Friday, May 19, 2017

Expectations and art - missionary work

Because there are so many new readers here, I'm going to repost some of the most popular posts from the past that they might have missed. This one is the most popular (so far) from the consensus blog.


Expectations and art - missionary work

Missionary work involves a variety of expectations, but here I'm focusing solely on the expectations raised by the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon.

Over the years, the official editions of the Book of Mormon have contained sets of illustrations. I have copies of many of these that I'll use to make this important point: The expectations of missionaries, investigators and members are set largely by these illustrations.

The illustrations that accompany the official edition of the Book of Mormon are tremendously influential. I suspect that far more people look at the illustrations than read the text. Probably 100 times more.

Obviously, the message in the text is ultimately the most important, but unless people read the text,they don't get the message. If the illustrations convey ideas that contradict the text (and Church history), then they cause confusion.

The fact that these illustrations have changed over the years shows that they can be changed again. At the end of this post, I have a suggestion along those lines.

The history of these illustrations reflects a shift from a hemispheric model (the one that Friberg apparently intended) to the limited geography two-Cumorah Mesoamerican model that modern scholars support. For example, notice that the earlier editions showed both Mormon and Moroni at the New York Cumorah, while the newer editions show only Moroni in New York.

I suggest it's time to shift back to a one-Cumorah model, based on New York.

I have a copy of a 1961 Book of Mormon that contains the following illustrations at the front of the book:

The caption: When Jesus Christ organized His Church, He called and ordained his disciples.

Caption: The Prophet Joseph Smith. He translated the ancient writings inscribed on gold plates from which the first edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.

Caption: The Hill Cumorah, near Manchester, New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Caption: The beautiful monument to the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni was erected on the top of the Hill Cumorah in July, 1935.

Caption: Gold tablet found in Persia in 1961, dating to the time of Darius II (Fourth Century B.C.)...

Caption: Ancient copper and bronze tools dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Gold plates from Peru fastened together with gold rings. Ancient Americans were skilled craftsmen in gold and precious metals.
Caption: Textiles from Peru, dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Egyptian-like murals found on temple walls in Mexico.

Caption: Looking across the main plaza of Monte Alban (sacred mountain). This city dates back to 800 years before Christ.
Caption: Temple of the Cross in Mexico. This temple, believed to have been erected during the Maya Classic Period, contains the famous Cross of Palenque. Many archaeologists now agree that these artistic masterpieces date back to the beginning of the Christian era.

In addition to these illustrations, eight of the twelve Arnold Friberg paintings are interspersed in the text.

The exact same set of illustrations are in the 1980 English edition I'm looking at right now.

[Note: I also have a 1973 Spanish edition that contains the same illustrations except it substitutes Machu Picchu for Monte Alban. I suspect the reason is to show a hemispheric model that would appeal to people in South America.]


The 1981 English edition changed the illustrations to what we have now, both in print and on here. This is the edition that added the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to the cover.

If I'm an investigator, missionary, or member, here's what I take away from these illustrations. First, Christ is the most important (the first illustration) and the Heinrich Hoffman painting depicts the traditional Christ accepted by Christianity generally. Awesome.

Second, Joseph Smith. Makes sense.

Third, finding the Liahona in the Arabian desert. One of the best Friberg paintings, set in the right place, and emphasizing a key element of the text. Nice.

Fourth, arriving at the promised land. So long as I don't realize that Friberg intentionally used a bird species that exists only in Central America, and so long as I don't notice the high mountains in the background, the painting is ambiguous enough that Lehi could have landed almost anywhere in the Americas. Okay, but not great.

Fifth, the waters of Mormon in the depths of a thick jungle featuring high mountains. Hmm, now it's inescapable. I have to conclude that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America somewhere (or maybe somewhere in the Andes). Let's say, not good because it conveys a specific setting the text does not support. Worse, it endorses the scholars' two-Cumorah theory that rejects Letter VII and Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses.

Sixth, Samuel the Lamanite on the Mayan walls of the city of Zarahemla. Now there's no doubt about it. As a reader, I have to believe the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. But when I read the text, I'll be seriously disappointed and confused to discover the text never mentions huge stone pyramids and temples. It never mentions jungles. And when the answer to my obvious questions about Cumorah is that there are actually two Cumorahs, I'll become even more confused.

Seventh, Jesus Christ visits the Americas by John Scott. This painting combines a variety of ancient American motifs to convey the idea (I think) that Christ visited people throughout the Americas. This is a reasonable inference from the text. (I like to think the clouds represent North America, but it would be far better to show something actually from North America, such as an earthwork, that is described in the text. Of course, the text never mentions pyramids, stone buildings, or even high mountains where the Nephites lived.) The biggest problem with including this illustration is the inference that Christ is visiting the Nephites in Central America. The painting is incorrectly labeled "Christ teaching Nephites" on, for example. If the webmaster at misunderstands the painting, surely investigators, missionaries, and members make the wrong inference as well.

Eighth, Moroni burying the plates. Awesome. Except the caption doesn't say where Moroni is burying them; it doesn't mention Cumorah or New York. The Introduction says Moroni "hid up the plates in the Hill Cumorah," so as a reader, I infer this painting is supposed to be the New York hill. But then how could all the other events take place somewhere in Central America? More confusion, especially when the explanation I'm given is the two-Cumorah theory.


My suggestion.

A member, missionary, or investigator who looks at the official edition of the Book of Mormon, online or in print, will naturally turn to these illustrations and take away the message that the Book of Mormon events occurred in Central America. There is really no other feasible conclusion to be drawn from the illustrations.

But the illustrations contradict the text itself in many ways.

The only certain connection we have between the Book of Mormon and the modern world is the Hill Cumorah. People who read the text should not be influenced by depictions of huge Mayan temples, massive stone walls, jungles, and the like. Artistic representations should rely on the text. Some of the Arnold Friberg paintings are set in places that conform to the text; i.e., Lehi in Arabia, brother of Jared on a high mountain, Mormon and Moroni on the New York Hill Cumorah. Others, however, have created expectations among members and nonmembers alike that simply cannot be reconciled with the text or satisfied in the real world.

The sooner they are replaced with text-based illustrations, the better.

Given the existing artwork, here's what I would like to see in the way of Book of Mormon illustrations:


I'd like to go back to the emphasis on the Hill Cumorah in New York, both because of its central role in the restoration, and because of its importance in the text. This spot, in New York, is where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations came to an end.

I'd like to see a quotation from Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII here in the caption. After all, Oliver's testimony as one of the three witnesses is already in the introductory material. Maybe instead of the statue, we could have a photo of the valley to the west where the final battles took place.

Keep this illustration of Lehi and the liahona because it is consistent with the text; i.e., a Middle-Eastern setting.

Add this one back because it's an important story and shows the coast of the Arabian peninsula.

Add this one because it is important to show actual sheep from the text instead of the tapirs and agouti in Central America, although the tropical plants are still problematic.

Add this one back because of how important the story is and the setting, somewhere in Asia, doesn't matter.

Add this one back because it shows both Mormon and Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in New York. This is eliminates any confusion about Cumorah. It reaffirms what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII.
Keep this one because it shows Moroni burying the plates in New York in the stone and cement box he constructed, away from the repository of the Nephite records that his father Mormon concealed elsewhere in the hill.


Illustrations that are consistent with the text can help encourage people to read the text and engage with it. Illustrations that are inconsistent with the text--i.e., illustrations of jungles and massive stone pyramids--are confusing and off-putting. When people discover that illustrations in the official editions rely on the scholars' two-Cumorah theory, it's even worse. The scholarly theories that the Hill Cumorah is actually anywhere but in New York, and that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were speculating about all of this, are hardly conducive to faith.

If we could have a consistent narrative based on the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah, and eliminate the confusing images based on Central America, the message of the text would be free from distractions, which would enhance understanding and faith. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Zombie geography at BYU

Some ideas just won't die. They're zombies. They don't know they're dead, and they are mere shells of living beings, but they keep on coming.

The Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is a zombie. It continues to prowl around BYU.

The textbook definition of a zombie is: a will-less and speechless human held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated.

In the world of software, a zombie is "A process or task which has terminated but was not removed from the list of processes, typically because it has child processes that have not yet terminated."

The Mesoamerican theory is like zombie software. It is dead, but it has child processes that still live, like little zombies.

Here are some of the reasons why the Mesoamerican theory died.

1. Its origin--the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, wrongly attributed to Joseph Smith--has been exposed as a historical mistake.

2. Thanks to Letter VII, few people even try to defend the two-Cumorahs theory any more. (The Mesoamerican theory claims the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico, so it was a mistake to give the hill in New York the name Cumorah.) Once members of the Church realize that accepting the Mesoamerican theory requires you to also believe that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church, most members reject the Mesoamerican theory quickly.

3. The illusory "correspondences" between Mesoamerica and the text of the Book of Mormon are really just ordinary characteristics of most human civilizations that are not evidence of the purported link between Book of Mormon peoples and the Mayans.

Although the Mesoamerican theory is dead, Mesomania lives in its children. Once we finish them off, we will be rid of the zombie geography. But to finish them off, we have to first identify them, starting with BYU connections.

1. BYU Studies, "the premier Mormon academic journal since 1959," continues to promote the zombie Mesoamerican setting, right on its main page.
Go to the bottom of the page under "Popular Pages" and click on the first one, titled "Charting the Book of Mormon." Scroll to section 13 and read the entries, including 13-161, here.

Presenting BYU's zombie geography map of Mesoamerica!

2. Officially, BYU is supposed to be neutral about Book of Mormon geography. And that would be fine, in a vacuum. But for years, BYU promoted the Mesoamerican theory, including taking faculty to Mesoamerica on educational "Book of Mormon" trips. The zombie theory was widely taught for decades. To claim "neutrality" with this history would be like a strip mining company suddenly claiming "neutrality" after cutting all the trees and shearing the mountaintops. It's not neutral when the damage is not remediated. The zombie children of the Mesoamerican theory are present throughout the University (on all the campuses). Besides, faculty are not really neutralHere is a discussion of an article by a BYU Professor who claimed BYU destroyed Ancient (Mesoamerican) Book of Mormon Studies:
Other current BYU Professors have written extensively about the zombie Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

3. BYU students are taught to understand the geography of the Book of Mormon as presented by the abstract map I blogged about here:

It is obviously designed to look like Central America, because it interprets the text according to the Mesoamerican theory. 

That map is not Central America!
Faculty have been told not to link the text to any real-world site. Instead, they came up with this "virtual reality" version. But it teaches the same thing as the two-Cumorahs theory; i.e., Cumorah is not in New York and Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.  

4. Let's say BYU finishes off the on-campus zombie geography somehow. Will that solve the problem? 


The children of the zombie Mesoamerican theory live in the minds of most of the students who have been educated at BYU for decades. That's why we see the Arnold Friberg Mesoamerican paintings everywhere. It's why Mesomania is ubiquitous.

Whenever you see these books and paintings, you are looking at zombie Mesomania.

It's up to each of us to help deal with the zombie geography of Mesoamerica.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sharing posts

I've been asked how to share my posts on social media. I had forgotten about my twitter account, so it was a good reminder.

At the end of every post on this blog there is a sharing icon. It looks like this:

You just have to click on the icon for the social media you want to use. For example, if you want to share a post on twitter, click the twitter icon.

Here's an example from my BeyondTheRivers twitter account:

You can retweet from BeyondTheRivers as well.

(For those new to the blog, "BeyondTheRivers" is an allusion to Isaiah 18:1, which explains how Nephi knew he'd have to sail around Africa to get to the promised land.)

Happy Tweeting!

Of course, you can also use the Facebook icon to share on Facebook, Printerest icon to share on Printerest, etc.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Book of Mormon Translation

I get a lot of questions about how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. I have a section on that topic in the Whatever Happened book.

Today I want to mention three points to consider.

1. Only the Title Page is a literal translation. 

Joseph Smith's History, circa June - October 1839 [Draft 1], here, reads,

"I would mention here also in order to correct a misunderstanding, which has gone abroad concerning the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it is not a composition of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation, but that it is a literal translation taken from the last leaf of the plates, on the left hand side of the collection of plates, the language running same as the <all> Hebrew <wr[i]ting> language <in general>. And that no error can henceforth possibly exist I give here the Title so far as it is a translation."

With some wording changes, the same passage appears in History, circa June 1839-circa 1841 [Draft 2], here.

"I wish also to mention here, that the Title Page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; and not by any means the language of the whole running same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said Title Page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation. Therefore, in order to correct an error which generally exists concerning it, I give below that part of the Title Page of the English Version of the Book of Mormon, which is a genuine and literal translation of the Title Page of the Original Book of Mormon, as recorded on the plates."

In History, circa 1841, fair copy, in the handwriting of Howard Coray, Joseph Smith's history reads:

"I wish to mention here that the title page of the book of Mormon is a literal translation taken from the last leaf on the left hand side of the collection of plates which contained the record that has been translated. The language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writings writings; and that said title page is not a modern composition. Therefore in order to correct an error which generally exists concerning it I give below that part of the title page which is a genuine and literal translation of the title page of the book of Mormon recorded on the plates."

Those who have read Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? know the significance of the phrase "Original Book of Mormon." It was not in the 1839 draft, but it was in Draft 2. Howard Coray omitted it, but it appears in the Times and Seasons, Oct. 15, 1842, here.

"I wish also to mention here, that the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said title page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation. Therefore, in order to correct an error which generally exists concerning it, I give below that part of the title page of the English version of the Book of Mormon, which is a genuine and literal translation of the title page of the Original Book of Mormon, as recorded on the plates."

This is significant for two reasons. First, it refutes the idea that Joseph merely read the words off the stone in the hat. He was making a "literal translation" from the plates themselves.

Second, it implies that the rest of the translation may not have been literal. I'll discuss this more in upcoming posts.

2. Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon translation.

The essay, found here, is a good overview. Unfortunately, it starts off with the inaccurate quotation of Joseph Smith, which was actually Wilford Woodruff's summary of a day's teaching and not a direct quotation. I'm working on an annotated version of the essay.

3.. Conference in Logan.

In March 2017 there was a conference at Utah State (Logan, Utah) titled "New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation." I had a conflict so I couldn't attend, but videos from the session are now available. Info is here:

I'll have more to say on this soon, but I just wanted to give the information now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

the first question to ask

If you're interested in Book of Mormon geography, the first question to ask is this:

Where is Cumorah?

The answer, of course, is in western New York, where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said it was. If someone tells you it's somewhere else, or that there are "two Cumorahs," you know they are repudiating Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

For me, there's no point in considering geography theories that put Cumorah anywhere else but in New York. This also applies to the "abstract maps," including those being taught at BYU.

You will find dozens, even hundreds, of different maps if you look online. You can assess them easily by seeing how they treat Cumorah.

One of the best known is the one at BYU Studies, here.

Scroll to the bottom of the page. The first item under "Popular Pages" is "Charting the Book of Mormon." Click on that.

You'll find some useful material here, but there is also some misleading material. Scroll to

Section 13: Geography in the Book of Mormon

Here's the direct link:

This entire section is a disaster, IMO, Look at this one, for example.

13-149 Ten Essential Features of Book of Mormon Geography

These "Essential Features" have little if anything to do with the text. They are pure Mesomania, an effort to persuade people that the text actually described Mesoamerica.

The first one says "A narrow neck (isthmus) separated the land northward from the land southward and was flanked by an east sea and a west sea."

Of course, the text never uses the term isthmus. This is classic for Mesomania. The text doesn't describe anything about Mesoamerica--no jungles, no volcanoes, no huge stone pyramids, and even no Mayans--so the Mesoamerican advocates have to change the wording in the text to make it work.

You can go through all of the items in Section 13, and you'll see how they use this substitution technique throughout to justify their Mesoamerican theory.

Regarding the narrow neck, there are exactly, and only, two verses, and they're talking about two different features:

Alma 63:5

And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an aexceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land bBountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the cnarrow neck which led into the land northward.

Ether 10:20

20 And they built a great city by the anarrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land.
Right here you see there are two different features described as a "narrow neck."

In Alma, the "narrow neck" led into the land northward. This is the one by which Haboth launched his ships, implying this is a narrow neck of water.

In Ether, it was a "narrow neck of land" which is a different term; i.e., this verse distinguishes the narrow neck from the one in Alma 63 by calling it a "narrow neck of land."

And yet all the Mesomania scholars conflate the two terms to fabricate their Mesoamerican setting.

The other analytical and logical fallacy used by Mesomania scholars is to treat the terms "land northward" and "land southward" as proper nouns instead of relative terms. If you're in Provo, Utah, Salt Lake City is "northward." But it you're in Logan, Salt Lake City is "southward."

The terms "northward" and "southward" describe locations relative to the location of the speaker or author at the time he/she speaks or writes.

This is just one example of how far afield people can get when they ignore what Joseph and Oliver said about Cumorah in New York.

You'll find plenty more. But you can avoid all of that by going to

As always, I'm interested in anyone who can come up with a better explanation of Book of Mormon geography with Cumorah in New York.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Brother Scott's Book of Mormon Witness Presentation

Yesterday a friend gave me a cutout from the newspaper:

You might want to attend, or not. You might want to tell your friends, or not. I'm just making you aware of what's going on. (I blogged about this already here, complete with illustrations.)

"Brother Scott" is holding these events every Thursday from May 11-Jun 1 from 7-8:30 pm in Sandy. You can get the info from his web page here:

I applaud the effort to make the Book of Mormon better known. I found Brother Scott to be engaging and enthusiastic. Apparently he went on one of the infamous "Book of Mormon tours" to Central America and is on fire now.

Unfortunately--very unfortunately--Brother Scott is promoting the Mesoamerican setting with lots of classic Mesomania. He's telling people Izapa Stela 5 is Lehi's dream, that Joseph wrote the articles in the Times and Seasons, etc. 

Of course, he forgets to tell the audience about Letter VII, Zion's camp, the numerous General Conference addresses, President Joseph Fielding Smith's warning about the two-Cumorahs theory, and anything else that contradicts his theories.

Brother Scott didn't want to hear what I have to say.

He's actively soliciting invitations to come speak at firesides, as you can see here:

I'm sure he'll have no problem getting invitations, and I'm also sure he'll have no problem presenting his material in Church buildings because he's promoting Mesoamerica. As long as you promote the two-Cumorahs theory, you're good to go. You can even use the artwork on the walls of the Church buildings as illustrations. As well as the illustrations in the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon itself.

But if his audience thinks carefully about his presentation, or spends 5 minutes on the Internet, they'll soon realize that he, like all good Mesoamerican advocates, is saying Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York, the plains of the Nephites being in Ohio, etc.

I think Brother Scott could do a lot of good if he would simply consider an alternative to Mesoamerica and focus on critical aspects of Church history, such as Letter VII.

The CES letter

I've had several requests to address the CES letter. If you're not familiar with that, it's a letter written in 2013 by Jeremy Runnells, who explains the background on his web page here:

"In February 2012, Jeremy experienced a crisis of faith, which subsequently led to a faith transition in the summer of 2012. In the spring of 2013, Jeremy was approached and asked by a CES Director to share his concerns and questions about the LDS Church's origins, history, and current practices. In response, Jeremy wrote what later became publicly known as Letter to a CES Director."

Although the letter was originally written in 2013, the controversies it spawned continue. I've seen discussions about it as recent as within the last month. Often when I speak, people ask what I think because they know someone who has been influenced by the letter.

In my view, it's not the CES letter that is the problem. Runnells raises good questions that I think many people have, whether they are active LDS, inactive LDS, former LDS, or never LDS (whether they are investigators or antagonistic to the Church).

The problem is the responses given by LDS apologists.

The responses are unsatisfactory for many--including me--because they focus on the Mesoamerican setting and some of the traditional interpretations of Church history that are based on historical mistakes.

The CES letter is a fairly comprehensive list of common objections to LDS claims about Church history, the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, and various doctrines. Runnells is using it as a fundraiser at this point, but that's irrelevant to the merits of the questions he raises.

There have been many responses to the CES letter. Here is a compilation of some:

Two of the most prominent responses were provided by FairMormon and Dan Peterson. Runnells has addressed them here and here, respectively. I think Runnells has done a good job sorting through the sophistry of the citation cartel, but the gist of his objections is this: he raises subjective expectations and then is disappointed when reality doesn't meet his expectations. I think his conclusions are understandable given his assumptions and expectations, and those assumptions and expectations are themselves understandable given what he's been taught, but because what he has been taught is driven by Mesomania and related interpretations of Church history, the questions he raises have answers that have not been provided yet, so far as I can determine.

Readers of this blog know that I think FairMormon and the rest of the citation cartel are ineffective because of their obsession with the Mesoamerican setting (which I call Mesomania). Mesomania leads them to embrace and promote the two-Cumorahs theory, to distort the text of the Book of Mormon, to repudiate Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, and to provide interpretations of Church history designed to justify their Mesomania that have the perverse effect of creating doubt out of what should be faith-sustaining statements and events. In each case, Mesomania undermines faith, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

I don't know how much interest there really is in yet another analysis of the CES letter. Those who are familiar with the issues, however, will understand the significance of a few of the main points I've been addressing on this blog and in my books. I'll list them here. If people ask for more detail, I'll address these points in future posts as time permits.

1. There is only one Cumorah and it really is in New York.

2. There were two departments in the hill Cumorah. One contained the stone and cement box that Moroni prepared for the plates and the breastplate. The other contained Mormon's repository of Nephite records.

3. In North America, right where Joseph indicated, there is abundant evidence of civilizations that match the text of the Book of Mormon, and the text itself describes the North American setting.

4. Joseph translated two separate sets of plates. The plates he originally obtained from Moroni he translated in Harmony. The plates he translated in Fayette came from the repository in Cumorah. He actually translated the plates; they were not merely a talisman as some scholars claim today. (Related to this, he may have referred to the Bible in Fayette when he translated the Isaiah passages on the Fayette plates.)

5. Joseph never once linked the Book of Mormon to Central or South America.

6. Joseph was merely the nominal editor of the 1842 Times and Seasons and numerous articles have been incorrectly attributed to him.

7. The Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories were based on a mistake in Church history.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Why LDS scholars still try to discredit Letter VII

Because the only alternative hypothesis to "Letter VII is speculation" is "I have been wrong about everything," we can expect LDS scholars and educators who have long promoted the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories to continue trying to persuade people that Letter VII is speculation and it is incorrect.

[If you don't know what Letter VII is, go here.]

This means these scholars and educators will continue trying to persuade people that when Oliver Cowdery wrote it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in New York, Oliver was merely speculating. They know that if there is one Cumorah and it is in New York, everything they have been teaching students for decades about Book of Mormon geography is false incorrect. Consequently, they want people to believe Oliver didn't know what he was talking about and was wrong because they, the Mesomania scholars and educators, know more about Cumorah than Oliver did when he wrote Letter VII.

When you consider the claims of the Mesomania scholars and educators, remember that when he wrote Letter VII, Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church. Of course, he had recorded most of the Book of Mormon, interacted with angels, was the only witness besides Joseph Smith to critical events, and a few months later would, with Joseph, receive the Priesthood keys directly from the Savior, Moses, Elias, and Elijah.

These same Mesomania scholars and educators who claim to know more than Oliver Cowdery also want you to believe the Joseph Smith, who helped write Oliver's letters and endorsed them multiple times, was also speculating. Worse, according to these scholars and educators, Joseph misled the Church for a hundred years until the scholars came to the rescue with their two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories.

When you read what the Mesomania scholars and educators write and teach, be sure you understand their motivations. I have no doubt they want to build faith and share their knowledge, but unfortunately, they also have a strong interest in perpetuating the theories they've advanced for decades.

*I credit Scott Adams with framing a completely different issue this way here.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The crumbling of one fundamental assumption

The astronomer Halton Arp made a useful observation when he wrote, "It is interesting how the crumbling of one fundamental assumption can have reverberations throughout the whole underpinning of one's science."

In the context of Church history and Book of Mormon geography, the "crumbling of one fundamental assumption" has also had reverberations throughout the whole underpinning of long-held beliefs.

The fundamental assumption was that Joseph Smith linked the Book of Mormon to Central America. That assumption, based on mistakes in history, is crumbling in the face of detailed historical analysis. The entire Mesoamerican theory is crumbling along with it, as are the various rationalizations made by LDS scholars who promoted the Mesoamerican theory for so long.

Terry Givens has been one of the greatest proponents of the Mesoamerican theory. He wrote the Foreword to Mormon's Codex, calling it "the high-water mark of scholarship on the Book of Mormon."

In By the Hand of Mormon, Givens described the Stephens and Catherwood books about Central America. Then he wrote: "Joseph was quick to see how the Book of Mormon had arrived on the scene of this mystery with impeccable timing. Responding immediately to the Stephens account, Joseph wrote back to Bernhisel, thanking him for the "kind present" and ecstatically declaring that it "corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon" ... Picking up the thread of Stephens' remarks, he wrote (or sanctions) these remarks in a subsequent article." Givens then cites the anonymous Times and Seasons articles before claiming "Joseph's enthusiasm for the service that antiquities could render the cause of Book of Mormon historicity" in the context of Central America was the case for the establishment of a museum at Nauvoo.

In reality, the only enthusiasm Joseph expressed was about Cumorah in New York. He didn't write the Bernhisel letter. He didn't write or endorse the anonymous Times and Seasons articles. He never once made or approved of a link between the Book of Mormon and Central America.

Givens is far from the only LDS scholar who embraced the false assumptions about Mesoamerica, but he is one of the most prominent. He and like-minded LDS scholars have given us a series of cascading assumptions that have led to the conclusion that Joseph and Oliver didn't know what they were talking about when the said Cumorah was in New York. This has led to all kinds of mischief, as I've discussed throughout this and other blogs, as well as books and articles.

Crumbling is one of many possible metaphors for what is happening. As the erroneous assumption crumbles, the entire foundation of the Mesoamerican theory will collapse. Along with it, the idea that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church will dissipate. The idea that Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Heber C. Kimball misled the Church about the repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York will also dissipate. The various rationalizations given by the scholars for events in Church history that contradicted their Mesomania will be exposed for what they were. We'll understand Church history better, and we'll have a greater appreciation for the Book of Mormon as an actual history of actual people that took place in an actual, real-world setting that makes sense and is consistent with what Joseph and Oliver said all along.

We can be happy that this one fundamental assumption is finally crumbling.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

More on Sidon flowing North and Worldwide Mesomania

Today I'm going to discuss what might be one of the most serious problems possible when it comes to the Book of Mormon and missionary work.

I've previously discussed the problem of including the Mesoamerican paintings in the missionary and foreign language editions in this post. As people told me in France last week, they've always been told the Church is neutral about geography issues, but including those misleading paintings in the official editions of the Book of Mormon is anything but neutral.

The paintings are pretty bad. Imagine an investigator reading the Book of Mormon for the first time and wondering, when am I going to read about the Mayans? The volcanoes and jungles and jaguars? The massive stone pyramids?

Of course, the answer is never.

The artwork not only does not reflect the text, it defies the text and what Joseph and Oliver said about the geography.

As bad as the paintings are, there's an even bigger problem.

When I recently translated the pocket edition of Moroni's America into French, I discovered something I hadn't noticed before.

The translation of the Book of Mormon into French was done with Mesoamerica in mind.

Look at Alma 22:27. In English, it says

the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west

In French:

les régions frontières du désert qui était au nord près du pays de Zarahemla, à travers les régions frontières de Manti, près de la source du fleuve Sidon, allant de l’est vers l’ouest

This is not a literal translation!

Instead, it's an interpretation.

If you don't read French, look at this phrase:

English: by the head of the river Sidon
French: près de la source du fleuve Sidon

The literal translation of the French would be: near the source of the river Sidon.

Of course, that's the Sorenson translation, meaning, that's the translation that Mesoamerican advocates wish Joseph Smith had used, and the one they prefer. They think Joseph should have written "headwaters" instead of "head" of Sidon.

I've discussed this several times on this blog. You can find the posts by searching for "head of Sidon." Here is one example:

Basically, "head of Sidon" does not mean "headwaters or source of Sidon." The Mesoamerican activists simply change the text to suit their preferred geography. They need the Sidon river to flow northward because the only two rivers in Mesoamerica that they can possibly identify as Sidon flow northward. The tail of their theory wags the dog of the text.

The Mesoamerican activists have successfully educated people throughout the Church about the Sorenson translation (i.e., headwaters of Sidon), and the translator used Sorenson's translation, not Joseph Smith's, when he/she translated the Book of Mormon into French.

A literal translation into French would be: À la tête de la rivière Sidon.

There are several more examples in the French Book of Mormon that I'll discuss in a later post, but first, I want to look at some other languages.

Alma 22:27 in German reads:

entlang der Grenzen der Wildnis, die im Norden beim Land Zarahemla war, durch das Grenzgebiet von Manti, am Ursprung des Flusses Sidon vorbei, von Osten nach Westen verlaufend—und so waren die Lamaniten und die Nephiten voneinander getrennt.

The key phrase in German, in bold above, is literally translated into English as "at the origin of the river Sidon."

A literal translation into German would be: "Durch den Kopf des Flusses Sidon."

The translator would probably argue that this doesn't make sense in German. But the meaning in English is ambiguous, so why pick the Sorenson interpretation for other languages? This deprives readers in other languages of the meaning Joseph Smith gave us in English.

Alma 22:27 in Spanish reads:

y los límites del desierto que se hallaba hacia el norte, cerca de la tierra de Zarahemla, por las fronteras de Manti, cerca de los manantiales del río Sidón, yendo del este hacia el oeste; y así estaban separados los lamanitas de los nefitas.

A literal translation of the Spanish phrase into English is "near the springs of the river Sidon."

A literal translation of Joseph's English version into Spanish would be "Por la cabeza del río Sidón."

So in English, we have "the head of the Sidon River."
In French, it's "the source of the Sidon River."
In German, it's "the origin of the Sidon River."
In Spanish, it's "the springs of the Sidon River."

I could show more, but in most languages I've checked, this passage is translated into something meaning the "origin of the Sidon River."

This is how it is translated in Korean, for example. This is of special interest to me because years ago I was in Seoul, Korea, and I met the person who was revision the Korean translation of the Book of Mormon. Translators have a special edition of the Book of Mormon with an interpretive guide at the back. At the time, I wasn't focused on Book of Mormon geography so I didn't look up what the guide said about Alma 22:27, but apparently it uses the Sorenson translation to lead readers into reaching the conclusion that the "head of Sidon" means the "source of Sidon," which is how the Mesoamerican activists have construed the passage to demonstrate that the river Sidon flows northward.

The irony of this is that translator told me the Brethren had instructed him to do as literal a translation as possible. Yet now I read the Korean translation and find it also says "the origin of the Sidon River" instead of the "head of the Sidon River."

As you'll see in my future posts, this problem is pervasive. Church members and investigators who read these translations are not getting what Joseph translated. They are getting a translation of the Sorenson translation. So far, I haven't found a reference to a volcano in any foreign language edition, but I'll let you know if I do.


Consider this post my plea for a literal translation of the Book of Mormon into these foreign languages.

History in context

When we read historical accounts from journals, newspaper articles, or even the scriptures, we sometimes extrapolate all kinds of things from tiny bits of information without considering the broader context. People tend to interpret history to support narratives they already believe or accept.

We spent May 1, 2017 (May Day) in Paris. We walked around 7 miles, based on my phone's pedometer. When we got home that night, we saw this headline on the Internet, here:


This is the image that led the article: a policeman engulfed in flames from a Molotov cocktail. (The story behind the photo is here.)

The article begins with this sentence:

Fighting broke out in central Paris during a rally held close to the Place de la Bastille, where protesters shouted “Fascists out!”

For anyone who was not actually in Paris that day, this article would be the reality of what happened in Paris on May Day.

But for those of us who were there, the riot was confined to a tiny area.

We walked less than a kilometer from Place de la Bastille where the violence took place. Here's a photo of Paris of us with our friends, among thousands of others who were completely oblivious to the city that was, according to the newspaper headlines, "burning" at the time.

Paris is not burning

A future historian could justifiably report that on May 1, 2017, Paris was on fire. He would have photographs to prove it. People would believe the news report and the historian's interpretation and it would become the prevailing narrative. Accounts such as mine from other people who were in Paris on that day would be marginalized or discredited because they contradict the desired narrative.

Regardless of the future prevailing narrative, to the vast majority of the 10 million people who were actually in Paris that day, it was simply a beautiful day to enjoy the sights, the food, and the company of friends.

Even today, whenever we read news reports, we sometimes come to believe that the reports are both accurate and representative of a larger whole. But often neither is the case.

In my study of Church history, I've come across many such examples.

One of my favorites is the disparate treatment given to Wilford Woodruff's writings. On 28 November 1841, Woodruff summarized an entire day's events in his journal.

28th Sunday I spent the day at B. Young in company with Joseph & the Twelve in conversing upon a variety of Subjects. It was an interesting day. Elder Joseph Fielding was present. He had been in England four years. We also saw a number of english Brethren. Joseph Said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on Earth & the key stone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other Book.

Notice that Woodruff did not use quotation marks when he noted what Joseph taught that day. I assume he summarized Joseph's teaching accurately, but it was not a direct quotation. Nevertheless, the History, 1838-1856, transformed Woodruff's summary into a direct quotation. You can see it here

Now, the quotation has become part of the narrative to the point that it appears in the official Introduction to the Book of Mormon, found in every copy. You can see that here.

This is one of many teachings attributed to Joseph Smith. At least this one has a legitimate source, albeit not a direct quotation as it is portrayed today. To be historically accurate, the Introduction should say something such as this: "Woodruff summarized a day's conversation by explaining that Joseph said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on Earth & the key stone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other Book."

This is a minor point, but we see a narrative of a direct quotation created from a passing summary of a day's teachings, and now it has been reproduced millions of times as part of the Book of Mormon.

Compare that to a much more detailed historical account that Mesoamerican proponents oppose, which is why most Church members have never read it. At least, it is not nearly as well known as the fabricated "most correct book" quotation.

In his journal (Volume 1) under May 1834, Woodruff described the Zion's Camp march this way: 

We made it a practice of pitching our tents on Saturday night and not remove them untill Monday morning. We had preaching on the Lords day. Brother Joseph often addressed us  in the name of the Lord while on our journey and often while addressing the camp he was clothed upon with much of the spirit of God. His precepts were very instructive and interesting.

While on our travels we visited many of the mounds which were flung up by the ancient inhabitants of this continent probably by the Nephites & Lamanites. We visited one of those Mounds and several of the brethren dug into it and took from it the bones of a man.

[Interlinearly after "We visited one of those Mounds":] considerd to be 300 feet above the level of the Illinois river. Three persons dug into the mound & found a body. Elder Milton Holmes took the arrow out of the back bones that killed Zelph & brought it with some of the bones in to the camp. I visited the same mound with Jesse J Smith. Who the other persons were that dug in to the mound & found the body I am undecided.

Brother Joseph had a vission respecting the person. He said he was a white Lamanite. The curs was taken from him or at least in part. He was killed in battle with an arrow. The arrow was found among his ribs. One of his thigh bones was broken. This was done by a stone flung from a sling in battle years before his death. His name was Zelph. Some of his bones were brought into the Camp and the thigh bone which was broken was put into my waggon and I carried it to Missouri. Zelph was a large thick set man and a man of God. He was a warrior under the great prophet /Onandagus/ that was known from the hill Camorah /or east sea/ to the Rocky mountains. The above knowledge Joseph receieved in a vision. [spelling from Woodruff's journal]

Applying the same historical process as the scholars did for the "most correct book" quotation, they could have transformed the portion highlighted in red above as a direct quotation from Joseph Smith. This could be part of the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, along with the "most correct book" quotation. 

I'm not recommending that for the same reason I don't think we should have turned the "most correct book" phrase into a direct quotation, but I am in favor of including Woodruff's account of Zelph as part of the Introduction. It would make a big difference for people to understand what Joseph actually said about Book of Mormon geography.

Some LDS scholars who promote Mesomania try to cast doubt on Woodruff's account of the Zelph incident because it obviously contradicts their theory. They note that there were others present who wrote different variations of the incident, and because the accounts are not identical, they suggest none should be believed. A good summary of these accounts is here

Monday, May 1, 2017

Great things happening in France

We've been in France for the last week, attending the open house of the Paris Temple and other things. We did a fireside on Church history and the Book of Mormon Friday night, along with an all-day conference Saturday.

There is a lot of enthusiasm here for both topics. As everywhere else in the Church, we're finding that people never really bought off on the Mesoamerican setting but didn't know there was an alternative. Several told us they could never make sense of the Friberg illustrations in the Book of Mormon, etc.

As are Church members everywhere, the Saints in France have always believed Cumorah was in New York and are glad to know that the North American setting works so well with the text and related sciences. There were people from all around the world visiting the open house, and we're getting more invitations to do presentations in other countries as well as around the U.S. There just isn't enough time to go everywhere people want us to go.

I translated Moroni's America into French, as you can see from the title of the first slide in my presentation. It's available on the French Amazon page. Members who speak French around the world, especially in Europe and Africa, are enthusiastic about having these materials in their own language.

The open house of the Paris Temple has also generated positive media coverage and favorable impressions among government and religious leaders here in France. I don't have time to relate all the stories, but so many people are visiting the temple and so many are touched by the spirit there and the warmth of the members who are helping that the missionaries can't keep up with all the requests for more information.

The ward we attended had the largest congregation in their history. Many were visitors to the temple, of course, but the level of enthusiasm is remarkable. The speakers in Sacrament meeting gave exceptional accounts of spiritual events associated with the temple. In Priesthood meeting, they asked me to discuss family history, including useful apps.

A very interesting sidenote is the translation of the Book of Mormon into French. I discuss this in my French translation of Moroni's America, and I'll blog about it in upcoming days.