Thursday, February 23, 2017

Two narratives

A common theme in the scriptures, literature, and even psychology is the existence of two narratives from which people choose. Of course, there are usually far more than two, but often there are two fundamentally different narratives.

For example, the New Testament describes two narratives about Christ:

John 10:19-21 There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?

There are lots of examples. I'm sure you can think of several right now.

Lehi gave an explanation here:

2 Nephi 2:11, 15 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad... it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.

________________________

With regard to Book of Mormon geography and historicity, we can choose between two narratives. I'll compare them side by side below.

Note that "Mesoamerica" is a proxy for every theory that places Cumorah somewhere other than in New York.

As always, I emphasize that people are free to believe whatever they want. The table is intended to clarify what others think so you can compare your own beliefs and make up your own mind.

Which do you find more compatible with your beliefs? Which is more compatible with the historical evidence? Which is best corroborated by the sciences?

Mesoamerica
Moroni’s America
Mormon and Moroni lived in Mesoamerica.
Mormon and Moroni lived in North America.
Mormon wrote his abridgment somewhere in Mesoamerica and hid up all the Nephite records in a repository in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6), a hill somewhere in southern Mexico, before giving "these few plates" to Moroni.
Mormon wrote his abridgment in the vicinity of western New York and hid up all the Nephite records in a repository in in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6), the hill near Palmyra, New York, before giving "these few plates" to Moroni.
Moroni adds a couple of chapters to his father’s record, travels 3,400 miles to New York, and hides the plates in the stone box, thinking he would not live long. Or, he keeps the plates with him while he roams around Mesoamerica for decades. Or he hides them somewhere else until he is ready to take them 3,400 miles to New York.
Moroni adds a couple of chapters to his father’s record and hides the plates in the stone box in New York, thinking he would not live long.
Later, Moroni retrieves the plates of Ether from the repository in southern Mexico and abridges them. He adds the abridgment to his father’s abridgment, along with a sealed portion, and hides the plates again in New York. Or, Moroni abridges the plates of Ether right after his father died, and the plates were among the few his father gave him. 
Later, Moroni retrieves the plates of Ether from the repository in New York and abridges them. He adds the abridgment to his father’s abridgment, along with a sealed portion, and hides the plates again in the stone box on the Hill Cumorah in New York.
Later, Moroni returns to the repository in southern Mexico and gets a sermon and letters from his father. He adds this material to his final comments—the Book of Moroni—and returns to New York to put the finished record back in the stone box.
Later, Moroni returns to the repository in New York and gets a sermon and letters from his father. He adds this material to his final comments—the Book of Moroni—and puts the finished record back in the stone box.
Moroni visits Joseph Smith in 1823 and tells him the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home. But this is a mistake because the record was written in Central America and deposited in New York. Either Joseph or Oliver misunderstood, or else Moroni misspoke.
Moroni visits Joseph Smith in 1823 and tells him the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home. Moroni accurately describes where the record was written.
Joseph Smith obtained the abridged record of the Nephites and the Jaredites from Moroni’s stone box. He translated part of these plates in Harmony and gave them back to an angel. The Lord told him to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10), even though he had reached the end of the plates and hadn't found these plates yet.
Joseph Smith obtained the abridged record of the Nephites and the Jaredites from Moroni’s stone box. He translated these plates in Harmony and gave them back to an angel because he was finished with them. The Lord told him to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10), but he didn’t have those yet.
In Harmony, Joseph translated the Title Page from the last leaf of the plates. He had it printed and delivered to the U.S. federal district court in New York as part of his copyright application.
In Harmony, Joseph translated the Title Page from the last leaf of the plates. He had it printed and delivered to the U.S. federal district court in New York as part of his copyright application.
On the way from Harmony to Fayette, David Whitmer said he, Joseph and Oliver encountered an old man bearing the plates who was heading for Cumorah. Joseph said it was one of the three Nephites. But David was mistaken because he conflated the false tradition of the New York Cumorah with another unspecified event.
On the way from Harmony to Fayette, David Whitmer said he, Joseph and Oliver encountered an old man bearing the plates who was heading for Cumorah. Joseph said it was one of the three Nephites. This was the messenger who had the Harmony plates and was returning them to the repository.
In Fayette, an angel returned the Harmony plates to Joseph.
In Fayette, an angel gave Joseph the small plates of Nephi which came from the repository in Cumorah.
In Fayette, Joseph translated the small plates of Nephi (1 Nephi – Words of Mormon).
In Fayette, Joseph translated the small plates of Nephi (1 Nephi – Words of Mormon).
Joseph and Oliver Cowdery and others had multiple visions of Mormon’s repository in the “real” Hill Cumorah, which is somewhere in southern Mexico.
Joseph and Oliver Cowdery and others actually visited Mormon’s repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York and saw the stacks of plates and other Nephite artifacts.
Cumorah cannot be in New York because it is a “clean hill.”
Cumorah is in New York because hundreds of artifacts, including weapons of war, have been recovered from the hill.
Cumorah cannot be in New York because it is a glacial moraine that cannot contain a natural cave.
Cumorah is in New York because an actual room that matches the description given by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others has been found there.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery never claimed revelation about the location of Cumorah. They merely speculated. They adopted a false tradition and misled the Church. Joseph later changed his mind and, by writing anonymous articles, claimed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America and that only scholars could determine where the Book of Mormon took place.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery didn’t need revelation about the location of Cumorah because they visited Mormon’s repository. They may also have had revelations that they didn’t write or even relate. E.g., JS-H 1:73-4. They did not mislead the Church. Joseph never changed his mind and never linked the Book of Mormon to Central America, through anonymous articles or otherwise.
All the modern prophets and apostles who have identified the Hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles were speaking as uninspired men. This includes members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
All the modern prophets and apostles who have identified the Hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles were speaking as their roles as prophets, seers and revelators. This includes members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
The two-Cumorahs theory originated with scholars from the Reorganized Church and was adopted and promoted by LDS scholars because it’s the only explanation that fits their criteria. Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong to condemn the theory and didn’t know what he was talking about.
The two-Cumorahs theory originated with scholars from the Reorganized Church and was adopted and promoted by LDS scholars because they rejected Joseph Fielding Smith when he prophetically said the two-Cumorahs theory would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.
The scholars’ two-Cumorah theory is correct because whenever the current Brethren have a question about the Book of Mormon, they consult the scholars at BYU who promote the two-Cumorahs theory.
The scholars’ two-Cumorah theory doesn’t fit the historical record, the affirmative declarations of Joseph and Oliver, or the prophetic statements of numerous modern prophets and apostles.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reclaiming Cumorah

The Hill Cumorah has played a significant role in the history of the Church since at least 1823. Well, since at least about 385 AD, when Mormon "hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni" (Mormon 6:6).

The Church purchased the Hill Cumorah in 1928. A wonderful article titled "Reclaiming Cumorah" is available on lds.org, here: https://history.lds.org/article/historic-sites-palmyra-reclaiming-hill-cumorah?lang=eng

To commemorate the purchase, on April 6, 1928, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency spoke in General Conference about the Hill Cumorah in New York:

“Without doubt, these treasures lie concealed today, some of them, at least, to be brought forth in the not-distant future. How soon this will be we do not know, but this is certain, we are more than a century nearer that time than we were at the time when Joseph Smith took from their resting place, in the hill Cumorah, the plates from which he translated the contents of the Book of Mormon.


“All of these incidents to which I have referred, my brethren and sisters, are very closely associated with this particular spot in the state of New York. Therefore I feel, as I said in the beginning of my remarks, that the acquisition of that spot of ground is more than an incident in the history of the Church; it is an epoch—an epoch which in my opinion is fraught with that which may become of greater interest to the Latter-day Saints than that which has already occurred. We know that all of these records, all the sacred records of the Nephite people, were deposited by Mormon in that hill. That incident alone is sufficient to make it the sacred and hallowed spot that it is to us.”


Monday, February 20, 2017

Amazon Hot New Releases - Whatever Happened

The paperback edition of Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? was #9 on Amazon's best sellers in Mormonism:


Which really means it was at #3 in terms of positive LDS books.


Let's see what happens in the next month.







1843 letter about Benjamin Winchester

Last Thursday, Feb 16, the Joseph Smith Papers released new content, including documents from January through March 1843.

Those who have read my books The Lost City of Zarahemla and Brought to Light will be interested to see the full letter from Peter Hess to Hyrum Smith, Joseph, and the Twelve regarding Benjamin Winchester. Here's an excerpt from the postscript on page 4:

"Brother Joseph i would here mention that Elder Winchester Prophecied before Elder Adams that the church would go down and you Know when a man phopecies [sic] in his own name he will use every means to see it accomplishd [sic]."

Here is a link to the letter http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-from-peter-hess-16-february-1843/1



Friday, February 17, 2017

Triggers for cognitive dissonance

I was going to schedule this post for next week, but I decided to schedule it for today, even though I've already made several posts this week.

For long-time readers, the introductory material may be repetitive, but there are new readers coming all the time, so the intro is necessary.

Let's say you still believe in a Mesoamerican (Central American) setting for the Book of Mormon. I empathize. I believed that for most of my life, too. How could I not, when pretty much every teacher I ever had in Church and at BYU taught it? We even taught it as missionaries. Still today, it is being taught, albeit indirectly, in the "blue book" missionary editions of the Book of Mormon, on Temple Square, and in most meetinghouses thanks to the official artwork.

Or, you might believe in another setting for the Book of Mormon, such as Baja, Panama, Chile, Eritrea, Malaysia, etc. In my opinion, it doesn't really matter where you think the Book of Mormon took place if you reject the New York Cumorah.

There are only two categories: those who believe Cumorah is in New York, and those who believe it is somewhere else.

If you're among the group who believes the Hill Cumorah is not in New York, you believe in a "two-Cumorahs" theory. This is the theory that the hill in New York where Joseph got the plates is Moroni's hill and it should not have been named Cumorah; some unknown early Mormon named it that and the false tradition stuck. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery perpetuated that false tradition. The two-Cumorahs theory also claims that the "real" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, known as Mormon's Cumorah, is somewhere else. For example, if you accept the Mesoamerican setting, you think the "real" Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico. (I can relate, because I accepted the "two-Cumorahs" theory enough to visit ruins down there, thinking they were related to the Book of Mormon.) There are LDS people actively scouting around southern Mexico in search of Cumorah.

If you're a "two-Cumorahs" believer, eventually, like me, you will be confronted with a fact you didn't know before that conflicts with your belief. There are four general categories that I've discussed in my books and blogs.

These four items are triggers for cognitive dissonance.

Here's how it works.

When we are confronted with a fact that conflicts with our beliefs, and we refuse to change our beliefs, the fact triggers a response in our mind. We can:

1. Deny the fact or explain it away.
2. Filter it through confirmation bias.
3. Live with the cognitive dissonance somehow.

All three options are a form of hallucination; i.e., our minds deal with discrepancy by creating a new reality that denies the reality of the triggering fact.

Here's a graphic that explains the options:




I'll go through the options with one of the triggers in a moment, but first I'll list the four categories of triggers for those who still believe in the two-Cumorahs theory:

1. How Letter VII establishes the New York Cumorah.
2. How anonymous articles were wrongly attributed to Joseph Smith (i.e., 1842 Times and Seasons, Benjamin Winchester, Bernhisel letter, etc.)
3. How the BoM text describes North America.
4. How Joseph translated two separate sets of plates.

Each of these triggers directly contradicts the two-Cumorahs theories, so it doesn't matter which one I choose for an example. I'll go with #1, Letter VII.

Because it is the most heavily promoted, I'll use the Mesoamerican theory as a proxy for all two-Cumorahs theories.
______________

For a moment, pretend you still believe in the Mesoamerian theory of Book of Mormon geography. You accept one of the dozen or more detailed geographies that have been proposed for that area. They all pretty well agree that the "real" Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in southern Mexico.

Then you read Letter VII. (If you don't know what that is, read the blog here:
http://www.lettervii.com/.)

Basically, in that letter, Oliver Cowdery declared in no uncertain terms that it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites, is in New York; i.e., that Moroni's Cumorah and Mormon's Cumorah are one and the same.

What response does this fact trigger in your mind?

1. Denial.

Denial has been the prevailing response. No one is denying the existence of Letter VII, and no on is denying that Oliver wrote these letters with Joseph's assistance. Nor is anyone denying that Joseph endorsed these letters. Letter VII was ubiquitous during Joseph's lifetime.

In this case, denial takes the form of suppression.

Once the two-Cumorahs theory took hold (it was started by RLDS scholars and then adopted by LDS scholars despite the objection of Church Historian and Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith), Letter VII essentially vanished. It has never been published in the Ensign, for example. Very few Church history books mention it. So far as I've been able to determine, none of the major LDS scholarly books and publications that promote the Mesoamerican setting have reprinted it. Letter VII has never been translated outside of English. In my experience, very, very few LDS people have ever heard of it, let alone read it. And yet, many LDS scholars and educators are aware of it. They just haven't told people about it. They've pretended it didn't exist.

Denial is a losing strategy, obviously. Not only because I've been writing and speaking about Letter VII, but because critics of the LDS Church have been promoting it on their web pages and publications. Any investigator or LDS member who uses the Internet will find it.

If you still believe in a version of the two-Cumorahs theory and you haven't read Letter VII, then you're in denial. Time to fix that.

2. Filter it through confirmation bias.

Once you realize denial is not a viable option, your brain may try to filter Letter VII to fit your two-Cumorahs theory somehow. It's a difficult thing to filter, though; Oliver wrote as clearly as words can be, and he left no possibility for two Cumorahs:

"At about one mile west [of the New York Hill Cumorah where Joseph found the plates] rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed... In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites... From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains...This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it, pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tent."

I haven't seen any attempts to filter or spin Letter VII through confirmation bias. I can't imagine how it could be done. Maybe someone has done it; if so, please let me know the rationale and methodology.

Instead, once people realize denial won't work any longer, they move right into the third option of cognitive dissonance.

3. Cognitive dissonance.

When a fact we can't deny or filter through confirmation bias contradicts our beliefs, and we won't change our beliefs, the fact triggers our brain into creating a hallucination that rationalizes the discrepancy into oblivion.

Or at least some dark corner of the mind where we can try to forget it.

We have to examine the significance of Letter VII to see why it triggers such a strong hallucination.

First, Letter VII simply states it is a fact that the one and only Cumorah is in New York, which necessarily refutes the two-Cumorah theory. Of course, this doesn't, by itself, answer every question about Book of Mormon geography. The New York Cumorah is a single pin in the map. It still allows anything from a localized New York setting to a hemispheric setting.

Second, Letter VII was written by Oliver Cowdery and published in the Messenger and Advocate in 1835. Some may reject it--deny it--on that ground alone. But we also have to realize that when he wrote Letter VII (it was one of eight letters about Church history that Oliver wrote), Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church. He was the only witness besides Joseph Smith to the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, to many of the revelations, and to most of the translation of the Book of Mormon. A few months later, he and Joseph would receive Priesthood keys from Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Lord Himself in the Kirtland temple. Plus, Oliver was one of the Three Witnesses. Next to Joseph himself, no one had more experience and credibility with regard to the Restoration.

Third, although Oliver wrote Letter VII, we must also recognize that Joseph Smith helped Oliver write the letters, providing details only Joseph could have known, such as what Moroni told him during his first visit. Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his personal history as part of his own story. He endorsed it when he gave Benjamin Winchester express permission to reprint it in the Gospel Reflector. Joseph's brothers reprinted it as well: Don Carlos published it in the Times and Seasons, and William published it in The Prophet. In February 1844, a special booklet consisting solely of Oliver's letters was printed in England to satisfy numerous requests for the material. The letters were reprinted in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era. In each case, only Oliver's letters were reprinted; the speculative responses from W.W. Phelps were not reprinted or copied into Joseph's journal.

Fourth, the claim of Letter VII--that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York--has been spelled out by modern prophets and apostles in General Conference as recently as 1978. At least two members of the First Presidency have declared it in General Conference. No modern prophet or apostle has ever rejected the New York Cumorah, at least not officially or in General Conference.

These circumstances make Letter VII a powerful trigger for cognitive dissonance in the minds of those who still believe in a two-Cumorah theory. And it has triggered an equally powerful hallucination.

Some current LDS scholars and educators are trying to persuade Church members to reject Letter VII. Their arguments fall into one of 8 categories that I've discussed here:
http://www.lettervii.com/2017/01/why-some-people-reject-letter-vii.html

All of these arguments rely on the premise that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the location of Cumorah. We are expected to believe that they were reliable and credible witnesses for everything they wrote and said except for this one detail. And we're expected to believe that the modern prophets and apostles who accepted what Joseph and Oliver taught perpetuated a false tradition themselves because they were speaking as men, not a prophets and apostles, even when they spoke in General Conference.

(I discussed this in this post: http://www.lettervii.com/2016/08/olver-was-truthful-about-everything.html).

In the terminology of cognitive dissonance, this is a hallucination. It exists solely to allow those who believe in the two-Cumorahs theory to hold onto their beliefs. And it's no minor hallucination; repudiating Joseph, Oliver and the modern apostles and prophets is a powerful hallucination, which it needs to be to counter the powerful words in Letter VII and the associated circumstances.

The hallucination is also powerful because it is built on thin air. There is no evidence of a Cumorah outside of New York. No one has "found Cumorah" anywhere else on the Earth. Believers have told themselves that the text establishes "criteria" that cannot be satisfied by the New York hill, but in every case, these "criteria" are self-serving impositions on the text, designed to point to whatever non-New York Cumorah the proponents advocate for other reasons. It's all circular reasoning.

The hallucination that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church is itself unsupported by evidence; it. like the two-Cumorah theory, stands "as it were in the air." But it is powerful enough to offset the power of the facts and circumstances of Letter VII.
________________

We are in a situation in the Church where two people can read Letter VII and see two different movies playing in their heads, as Scott Adams puts it.

One reader sees a movie in which Oliver and Joseph describe, in detail, exactly where the final battles of the Nephites took place. They claim it is a fact. True, they don't specify how they know it is a fact. But in these same letters, they describe Moroni's visits to Joseph. Elsewhere, they describe numerous interactions with other heavenly messengers, the translation of the Book of Mormon, and their experiences in the actual Nephite repository inside the Hill Cumorah. So this reader accepts what Joseph and Oliver say about Cumorah in Letter VII.

The other reader sees a movie in which Oliver and Joseph are--we might as well get real about it-- lying. In this movie, Oliver and Joseph have no idea where the Book of Mormon took place, but some unknown person started a false tradition, and they decide to adopt this false tradition and state it as a fact. Then the prophets and apostles who succeed them decide to perpetuate this same false tradition.

Which movie do you see when you read Letter VII?
_______________

A similar analysis applies for the other three triggers. In each case, proponents of "two-Cumorahs" theories must deny the facts, filter them through confirmation bias, or create a hallucination to live with their cognitive dissonance.

As the example of Letter VII shows, the mental effort of retaining a belief in a two-Cumorahs theory is intense just with one trigger. Every additional trigger we add makes that mental effort all the more difficult.

The biggest question, really, is why? Why stick to a two-Cumorahs theory?

That's a question every proponent of a two-Cumorahs theory ought to be asking.

I'll be interested if anyone can come up with an answer that justifies the powerful hallucination that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.
________________

Note: If you click on the diagram above, you'll go to a web page that gets into a lot more detail than I can address in this blog. I don't agree with everyone on that page, but overall, the information is very useful. For example, the three shapes at the bottom of the diagram represent Thought, Emotion, and Behavior, like this:
The page includes a section on information control, which is a fascinating topic on its own. One way to control minds is to deliberately hold back information, which has been done in the case of Letter VII, as I've mentioned. Another is to compartmentalize information and minimize or discourage access to "non-cult" sources of information. There has been a lot of that in the LDS scholarly community; that's why you can't find anything published by the citation cartel written by any proponent of the North American, Heartland, or Moroni's America models.

Nor will you find a comparison chart anywhere except on my blog here:

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

A great "tell" for intellectual insecurity is when academics don't want people to even know about alternative views or interpretations, much less be able to easily compare them..

Another sign of intellectual insecurity is when academics refuse to share their data for independent analysis, or refuse to let proponents defend themselves against attacks made by the academics in their own journals.

Of course, everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want. Even academics, scholars, and educators. But if you're a student or an ordinary member of the Church, you need to recognize what has been going on and seek to avoid the information control mechanisms that prevent you from learning about such basic concepts as the Hill Cumorah in New York.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Feb. 18, 2017 - Book of Mormon Symposium - Orem

I'll be speaking about my book, Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?, at the Book of Mormon Symposium. Here are the details:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-of-mormon-symposium-tickets-31245048782

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

If nobody is disagreeing...

I love studying, writing and presenting about the Book of Mormon and Church History. I have met a lot of wonderful people in this process and expect to continue to do so. 

I sense a sea-change in the attitude of Church members toward these issues and a great renewal of interest in Church history and the Book of Mormon. The more people read the Book of Mormon, and the more people there are who read the Book of Mormon, the better.

That part is the Valentine's Day message.
_________________

The rest of this post is equally positive and optimistic and joyful, but not as obviously.

:)

One of the best parts of the endeavor is the opposition. A lot of people have asked me what I think of the critics. I've addressed this before but maybe now is a good time to do it again.

Trigger warning: if you believe in, teach, or promote a non-New York Cumorah, please don't read the rest of this post.
___________________

First, I want to emphasize that anyone can believe whatever they want. I have no problem with that. 

Second, I have no problem with people likening the scriptures to themselves, even if that means convincing themselves that the Book of Mormon took place in their particular part of the world. The Book of Mormon is for everyone. If believing it took place in Chile, or Peru, or Baja, or Guatemala, or Panama, or Malaysia, or anywhere else, is important to someone's faith, that's fine with me. Just don't also teach that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah.

Third, I genuinely like everyone I've met who works on issues of Church history and Book of Mormon geography and historicity. None of my comments are personal or are directed at any particular individual(s).

But fourth, I do have a problem with academic arrogance, obfuscation, bullying and suppression of alternative ideas.

Recently I read a statement that I could relate to.

Stephen Miller: "Anytime you do anything hugely successful that challenges a failed orthodoxy, you're going to see protests. In fact, if nobody is disagreeing with what you're doing, then you're probably not doing anything that really matters in the scheme of things." http://time.com/4657665/steve-bannon-donald-trump/

I'm not claiming anything I've done here is "hugely successful," but I have challenged what I consider to be a failed orthodoxy, including all the non-New York Cumorah theories (the Cumorah deniers who advocate Mesoamerica, Baja, Panama, Chile, Malaysia, Eritrea, etc.), as well as the those who insist Joseph wrote the Bernhisel letter, the anonymous 1842 articles in the Times and Seasons, etc.

And I have definitely seen protests and disagreements.

Naively, I expected LDS scholars and educators to embrace new paradigms that supported what Oliver and Joseph said from the beginning. Generally, historians have been very open and eager to look at things from a new perspective. Historians, in my experience, want to get things right. They seem to enjoy the pursuit of truth, even when--I should say especially when--it means correcting or modifying previous conclusions.

Not so with many other LDS scholars and educators who have been promoting a non-New York setting for Cumorah and a non-North American setting for the Book of Mormon. Instead, sad to report, many of them have been more concerned with stubbornly protecting their own ideas and publications.

For which I'm grateful on two levels, ironically. First, some of the critics have given me some good material that I have incorporated in second editions and other books. Second, many of the critics have advanced such poor arguments that they reaffirmed my initial suspicion that the non-New York Cumorah theories are, essentially, houses of cards, based on semantics and sophistry and questionable assumptions. It became obvious to me why anti-Mormon arguments have persuaded so many people, including investigators, former members, and inactive members. 

It also became obvious to me why these LDS scholars and educators have gone to such lengths to suppress information about the North American setting.

Think of this: when your theory of Book of Mormon geography and historicity is based on the premise that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah, just how persuasive do you think your theory really is to those of us who accept these men as prophets and apostles who translated the Book of Mormon, entertained heavenly messengers, and visited the repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York?

The only way these theories have succeeded is by obfuscating the premise about Joseph and Oliver and by suppressing information about what they said, including Letter VII (which has never even been translated outside of English, has never been published in the Ensign, etc.). 

These non-New York Cumorah theories ultimately rely on people accepting an awful lot of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias, if not outright denial. I think we'll all be better off when these theories are nothing but a footnote in history.
____________

When I first started inquiring into questions of Book of Mormon geography and historicity, I was surprised at how incestuous LDS scholarship was. I referred to the various LDS publications as the citation cartel. Having been told that term was offensive, I stopped using it. I never intended to offend; I'm only interested in getting at the truth, and I thought that was an accurate description of scholarly LDS publications and co-dependent offshoots, such as Meridian Magazine and Book of Mormon Central.

From the outset, I was told by people who had experience with LDS scholars and educators that I would face a lot of opposition because these LDS scholars and educators had reached a comfortable consensus about the Mesoamerican theory, their view that Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and merely speculated about its setting, that Joseph expected scholars to settle the question, etc. That approach is unbelievably self-serving, of course, but no one seemed willing to point it out.

True to form, members of what were formerly known as the citation cartel published lengthy and sarcastic criticisms of my books. These consist entirely of confirmation bias, meaning they are persuasive, if at all, only to those who want to adhere to their particular non-New York Cumorah theories. If you've read these criticisms, you know what I mean. 

When these same publications refused to publish my responses and censored my comments on their web pages, I posted my detailed replies on my blog, 
http://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/. Many people have asked me about the criticism, having read it on Book of Mormon Central (America), BMAF, the Interpreter, etc. When I refer them to my responses, they come back and ask how the citation cartel could have published such nonsense in the first place. I just shrug.

By now, I've published eight books and hundreds of pages of blog posts on these topics. I think the case for the New York Cumorah is so convincing that I'm not bothering with the critics any longer (although I'd welcome a dialog with them if they were willing, which they haven't been for the last two years). I have dozens of tabs in the publications of (for lack of a better term) the citation cartel that I could write about, but it's all more of the same. People will believe what they want to believe. Pointing out even more logical thinking errors in these publications isn't going to change anything.

I'm moving on to some more important projects.* If readers have specific questions about Church history or Book of Mormon geography, email them to me. If enough people ask about a particular thing, I'll address it.

Based on past experience, I fully expect the citation cartel to publish more critical articles. They never discuss the issues with me ahead of time, despite my repeated requests to do so. That's why they're a citation cartel, and that's how they end up making such poor arguments that consist mainly of semantic dances and allusions to illusory "correspondences."

(And it's not only on issues of Church history and Book of Mormon geography. The citation cartel is impervious to alternative perspectives on nearly every issue.)

Anyway, I'll probably post only once a week or so from now on.

It's been a lot of fun getting to know so many readers, and I look forward to ongoing interactions and exchanges of ideas.
_______________

*I've explained before that one of my main motivations for getting into this arena was to bring unity on the issue of Book of Mormon geography and historicity. It makes no sense to present the Book of Mormon to people when we give them inconsistent explanations about where it took place. Five seconds on the Internet tells anyone in the world that there is a mass of confusion in the Church about this issue. 

On one hand, Joseph and Oliver (and all of their successors) were clear about Cumorah being in New York. 

On the other hand, the illustrations in the blue missionary edition itself claim the Book of Mormon occurred in Mesoamerica. The North Visitors center on Temple Square, the ubiquitous paintings of Christ visiting Chichen Itza, and the LDS scholarly "consensus" are all telling the world that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church. 

This is really such as simple question. From this point forward, I'm working on projects based on the assumption that Joseph and Oliver were correct. People are free to disagree, of course, but unless and until someone brings forth strong evidence and rational argument that Joseph and Oliver were, in fact, ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah, I reject that premise, even if it is on display at Temple Square.










Sunday, February 12, 2017

Two-Movie Reality

[cross posted from http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2017/02/two-movie-reality.html]

If you have been following the Scott Adams (Dilbert) blog, you have seen him explain political disagreements in terms of "two movies on one screen." He means we're seeing the same thing but interpreting it differently.

His post of Feb 12 gives an excellent example. Read it here:
 http://blog.dilbert.com/post/157149611381/good-example-of-our-two-movie-reality

I think his methodology applies to the question of Book of Mormon geography in many respects.

Take Letter VII for example.

We can all read the same words--Oliver Cowdery says it is a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley west of Cumorah--but members of the Church see two different movies.

We can all see that Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his personal history and had it reprinted multiple times for all his contemporaries to read.

But even though we read the same words, we "see" them differently. Here's how Adams describes it (modified in part for the Letter VII issue, emphasis added).
_________________

I have been saying since [I published my book about Letter VII that the LDS] world has split into two realities – or as I prefer to say, two movies on one screen – and most of us don’t realize it. We’re all looking at the same events and interpreting them wildly differently. That’s how cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias work. They work together to create a spontaneous hallucination that gets reinforced over time. That hallucination becomes your reality until something changes.

This phenomenon has nothing to do with natural intelligence. We like to think that the people on the other side of the political debate are dumb, under-informed, or just plain evil. That’s not the case. We’re actually experiencing different realities. I mean that literally.

I know, I know. When you read something like that, you probably shake your head and think I’m either being new-agey or speaking metaphorically. I am being neither. This is well-understood cognitive science.

And here comes the fun part.

I’m about to show you some mind-blowing evidence of the two-movie effect. Figuratively speaking, I’ll hold an apple in my hand and show it to the audience. Half of you will see an apple. The other half will see a gun. That’s how dramatic this two-movie illusion is. I can be watching a comedy movie while you’re in the same theater, sitting next to me, watching a drama. On the same screen. At the same time.

[End of quotation/paraphrase of Adams]
________________

Let's apply this to the question of Cumorah:

I'm holding up Letter VII.

Movie #1. If you believe Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) was in New York, you are seeing the movie that Oliver described; i.e., the final battles taking place in New York, in the mile-wide valley west of Cumorah. In your movie, Oliver and Joseph are reliable, accurate, credible, and trustworthy. (After all, they had visited Mormon's repository in Cumorah. Plus, Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church at the time, the only witness besides Joseph Smith to the restoration of the Priesthood, most of the translation of the Book of Mormon, etc.). In your movie, every prophet and apostle who has spoken about Cumorah has supported what Oliver and Joseph said.

Movie #2. If you believe Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) was somewhere other than New York (it doesn't matter where), then you are seeing the movie that Oliver and Joseph were speculating, were wrong, and thereby misled the Church for 100 years (until RLDS scholars corrected the mistake, and then LDS scholars adopted their Mesoamerican theories). In your movie, Joseph's successors perpetuated a false tradition about Cumorah. Members of the First Presidency, speaking in General Conference, continued to mislead the Church until at least 1975. In your movie, the scholars know better than the prophets and apostles.
________________

Same facts about Letter VII, but an entirely different movie in the minds of those who read it.

Is there an event that provides a way for this two-movie reality to "fold back into one" as Adams describes it? He says it will take a lot of time plus a lot of observations.

I think we already have plenty of observations to fold this two-movie reality into one. I've discussed these at length in my books and blogs. Realizing Joseph translated two sets of plates, as I've explained in my latest book and my presentations, is just one more reason to accept what Joseph and Oliver said about Cumorah.

It's possible that for some people, no number of observations over any amount of time will overcome their cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. However, I think that for most members of the Church, Letter VII alone is sufficient. If not, then the accumulating evidence will lead then to see Oliver and Joseph as credible, reliable witnesses that Cumorah is in New York.

Another way to say this is:

Instead of two Cumorahs and one set of plates, 
there is one Cumorah and two sets of plates.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?

For the last two months, I have been speaking a lot about about the "two-sets-of-plates" scenario. It's an easy concept, but because it is a new paradigm in Church history (so far as I know), I did a lot of research and analysis and discussed it with knowledgeable people as a sanity check.

Right now, this is my favorite topic because it answers so many questions about Church history.

(Readers of this blog tend to be interested in Book of Mormon geography/historicity. You already appreciate the relevance of the New York Cumorah. The two-sets-of-plates scenario is just another corroboration of what Joseph and Oliver said all along about Cumorah. And yet the comical search for "Cumorah" in southern Mexico continues... A topic for a future blog post, maybe.)

Those of you who have read my blogs and books and attended my presentations know that I've approached Church history backwards:

I started with 1842 Nauvoo (The Lost City of Zarahemla, Brought to Light).

Then I looked at 1835 Kirtland (Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah).

Now I'm back to 1829 Harmony and Fayette.

I'll be speaking about this topic this Saturday (Feb 11 in Salt Lake County) and the following Saturday (Feb 18 in Utah County), as I mentioned in yesterday's post.

A lot of people have been asking about it and I can't answer individual questions due to time constraints. That's why I wrote the book.

:)

Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? is about 200 pages long in the 5 x 8 format that most people seem to like. The book includes 107 footnotes. I've reduced footnotes and details in printed versions to keep page counts and prices low, but more material is available to readers online as explained in the book.

You can go on Amazon and read sample pages, here. The sample includes the Introduction, which explains why I wrote the book.
____________


I wrote this book to share what I consider an exciting new development in Church history. It has always been assumed that Joseph Smith translated one set of plates—the ones he got from the box in the Hill Cumorah. But my research suggests that there were in fact two sets: one set containing abridgments by Mormon (Lehi—the lost 116 pages—and Mosiah through Mormon 7) and Moroni (Mormon 8 through Moroni 10), which Joseph translated in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and the other set containing the small plates of Nephi (1Nephi to Words of Mormon), which Joseph translated in Fayette, New York.

If true, this insight may reconcile details of Church history that seem out of place, random, or just strange.

We can’t accept every historical account on its face, unexamined. But in the cases of the evidences I’ll discuss in this book, previously inexplicable accounts seem to fit together to answer important questions that continue to gnaw at us today. Questions such as:

“Where did Joseph get the plates of Nephi?”

[If you think they were part of the record Moroni left in the box on Cumorah, you may be surprised when you take another look at material you’ve read your entire life.]

“Where was the repository of Nephite records Mormon mentioned in Mormon 6:6?”

“Where did Joseph get the plates he showed to the Eight Witnesses?”


And, of course, “Whatever happened to the golden plates?”

____________

Chapter one tells you everything you need to know--except all the details.

____________



My basic thesis could fit in a tweet: “Joseph translated two separate sets of plates.”

This concept is so obvious to me now that it’s difficult to remember thinking he translated only one set.

And yet, the one-set interpretation of Church history has been taken for granted for decades. Maybe it’s never been challenged before.

Arthur Schopenhauer’s observation is overused, but I think it applies here because my simple tweet, by itself, is not going to overcome the long-held assumption.

All truth passes through three stages.

First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

The rest of this book explains the rationale for my thesis. It’s possible that for some people, the idea alone will suffice. They’ll think back on what they know of Church history and realize that the two-sets-of-plates theory explains a lot of things. It makes sense of the Title Page and D&C 9 and 10. If you already get it, you’re done.

Quickest read ever.


But if you’re like me, you want to explore the facts and the reasoning. So here goes.
____________

I hope you get as much out of this new paradigm as I have!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Speaking events - Feb 2017

I've been speaking about once a week to various groups and a lot of people have asked where I'm speaking next. I usually don't announce events in advance because of all the protesters. (j/k)

I'm speaking tonight at a venue with limited seating, so I won't mention that one. But this Saturday I will be speaking at an awesome event at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in Salt Lake County.



Next Saturday (Feb 18, 2017) I'm speaking at an event in Orem (Utah County) called the Book of Mormon Symposium. Here's the address:

730 South Sleepy Ridge Drive, Orem, Utah 84058

There's a facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1624958564479265/

I have upcoming events in March, April, May, June, and July as well as September and October. Most of these have limited seating so I won't mention them here, but I'll add additional conferences as I get the details.

Cumorah: A Decision Tree for Book of Mormon Geography

Lately I've been doing a lot of presentations, and people have asked for a handout. This is a version of the handout in response to multiple requests for a summary of Book of Mormon geography issues. The Church wisely has no official position on the setting. It’s up to each member to decide.

[Note: I cross posted this at the consensus blog here.] 

The question really boils down to this:

Do you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York or in southern Mexico?

Advocates for the North American setting believe the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York and the rest of the geography flows from that.

Advocates for the Central American setting (Mesoamerica) don’t believe Cumorah is in New York. Instead, they claim there are “two Cumorahs.” One, the hill where Joseph obtained the plates, is in New York. This hill was incorrectly named Cumorah by unknown early Saints. Calling the hill in New York “Cumorah” is a false tradition because the real hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is somewhere in Southern Mexico.

If you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York, then you accept a North American setting.

If you think the Hill Cumorah is in southern Mexico, then you accept a Mesoamerican setting.
______________

To decide whether you agree with Central America or North America, you can check the box next to the proposition and then compare your responses to those of the Central and North American proponents. 1-17 are statements of historical fact; 18-20 are conclusions.

Proposition
Agree
Disagree
1. When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he said the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home.
2. Joseph Smith obtained the original set of plates from a stone box Moroni constructed out of stone and cement in the Hill Cumorah in New York.


3. Mormon said he buried all the Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah (Morm. 6:6), which was the scene of the final battles of the Nephites, except for the plates he gave to his son Moroni to finish the record.
4. Orson Pratt explained that Moroni deposited the plates in “a department of the hill separate from the great, sacred depository of the numerous volumes hid up by his father.”


5. Brigham Young said Oliver told him that he (Oliver) and Joseph had made at least two visits to a room in the Hill Cumorah in New York that contained piles of records and ancient Nephite artifacts.
6. Heber C. Kimball talked about Father Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and others seeing records upon records piled upon tables in the hill Cumorah.


7. When Joseph and Oliver finished translating the original set of plates in Harmony, PA, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger who took them to Cumorah.


8. In Fayette, NY, Joseph and Oliver translated the plates of Nephi.


9. Oliver Cowdery said it was a fact that the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York was the location of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites (Letter VII).
10. Joseph Smith had his scribes to copy Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, into his journal as part of his history.
11. Joseph Smith gave permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in his newspaper called the Gospel Reflector
12. Don Carlos republished Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in the 1842 Church newspaper called the Times and Seasons (T&S).
13. Letter VII was republished in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era.


14. D&C 128:20 reads, “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,” followed by references to other events that took place in New York.
15. To date, apart from Moroni’s stone box and the plates and other objects Joseph Smith possessed and showed to the Witnesses, no artifact or archaeological site that can be directly linked to the Book of Mormon has been found anywhere.
16. Every LDS who was alive during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and several prophets and apostles since, accepted the New York hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles in General Conference.
17. As an Apostle and Church Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith said the two-Cumorah theory caused members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. He reiterated this when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve in the 1950s in his book Doctrines of Salvation.
18. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were merely speculating about the location of Cumorah. They were wrong and they misled the Church.
19. Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong when he criticized the two-Cumorahs theory and maintained that Cumorah is in New York.


20. Anthony Ivins, Marion G. Romney, and Mark E. Peterson were all wrong when they spoke in General Conference about Cumorah being in New York.



If you agree with 1-20, then you reject the New York Cumorah and probably accept a Mesoamerican setting (or another non-New York Cumorah setting).

If you agree with 1-17 but disagree with 18-20, then you accept the New York Cumorah and reject the settings outside North America.

[I posted a more detailed comparison table in August, 2016, here. This one includes areas in which the two sides agree to disagree. So far as I know, it remains the most detailed and complete statement of the respective positions of those who advocate a Central American (Mesoamerican) setting and a North American (Heartland/Moroni’s America) setting.]