Friday, September 11, 2015

One step closer to consensus

Someone asked me to update the status of the consensus. Here's how I see the current situation. All in all, there has been some good progress over the last few months.

1. Consensus point 1: I agree with Mesoamericanists that the geography of the Book of Mormon is more limited than the hemispheric approach assumed by many early LDS; i.e., there is a consensus that the setting did not extent from the southern tip of South America to the northernmost parts of North America.

2. Consensus point 2: I agree with Mesoamericanists that the author(s) of the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons were wrong, in these particulars:

2.a. We agree they were wrong about the hemispheric model.
2.b. We agree they were wrong about any specific connection between the Book of Mormon people and the ruins Stephens describes in his books, because those ruins post-date the Book of Mormon by hundreds of years.
2.c. We agree they were wrong about Quirigua as Zarahemla and Copan as a specific Book of Mormon site.

3. Consensus point 3: I agree with the Mesoamericanists that any proposed geography should fit all the descriptions in the text.

4. Consensus point 4: I agree with the Mesoamericanists that the Book of Mormon is a literal history of real people and that it was translated by the power of God.

5. Consensus point 5: I agree with the Mesoamericanists that Joseph Smith found the plates in the hill in New York currently named Cumorah.

6. Consensus point 6: I agree with a recent development among some Mesoamericanists that downplays the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons; i.e., some Mesoamericanists have conceded that Winchester wrote the articles and that Joseph had nothing to do with them as author or editor, but they think that has no bearing on Book of Mormon geography. That's exactly my position; i.e., that these unsigned articles are irrelevant to the question of Book of Mormon geography and do not reflect Joseph Smith's views.

Here is where we still have work to do.

1. Unresolved point 1: I think the Book of Mormon Cumorah is the New York Cumorah. The Mesoamericanists think the New York Cumorah is only the hill from which Joseph retrieved the plates, but the Book of Mormon Cumorah is actually someplace in Mesoamerica.

2. Unresolved point 2: I disagree with Mesoamericanists about the credibility of David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery. I think their statements and writings about Cumorah were accurate and correct; the Mesoamericanists think David and Oliver were speculating and wrong. I also think that Joseph Smith adopted Oliver's Letter VII by having it copied into his personal journal and having it published three times in Church newspapers during his lifetime. The Mesoamericanists think Joseph was merely speculating and didn't know any more about Book of Mormon geography than anybody else.

3. Unresolved point 3: I think Joseph Smith did know Book of Mormon geography, at least well enough to recognize it when he saw it, and this accounts for the various statements he made about the Indians being Lamanites, Zelph in Illinois, the plains of the Nephites, etc. The Mesoamericanists think Joseph didn't know anything more than anyone else, and that the statements he made were speculative or reflected a "hinterlands north" concept; i.e., that some Nephites migrated north from Mesoamerica.

4. Unresolved point 4: I think the Book of Mormon text describes a setting extending from Cumorah in New York to Zarahemla in Iowa, with every feature and verse accounted for in a literal sense. The Mesoamericans think the text describes a setting in Mesoamerica, with some features being metaphorical and not literal, and with cardinal directions being different from how we understand them today.

5. Unresolved point 5: I disagree with some Mesoamericanists about the significance of the unsigned articles in the Times and Seasons. Although we agree the articles reflect an incorrect assumption about the hemispheric model and contain factually false linkages between the text and anachronistic ruins, some Mesoamericanists still think the articles demonstrate that Joseph Smith believed the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. I think the articles constitute 1) a misguided effort to promote missionary work by linking the Book of Mormon to an exotic, popular locale, and 2) an unnecessary effort to defeat anti-Mormon claims by distancing the Book of Mormon from a North American/Moundbuilder setting, but also that they may refer to the 99% of the history not covered by the text (the hinterlands south).

6. Unresolved point 6: I disagree with Mesoamericanists about the authorship of the unsigned Times and Seasons articles, particularly during 1842. They think Joseph Smith wrote them, or at least approved of them, from 1 March through 15 Nov 1842. I think Joseph wrote none of them, that they were written and/or edited by a combination of Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, and W.W. Phelps, and that Joseph ceded editorial duties in May or June 1842 to his brother William.

Hopefully we will continue to reach consensus on more and more points. I still hope to achieve the goal set forth in my masthead:

"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." Roger Terry, Senior Associate Editor, BYU Studies.

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