Friday, December 30, 2016

The Illusion of Knowledge

Yesterday Scott Adams (Dilbert) posted an awesome comment about how both sides of the climate science debates look 100% convincing to the under-informed. Here's his post:
http://blog.dilbert.com/post/155121836641/the-illusion-of-knowledge

Although he was writing about the climate debate, it's an interesting parallel to the Book of Mormon geography debate. Look at what he says here and see how it compares:

"So how did the public respond to my claim that BOTH sides of the debate look convincing? They berated me for not sufficiently researching materials from ONE side of the debate that happens to be their side. Many people suggested that I could simply do some homework, on my own, and get to the bottom of climate science.

"That is a massive public illusion."

The parallel to the Book of Mormon geography issue should be obvious. People from both sides of the issue think their own side is right because they have SO MUCH EVIDENCE!

As long as Book of Mormon geography remains an academic debate, there is no limit to the number of alternatives that can be dreamed up.

Adams explains this very well:

"You can’t change my mind by telling me exactly what I just told YOU. We both agree with you that your argument is 100% convincing. Just like the argument that says you are totally wrong. Both excellent.
"And so we have an odd situation in which both sides of the debate are in deep illusion, even if one side is right and the other is wrong. The illusion is that one side is obviously correct – and the belief that you could see that too, if only you would spend a little energy looking into it on your own. If you hold that belief, no matter which side you are on, you can be sure you are experiencing an illusion."
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Because of my long involvement with climate issues, I think Adams makes an excellent point here. Both sides are convinced they have overwhelming evidence to support their positions. Both sides think they are being objective and scientific.

He goes on to point out that this is simple psychology.

Non-scientists don’t have the tools to form a useful opinion on climate science. What we usually do instead is look at one side of the debate, ignore the other side, and use confirmation bias to harden our illusion of certainty. That’s how normal brains work. So if you are both normal and you have a strong opinion about climate science, I can say with confidence that you are hallucinating about your certainty.

Adams' point here applies to many, and maybe most, aspects of our lives. If we have a strong opinion on politics, this explanation definitely applies. If we have a strong opinion about relative brands (Apple vs. Samsung), best places to live, or sports teams, we're probably confirming our biases. (Okay, those might be more emotional and subjective preferences, but anything purporting to be even quasi-scientific or objective fits within Adams' explanation pretty well.)

Now, think about where you stand on Book of Mormon geography and see if that fits. In many cases, it does. It has become a purely academic debate. That's why the difference of opinion persists.
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But is the Book of Mormon geography question really a purely academic one?

I don't think so.

Remember, when I say "both sides" I'm not ignoring the complexity of the issue, with all the varieties of proposed geographies. To me, there are only two sides of the geography debate:

Cumorah in New York vs. Cumorah not in New York

If you think Cumorah is not in New York, it makes no difference to me where it is because you have just labeled Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as confused speculators who misled the Church. Plus, you've labeled their successors as people who have perpetuated a false theory, including in General Conference.

I simply don't see a way around this. Take President Marion G. Romney's address in the 1975 General Conference. If you think Cumorah is not in New York, how do you deal with what he said? Do you say he's just a man giving his opinion, and he's wrong because you disagree with him? Seriously?

The difference between the climate debate and the Book of Mormon geography debate is that no scientists are relying on prophets and apostles for guidance on this issue. But the Book of Mormon issues are inherently religious, and Joseph and Oliver--the President and Assistant President of the Church, on whose joint testimony the reality of the restoration of the Priesthood and all the keys relies--were explicitly clear about the issue of Cumorah.
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I realize some LDS scholars and educators reject Letter VII because they think in requires a hemispheric model, which they can't reconcile with the text. I'm sympathetic to that view as far as it goes, but there's a major disconnect here: Joseph and Oliver didn't explicitly and repeatedly claim the hemispheric model was a fact.

Others reject Letter VII because they think Joseph and Oliver were speculating, and they think that has no bearing on everything else they said.

But consider this.

The first account we have of John the Baptist conferring the Aaronic priesthood was in Oliver's letters.

Critics of the Church say Oliver and Joseph invented the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood years after the fact, and that's why it doesn't appear until Oliver's letter was published. IOW, critics undermine that foundational story on the ground that Joseph and Oliver were making stuff up.

If you reject Letter VII on the same grounds--that Joseph and Oliver were making stuff up--then you're making the same argument as the critics who say John the Baptist never appeared to them and never conferred the Priesthood on them.

The difference between the climate scenario that Adams discusses in his blog and the Book of Mormon geography question is that our prophets and apostles have taken a position on Cumorah being in New York.

It's not a question of whether a horse is a tapir or a tower is a pyramid. Those are academic debates, and those arguments never end even among the academics. Non-academics have no way to determine which side is right on the basis of academics alone.

But we don't have to be scholars to understand what the prophets and apostles have said.

And yes, I'm fully aware that a few of them have said, in various settings, that the Lord has not revealed the geography. But that's a different question from the long-resolved question of where Cumorah is. With Cumorah in New York where Joseph and Oliver said it was, the rest of the geography is wide open. You can believe it took place from Tierra de Fuego to Hudson Bay, or you can believe it all took place in western New York, or anywhere in between.

The extent of Book of Mormon geography beyond the New York Cumorah is, for now, a legitimate academic question. I have my opinions, and others have theirs, and it can be a fruitful discussion, along the lines Adams' points out in this piece.

But the New York Cumorah, IMO, is long-settled by the prophets and apostles. That the New York location is so well corroborated is simply a bonus.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

some ideas are so absurd that only intellectuals believe them

The title of this post has been attributed to George Orwell, but I don't know if he really said/wrote it. He did write this, though: "An intelligent man may half-succumb to a belief which he knows to be absurd, and he may keep it out of his mind for long periods, only reverting to it in moments of anger or sentimentality, or when he is certain that no important issues are involved."

Tonight at a dinner party a few people mentioned to me that the idea of the Book of Mormon in Central America never made sense to them. "Cumorah is in New York," they inevitably say, "so why would Moroni haul the plates thousands of miles?"

That's nearly a universal opinion among members of the Church--except among the intellectuals and the fewer and fewer people who believe them.

I've commented on this topic on this blog for much longer than I expected to. I thought the issue would get resolved much faster than it has. I've addressed almost every issue I can think of, and there are reasons why I haven't addressed the few that remain. If anyone has a question about Book of Mormon geography that I haven't addressed, please email me. (I had to change comments to require approval because I started getting spam--that comes when the readership grows as much as it has--and I don't usually have time to approve comments, but I do check email regularly because it pops up whether I want it to or not.)

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I have a new book scheduled for release next week, and another one about two weeks after that (in both cases, assuming all goes well). I'll mention those here on the respective release dates and give a preview. I think you'll like them. They both involve Church history. One deals specifically with Book of Mormon geography in a new way. New for me, at least. And certainly new for the reviewers who have been going through it.
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After decades of reading the publications of LDS scholars and educators, attending lectures and conferences, and having discussions with members around the world, I find that the majority of what LDS scholars and educators are doing is helpful and insightful. The only category that I find perplexing is the absurd theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerican (or any of the other proposed locations that reject the New York Cumorah).

If Orwell's clever observation applies anywhere, it applies to these non-New York Cumorah theories.

Frankly, I'm not even sure the intellectuals believe them. I think it's more a matter of them wanting to believe (due to Mesomania) and doing everything possible to figure out a way to vindicate that belief.

That said, I'm always open to new ideas. Maybe someone somewhere sometime will come up with an argument for the Mesoamerican theory that doesn't portray Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as clueless speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah. So far, I haven't seen it. 

I'm not going to hold my breath for that one, either.
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On Saturday I'm going to announce my new Church history blog. I think we're going to have some fun with Church history in Gospel Doctrine classes this year. I hope to be able to keep up with all the lessons. I covered last years lessons on the Book of Mormon on my Sunday School blog. A lot of gospel doctrine teachers around the Church found it useful. I think this year's posts on Church history will be even better.

Here's looking forward to a wonderful 2017.




Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Two Cumorahs on display at Temple Square

Today I used a new image in a presentation I did and thought my readers would like to see it.

There seems to have been a little confusion about my post on the two-Cumorahs display in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square. Those who haven't physically visited the site may have difficulty imagining how the Church could possibly be teaching the two-Cumorahs theory, especially at the most prominent Visitors Center in the world.

I took another photo recently and labeled it to clarify the situation. You should be able to click on it and download the full-sized picture.

Lower level, North Visitors Center, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah, December 2016
The labels are mine but are easily inferred from the displays and their placards.

Of course, if we still believed Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, these displays would be combined on one hill--the New York Cumorah. As Orson Pratt described it, Moroni buried the plates in a different compartment of the same hill where Mormon kept the repository of Nephite records.

While we're at it, we'd recognize that Moroni told Joseph that the record was written and deposited not far from his home. Moroni didn't say it was written 1,600 miles away and then deposited near Joseph's home.
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These displays are even worse when you see them in context.

Especially if you happen to be there to see children learning that Mormon was a Mayan, while Moroni, by himself, hauled the plates all the way to the distant "hinterland" of New York.

And imagine the millions of investigators walking through the area, concluding Mormons must be crazy.

Seriously, I can't overemphasize how devastating these displays are to the faith in the Book of Mormon. As Joseph Fielding Smith said, this theory causes people to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.

Okay, I realize some LDS scholars and educators love this display because they think Joseph and Oliver were clueless speculators who misled the Church. Thanks to the efforts of these scholars and educators, a lot of people have Mesomania (including the designers of this display). Some of them stay active in the Church by suppressing their cognitive dissonance, but more of them leave. Or refuse to talk to the missionaries in the first place. Or cancel appointments as soon as they get on the Internet and realize what the Cumorah deniers are saying about Joseph and Oliver.

On the good side, more and more people are rejecting this Mesoamerican nonsense. But not fast enough.

It's especially, should I say ironic, to have these displays right next to the display on Joseph Smith and the Doctrine and Covenants. Both Joseph personally and the Doctrine and Covenants scripturally refuted the two-Cumorahs theory, but there they are, adjacent to the most conspicuous implementation of the two Cumorahs imaginable.

Because I don't know when this travesty of a display was installed, I don't know how many millions of people have been exposed to this exposition of the two-Cumorahs theory. One person is too many, but millions?

It would be comical if it wasn't such a serious topic.

Actually, I think this is a trial of our faith. Each of us needs to ask ourselves, are we going to follow the scholars who reject the one Cumorah in New York, or the prophets and apostles who have repeatedly taught the one Cumorah is in New York?

Friday, December 23, 2016

December 23

Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805. This was the day after the winter solstice that year; i.e., Joseph was born on the day after the shortest, and darkest, day of the year. 

Beautiful symbolism for the light he helped bring to the Earth and all of humanity.

It's up to each one of us to help bring light to the Earth through the our actions and words. 

I hope we each take a moment today to think about whether we're adding light or extinguishing it.

For Joseph, the Hill Cumorah was never far from his thoughts. In 1842, at one of the most stressful points of his life, he wrote a letter to the Saints about joy and optimism that pointed directly to Cumorah. 

It has been designated as Section 128:


19 Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth! As the dews of Carmel, so shall the knowledge of God descend upon them!
 20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Cognitive blindness

I've been working on Church history and Book of Mormon issues for the last two years or so, but I've been working on science issues for much longer because I teach courses on environmental science and ethics. From time to time, the science literature translates into the Church-related topics. Here's a good example.

The climate change issue involves some complicated scientific issues, but it is largely driven by political considerations and funding. For the public, the narrative is controlled by the media, which has a strong filter in favor of anthropogenic climate change because of the political orientation of the reporters, editors, and owners. In the background, scientists disagree about the data, the methodology, the conclusions, and the policy implications. One non-scientist observer commented about it this way:

"The citizens who side with the majority of scientists in saying climate change is influenced by humans and the prediction models about doom are accurate have – as far as I can tell – never seen the strong versions of the argument on the other side. (I know because I ask about it.) They have only seen the weak versions presented by their own side. And the weak version of the argument goes like this: “The other side are science deniers and quacks.”

"My bottom-line belief about climate science is that non-scientists such as myself have no reliable way to evaluate any of this stuff. Our brains and experience are not up to the task. When I apply my tiny brain to sniffing out the truth about climate science I see rock-solid arguments on both sides of the debate."

He coined a term for a "new cognitive phenomenon" that he identified:

"I’ll call it cognitive blindness, defined as the inability to see the strong form of the other side of a debate.

"The setup for cognitive blindness looks like this:

"1. An issue has the public divided into two sides.

"2. You read an article that agrees with your side and provides solid evidence to support it. That article mentions the argument on the other side in summary form but dismisses it as unworthy of consideration.

"3. You remember (falsely) having seen both sides of the argument. What you really saw was one side of the argument plus a misleading summary of the other side.

"4. When someone sends you links to better arguments on the other side you skip them because you think you already know what they will say, and you assume it must be nonsense. For all practical purposes you are blind to the other argument. It isn’t that you disagree with the strong form of the argument on the other side so much as you don’t know it exists no matter how many times it is put right in front of you."
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I see cognitive blindness in all kinds of disputes. (In fact, it may be the basis for most legal disputes, apart from those in which people just want something they don't have.)

In the Book of Mormon geography realm, cognitive blindness is pervasive. In fact, one of the reasons I got involved with this issue is I saw a pattern of what I considered academic bullying that was misleading members of the Church. This blog started as my notes on that activity.

I'm not rehashing that here, but I want to address the question of cognitive blindness from my own perspective.

Here is how I apply the four setup points above.

1. The Book of Mormon geography issue has members divided into two sides: (A) those who believe Cumorah is in New York and (B) those who believe Cumorah is not in New York.

Both groups have subcategories. Group A includes people who think the scope of Book of Mormon geography can range anywhere from New York State alone to the entire Western hemisphere. Group B is the two-Cumorahs group that includes people who think the scope of Book of Mormon geography is limited to a specific area, such as Baja California, Mesoamerica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Eritrea, Malaysia, etc. (Lately I've been calling this group Cumorah deniers to keep the basic distinction clear without getting into the variety of non-New York Cumorahs. I figure that's a fair designation because they are actually insisting that the New York Cumorah was a false tradition started by, or at least promulgated by, Joseph Smith himself. That makes them deniers IMO.).

2. The LDS academic literature includes untold books and articles that establish, support, defend, and promote the two-Cumorahs theory, primarily focused on the Mesoamerican setting. You see these from all the mainstream LDS publishers, including Deseret Book, BYU Studies, Neal A. Maxwell Institute (which absorbed FARMS), as well as what I consider ideological publications from the Interpreter, FairMormon, BMAF, Book of Mormon Central, and the rest. All of these refuse to publish material that supports the New York Cumorah and the geography theories based on that setting. To the extent they mention the New York Cumorah, they do so "in summary form and dismiss it as unworthy of consideration."

3. People on all sides of the geography question do tend to remember having seen both sides of the argument, but you don't have to probe much to realize they have really seen "one side of the argument plus a misleading summary of the other side."

4. The last point is directly on point exactly as it is written above.
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The question I ask myself is, do I have cognitive blindness about the two-Cumorahs theory?

I have to consider the possibility, of course. Here's how I analyze the situation.

For decades, since I was a seminary student in Europe, I learned, studied, and accepted the Mesoamerican setting. Like every missionary since at least the 1960s, I actually taught it on my mission. Like it or not, if you are using the missionary or foreign-language editions of the Book of Mormon, you are teaching the two-Cumorahs theory because of the illustrations in the book.

(And if you take someone to the North Visitors Center on Temple Square, you will be explicitly teaching them the two-Cumorahs theory.)

As missionaries, we presented lots of media about Central America that fit with what we thought was the Church's position, based on the Arnold Friberg paintings (and now the ubiquitous John Scott painting). I went the extra mile and bought a French book on the Mayans. I read all the FARMS materials. On many occasions, I made the Mesoamerican arguments, based on what LDS scholars were saying and writing. I could still make those arguments today.

I suspect I know a bit more about the Mesoamerican theory than most members of the Church, and not only because I've read so much and attended so many seminars. Thanks to an archaeologist friend, I informally participated in the original peer review of John Sorenson's 1985 book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. I've visited many of the sites in Central America. I was all in for many years.

But then, as I said, I became aware of the academic bullying. I started reading some non-mainstream publications that discussed the North American setting. Eventually, I decided to do a deep dive and discovered the things I've written about in my books and blogs.

IMO, the Mesoamerican theory is based on a mistake in Church history, is perpetuated because of Mesomania, and is fundamentally destructive to faith because it teaches that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church, as has every prophet and apostle since who has spoken about Cumorah in New York.

Actually, I don't know of an idea that is more destructive to faith than the two-Cumorahs theory.

And it's all the worse because LDS scholars and educators have mainstreamed it into LDS culture.

I regret falling for it for so many years and actually teaching it myself. One reason I write and speak about these issues now is to make up for that. I'm encouraged that so many people have been reading Letter VII and seeing how pervasive the two-Cumorahs theory has become.

Hopefully in the near future the Mesoamerican theory will be nothing more than a footnote in Church history.
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Some Mesoamerican proponents think I don't know much about their positions or the facts about Mesoamerican culture and history. Certainly, there's always more to learn. And, in many cases, I've used shorthand versions of the Mesoamerican theory (e.g., tapirs for horses) to explain the background of the two main perspectives about Book of Mormon geography.

The risk of cognitive blindness can never be completely eliminated. The best we can do is expose ourselves to both sides of a debate or controversy before making a decision. We want to keep our minds as open as possible.

That said, when you see the monolithic approach taken by the LDS academic and publishing community, you can be sure--absolutely sure--that cognitive blindness prevails on that side. 
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The best cure for cognitive blindness is fair and open presentation of multiple points of view.

Let the readers and listeners decide for themselves, based on the best available information.

To that end, I published an "Agree and Agree-to-Disagree" list back in August. Here's the link:

http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2016/08/agree-and-agree-to-disagree-lists.html

So far as I know, this is the only comparison that fairly represents both sides of the question. Readers can go through the points and decide whether they agree or disagree with each point. It's a decision tree.

I could add more to it. I've asked for input from all sides to correct any errors or omissions. The version in an upcoming book is more detailed. But at least it's a place to start if you want to measure your cognitive blindness.
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The other thing in the works is an in-depth analysis of the "correspondences" used by Mesoamerican advocates to support their position. I've called these illusory because they are common to many, if not most, human societies; i.e., the fact that both Nephites and Mayans farmed does not mean they were one and the same people.

This is a serious academic inquiry, but it's no fun being serious all the time, so I posted a parody of this reasoning titled Moses Was a Mayan here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Repeated teachings

I've been reading the report of the 45th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium at BYU, published in the book titled Foundations of the Restoration (Deseret Book and the Religious Studies Center at BYU, 2016). There's a lot of good material in here. I particularly enjoyed Alex Baugh's chapter on Adam-ondi-Ahman and Bruce Van Orden's chapter on W.W. Phelps.

Chapter 2, "Evaluating Latter-day Saint Doctrine," was written by Anthony R. Sweat, Michael Hubbard MacKay, and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat. They propose a hierarchy of LDS doctrine:

1. Core, eternal teachings/doctrine (unchanging truths of salvation)
2. Supporting teachings/doctrine (elaborate, descriptive, timely teachings expanding on core doctrine)
3. Policy teachings/doctrine (timely statements related to applications of supportive and eternal teachings)
4. Esoteric teachings/doctrine (Unknown or only partially revealed or yet to be revealed truths)

They explain that the "model encourages the evaluation of each doctrine and requires careful historical and theological thought to understand the meaning of doctrines past, present and future, rather than basic acceptance of all declarative statements as being eternally binding."

To their credit, the authors recognize a potential drawback to their analysis: "We are not ignorant to the contradictions of our own positions within this paper--that we are encouraging a more flexible and expansive understanding of Latter-day Saint doctrine, all the while drawing circles and lines to confine it."

An example of the lines they draw are these four questions they offer to assess teachings:

1. Is it repeatedly found in the scriptures?
2. Is it proclaimed by the united voice of the current Brethren?
3. Is it consistently taught by current General Authorities and general officers acting in their official capacity?
4. Is it found in recent Church publications or statements?

I was interested in the emphasis on current and recent statements. The examples given pertain mainly to policy teachings/doctrine, such as the age of missionaries. These are essential to the ongoing operations of the Church, of course, but what of doctrine consistently taught by former prophets and apostles that are rarely if ever discussed today?

For example, modern Church leaders rarely, if ever, discuss Adam-ondi-Ahman, but as brother Baugh's chapter points out, the doctrine about that place is important for many reasons. Orson Pratt added D&C 116 to the 1876 edition, but it is not a teaching repeatedly found in the scriptures. The last time it was cited in General Conference was in 1986, by Elder Maxwell. Before that, 1980, by Elder Petersen. Alvin R. Dyer cited it in 1967 and 1968, and that was the first time since 1884, when John Taylor mentioned it.

From this, should we infer that Adam-ondi-Ahman is no longer important?

Or should we infer that the doctrine is so well established that there is no need for the current Brethren to reiterate it?

The latter makes more sense to me.

There is only so much bandwidth. The current Brethren fill that bandwidth with teachings and policies that address current needs, but I think the four question approach makes a mistake in overlooking what previous prophets and apostles have consistently taught.

The authors' point, in my view, would be better served by dropping the emphasis on current and recent. In fact, in their discussion of question 3, they seem to recognize a broader view, emphasizing the importance of cumulative teachings:

"There is safety in the cumulative teachings of general Church officers. Though many doctrines are emphasized, those that have staying power and find their way into the talks and statements delivered to the membership of the Church by numerous authorities can be trusted more than individual statements. As the LDS Newsroom article 'Approaching Mormon Doctrine' reminds, 'a single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding [doctrine] for the whole Church.' As Elder Neil L. Andersen said, "The doctrine of the Church... is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.'"
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Because this blog focuses on Book of Mormon geography issues, I encourage readers to consider the number of times Letter VII (the New York Cumorah) has been officially reprinted and quoted, compared with the zero times the non-New York Cumorah has been officially taught.

See the Letter VII blog for examples, here: http://www.lettervii.com/.

I've mentioned that in my experience, many Church leaders take the New York Cumorah for granted, as a well-established teaching. They don't seem to realize how many LDS scholars and educators have rejected that teaching in favor of promoting a two-Cumorahs theory.
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The authors quote a relatively obscure sermon by Brigham Young about how the Lord teaches the prophets gradually. It's a useful teaching that I'm inserting here for future reference:

"The Lord can't reveal to you and I that we can't understand; ... for instance when Joseph first received revelation the Lord could not tell him what he was going to do. He didn't tell him he was going to call him to be a prophet, seer, revelator, high priest, and founder of [the] kingdom of God on earth. Joseph would have said... "just what does that mean? You are talking that I can't understand." He could merely reveal to him that the Lord was pleased to bless him and forgive his sins and there was a work for him to perform on the earth and that was about all he could reveal. The first time he sent [an] angel to visit him he could then lead his mind a little further. He could reveal to him there was certain records deposited in the earth to be brought forth for the benefit of [the] inhabitants of the earth. He could reveal after this that Joseph could get them; then he could reveal he should have power to translate the records from the language and characters in which it was written and give it to the people in the English language, but this was not taught him first. ... He could then tell him he was to be called a prophet. He could then reveal to Joseph that he might take Oliver Cowdery into water and baptize him and ordain him to [the] priesthood. After this he could tell him he could receive the high priesthood to organize the church and so on. ... This is the way the Lord has to instruct all people upon the earth. I make mention of this to show you that ... the Lord can't teach all things to people at once. He gives a little here [a] little there, revelation upon revelation, on revelation after revelation, a precept today, tomorrow another, next day another. If the people make good use of it and improve upon what the Lord gives them, then he is ready to bestow more."

[Brigham Young, Discourse, 25 March 1855, Papers of George D. Watt, MS 4534, box 3, disk 1, images 142-53, transcribed by LaJean Purcell Carruth, punctuation and capitalization added.]


Monday, December 19, 2016

Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes

Sometimes people still cite Orson Pratt's Book of Mormon footnotes to support either (i) their own hemispheric or Latin American geography theories or (ii) their theory that everyone in Joseph's day was an ignorant speculator and was wrong. Most people in both groups are Cumorah deniers. I'm not aware of anyone who accepts Orson Pratt's geography ideas completely.

I think the footnotes show that Joseph's contemporaries all agreed that Cumorah was in New York, but realized they had to speculate about the rest. Pratt even uses speculative language when he refers to the South American locations, but he is specific and clear about the location of Cumorah.

Because many people have never seen these footnotes, I'm providing snapshots of them from the 1879 edition.

On assignment, Orson Pratt prepared the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, dividing it into the chapters and verses we still use today. (I've commented on some divisions that, in retrospect, look like errors, but it's not a big deal once you recognize the problems.)

Brother Pratt also added explanatory footnotes about geography. These tell us a lot about what people who actually knew Joseph Smith were thinking, as I'll explain in a moment.

First, I want to reiterate what I think is a related mistake in Church history that is still being perpetuated in the Joseph Smith Papers. I wrote about it here: http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2016/08/error-in-joseph-smith-papers.html

I realize it takes a long time to fix this type of error, but I hope someone does it sooner rather than later.
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Orson Pratt's footnotes were removed in the 1920 edition, so they are not familiar to many LDS. If you don't have a a copy of an 1879 edition, you can see that one and many additional editions online here: http://bookofmormon.online/fax. (Actually, I have an 8th Independence edition, which is not listed there but is based on Pratt's 1879 Liverpool Edition.)

Overall, we see that Pratt was confident about some locations (crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the United States and the Hill Cumorah in New York) but speculative about other locations (everything in Central and South America).

Joseph Smith rejected Pratt's hemispheric ideas, as we can see from the editing of the 1842 Wentworth letter. Later in 1842, an anonymous article in the Times and Seasons (T&S) claimed Zarahemla was in Quirigua, Guatemala. Neither Pratt nor anyone else ever quoted that article or attributed it to Joseph Smith, which suggests they knew Joseph had nothing to do with it. In fact, Pratt and others flatly contradicted the T&S articles when they claimed Zarahemla was in South America. The historical evidence, IMO, shows that William Smith and Benjamin Winchester collaborated to write the anonymous articles in the 1842 T&S. Other early Church authors also described variations of a hemispheric model. The only thing they agreed upon was that Cumorah was in New York, just as Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith said.

Only in recent decades have Cumorah deniers arisen in the Church who claim Cumorah was not in New York. We see from Pratt's footnotes that at least among those who actually knew Joseph Smith, there was no question about the New York location of Cumorah. His footnote about Cumorah says, "The hill Cumorah is in Manchester, Ontario Co., N. York." As you'll see, his other comments were more speculative.

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Here are some of Pratt's 1879 footnotes by chapter and verse, with my comments in red.



Many Waters = Atlantic Ocean

1 Nephi 13:10: And it came to pass that I looked and beheld many waters; (e: The Atlantic Ocean) and they divided the Gentiles from the seed of my brethren.

Mother Gentiles = British

And I beheld that their mother (j: The British) Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.



Mighty Nation = The United States

1 Nephi 22:7. And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty (d: The United States) nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered.




Hill Cumorah = Manchester

Mormon 6:2. And I Mormon, wrote an epistle unto the king of the Lamanites, and desired of him that he would grant unto us that we might gather together our people unto the land (a: The hill Cumorah is in Manchester, Ontario Co., N. York) of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah, and there we could give them battle.



Heaps of Earth = Ancient Mounds of North America

Ether 11:6. And there was great calamity in all the land, for they had testified that a great curse should come upon the land, and also upon the people, and that there should be a great destruction among them, such an one as never had been upon the face of the earth, and their bones should become as heaps (c: The ancient mounds of North America) of earth upon the face of the land except they should repent of their wickedness.

______________________________

Speculative ideas:

The following footnotes use hedging terms such as "probably" and "supposed to be" instead of the unambiguous, affirmative statements such as the declaration that the hill Cumorah is in New York.



Lehi's landing = Chili (sic)

1 Nephi 18:23. And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised (k: believed to be on the coast of Chili, S. America) land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land.

[Note: This footnote may be a reference to the Frederick G. Williams note that some have relied on to claim Lehi landed on the west coast of Chile around the 30th parallel. There is no evidence that Joseph ever said or endorsed such an idea. In fact, in 1841 someone brought a large scroll to Nauvoo purporting to show Lehi and his family landing in South America. You've probably never heard about this because Joseph ignored it. IMO, it seems likely Joseph may have said something about Lehi landing at the 30th parallel, but people such as Williams inferred he meant the southern parallel. Jerusalem is close to the 30th parallel (31.7 degrees north), but in the north. In the U.S., the 30th parallel is roughly the north border of Florida (the 31st parallel is Florida's border with Alabama). It makes sense that Lehi would have sailed to a familiar latitude for climate and astronomical reasons.]




Land of Nephi = Ecuador

Land of Zarahemla = Colombia

Omni 1:12-13. 12 Behold, I am Amaleki, the son of Abinadom. Behold, I will speak unto you somewhat concerning Mosiah, who was made king over the land of Zarahemla; for behold, he being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, (g: The land Nephi is supposed to have been in or near Ecuador, South America) and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness—

 13 And it came to pass that he did according as the Lord had commanded him. And they departed out of the land into the wilderness, as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord; and they were led by many preachings and prophesyings. And they were admonished continually by the word of God; and they were led by the power of his arm, through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla (h: The land of Zarahemla is supposed to have been north of the head waters of the river Magdalena, its northern boundary being a few days' journey south of the isthmus).

[Pratt here refers to an "isthmus," a term never used in the text. He apparently conflated the terms "narrow neck," "narrow neck of land," and "small neck of land" to refer to the same thing, although he didn't put that in a footnote at Ether 10:20, the only verse that refers to a "narrow neck of land."]





Sidon = Magdalena

Alma 2:15. And it came to pass that the Amlicites came upon the hill Amnihu, which was east of the river (g: Supposed to be Magdalena) Sidon, which ran by the land of Zarahemla, and there they began to make war with the Nephites.





Lehi = North America
Mulek = South America

Alma 22:31. And they came from there up (2q; Into Bountiful and Zarahemla, South America being called Lehi, and North America, Mulek) into the south wilderness. Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food.
[Pratt considered the land southward to mean South America and the land northward to mean North America. See footnotes to Ether 10:21]





Ablom = New England States

Ether 9:3. And the Lord warned Omer in a dream that he should depart out of the land; wherefore Omer departed out of the land with his family, and traveled many days, and came over and passed by the hill of Shim, and came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed, and from thence eastward, and came to a place which was called Ablom, (d: probably on the shore of the New England States) by the seashore, and there he pitched his tent, and also his sons and his daughters, and all his household, save it were Jared and his family.






Ripliancum = Lake Ontario

Ether 15:8. And it came to pass that he came to the waters (c: supposed to be Lake Ontario) of Ripliancum, which, by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all; wherefore, when they came to these waters they pitched their tents; and Shiz also pitched his tents near unto them; and therefore on the morrow they did come to battle.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Piling up confirmation bias and don't confuse me with the facts

Occasionally I still run into someone who is convinced the Book of Mormon took place in Central America (Mesoamerica).

This is much less common than it used to be, but there are still a few such people out there. Apart from the Cumorah-denying LDS scholars and educators, I think most members are rejecting the Mesoamerican ideology. Or, more accurately, I think most members never really believed it. Hardly anyone sticks with Mesoamerica when they understand it relies on the two-Cumorah theory.

Ask around and see what you discover. Ask fellow students or ward members. Most of them will say they've never heard of the two-Cumorahs theory, and they will say it makes no sense.

And that's before they read Letter VII.
________________

The Cumorah deniers claim to have an abundance of evidence. "Look at all the books and academic articles," they might say.

Piling up confirmation bias might look impressive, but when you analyze each piece, you soon discover it doesn't hold up on its own. It's the accumulation of "evidence" that seems convincing, not the significance of each piece (most of which no one has taken a serious look at).

My favorite example is Mormon's Codex, the 826-page book published by Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU. It has a Foreword by Terryl Givens, who writes, "John Sorenson has again upped the ante with what will immediately serve as the high-water mark of scholarship on the Book of Mormon." That's a fair statement regarding Mesoamerican Book of Mormon scholarship, but when you actually read the book, the entire thing is based on circular reasoning and bias confirmation, starting with the unexamined premise that the Book of Mormon could only have taken place in Central America.

Cumorah deniers might say, "Look at the artwork on lds.org. Look at the Visitors Center on Temple Square. Look at the illustrations in the missionary and foreign-language editions of the Book of Mormon." Of course, this argument seeks to imply that the Church has embraced the Mesoamerican argument, which is not the case. Instead, it reflects the ongoing influence of the LDS scholars and educators who promote the two-Cumorahs theory and have trained most of the people at Church headquarters who are responsible for these presentations.

Another common rationale for believing the Mesoamerican theory is this classic: "All the scholars agree with the Mesoamerican setting."

First, the statement is simply not true. More to the point, when you look at the actual evidence they offer, there's not much there. And what's there is all confirmation bias.

1. 1842 Times and Seasons articles. Some Mesoamerican proponents will tell you that Joseph Smith said Zarahemla was in Guatemala, or that the Nephites lived there. We now know this was a mistake in Church history and informed Mesoamerican proponents have dropped that argument. But the argument has been around for decades, so it will take a while for it to disappear completely. (Some Cumorah-deniers who know better still use it, I'm told, so be on your toes if you attend one of their presentations or hear it in a classroom somewhere.)

2. Narrow Neck of Land. Most Mesoamerican proponents will say that the only place in the Americas that is a "narrow neck of land" is Central America. This claim has arisen from a mistake in reading the text. The "narrow neck of land" appears in exactly one verse: Ether 10:20. Some people have conflated the term with others, including the small neck, narrow neck and narrow passage, but that's not what the text says. The entire hourglass shape you see all the time on the maps is pure confirmation bias. One proof of this: the Mesoamerican proponents have many different interpretations of the geography passages. There's no consensus even among Mesoamerican proponents about anything. Not even Cumorah. You'd think, when their interpretation of the text is designed to fit Central America, that they would reach consensus among themselves.

So far, the only two things on which Mesoamerican scholars have reached consensus are:

(i) that Cumorah cannot be in New York, because, according to these scholars, Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church when they said Cumorah was in New York and

(ii) every prophet and apostle since Joseph and Oliver who has spoken about Cumorah has been perpetuating a false tradition, including President Marion G.Romney in General Conference in 1975.

3. Correspondences. Lately, the Mesoamerican theory has boiled down to various "corresondences" between Mayan and Nephites/Lamanites, or Olmecs and Jaredites. Everything in this category qualifies as pure confirmation bias. These "correspondences" involves elements of human society that are common, if not ubiquitous, around the world and throughout time.

This focus on illusory correspondences is one of the best examples of confirmation bias you will find anywhere.
_______________

Confirmation bias is everywhere around us. It explains why people looking at the same evidence can disagree about religion, politics, science, and which Star Wars movie is the best.

Confirmation bias is also the reason why facts do not persuade most people. "Don't confuse me with the facts" is not just a funny commentary on human nature. It's an implied sentiment most of us feel toward facts that contradict our beliefs.

There is probably no set of facts that will change the mind of some Cumorah deniers.

Psychologically, they simply cannot find a place for facts that contradict their beliefs. It is evidence of the power of Mesomania, implanted at a young age.

Other Cumorah deniers might change their minds once a certain amount of evidence has been accumulated. For some, Letter VII alone suffices. For others, it's learning that Joseph Smith had his own scribes copy Letter VII into his personal history that is persuasive. For yet others, the many reprintings of Letter VII and the ongoing endorsement by modern prophets and apostles is important. Others might find the archaeological, geological, anthropological and other evidence is persuasive.

The point is, it may be literally impossible to change the minds of every Cumorah denier.

And that's perfectly fine, so long as they have all the facts.

 


Don't be a Cumorah denier

You might start noticing this graphic showing up in the near future.

Of course, readers of this blog aren't Cumorah deniers anyway, but you might want to help your friends avoid the stigma of being a Cumorah denier.

:)




Thursday, December 15, 2016

Cumorah deniers are still at work

Earlier this week, the Cumorah deniers at Book of Mormon Central (BOMC) just added a classic Cumorah-denier article to their archive. Anyone who doubts they are teaching the two-Cumorahs theory should read this article.

I've addressed this particular article twice before, but you'd never know that because BOMC refuses to publish anything that contradicts their Cumorah-denier position. They promote the two-Cumorahs theory exclusively because they promote their Mesoamerican theory exclusively.

This article is titled "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions." You can find it here.

Yesterday I pointed out how the Cumorah deniers have invented a distinction between "Mormon's hill" in southern Mexico and "Moroni's hill" in New York. This article was one of the first to make that distinction. It is one of the clearest statements of the two-Cumorahs theory, and it's no surprise that BOMC would add it to their archive.

Here is the abstract:

"The archaeology of New York—and specifically the Hill Cumorah—is persuasive evidence that Book of Mormon peoples did not live in that region. By implication, the Cumorah of the golden plates is not the Cumorah of the final battles—Mormon’s hill and Moroni’s hill are not one and the same. These conclusions follow from a few basic points and assumptions that the author explores in this article."

Here are the links to my previous analyses of this article:

http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2016/04/fun-with-john-e-clark-archaeology-and_17.html

and

http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2016/04/more-fun-with-brother-clark.html
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My favorite passage from the article is one which Cumorah deniers have quoted uncounted times in their own publications:

"In accord with these general observations about New York and Pennsylvania, we come to our principal object—the Hill Cumorah. Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrowheads. The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here. This is not the place of Mormon’s last stand. We must look elsewhere for that hill.¹¹

Footnote 11 is an awesome collection of Cumorah denier bias confirmation publications: "Consult John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 1–95; Mormon’s Map (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000); and The Geography of Book of Mormon Events, 209–315, 329–53; also David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Bountiful, UT: Horizon, 1981)."

Lately, the Cumorah deniers have even been spending time in southern Mexico, searching for the "real" Cumorah they imagine is there somewhere. Check this out:
 http://bookofmormonresources.blogspot.com/2016/11/linguistic-cumorah.html
_____________________

Back to New York.

While the Cumorah deniers living in Utah County claim there are no artifacts on the Hill Cumorah, people who actually have lived and worked in the Palmyra area tell a different story.

Willard Bean described hundreds of artifacts he found when he was serving in the area. The Autobiography of Willard Washington Bean includes a small color photograph of some projectile points (a.k.a. arrowheads) on page 132 of Volume 2. The caption reads:

“These are a few of the many arrowheads dug up from the Hill Cumorah by Alvin Bean and his brothers, Dawn and Kelvin, while living on the Farm.”

[Note: If you don't know who Willard Bean is, you need to learn about him. Here's a good place to start.]

One woman who also lived in Cumorah as a youth related this account:

"In 1990, the church rewrote the script for the Hill Cumorah Pageant. This required that the entire front face of the Hill be torn up in order to fit the new stage. I remember at this time I was working at the Hill for the Church. My father and family were well respected, especially anything pertaining to history, artifacts, etc. Therefore, all the senior missionaries knew my father and family very well as he was often sought after for his "special" local tours. One day as I was working there, and having a great relationship with the senior missionaries, one of the elders quietly asked me to come with him. he took me to a room in the Visitor Center that was locked. Upon entering, in there were boxes upon boxes of arrow heads. He told me that during the current dig, they were uncovering all these arrow heads. The Church asked the current contracted excavator to quietly, discreetly keep all artifacts they may find and store them quickly. They did not want anything leaked to the public for fear of a mass "run" to the Hill, which could potentially cause liability issues and safety concerns during excavation. Not to mention it could hold up the process and they were on a very tight deadline for completion for the upcoming Pageant. I remember how in awe I was to see so many boxes. He told me not to touch any, and that he probably shouldn't be showing me, but he knew I would appreciate seeing these artifacts for myself, knowing how much my father and I were local historians. It wasn't but a few days later he approached me and said that when he went to the room that morning, they were all gone. He said he believed the Church had come and quietly removed them in the middle of the night for safety reasons. We can only suspect that they have also been moved to the Granite vaults."

There are other such accounts about artifacts and bones found in the immediate vicinity of the Hill Cumorah in New York. Cumorah deniers don't care about these accounts, though. They'd rather tromp through the jungles of southern Mexico and consult Google Earth in a pointless effort to "find" what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery already told us was in New York.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Yes, they do teach the two-Cumorahs theory

Church leaders, staff and members continue to tell me they don't believe LDS scholars and educators are teaching a two-Cumorahs theory.

Anyone who doesn't realize the two-Cumorahs theory is the dominant position in the Church right now isn't paying attention.

LDS scholars and educators even use the Church's teachings about two Cumorahs as evidence that the Church endorses the Mesoamerican theory of geography.

To review: The "two-Cumorahs" theory was developed by Mesoamerican advocates to justify their theories that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. They say the hill in New York is too far away to be the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and the Lamanites, so they rationalize that the hill in New York was misnamed by some unknown early member of the Church. These scholars say that Joseph Smith adopted this false tradition. He and Oliver Cowdery, in Letter VII, were ignorant speculators who misled the Church for 100 years. These scholars say the hill in New York is "Moroni's hill" because Moroni deposited the plates there. The real Cumorah, "Mormon's hill," (mentioned in Mormon 6:6) is somewhere in southern Mexico. They even have people in Mexico searching for the "real Cumorah." These scholars say the idea that Cumorah is in New York is "manifestly absurd."

It's simple. Whenever you see the distinction between Moroni's hill and Mormon's hill, you are seeing the two-Cumorahs theory.

Typical scholarly map of the Book of
Mormon in Mesoamerica that relies
on the two-Cumorahs theory
In fact, every time you see a painting, illustration, movie, video or other depiction of Book of Mormon events or characters in Central America, you are seeing the two-Cumorahs theory at work. In this post, I'll give some examples. I've discussed these before, but this topic is new for many readers, so a review is important.

LDS scholars and educators have been teaching the two-Cumorahs theory for decades, but they know most members of the Church would be uncomfortable with it, so they don't talk about it much. In this post, I'll show you some of their writing, which they circulate mainly among themselves. Nevertheless, their influence on the Church has been profound. Almost everyone working in the Church Office Building has been trained at BYU, or by CES somewhere, and therefore they have been indoctrinated in the two-Cumorahs theory. You will find the two-Cumorahs theory being taught throughout the Church. Often the teachers don't even realize they are teaching this theory that expressly and intentionally contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught.
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To begin with, I'll repeat what Joseph Fielding Smith said about the two-Cumorahs theory:

"This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon."

LDS scholars and educators have rejected President Smith's warning on the ground that he didn't know what he was talking about. They reject every prophet and apostle who has spoken about Cumorah, all the way back to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Keep that in mind as I show you how widely the two-Cumorahs theory is being taught in the Church today.
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Temple Square, North Visitors Center, teaches the "two-Cumorahs" theory. 

If you visit the exhibits in the North Visitors Center, you will see the two-Cumorahs theory on display in as public a venue as is possible. Millions of people walk through these exhibits and learn about the two-Cumorahs theory. Many of them will never read the Book of Mormon, but they will learn that the events took place in Central America. If they do any investigation at all, they'll soon learn that Joseph and Oliver said Cumorah was in New York, and they'll realize the Church has adopted the position of the scholars that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled everyone about Cumorah.

Moroni's hill in New York

Mormon's hill in Central America
The two-Cumorahs theory has never been made more explicit than it is right now in the North Visitors Center. To make sure no one would misunderstand, they decorated Mormon's cave (Mormon 6:6) with Mayan glyphs. Of course, I find this appalling, but I admire the audacity of these displays. Now, no one can say the Church is not teaching the two-Cumorahs theory.

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Missionary and foreign-language editions of the Book of Mormon teach the "two-Cumorahs" theory. 

If you have a missionary or foreign-language edition of the Book of Mormon printed in 1981 or later, open it to the illustrations at the beginning. You'll find three depictions of the Mesoamerican theory: Alma baptizing in the jungle; Samuel preaching from high atop a Mayan stone wall; and Christ appearing among Mayan ruins with Chichen Itza in the background.
Alma baptizing in Mayan jungle
Samuel preaching from Mayan wall

Christ visiting Mayan Nephites 

Then you'll find the painting of Moroni burying the plates in New York. This is Moroni's hill, carefully distinguished from Mormon's hill, which the scholars want everyone to believe is in southern Mexico.

Painting of "Moroni's hill" in New York added to
the missionary and foreign-language editions

You might think this collection of paintings doesn't portray the two-Cumorahs theory as explicitly as the Visitors Center, and I agree. However, when you realize how these illustrations were changed in 1981, the teaching is clear.

Painting of New York Cumorah deleted from the
missionary and foreign-language editions
Prior to 1981, the illustrations in the missionary edition included the Arnold Friberg painting of Mormon and Moroni together on the Hill Cumorah in New York. In 1981, that painting was replaced by the painting of Moroni alone in New York. The painting of Christ at Chichen Itza was added. Prior to 1981, there were also photos of the Hill Cumorah in New York. These have been removed.

The collection of paintings in the missionary and foreign-language editions are misleading on their face. Nowhere does the Book of Mormon refer to jungles, pyramids, or Mayans. Nowhere does it refer even to buildings made of stone. These illustrations are false advertising, and have the inevitable effect of causing confusion among members and investigators.

That they're designed to teach the two-Cumorahs theory makes them even worse.
_____________________

Publications of LDS scholars and educators teach the "two-Cumorahs" theory. 

If you read the publications by LDS scholars and educators, you will soon learn that the "two-Cumorahs" theory is the basic premise for the Mesoamerican setting that is taught throughout the Church. To avoid focusing on individuals instead of concepts, I'm not providing citations to these quotations, but if you want to see the citations, you can email me. These quotations are from the leading scholars who have educated the educators throughout the Church, as well as the staff who work for the Church. My comments in red.

“There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history.”

[This dismissive attitude toward those who accept what Joseph and Oliver said about Cumorah in New York is widespread among LDS scholars and educators. These scholars and educators think the prophets and apostles who have supported Joseph and Oliver in the past are perpetuating a false tradition.] 

"In 1842, after reading about ancient cities in Central America, Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located there. I derive two lessons from his speculation: First, Joseph did not know exactly where Book of Mormon lands were; second, he considered their location an important question addressable through scholarship."

[We've seen through a detailed analysis of Church history that Joseph never wrote or edited the anonymous 1842 articles referred to here. That doesn't deter the scholars, though, because the narrative fits their view that their scholarship should prevail over what the prophets and apostles have taught. In their view, whenever an apostle or prophet says something they disagree with, that apostle or prophet was merely expressing a personal, non-prophetic opinion.]

"The sacralization of the New York hill by association with Cumorah tapped into the miraculous nature of the discovery and translation of the plates. It was an association that certainly occurred very early, but the source of the connection between the New York hill and the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is unknown... Although [Joseph Smith] was in a perfect position to know a different name and to correct the Saints, he didn't. However, that should not be seen as confirmation that the tradition was correct, but rather that the Saints' communal interpretation of history influenced Joseph's description of that history. Joseph not only allowed the communal creation of the Church's history; he embraced it.... The New York hill cannot be the Cumorah described in the text. What history does support is that Joseph came late to using Cumorah to identify the New York hill. Rather than being able to use Joseph as the foundation of the naming tradition, it is easier, according to the evidence of history, to see Joseph as accepting the tradition."

[The author here completely ignores Letter VII and the multiple times Joseph explicitly approved of it, including its clear, unambiguous identification of the New York hill as Cumorah. The author ignores Joseph's mother's statement that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah even before he got the plates (but after his interviews with Moroni). He portrays Joseph as passively accepting a false tradition started by unknown persons at an unknown time, and thereby misleading the entire world about Cumorah until the scholars, such as this author, set the Church straight.]
_____________________

I could give more examples, but three from highly prominent LDS scholars should suffice to give you the flavor of what has been taught for decades.

These examples show beyond question that the two-Cumorahs theory is being actively taught throughout the Church today.

The two-Cumorahs theory has had exactly the consequences that President Smith warned the Church about, but the scholars repudiated that warning, and they have prevailed. 

The evidence of this confusion is well-known to anyone serving in Church leadership today, anyone involved with missionary work, and anyone who simply wants to understand the Book of Mormon. 





Letter VII and the hemispheric model

From time to time people say that if you accept Letter VII and the New York Cumorah, you have to also accept the hemispheric model of Book of Mormon geography.

Usually that claim is made without further analysis, as if Letter VII itself describes a hemispheric model. But it doesn't.

The only thing Letter VII establishes is that Cumorah--the Cumorah of the final battles, the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, etc.--is the hill in New York where Joseph obtained the plates.

It's true that some contemporaries of Joseph Smith described a hemispheric model. There was quite a bit of speculation about where the Book of Mormon events took place, but zero speculation about any site for Cumorah other than New York. The 1879 Orson Pratt footnotes are a perfect example. I have a separate post on that scheduled for later this week.

It is because of this unanimous and universal understanding about the New York Cumorah that I say Cumorah is a pin in the map. It's the touchstone between our modern world and the world of the Nephites and Jaredites. It's the one sure thing we can rely on, and it was given to us unambiguously and definitely by Joseph and Oliver in Letter VII.

As I've documented on this blog and elsewhere, some LDS scholars and educators nevertheless continue to insist that Cumorah is not in New York and cannot be in New York. They almost don't care where it is so long as it is not in New York.

I attribute their approach to Mesomania. Others attribute it to stubbornness, academic pride, and similar concerns.
_____________________

Back to the hemispheric model argument.

The reason people link Letter VII to the hemispheric model is not because Oliver or Joseph did, but because the scholars have created the link in their minds.

They insist that most of the events in the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. Therefore, they reason, a New York Cumorah means a hemispheric model; i.e., the Nephites would have had to travel all the way from Central America to New York, an idea that they ridicule as absurd.

Actually, I tend to agree with them on that point. But the absurdity arises from the Mesoamerican setting, not from the New York Cumorah.
_____________________

Maybe I should start referring to Mesoamerican proponents as anti-Letter-Seveners. These anti-Letter-Seveners have basically suppressed Letter VII for decades. Now, thanks in part to the Joseph Smith Papers project, Letter VII is available to anyone with Internet access. Thousands of Church members are discovering it for the first time.

So what does a good anti-Letter-Sevener do?

Try to link it to the discredited hemispheric model.

Let's pretend we're anti-Letter-Seveners for a minute.

We can observe that right in Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery described Joseph Smith's thoughts as he approached the hill to get the plates. Joseph was thinking about the value of the plates and how they would relieve him of poverty. On the other hand, he was commanded to work with the plates only for the glory of God. But he could sell the valuable history for a lot of money. As Oliver wrote, "to use his own words it seemed as though two invisible powers were influencing, or striving to influence his mind."

Oliver observed one reason the history would be valuable: "A history of the inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europeans by Columbus, must be interesting to every man; and as it would develope [develop] the important fact, that the present race were descendants of Abraham, and were to be remembered in the immutable covenant of the Most High to that man, and be restored to a knowledge of the gospel, that they, with all nations might rejoice, seemed to inspire further thoughts of gain and income from such a valuable history."

While we're in the anti-Letter-Sevener mode, we will interpret this to mean that Oliver and Joseph thought the plates were describing a hemispheric setting for the Nephites and the Jaredites.

Let's step out of anti-Letter-Sevener mode and look at the facts.

Joseph entertained these thoughts before he translated the plates. Before he even obtained them. Oliver is not representing what the plates said, only what Joseph thought they would, or might, say.

Scholars can debate about what Oliver meant here; i.e., does "peopled this continent" mean North America, or all of the Western Hemisphere? What did he mean by saying "this continent" was "discovered to Europeans by Columbus?" Those are the type of debates scholars love because there is never any resolution.

But the debate is irrelevant because Oliver was not writing about what the record actually contained; he was writing about what Joseph thought it would contain before he translated a single word.

Oliver's description of what Joseph was thinking before he obtained the plates is irrelevant to what Joseph and Oliver taught after they have translated the plates.
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In Letter VII, Oliver referred to the Indians as "red men" when he wrote this:

"the land was left to the possession of the red men, who were without intelligence, only in the affairs of their wars; and having no records, only preserving their history by tradition from father to son, lost the account of their true origin, and wandered from river to river, from hill to hill, from mountain to mountain, and from sea to sea, till the land was again peopled, in a measure, by a rude, wild, revengeful, warlike and barbarous race.-Such are our Indians."

This passage could lead an anti-Letter-Sevener to claim that Oliver was referring to all indigenous Native Americans throughout the hemisphere. That might be difficult to believe, but the anti-Letter-Seveners have honed their rhetorical skills defending their Mesoamerican theories. Transforming Oliver's sentence into a full-blown hemispheric model would not be any more difficult than what they've done with the Times and Seasons, Wentworth letter, Zelph account, etc.

But you can see for yourself that Oliver didn't invoke Central or South America.

Oliver's eight letters were part of a running correspondence with W.W. Phelps, who was living in Missouri at the time. Phelps wrote 11 letters to Oliver's 8. The letters were published in the Messenger and Advocate between October 1834 and October 1835.

In his second letter, published in December 1834, Phelps wrote a poem titled "The Red Man." [Note: the origins of the term "red man" are not clear, but likely involved the use of red pigment by certain tribes, such as a tribe in Newfoundland that used red ochre to paint their bodies, houses, canoes, etc. Europeans called them the "Red Indians." I'm not aware of any example of the term being used for indigenous people in Central America.]

At the conclusion of his poem, Phelps wrote this:

"Besides the Delawares, Shawnees, Kickapoos, Wyandots, Pottowattomies, Senecas, Osages, Choctaws, Cherokees, Kaskaskias, Kansas, &c. &c. which our nation and the missionaries are domesticating as they are gathered, upon the southern limits of the land of Israel, the Pawnees, the Sioux, the Rickarees, the Mandans, the Nespersees, the Blackfeet, the Sacs, the Foxes, and many other tribes, rove and hunt from prairie to prairie, from river to river, from hill to hill, and from mountain to mountain, and live, and are blessed before the face of heaven daily as well as their contemporary whites; and, perhaps I may add, are as justifiable before God, as any people on the globe, called heathens."

Note that he referred to the North American tribes, not any people in Central or South America.

In Letter No. 3, January 1835, Phelps wrote another letter about the "various tribes of Indians" in the Missouri area. "About twenty miles from this post, the Delawares, and Shawnees, sit in darkness waiting patiently for a light to break forth out of obscurity, that they may know of their fathers, and of the great things to come." Again, nothing about a hemispheric model.

In Letter No. 11, October 1835, Phelps's final letter in the series, he wrote to Oliver about the Indians, suggesting the U.S. government was helping to "gather" them:

"The Indians occupy a large portion of the land of America, and, as they are a part of the creation of God, and are a remnant of the children of Israel, they must necessarily hear the gospel, and have a chance to be gathered into the fold of the Lord. Our government has already gathered many of the scattered remnants of tribes, and located them west of the Missouri, to be nationalized and civilized; and feeling, as every saint must, a deep interest in their salvation, I rejoice to see the great work prosper. The Indians are the people of the Lord; they are of the tribes of Israel; the blood of Joseph, with a small mixture of the royal blood of Judah, and the hour is nigh when they will come flocking into the kingdom of God, like doves to their windows; yea, as the book of Mormon foretells-they will soon become a white and delightsome people."

Later, in the same letter, Phelps went on to speculate about the extent and location of the tribes of Israel:

"Again the Commissioners stated that "thirty tribes, containing a population of 156,310, have held treaties with the United States, and that there is an Indian population east of the Mississippi, of 92,676,"-making a total of 405,286. Now allowing the same number west of the Mountains, and suppose 800,000, in the northern regions of the Canadas, and 500,000 in South America, there will be 2,110,562 of the sons of Joseph, and of the remnants of the Jews. A goodly number to be willing in the day of the Lord's power, to help build up the waste places of Zion. A blessed band to be restored to mercy and enjoy the chief things of ancient mountains; even the deep things that couch beneath.
The parts of the globe that are known probably contain 700 millions of inhabitants, and those parts which are unknown may be supposed to contain more than four times as many more, making an estimated total of about three thousand, five hundred and eighty millions of souls: Let no man marvel at his statement, because there may be a continent at the north pole, of more than 1300 square miles, containing thousands of millions of Israelites, who, after a high way is cast up in the great deep, may come to Zion, singing songs of everlasting joy."

Oliver's final letter, Letter VIII, was published in the same Oct. 1835 issue. I know of no response he gave to Phelps' speculations.
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Consequently, I can't find anything in Oliver's letters that suggest, let alone require, a link between the New York Cumorah and any hemispheric model of Book of Mormon geography.