This is a friendly discussion among brothers and sisters who all love the Book of Mormon and believe it is actual history. We seek unity on how to interpret the text and Church history. This blog focuses on the North American setting as the simplest and best explanation of Book of Mormon geography, with Cumorah in New York, but we recognize other settings are meaningful for other people.
Since its inception, FairMormon has been leading its readers on a wrong course because it repudiates the Church's position of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography. Why? Because the management of FairMormon has Mesomania.
What started as a small understandable error that could have been easily corrected has, by now, misled thousands of people, LDS and otherwise.
FairMormon actively teaches its readers that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were wrong about Cumorah being in New York.
FairMormon teaches that Joseph and Oliver ignorantly speculated and thereby created a false tradition that misled the entire Church for 100 years.
Except the mistake was FairMormon's, not Joseph's and Oliver's.
That simple mistake has brought FairMormon to the point of claiming that Brigham Young falsely confirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught.
FairMormon claims that every prophet and apostle who has spoken about Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency in General Conference, were wrong.
Fortunately, there's still time for FairMormon to change course. Unfortunately, there's almost zero chance that they will.
It's a classic that people still remember and discuss.
President Uchdorf related an account of a passenger jet that crashed in Antarctica because "someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees." He explained that "The difference of a few degrees, as with the Antarctica flight ... may seem minor. But even small errors over time can make a dramatic difference in our lives."
This drawing depicts the problem.
The longer you stay on the wrong course, the harder it is to get back to the correct one.
This is why FairMormon, BYU Studies, and the rest are unlikely to change course. They would rather crash into the mountain of confusion and disturbing the faith of the members, as Joseph Fielding Smith put it, than admit error and change course.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery put the Church on the correct course regarding Book of Mormon historicity and geography. They taught that Cumorah--the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 specifically--was the hill in New York where Joseph obtained the plates.
The Church kept this course for about a hundred years before scholars from the Reorganized Church changed course and decided Cumorah was actually in Central America. LDS scholars embraced this approach, rejected what Joseph and Oliver taught, and led the Church on a different course.
The different course has led to great confusion, thanks to Church media, publications, and artwork that all depend on--and teach--the idea that Cumorah is not in New York.
Now we're at a point where a serious course correction is needed.
What would a course correction look like?
First, you'd see a handful of BYU faculty come out in support. Then you'd see more BYU faculty, and probably some CES people, shift to the New York Cumorah. You'd have local Church leaders saying they knew all along that Cumorah was in New York.
Which is where the vast majority of Church members are already.
It's really only among the intellectuals that the two-Cumorahs theory persists. Most members, as soon as they learn what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII, embrace that teaching and reject the sophistry of the LDS intellectuals who continue to promote their Mesoamerican ideology.
A big course correction could come from BYU Studies. Maybe they would publish an article about Letter VII and the evidence that supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught. Maybe even FairMormon would give readers an honest explanation of the North American setting. I realize that seems unlikely, and it probably is so long as the current management of FairMormon remains in place, but hope springs eternal.
As I've mentioned before, the real tragedy is that FairMormon has so much good material on its site that most innocent members (and investigators) who go there don't realize how deeply misleading FairMormon is when it comes to Church history and Book of Mormon geography.
The Interpreter would never go along, of course, but soon enough they would be on their own island, abandoned to their fate. The Interpreter is a tragic story, as well, because they do publish some good things there. But they are even more intransigent than FairMormon, if that's possible.
I often get reports from people who have tried to talk to the LDS intellectuals who promote the two-Cumorahs/Meosamerican theories. The response is always the same. They couldn't care less about what you think. They won't discuss Letter VII and related aspects of Church history. They won't even consider a North American setting for the Book of Mormon.
You can let these LDS scholars and educators know what you think, but they don't really care what you think, so you're wasting your time.
It is far better for you do learn all you can. Don't rely on LDS intellectuals for information because they are pushing a specific agenda that repudiates what Joseph and Oliver taught, as well as the Church's neutrality position. The course correction that matters most is the one we make individually.
I could add more sections now, but I'll stick with the one from last year for now because it clarifies the issues pretty well. And after more than a year, it holds up pretty well.
I understand there are some Mesoamerican proponents who object to the way I've framed these issues, but no one has pointed out any factual errors or misstatements about the respective positions. If anyone knows of any such errors or misstatements, let me know and I'll correct the chart.
When you go through the items, you can see why the unbelievers at FairMormon will never include such a chart on their web page. Same with the unbelievers at Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, etc.
Earlier this year, I posted a decision tree that helps people decide which setting of the Book of Mormon they agree with. Because there are so many new readers here, maybe many of you missed it, so here it is again.
Even on this trip across the North
Atlantic, I’ve had a few occasions to discuss Church history and Book of Mormon
I actually thought that by now, the
Mesoamerican theory would have been relegated to a footnote in Church history,
but it’s still going strong. It’s an
unfortunate legacy that will endure until its main promoters set the example
and renounce it.
The Mesoamerican theory is like the
parable of the feathers. Once the wind blows them away, it’s nearly impossible
to collect them again. A case in point is “Brother Scott,” who has lately spent
a lot of money in Utah promoting his own version of the “two-Cumorahs” theory.
He is not only uninformed and misinformed, but he is intransigent. He refuses
to even discuss the facts. As I wrote earlier, he might as well teach the youth
how to resign from the Church if he’s going to keep teaching them the things he
says in his seminars.
I think it’s time for our LDS
scholars who have promoted Mesoamerica for so long to take responsibility for
what they’ve taught and start telling people the whole truth.
When we compare the New York Cumorah to the Mexican
Cumorah, it’s not even a close call.
On one side, we have declarative, specific statements by
two men who actually visited the depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. Two
men who translated the Book of Mormon, handled the plates, and received
revelations. Two men who, together, actually interacted with heavenly beings,
including the Savior Himself, on multiple occasions.
On the other side, we have modern LDS scholars who cast
doubt on the credibility of Joseph and Oliver (and David Whitmer, Brigham
Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, etc.) solely to defend their own Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs
When framed this way, are there even 1% of Church members who would
side with the scholars?
I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to
change one’s mind. I believed the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory for decades. But
one thing’s for sure. It’s a lot better to have been wrong and admit it than
continue to be wrong when you know better.
So why do our LDS scholars and
experts continue to promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory? And how
should people decide whether to believe them?
Scott Adams wrote a post titled
“When to Trust the Experts” that I’d like to use as a template to discuss the
Book of Mormon.
Among living people, there are about
a dozen experts who promote the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon
geography. I won’t name them, but you can discover who they are by looking at BYU Studies, the Interpreter, FairMormon, BMAF/Book of Mormon Central, and the Neal
A. Maxwell Institute. These experts have disproportionate impact because they mostly
teach, or have taught, at BYU and/or CES, they are part of the citation cartel
that controls LDS scholarly publications, and they dominate other LDS media
such as Meridian Magazine and the Deseret News.
Every BYU student has to take two
courses on the Book of Mormon, and for the last 40+ years, they have been taught
the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. As a result, it has become the quasi-official
position of the Church. This is why you see the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory
on display in Church media, Visitors centers, and even within the pages of the
missionary and foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon itself in the
choice of illustrations. The people who prepare and approve all of this
material were educated by Mesoamerican promoters.
Latter-day Saints have deferred to
these experts because we trusted them to tell us the truth. And for many years,
their position made sense. They all assumed Joseph Smith wrote the Mesoamerican
articles in the Times and Seasons,
for example. They assumed Cumorah couldn’t be in New York because there’s no archaeological
evidence of millions of people living and dying in that area, an assumption
they made despite what Joseph and Oliver taught. They assumed the Book of
Mormon describes volcanoes, even though the text doesn’t use the term. All of
these assumptions and more were designed to support their
Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, but we’ve seen on this blog that none of
these assumptions were accurate.
Meanwhile, these experts ignored the
statements of the modern prophets and apostles about Cumorah being in New York.
Actually, it’s worse. They rejected
these statements, deeming them private opinions that were wrong, even when
stated in General Conference by members of the First Presidency.
For this reason, in my view, they have violated our trust.
These experts have known all along
about Letter VII, for example, but they never told their students about it.
They’ve known about Mormon’s depository in the New York Cumorah, but they never
told their students about it. In fact, when someone discovers what Brigham
Young taught about the depository just two months before he died—something he
said he didn’t want the Church to forget—these experts dismiss his teaching as
an account of a “vision” Oliver had of a hill in Mexico. They don’t tell us
that Brigham Young explained Joseph and Oliver visited the depository multiple
times, and that he related the account because he was from New York and knew
the area well.
We trusted these experts—but we
Especially now, when they know better but continue insisting
on their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.
Now, let’s look at what Scott Adams
says about trusting experts.
So how do we know when to trust experts and when to be
skeptical? Here are the red flags you should look for in order to know how much
credibility to assign to the experts.
When the players have money on the line, the truth gets
distorted. In climate science, money influences both sides of the debate.
That’s a red flag.
Money distorts truth when there is a financial or similar incentive
to distort truth, but when there is an incentive to promote and establish
truth, money can be an important tool for clarifying truth. In this case, most
of the promoters of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory are financially secure
faculty, or former faculty, of BYU, CES and affiliates.
People often tell me that advocates of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs
theory make a lot of money off of their books and tours, but I don’t think that’s
the case. No one involved with the question of Book of Mormon geography, on any
side, is motivated by money. The market simply isn’t big enough.
Instead, I think academic pride and reputation drives the discussion.
The LDS experts have published and taught the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory
for decades. Basic human nature prevents them from readily acknowledging they’ve
rather live with cognitive dissonance than admit error.
Many missionaries have met/taught religious leaders who have
acknowledged that they think the Church is true, but simply cannot acknowledge
that they have taught falsehoods their entire lives. Money has nothing to do
with it. (Okay, some paid ministers may ask “What will I do for a living?” But
I don’t think this is a significant factor for those engaged in researching and
teaching Book of Mormon geography issues.)
Far more important than money is the natural human aversion to
admitting error. Therefore, those who have admitted they’ve been wrong about
something—those who have actually changed their minds about something
signficant—are more credible than those who refuse to do so.
Complexity with Assumptions
Whenever you see complexity, that is a red flag. Complexity is
often used to deceive. And complexity invites human error.
Compare the difference between simply accepting what Joseph and
Oliver taught—that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York—with the complex
list of “requirements” designed to (i) exclude the New York Cumorah and (ii)
establish Mesoamerica as the only possible location of the “real” Cumorah.
Compare the difference between simply accepting what the modern prophets
and apostles have said and written about the New York Cumorah with the
complexity of parsing their words and claiming they were all wrong because they
were merely expressing private opinions that were naïve, based on a false
tradition, etc. My favorite example of this is characterizing Brigham Young’s
urgent, detailed and forceful explanation of what Oliver Cowdery related about
the depository in New York as nothing but a vague “vision” of a hill in Mexico.
The Important Fact Left Out
When people have the facts on their side, they are quick to
point it out. When a key fact is glaringly omitted, that’s a red flag.
What facts do supporters of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory leave
out? The mere existence of Letter VII to start with, followed by its ubiquity
during Joseph’s lifetime. If you were a member of the Church when Joseph Smith
was alive, you knew Cumorah was in New York. There was no question about it.
Not even any room for questions.
By contrast, there are no facts about the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs
theory that I have not addressed on this blog and in my books. If anyone knows
of such a fact, I’d be happy to address it.
Conflation of Credibility
Whenever you see someone conflate a credible thing (such as the
peer review system in science) with a less-credible thing (long term prediction
models), that’s a red flag. If you question the accuracy of climate models,
someone will mention the gold standard of peer review, even though that doesn’t
address climate models that involve human assumptions. Conflation of
credibility is a red flag.
One of the ways our LDS experts and scholars justify their
Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory is by claiming their work is “peer reviewed.”
This is classic conflation of credibility, not only for the reasons Scott Adams
mentions, but because in this case, our experts don’t allow any reviews of
their work by people who disagree with their theory.
IOW,our LDS scholarly publications are not
really “peer reviewed.”
screened by like-minded individuals for compliance with Groupthink ideology.
Climate Models: As soon as you hear that
someone has a complicated prediction model, that’s red flag. If you hear that
the model involves human assumptions and “tweaking,” that’s a double red
flag. If you hear there are dozens of different models, that’s a triple red flag.
If you hear that the models that don’t conform to the pack are discarded, and
you don’t know why, that is a quadruple red flag. And if you see people
conflating climate projections with economic models to put some credibility on
the latter, you have a quintuple red flag situation.
To be fair, none of the so-called flags I mentioned means the
models are wrong. But they do mean you can’t put the same credibility on them
as you would the basic science.
The Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory resembles the climate models in
It is complicated. It relies on sophistry and parsing of terms to
explain away the plain meaning of what Joseph Smith wrote. You have to have a
PhD to understand all the nuances and interpretations of Mayan culture, and how
it relates to the Book of Mormon text.
It relies on human assumptions and “tweaking.” The Sorenson model
requires you to believe that “north” means “west,” that a “horse” is a “tapir,”
etc. Other models require you to believe the text describes volcanoes and
massive stone pyramids, along with other assumptions.
There are dozens of models based on the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs
theory. The experts can’t even agree on the criteria for the Mexican Cumorah,
let alone which mountain it must be. They don’t believe it’s a hill, even; if
they did, their task would be hopeless because there are thousands of hills in southern
By contrast, of course, Joseph and Oliver identified a single,
readily identifiable hill in New York as the one real Cumorah. There’s no complication.
No tweaking. No multiple versions.
True, knowing the location of Cumorah does not end the inquiry.
There are many other geographical features to be worked out, and people
disagree about them even with the New York Cumorah, but at least these
scenarios support what Joseph and Oliver taught.
The One Sided Argument
When I see climate scientists in the media, they are never
accompanied by skeptical scientists who can check their statements in real
time. Likewise, articles by and about skeptics are usually presented without
simultaneous debunking by the experts on the other side. Those are red flags.
Any presentation of one side without the simultaneous fact-checking by the
other is useless and almost certainly designed for persuasion, not truth. The
problem here is that both sides of the climate debate are 100% persuasive when
viewed without the other in attendance. If you think your side is the smart
side, check out the other side. They look just as smart, at least to
non-scientists such as me.
For years now, I’ve sought to work with advocates of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs
theory to produce a side-by-side comparison of the New York Cumorah with the
Mexican Cumorah. Because they refused, I developed my own comparison and
invited their input. Here’s my chart.
The reason the experts decline to present both sides is obvious.
Most members of the Church—I think 99%, but maybe after years of conditioning
about the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory, the number might be as low as 98%--would
accept what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII if they knew about it.
It isn’t even a close comparison, really.
I remain hopeful that our LDS scholars and educators will support
and sustain what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah. I’m willing and able
to engage with them in any forum, in any manner, regarding any facts, reasoning
or argument on this topic.
In the meantime, you can study these issues on your own and share
If you are attending BYU or another CES class on Church history or
the Book of Mormon, ask your instructors about Letter VII.
Eventually, and soon, we’ll get this issue resolved.
I've been taking a break from blogging because we don't have regular Internet access here in Iceland, but I thought readers might like to see what I'm up to.
I'm at a geothermal power plant in northern Iceland. Yesterday we climbed an enormous caldera, etc. It's an awesome country with lots to discuss in my work on environmental science, which isn't relevant to this blog but a lot of fun anyway.
I'll be back in a few weeks. Maybe by then everyone in the Church will be in sync regarding Letter VII and the New York Hill Cumorah.
Meanwhile, I'm finishing up my next book. I'll post the Introduction next week.
"Brother Scott" is co-opting Family Home Evenings by holding events on Mondays, Sept 11, 18, 25 and Oct 2.
Plus, he's targeting the youth.
He might as well tell kids how to resign from the Church as teach them the stuff he's teaching, because the "evidence" he offers directly contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah, and he doesn't care.
I've tried to talk to him nicely. So have others. He's completely intransigent, the epitome of zeal without knowledge. He went on a trip to Mesoamerica, apparently, and bought everything the local guides sold him (both intellectually and souvenirs).
And he's actually worse than our Meso friends at BYU because he's telling people stuff that even the Meso guys know is not credible.
One friend of mine heard him give his presentation at his ward, so he's having success getting invitations to speak in wards and stakes.
It's really tragic. A few minutes on the Internet and anyone can see his claims are nonsense. I showed just a few of them in my blogs, but I could have done more.
If he wasn't abusing the Family Home Evening schedule, I'd recommend people attend and try to talk sense to him, but don't waste your time on Mondays. He's not going to listen, anyway.
I'd like to follow up on President Hinckley's comment: “If we are going to stay on the track the Lord put us on, we must know our history.”
By now, many LDS scholars and educators think they know my position about Cumorah. They think they know everything about the topic. And maybe they do, but there are still some points I haven't published yet.
As I'll explain below, I think it's unwise to allow BYU scholars to keep Joseph on a track of adopting Oliver's false traditions. By "allow" I don't mean interfering with academic freedom; instead, I mean allow them to keep teaching their two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories without being challenged by those who know Church history and who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah.
LDS literature freely quotes from statements attributed to Joseph Smith. (I'm referring here to statements not included in the scriptures; i.e., statements that have not been canonized.)
In most cases, these statements exist in only one source. I'll call them "one-source statements."
In rare cases, we have instances where Joseph Smith wrote, or helped write, material that he personally directed should be copied and reprinted multiple times. I consider these multiple sources because each reprinting Joseph directed was an explicit additional endorsement of the content.
In my view, this material has more credibility than material someone claimed Joseph said or wrote (a second-hand source).
Some of the one-source second-hand statements were picked up in History of the Church, which has traditionally been cited as a legitimate source. Historians have long known it was not exactly a reliable source. The compilers added comments based on inferences and conjecture. They often re-wrote original sources to convert them to first person quotations.
The most famous example of this is the quotation attributed to Joseph Smith that appears in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon (and is featured in the entry at the MTC in Provo):
"Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: 'I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.'”
This is a minor objection, of course; we can assume that Woodruff correctly summarized Joseph's teachings that day, and maybe Joseph even used those phrases, although Woofruff typically used quotation marks when he was directly quoting someone in his journal.
I think it's misleading to continue using the first person quotation, however. It would be far better to quote Woodruff directly; i.e., "Joseph Said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on Earth & the key stone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other Book."
Because of History of the Church, we have a first-person quotation attributed to Joseph Smith that actually was Woodruff's personal summary of a day's teaching. The quotation is ubiquitous, having been printed millions of times, quoted in General Conference, etc. It is universally accepted, even though it is not, technically, accurate.
By contrast, we have the eight historical letters written by Oliver Cowdery with Joseph's assistance. Joseph specifically endorsed them at least three separate times. (We don't have evidence that Joseph specifically encouraged his brother William to publish them, but William did publish Letter VII in New York City two days after Joseph's martyrdom.) They've been republished on several other occasions, including in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era. Parts of Letter I are included in the Pearl of Great Price.
I'm not aware of any other material that Joseph was so directly involved with and that he had reprinted so many times. One indicator of the value he placed on these letters was that he had both his brother Don Carlos and Benjamin Winchester reprint the letters even after Oliver Cowdery had left the Church. He thought they were important for Church members to know and understand.
Yet our modern LDS scholars and educators continue to reject what these letters teach about Moroni's visit to Joseph and what Oliver and Joseph taught about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.
If I had Mesomania and I wasn't able to completely censor Letter VII, I'd try to come up with reasons for people to disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver taught. I've discussed some of these reasons before, here:
Lately, I've heard the rationale that we should disbelieve Letter VII because it has not been canonized. I know, that sounds like a joke, but it's a serious claim by Mesomaniacs, so I discussed that one recently as well.
Those eight reasons really aren't persuasive. So how about this one? How about a claim that Joseph didn't write the letters, but that it was merely Oliver's opinion, and Oliver was wrong?
Obviously, it's a problem for Mesomaniacs to have Joseph Smith repeatedly endorsing the letters, even after Oliver left the Church. Mesomaniacs claim Joseph simply adopted a false tradition that Oliver started, but does any historian really believe that? D&C 28:11 is one of many examples in which Joseph corrected others whose teachings were false.
If we're going to allow BYU scholars to keep Joseph on a track of adopting Oliver's false traditions, we need to realize that track is on a slippery slope to oblivion, because Oliver was the only other witness to some of the most foundational events in Church history.
As long as we're taking about tracks, here's another one to consider.
The Lord designated Oliver Cowdery as a writer for the Church. In addition to being the principal scribe for the Book of Mormon, the Lord told Joseph Smith in 1831, "And let my servant Oliver Cowdery assist him [Phelps], even as I have commanded, in whatsoever place I shall appoint unto him, to copy, and to correct, and select, that all things may be right before me, as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him." (D&C 57:13).
In fact, the Lord told Phelps that "you shall be ordained to assist my servant Oliver Cowdery to do the work of printing, and of selecting and writing books for schools in this church, that little children also may receive instruction before me as is pleasing unto me." (D&C 55:4)
That Oliver took this charge seriously is evident from his Valedictory when he concluded his service at the Messenger and Advocate.
Here is a man called by revelation to copy, correct and select things that may be right before the Lord, as directed by the Spirit. He was directed to select and write books for church schools. He was ordained as Assistant President of the Church. He worked closely with Joseph Smith when he wrote the historical letters, including Letter VII. He specified that it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. And yet, our modern LDS scholars reject what Oliver taught purely because of their own theories about two Cumorahs and Mesoamerica.