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.


How history is changed

For decades, people have relied on the History of the Church as the most authoritative source of Church history. Now, with the Joseph Smith Papers, we have better information.

This lets us see how history was changed to fit then-prevailing themes and ideas.

A good example is the Mesoamerican geography.

For example, people cite this one to me, from History of the Church, Volume 5, June 25, p. 44, online here.

Saturday, 25.- Transacted business with Brother Hunter, and Mr. Babbitt, and sat for a drawing of my profile to be placed on a lithograph of the map of the city of Nauvoo.

Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have succeeded in collecting in the interior of America a large amount of relics of the Nephites, or the ancient inhabitants of America treated of in the Book of Mormon, which relics have recently been landed in New York.

Here's the actual journal entry from the Joseph Smith Papers here. This was the contemporaneous writing:

Saturday 25 Transacted Business with Bro. [Edward] Hunter. Mr Babbit [Almon Babbitt]. & set for the  drawing of his profile. for Lithographing on city chart.

Yep, that's it. All the stuff about Stephens and Catherwood was added later, after Joseph's death. It was never in Joseph's Journal, but someone reading History of the Church would believe Joseph recorded this in his journal.

And then that person would send the passage to me to show that instead of a North American setting, Joseph explicitly connected the Book of Mormon with the Stephens book.

And so it continues. People really have no idea how pervasive and ingrained this Mesoamerican theory is. But we'll keep pointing these things out so you don't have to be confused by changes to Church history.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

A question about LDS scholars

For the reasons I mentioned in the last post, and because I can tell from the stats that a lot of people are still coming here, I'm going to continue posting to this blog. There are plenty more things to say and questions to answer.

For example, I get a lot of questions about what LDS scholars were thinking as they developed and promoted the Mesoamerican theory. I can't answer those questions because I don't know what they were thinking. All I have to go by is what they've published over the years. Besides, I can't speak for anyone else anyway. (I don't think any LDS scholars are reading this blog, but if they are, no offense is intended.)

Every LDS scholar I've met is a nice person, sincere, capable, wanting to do the right thing, etc. I infer from their writing that they have been trying to vindicate what they thought Joseph wrote in the Times and Seasons. But IMO they are in a difficult situation right now. Rather than be critical, we should be empathetic.

I speak from personal experience, having believed and taught the Mesoamerican theory for decades before changing my mind. It's not a simple, overnight process in most cases.

Consider this from your own experience.

If you've believed in a Central American setting for the Book of Mormon your entire life--and how could you not when Church media, LDS scholars, and most instructors tell you this over and over--you might find it difficult to change your mind and embrace the North American setting.

Many--I think most--members of the Church don't realize that the Mesoamerican setting is based on the two-Cumorah theory (Moroni's Cumorah in New York, Mormon's Cumorah somewhere in southern Mexico). Most members have never heard of the two-Cumorah theory and they find it confusing, strange, and unbelievable when they do learn that this is what most LDS scholars think. Just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

When you consider the North American setting, you might feel like you're rejecting something important, when in reality, the Church has no official position on the geography question. Soon you realize you are rejecting merely artists' concepts and academic theories that contradict early Church leaders anyway. You're rejecting the confusing two-Cumorah theory in favor of the unambiguous one-Cumorah in New York.

If it's difficult for you, imagine how difficult it is for those who have promoted these theories for so long. For a lifetime, in many cases.

It's the problem of cognitive dissonance. (A good definition is here.)

There are three situations that produce cognitive dissonance, which is the mental stress or discomfort people feel when:

1. They hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values;
2. Their actions contradict their beliefs, ideas, or values;
3. They are confronted with new information that contradicts their beliefs, ideas, or values.

It's the third one I'll focus on here.

LDS scholars who promote the Mesoamerican theory have created an identity for themselves based on that theory. (At the risk of overgeneralizing, I've listed some of the common claims we read in the publications at the end of this post.)

When information comes along that contradicts their theory, how can they respond?

They have two choices.

1. They can change their self-images and admit they were wrong about the geography.

2. They can interpret the new information to make it consistent with their theory and self-image, and reinterpret old information to make it fit.

So far, they have chosen option #2. This is completely understandable, of course. Expected, even.

To protect their self-images as experts in this field, they have been forced to create pretzel-like explanations of their reality. I've documented dozens of examples in this blog already. Consider the rationalizations for rejecting Letter VII, the imaginary interpretations of the text (seeing volcanoes and pyramids where none exist), and the efforts to preserve long-held traditions about Church history.

One of my philosophies is that eventually, the right thing happens. It will in this case, as well, even if it takes longer than we'd like.

I encourage people to read as much scholarly material as possible. Go ahead and read Book of Mormon Central, which is republishing all the old Mesoamerican material and repurposing it as KnoWhys. Or go to FairMormon, Maxwell Institute, etc. It becomes evident, very soon, how convoluted the rationalizations are.

But you have to prioritize, and if you have limited time, the single best discussion of Book of Mormon geography is the text itself, followed by Letter VII, which tells us exactly where the Hill Cumorah is. With that pin in the map, you can figure out the rest.

It's actually very simple and clear.

If you want my ideas on it, you can read my blogs and web pages, or my books on Moroni's America, either the full or the pocket edition. If you want to read more about Letter VII, you can read my little book on it. There are lots of resources on the Book of Mormon Evidence page, too.

Whatever you do, don't depend on what some scholar tells you to think.

Okay, now you're wondering why I created the blogs, web pages, and books if I'm not telling people what to think.

I don't believe in telling people what to think. Instead, my goal is to give people the information they need to think for themselves.

For example, I have a fairly detailed chart showing what people agree about and what they agree-to-disagree about, here.

The problem in the past has been that you can't find alternative perspectives in the works of LDS scholars. You can't find references to Letter VII, for example. (You can't even find it on To their credit, Book of Mormon Central has at least published the first edition of my Letter VII book. As far as I know, it's the first and only reference to Oliver Cowdery's letter you can find on traditional LDS scholarly sites.

But you still won't find information about the North American setting, even on Book of Mormon Central. The information you do find in LDS scholarly publications is often wrong, such as the analysis of the Hill Cumorah in New York, and you never learn about the evidence that supports the North American setting.

But that is changing.

More and more people are talking about the North American setting, whether it is referred to as the Heartland, Moroni's America, This Land, or other terminology.

Someday, I think LDS scholars will come to accept the North American setting. But don't hold your breath, and in the meantime, learn as much as you can and decide for yourself.


Common claims of LDS scholars who write about Book of Mormon geography:

1. They are experts in their fields.
2. They think Joseph Smith didn't know much about Book of Mormon geography (some think he didn't know much about the Book of Mormon itself), and they think Oliver Cowdery knew even less (and was wrong about Cumorah in New York).
3. They think Joseph relied on scholars to figure out the geography.
4. They think they have figured out the geography by building on the RLDS concept of a limited geography in Central America and by developing a two-Cumorah theory that relegates the New York hill to a place where Moroni carried the plates and other artifacts 3400 miles from Mesoamerica.
5. They think their theory is supported by archaeology, geology, etc.
6. They think similarities between Mayan culture and their interpretation of Nephite culture constitute correspondences that support their theory.
7. They think the Book of Mormon is not translated correctly because it doesn't contain the Mesoamerican references it should; e.g., the named animals are substitutes for Central American species. Joseph's translation is evidence of what he translated, but not of what was actually on the plates.
8. They think the North American setting is not supported by the text, by the teachings of Joseph and Oliver, or by the archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.
9. They think evidence from Church history that supports the North American setting is unreliable, visionary, and false.

Changed circumstances

A while ago, I mentioned that I thought this blog (BookofMormonwars) had served its purpose and I'd be transitioning to other blogs. But circumstances have changed, so I'll continue posting here for a while.

[Trigger warning: I don't think any scholars are reading this blog, but if you are, I'm not trying to offend anyone here.]

What changed my mind was the council of Springville. For those who don't know what I'm referring to, this was a news item that appeared on Book of Mormon Central. I posted my observations here.

This idea that a collection of scholars--a conclave--can assemble to interpret the Book of Mormon alarms me more than I initially realized. I compared it to the council of Nicea because it seemed to have the same rationale; i.e., that scholars can determine what the scriptures mean.

Here is the opening line from the news item: "Book of Mormon Central convened a working group to consider the sense of meaning of a number of passages in the text whose interpretations have proven controversial."

That's not a bad objective, in theory. But the same can be said of the council of Nicea. It's what comes out of the conclave that matters most, but the idea of scholars interpreting the scriptures for everyone else is alarms me on its face.

The opening line also invokes the online magazine called The Interpreter. Those who follow my blogs know I don't think much of that magazine. Although they often publish some good independent material, the editorial board has a particular point of view that I find fundamentally antithetical to scholarship in the first place. But worse is the implication from the title: The Interpreter. Again, the title suggests that this group of scholars can interpret the scriptures for the rest of us. This has a very medieval sense to it, like we're supposed to read the scriptures through the eyes of these scholars.

I'm all in favor of scholarship, study, and discussion about the scriptures, Church history, and related topics. But only when it is an open exploration. When it is agenda driven, as the Council of Springville and the Interpreter are, I think it impedes the search for truth and does more harm than good.

My goal is to open the discussion, provide different perspectives, and resist the idea that any group of scholars can interpret the scriptures for others. I think each person should interpret the scriptures and not rely on what agenda-driven scholars tell them to think.

As always, feel free to disagree. I just thought my readers want do know where I'm coming from.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Illustrations in the Book of Mormon

On the consensus blog, I posted a comment about the importance of the illustrations in the official versions of the Book of Mormon. The impact of these illustrations cannot be understated.

They drive every reader's interpretation of the text.

Millions of investigators (and members) look at these illustrations. Far more people see these illustrations than ever read the Introduction, let alone the text itself.

Illustrations surely attract interest in the book, which is great, but we have to realize that first impressions are lasting impressions.

The current set of illustrations tell readers the Book of Mormon took place in a jungle with Mayan ruins. But when they read the text, it says nothing of the sort. No jungles. No massive stone pyramids. No Mayan culture.

The result: disappointment and confusion at best, disbelief at worst. 

As I suggest in the post, it would be very beneficial to re-think the illustrations and focus on what we do know about Book of Mormon geography; i.e., that Lehi left Jerusalem, that he traveled to the Arabian peninsula, and that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.

Suitable artwork already exists; indeed, it has been used in the official versions in the past, as I show in the post. It's an easy change that will make a big difference in how people receive and understand the text.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New Survey on Mesomania

I'm getting some great feedback on the poll about covers for the Mesomania book. In response, I've deleted one cover and substituted two questions about the subtitle and topics of interest. You can take the new poll here.

As a reminder, Mesomania is a book that will be released next week. It looks at the phenomenon of the "Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica" industry, including its development by scholars who rejected Joseph Fielding Smith's advice and the proliferation of the theory through Church media and scholarly books and articles. We consider the psychology behind the focus on Mesoamerica, as well as the implications and ramifications of rejecting the New York Cumorah.

The tone is light-hearted, but still serious. The book is intended as an introduction to a more detailed book on the topic that will be out this fall. Mormon Mesomania will be the same size and length as Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah and Moroni's America: Pocket Edition.


On another blog, I've been discussing the important issue of how expectations are raised and interpretations of the Book of Mormon are imprinted on the minds of members of the Church. You can read that here.

There's a wonderful guest post at the Letter VII blog, too. Check it out here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mesomania book-poll on cover

My next book, Mormon Mesomania, will be released soon. We're seeking additional input on the cover via an online poll.

Mesomania looks at the phenomenon of the "Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica" industry, including its development by scholars who rejected Joseph Fielding Smith's advice and the proliferation of the theory through Church media and scholarly books and articles. We consider the psychology behind the focus on Mesoamerica, as well as the implications and ramifications of rejecting the New York Cumorah.

The tone is light-hearted, but still serious. The book is intended as an introduction to a more detailed book on the topic that will be out this fall. Mormon Mesomania will be the same size and length as Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah and Moroni's America: Pocket Edition.

Here are the covers we are testing in the poll. You can go to the poll here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Expectations and another new blog

I've started another new blog: Eventually I'll have a similar one for all the various theories.

In connection with that, I've organized the agree/agree-to-disagree chart by topic, here. It's more useful this way because we can all see where the specific issues remain. I hope this helps people make their decisions on what to believe about Book of Mormon geography and historicity. Obviously there is much more detail on each topic--this is merely an overview. But I welcome suggestions, corrections, clarifications, etc.

On a separate topic, I posted some comments on expectations, psychology and the Book of Mormon geography issues. Check it out. I've touched on it before, but I think this helps explain many of the ongoing problems.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The principle of choice and the new blog

One of the biggest requests I get regarding Book of Mormon geography is to clarify the issues. I started that by listing areas in which people (both scholars and nonscholars) agree, and areas in which they can agree to disagree. That list is here, and I will edit it as I get feedback and comments. I want to be as accurate and specific as possible.

As part of that effort, here's the new blog I mentioned last week:

Eventually I'll have one for each of the theories: bookofmormonchile, bookofmormonbaja, bookofmormonheartland, etc.

I'm starting with Central America because it's the one that has received the most attention, by far. I plan to cut through the clutter and discuss the essence of each theory.

Every theory comes with assumptions, interpretations, implications and consequences. Often these are obscure. In some cases, I suspect they are not completely thought out.

The agree/agree-to-disagree chart is a start. The goal is a more comprehensive analysis, in which the assumptions, interpretations, implications and consequences of each theory are set out so everyone can make an informed decision.

There is no right or wrong here; people can believe whatever they want. It's a question of trade-offs and priorities. 

Some people consider this process contentious, and sometimes it can appear that way, but really, this discussion is a presentation of alternatives. The Book of Mormon teaches the importance of choice, and choice requires alternatives: "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things."

Furthermore, no one should feel compelled or obligated to defer to anyone else's view. Some people might consider this question to be one the scholars should solve, but I disagree. Certainly, one does not need to be a scholar to understand the choices if they are presented clearly. "Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other."

In fact, the more I've thought about this, the more I realize the goal of reaching a consensus may have been a mistake. That goal carries the implication that a group of interested people could reach an agreement that others should follow.

Instead, this process seems designed to enable each individual to make his/her own choice. The key is that the choice be fully informed.

Looking back, that's what I've tried to do on this blog; i.e., examine what has been written on the topic and discuss areas that have not been fully disclosed or analyzed. The discussion of the Hill Cumorah is a prime example.

With these principles in mind, we can all respect one another's choices with no contention or argument. I want to understand fully what others believe and why. If I ever misstate an aspect of a theory, I hope someone lets me know so I can correct it.

Of course, this process bears the risk of people making their choices without considering all the information; i.e., people might make choices based on tradition, emotion, personal relationships, deference to others, etc. But that's true of all the choices we make. We are each responsible for the amount of thought and effort we put into our choices.

This isn't to say everyone needs to become an expert on the topic. But understanding the geography, in my opinion, is important for understanding the purposes of the Book of Mormon and how it can be used in our day to fulfill those purposes.

Another important point: I don't care if anyone agrees with me or not. I do think that a full examination of the assumptions, interpretations, implications and consequences of each theory leads to a conclusion, which I have spelled out in Moroni's America, but certainly that's not the last word, and I'm continually adjusting my thinking as more evidence comes forth and I get more feedback.

I hope that by clarifying these issues, people who want to make informed choices can do so. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

False and misleading geography theories

I've had to delay my new blog for reasons I won't get into, but in the meantime, I wanted make another "final" post here.

The handful of LDS scholars who control LDS scholarly publications continue to insist that Cumorah is in Mexico, so I'm going to try again and make the issue as plain and simple as I can.

No one should be offended by this next paragraph; certainly I intend no offense by it. It's simply a statement of fact.

If Cumorah is in New York, then every geography that puts Cumorah somewhere else is, by definition, false and misleading. This includes so-called "abstract" geographies.

There can be differences of opinion about how the New York Cumorah fits; i.e., arguments can be made about a hemispheric model (Chile to New York), a continental model (Mesoamerica to New York), or a limited geography model (Florida to New York, Iowa to New York, Pennsylvania to New York, or even all within New York).

But if Cumorah is in New York, then it can't be anywhere else.

Which also means that any geography theory that puts Cumorah somewhere other than New York is false.

It's that simple. And that clear.

(I'll stipulate that if Cumorah is not in New York, then any geography that puts Cumorah in New York is itself false and misleading. I'm fine with that. IOW, everything hinges on Cumorah in New York. In my view, if Cumorah is not in New York, then it doesn't really matter where else it is.)

One well-known LDS scholar (whom I respect and like, so I'm not criticizing him/her) observed that "All nineteenth-century writers on Book of Mormon geography apparently assumed that the place where Joseph Smith found the plates and the hill where the Nephites met their destruction were identical."

Now, why would they all "assume" that the Hill Cumorah was in New York?

The answer should be obvious, but apparently it's not, so I'll spell it out.

The first answer is Letter VII, which Oliver Cowdery wrote with the assistance of Joseph Smith. At the time, Joseph was President of the Church and Oliver was Assistant President. They wrote Letter VII as part of a series on Church history. They wrote Letter VII a few months before the Kirtland temple was completed; i.e., a few months before receiving the keys of the gathering and temple work directly from Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Lord Himself.

So clearly (according to this handful of LDS scholars), Joseph and Oliver didn't know what they were talking about.

(Okay, some will accuse me of sarcasm there, but this handful of scholars actually want people to believe that Joseph and Oliver didn't know what they were talking about. They expect people to believe everything Oliver wrote, including what he transcribed as Joseph dictated and his accounts of Church history--except a few paragraphs in Letter VII that contradict their own theories. I discussed this in the lettrvii blog here.)

Our scholar continues, "Aside from this one point, however, the diversity of nineteenth-century opinion is striking."

Actually, what is striking about that statement is the phrase, "aside from this one point."

"This one point" is the most important point of all.

I repeat: If Cumorah is in New York, then every geography that puts Cumorah somewhere else is, by definition, false and misleading. This includes so-called "abstract" geographies.

Now, it's completely true that there is a diversity of opinion beyond the New York location of Cumorah; as I mentioned above, there are all kinds of possibilities with Cumorah being in New York.

But Cumorah is a pin in the map that no one should remove. In my opinion.

The second reason why all of Joseph's contemporaries accepted the New York setting for Cumorah is that Mormon's depository was there.

So far as I can tell, every LDS scholar accepts Mormon 6:6.

 6 And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.

Everyone agrees that Cumorah was Moron's depository.

Wherever that depository is, that's where Cumorah is.

We have multiple accounts of Joseph and Oliver visiting this repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. The most cited is Brigham Young's account given in a special conference in Farmington, Utah, in 1877. It's in the Journal of Discourses here, and I've written about it before, so I won't repeat that. By now, everyone should know what he said. If you don't, go to the link and read it for yourself. I'll mention another thing he said on that occasion in the next section below. Several others corroborated what Brigham said.

Separately from Brigham Young's account, the July 7, 1866, edition of The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star ran a front-page article by Orson Pratt titled "The Hill Cumorah: Or the Sacred Depository of Wisdom and Understanding." I wrote a post about this on the lettervii blog.

In my opinion, there are no legitimate reasons for rejecting Letter VII and the many corroborating evidences for the New York Cumorah. So why is this handful of LDS scholars so adamant about doing so?

The only answer I've come up with so far is tradition and training.

This handful of LDS scholars have all learned from the same people, who in turn learned from the people who learned from the originators of the two-Cumorah theory and the limited geography Mesoamerican theory.

(Readers tell me they want me to name names, but personalities are beside the point and they're distracting because people apparently get offended when they are named. This is not about the people; it's about the theories. The origins, merits, and repercussions of the theories are what matter, not who came up with them originally or is perpetuating them today. It doesn't matter to me whether it is a professor or a Sunday School teacher or a home teacher who is perpetuating these theories; you need to understand what matters most. If you're in a situation where someone is talking about Book of Mormon geography, ask if they accept the New York Cumorah or not. Their answer will tell you what you need to know. You may get a response to the effect that "I don't have an opinion." If that's the case, then they shouldn't be saying anything about the geography at all, beyond explaining the issues; i.e., they should tell you about Letter VII and how a small group of LDS scholars rejects what Oliver Cowdery wrote, while others accept it, and so on. If they don't know about Letter VII, but they still teach anything about geography, then educate them.)

I know how alluring the two-Cumorah and related ideas are. I was taught them myself, and I believed them for many years. But they are fundamentally inconsistent with what Joseph and Oliver taught, and how can anyone living today know more about the topic than Joseph and Oliver?

Not to mention, what Joseph and Oliver taught makes more sense than the modern theories anyway.

I'm working on a chapter about the origins of the two-Cumorah theory that contains some quite surprising material that I didn't know until I dug into it. I think you'll like it. Maybe I'll post the chapter, or portions of it, on the new blog.

In the meantime, I want to end with this excerpt from Brigham Young's sermon in Farmington. It comes after he spoke about the depository. Remember, he said about the depository that "I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost." But to the handful of scholars who reject the New York Cumorah (and those who listen to them and perpetuate their teachings), the things Brigham Young taught are definitely forgotten and lost. (Or, worse, explained away as a vague vision of a mountain in Mexico.)

Brigham next spoke about the the foolishness of seeking after gold and silver instead of paying attention "to the legitimate business that God has given them to perform." People were spending time and money seeking treasure by mining, but Brigham said "what they did get was just sufficient to allure them."

The geography theories that put Cumorah anywhere but New York remind me of that. There's just enough to be alluring, but they are an enormous waste of time and effort and money.

Here's what Brigham said:

The Lord has permitted our enemies to come among us, who would destroy us if they could. They are only allowed to allure the minds of the foolish and those who lack judgment and who know not the things of God. But when we, as individuals and as a people, learn things as they are, we will find this fact—all truth is worthy and worth possessing, while all untruth is not worthy nor worth running after, nor working for, nor spending our lives for. The Gospel of life and salvation which God has revealed to us, incorporates all the systems there are. Every true principle and every true science, and every truth there is, are incorporated within the faith of the Latter-day Saints. This is something worth possessing, this is worth spending our time for; but the religions of the day, independent of their moral worth, are nothing but a myth, a shadow; there is no reality in them.

Based on past experience, no doubt someone will be offended that I republished Brigham's statement in this context. If you're offended, don't be. This isn't directed at you. I've explained before that I think this whole Mesoamerican thing originated with the overzealous efforts of a guy Joseph described as having a "rotten heart," who "would injure the Church as much as he could." Instead, let's take another look and get back to the origins.

In my view, we can rely on Joseph and Oliver. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Mesoamerica vs Moroni's America

Those who care about Book of Mormon geography and historicity need to answer this question:

Is the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah in New York or not?

The answer is really a referendum on the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery, who stated in no uncertain terms that it was in New York (See Letter VII). I have a detailed blog on that in the LetterVII blog today.

For me, it's a simple decision. I go with Oliver Cowdery.

I realize that others reject Oliver Cowdery because the New York Cumorah is incompatible with their preferred geography. There really is no other reason to reject Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII. 

True, there have been some poorly researched, bias-confirming articles about how Cumorah is a "clean hill" in terms of archaeology. But those were transparent efforts to give people a pretext to dismiss Oliver Cowdery. I've addressed those in detail.

I also realize that emotional attachments are not affected by facts. The geography references in the Book of Mormon are vague and fluid enough to accommodate just about anywhere on the planet, especially if you operate under the assumption that Joseph Smith translated the text wrong (e.g., he should have dictated headwaters of Sidon instead of head of Sidon). In a sense, this vagueness is an advantage. It allows people anywhere in the world to apply the text to their own lands. And, in a very real sense, it's true that the Lord's covenants apply to everyone everywhere.  

In that sense, an abstract map is as good as anything else.

People can believe whatever they want. But of course we have to recognize that a universal approach has the downside of transforming the Book of Mormon into a parable instead of an actual history of actual people who lived in an actual place. 

As a parable, the Book of Mormon may work for some people, but it lets people off the hook. People don't have to confront the harsh reality that Joseph Smith translated it by the power of God, and that the book is, literally, true.

As an actual history, the Book of Mormon forces people to confront this reality; i.e., that it could only exist because of divine intervention. Its origin makes it unique in human history.

I think the Book of Mormon can only fulfill its purpose if it is an actual history of actual people who lived in an actual place.

That's why I keep coming back to the geography question.

Once we're out of the parable realm, let's get real. 

There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of ideas about where the Book of Mormon took place. In my view, any idea that puts Cumorah outside of New York fundamentally undermines the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, which in turn pushes the text over into the parable column.

I realize there are people who accept the literalness of the text and also believe it took place in Peru, Chile, Baja, Mesoamerica, Panama, Africa, Southeast Asia, and who knows where else. But when you examine the foundations for those theories, they boil down to a belief in a whole list of questionable assumptions that don't compensate for the rejection of Joseph and Oliver.

The Mesoamerican theory has one thing going for it: the 1842 Times and Seasons articles that, for over 140 years, gave scholars a pretext for claiming Joseph approved, or at least was interested in, the Mesoamerican setting. I've shown from abundant evidence and from a variety of perspectives that Joseph had nothing to do with those articles, but traditions die hard. 

The question of historicity and geography really boils down to Mesoamerica vs. Moroni's America.

Consequently, I'm going to continue examining the Mesomerican theory on a new blog I'll announce tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Journey of Faith: The New World

Just when I thought I was finished with this blog, someone gave me a copy of the DVD Journey of Faith: The New World. I'd forgotten this DVD. This is a production of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University. It comes with a solicitation for donations featuring the BYU logo.

This DVD is a topic I haven't addressed before. I owe it to the faithful readers of this blog to discuss the DVD, but I'm posting my comments on the web page.