Tuesday, June 23, 2015

War of Words - comments

Neal Rappleye wrote a review of John L. Lund's book, Joseph Smith and the Geography of the Book of Mormon, that turned into a 58-page defense of John Sorenson's Book of Mormon model. His article contains some useful insights but also some serious errors typical of the Mesoamerican advocates, who generally cite one another as Rappleye does. I'm submitting a longer response to the Interpreter, but here I wanted to comment on a few points.

Rappleye starts off by claiming there is a "plethora" of theories" about Book of Mormon geography. I'm not sure if he chose that term because any theory other than the correct one is "excess," but if so, I like the term. Certainly the many Mesoamerican theories would qualify, IMO, as a plethora.

Throughout his piece, Rappleye does a good job noting the mistakes of Lund and Meldrum in their respective works, but he accepts the work of Roper and Sorenson without question. This inconsistent scrutiny has led him to make numerous mistakes and, ultimately, to an erroneous conclusion.

Here are some examples of mistakes in historical details. Rappleye writes that the Times and Seasons was a "bi-weekly" paper (it was semimonthly). He claims the editorship of the paper was "somewhat turbulent" during its first "couple of years." In fact, Don Carlos was the editor from 1839 until his death in August 1841, after which E. Robinson took over until Joseph Smith became editor in March 1842 (technically, Feb 15 1842). What Rappleye characterizes as "turbulence" was E. Robinson co-editing for a year (1839-1840) and Robert B. Thompson co-editing from May 1841 until his death in September 1841. Behind the scenes, the real turbulence started in April 1842, when William Smith started the Wasp and gradually took over the Times and Seasons.

This is an example of how Rappleye errs by quoting and citing Matthew Roper's article, "Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography" which is deeply flawed on multiple levels. I've addressed that one previously, so in my next post, I will simply point out how Rappleye overlooks those errors.

First, I want to bring up is the thread of comments that follow the article in the Interpreter online. Here is a list of commentators and a summary of their points:

Louis Midgley: As usual, Midgley misrepresents and exaggerates the views of those he disagrees with; his approach is ad hominem. "I must add that one cannot separate a person from their ideas and hence also with the soundness and coherence of their opinions. Latter-day Saints have a tendency to flinch when they see this being done. "

Loren Spendlove: Loren seems to be a sincere, earnest participant in these discussions, but he accepts Greg Smith's paper (which Midgley cited) uncritically. I've posted about Smith's paper here; it's stunningly unacademic. Loren seems to decide what to believe based on who says or writes it more than on the content of the material. "However, the passionate personal rhetoric still evades me."

Ike Evans: He seems to parrot Midgley's ad hominem view of the world.

Yaya: He elicited a thoughtful comment from Ike Evans, which is impressive. Yaya: What will you do if the Heartland theory is right and the Central America theory is wrong?  Ike: I will admit that it will take a considerable effort to change my mind against the general Mesoamerican model. But your comment is important, and one that I must always keep in mind.

Brett DeLange: Another unquestioning adopter of Sorenson:

Theodore Brandley: A brave voice of opposition to the "consensus." The preponderance of documentary evidence is that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith that the hill in Palmyra,
New York was known ancient as Comorah. Any proposal, including Sorenson’s Codex, that ignores this fact is only imaginative speculation. When Ike objects to Brandley's point, Brandley offers five specific documentary points of evidence. 

MrNirom: Seeks to refute Brandley's point but avoids most of Brandley's evidence. Nirom refers to Joseph Fielding Smith's rejection of the two-Cumorah theory but doesn't explain Smith's argument

Because it is key to the discussion, I think it's important to explain Elder Smith's argument. After stating that the location of Cumorah in New York "has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith," Elder Smith cites Oliver Cowdery's lengthy and detailed description of the final battles near Cumorah and points out this: "PROPHET APPROVES OLIVER COWDERY’S VIEWS. The quibbler might say that this statement from Oliver Cowdery is merely the opinion of Oliver Cowdery and not the expression of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It should be remembered that these letters in which these statements are made were written at the Prophet’s request and under his personal supervision. Surely, under these circumstances, he would not have permitted an error of this kind to creep into the record without correction."

Unlike the questions about the Times and Seasons, there is no question that Joseph supervised these letters because Oliver expressly claims that he did so and why. The letters were published in the Messenger and Advocate, the Times and Seasons, and the Gospel Reflector, at least.

Then Nirom offers one of my favorite all-time quotations in this area: "As reported by Matthew Roper, Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, “Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it.”"

IOW, Elder Smith didn't insist anyone believe him or agree with him, despite the clarity and logic of his argument and the solid facts he cited. That's how Joseph Smith operated as well, yet Roper (and all Mesoamerican advocates) insist Joseph didn't let others express their own opinions.

When Brandley points out the fallacies of Nirom's argument, we then get a bizarre comment from Brant Gardner.

Brant Gardner: I've peer-reviewed Gardner's work in this blog, and his comments here are more of the same. Theodore, you missed the point of Mr Nirom’s citations. The name Cumorah became attributed late and appears because it had become the way to refer to the hill.... The documentation you note is all of that type. It is referential and later. It was unquestionably an early identification, but not one that can be traced directly to Joseph or from him back to Moroni.

So on the one hand, Gardner says the documentation is "attributed late," and later "it was unquestionably an early identification."

In a later post, Gardner cites Reeve and Cowan, who say they can't determine when "this New York hill was first called Cumorah." Those writers don't mention Phelps or Cowdery. So from this, Gardner concludes, "There is no evidence that it originated with Joseph (nor, therefore, with Moroni)."

So we are to believe that neither Cowdery nor Phelps (nor others who used the term) learned it from Joseph Smith. They made it up, or something.

Brandley addresses this well, and then Gardner does his usual, completely disregarding Brandley's fact-based approach: Theodore, we clearly hold different opinions. I notice that your objection to Reeve and Cowan (historians who have looked at the documents) is basically that they are wrong because they don’t agree with you. I have seen the same kind of evidence in the historical development of the use of Cumorah as they have, so I’ll go with their conclusions. You will, of course, continue with your own. I don’t think we need to press this issue any more since there is obviously not going to be any resolution. Readers will have enough information to make their personal decisions, which is the value of these discussions.

Of course, Brandley made no such argument. Reeve and Cowan focused solely on what we have record of Joseph Smith writing.

Gardner continues: "You won’t find anyone suggesting that early Saints didn’t identify the NY hill as Cumorah. They certainly did. It entered the vocabulary of the Saints early and became pervasive. What it became is not evidence of its origin."

This is akin to Gardner's famous argument that Joseph Smith's translation is not evidence of what was actually on the plates. Gardner seems blind to the point that the early Saints got it from somewhere, and if not from Joseph, then from whom? Joseph's own statement, the one Reeve and Cowan did report, indicates he learned it from Moroni, which is consistent with the idea that Cowdery, et al, got it from Joseph.

Gardner's argument is akin to his Mesoamerican argument; i.e., that everyone was speculating, not just about the location of Cumorah but about all the events of the Book of Mormon. Therefore only modern scholars (such as Gardner) can discern the truth.

MrNirom insists the New York Cumorah could not be the scene of the last battle: "From all these descriptions, we find that this hill in New York is 1) unimpressive, 2) one of many similar hills in the area, and 3) only about 130 feet in height, with a slow, gradual rise at one end.
All of this should suggest that it could not have been the Hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon, which was such a prominent hill that it was known to the Lamanite king, who was not from this area, nor had the Lamanites ever been in the Land Northward until 360 A.D. (Mormon 2:29), and not near the northern portion of the land until around 380 A.D. (Mormon 5:6), prior to the letter Mormon wrote to the Lamanite king around 384 A.D. (Mormon 6:2). Since the king agreed to stage the battle in “the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah,” it would have to have been a hill of some significance for the king to know of it and obviously different from what lay around it.
Nirom makes a mistake common to many Mesoamerican theorists; i.e., he adds words to the text. Mormon 2:29 does not say or imply the Lamanites had never been in the land northward. In 4 Nephi, there were no Lamanites. They were all one people. They divided into "ites" later. So anyone in the nation could have been anywhere in the nation. Cumorah was famous because it was where the Jaredites had fought their last battle, not because it was an unusually prominent hill.

Nirom goes on to claim there were 230,000 Nephite warriors, another addition to the text, albeit a common one. There are only 20,000 people that Mormon reports seeing (Mormon 6:12). The other 21 leaders and their 10,000 could have fallen at any time (and place) prior to the last battle. In fact, they must have; otherwise, how could Mormon have known about a few who escaped into the south countries and a few who had deserted over unto the Lamanites? Mormon is speaking about the loss of people during the war, not during the final battle.

20,000 people is still a lot--but less than the annual attendance at the Hill Cumorah pageant. According to Cowdery, the battle was fought in a valley one mile wide--a very plausible setting. There were 46,000-51,000 casualties (about 6,000 dead) at Gettysburg, but they used guns in the Civil War. At Cumorah, it was hand-to-hand combat, so much denser.

Then Gardner resumes with more of his bizarre reasoning, to which Brandley replies: our personal requirement that you will not accept anything other than an early first person statement from Joseph is your prerogative, but it is an unrealistic and impossible standard of proof, which does not exist. If it did we would not be having this discussion.
As for requiring textural proof as to where Moroni buried the plates, how could Moroni have written where he buried them, after he had buried them? Mormon could only comment on what he did with the gold plates, not what his son would later do with them.

All in all, these are revealing comments and typical of the two perspectives on Mesoamerica.

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