Monday, September 19, 2016

The neutrality illusion

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything's fine today, that is our illusion.” 
― Voltaire

In politics, business, science, and most other fields, whoever has the dominant position or theory likes the status quo just fine. When challenged, the dominant position or theory typically proposes some form of neutrality. For the dominant party, nothing could be better than an agreement on neutrality that preserves the status quo.

That's what we're facing with the issue of Book of Mormon geography.

When viewed through the perspective of history, it is bizarre that the concept that Cumorah is in New York--and no place else--is now considered controversial or even heretical. In Joseph's day, it was ubiquitous, published in 3 Church newspapers, included in Joseph's own history, etc. In the lifetime of those who knew him, the New York Cumorah was universally accepted.

But starting with RLDS scholars in the 1920s, and over the objection of Joseph Fielding Smith, LDS scholars gradually reached a consensus that Cumorah is not in New York. This position, sometimes called the two-Cumorah theory, underlies the Mesoamerican theory.

The Mesoamerican theory is so well established that it shows up in the Hill Cumorah pageant, in the illustrations in the missionary and foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon, in the Joseph Smith Papers, and throughout the publications of LDS scholars and educators.

And the scholars want to keep the status quo.

It's understandable.

But it's not acceptable.

I'm going to make some announcements in the next week or so that might make this situation clearer for everyone involved.

In the meantime, I'm traveling and probably won't have time to post.

So keep reading Letter VII and sharing it with as many people as you can.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Some deplorable Mesomaniac activity

Following my presentations this weekend, I answered questions for over an hour each time. I also met many individuals between sessions, in the halls, etc. One consistent theme was the unbelievable way Mesomaniacs have treated people who dare challenge the so-called consensus.

First, let me explain that term. As anyone who has read the Mesomania book knows, I think Mesomania is not really a choice; it's a psychological condition that is nearly universal among LDS because of the artwork and educational materials--including Church manuals and magazines--that we've all been exposed to since childhood. Mesomania is one of the first elements of Mormonism that investigators learn about because of the artwork in the blue editions of the Book of Mormon. So it's no one's fault that they have Mesomania; it's something every LDS has to some degree.

Consequently, I don't think the term Mesomaniac applies to the vast majority of the members of the Church. I reserve that term for people who are so obsessed with the Mesoamerican setting that they can't tolerate alternative ideas.

In the last few days, I've had a shocking number of people tell me stories of how they've been treated by Mesomaniacs. These Mesomaniacs include CES faculty, Priesthood leaders, and fellow ward members. In many cases, challenges to the Mesoamerican theory is met with charges of apostasy, shunning, and even attempts to shame. It's deplorable, to use a suddenly popular expression.

I attribute this Mesomaniacal reaction to defensiveness, actually. The basic premises of the Mesoamerican theory are so indefensible, in my opinion, that when challenged, proponents have no alternative but to lash out this way.

I need to clarify another point. There are some proposed Mesoamerican settings that also accept the New York Cumorah. By my definition, those are not a result of Mesomania. In fact, Arnold Friberg himself depicted the New York Cumorah, not some mountain in Mexico, and if we had left that painting in the blue editions, we'd have fewer problems than we have now.

The real problem with Mesomania is when it leads to the rejection of Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and David Whitmer when it comes to the Hill Cumorah in New York. IOW, Mesomania = the Two-Cumorahs approach. In many cases, it is driven by the conviction that Joseph Smith wrote the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons. Some of the Mesomania scholars have told me those articles are not a significant factor in their deliberations and I accept that. There is zero historical evidence that Joseph wrote those articles. But among many, many members of the Church, Joseph's authorship of these anonymous articles is fundamental and turns them into Mesomaniacs.

For now, let me suggest this. If you're in a CES class (broadly defined to include seminary, institute, Sunday School, BYU (any campus), a fireside, etc.) and someone promotes the Mesoamerican theory, you're perfectly entitled to observe that the Church has no official position on Book of Mormon geography. If, as happens far too often, the presenter argues that all the scholars agree, you should 1) point out that not all the scholars agree, 2) that there is no doctrinal reason to accept or even rely on what any scholar says, and 3) ask if he/she has read Letter VII. You'll soon see that the presenter has never heard of Letter VII. Or, if they have, they haven't read it. Instead, they've read some dismissive obfuscation in FairMormon, the Interpreter, or the like.

All we want is for people to read and consider Letter VII. Everyone in the Church during Joseph's lifetime was familiar with it and accepted it. There are some LDS scholars today who insist Oliver Cowdery made it up, or was speculating, and therefore they insist that either way he was wrong. They're entitled to their opinions and the consequences that flow from undermining the credibility and reliability of one of the Three Witnesses (who was the Assistant President of the Church when he wrote Letter VII), but you're not obligated to agree with them.

No one is.

We want every member of the Church to become educated on this specific issue and then to reach his/her own conclusions.

So if you haven't read Letter VII, yet, do it right now. If you have, share it with everyone you know.

And if people call you an apostate for talking about Letter VII, remind them you're reading it out of Joseph's personal history and have them search it for themselves in the Joseph Smith Papers.

NOTE: Letter VII is far from the only problem with the Mesoamerican theory, but it is a fundamental document in Church history that every member of the Church today should be familiar with. Portions of Letter I are already included in the Pearl of Great Price, and in my opinion, portions of Letter VII should be added. It is that fundamental to understanding the Book of Mormon, not only its geography but the covenant and promises it contains. I doubt that will happen anytime soon, but now that the Joseph Smith Papers are available to anyone with Internet access, anyone can read Letter VII in Joseph's own history.

Short conference report

The conference was wonderful in every way. It sold out ahead of time, so I heard from a lot of people who were disappointed they couldn't attend, but the sessions, I'm told, were recorded and will be available later. As always, Rod Meldrum did an amazing job organizing and running the conference. The speakers were effective and conveyed information and insights that everyone in the Church should be aware of.

I don't have time to discuss each speaker, but I do want to mention the ongoing development of art depicting the Book of Mormon in the North American setting. This can do more to educate LDS and non-LDS than any number of articles and books because our society is so visually oriented. I hope people will resist the ongoing effort to imprint Mesomania on the minds of the people.

In a separate post, I'm going to discuss a few observations about Mesomania in response to my presentations.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Mesomania and the Conference

People are wondering about the new book, Mesomania. My publisher decided to release it at the conference next week, so you'll have to wait for that.


Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. I think you'll be happy with the cover we have. You'll enjoy the content even more, I hope!

There will be a lot of cool stuff at the conference. I've heard it's already sold out, so they're going to set up streaming access, if possible. I'll be out of town until Friday, so I'm speaking Friday and Saturday.

I hope to see lots of you there. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dialogue on Mormonism No. 3

In July 1841, the Times and Seasons (the Mormon newspaper in Nauvoo) published "Dialogue on Mormonism No. 1" (available here) and "Dialogue on Mormonism No. II" (available here). These are discussions of Mormonism in a question-and-answer format. They are fictional representations of a conversation between people investigating the Church. The second one adds a missionary to the conversation.

Although the Dialogues are a little dated, it is interesting to see how some of the themes and questions remain relevant today, 175 years later.

At the end of this post I'll reproduce the two Dialogues in full. First, though, I'm posting an updated Dialogue that represents what takes place regularly today.


Dialogue On Mormonism.
No 3 (2016)

Between Mr. Mathews & Mr. Roberts.

Mr. M. Good morning Mr. R.

Mr. R. You won't believe this, but I met with some of your Mormon missionaries last night.

Mr. M. Really?

Mr. R. My wife set it up without telling me. Some friend at her work invited us over.

Mr. M. What did you think?

Mr. R. My wife was impressed. Taking time out of college like that...

Mr. M. What about you?

Mr. R. I don't see the point. I mean, we're already Christian.

Mr. M. But this is another testament of Jesus Christ.

Mr. R.  I get that, but you can't compare the Bible to the Book of Mormon.

Mr. M. They both talk about Christ, just on different continents.

Mr. R. Look, I'll be honest with you. We had a nice time. The missionaries were sincere, I don't doubt that. But while they were talking, a million arguments came to mind. I didn't want to be rude, but I asked a simple question they couldn't answer. After that, I kind of tuned out.

Mr. M. What question?

Mr. R. They said Jesus visited the people after his resurrection. The Bible tells us exactly where Jesus showed himself to his disciples. That's kind of important. I just wanted to know where Jesus appeared to these other people, supposedly the other lost sheep.

Mr. M. What did they say?

Mr. R. They said they didn't know. Just somewhere in the Americas. They opened a copy of the Book of Mormon and showed me illustrations in the front. There was a guy standing on a huge stone wall that looked like a European castle. And then there's a painting of Jesus visiting people in Mayan ruins. I asked if they were saying Jesus appeared to the Mayans. They said they guessed so. Is that right? You guys think Jesus visited the Mayans?

Mr. M. I guess so. That's what I've always been taught. I don't know if it was Mayans or Incas or Aztecs, but somewhere in Central America.

Mr. R. But the missionaries first said Joseph Smith found the gold plates in New York.

Mr. M. That's right.

Mr. R. That makes no sense. On the way home, my wife asked what I thought. I told her it's a strange story. I mean, it would be cool if Jesus visited people around the world after he was resurrected, but just because it sounds good doesn't mean it happened. When we got home, we googled it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you Mormons have no idea where these people lived. You say there was a big civilization of people living the law of Moses, and they destroyed themselves in huge battles, but you have no idea where?

Mr. M. I don't know. I always assumed they lived in Central America somewhere.

Mr. R. That's what the missionaries said, too, but there are lots of Christian sites that say you've changed your mind. Not you, but your Church. First, these wars ended in New York. Now, they ended in Mexico. You just admitted you don't know, just like the missionaries didn't know. I don't see how you can expect me to believe something that you don't know yourself.

Mr. M. We believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God, so it doesn't really matter where it took place.We take it on faith.

Mr. R. My wife and I decided that we already have faith, based on a testament of Jesus that is reliable. We know where Jesus lived and where he died and was resurrected. Maybe he visited people in other places, like you say, but we can't change our entire lives just because you say so. We need evidence, at least as good as the Bible.

Mr. M. I'm sure there is evidence. There are lots of books about this. I can get some.

Mr. R. Have you read them?

Mr. M. Some of them, I think.

Mr. R. But you can't answer my question. That's exactly what the Christian sites said would happen. Joseph Smith and the witnesses said these people lived in New York and the Midwest, but now your scholars are saying Joseph Smith and the witnesses were wrong.

Mr. M. I don't think that's right. There is a lot of anti-Mormon stuff on the Internet.

Mr. R. Look, we've been friends a long time. I'm not anti-Mormon in any way and I don't want this to affect our friendship. I don't care what anyone believes so long as they are good people. But this isn't anti-Mormon propaganda. These are simple facts. I'm not trying to change your mind about your religion, but you ought to google this yourself. Just so you know what people like us find.

Mr. M. I appreciate that. I think I will. So are you going to see the missionaries again?

Mr. R. My wife is calling them today to cancel the next appointment.

Dialogue On Mormonism.
No 1 (1841)
Between Mr. Mathews & Mr. Roberts.

Mr. M. Good morning Mr. R. Did you go to hear the Mormon preach last evening?

Mr. R. No, indeed I did not, I think it below my notice to listen to those babblers.

Mr. M. Mr. R., do you call them babblers and think so meanly of them? I'm sure I heard nothing objectionable in the discourse last evening.

Mr. R. Why! have you not heard the reports which are in circulation respecting them?

Mr. M. Yes, I have heard a great many stories about this people, but some of them were so extravagant and carried their own refutation on the face of them, that I thought I would hear both sides of the question.

Mr. R. Well, for my part, I am astonished that any respectable person should give ear to them. Such imposters [impostors] should be discarded.

Mr. M. Probably, you may have been mis-informed, and have heard reports which have no foundation in truth. I think if you were properly informed on the subject, you would not feel so inimical to them. You know what the scriptures say "Prove all things and hold fast that which is good," and you know that public opinion is not always a proper standard for us to judge by, if it were so, our Savior would not have been crucified by the Jews, nor would the apostles have had to flee from one city to another, and be brought before magistrates and rulers.

Mr. R. Well, well Mr. M., that is good reasoning enough; but the idea of walking on the water, their pretensions of raising the dead, and other extravagant notions, are so absurd and ridiculous that I wonder any men of common sense should join them.

Mr. M. I have heard such stories, but when I talk with them on the subject, I find that they make no such pretensions, but speak very rationally, and I assure you they argue very logically on the scriptures.

Mr. R. Why! do you mean to say, that they believe any thing of our bible? Dont [Don't] you know that they have discarded our scriptures and have got a bible of their own?

Mr. M. Why sir, the preacher last evening confined himself exclusively to the scriptures of the old and new testament, and proved the doctrines he advanced from the same. I, afterwards, had some conversation with him, and made some enquiries [inquiries] respecting the Mormon bible as it is termed, and he very freely and candidly answered my enquires [inquiries], and said that the "Book of Mormon," was a record of the aborigines of this continent,
(page 456)

which had been preserved on plates, and handed down from generation to generation, until, on account of the wickedness of the people, they were hid up; and that Joseph Smith was informed by a heavenly messenger where those plates were-was instructed to obtain, and power was given him to translate them. I have not yet had time to examine the book, but I shall certainly read it, and then, afterwards, I shall judge; but they certainly beleive [believe] our bible Mr. R.

Mr. R. Mr. M., this is strange news. Why how can people get up such wonderful stories? There must be some foundation for them. Again, you know that the Rev. Mr. H. and other very worthy ministers, who are eminent for their piety and learning, speak hard things against them, and warn their people against receiving them into their houses, and not to countenance such redegadoes [renegades].

Mr. M. I am aware that this is the fact, and I am sorry that the preachers should have no better weapons to use than to publish the reports which they have done. If Mormonism is a deception why do they not argue the subject like men and christians? If the doctrines they teach are so monstrous, why do not the ministers of the different denominations, expose them and prove them so from the scripture? Such a course would be far more honorable than retailing slanderous reports.

Mr. R. But do the Mormons wish to have their religion investigated? Do they not assume a high dictatorial bearing, and refuse to answer any questions; but say, that if reason and scripture come in contact with their doctrines, they do not care, but assert, that they know that there doctrines are true?

Mr. M. Such have been the reports; but when the preacher had got through his discourse last evening, he said, that inasmuch as there were many reports in circulation respecting their church, and the doctrines they advanced, he would give an opportunity for any one to ask any questions on the subject, and, if any one had any objections to urge against the doctrines he had advanced, they were at liberty to do so.

Mr. R. Did any one make any objections?

Mr. M. No sir. The doctrines he advanced were elucidated with so much clearness, and proof upon every point he advanced was so abundant, that I saw no possibility of making any. Some questions were asked respecting the book of Mormon which were answered very satisfactory, and then the meeting separated. I remained some time longer and conversed with him on the various subjects he had advanced and found him very communicative indeed, and seemed to take considerable pleasure in giving information respecting their faith and doctrine. I wish you had been there Mr. M. [R ?] I think you would have a better opinion of these people if you could once hear them preach.

Mr. R. I probably might, but I do not think I should. I can never have a great opinion of any people who will condemn the whole world, and say "The temple of the Lord are we, and heathens all beside."-No, Mr. M. they cannot catch old birds with chaff. I should be sorry to indulge in prejudice against any sect; neither would I persecute any man for his religious opinion. But, really Mr. M., this Mormon doctrine is monstrous.

Mr. M. I have ever considered you a liberal minded person, and I really do think, that if you were to hear them preach once, you would think differently of them to what you do now; or, if you were to converse with them on the subject. I invited the preacher to come and spend the afternoon at my house, to converse with him more fully on these subjects; I should be very much pleased indeed, if you and Mrs. R., could make it convenient to come over, and chat with us awhile. I believe you will find the preacher a gentleman, very affable; and probably we may both hear some thing that may tend to our benefit.

Mr. R. I am obliged to you for your kind invitation and good feelings, probably I shall comply with your request; I shall go home and see if it will be convenient for Mrs. R. to accompany me.-However there is one privilege I wish to have, and that is, if I find the preacher garbling the scriptures, or advancing any erroneous notions, I want to expose him fully and treat him as he may deserve.

Mr. M. I am not afraid of your overstepping the bounds of a gentleman.-Good morning Mr. R.

Mr. R. Good morning.


Dialogue on Mormonism. II (1841)
Book of Mormon.
Between Mr. Mathews, Mr. Roberts, and Elder Pierce.

Mr. M. I am glad to see you and Mrs. R., I was ready to think that you were not coming this evening.

Mr. R. Indeed Mr. M. I must say, I felt no very great desire to come, but as I had given you reasons to expect my company, I thought you would think me too much predjudiced [prejudiced] against your favorite doctrine of Mormonism, if I staid [stayed] away. It was not so with Mrs. R. she no sooner heard of a Mormon preacher being at your house, than she made every preparation to come. You are aware that women are somewhat curious.

Mr. M. I am aware that is their prevailing characteristic; indeed I think we all ought to have curiosity enough to induce us to listen to truth. Elder P. had just commenced to give me an account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, I suppose you are curious enough Mr. R. to listen to his statement.

Mr. R. This was the object of our visit. I shall be pleased to hear Elder P. proceed.

Elder P. The subject I was speaking upon was the much abused Book of Mormon, or as it is termed, by way of ridicule, the Mormon bible. Their being many foolish and extravagant stories afloat respecting it, I always deem it important to correct the public mind on this subject, before I proceed to any other item of doctrine in our religion. One impression that has gone abroad, is, that we put it in the stead of the Bible, the scriptures of the old and new testament. I presume you have heard it represented so.

Mr. R. Certainly I have, by several individuals, and I must say that I felt surprized [surprised] when Mr. M. told me this morning that such was not the case.

Mr. M. This has been the received opinion of this neighborhood, and is yet by some, for when I told Deacon Jones last evening that it was an erroneous idea we had imbibed, he plainly told me he knew better, and would not listen to any argument on the subject.

Elder P. Well gentlemen, I will endeavor to inform you what the Book of Mormon purports to be and then you can judge for yourselves. The Book of Mormon is a record of the aborigines of this continent, (America,) which was engraven on plates of precious metal, and handed down from father to son, from generation to generation. It gives an account of the first settlement of this land by the seed of Israel in the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, some time before the Babylonish captivity. While in Jerusalem
(page 472)

during the decline of the Jewish polity, the Lord appeared to a man of the name of Lehi, and commanded him to take his family and journey into the wilderness, and also informed him of the destructions which should come upon the Jewish nation. Lehi obedient to the heavenly command, took his household and journeyed in the wilderness for some considerable time, subject to hunger and many privations, till at length they came to the borders of the sea, where they were instructed to build them a ship, and launch forth upon the mighty ocean. Having got every thing prepared, they did so, and were carried forward upon the waters for a long time, until, at length they arrived on this western continent: and after returning thanks to the Almighty for his protection and great deliverance, they engaged in cultivating the soil, and were prospered exceedingly upon the land and became very numerous indeed.

Mr. M. You will observe by this account Mr. R. that this people who landed here were Jews, this you know agrees with the idea, which many learned men have had, that the Indians are descendants of the Jews.

Mr. R. I am aware that this idea is generally entertained among the learned.

Mr. M. Pardon this interruption Elder P.

Elder P. I shall be pleased for you to make any remarks or ask any questions on any subject as I go along.
After their settlement here, part of the family being righteous, and part wicked and rebellious, they had considerable difficulty and strife, until at length the Lamanites, the wicked portion of the family, were smitten with a skin of blackness and became an idle and filthy people.
It also gives an account of their wars-the reign of their Kings and Judges-the prophesies of righteous and holy men who were among them, several of which have been fulfilled since the records have been found-their skill in architecture-their faith and knowledge of the truths of the gospel-the rending of the rocks on this land at the crucifixion of Jesus-and then gives a very interesting account of our Savior's appearing to the people on this continent after his resurrection at Jerusalem, agreeable to the saying of his, "I have other sheep which are not of this fold, them also, must I bring in"-his teachings to the people-his choosing apostles and establishing his kingdom after the same pattern he did on the old continent.

Mr. R. This is certainly new to me, but there is one very serious objection in the way, which I must have removed before I can believe the Book; and that is, if Christ established his church and kingdom on this continent how happens it that the Indians have no tradition of the fact, and are altogether unacquainted with the gospel?

Elder P. It is a question which naturally arises; and I think I shall, before I get through, be able to satisfy you why it is so. After Christ had established his church and sent forth his servants to proclaim the gospel, great success attended their labors, and the greater part of the people became obedient to the faith; true and undefiled religion flourished, and every blessing followed in its train. However, after sometime had elapsed, their began to be schisms in the church; predjudice [prejudice] and its attendant train of evils crept into their midst, until, finally, they began to fight one against the other-the Lamanites against the Nephites, until the Nephites were utterly destroyed from off of the face of the land-the last man remaining was Moroni, in whose possession were the sacred records which had been handed down to him, and which he was commandeed [commanded] to hide up unto the Lord, in consequence of the wickedness of the Lamanite, who had not only derided the name of Christ, but sought the lives of all such as proffessed [professed] christianity. Consequently they were given up to a wicked and rebellious heart, and became willing instruments in the hands of Satan, and continued to wander in darkness, ignorance and superstition, until the present time, the degenerate and fallen sons of noble and worthy sires.

Mr. M. I have always thought that there had been a more enlightened people on this continent, than the present Indians. The remains of ancient buildings, monuments &c., are evident proofs on this point

Mr. R. There can be no doubt on this subject. In the recent researches in Central America, the ruins of very large and splendid buildings have been found, but it does not necessarily follow that the Book of Mormon is true.

Elder P. By no means, but you will undoubtedly admit that it is circumstancial [circumstantial]
(page 473)

evidence in its favor. Another thing I would observe is, that there is no correct account given of their descent, or their history-the world has been shrouded in darkness on these matters; but the Book of Mormon like the rising sun, eradiates the gloom, throws a flood of light on the history and proceedings of this people, and brings to light things which have been hid from generation to generation-contain many predictions respecting their restoration to righteousness, and again becoming a 'fair and delightsome people.' I cannot better express my ideas on this point than in the language of the hymn, which has been composed by one of our preachers, and which we sung a short time before you came. I will endeavor to repeat it.

Mr. M. No, Elder P., pray sing it again. I am sure Mr. and Mrs. R., will be pleased to hear it, the tune and hymn are beautiful.

Mr. M. We will do our best.

O stop and tell m [me] Red Man, And long they've lived by hunting,
Who are ye? why you roam? Instead of work and arts,
And how you get your living? And so our race has dwindled
Have you no God;-no home? To idle Indian hearts.
With stature straight and portly, Yet hope within us lingers,
And decked in native pride, As if the Spirit spoke:-
With feathers, paints, and broaches, He'll come for your redemption,
He willingly replied:- And break your Gentile yoke:
"I once was pleasant Ephraim, And all your captive brothers,
When Jacob for me pray'd; From every clime shall come,
But oh! how blessings vanish, And quit their savage customs,
When man from God has stray'd! To live with God at home.
Before your nation knew us, Then Joy will fill our bosoms,
Some thousand moons ago, And blessings crown our days,
Our fathers fell in darkness, To live in pure religion,
And wander'd to and fro. And sing our Maker's praise."

To be continued.

[Note: the hymn, written by W.W. Phelps, was included in the first Mormon hymnal, compiled by Emma Smith with Phelps' assistance. The hymn survived through the 1927 hymnbook, but was dropped from the 1948 hymnal. These Dialogues were never continued. Dialogue No. II was reprinted in the Millennial Star, October 1841. Both Dialogues are anonymous, but as I've shown elsewhere, I think they were written by Benjamin Winchester.]

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Follow-up on post about LDS scholars

Thanks to everyone who made my post about LDS scholars so widely viewed. As a follow-up, I want to give a specific example, which I'll get to in a moment.

People ask me what I think about critics, of which there are plenty. I welcome criticism. And I really like and respect the LDS scholars who focus on these issues. I've never claimed to be "right" about any of this and I would engage much more in offline discussions if other people were willing (but they're not). On these blogs, in the books, and in upcoming venues, I'm just expressing my opinions and pointing out facts from Church history that, in my view, have been overlooked.

There is tremendous scholarly inertia to maintain the status quo regarding long-held assumptions about Church history, such as Joseph Smith's editorship of the Times and Seasons. There is also tremendous inertia to maintain the status quo regarding the depiction of Mesoamerican themes in Church media--and in the Book of Mormon itself, as I noted here..

(The other day I verified at the Distribution Center that all the foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon contain the Arnold Friberg paintings I blogged about recently. So, before they read a single verse in the text, Russian, Chinese, Thai, and Nigerian investigators are all being told that Samuel the Lamanite warned a city of Mayans, that Christ appeared among Mayan ruins, and that the waters of Mormon were located deep in a Mesoamerican jungle. And, if they get into it, the hill in New York is merely the place where Moroni buried the plates, but it's not really the Hill Cumorah. I have more posts about this topic scheduled for later in September. It's fundamentally unbelievable that this is still going on. If the investigators read the text, they soon find out there are no jungles, no huge mountains, not pyramids--not even a single stone building. It's not wonder they are confused by the two-Cumorah theory--as are most members of the Church at this point, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.)

There has also been a long-held aversion to Letter VII; the letter has been completely ignored by the scholarly community as far as I can tell.

I find that strange, particularly since it was ubiquitous when Joseph was alive and accepted by all of his associates for as long as they lived. It was implicit in everything written about the topic, including Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes. Really, there should be no confusion or even debate about the location of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

Of course, even with the pin in the map of Cumorah, there can be many different interpretations of the geography question, as Church leaders have pointed out. These can range from an area limited to the State of New York to an area as large as the western hemisphere, from Chile to northern Canada, and everything in between.

Actually, if we're proceeding on the premise, widely held by LDS scholars today, that Joseph Smith had no idea about Book of Mormon geography, then I don't know of a principled reason why we confine the possible geography to the Western Hemisphere. It might as well be in Eritrea or Sri Lanka if Joseph had no idea.

The widely quoted statement that Moroni told Joseph the plates contained a history of the "former inhabitants of this continent" comes from the 1838 history. By then, the "this continent" language had been widely used. LDS scholars who insist Joseph merely adopted Mormon folklore about Cumorah in New York must acknowledge he could have adopted that same folklore from Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps.

Besides, the earliest detailed version of what Moroni told Joseph was from Oliver's Letter IV, which has Moroni telling Joseph that the record "gave a history of the aborigines of this country," not "this continent." Plus, Moroni told Joseph that the record was "written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home. To say the least, that seems to contradict the idea that it was written 3,400 miles away somewhere in Southern Mexico and then deposited near Joseph's home.

BTW, it seems likely to me that while Moroni told Joseph "this country," Cowdery, Phelps, and Joseph himself said "this continent" because the terms were interchangeable and they realized the country was expanding. Arkansas and Michigan were added as states between the time of Moroni's visit and the 1838 history. Iowa became part of the Wisconsin Territory, etc. There has been endless debate about what a "continent" was. Some scholars even argue about what a "country" was. To me, it's improbable that Moroni was referring to Central and/or South America when he told Joseph that the record was a history of the aborigines of this country, but obviously others disagree.

As you know if you've been following this blog, I'm not writing about Letter VII here. I have a dedicated blog for that:

I think every member of the Church should read Letter VII. I hope they do, sooner or later. Certainly every missionary should read it. It's the best answer we have right now for investigators who want some sense that the Book of Mormon is an authentic history.

Now for the follow-up example. Some time ago, a charter member of the Council of Springville wrote a long, detailed critique of Moroni's America. I haven't had a chance to read it until today. He posted it on the BMAF site.* Normally I take a look at such criticisms to see if they have anything to offer. (My favorite one so far was titled "The Treason of the Geographers," a title I liked so well I borrowed it for a chapter in the Mesomania book.) Sometimes the critics make good points that I incorporate. Sometimes they give me ideas for new areas of research that generate lots of material.

But other times, they misrepresent what I've written and revisit long-held interpretations of the text that have become catechisms for some people. In those cases, I usually ignore the material in the interest of time (life is short) and in recognition of the futility of trying to open closed minds. This one was a perfect example. I figure people who seek confirmation of their biases will find it. If it wasn't for confirmation bias, the Interpreter wouldn't exist, for example. Nevertheless, I took the time to comment on the BMAF article.

Lately I've agreed not to name names, so I'm not going to do that here. Probably most of you don't care about the critics anyway. But for those who are interested, you can read my comments here.

*(BMAF is a "division" of Book of Mormon Central. BMAF nominally stands for Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, but it's really a club for Mesoamerican proponents, so I think of it as Basically Mesoamerican Archaeology Friends. It makes sense that it's a division of Book of Mormon Central; that web page is merely a front for Ancient America Foundation, another Mesoamerican club. So BMAF is equivalent to BOMC which is equivalent to AAF. It's all one big club for Mesoamerican proponents, except now they have a lot of money to promote their theory, which they do on a daily basis.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Error in Joseph Smith Papers

On my Letter VII blog, I noted that you can read Letter VII in the hard copy of Histories, Volume 1, published by the Joseph Smith Papers. Then I added this comment about that volume.

When you read this, you can see how pervasive the Mesoamerican theory has become.


Error in Joseph Smith Papers

Histories Volume 1 also contains what I consider one of the most serious errors in the Joseph Smith Papers. It's actually a disastrous error, in my opinion. I've blogged about it before.

On p. 519, the Historical Introduction to Orson Pratt's pamphlet titled A Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions includes this comment:

"In his description of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt superimposed his understanding of Book of Mormon geography onto the Western Hemisphere by placing the Nephites in South America and the Jaredites in North America. Pratt’s association of Book of Mormon peoples with the history of all of North and South America matched common understanding of early Latter-day Saints. Shortly thereafter, when John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan became available in Nauvoo in about 1842, JS greeted it enthusiastically and church members used it to map Book of Mormon sites in a Central American setting.6"

Note 6 says:

John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841); see also “Facts Are Stubborn Things,”Times and Seasons, 15 Sept. 1842, 3:921–922; “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 3:927–928; JS, Nauvoo, IL, to John Bernhisel, New York City, NY, 16 Nov. 1841, JS Collection, CHL; and Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, chaps. 4–5.  

Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
Smith, Joseph. Collection, 1827–1846. CHL. MS 155.
Givens, Terryl L. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Think about this a minute. 

Orson Pratt's pamphlet was important because, as the Joseph Smith Papers volume points out, it was a source for the Wentworth letter, including the Articles of Faith. I've done a side-by-side comparison so anyone can see how the Wentworth letter compares with Pratt's pamphlet. One of the most important comparisons involves Book of Mormon geography.

You can read the Wentworth letter in its original form here. Remember, you can't read the entire letter in the Church manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, because the curriculum committed edited out Joseph's comments about the geography question, which I'll mention below.

I'm going to repeat the comment and note and insert my comments in red.

"In his description of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt superimposed his understanding of Book of Mormon geography onto the Western Hemisphere by placing the Nephites in South America and the Jaredites in North America. [Pratt wrote several pages of comments on this topic, claiming among other things that Lehi "landed upon the western coast of South America" and that "in process of time, the Nephites began to build ships near the Isthmus of Darien, and launch them forth into the western ocean, in which great numbers sailed a great distance to the northward, and began to colonize North America." As the Joseph Smith Papers comments explain, Pratt's pamphlet was apparently a source for the Wentworth letter. But instead of copying or adapting Orson Pratt's imaginary account of Book of Mormon geography, Joseph Smith replaced it with the simple statement that "The principal nation of the second race fell in battle to wards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." These are the sentences that the Curriculum Committee edited out of the manual. People ask me why. Of course, I have no idea, but I infer that they didn't want teachers taking time to explain how that statement can be rationalized with a Mesoamerican setting. It obviously cannot be reconciled; the statement is consistent with D&C 28, 30 and 32, which also specifically identify the Lamanites as the Indians living in the United States. The significance of this is that Joseph corrected Orson Pratt, but none of the scholars seem to care about that. Actually, apathy would be an improvement over the Curriculum Committee editing it out, especially when Joseph made the point at the beginning of the Wentworth letter that "all  that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished,  and without misrepresentation." Joseph didn't need to be concerned about Mr. Wentworth; he should have been concerned about the Curriculum Committee.] 

Pratt’s association of Book of Mormon peoples with the history of all of North and South America matched common understanding of early Latter-day Saints. [That should read, "early Latter-day Saints besides Joseph Smith. There is not a single reference to a hemispheric model that can be directly linked to Joseph. In fact, everything that can be directly linked to Joseph refers exclusively to a North American setting. The only location that early Latter-day Saints--including Joseph Smith--agreed upon was that the Hill Cumorah was in New York. Compare that to the current situation, when those of us who support the New York setting are rejected and ridiculed by LDS scholars.] 

Shortly thereafter, when John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan became available in Nauvoo in about 1842, JS greeted it enthusiastically and church members used it to map Book of Mormon sites in a Central American setting.6" [This one is the most difficult to justify. Note 6 below gives the usual suspects as authority for the statement. The anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, as even Terryl Givens points out, cannot be directly tied to Joseph Smith. As I've proposed elsewhere, William Smith was the acting editor of the Times and Seasons when those articles were published, and Benjamin Winchester is by far the most likely author, with editorial input from William and/or W.W. Phelps. The note also cites the Bernhisel letter, which I've shown was almost certainly written by Wilford Woodruff, the only person we know of who actually read the Stephens books before these articles were published in the Times and Seasons. This concept that Joseph "enthusiastically" greeted the Stephens books flies in the face of the Wentworth letter, which as I just pointed out, deleted Orson Pratt's hemispheric model and reaffirmed the North American setting by specifying that Lehi's descendants were the Indians living in this country; i.e., the United States. The "enthusiastically" characterization is derived from a particular uncited paper, but I won't identify that paper here.]

Note 6 says:

John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841); see also “Facts Are Stubborn Things,”Times and Seasons, 15 Sept. 1842, 3:921–922 [an anonymous article]; “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 3:927–928 [an anonymous article]; JS, Nauvoo, IL, to John Bernhisel, New York City, NY, 16 Nov. 1841, JS Collection, CHL [Although the brief thank-you note was written on behalf of Joseph Smith, o one knows whose handwriting this letter is in. What we do know is Wilford Woodruff received the books from Dr. Bernhisel in New York, read them on his way to Nauvoo, and commented about them in his journal. He never mentions giving them to Joseph, but a few days after seeing Joseph for the first time, he mentions in his journal that he wrote a letter to Bernhisel. He had no reason to write to Bernhisel other than on behalf of Joseph Smith. Woodruff's letter is not extant--unless it's the one now attributed to Joseph. I go into much more detail about this in a chapter in one of my books]; and Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, chaps. 4–5.  [Givens is apparently a staunch supporter of the Mesoamerican theory. He wrote the Foreword to John Sorenson's book Mormon's Codex, the widely admired and most extensive book about the Mesoamerican setting to date. In By the Hand of Mormon, p. 100, Givens writes of the Stephens books, "This book [sic] was the major catalyst that moved Joseph Smith and others to consider Mesoamerica as the seat of Book of Mormon civilization." He also writes that the Book of Mormon "was not a history of the North American Indians then extant," completely contradicting what Joseph Smith told those Indians on multiple occasions (not to mention the Wentworth letter). Givens continues: "Joseph was quick to see how the Book of Mormon had arrived on the scene of this mystery [origins of Mayans as identified by Stephens] with impeccable timing. Responding immediately to the Stephens account, Joseph wrote back to Berhnisel, thanking him for the 'kind present' and ecstatically declaring that it 'corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon." To conclude from this brief thank-you note that Joseph was "ecstatic" about Meosamerica is a stretch, at best. Givens proceeds to discuss the anonymous Times and Seasons articles based on the traditional inference that Joseph was acting as editor and wrote or approved of these articles. As I've written before, these are not irrational inferences; they just aren't reasonable inferences in light of all the facts we have now. So as of the time the Joseph Smith Papers published Histories, Volume 1, this was probably the best anyone could do. It's only a question of whether the online material will be corrected, or at least more completely explained, and whether the books will eventually be corrected.]

Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
Smith, Joseph. Collection, 1827–1846. CHL. MS 155.
Givens, Terryl L. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

You can see this same comment and note in the online version here. Look under the Historical Introduction, third paragraph, including note 6.

Feel free to send in a comment to the Joseph Smith Papers. I already have, but I don't think they're listening to me.