it as recent as within the last month. Often when I speak, people ask what I think because they know someone who has been influenced by the letter.

In my view, it's not the CES letter that is the problem. Runnells raises good questions that I think many people have, whether they are active LDS, inactive LDS, former LDS, or never LDS (whether they are investigators or antagonistic to the Church).

The problem is the responses given by LDS apologists.

The responses are unsatisfactory for many--including me--because they focus on the Mesoamerican setting and some of the traditional interpretations of Church history that are based on historical mistakes.

The CES letter is a fairly comprehensive list of common objections to LDS claims about Church history, the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, and various doctrines. Runnells is using it as a fundraiser at this point, but that's irrelevant to the merits of the questions he raises.

There have been many responses to the CES letter. Here is a compilation of some:

Two of the most prominent responses were provided by FairMormon and Dan Peterson. Runnells has addressed them here and here, respectively. I think Runnells has done a good job sorting through the sophistry of the citation cartel, but the gist of his objections is this: he raises subjective expectations and then is disappointed when reality doesn't meet his expectations. I think his conclusions are understandable given his assumptions and expectations, and those assumptions and expectations are themselves understandable given what he's been taught, but because what he has been taught is driven by Mesomania and related interpretations of Church history, the questions he raises have answers that have not been provided yet, so far as I can determine.

Readers of this blog know that I think FairMormon and the rest of the citation cartel are ineffective because of their obsession with the Mesoamerican setting (which I call Mesomania). Mesomania leads them to embrace and promote the two-Cumorahs theory, to distort the text of the Book of Mormon, to repudiate Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, and to provide interpretations of Church history designed to justify their Mesomania that have the perverse effect of creating doubt out of what should be faith-sustaining statements and events. In each case, Mesomania undermines faith, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

I don't know how much interest there really is in yet another analysis of the CES letter. Those who are familiar with the issues, however, will understand the significance of a few of the main points I've been addressing on this blog and in my books. I'll list them here. If people ask for more detail, I'll address these points in future posts as time permits.

1. There is only one Cumorah and it really is in New York.

2. There were two departments in the hill Cumorah. One contained the stone and cement box that Moroni prepared for the plates and the breastplate. The other contained Mormon's repository of Nephite records.

3. In North America, right where Joseph indicated, there is abundant evidence of civilizations that match the text of the Book of Mormon, and the text itself describes the North American setting.

4. Joseph translated two separate sets of plates. The plates he originally obtained from Moroni he translated in Harmony. The plates he translated in Fayette came from the repository in Cumorah. He actually translated the plates; they were not merely a talisman as some scholars claim today. (Related to this, he may have referred to the Bible in Fayette when he translated the Isaiah passages on the Fayette plates.)

5. Joseph never once linked the Book of Mormon to Central or South America.

6. Joseph was merely the nominal editor of the 1842 Times and Seasons and numerous articles have been incorrectly attributed to him.

7. The Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories were based on a mistake in Church history.