Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book of Mormon Central

Yesterday I attended an open house for Book of Mormon Central ( 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.).

Android - 85%
Apple iOS - 14%
Windows - 1%

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%

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:

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.

Relies on BoM text for abstract map of geography
Fits BoM text to real-world geography
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


Relies on Times and Seasons articles about Stephens
Accepts D&C on Lamanites
Accepts D&C on Cumorah
Accepts D&C on Zarahemla
Accepts Oliver Cowdery on Cumorah in New York
Accepts David Whitmer on Cumorah in New York
Accepts Joseph Smith on Cumorah in New York
Accepts Joseph Smith on mounds in Midwest as evidence of BoM people
Accepts Joseph Smith in Wentworth letter that Lamanites are Indians living in “this country” meaning United States
Accepts archaeology
Accepts DNA evidence
Promised land is Mexico/Guatemala
Promised land is US/Canada

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:

Here's a good article about the dedication:

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?