Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book of Mormon Central

Yesterday I attended an open house for Book of Mormon Central (http://bookofmormoncentral.org/). I am enthusiastic about this new initiative and warmly congratulate everyone involved with it. I encourage everyone to take a look when it launches on January 1, 2016.

This could do for Book of Mormon studies what the Joseph Smith papers have done for LDS historical studies.

I've also been assured that the site is following the Church policy of neutrality on geography issues, which is encouraging. Book of Mormon Central has the potential to lead to greater unity among all those who love the scriptures.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Horses = tapirs

I can't believe this still comes up, but it does. Mesoamericanists continue to try to persuade people that Joseph Smith translated the Nephite word for "tapir" as "horse."

Let's try this.

The 1828 Webster's dictionary gives an idea of what people understood English words to mean in the time frame of the Book of Mormon translation.

Horse: 1. A species of quadrupeds of the genus Equus, having six erect and parallel fore-teeth in the upper jaw, and six somewhat prominent in the under jaw; the dog teeth are solitary, and the feet consist of an undivided hoof. The horse is a beautiful animal, and of great use for draught or conveyance on his back. horse in English, is of common gender, and may comprehend the male and female.

Tapir: noun A quadruped of S. America, about 6 feet long and 3 l/2 high, resembling a hog in shape, with a short movable proboscis. It frequents the water, like the hippopotamus.

So Joseph supposedly got these two animals mixed up, if you believe the Mesoamericanists. Why do they keep insisting on this?

Because all the actual horses were in North America. In Mesoamerica, archaeologists have found horse teeth mixed with ceramics and other collectibles. IOW, in Mesoamerica, horse teeth were rare and therefore valuable. In North America, they were as common as the teeth of any other animal.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

90:9:1 - the odd ratio that technology keeps creating

Charles Arthur has a piece in the Guardian titled "90:9:1 - the odd ratio that technology keeps creating" (and it's not capitalized in the original, either).

He makes this point: "What do operating systems, browsers and search engines all have in common? It seems to be a ratio of 90:9:1 between the key players. One player dominates; then others get a minimal share.... The more you look for it in networked environments, the more frequently some sort of 90:9:1 ratio seems to emerge once the market matures....Notably, all of these products are part of the networked world, and each is a mutually-exclusive activity – that is, you can only use one at a time. Nobody (to a good enough measure) buys or uses two smartphones for themselves at once. Hardly anyone uses two desktop OSs. You can only do a search on one search engine at a time. You only use one browser at a time."

[At the end of this post, I've shown the specific examples Arthur cited.]

_________________________

I think we're seeing the same 90:9:1 ratio with Book of Mormon geography theories. Each proposed geography is a mutually-exclusive activity. If you accept a Baja or Malaysian geography, you can't accept a Mesoamerican or Heartland geography.

Arthur also points out that these percentages change over time.



In the early days of the Church, probably 90+ percent accepted a hemispheric model that covered all of North and South America. For a brief period, people considered Central America, thanks to the ridiculous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons. However, that didn't last long; by 1879, the hemispheric model was on full display in the footnotes in the official editions of the Book of Mormon itself.

Then in 1920, those footnotes were dropped. A renewed focus on Central America surfaced, and the Mesoamerican limited geography reached its 90% level in the 1980s when the Ensign itself published Brother Sorenson's articles. In 2005 the Library of Congress symposium on the Worlds of Joseph Smith displayed the 1842 articles and linked them directly to the Book of Mormon. There were still alternatives, such as North American proposals (for Dan Peterson, this means north of the Rio Grande) and the 1% ideas such as Chile, Malaysia, etc.

By now, though, in 2015, more and more people recognize the 1842 articles for what they always were: speculation by W.W. Phelps, Benjamin Winchester, and William Smith. Without the artificial premise those articles offered, there was no reason to look in Mesoamerica in the first place. All the rationalizations that Meaoamericanists came up with--north means west, horses are tapirs, seas are mythological, narrow necks are 100 miles wide--are seen for what they always were; i.e., efforts to force the text to comply with what they thought was the "correct" setting.*

Instead, people are taking another look at the text, at Joseph's own statements, and at the geology, geography, anthropology, and archaeology, all of which show that the Book of Mormon took place in North America.

So, just as Android has become the 90% player in Mobile OS, the North American setting is replacing the Mesoamerican setting as the dominant theory for Book of Mormon geography.

The Mesoamerican theory will hang around for a while, no doubt, as the 9% player. The Baja, Malaysia, Chile, and other theories will hang around as 1% players. But most people will accept the North American setting.

*(I realize there are a few Mesoamerican theories that try to avoid those rationalizations, but they still rely on the faulty premise of the 1842 articles and they still reject the NY Cumorah, etc.).
_______________________________

Examples:
MOBILE OS
Android - 85%
Apple iOS - 14%
Windows - 1%

DESKTOPS
Windows - 91%
Mac OSX - 8%
Linux, etc. - 1%

SEARCH (desktop in Europe)
Google - 90%
Bing - 7.3%
Yahoo - 3.5%

SEARCH (mobile in Europe)
Google - 94%
Yahoo - 3%
Bing - 2%

ONLINE PARTICIPATION
Consumers - 90%
Commentators - 9%
Originators - 1%

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Head of Sidon still?

People are still asking me about the head of Sidon. The Sorenson translation--he always writes "headwaters" instead of "head" when he refers to this--seems to have replaced Joseph Smith's translation in the minds of many.

So okay. Let's set aside the Joseph Smith translation. Let's say, for sake of argument, that the "head of Sidon" is the same as "headwaters of Sidon." Now let's look at how the term was used in Joseph's Smith's day.

In the Zarahemla book, p. 273 (2nd Ed.) I pointed out that:

"Even “headwaters” does not always mean the source of a river. In 1842, Jesse W. Crosby kept a journal about his missionary journey from Nauvoo to Michigan. “I set off on a northeasterly course towards Michigan, crossing the headwaters of the Illinois at Ottawa, thence up the Knakakee River.” The Illinois River extends another 30 miles east of Ottawa, so what was Crosby referring to? The Fox River joins the Illinois River at Ottawa. To Crosby, “headwaters” meant a confluence."

I used to live along the Fox River in Illinois. It's not a major river, but it is notable and there are several towns along the river (as in most of the Midwest, people settled along the rivers, just as they did in Book of Mormon times).

Here's a map showing the "headwaters" vs. the "source" of the Illinois River.




Next, let's see how Oliver Cowdery used the term.

In his Letter VIII, Oliver Cowdery wrote "This gentleman, whose name is Stowel, resided in the town of Bainbridge, on or near the head waters of the Susquehannah river. Some forty miles south, or down the river, in the town of Harmony, Susquehannah county, Pa...." I quoted letter VIII previously here: http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2015/08/oliver-cowdery-and-stone-box.html



Bainbridge, NY, is at least 40 miles from Cooperstown, the location of the source of the Susquehannah River. (South Bainbridge, today known as Afton, was where Stowell lived, and it is another 5 miles downriver.

Did Oliver not know the source of the river was nowhere near Bainbridge? Of course he did. Then why did he say Stowel resided "on or near" the head waters in Bainbridge?

You can see from the map that tributaries flow into the river at or near Afton. Oliver used the term "head waters" the same way Jesse Crosby did.

Some say "headwaters" may refer to a crossing or bridge. That definition also makes sense in the Book of Mormon. One thing for sure is when Oliver wrote "head waters" he did not mean the source of the river.

These are two actual uses of the term head waters, contemporaneous with Joseph Smith, that don't mean the source. The fact that Oliver Cowdery of all people used the term to mean a confluence should be enough to settle the matter, but I suppose this debate will never be settled until Moroni sets us straight.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Comparison chart

Here's a summary of the positions of the two most prominent geography models. Obviously it's simplified--that's why it's a summary--but I think it's a fair reflection of the positions taken by the respective authors/advocates.

Take your pick.

Authorities
Mesoamerica
Heartland
Relies on BoM text for abstract map of geography
Yes
Yes
Fits BoM text to real-world geography
Yes
Yes
Accepts entire text literally
 - Cardinal directions (N,S,E,W)
 - Animals and plants
 - Surrounded by water
 - Four seas
 - 3 Nephi change face of land
 - Law of Moses

No
No
No
No
No
No

Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Relies on Times and Seasons articles about Stephens
Yes
No
Accepts D&C on Lamanites
No
Yes
Accepts D&C on Cumorah
No
Yes
Accepts D&C on Zarahemla
No
Yes
Accepts Oliver Cowdery on Cumorah in New York
No
Yes
Accepts David Whitmer on Cumorah in New York
No
Yes
Accepts Joseph Smith on Cumorah in New York
No
Yes
Accepts Joseph Smith on mounds in Midwest as evidence of BoM people
No
Yes
Accepts Joseph Smith in Wentworth letter that Lamanites are Indians living in “this country” meaning United States
No
Yes
Accepts archaeology
Yes
Yes
Accepts DNA evidence
No
Yes
Promised land is Mexico/Guatemala
Yes
No
Promised land is US/Canada
No
Yes

Monday, December 7, 2015

#1 on Amazon

Readers of this blog might be interested to know that Moroni's America has been #1 on Amazon under Mormonism already and it hasn't been officially released yet.



FYI, the $9.99 price was for advance review copies and will expire Tuesday, Dec 8. 

One year

It has been a year since I started investigating Church history to try to figure out who wrote the infamous 1842 Times and Seasons articles. I had never heard of Benjamin Winchester before. It soon became apparent that he played an important but little understood role in Church history. He contributed material to the Times and Seasons in his own name, in a pseudonymous name, and anonymously. He, along with W.W. Phelps and William Smith, was responsible for the 1842 Central America articles that misled Book of Mormon researchers for so long.

In September I was interested to see Benjamin's name on the monument to the 8 witnesses in Missouri. At the end of Zion's Camp, Benjamin, along with Wilford Woodruff and others, worked making bricks to earn money to help the Saints in Missouri. Here's a photo from the dedication of the site:  http://mormonhistoricsites.org/monument-to-the-eight-witnesses-liberty-missouri/

Here's a good article about the dedication:
http://www.ldschurchnewsarchive.com/articles/61762/Eight-Witnesses-memorialized-by-new-monument.html

All-in-all, it has been a fascinating year. We now know that Joseph Smith had nothing to do with those Times and Seasons articles. In fact, there is not a single document that can be directly linked to Joseph Smith that even mentions Central America. Joseph was consistent his entire life in his statements about the Book of Mormon in North America (not Central America).

In addition, it has become apparent that the text of the Book of Mormon describes the setting in North America quite effectively.

In the last year, we've published these books:

The Lost City of Zarahemla (2 editions)
Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah
Brought to Light
Moroni's America

We have another book on these topics coming out in early 2016.

Thanks to all for your support and interest.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Why you can't convince your uncle...

Among the many articles about political arguments over Thanksgiving dinner, the Washington Post published one that reminded me of the Book of Mormon wars. I'll post some excerpts and then comment.

Why you can’t convince your uncle he’s wrong about politics


"We all think of ourselves as being these rational people. We hear evidence, and we process it," said Peter Ditto, professor of social psychology at University of California at Irvine, when we spoke by phone this week. "What's clear from decades of social psychological research is that people's emotions get involved in their reasoning, their motivations, their intuitions. Those shape and bias the way we process information."

"It's not that people believe anything they want to believe. People still think and need rationale," Ditto said. "But the things that we feel change what we count as evidence."
You're probably familiar with the concept of "motivated reasoning." That term refers to the tendency of people to rationalize on behalf of outcomes they want to see. Maybe you're thinking about making a leftover sandwich from your Thanksgiving turkey but are on a diet. If you don't eat the turkey, it will spoil, you might think, offering a reason to do what you want despite any number of arguments that could be made contrary to that impulse.
Ditto talks about something similar — motivated skepticism.
"People tend to be a lot more skeptical of information they don't want to believe than information they do want to believe," he said. "People tend to just sort of scoop up information they want to believe and uncritically analyze it," Ditto said, "and then are much more skeptical and allocate their skepticism in a biased way."
That compounds over time, so that people compile evidence that supports their view and critically dismiss that which doesn't, so that the evidence on their side eventually seems overwhelming.
Those of us who write about politics with some regularity will notice a multiplier effect: emotion.
That overlap doesn't surprise Ditto. "The more passionate people are, the more morally convinced they are about the issue, the more they care about that in various other ways, the more biased they're likely to be," he said.
But there's no indication from his research that conservatives or liberals are more likely to use bias in selecting evidence. He's been conducting meta-analysis on past studies looking at this issue. "Both sides show a clear bias," he said, "They're more likely to accept the same information as valid if it supports their political views than if it doesn't, and the magnitude of that effect is exactly the same" between political sides.
The end result is that data or evidence is often a bad way to try to convince someone of an argument (which is precisely why, despite your being armed with a surfeit of how-to guides to change your family's politics over the holidays, you didn't actually change anyone's mind).
____________________
I've noticed similar things happening in the Book of Mormon wars. Many of the Mesoamericanists I've discussed the issues with exhibit powerful motivated skepticism.
I've mentioned before that for 40 years, I accepted the Mesoamerican theory. Why did I? Mainly because it was the "consensus." All the scholars I respected--Sorenson, Welch, Peterson, Magleby, Clark, and the others--were relatively united about Mesoamerica. It was only the anti-Mormons who criticized the theory, I thought. Basically, I deferred to these scholars. I read their books and articles uncritically, enthusiastically, even. I, too, was guilty of motivated skepticism of theories that contradicted the Mesoamerican consensus.
But then FARMS started going haywire with its snarky, cynical articles. I won't name the authors--they're widely known--but the dissolution of FARMS was long overdue. I started taking a look at the body of work and soon realized how shoddy much of it was. It was pure bias-confirmation. Motivated reasoning. So I took an independent look at the whole thing, from Church history to textual geography passages, and reached the conclusion that the Mesoamerican models--all of them--are simply wrong.
They're not even close. Not even rational.
Which gets back to this article on convincing your uncle.
It has become apparent to me that the Mesoamericanists are like the liberal/conservative uncle who "compile evidence that supports their view and critically dismiss that which doesn't, so that the evidence on their side eventually seems overwhelming." 
It's so obvious to me now that I find it humorous to read the Mesoamerican materials I once found persuasive. All the paper and electrons wasted on discussing which of two rivers in Mesoamerica are the "real" Sidon. The conferences and debates about the width of the "narrow neck" without even considering the fundamental premise that it "must" be somewhere in Mesoamerica. The infiltration of Church curriculum and visitors centers. All of this and more is like the old Chinese Communist Party, when Chairman Mao was a lunatic but no one dared question his crazy plans because his ideas just had to be right.
Well, the Chinese finally came to grips with reality and jettisoned Mao's insane economic policies. 
I'm still hoping the LDS scholars who have propped up the Meosamerican theory for so long will also come to grips with reality. A few have, and I trust more will. 
But surely there will still be some uncles out there, refusing to consider facts that contradict their cherished theories that they've invested so much time and energy into. 
The question is, are you one of those uncles?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Where I've been

People are asking me why I haven't written in a while. The short answer: I've been busy.

:)

But we're all busy, and that's no excuse. So here are my explanations.

1. I've said what needs to be said about Mesoamerica already.

Sure, I could critique more of the Mesoamericanist arguments, but they are so fundamentally flawed that it's like beating a dead horse. Plus, I like those people and I don't want to pile on. All I ever wanted was for them to come to their senses. Many of them have; many more are; and I hope the rest will soon enough.

2. I've said what needs to be said about Church history already.

The reaction from Mesoamericanists to my research on Church history has been fascinating. Some have done everything possible to challenge my conclusions, which is fine. As a trial lawyer, I respected my opponents--especially the smartest ones--and enjoyed the back-and-forth. In this arena, though, I was surprised that so many perceived this as a competition. In my view, it's a search for truth, wherever it leads. I'm not representing a client. I don't have an ulterior motive. I just want everyone to focus on discovering the truth as best we can.

A lot of Mesoamericanists have contacted me to say they agree with what I found about Church history. Some of them see the implications for the geography issue, while others don't. I'm fine either way. Like I've always said, I'm not trying to convince anyone; I just want everyone to know the facts as much as possible.

That said, I've been disappointed by some of the critics. I have enough material on the Church history issues--including the authorship of the Times and Seasons articles--to write another book. Maybe two books. I doubt I'll ever have the time to publish it, although I'd like to. If my critics had been more focused on discovering the truth instead of debating me, they would have found the same material I have. I trust at some point someone will, and maybe that person will publish it. Maybe I'll write an article or two. But I think the point has been made: Joseph Smith never once said or wrote anything that linked the Book of Mormon to Central America (or anywhere outside of the United States circa 1842).

3. I've been working on Book of Mormon geography.

It seems like everyone who heard about the Church history issue had a follow-up question: Then where did the Book of Mormon take place? I've addressed that briefly in the books, but I go into the topic in depth in Moroni's America, which my publisher says should be out soon. At that point, I'm going to comment on the bookofmormonconsensus blog.

In the meantime, keep reading and studying and praying and working at whatever you're doing.

:)


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The consensus about geography

I've started a new blog to describe a new consensus about Book of Mormon geography. Here's the link: http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/

Some of the material I post there will be from the upcoming book, Moroni's America.

The new blog is part of a wide-ranging initiative to focus on the positive, faith-affirming developments in Book of Mormon historicity and geography.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The war is over

On January 17, 2014, Hiroo Onoda died at age 91. He was famous as the Japanese soldier who continued fighting World War II for 29 years, hiding in the jungle on the island in the Philippines where he'd been stationed.

Many Japanese holdouts on isolated islands continued fighting after the formal surrender, some because they didn't hear about it and others because of dogmatism; i.e., the didn't want to surrender, even after their country formally ended the war.

There have been holdouts in many wars, usually due to poor communications. The History Channel lists examples from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Spanish-American War.

I see the same thing happening now with the "war" over Book of Mormon geography. The war is over, but there are a lot of Mesoamerican holdouts. Some, such as Hiroo Onoda, will take longer to accept the reality. For others--I think for most--it's just a matter of education and an open mind.

________________________

I started this blog over a year ago, mainly in response to a document purportedly written by John Sorenson about why North America cannot be the setting for the Book of Mormon. Brother Sorenson proposed instead that the Book of Mormon took place in a limited area of Mesoamerica. His map and ideas have dominated LDS scholarly thinking for decades. (As one of his former students, his ideas dominated my thinking for decades, so I know how this goes.) Brother Sorenson's influence has pervaded BYU, CES, Church curriculum, and Church graphics and media on lds.org.

I say the war is over because it has become apparent that the Mesoamerican model is completely wrong. The evidence is incontrovertible.

Many others before me have explained how and why that model is wrong. I've simply brought some resources together and offered my own perspectives. In over 150 posts so far, I've demonstrated the following:

1. Sorenson's objections to North America are not factual.
2. The Mesoamerican map contradicts the text of the Book of Mormon.
3. The proponents of the Mesoamerican theory have relied on "correspondences" between Mayan and Nephite culture that are illusory (wishful thinking).
4. The historical premises for the Mesoamerican setting (anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons claimed to have been written by Joseph Smith) are wrong; instead, those articles were written and published without Joseph's knowledge or approval, by men who later apostatized from the Church.
5. The Mesoamerican theory undermines faith in the Book of Mormon because:
--proponents reject the testimony of two of the Three Witnesses (Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer).
-- proponents claim that Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Book of Mormon, that he merely speculated about its setting, and that his speculations themselves were wrong.
--proponents claim the text of the Book of Mormon itself is wrong because Joseph Smith didn't understand Mayan culture.
--anti-Mormon critics point out these and other problems, leaving members and missionaries without good responses when confronted about the lack of evidence for the Book of Mormon, the DNA problem, and the credibility of the early Church leaders and authors who universally accepted the New York setting for the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah.

On the other hand, the North American setting solves all of these problems.

As I'll explain in an upcoming post, I'm retaining the blog to document isolated skirmishes of the Book of Mormon Wars, but I have a new blog that will focus on education about the North American setting.


Monday, October 19, 2015

A glimmer of hope for FairMormon

I've previously shown how FairMormon uses Orwellian tactics to defend the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, but I still have hope that reason and evidence will ultimately prevail among that group.

For example, they have published transcripts of the latest FairMormon conference. As I mentioned at the time, Brant Gardner gave an excellent presentation. You can now read it here.

Brant analogizes Book of Mormon geography to the study of historical linguistics, which is a well-reasoned argument. At one point, he explains the fallacy of linking Izapa Stella 5 (the so-called Tree of Life stone) to the Book of Mormon. He makes this observation:

In spite of the strong evidence that Stela 5 has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon, the LDS community has been very slow to abandon this favorite piece of evidence. Nevertheless, if we are to build a strong web of interlocking evidence, incorrect correspondences such as the claim that Izapa Stela 5 represents Lehi’s dream must be set aside. That is an important part of the process of the iterative building of the case. Sometimes the correspondences get better. Sometimes they fall apart entirely.

I'd like to rephrase Brant's observation this way:

In spite of the strong evidence that Mesoamerica has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon, the LDS community has been very slow to abandon this favorite setting. Nevertheless, if we are to build a strong web of interlocking evidence, incorrect correspondences such as the claim that Mesoamerica fits the text must be set aside. That is an important part of the process of the iterative building of the case. Sometimes the correspondences get better. Sometimes they fall apart entirely.

In my view, the "correspondences" between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon are illusory. I've explained this in several previous posts, so I won't repeat them here. (Much of Brant's talk at the conference elaborates on what I consider illusory correspondences, but that doesn't detract from what I consider his more important point, that we need to examine these issues objectively.)

Brant goes on to discuss Quetzalcoatl:

The second popular proof of the Book of Mormon that we must set aside is the idea that there is anything in the Quetzalcoatl legends that is a remembrance of the Book of Mormon. I began my personal campaign change opinions about this material in 1986. Unfortunately, that information has become much more popular in non-Mormon and even anti-Mormon circles than among members. The LDS myth about the myth appears to almost as strong as it ever was. Even John L. Sorenson’s recent Mormon’s Codex perpetuates the idea that Quetzalcoatl encodes some correlation to the story told in 3 Nephi.

The myth about the Mesoamerican setting is just as ridiculous and persistent as the myth about Quetzalcoatl. The Mesoamerican myth originated with anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons that early Church leaders, including John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, rejected when they approved Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes in the Book of Mormon itself. In the late 20th Century, some scholars including John Sorenson resurrected the articles as a justification for a limited geography setting in Mesoamerica. In doing so, he and all the Mesoamerican proponents rejected the idea that the Book of Mormon Cumorah was in New York.

__________________

Here's what I propose. Instead of rejecting the New York Cumorah in favor of a Mesoamerican setting previously rejected by the very Church leaders who supposedly promoted it in 1842, how about going back to Cumorah in New York? That's a setting that Joseph Smith and all of his contemporaries accepted. Then let's apply Brant Gardner's methodology and see where we come out.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Brant Gardner's objection to the North American setting

At the FairMormon conference, Brant Gardner made this comment about the North American setting:

Q1: What are the reasons you dismiss the mid-America theory of the Book of Mormon?
A1: We don’t have enough time to go through all of that. Let me give you just a couple of quick ones. The things that look really good about the Central American United States, Mississippian area in the Book of Mormon is that those dates seem to line up and you can get a Jaredite date and you can get a Nephite date. The problem is even though the dates work, the geopolitical differences do not, because you remember that the Book of Mormon says that we have to have Jaredites that aren’t anywhere near Nephite lands until about 200 A.D. The problem is the Adena who are of the Jaredite age were in all of the Hopewell sites and they were the precursors of the Hopewell and so the geopolitical things just don’t match. So you get some really interesting stuff, but nothing actually fits when you really dive down. It’s sort of the kind of problem you have when I was looking at Quetzalcoatl, there’s a lot of stuff that looks like it might fit but when you get into the details, you say oh, that wasn’t as good as what I thought. And that’s kind of what happens with that one.
To his credit, Brant clarified that he was only giving "a couple of quick ones." Here's my take.
I think the 200 A.D. idea is a fallacy to begin with. I've seen one explanation based on the idea that when Limhi's explorers found the remains of the Jaredites, including the plates but also the weapons, the weapons were rusty, and they couldn't have been too old or they would have rusted away completely. But that's not Brant's rationale, thankfully.
Here's how Brant arrives at his conclusion (from p. 391 of Traditions of the Fathers).
"I place the end of the Jaredites in the Late Formative period, 300 B.C.-A.D. 1, specifically around 200 B.C., which is after the end of the Olmec domination. I see the devastating wars of annihilation in Ether as part of the aftermath of the Olmec political collapse.
"Support for dating the collapse of the Jaredite polity later than Sorenson's suggestion of around 550 B.C. is Coriantumr's stay in Zarahemla. Coriantumr was the last Jaredite king and stayed with the people of Zarahemla for "nine moons" (Omni 1:24). I hypothesize that the people of Zarahemla had cultural and linguistic ties with the Jaredite homeland it was those ties, however far in the past, that were the reason that the refugee Coriantumr would set off toward their city and also why they would give him sanctuary.
"The early history of the people of Mulek suggests that they had participated in Olmec culture to the point of adopting that language and religion and losing their own (Omni 1:17). When a group split off and moved up the Sidon River Valley to Zarahemla, they might reasonably retain some connection, if only sporadic trade connection, with that ancestral homeland. From the fact that both the city and the rule at Mosiah's arrival were named Zarahemla, I deduce that they had only recently relocated and that the city was named for the founding leader. Thus, Coriantumr may have lived with them perhaps less than fifty years before Mosiah's arrival.
"Therefore, I use 200 B.C. as an approximate death date for Coriantumr and his contemporary Ether and therefore as a plausible anchor for the generational chronology."
That's good reasoning and analysis, but I don't think it fits the text.
__________
To begin with, it's unfortunate that Martin Harris lost the manuscript, which included the first two chapters of Mosiah. Mosiah 1 is actually Mosiah 3. Consequently, we're left with the brief overview in Omni.
Brant assumes that the city of Zarahemla was founded by a group that split off from the rest of the Mulekites, but Omni 1:15-16 says "the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem... and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth." Of course, it's possible that they although they dwelt in "the land where Mosiah discovered them," they could have moved around within this land. But Zarahemla was the capital, not an outpost. Zarahemla was the ancestral homeland, not a recently founded city. Instead of a 50-year-old city being named after its founder, Zarahemla, the text seems to imply that Zarahemla was the name of the original settlement, which dated to around 550-600 B.C., as Sorenson suggested (albeit for the wrong reason, as Brant explains).
Brant cites verse 17, which states that "their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them, and they denied the being of their Creator, and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them." There's no suggestion here that their language was related to the Jaredites. It seems more plausible that their language could have been corrupted by the influence of the Phoenicians who brought them to America. It's also possible that they encountered other vestiges of the Jaredite civilization as Brant implies, but in this case, the account of Coriantumr doesn't make much sense. Presumably the "large stone... with engravings on it" was written in the Jaredite language. If the people of Zarahemla were using that language, why would they not be able to interpret the stone? 
The engravings on the stone "gave an account of one Coriantumr and the slain of his people." We're not told if the stone was discovered independently of the visit of Coriantumr, but the text implies as much. (It's also interesting that in the entire history of the Book of Mormon, only a single stone with engravings is mentioned. It's difficult to think of a more direct contrast to a Mesoamerican setting.)
Coriantumr "was discovered by the people of Zarahemla." The text doesn't say that Coriantumr sought them out. (FWIW, I think Coriantumr, after realizing Ether's prophecies had been fulfilled, was on his way to the site of the New Jerusalem that Ether had also prophesied about, which is in Missouri, and he was traveling along the "narrow strip of wilderness" or the Ohio/Mississippi/Missouri river system when the people of Zarahemla found him.)  
Consequently, nothing in the text requires, or even suggests, a 200 B.C. death date for Coriantumr. The people of Zarahemla could have encountered Coriantumr at any time after their arrival in the land they never left--the land where Mosiah found them.
This changes Brant's analysis substantially. The text also explains that the Nephites had two migrations: first they left Laman and went up to the land of Nephi, and second, they went down into the land of Zarahemla. For hundreds of years they stayed in the general area of Nephi, as the people of Zarahemla stayed in their local area. The presence of Jaredite remnants, or Adena remnants, throughout the Midwest would not conflict with the text. 
At some point, I hope to see more of Brant's argument on this point. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lehi's route

Some time ago, a well-known CES employee told me that Lehi couldn't have crossed the Atlantic because it was such a long route around Africa. That's the kind of thing I've come to expect from Mesoamerican proponents. You probably already know the response.

The Atlantic crossing, even with the circumnavigation of Africa, is shorter than the Pacific crossing.

There are other reasons why the Atlantic crossing is more likely:

1. Circumnavigating Africa offers voyagers multiple stops for supplies, including food and water, that you don't get crossing the Pacific.

2. Everyone agrees the Mulekites crossed the Atlantic. Even John Sorenson agreed with that. (BTW, Sorenson documented other evidence of transoceanic voyages here.)

3. The winds and ocean currents work for an Atlantic crossing, but make a Pacific crossing implausible.

4. There is historical evidence to support ancient crossings of the Atlantic. Columbus crossed the Atlantic, using the same currents and winds as the ancient explorers did.

5. Around 600 B.C., Phoenician mariners circumnavigated Africa.

6. In 2008-2010, a ship reconstructed using 600 B.C. materials and technology circumnavigated Africa. The currents and winds sent them across the Atlantic to within a few hundred miles of Florida before they managed to turn the ship around back to Africa. See this page.
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There are a lot of web pages that show Lehi crossing the Pacific Ocean to land in Mesoamerica. I looked into the rationale for what seems such an implausible theory. The most common explanation is that Lehi would have to cross the Pacific to land on the west coast of Mesoamerica to make the limited geography Mesoamerican theory work. This is especially important to explain why, in Sorenson terms, west is south (i.e., they landed on the south-facing coast, which the Nephites thereafter considered "west"). (For those new to this issue, the Mesoamerican proponents claim the Nephites didn't use the same cardinal directions we do today, except when they were in the Old World. Once they arrived in the New World, the Nephites based their directions from the first landing on the south coast of Mesoamerica, which they equated to the west coast of the Mediterranean, so that when the text mentions "northward" and "southward," it really means "westward" and "eastward.")

I know how ridiculous that sounds, but that's what you'll find if you read what the Mesoamerican proponents write.

Another rationale may be Orson Pratt's claim that Lehi landed in Chile, which was likely based on Frederick G. Williams' note of unknown origin. The Mesoamerican proponents reject that specific landing spot, of course, but they like the Pacific crossing part of it. I don't see how one can rationally accept part of Orson Pratt's theory without accepting all of it, but that's what they do.

Yet another rationale is 1 Nephi 17:1, which says "And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth. And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness." It seems apparent from the context that Nephi is describing their journey in the wilderness, not on the ocean. In fact, he never mentions directions once he gets on the ship. Here's what he says in 1 Nephi 18.

8. And it came to pass after we had all gone down into the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land.

21 And it came to pass after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it. And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm.

 22 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land.

 23 And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land.

From this, I conclude one should look at the prevailing winds and sea currents--which lead to a route around Africa and across the Atlantic.

_________

Conclusion. Backing into a Pacific crossing to support a Mesoamerican setting makes no sense to me. Unless one wants to accept the Williams/Pratt theory of a landing in Chile, which has its own problems, I don't see any reasonable explanation for assuming a Pacific crossing. Now that we have documented evidence of the real-world feasibility of 600 B.C. technology taking a route from the Arabian peninsula around Africa and across the Atlantic to North America, and we all agree that the Mulekites crossed the Atlantic, what basis is there for assuming an implausible Pacific crossing?

There's a more detailed discussion of this issue here.






Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Explaining Cumorah

How to get to Cumorah from Central America.




Oliver Cowdery as a witness before the Book of Mormon was published

Erin Jennings found an 1830 publication of a letter by Oliver Cowdery written in 1829 in which he describes his role as one of the Three Witnesses. She posted it at the Juvenile Instructor here.

Cowdery writes, "It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven."

Here's what the original article looked like.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A survey you can try

Anyone who is curious about the trends in Book of Mormon geography can ask their LDS friends a simple question:

Mesoamerica or North America?

If you get any Mesoamerican believers, follow up with:

Do you think the Book of Mormon Cumorah was in New York or southern Mexico?

If they say Mexico, you'll be tempted to ask what they think of Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, but I recommend against starting a discussion about it. This is a survey. Just see what people think.

Of course, if they want to discuss it, you know what to say.

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So far, I've never met anyone who thinks Cumorah was in Mexico, apart from those who write for FARMS/Maxwell Institute, BMAF, and FairMormon and a few people who believe what those writers claim. Most people accept what Oliver Cowdery and every other contemporary of Joseph Smith did; i.e., that there is one Cumorah and it's in New York.

The drone I use

Several people have asked about the drone I use to take the photos. Here's a link to it:

https://www.dji.com/product/phantom-3/professional-camera

I have some more cool photos I haven't had time to upload, but hopefully I'll do that soon.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Now for the geography

From now on, this blog will focus on Roger Terry's statement in the heading: "Obviously, if one of the models answered all the questions presented by the scriptural text, there would be consensus on where the Book of Mormon history actually occurred."

We'll see how obvious that is.
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Here's an overview of the next few weeks, in the form of questions.

1. What are the questions presented by the scriptural text?

As I've discussed throughout this blog, there are books and articles and blogs and movies and paintings and pageants that have all, one way or another, expressed views on the setting for the Book of Mormon. There are dozens of theories, all invoking the text one way or another. I've seen some new ones in the last few weeks that haven't ever been published. In a sense, this confusion is a result of unanswered questions about what the text means. For example, what is a narrow neck of land? A small neck? A narrow strip? A narrow pass? A narrow passage? Are they all the same thing? If so, why do they have different names?

Most of the existing theories are based on abstract maps; i.e., people draw a map based on what they read in the text and then look at topographical maps to find a fit.

This is a fool's errand.

No two people can independently come up with the same abstract map because the text is too vague. It doesn't give us 1) precise distances or 2) precise directions. But that doesn't mean the text doesn't describe an actual, real-world setting. It just means you have to know where to start.

2. How do I propose to answer "all the questions" Terry referred to?

I have a list of over 300 geographical references from the Book of Mormon that I'll be going through. By January 1, 2016, readers of this blog will have gone through every one of them. And of course I'll respond to questions posed on this blog, as much as possible.

3. How do I approach the geography questions?

I have a few simple rules.

I start with no preconceptions and no deference to previous scholars. (This doesn't mean I have not engaged with the literature on the topic. For decades, I accepted the Mesoamerican theory, but as I've explained on this blog and elsewhere, in my opinion the scholarship on the limited geography Mesoamerican theory has been results oriented. The Mesoamerican theory was based on a historical error and the so-called peer reviews have reflected confirmation bias. I think the Mesoamerican theory is on its way out; it's only a question of how long it will hang around.)

I stick to the text. I reject the RAGS translation (that stands for the re-interpretation of the text that we often see in the writings of Matt Roper, Michael Ash, Brant Gardner, and John Sorenson). I'm not going to discuss the headwaters of Sidon or the narrow strip of mountainous wilderness or Ether's cave or simplistic convergences or correspondences that seek to transform the text into a Mayan document. Those who prefer the RAGS translation can stick with the Interpreter and continue believing the Mesoamerican theories the RAGS translation was designed to promote. (BTW, I'll be updating http://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/ as time permits.)

I accept the Three Witnesses as credible. (Hence, my book Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about Cumorah.)

I assume the Hebrew influence throughout the text is real, as are the people and the descriptions of their lifestyles, beliefs, practices, etc.

I invite comments and feedback, but not if it involves the RAGS translation.

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I'll conclude with the opening of the Preface to the Second Edition of The Lost City of Zarahemla:

To paraphrase Matthew Cowley’s comment about the gospel, Book of Mormon geography is simply beautiful and beautifully simple.

Not everyone agrees, but hopefully by the time you finish this book, you will. The complications that seem so prevalent today actually arose from misunderstandings and speculation in the early days of the Church, combined with excessive missionary zeal that sought to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon in what turned out to be a counterproductive way. That approach was a mistake, and its ramifications continue into the present. This book is my attempt to shed light on historical facts and geography with the goal of building faith, unity and consensus regarding the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. The city of Zarahemla has been lost for too long. 





Saturday, September 26, 2015

Evening at the temple in Independence





Far West

Some photos from Far West. All that's left here of a once-thriving town is the temple lot area, where there are four cornerstones. Here's a map for orientation:


It's a beautiful site. No wonder the Saints in the 1830s were happy to be here and had big expectations.





Adam ondi Ahman

We had a fantastic tour today of several sites, including Adam ondi Ahman. Alex Baugh explained everything and included some wonderful stories. Here are a few photos from the drone.

Here's our group, gathered at Tower Hill.



Tower Hill with the valley in the background.



The valley.

The river and the site of the original community.

The river looking west.


The valley with Tower Hill on the left center.
Tower Hill.