Friday, March 24, 2017

DVDs coming out

A lot of people have asked for recordings of my presentations, so we decided to offer them for anyone interested. I've been editing DVDs of my presentations over the last couple of years. They will be available at the Book of Mormon Conference in Orem on April 6-8.

I think they turned out pretty well. Now I won't have to speak as much; people can just watch the DVDs.

:)

Here are the covers.





Monday, March 20, 2017

The Emperor's new clothes

The utility of a model or theory in math, science, economics, or any other field depends on its ability to explain the real world and predict how things will work in the future as we obtain more data and experience.

In my view, the models of Book of Mormon geography that put Cumorah anywhere except New York have essentially no utility.*

It's easy to see why.

They are all based on two fundamental defects.

First, they reject what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said about Cumorah in Letter VII and elsewhere.

Second, they are based on a mistake in Church history that wrongly attributed to Joseph Smith statements written by others.

When your theory or model is based on such a sandy foundation, can you really be surprised when it eventually collapses?
_________

Recently a well-known tour leader claimed that when Joseph Smith was shown Catherwood's drawings of Central America, he declared them to be ruins of Nephite cities. Of course, there is no such account. He was turning the anonymous Times and Seasons articles into a false narrative, fabricating a conversation that never took place.

Fabrication is characteristic of the non-New York Cumorah theories. Proponents "see" volcanoes, jungles, Mayan ruins, tapirs, jaguars and more in the text of the Book of Mormon. Then they expect the rest of us to "see" these things as well, like the Emperor** who expected his subjects to "see" the fine clothing made out of nothing by the clever weavers.

Like the fairy tale weavers, Mesoamerican proponents say the Mesoamerican elements in the text are invisible to those who are not sufficiently educated. You need expertise in a relevant field to understand the two-Cumorahs theory, for example.

But that's not the only problem.

The more we learn about ancient Mesoamerican society, the less it can be construed to align with the Book of Mormon. Experts are deciphering more and more records left by the ancient inhabitants of Central America, and the more they decipher, the more it becomes obvious that no one was quoting the Old Testament or explaining the ministry of Christ.

Nevertheless, there are characteristics of most human societies that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon and in ancient Mesoamerican accounts. The Mayans had kingdoms and wars and political intrigue. So did the Book of Mormon people. But what human society has not?

If, instead of rejecting what Joseph and Oliver said, we embrace it, we soon see that the text of the Book of Mormon describes North America very well. Not only that, it makes sense, now and in the future.

Unlike in Central America, the Native American Indians in North America did not leave behind extensive written records of their kings and battles.

Hmmm, you're thinking. Maybe that's why Nephi, Mosiah, Alma and the rest kept such careful records of these things on metal plates. They were not engraving stones and painting murals everywhere.

Maybe that's why Enos and Mormon and Moroni were so concerned about the Lamanites destroying the plates; without the plates, the history would be lost.

Unlike in Mesoamerica.

Instead of creating new clothes out of whole cloth (i.e., fabricated or made up), how about if we stick with what the text actually says, and what the translators of the text said about it?

Let's agree that there is one Cumorah and that it's in New York. Then we can discuss the geography from there.
_______________

*I acknowledge that these models are important to people living in those areas because they seem to help people liken the scriptures to themselves. This utility is unrelated to explaining the real world or predicting the future.

**Reference to "The Emperor's New Clothes," described this way by wikipedia:

a short tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that they don't see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as "unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent". Finally, a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Unbelievable audacity at Book of Mormon Central

Book of Mormon Central published KnoWhy #288 yesterday titled "What Role Does the Book of Mormon Play in Missionary Work?"

In the abstract, it's a nice explanation of how the Book of Mormon is essential to missionary work. I thought I'd leave it alone without comment. But on further reflection, leaving it alone is unfair to unsuspecting members and investigators.

Coming from Book of Mormon Central, this KnoWhy is unbelievably audacious.

Why?

Because Book of Mormon Central continues to promote the two-Cumorahs, Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography exclusively. It's difficult to think of a bigger impediment to missionary work than that theory.

First, let me clarify that I really like the people at Book of Mormon Central and I appreciate the great work they've done in assembling reference materials. But I urge caution for anyone using the site because it does not live up to its statement of policies and in my opinion it does more harm than good regarding the geography question, which is core to the historicity question that is a major stumbling block for investigators and members alike.

Book of Mormon Central purports to be "officially geography neutral."
https://bookofmormoncentral.org/content/policies. But you will search in vain for anything on the page that supports or even gives a voice to alternatives to the two-Cumorah, Mesoamerican theory. Instead, they publish only pro-Mesoamerican and anti-alternative articles in their archive.

The "neutral" policy is a ruse to persuade readers that, because there are no alternatives on their site, there is only one legitimate theory, and that's the two-Cumorahs, Mesoamerican theory.

This makes sense when you realize that Book of Mormon Central is merely a front for the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, Inc., a long-time Mesoamerican advocacy group.
 http://www.bmaf.org/

BMAF and BMC continue to denigrate and attack other concepts that are accepted by faithful Latter-day Saints everywhere, including what Oliver Cowdery wrote about Cumorah in New York in Letter VII, which Joseph fully embraced and republished multiple times. Not to mention Church leaders speaking in General Conference as recently as the 1970s. (For more info, go to http://www.lettervii.com/.)

________________

Back to the KnoWhy.

Imagine you are an investigator. The missionaries bring you a Book of Mormon. You open it and see the images of jungles and massive stone cities and Mayan ruins. You ask the missionaries where these events took place and they tell you Central America, but no matter how many times you read the book, you don't find those elements and the missionaries can't point to a single scripture that mentions them.

You go online and quickly learn about Letter VII from various web sites and you ask the missionaries about Cumorah.* The missionaries refer you to FairMormon or Book of Mormon Central, which tell you Cumorah is in southern Mexico. The explanations you get boil down to Mormon scholars claiming Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who were wrong, because modern Mormon scholars know better.

You say, "Didn't you tell me Joseph and Oliver translated the Book of Mormon? That they interacted with numerous divine messengers, including the Lord himself? That they were truthful about everything that happened?"

The missionaries say, "Yes."

You: "But Joseph and Oliver said Cumorah was in New York. So did all of their contemporaries and successors. And now you're telling me they were wrong?"

The missionaries: "Uh, they were right about everything except when it came to the location of Book of Mormon events. They thought Cumorah was in New York, but that's a false tradition that Joseph Smith embraced for unknown reasons. It's manifestly absurd. Here, look at all the scholarly writings that spell this out."

And they refer you to Book of Mormon Central (BMC), FairMormon, and the rest.

Below is a sample of what you'll read if you go to BMC. If you take the time to read even more, you'll find that the guru of Mesoamerican theory, John Sorenson, wrote this about the New York Cumorah that Joseph and Oliver taught:

2013. John Sorenson, in Mormon’s Codex (Deseret Book, 2015), p. 688, writes There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history.”

Think of that.

What Joseph and Oliver taught is now "manifestly absurd" according to the two-Cumorahs, Mesoamerican advocates. 

And this is from a long-time BYU faculty member who is cited about 450 times on Book of Mormon Central alone.
________________

Classic articles on BMC.

Here are some of the classics on BMC. (I've addressed most of these on this blog if you're interested in the alternative views you won't find on BMC). At each link, they give you "More like this" which are additional articles that support the two-Cumorahs/Mesoamerican theory without ever linking to alternative perspectivs.

Were there two Cumorahs?

https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/were-there-two-cumorahs

Abstract: No one doubts that the hill where Joseph Smith received the plates is known as Cumorah, but is the hill where the final battles between the Nephites and Lamanites took place another Cumorah? The book of Ether tells us that Omer traveled to this place of the last battles of the Nephites, and that the relatively short duration of this journey would not account for the three thousand miles from Middle America to New York. A similar journey was undertaken by Limhi’s men, of equally short duration. The description of the geographical features around the final battle site is also at odds with the topography of present-day Cumorah.

Archaeology and Cumorah Questions

https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/archaeology-and-cumorah-questions

Abstract: The archaeology of New York—and specifically the Hill Cumorah—is persuasive evidence that Book of Mormon peoples did not live in that region. By implication, the Cumorah of the golden plates is not the Cumorah of the final battles—Mormon’s hill and Moroni’s hill are not one and the same.

Cumorah

https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/node/423

This is the entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism written by David Palmer, who cites his own book to explain that Cumorah cannot be in New York. This is the entry that was plagiarized for the phony fax from the office of the First Presidency that Mesoamerican advocates have cited multiple times.

The Final Battle for Cumorah

https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/final-battle-cumorah

Abstract: Review of Christ in North America (1993), by Delbert W. Curtis.
Clark examines the scholarship and logic involved in assuming a one-Cumorah theory for Book of Mormon geography.

Looking for Artifacts at New York’s Hill Cumorah

https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/looking-artifacts-new-york%E2%80%99s-hill-cumorah

Abstract: Landon Smith gives an account of artifact hunting in the fields surrounding Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, New York. He presents evidence that the archaeology of New York does not support the idea that Book of Mormon peoples lived in that region or that New York’s Hill Cumorah was the scene of the final battles between the Nephites and Lamanites.

Plausible Locations of the Final Battles

https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/plausible-locations-final-battles

Abstract: Though evidence from the Book of Mormon is not conclusive, final battles of the Nephites and the Jaredites probably took place not far north of the narrow neck of land. As shown, the Nephites marched from Angola, through David, and eventually came to the city of Joshua (see Mormon 2:4–6). Nephite defense lines lay in Joshua for fourteen years; finally they collapsed, and Nephites retreated across the narrow neck of land, fleeing to various sites (see Mormon 2:16). The hill Ramah/Cumorah, upon which both the Jaredites and Nephites fought their last battles (see Ether 15:11; Mormon 6:4–6), is shown here on the northwestern edge of the Tuxtla Mountains in Mexico, about ninety miles from a narrow pass (see Mormon 3:5). Other Jaredite locations, including Omer's flight to Ramah (see Ether 9:3), are also shown here. Again, these locations are plausible, but not definite.

______________________

There are lots more beauties like these, but I have to include my favorite:*

Response to Jonathan Neville’s Two Books: Moroni’s America: The North American Setting for the Book of Mormon and Letter VII

https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/response-jonathan-neville%E2%80%99s-two-books-moroni%E2%80%99s-america-north-american-setting-book-mormon

_________________

As I've been saying since I attended the pre-launch open house for Book of Mormon Central in December 2015, all I ask is an equal, or at least fair, presentation of alternative viewpoints on Book of Mormon Central.

Another way to say it is all I ask is that Book of Mormon Central live up to its purported policy of neutrality.

Another way to say it is all I ask is that Book of Mormon Central live up to the Church's policy of neutrality.

I don't expect this to happen anytime soon, but hope springs eternal...

:)
_________________

*To its credit, BMC did post the first edition of my book, Letter VII. But soon enough they added Joe Anderson's long attack article without even linking to my rebuttal, which is here:
http://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/2016/08/bmaf-criticism-my-response.html
It's probably a good idea for BMC to avoid becoming a forum for back-and-forth debate, but so long as they are intent on promoting only one proposed Book of Mormon geography, it's an unreliable source for serious students, investigators and members.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Blast from the past

I posted on this blog for the first time on June 18, 2014. The post was titled "John L. Sorenson's 37 objections to North America."

http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2014/06/john-l-sorensons-37-objections-to-north.html

At the time, I assumed that Brother Sorenson didn't actually write these 37 objections, but I have since been informed that he actually did.

I've also been informed that Brother Sorenson asked that his article be taken down, and so I was going to take down my post about it. But lo and behold, the article it is still on display at BMAF, "a division of Book of Mormon Central," here:
http://bmaf.org/articles/bunch_reasons_not_include_north_america__sorensen

In honor of the BMAF-BMC conference this weekend, aka the Provo Comic Con, I'm revisiting my post from last June.
________________________

John L. Sorenson's 37 objections to North America

John L. Sorenson is a retired BYU Professor who has authored 200 books and articles, many of them dealing with Book of Mormon historicity, geography and anthropology. His latest, titled Mormon's Codex, summarizes his life's work in this field. Wikipedia has a useful bio here.

In subsequent posts, I'll address Mormon's Codex, but recently someone cited Sorenson's list of 37 reasons why the Book of Mormon could not have included North America, and I wanted to comment on them.

Sorenson's list is a nice summary of the orthodox interpretation of North American archaeology and anthropology that was driven by the Manifest Destiny approach to the North American Indians in the 1800s. I can't tell if Sorenson was writing from ignorance or malice, but since I know him, I'll go with ignorance. After all, even Dr. Roger Kennedy, the former director of the Smithsonian's American History Museum, wrote a book titled Hidden Cities--The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilizations. He wrote this: "Few realize that some of the oldest, largest, and most complex structures of ancient archaeology were built of earth, clay, and stone right here in America, in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. From 6,000 years ago until quite recently, North America was home to some of the most highly advanced and well organized civilizations in the world--complete with cities, roads and commerce."

So I'll assume Sorenson was just ignorant, or that he wrote his list before Dr. Kennedy wrote his book in 1991. But the list was cited by Gregory Smith as recently as January 2014, so apparently some BYU people still think it is relevant. I'll address Gregory Smith in a separate post.

So here are my comments on Sorenson.

A Whole Bunch of Reasons Why Book of Mormon Geography
Could Not Have Included North America
                                                             
by John L. Sorenson
1. The “promised land” occupied by the Nephites was characterized for many centuries as an area of “civilization.” As indicated by archaeology and related studies, no place in North America in the period of  Book of Mormon history contained any cultures at the level of “civilization.” This statement represents the orthodox view that supported not only Manifest Destiny but the genocide of American Indians prophesied by the Book of Mormon. Andrew Jackson signed the "Removal Act" on May 28, 1830, almost two months after the LDS Church was organized and about a year after the translation of the Book of Mormon. In fact, the Hopewell and Adena civilizations were extensive and highly sophisticated, with some of the largest and most elaborate earthworks in the entire world. Exact dimensions and shapes were replicated at great distances. They were aligned with celestial events, a feat requiring civilization under any definition. Here's an example. "Seventeen centuries ago, Newark, Ohio, was a major center for a remarkable ancient culture. Here, American Indians built the largest geometric earthwork complex in the world. Enormous enclosures connected by walled roadways were spread across more than four square miles. " http://ancientohiotrail.org/sites/newark
2. The population of Book of Mormon lands over much of the period of its history totaled from hundreds of thousands up to millions. The areas of North America touted as occupied by Nephites, Lamanites and Jaredites cannot be shown from objective evidence to have been anywhere near that level. he Way back in 1894, the Bureau of Ethnology published a map of 100,000 mound sites, "many with complexes containing 2 to 100 mounds." New mounds are discovered every year. One recent estimate by a non-LDS scholar is that "over 1,000,000 mounds once existed." There were over than two million people are buried in mounds in Illinois alone, dating from around 2,000 years ago.
3. Many “cities” and even “great cities” are reported by the Nephite record between 1500 BC and AD 400. Not a single such city has been documented in North America in that period. The extensive, sophisticated Hopewell civilization included walled cities connected by roads, including the great Hopewell road between Chilicothe and Newark. Around 200,000 Hopewell structures and sites were leveled by settlers, but in some cases, the mounds were preserved, such Circleville, Ohio, which was built within the walls of the ancient city.
4. Intensive agriculture is indicated as the economic means of support, according to the record. Agriculture only on a limited scale was employed by inhabitants of North America before AD 400. A "limited scale" is a relative term (as is "intensive agriculture") and certainly ancient agriculture everywhere in the world was on a "limited scale" compared with modern agriculture, but the Hopewell and Adena people lived in defined communities supported by agriculture.  
5. Multiple kinds of grains were cultivated by the Nephites as their subsistence mainstay.
In the Book of Mormon period, as far as is known, only limited grain crops of corn/maize were cultivated in North America. "As far as is known" is a rhetorical technique that implies "no one knows" about multiple grain crops in North America, when it really means "as far as is known by the author of these objections." In fact, every food required by the law of Moses was grown in Hopewell areas (which is not true of Mesoamerica) and multiple "kinds of grains" were grown in North America.
6. “Flocks” and “herds” were raised at times by the Nephites and Jaredites (at least). There is absolutely no evidence for any degree of animal husbandry in ancient North America. Categorical objections are disproven by a single example, such as the turkeys and dogs in North America referred to here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Native-American/Prehistory.
7. Many major public buildings, many of them of a religious nature, are referred to in the scripture as characteristic of their settlements. In the Book of Mormon period there is no evidence of any such structures in North America. It's true that 200,000 structures were destroyed by the European invaders, but the extensive earthworks that survive, as well as those documented by Squire and Davis, were both public and religious.
8. Major wars were fought among Book of Mormon peoples for well over 1,000 years; they involved over hundreds of thousands of combatants. In North America in the relevant period there is no evidence of warfare on any significant scale. There are massive burial sites with mixtures of bones and arrowheads throughout the Hopewell area, dating to the Book of Mormon period. The Zelph mound is one of many examples.
9. Swords and “cimeters” (scimitars) are particularly referred to as weapons in the Book of Mormon period. Neither in archaeology or art are any such weapons identified in North American cultures. There are such swords and scimitars in museums around North America, dating to Book of Mormon times.
10. Armor and shields also were in common use according to the record. Evidence for those features is also entirely lacking in North America before AD 400. There are metal breastplates and headplates in museums around North America, dating to Book of Mormon times.
11. Large-scale fortifications (of particular types) are described as being used by Book of Mormon peoples, but those types, nor in fact any such large-scale defensive structures, are not known in North America in Book of Mormon times. There are such fortifications at many sites around North America, dating to Book of Mormon times.
12. Roads and highways were described by the Nephite record as being built near the time of Christ. North American archaeology reveals nothing of the sort. The Great Hopewell Road, currently being excavated by the Ohio State Archaeologist, is an elevated highway stretching 60 miles that was around 100 feet wide. There are others, although most roads and highways have been destroyed for farmland.
13. “Towers,” obviously tall, bulky structures of earth or stone, were features in some Book of Mormon cities. Such constructions were absent before AD 400 in North America. There are many such towers at sites around North America, dating to Book of Mormon times.
14. People of Book of Mormon areas were frequently literate, in fact several scripts are reported. No North American cultures have been shown to have had any system of writing whatsoever. The Book of Mormon text explicitly states that the elite were instructed in writing, which is common in ancient societies, and that the Lamanites were intent on destroying written records. The largest non-Lamanite group, the people of Zarahemla, specifically had no written records. The Mesoamerican "system of writing" has zero correlation to Hebrew or Egyptian languages. If writing among the Nephites was as ubiquitous as it was among the Mayans, the Nephite history would be documented in stones and murals instead of metal plates.
15. At least the Nephites are said to have possessed “many” books covering many subjects. No ancient North American books at all are evidenced. There are no "Nephite" books anywhere apart from the Book of Mormon, except for the depository that Oliver Cowdery described in the Hill Cumorah in New York.
16. The Nephites followed several different calendar systems. In North America even a single calendar is only uncertainly known. The syntax of this objection is difficult to understand, but the earthworks of Newark and other sites were elaborate calendars.
17. According to the Nephite record several kinds of metals were worked in the original settlement areas (land of Nephi and Jaredite areas). No true metallurgy is evidenced in North America during the Book of Mormon era. Several museums in North American contain examples of metallurgy dating to Book of Mormon times, and there are photos and records of iron plates and tools, found by archaeologists dating to Book of Mormon times, that have "disappeared" from museums. The Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis has evidence of smelting dating to Book of Mormon times.
18. A substantial number of priests, prophets, and other occupational specialists (including “thousands” of idle people in the land of  Zarahemla—Alma 60: 22) are mentioned. No more than a mere handful of (“idle”) people occupying specialist roles are in evidence in any ancient culture in North America. These categorical "objections" ignore the fact of the massive earthworks created to monitor celestial events. There are many ceremonial earthworks, as well. These required engineering and abundant labor not required for agriculture.
19. There is no mention nor even hint of cold, snow or ice in the Book of Mormon account of its peoples. In the Great Lakes or Prairie regions winter storms are and were so common that it is unthinkable that they would not be a prominent mentioned feature of the climate. The quotations from Isaiah that refer to snow would make no sense if people didn't know about snow, but the "nature of the climate" that led to diseases could easily include cold and snow. Besides, the mountains of Mesoamerica are also cold; it snows in Guatemala even today, and it's anyone's guess as to how much the climate has changed in the last 2,000 years.
20. It is obvious from the description of the great catastrophe at the crucifixion of the Savior that volcanism must be involved as a natural cause (of at least the “darkness”). In eastern North America that is out of the question; there are no volcanoes there. Massive earthquakes documented in North America (specifically along the Mississippi River) have caused such darkness over several days, as documented in the 1800s.
21. The river Sidon is a major drainage feature that runs hundreds of miles from south to north from the highlands of the land of Nephi through the “narrow strip of wilderness” past Manti and Zarahemla to the sea. No river in North America even remotely qualifies. The Book of Mormon doesn't say the River Sidon runs from south to north, so this is a false premise. 
22. The battle of Alma’s Nephite army on the riverbank (Alma 2) has them wade across the river Sidon to battle a combined Lamanite/Amlicite force. The idea of wading across the Mississippi is obviously absurd. What is considered "obviously absurd" was a common practice anciently at the area near Nauvoo, which is the first "crossable" area of the Mississippi north of the Gulf of Mexico. This is why there are remnants of ancient civilizations in this area, dating to Nephite times.
23. The Lehite party in their ship landed on the shore of the (west) sea in the “land of first inheritance” (Alma 22: 28). Any attempt to make that point anywhere but on the Pacific coast of North America requires fantastic twisting of the obvious meaning of the distances and other geographical language. What requires "fantastic twisting" is claiming that the Nephites didn't know north, south, east and west, along with insisting that the only seas mentioned in the Book of Mormon are the Pacific and Atlantic. Any large lake, such as the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, qualified as seas to the Nephites. 
23. From the borders of the (immediate) land of Nephi to Zarahemla via the waters of Mormon, land of Helam and valley of Alma, took Alma’s party about 21 days. No plausible rate of travel can make that distance more than 250 miles. No suggested “Nephi” to “Zarahemla” distance in North America comes close to that. Most if not all of these objections based on geography are inferences built on assumptions not required by the text. Even groups traveling by foot could use rivers for part of the journey, which would make travel over hundreds of miles easy.
24. The land of Zarahemla is said to be “nearly surrounded by water” (i.e., seas). No North American geography qualifies. The "i.e., seas" here is another example of strained inferences. Land can be surrounded by rivers as well as seas and lakes.
25. The land northward supported a population of millions (Ether 15: 2) in late Jaredite times. Not only is it manifestly absurd that any “land northward” around the Great Lakes, given the climatic conditions there, could have supported even one-hundredth as many people, but also the archaeology of that region shows only a tiny fraction of the history’s stated number ever to have dwelt there, let alone in Jaredite times when no one lived there but a few hunting tribes. The archaeological record of early settlers describes massive civilizations, including in the Detroit area.
26. Book of Mormon references allow that the “narrow pass” or “narrow passage” between the lands northward and southward was within the narrow neck of land and constitute the sole feasible way for large parties to go northward/southward. No North American geographical arrangement comes close to such an arrangement. Another inference built on assumptions not required by the text.
27. The hill Ramah/Cumorah of the Book of Mormon lay north of the narrow pass/neck, yet the hill in New York state is not so situated. The hill where Joseph found the plates is actually north of most of the Hopewell civilization.
28. King Limhi’s exploring party  (sent from the land of Nephi to find Zarahemla) traversed the narrow neck/narrow pass without even realizing it, for they returned having been to the final Jaredite battleground (at hill Ramah) but supposed that they had only found the ruins of Zarahemla. Anywhere in North America this is impossible.Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
29. The kingdom dominated by the Lamanite king (Alma 22: 27) extended from east sea to the west sea. No North American correlation comes close to fitting with those conditions. Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
30. The hill Cumorah in New York could not plausibly have been a refuge for the 23 survivors of the final battle who were found atop it on the day after the great battle. Had they so much as sneezed their presence would have been detected by the Lamanites. Anyone who has visited the site knows that it is plenty large to hide this many people.
31. Had New York’s hill been the site of the final battle, the 230,000 Nephite dead (not to mention a large number of Lamanite dead—up to half a million total corpses) would have left behind over half a million weapons. Remains on any such scale would have become obvious long since to archaeologists. In fact no weapons of the right period have been found near the place. Many arrowheads have been found in this area, but there are many famous, well-documented battles in history that have not left behind such evidence. For example, wouldn't the victorious Lamanites have collected useable weapons and armor for use elsewhere? This is common practice in battle.
32. The notion that Lehi’s party sailed around Africa and northward through the South and North Atlantic not only has no historical analogs whatever, but given the winds and currents, it was probably impossible in ancient times and has never been duplicated in modern times.Actually, this is the only plausible route from the Middle East to the Americas and has been replicated by a modern copy of a Phoenician ship from 600 BC.
33. From the land of Nephi Mosiah led his party “down [across a mountainous narrow strip of wilderness] into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla” (distant no more than c. 200 miles; see 23 above). In North America, it is impossible to find such a place. Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
34. West of Zarahemla was the land of Melek (Alma 8: 3-6), “west by the borders of the wilderness.” (That wilderness was adjacent on one side to the land of Zarahemla {Alma 22: 28} and on the other to the west sea {Alma 22: 28}.) No North American area comes close to such an arrangement. Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
35. The Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from east [sea] unto the west sea, and thus had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south that they could occupy no lands farther north (Alma 22: 33). These statements are meaningless in North America. Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
36. The Nephites gathered all their people (nearly a quarter of a million of them) to the land of Cumorah (Mormon 6: 3-4) for their final battle. Anyone who has spent a winter  in western New York, let alone four of them, must wonder how they survived in their tents and what so many people might have eaten (there is no mention of manna!) Indian tribes thrived in this area for thousands of years until the Europeans came. Indians taught the Europeans how to survive here!
37. Any attempt to put a land northward in, say, Ontario, must face the fact that there is no trace of anything approaching what the Book of Mormon represents as Jaredite society in that area. There are ancient ruins in this area, including the extensive ancient civilization that has been built over in the Detroit area.

So what do you think?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Who is the judge?

In the Federalist Papers, number 10, James Madison made an important observation:

"No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.  With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time.”

Madison wrote about the advantages of a republic over a democracy, but the principle applies to many power structures, including academia.

For decades, one group of people--LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican two-Cumorahs theory--has been allowed to be "both judges and parties" on the question of Book of Mormon geography. They have used their control over LDS scholarly publications to confirm their biases about their Mesoamerican two-Cumorahs theory and to exclude publication or even fair consideration of alternatives. This continues today, as I've discussed many times on this blog. Look at Book of Mormon Central, for example, which promotes the Mesoamerican two-Cumorahs theory to the exclusion of any other. They won't even let their readers know that growing numbers of Church members believe there is one Cumorah and it is in New York.

Thanks to the Internet, the two-Cumorahs advocates are losing control of the narrative.

People throughout the Church (and the world outside the Church) are discovering that there are faithful alternatives to the Mesoamerican two-Cumorahs theory.

Those whose faith as been challenged "because of this theory" of two-Cumorahs (to use Joseph Fielding Smith's phrase) now have alternatives.

Today it is you who is the judge. 

You can make up your own mind, based on all the evidence. You are not bound by the theories of proponents of the Mesoamerican two-Cumorahs theory.

If you know people who have lost their faith in the Book of Mormon because of the Mesoamerican two-Cumorahs theory--and there are plenty of them, as Joseph Fielding Smith warned--you should share with them the teachings of Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith and so many others. Start with affirming the one Cumorah in New York and go from there.

You may find, as I have, that people who have long been estranged from the Church experience renewed interest when they hear that there is evidence to support what Joseph and Oliver said from the outset.

Friday, March 10, 2017

It has been obvious for a while


Two Comic Cons and Beating a Dead Tapir

I'm conflicted between two similar events next week. I have friends going to both. I've attended both in the past. I think it's going to boil down to when Weird Al Yankovic makes his appearance.*

Maybe some of the readers here are trying to decide as well, so here are my thoughts.

The Salt Lake Comic Con is March 17-18, 2017. Here's the link:
http://saltlakecomiccon.com/












The Provo Comic Con is March 18, 2017. Here's the link:
https://bookofmormoncentral.org/content/bmaf-2017










Ooops, did I write Provo Comic Con? I meant the BMAF Conference. Sorry.

I got confused because there are both serious and comical elements at each event.

Comic con SLC has serious panels about the industry but also lots of people dressed up in costumes having fun.

Comic con Provo has serious panels about the Book of Mormon but also people having fun by beating dead tapirs.

One of the big conflicts is on Saturday morning:

Comic Con Salt Lake: "Finding Habitable Planets in Outer Space."
Comic Con Provo: "The Search for Ramah/Cumorah in Veracruz."

Because we're far more likely to find habitable planets in outer space than to find Cumorah in Mexico, I guess I'll have to go to the Salt Lake Comic Con. But I would also like to hear about the comical search for Cumorah in Mexico.

Here's my guess. They'll make up a bunch of "requirements" for Cumorah that are not in the text of the Book of Mormon but are only satisfied by Veracruz, Mexico. Then they'll claim they found the hill (mountain) that fits their requirements. I appreciate clever circular reasoning as well as the next person, but I've heard this before. I've heard it for decades. They're beating a dead horse tapir.

Another fun event at Comic Con Provo would be "Frauds and Hoaxes: the Michigan Relics." This is another event beating a dead horse tapir that I'm sorry to miss.

Everyone knows there were fraudulent Michigan relics related to Soper and Savage, etc. What no one seems to talk about is the artifacts found in Michigan before Soper and Savage were even born; i.e., what were those guys copying? If there was an answer to that, I'd skip the Salt Lake Comic Con and attend the Provo Comic Con. But I think we all know we're not going to hear that answer at either Comic Con, so I'll have to stick with Salt Lake Comic Con.

Probably...

:)

*Weird Al is appearing Friday at noon, so technically it's not a conflict. But the real Walking Dead event is at noon Saturday in Salt Lake, and I'd rather see that than the Walking Dead Mesoamerican/Two Cumorahs theory on display in Provo.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Wentworth letter

If we were living in the United States in 1842, right about now we'd be receiving our copy of the March 1, 1842, Times and Seasons. This issue contains the Wentworth letter, which contains the Articles of Faith.

You can find this issue online here: http://www.centerplace.org/history/ts/v2n09.htm

You can also see the entire letter here: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2002/07/the-wentworth-letter?lang=eng.

There's an excellent historical introduction here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/church-history-1-march-1842/1#historical-intro
________________________

I have a 40-page chapter on the Wentworth Letter in my upcoming book, The Editors: Joseph, William, and Don Carlos Smith. We're going to release it at the conference on April 6.

Here's an excerpt from that chapter:

The Wentworth letter relates to the authorship of the 900 words because it is a crucial piece of evidence regarding Joseph Smith’s thinking at a critical time. Recall that the thank-you note to John Bernhisel was written and mailed in November, 1841. This is the note that supposedly endorsed a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. If Joseph had anything to do with the Bernhisel note (which I don’t think he did), than one would expect him to be consistent in March 1842. Instead of explicitly rejecting Orson Pratt’s hemispheric model, Joseph would have embraced it, or at least limited it to Central America. He could have condensed it and still kept Pratt’s original concept.
But he didn’t. 

Instead, he replaced it with the clarification that the “remnant” of the Book of Mormon people are “the Indians who now inhabit this country.”

Because this point is so crucial, some promoters of the Mesoamerican theory have insisted that when Joseph wrote to Mr. Wentworth and referred to “this country,” he actually meant all of North and South America. That debate is beyond the scope of this book, but there are plenty of online references for anyone interested in following it. 


For my purposes here, it seems unlikely that Joseph was thinking about how someone trying to promote a Mesoamerican setting in the twenty-first century might interpret the phrase. He was writing to a fellow resident of Illinois, knowing the article was intended for publication in the United States. Certainly Mr. Wentworth would understand the phrase to refer to the country in which he and Joseph both lived. If Joseph wanted to convey a hemispheric idea to Wentworth, he would have written “the Indians who live in North and South America” or similar words.
_____________________

The Wentworth letter is an amazing accomplishment, and not only because of the Articles of Faith. It is a succinct explanation of the history of the Church and Joseph's own experiences.

_____________________

Where you can't see the entire letter is in the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. The reason: the manual edited the Wentworth letter to omit Joseph's explanation that the Lamanites are the American Indians living in "this country."

I discussed the Wentworth letter here, in the context of Orson Pratt's pamphlet about Church history: http://www.lettervii.com/2016/08/letter-vii-in-histories-volume-1.html

Monday, March 6, 2017

How paradigms shift

In the world of science, a consensus among scientists is based on theories that seem to explain natural phenomena the best. When a change in consensus develops, it almost always starts with an individual or a small group. The new idea or theory takes a while to catch the interest of others, and even longer to persuade them to move from the old theories to the new theories.

While the consensus is moving, there are fewer people who have moved to the new idea than there are in the group who still adheres to the old consensus. It's a transitional phase leading to a tipping point where the majority shift over.

Right now, as of March 2017, the change in consensus about Book of Mormon geography is in the transitional phase. More and more people are abandoning the Mesoamerican theory in favor of the North American setting. Most people probably don't think about the issue much, but among those who do, most are changing. The last ones to change will probably be the ones who have promoted that theory during their careers.

When we see a shift in a paradigm or consensus, the way you can judge movement in one direction is how many are moving from the minority (North American) position to the majority (Mesoamerican) position, and how many are moving the other way.

In my case, I moved from siding with the majority for several decades to siding with the minority over two years ago. Maybe it's my own confirmation bias, but in my experience, hundreds of other LDS people have also gone from Mesoamerica to North America. There are actually thousands who have done so in recent years, starting before I joined their ranks. I'm actually unaware of anyone who has moved from the North American setting to the Mesoamerican setting once they are aware of the facts and evidence.

This is a classic pattern leading to a tipping point. The only thing that matters is the direction of movement in the face of new information about Church history, the sciences, and the basic premise of the two-Cumorahs theory.

At this point it's only a question of when, not whether, the Mesoamerican theory will become a minority position and, ultimately, a footnote in Church history.
____________

It's also important to recognize there are smart, educated, faithful people on all sides of the Book of Mormon geography question. It's not a matter of intelligence or testimony. Well-informed, smart people are on multiple sides of many different issues. The question of Book of Mormon geography is mostly a matter of choice among priorities, as well as access to information.

Everyone who chooses a position for whatever reason (the most common reason being what one was taught) and then engages in confirmation bias will become more and more convinced about the chosen position and less and less able to understand the other side.

The intellectual history of this topic strongly favors the Mesoamerican theory because it has been around for decades and has become the consensus view of LDS scholars and educators, which means that most people in the Church have been taught a version of the Mesoamerican theory.

That paradigm has prevailed largely by suppressing and ignoring aspects of Church history that undermine the premise of the Mesoamerican theory; i.e., the two-Cumorahs theory. For example, how many members of the Church today have ever read Letter VII? Although it was published in every Church magazine through the Improvement Era, it has never been published in the Ensign. It is not mentioned in any Church manuals that I'm aware of. And yet, it is one of the most persuasive items on this topic.

Which is why it has been ignored and suppressed, and why there are now LDS scholars and educators seeking to persuade members to disbelieve what Oliver Cowdery wrote about Cumorah.

More information is better than less, so the effort to ignore and suppress Letter VII is doomed to failure. That's another reason why I think the tipping point in favor of the North American setting is fast approaching.