Friday, September 22, 2017

Book of Mormon Day 2017

To celebrate the 190th anniversary of Joseph receiving the Harmony plates from Moroni on the Hill Cumorah in New York, I made a short, silent video about an issue everyone should know about:

Feel free to share on this important anniversary.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The wrong course FairMormon takes people on

Since its inception, FairMormon has been leading its readers on a wrong course because it repudiates the Church's position of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography.


Because the management of FairMormon has Mesomania.

What started as a small understandable error that could have been easily corrected has, by now, misled thousands of people, LDS and otherwise.

FairMormon actively teaches its readers that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were wrong about Cumorah being in New York. 

FairMormon teaches that Joseph and Oliver ignorantly speculated and thereby created a false tradition that misled the entire Church for 100 years.

Except the mistake was FairMormon's, not Joseph's and Oliver's.

That simple mistake has brought FairMormon to the point of claiming that Brigham Young falsely confirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught.

FairMormon claims that every prophet and apostle who has spoken about Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency in General Conference, were wrong.

Fortunately, there's still time for FairMormon to change course.

Unfortunately, there's almost zero chance that they will.

President Uchtdorf's first talk as a member of the First Presidency, delivered in April 2008, was titled "A Matter of a Few Degrees." You can read it here:

It's a classic that people still remember and discuss.

President Uchdorf related an account of a passenger jet that crashed in Antarctica because "someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees." He explained that "The difference of a few degrees, as with the Antarctica flight ... may seem minor. But even small errors over time can make a dramatic difference in our lives."

This drawing depicts the problem.

The longer you stay on the wrong course, the harder it is to get back to the correct one.

This is why FairMormon, BYU Studies, and the rest are unlikely to change course.

They would rather crash into the mountain of confusion and disturbing the faith of the members, as Joseph Fielding Smith put it, than admit error and change course.

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery put the Church on the correct course regarding Book of Mormon historicity and geography. They taught that Cumorah--the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 specifically--was the hill in New York where Joseph obtained the plates.

The Church kept this course for about a hundred years before scholars from the Reorganized Church changed course and decided Cumorah was actually in Central America. LDS scholars embraced this approach, rejected what Joseph and Oliver taught, and led the Church on a different course.

The different course has led to great confusion, thanks to Church media, publications, and artwork that all depend on--and teach--the idea that Cumorah is not in New York.

Now we're at a point where a serious course correction is needed.

What would a course correction look like?

First, you'd see a handful of BYU faculty come out in support. Then you'd see more BYU faculty, and probably some CES people, shift to the New York Cumorah. You'd have local Church leaders saying they knew all along that Cumorah was in New York.

Which is where the vast majority of Church members are already.

It's really only among the intellectuals that the two-Cumorahs theory persists. Most members, as soon as they learn what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII, embrace that teaching and reject the sophistry of the LDS intellectuals who continue to promote their Mesoamerican ideology.

A big course correction could come from BYU Studies. Maybe they would publish an article about Letter VII and the evidence that supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Maybe even FairMormon would give readers an honest explanation of the North American setting.

I realize that seems unlikely, and it probably is so long as the current management of FairMormon remains in place, but hope springs eternal.

As I've mentioned before, the real tragedy is that FairMormon has so much good material on its site that most innocent members (and investigators) who go there don't realize how deeply misleading FairMormon is when it comes to Church history and Book of Mormon geography.

The Interpreter would never go along, of course, but soon enough they would be on their own island, abandoned to their fate. The Interpreter is a tragic story, as well, because they do publish some good things there. But they are even more intransigent than FairMormon, if that's possible.

I often get reports from people who have tried to talk to the LDS intellectuals who promote the two-Cumorahs/Meosamerican theories. The response is always the same. They couldn't care less about what you think. They won't discuss Letter VII and related aspects of Church history. They won't even consider a North American setting for the Book of Mormon.

You can let these LDS scholars and educators know what you think, but they don't really care what you think, so you're wasting your time.

It is far better for you do learn all you can. Don't rely on LDS intellectuals for information because they are pushing a specific agenda that repudiates what Joseph and Oliver taught, as well as the Church's neutrality position.

The course correction that matters most is the one we make individually.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Comparison chart and decision tree

In my last post, I alluded to a comparison chart I did a while back (August 15, 2016) on my consensus blog. Here's the link:

I could add more sections now, but I'll stick with the one from last year for now because it clarifies the issues pretty well. And after more than a year, it holds up pretty well.

I understand there are some Mesoamerican proponents who object to the way I've framed these issues, but no one has pointed out any factual errors or misstatements about the respective positions. If anyone knows of any such errors or misstatements, let me know and I'll correct the chart.

When you go through the items, you can see why the unbelievers at FairMormon will never include such a chart on their web page. 

Same with the unbelievers at Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, etc. 

Earlier this year, I posted a decision tree that helps people decide which setting of the Book of Mormon they agree with. Because there are so many new readers here, maybe many of you missed it, so here it is again.

The last three items in the decision tree seem to be the ones that people have to really think about when they continue to insist on the Mesoamerican setting.

I could add more to those, as well, as could most readers of this blog.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

When to trust experts

Even on this trip across the North Atlantic, I’ve had a few occasions to discuss Church history and Book of Mormon geography.

I actually thought that by now, the Mesoamerican theory would have been relegated to a footnote in Church history, but it’s still going strong. It’s an unfortunate legacy that will endure until its main promoters set the example and renounce it.

The Mesoamerican theory is like the parable of the feathers. Once the wind blows them away, it’s nearly impossible to collect them again. A case in point is “Brother Scott,” who has lately spent a lot of money in Utah promoting his own version of the “two-Cumorahs” theory. He is not only uninformed and misinformed, but he is intransigent. He refuses to even discuss the facts. As I wrote earlier, he might as well teach the youth how to resign from the Church if he’s going to keep teaching them the things he says in his seminars.

I think it’s time for our LDS scholars who have promoted Mesoamerica for so long to take responsibility for what they’ve taught and start telling people the whole truth.
When we compare the New York Cumorah to the Mexican Cumorah, it’s not even a close call.
On one side, we have declarative, specific statements by two men who actually visited the depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. Two men who translated the Book of Mormon, handled the plates, and received revelations. Two men who, together, actually interacted with heavenly beings, including the Savior Himself, on multiple occasions.
On the other side, we have modern LDS scholars who cast doubt on the credibility of Joseph and Oliver (and David Whitmer, Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, etc.) solely to defend their own Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory.
When framed this way, are there even 1% of Church members who would side with the scholars?
I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to change one’s mind. I believed the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory for decades. But one thing’s for sure. It’s a lot better to have been wrong and admit it than continue to be wrong when you know better.
So why do our LDS scholars and experts continue to promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory? And how should people decide whether to believe them?
Scott Adams wrote a post titled “When to Trust the Experts” that I’d like to use as a template to discuss the Book of Mormon.

The first question is, what experts are there?

Among living people, there are about a dozen experts who promote the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. I won’t name them, but you can discover who they are by looking at BYU Studies, the Interpreter, FairMormon, BMAF/Book of Mormon Central, and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute. These experts have disproportionate impact because they mostly teach, or have taught, at BYU and/or CES, they are part of the citation cartel that controls LDS scholarly publications, and they dominate other LDS media such as Meridian Magazine and the Deseret News.

Every BYU student has to take two courses on the Book of Mormon, and for the last 40+ years, they have been taught the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. As a result, it has become the quasi-official position of the Church. This is why you see the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory on display in Church media, Visitors centers, and even within the pages of the missionary and foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon itself in the choice of illustrations. The people who prepare and approve all of this material were educated by Mesoamerican promoters.

Latter-day Saints have deferred to these experts because we trusted them to tell us the truth. And for many years, their position made sense. They all assumed Joseph Smith wrote the Mesoamerican articles in the Times and Seasons, for example. They assumed Cumorah couldn’t be in New York because there’s no archaeological evidence of millions of people living and dying in that area, an assumption they made despite what Joseph and Oliver taught. They assumed the Book of Mormon describes volcanoes, even though the text doesn’t use the term. All of these assumptions and more were designed to support their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, but we’ve seen on this blog that none of these assumptions were accurate.

Meanwhile, these experts ignored the statements of the modern prophets and apostles about Cumorah being in New York. Actually, it’s worse. They rejected these statements, deeming them private opinions that were wrong, even when stated in General Conference by members of the First Presidency.

For this reason, in my view, they have violated our trust.

These experts have known all along about Letter VII, for example, but they never told their students about it. They’ve known about Mormon’s depository in the New York Cumorah, but they never told their students about it. In fact, when someone discovers what Brigham Young taught about the depository just two months before he died—something he said he didn’t want the Church to forget—these experts dismiss his teaching as an account of a “vision” Oliver had of a hill in Mexico. They don’t tell us that Brigham Young explained Joseph and Oliver visited the depository multiple times, and that he related the account because he was from New York and knew the area well.
We trusted these experts—but we shouldn’t have.

Especially now, when they know better but continue insisting on their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

Now, let’s look at what Scott Adams says about trusting experts.

So how do we know when to trust experts and when to be skeptical? Here are the red flags you should look for in order to know how much credibility to assign to the experts.
Money Distortion
When the players have money on the line, the truth gets distorted. In climate science, money influences both sides of the debate. That’s a red flag.
Money distorts truth when there is a financial or similar incentive to distort truth, but when there is an incentive to promote and establish truth, money can be an important tool for clarifying truth. In this case, most of the promoters of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory are financially secure faculty, or former faculty, of BYU, CES and affiliates.
People often tell me that advocates of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory make a lot of money off of their books and tours, but I don’t think that’s the case. No one involved with the question of Book of Mormon geography, on any side, is motivated by money. The market simply isn’t big enough.
Instead, I think academic pride and reputation drives the discussion. The LDS experts have published and taught the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory for decades. Basic human nature prevents them from readily acknowledging they’ve been wrong.
People would rather live with cognitive dissonance than admit error.
Many missionaries have met/taught religious leaders who have acknowledged that they think the Church is true, but simply cannot acknowledge that they have taught falsehoods their entire lives. Money has nothing to do with it. (Okay, some paid ministers may ask “What will I do for a living?” But I don’t think this is a significant factor for those engaged in researching and teaching Book of Mormon geography issues.)
Far more important than money is the natural human aversion to admitting error. Therefore, those who have admitted they’ve been wrong about something—those who have actually changed their minds about something signficant—are more credible than those who refuse to do so.   
Complexity with Assumptions
Whenever you see complexity, that is a red flag. Complexity is often used to deceive. And complexity invites human error.
Compare the difference between simply accepting what Joseph and Oliver taught—that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York—with the complex list of “requirements” designed to (i) exclude the New York Cumorah and (ii) establish Mesoamerica as the only possible location of the “real” Cumorah.  
Compare the difference between simply accepting what the modern prophets and apostles have said and written about the New York Cumorah with the complexity of parsing their words and claiming they were all wrong because they were merely expressing private opinions that were na├»ve, based on a false tradition, etc. My favorite example of this is characterizing Brigham Young’s urgent, detailed and forceful explanation of what Oliver Cowdery related about the depository in New York as nothing but a vague “vision” of a hill in Mexico.

The Important Fact Left Out
When people have the facts on their side, they are quick to point it out. When a key fact is glaringly omitted, that’s a red flag.
What facts do supporters of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory leave out? The mere existence of Letter VII to start with, followed by its ubiquity during Joseph’s lifetime. If you were a member of the Church when Joseph Smith was alive, you knew Cumorah was in New York. There was no question about it. Not even any room for questions.
By contrast, there are no facts about the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory that I have not addressed on this blog and in my books. If anyone knows of such a fact, I’d be happy to address it.
Conflation of Credibility
Whenever you see someone conflate a credible thing (such as the peer review system in science) with a less-credible thing (long term prediction models), that’s a red flag. If you question the accuracy of climate models, someone will mention the gold standard of peer review, even though that doesn’t address climate models that involve human assumptions. Conflation of credibility is a red flag.
One of the ways our LDS experts and scholars justify their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory is by claiming their work is “peer reviewed.” This is classic conflation of credibility, not only for the reasons Scott Adams mentions, but because in this case, our experts don’t allow any reviews of their work by people who disagree with their theory.
IOW, our LDS scholarly publications are not really “peer reviewed.”
They’re “peer approved.”
They are screened by like-minded individuals for compliance with Groupthink ideology.
Climate Models: As soon as you hear that someone has a complicated prediction model, that’s red flag. If you hear that the model involves human assumptions and “tweaking,” that’s a double red flag. If you hear there are dozens of different models, that’s a triple red flag. If you hear that the models that don’t conform to the pack are discarded, and you don’t know why, that is a quadruple red flag. And if you see people conflating climate projections with economic models to put some credibility on the latter, you have a quintuple red flag situation.
To be fair, none of the so-called flags I mentioned means the models are wrong. But they do mean you can’t put the same credibility on them as you would the basic science.
The Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory resembles the climate models in these respects.
It is complicated. It relies on sophistry and parsing of terms to explain away the plain meaning of what Joseph Smith wrote. You have to have a PhD to understand all the nuances and interpretations of Mayan culture, and how it relates to the Book of Mormon text.
It relies on human assumptions and “tweaking.” The Sorenson model requires you to believe that “north” means “west,” that a “horse” is a “tapir,” etc. Other models require you to believe the text describes volcanoes and massive stone pyramids, along with other assumptions.
There are dozens of models based on the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. The experts can’t even agree on the criteria for the Mexican Cumorah, let alone which mountain it must be. They don’t believe it’s a hill, even; if they did, their task would be hopeless because there are thousands of hills in southern Mexico.
By contrast, of course, Joseph and Oliver identified a single, readily identifiable hill in New York as the one real Cumorah. There’s no complication. No tweaking. No multiple versions.
True, knowing the location of Cumorah does not end the inquiry. There are many other geographical features to be worked out, and people disagree about them even with the New York Cumorah, but at least these scenarios support what Joseph and Oliver taught.  
The One Sided Argument
When I see climate scientists in the media, they are never accompanied by skeptical scientists who can check their statements in real time. Likewise, articles by and about skeptics are usually presented without simultaneous debunking by the experts on the other side. Those are red flags. Any presentation of one side without the simultaneous fact-checking by the other is useless and almost certainly designed for persuasion, not truth. The problem here is that both sides of the climate debate are 100% persuasive when viewed without the other in attendance. If you think your side is the smart side, check out the other side. They look just as smart, at least to non-scientists such as me.
For years now, I’ve sought to work with advocates of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory to produce a side-by-side comparison of the New York Cumorah with the Mexican Cumorah. Because they refused, I developed my own comparison and invited their input. Here’s my chart.
The reason the experts decline to present both sides is obvious. Most members of the Church—I think 99%, but maybe after years of conditioning about the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory, the number might be as low as 98%--would accept what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII if they knew about it.
It isn’t even a close comparison, really.
I remain hopeful that our LDS scholars and educators will support and sustain what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah. I’m willing and able to engage with them in any forum, in any manner, regarding any facts, reasoning or argument on this topic.
In the meantime, you can study these issues on your own and share with others.
If you are attending BYU or another CES class on Church history or the Book of Mormon, ask your instructors about Letter VII.

Eventually, and soon, we’ll get this issue resolved.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


I've been taking a break from blogging because we don't have regular Internet access here in Iceland, but I thought readers might like to see what I'm up to.

I'm at a geothermal power plant in northern Iceland. Yesterday we climbed an enormous caldera, etc. It's an awesome country with lots to discuss in my work on environmental science, which isn't relevant to this blog but a lot of fun anyway.

I'll be back in a few weeks. Maybe by then everyone in the Church will be in sync regarding Letter VII and the New York Hill Cumorah.

Meanwhile, I'm finishing up my next book. I'll post the Introduction next week.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Brother Scott is back, worse than ever

Several people noticed the ad in the print version of the Deseret News that comes with the Church News in Utah.

This "Brother Scott" is the gentleman I blogged about before.

Only now it's even worse.

"Brother Scott" is co-opting Family Home Evenings by holding events on Mondays, Sept 11, 18, 25 and Oct 2.

Plus, he's targeting the youth.

He might as well tell kids how to resign from the Church as teach them the stuff he's teaching, because the "evidence" he offers directly contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah, and he doesn't care.

Check out his web page here:

I've tried to talk to him nicely. So have others. He's completely intransigent, the epitome of zeal without knowledge. He went on a trip to Mesoamerica, apparently, and bought everything the local guides sold him (both intellectually and souvenirs).

And he's actually worse than our Meso friends at BYU because he's telling people stuff that even the Meso guys know is not credible. 

One friend of mine heard him give his presentation at his ward, so he's having success getting invitations to speak in wards and stakes.

It's really tragic. A few minutes on the Internet and anyone can see his claims are nonsense. I showed just a few of them in my blogs, but I could have done more. 

If he wasn't abusing the Family Home Evening schedule, I'd recommend people attend and try to talk sense to him, but don't waste your time on Mondays. He's not going to listen, anyway.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Value of Historical Research

I'd like to follow up on President Hinckley's comment: “If we are going to stay on the track the Lord put us on, we must know our history.”

By now, many LDS scholars and educators think they know my position about Cumorah. They think they know everything about the topic. And maybe they do, but there are still some points I haven't published yet.

As I'll explain below, I think it's unwise to allow BYU scholars to keep Joseph on a track of adopting Oliver's false traditions. By "allow" I don't mean interfering with academic freedom; instead, I mean allow them to keep teaching their two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories without being challenged by those who know Church history and who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah.

LDS literature freely quotes from statements attributed to Joseph Smith. (I'm referring here to statements not included in the scriptures; i.e., statements that have not been canonized.)

In most cases, these statements exist in only one source. I'll call them "one-source statements."

In rare cases, we have instances where Joseph Smith wrote, or helped write, material that he personally directed should be copied and reprinted multiple times. I consider these multiple sources because each reprinting Joseph directed was an explicit additional endorsement of the content.

In my view, this material has more credibility than material someone claimed Joseph said or wrote (a second-hand source).

Some of the one-source second-hand statements were picked up in History of the Church, which has traditionally been cited as a legitimate source. Historians have long known it was not exactly a reliable source. The compilers added comments based on inferences and conjecture. They often re-wrote original sources to convert them to first person quotations.

The most famous example of this is the quotation attributed to Joseph Smith that appears in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon (and is featured in the entry at the MTC in Provo):

"Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: 'I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.'”

The source for this quotation is not first hand and is not itself a quotation. The compilers of the History of the Church converted it from a summary statement in Wilford Woodruff's journal into a first person quotation by Joseph Smith. I discussed this in more detail here:

This is a minor objection, of course; we can assume that Woodruff correctly summarized Joseph's teachings that day, and maybe Joseph even used those phrases, although Woofruff typically used quotation marks when he was directly quoting someone in his journal.

I think it's misleading to continue using the first person quotation, however. It would be far better to quote Woodruff directly; i.e., "Joseph Said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on Earth & the key stone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other Book."

Because of History of the Church, we have a first-person quotation attributed to Joseph Smith that actually was Woodruff's personal summary of a day's teaching. The quotation is ubiquitous, having been printed millions of times, quoted in General Conference, etc. It is universally accepted, even though it is not, technically, accurate.

By contrast, we have the eight historical letters written by Oliver Cowdery with Joseph's assistance. Joseph specifically endorsed them at least three separate times. (We don't have evidence that Joseph specifically encouraged his brother William to publish them, but William did publish Letter VII in New York City two days after Joseph's martyrdom.) They've been republished on several other occasions, including in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era. Parts of Letter I are included in the Pearl of Great Price.

I'm not aware of any other material that Joseph was so directly involved with and that he had reprinted so many times. One indicator of the value he placed on these letters was that he had both his brother Don Carlos and Benjamin Winchester reprint the letters even after Oliver Cowdery had left the Church. He thought they were important for Church members to know and understand.

Yet our modern LDS scholars and educators continue to reject what these letters teach about Moroni's visit to Joseph and what Oliver and Joseph taught about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

If I had Mesomania and I wasn't able to completely censor Letter VII, I'd try to come up with reasons for people to disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver taught. I've discussed some of these reasons before, here:

Lately, I've heard the rationale that we should disbelieve Letter VII because it has not been canonized. I know, that sounds like a joke, but it's a serious claim by Mesomaniacs, so I discussed that one recently as well.

Those eight reasons really aren't persuasive. So how about this one? How about a claim that Joseph didn't write the letters, but that it was merely Oliver's opinion, and Oliver was wrong?

Obviously, it's a problem for Mesomaniacs to have Joseph Smith repeatedly endorsing the letters, even after Oliver left the Church. Mesomaniacs claim Joseph simply adopted a false tradition that Oliver started, but does any historian really believe that? D&C 28:11 is one of many examples in which Joseph corrected others whose teachings were false.

If we're going to allow BYU scholars to keep Joseph on a track of adopting Oliver's false traditions, we need to realize that track is on a slippery slope to oblivion, because Oliver was the only other witness to some of the most foundational events in Church history. 

As long as we're taking about tracks, here's another one to consider.

The Lord designated Oliver Cowdery as a writer for the Church. In addition to being the principal scribe for the Book of Mormon, the Lord told Joseph Smith in 1831, "And let my servant Oliver Cowdery assist him [Phelps], even as I have commanded, in whatsoever place I shall appoint unto him, to copy, and to correct, and select, that all things may be right before me, as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him." (D&C 57:13).

In fact, the Lord told Phelps that "you shall be ordained to assist my servant Oliver Cowdery to do the work of printing, and of selecting and writing books for schools in this church, that little children also may receive instruction before me as is pleasing unto me." (D&C 55:4)

That Oliver took this charge seriously is evident from his Valedictory when he concluded his service at the Messenger and Advocate.

Here is a man called by revelation to copy, correct and select things that may be right before the Lord, as directed by the Spirit. He was directed to select and write books for church schools. He was ordained as Assistant President of the Church. He worked closely with Joseph Smith when he wrote the historical letters, including Letter VII. He specified that it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

And yet, our modern LDS scholars reject what Oliver taught purely because of their own theories about two Cumorahs and Mesoamerica.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Unbelievers at FairMormon

People often ask me how, when the people behind FairMormon purport to be faithful, dedicated Latter-day Saints, they can continue to advocate the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories.

It's not a question of faith and dedication to the gospel. All the individuals I've met who contribute to and manage FairMormon are nice, sincere, and dedicated to supporting the Church and the prophets and apostles, with one exception. They are disbelievers when it comes to what Joseph, Oliver, David, Brigham, all their contemporaries and successors taught about the Hill Cumorah in New York (and related matters).

The FairMormon organization actually believes they are building faith by attacking the credibility and reliability of Joseph, Oliver, David, etc.

You can see how it's not a question of faith or dedication. In their minds, they are doing the right thing.

Instead, it's a question of obsession with Mesoamerica, which I label Mesomania.

I'm hearing that people associated with FairMormon are upset at my criticism, but in my view, they're not upset enough because they continue to refuse to follow the Church policy of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography. 

On their web page and in their conferences and books, they present only carefully edited material designed to promote their Mesomania. They refuse to present alternative ideas. Most importantly, they refuse any information that supports what Joseph and Oliver taught about the one Cumorah in New York.

We all know why FairMormon won't adopt the Church policy of neutrality. We and they know that very few Church members would accept the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories if they had all the facts. That's why FairMormon (and the rest of the Conclave) suppress and ridicule what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah in Letter VII and other places.

The evidence of how deeply FairMormon has misled the membership of the Church is abundant. I'll share another example at the end of this post. I'm sure if you ask around, you'll quickly find people whose faith in Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Brigham Young and others has been diminished because of what FairMormon teaches.

I've even had investigators print off some of the FairMormon and FARMS nonsense and ask me to explain it.

For that matter, FairMormon is diminishing faith in the Book of Mormon itself by rationalizing that Mormon was exaggerating, that some of the words Joseph used in the translation were wrong, etc.

It's not only Letter VII that they actively oppose, as you know if you've been reading their web page along with this and other blogs. But I focus on Letter VII because it is a simple binary choice.

You either accept and believe Letter VII or you reject and disbelieve it.


Well, it's simple if you accept it. Then everything else in Church history and the scriptures makes sense and is consistent with what Joseph and Oliver taught..

But if you reject what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII, it's not so simple.

Let me qualify that. Our LDS scholars and educators think it's simple as this cartoon illustrates:

BYU professor reacts to Letter VII - h/t to Scott Adams

There is a lot packed into the claim that Joseph and Oliver were wrong.

Below is a partial list of what you have to also believe if you reject Letter VII. 

This same list is what BYU and Institute and Seminary students will be taught from now on (unless something changes):

1. Our modern LDS scholars and educators know more about the Hill Cumorah than Joseph and Oliver did.

Think about that one a moment before moving on.

2. As Assistant President of the Church, Oliver Cowdery lied when he wrote it was a fact that the final battles took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

3. Joseph Smith adopted a false tradition about Cumorah and spread it throughout the Church.

4. Joseph told his scribes to copy a false history about Cumorah into his (Joseph's) personal history, and now this false history is in the Joseph Smith papers for the entire world to read.

5. Joseph told his brother Don Carlos to publish a false tradition about Cumorah in the Times and Seasons, passing it as a fact.

6. Joseph's brother William Smith published a false tradition about Cumorah in New York City two days after Joseph's martyrdom.

7. David Whitmer was making things up (or confused) when he repeatedly explained that the first time he heard the word "Cumorah" was when he was taking Joseph and Oliver to Fayette and encountered the messenger to whom Joseph had given the plates before leaving Harmony, and who was taking the plates to Cumorah.

8. Brigham Young was either confused, lying or misleading the people when he taught that Oliver and Joseph and others had been inside Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

9. All of Joseph's contemporaries and successors who corroborated and sustained what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah were wrong, even when they spoke in General Conference.

I could go on, but you get the point.

To FairMormon and the scholars who contribute material, each of these nine elements are obvious. They've talked themselves into these beliefs because each one of the 9 is essential to believing the Mesoamerican setting and the two-Cumorahs theory on which it depends.

IOW, if Joseph and Oliver were correct in Letter VII, then everything these scholars and educators have taught for the last 40+ years about Book of Mormon geography is false.

Hence my illustration above.

Now, some might think FairMormon's material is harmless because geography doesn't matter. The thinking goes like this: So what if investigators, missionaries, and members become confused and disturbed in their faith? They need to get on board with the scholars--the real experts on the scriptures. When the Brethren have questions, they call the BYU professors. Anyone who doesn't accept the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories is ignorant, if not delusional. FairMormon embraces the idea that what Joseph and Oliver taught is "manifestly absurd."

In fact, the idea that Cumorah is in New York is not only "manifestly absurd," it is dangerous and must be suppressed and attacked at every opportunity. Information that supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught must be censored, to the extent possible, and suppressed whenever it slips through.

Whatever else happens, we can't let BYU students, or any CES students for that matter, read and discuss Letter VII, especially not in its historical context and in light of archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc. 

To make sure they never accept what Joseph and Oliver taught, we need to inoculate them with phony "requirements" for Book of Mormon lands, fantasy maps, and a quasi-canonized interpretation of the text that all point to Mesoamerica.

I hope it's obvious now that the FairMormon approach directly contradicts the Church's desire to be more open about its history. And yet, the Mesoamerican proponents still want to make sure that Letter VII is the last "secret" in Church history.

As I mentioned, there are abundant examples of the way FairMormon and its collaborators have imposed Mesomania on the membership of the Church. Here's an example from a recent writing (name, identifying terms, and source redacted) that shows the typical mindset of those who refer to FairMormon and believe what they read there. It doesn't really matter who wrote this particular piece; I've received lots of emails and comments along these lines over the years, and I hear these same arguments whenever I talk with a Mesomaniac. I'm only using it here to show that I'm not making this up. FairMormon is causing serious problems for investigators and members of the Church.

Many scholars of the Book of Mormon agree that the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon and that hill in upstate New York are not the same place. 

[This is based on the "Cumorah" entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and the phony plagiarized fax that FairMormon claims came from "the office of the First Presidency" that supposedly endorses the Cumorah entry.] 

Archeological evidence does not support the conclusion that large armies gathered at the place. 

[This is based on a series of phony "requirements" for Cumorah that directly contradict what Letter VII (and the Book of Mormon itself) says about the numbers of people involved with these battles.]

Also... historical documents from Joseph Smith's time suggest that the association of the hill in upstate New York did not come until after several years after the Book of Mormon was published.

[This is all taken from FairMormon, which you can see here:] 

The Prophet himself never said that the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon was the same place where he found the plates and it seems that Oliver Cowdey and David Whitmer were responsible for the association. 

[Joseph actually wrote very little; he normally deferred to others for writing. In this case, though, he helped Oliver write the historical letters, including Letter VII; he had his scribes copy them into his own history; he made sure they were reprinted for every Church member to read; and the New York Cumorah was accepted by all of his contemporaries and successors. We would expect Oliver to associate the discovery of the plates (which he also described in more detail than Joseph ever did) with Mormon's depository because he actually visited the depository with Joseph on multiple occasions. We also expect David to know about Cumorah because of how he first heard the term and because of his experience with the other plates and artifacts.]

It is true that for many years members of the church thought the hills were the same, but modern scholarship does not maintain that position.

[Exactly. Members thought this "for many years" because Letter VII was ubiquitous, at Joseph's own direction. Only after the RLDS scholars began their limited Mesoamerican theory, and LDS scholars embraced it over the objection of Joseph Fielding Smith, did Letter VII become censored by LDS scholars. 

On one hand, Joseph, Oliver, and all of their associates and successors taught that Cumorah was in New York. On the other, "modern scholarship" that relies on circular reasoning based on concocted "requirements" designed to support the Mesoamerican theory teaches that Cumorah is in Mexico.]

Finally, the text of the Book of Mormon itself suggests that the Nephite and Lamanite nations were not large civilizations that spanned both North and South America. Rather a close reading of the text indicates small regional populations interacting with each other. The Book of Mormon peoples were just some of many tribes and peoples found throughout the Americas. With this in mind, interpretations of the texts that incorporate large portions of North America becomes hard to support.

[This isn't unreasonable, but it's irrelevant to the question of Cumorah in New York.]

The reason I mention these is because the scenarios you have presented to me rely on interpretations of the Book of Mormon that assume that Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is the same hill in New York. That is a position that I do not hold. 

[The writer outright rejects Letter VII, but probably without having ever read Letter VII because FairMormon doesn't make it available to readers (unless they know where to find it in the Messenger and Advocate archive.) Certainly FairMormon will never explain how often Joseph endorsed Letter VII.]

Also, it assumes the entire North American continent as the stage for the Book of Mormon events. 

[A typical straw man argument. You either hear this or you hear that "you think everything took place around the Great Lakes," which is equally false, of course.]

That is also a position I do not hold. 

[I don't know anyone who does. It's pure straw man, easily dismissed.]

... the approach [Letter VII] is fundamentally different than one I would make. 

[This is the key. Some people start with what Joseph and Oliver taught and see if the text and relevant sciences corroborate and support what they said. I think the text and science fully corroborate what they taught. Others start with what they think the text says (based on the Sorenson/FairMormon translation) and then conclude that Joseph and Oliver were wrong. These are two opposite approaches, for sure.]

If you are interested in utilizing the sorts of approaches I have tried to describe here, I can introduce you to some of the scholarship that has shaped my thinking. 

[Exactly! FairMormon's "scholarship" is "shaping" the thinking of thousands of LDS people, missionaries, investigators, students, youth, and even children. They are imposing Mesomania everywhere and the result is what we see in this piece.]

[The] URL at the bottom [goes] to a web page that gives scholarly summations of several of the issues.... This page is maintained and written by faithful members and can be trusted in to that extent.

[Now we get to the good part: a citation to FairMormon, the source of the Mesomania dogma. Notice the comment that because the page "is maintained and written by faithful members" we should trust it. 

That gets back to my original point. Despite the implications of this claim, faith and dedication have nothing to do with this issue. People on all sides of this issue are faithful and dedicated. It's a question of whether one accepts Letter VII or Mesomania and all the implications that flow from that choice.   

Here's the referenced URL:]

More of the original manuscript found

Here's an awesome article on the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon:

Neilson commented, “When I see fragments of the original Book of Mormon manuscript, I’m reminded that it takes heavenly help and mortal messengers to bring the divine down to earth. This is a collaborative effort … in this case a collaboration between an angel and a fairly young man. It’s a reminder of the marvel that so many early Latter-day Saints discovered and celebrated, that the divine still is present in our lives. ... It’s the intersection of the sacred and the profane, the worldly and the spiritual, the divine and the human.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Sometimes people ask about statistics; i.e., how many people read my blogs.

So far, I've had about 200,000 page views, not counting people who read the blogs on, which aggregates them (but doesn't update them when I make changes on this blog), or people who read posts and comments on other web pages or Facebook and other social media.

The biggest audience is from the United States, with other countries in descending order:

United States
United Kingdom

Some posts are more popular in some countries than others. I think the "translate" button has helped a lot. I also think the Russian government's position on LDS volunteers generated publicity that drove traffic to google, from where it came to my blogs.

Google and Facebook are the main traffic sources, apart from subscribers and shared links.

Readership continues to expand. If you like a particular post, feel free to share it by email, Facebook, Twitter or whatever.

As always, I invite readers to make suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. I often make corrections to my posts, even old ones, to make them as accurate as possible. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Brigham Young-140th anniversary of his death

Brigham Young died on August 29, 1877, 140 years ago today.

I hope that on this day, when we commemorate Brigham Young's death, we take another look at something important he taught just two months before he died because he feared it would be forgotten and lost.

I'm writing this post because if our BYU scholars have their way, this will be forgotten and lost to future generations.

Brigham Young spent the last year of his life in a remarkable effort to organize and clarify the temple ordinances and to reorganize the Priesthood.

An excellent article titled "The Priesthood Reorganization of 1877: Brigham Young's Last Achievement" starts off by observing this: "Death knocking loudly at his door, President Brigham Young labored restlessly in his last five months of life to reorganize the Church's government structures."

"Brigham's failing health by 1877 made needed priesthood reorderings urgent. That April he confessed, 'I feel many times that I could not live an hour longer.' Knowing the twelve would succeed him, he became very anxious to put the church in excellent order organizationally for them."

In January, Brigham Young was in St. George to work at the temple (which he dedicated four months later on April 6, 1877). On January 9, 1877, baptisms for the dead were performed in a temple for the first time since Nauvoo. On January 11, the first proxy endowments for the dead were performed and children were sealed to couples for the first time. These ordinances had not been performed previously any time in this dispensation.

Often, Brigham was so weak he often had to be carried through the temple.

He commissioned Wilford Woodruff and George Q. Cannon to write down the temple ceremonies for he first time. This was done between April and June 1877.

Next, he reorganized the Priesthood by establishing 7 new stakes. Prior to 1877, there were only 13 stakes in the Church, and six of the Twelve served as Stake Presidents. The Salt Lake Stake presidency and high council presided over other stakes and had 20,000 members with 45 wards. There were Stake Presidents and Bishops who didn't have counselors, wards without Bishops, and the Priesthood quorums were disorganized.

In 1877, new stake presidencies were called; of sixty presidency members, 53 were new. 140 new wards were established, 100 new Bishops called, and 85 acting bishops were made Bishops.

The article explains: "the 1877 reordering was the single most important priesthood analysis and redirecting since the priesthood restorations of forty eight years earlier."

In addition to organizing the Temple and Priesthood, Brigham Young taught essential principles that remain relevant today. In his final sermon on August 19, 1877, he focused on the Sacrament, just as our current leaders have been doing.

"Previous to attending to the business to be presented to the congregation this afternoon, I feel to exhort the Latter-day Saints before me to try to realize the sacredness of the ordinance that is now being administered to them, which was introduced by our Savior, that his disciples might witness to the Father that they were truly his followers."

In June, he told the Saints something that he was concerned would be lost and forgotten after he died. "I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost."

What was this important topic?

It had to do with the Hill Cumorah.

Just two months before he died, in the midst of reorganizing the Priesthood and setting in order the Temple ordinances, Brigham Young felt compelled to emphasize the reality of the Hill Cumorah by explaining that Joseph and Oliver and others actually entered Mormon's depository. Starting on page 38, here, he said:

"I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things pertaining to that country. I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family.

Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: “This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ.”

I tell you this as coming not only from Oliver Cowdery, but others who were familiar with it, and who understood it just as well as we understand coming to this meeting, enjoying the day, and by and by we separate and go away, forgetting most of what is said, but remembering some things. So is it with other circumstances in life. I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost. Carlos Smith was a young man of as much veracity as any young man we had, and he was a witness to these things. Samuel Smith saw some things, Hyrum saw a good many things, but Joseph was the leader.

Now, you may think I am unwise in publicly telling these things, thinking perhaps I should preserve them in my own breast; but such is not my mind. I would like the people called Latter-day Saints to understand some little things with regard to the workings and dealings of the Lord with his people here upon the earth."

Brigham Young emphasized how important it was to understand Cumorah. He prefaced his remarks by explaining these events took place right there in New York, where he lived.

But because of Mesomania, many LDS scholars and educators claim this was merely a "vision" of a hill in Mexico.

You may think I'm kidding, and I wish I was, but look at what FairMormon says about this:

My favorite part of FairMormon's answer is this. "If, therefore, the story attributed to Oliver Cowdery (by others) is true, then the visits to the cave perhaps represent visions, perhaps of some far distant hill, not physical events."

FairMormon and the Conclave generally excel in casting doubt on the Three Witnesses and their contemporaries, including Joseph Smith. You can see how readily and easily they say "If this story is true..." Then, after Brigham Young introduced this account by explaining how he lived in this area of New York, FairMormon says Brigham was either lying or telling about a vision of a hill in Mexico.

Now you see why I deplore FairMormon's Mesomania and why I hope people don't go to this site for answers about Cumorah, Book of Mormon geography, and Church history.

Obviously, if Mormon's depository was in the New York hill, the entire premise for the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories is false.

Our Mesomania scholars desperately try to explain away what Brigham Young said shortly before he died. They try to explain away what David Whitmer said. They try to explain away what Oliver and Joseph wrote in Letter VII.

As I wrote at the outset, I hope that on this day, when we commemorate Brigham Young's death, we take another look at what he feared would be forgotten and lost.

Because if our BYU scholars have their way, it will be forgotten and lost to future generations.

Brigham Young's final sermons:

June 17, 1877 - Discourse by President Brigham Young, delivered at a Special Conference Held at Farmington, for the Purpose of Organizing a Stake of Zion for the County of Davis, on Sunday Afternoon, June 17, 1877
Trying to Be Saints—Treasures of the Everlasting Hills—The Hill Cumorah—Obedience to True Principle the Key to Knowledge—All Enjoyment Comes From God—Organization—Duties of Officers—Final Results

July 19, 1877 - Discourse by President Brigham Young, delivered in the Tabernacle, Ogden, at a Meeting of the Relief Societies of Weber County, July 19, 1877.
Relief Societies—Talk to Mothers—Improvement Societies—Domestic Matters—Training Children—Home Production—Silk Interests

July 24, 1877 - Address by President Brigham Young, delivered to the Sunday School Children, in the New Tabernacle, Salt Lake City
Items of History—The Pioneers—Talking to the Children—Peace in Utah—God a Personage of Tabernacle—The Foolish Fashions

August 19, 1877 - Discourse by President Brigham Young, delivered at a Special Conference Held in Brigham City, Box Elder County, for the Purpose of Organizing a Stake of Zion in Said County, on Sunday Afternoon, August 19, 1877.
The Lord's Supper—a Word to Mothers—The Sacrament in Sabbath Schools—History of Some Things—Young Men to Preside—Home Manufactures

August 29, 1877 - Died in Salt Lake City

Monday, August 28, 2017

Followup on Elder Holland's talk

I'm hearing people say that because "the Brethren have endorsed" Book of Mormon Central (BOMC), FairMormon, and the rest, my comments about what these groups teach are unfounded.

Members of these groups have been trying to transform this so-called "endorsement" of their web pages into official endorsement of their rejection of Letter VII and their promotion of the two-Cumorahs theory.

Plus, the usual suspects are using Elder Holland's talk at the Chiasmus Jubilee, in which he appropriately appreciated and applauded the exceptional work done by so many LDS scholars, as an endorsement of their entire body of work, which he never said.

Instead, in my view, he encouraged the scholars to accept what the Book of Mormon witnesses taught. Of course, Joseph and Oliver, corroborated by David Whitmer, taught that the Hill Cumorah was in New York, but Elder Holland's audience that night was made up mostly of people who have rejected that teaching.

I have two points about the so-called "endorsement" of the web pages of the Conclave.*

First, the Church web page that supposedly "endorses" these groups specifically disclaims any endorsement. They are marked with **. The caption at the beginning of the link says this:

"Double-starred websites (**) are maintained by a third party that is unaffiliated with the Church. By linking to this content The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not endorse the content of these sites."

Second, 90% of what BOMC, FairMormon, the Interpreter, and the rest of the Conclave do is great. BOMC's Royal Skousen material alone makes it a valuable resource. FairMormon has accumulated some excellent references on many issues. Even the Interpreter publishes some worthwhile material. I refer to these web pages all the time. In that sense, I actually endorse them, as I've made plain on my blogs and in my books.

But I don't endorse everything on their page. As I've explained, I deplore some of their material, and I've tried to work with each of them to introduce another way of looking at the evidence, to no avail with one exception.

To its credit, BOMC still has the first edition of my Letter VII book in their archive, as well as early drafts of two of my other articles about Church history. So far, BOMC is the only member of the Conclave to publish Letter VII (although FairMormon has a link to the entire Messenger and Advocate, which of course contains Letter VII.)

True, it would be awesome if BOMC followed Church policy on neutrality on questions of Book of Mormon geography, but they refuse to do so because they don't want members of the Church to compare the Mesoamerican theory to Moroni's America or the Heartland setting.

They know, as we all do, that few Church members would reject Letter VII if they knew about it, especially when the only reason to reject Letter VII is academic pride in Groupthink about Mesoamerica.

(For that matter, it would be awesome if BOMC allowed me to respond to my critics that they welcome in their archive, but they don't, again because they don't want members of the Church to know there are alternatives to the Groupthink of the Conclave. That's why I continue to blog about this stuff, actually.)

Readers of this blog know what's going on. Mesomania rules in the Conclave, and there's no reason to be frustrated about it.

Besides, I think by now everyone realizes that when it comes to Church history and Book of Mormon geography, BOMC is really Book of Mormon Central America. They don't even make a pretense of being otherwise now that they're part of BMAF, whose mission statement is "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex."

[Trigger alert for any Mesoamerican promoters reading this post. Don't read further if metaphors cause you distress.]

When you read the web pages of the Conclave, it is mainly the Mesomania in 10% of their material (Church history and BofM geography) that is rotten. That rotten core taints the rest because people trust the rest, and they transfer that trust to the rotten Mesomania stuff.

Fortunately, their Mesomania is transparent. The tragedy is, their Mesomania is impairing the credibility of the other material on their web pages, much of which is great, as I've said.

More and more people in and out of the Church are seeing that the Conclave is really in a Groupthink loop. 

Until the day comes when they give an equal, fair voice to alternatives to their Mesoamerican Groupthink, or at least acknowledge why faithful members of the Church still trust and believe what Joseph and Oliver wrote in Letter VII, no one should be concerned with their claims about being "endorsed by the Brethren."

*The Conclave consists of Book of Mormon Central (BOMC), FairMormon, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, FARMS, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, BMAF (Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, which owns BOMC), and other groups/publications that reproduce material published from these sources. I used to call them the "citation cartel" because it is a small group of people who work through these organizations and cite one another, but they didn't like the term so I agreed to stop using it. They have called themselves the Conclave, here and here, so I assume that term is acceptable. The Conclave claims their work is peer-reviewed, but I think that really means it is "peer-approved" because they all share the goal "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." This is why they reject Letter VII and all the evidence that supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Alarming news from BYU Education Week

I've attended a lot of great classes at Education Week in the last few days, but I need to alert readers to an alarming development.

Now BYU is promoting the fantasy map of the Book of Mormon for Seminary students!

If you go to this link, this is what you will see:

BYU Fantasy Map now to be taught in Seminary
It was bad enough that every BYU student now has to learn the Book of Mormon by following the events in the text on a fantasy land map, but now Seminary students will have to learn this thing. At this rate, it will appear in Primary classes in no time.

The map is being unofficially canonized.

This fantasy map is even worse than the Mesoamerican maps we used to have to learn when I was at BYU. At least those were grounded in the real world.

This development means that LDS youth around the world are going to learn that the Book of Mormon is fiction.

Why do I say that?

Because this map is indoctrinating LDS youth regarding a specific interpretation of the Book of Mormon that not only contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught (more on that later), but that excludes the entire planet from consideration.

Our youth will be taught to interpret the scriptures by reference to this fantasy map. This means future missionaries going to the world, teaching that the Book of Mormon took place in a fantasy world.

Imagine your son or daughter learning this thing. Then they go on a mission. The conversation goes something like this:

Investigator: You say Joseph Smith got these plates from the Hill Cumorah in New York. That's where these people lived?

Missionary: No, we know the real Cumorah can't be in New York, despite what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said, because their statement was never canonized. They were mistaken. It was their opinion, and they were wrong. Our scholars have figured this out.

Investigator: But you said Joseph was a prophet.

Missionary: Yes, we testify of that, but he was wrong about some things, like Cumorah.

Investigator: I see. You told me Lehi left the Middle East and sailed to the New World. Where did he land?

Missionaries teaching fantasy map-
adapted from Preach My Gospel
Missionary (pulling out an iPad with the BYU map on it): Right here, on the west coast.

Investigator: Where is that?

Missionary: The land of first inheritance.

Investigator: No, I mean where in the real world?

Missionary: Oh, this isn't the real world. This is a fantasy map, based on the text.

Investigator: You're saying your Book of Mormon describes a fantasy world? Like Lord of the Rings or the Narnia Chronicles?

Missionary: Yes! Exactly! See how cool it is when you go to a verse and you can see where the event took place? Let's turn to Alma 43 and I'll show you how this little dial works.

Investigator: Uh, I'm sorry Elders (or Sisters), but this doesn't work for me. You testified it was a true history, but now you're saying it took place in a fantasy world?

Missionary 2: No, see, we're saying it's a real history, but the geography it describes doesn't fit anywhere on this Earth. So our scholars made this abstract map so we could understand it and explain it to people who haven't read the Book of Mormon before. You can twist it and squeeze it, pull it and stretch it anyway you want so it works for you.

Investigator: [incredulous and speechless]

In my view, this "abstract" map takes the Book of Mormon out of the realm of actual ancient history and plants it firmly on the fiction shelf. Even the BYU professor who presented it at Education Week compared it to the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia. You can take university courses on those works of fiction that teach all kinds of moral principles, too.

To be clear, the BYU policy against teaching "any particular geography" puts the professors in a difficult position. That policy was a good way to stop professors from teaching Mesoamerica, but it has a very serious side-effect.

As it is now, the BYU policy itself prevents professors from teaching what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII; i.e., that there is one Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) and it is in New York.

Given this constraint, they've done the best they think they can.

But I question whether the BYU policy really censors Letter VII. After all, Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his own history, and anyone can read it there in the Joseph Smith papers. Go to and search for "Letter VII." The first result will take you there.

I think instead that the BYU professors don't teach students about Letter VII because, as one of them has said, they "can't unsee Mesoamerica" when they read the text. They have created this map using the Mesoamerican model and the interpretations that model has imposed on the text, as I'll show below. Now they want their students to become unable to "unsee" this Mesoamerican-inspired "abstract" map.

Think of what a difference it would make if they offered students an "abstract" map that uses an interpretation of the text that supports Joseph and Oliver instead of this one that actually contradicts them.

Mormonism Unvailed by E.D. Howe
In October 1834, the first anti-Mormon book was published in Painesville, Ohio, not far from Kirtland. Written by E.D. Howe, the book was titled Mormonism Unvailed, and it portrayed the Book of Mormon as fiction (claiming it was copied from a romance novel by Solomon Spalding). Even today, critics of the Church make this claim, now called the Spalding theory.

Imagine what Howe would have done if Joseph Smith had produced a fantasy map like this BYU map. It would have been on the frontispiece of Mormonism Unvailed instead of these two illustrations. The idea that the Book of Mormon describes a fantasy land geography is a more devastating attack than the Spalding theory ever was.

When we look at Church history, how did Joseph and Oliver, the President and Assistant President of the Church, respond to Mormonism Unvailed?

They wrote a series of eight historical letters and published them in the Messenger and Advocate. In the first issue, published in October 1834 (the same month as Mormonism Unvailed), Oliver explained that "our opponants [opponents] have cried an alarm, and used every exertion to hinder the spread of truth; but truth has continued its steady course, and the work of the Lord has rolled on."

He introduced the series of historical letters by writing, "we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints...

"That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts."

This is a rational and effective response to the allegation in Mormonism Unvailed that the Book of Mormon was fiction. What better way to confront error than with facts?

Among the facts that Oliver and Joseph presented was the detailed explanation that Cumorah was in New York. They explicitly stated it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill in New York where Joseph first obtained the plates from Moroni. They said Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill. And they specifically identified it as Cumorah.

But our BYU scholars reject what they wrote, claiming that these were not facts but opinions, and that they were wrong.

The latest objection is that these letters were never canonized. This is a stunning argument. When used as a reason to reject Letter VII, the argument creates a presumption that anything that hasn't been canonized is wrong.

(Obviously, the "uncanonized" argument is not really a reason to reject Letter VII; it's merely a superficial pretext for rejecting Letter VII when the real reason is because a New York Cumorah contradicts the Mesoamerican theory that the fantasy map is based upon.)

If this uncanonized=wrong principle applies to Letter VII, it logically applies to anything that was not canonized.

(Of course, part of Letter I was canonized in the Pearl of Great Price (see the end of Joseph Smith-History here), but our scholars carve that out as an exception. We're supposed to accept that part of Letter I, but we're supposed to disbelieve the rest of Letter I and the rest of these important letters. It's not clear how we're supposed to differentiate between the canonized portions of Letter I and the rest of the letters, but that doesn't really matter because we're not supposed to even know about these letters because they establish Cumorah in New York. Instead, we're supposed to learn the Book of Mormon by using this abstract fantasy map that puts Cumorah anywhere but New York.)

Think of the implications of the canonization argument. If we're supposed to disbelieve anything that wasn't canonized, we must throw out everything we have learned as Church history that's not in Joseph Smith-History. Nothing in the Joseph Smith Papers, for example, has been canonized except the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. For that matter, no General Conference talks have been canonized.

If we're rejecting everything that hasn't been canonized, including what Joseph and Oliver stated were facts in these historical letters, even after Joseph had these facts republished multiple times so all the Saints in his day could learn them, what is left for us to accept?

To be sure, it's not impossible that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken. In my view, short of prophetic guidance to that effect, it would require some overwhelming evidence to demonstrate Joseph and Oliver were wrong because of the implications it would have on everything else they claimed to be true.

So far, the only reason we've been given to reject Letter VII--what Joseph and Oliver claimed was a fact--is that some LDS scholars and educators say they were wrong.

To support their argument, these scholars and educators have concocted a list of "requirements" for Cumorah designed to fit only Mesoamerica. IOW, they have defined Cumorah so that it can't be in New York. It's a patently circular argument.

Today, with this fantasy map, BYU is going the opposite direction from where Joseph and Oliver went when they responded to Mormonism Unvailed and other critics. Instead of using the facts Joseph and Oliver gave us that tie the Book of Mormon to the real world of the New York Cumorah, our BYU scholars are teaching students that the text fits nowhere but on a fantasy map.

It's difficult to think of a more alarming development than this, short of outright proclaiming that the Book of Mormon is fiction.

You might wonder why our LDS scholars are so adamant about rejecting these letters, including Letter VII. The sole reason is their proprietary interest in their Mesoamerican theory, which this abstract map is really teaching. The "abstract map" is a transparent ruse to evade the mandate from BYU administration to avoid teaching any particular geography.

Why do I say it's a ruse? Because all of the interpretations of the text used to develop this map are based on the Sorenson translation of the Book of Mormon. Even at the Education Week presentation, the presenter explained the River Sidon flows north because the "headwaters" are near Manti. This is a long-held belief among Mesoamerican advocates, but readers of the Book of Mormon know the term "headwaters" never appears in the actual text. It's a Sorenson translation. Same with the hourglass shape of the "narrow neck," the claim that the "wilderness" is a mountain range, etc.

The real tragedy here is that all the computer technology could be used to corroborate and vindicate what Joseph and Oliver taught, instead of undermining their teachings, if our scholars would simply accept what Joseph and Oliver wrote about Cumorah. 

Instead of deferring to Joseph and Oliver, our scholars outright reject what they said was a fact about the New York Cumorah.

Consequently, they insist on teaching our youth a fantasy geography modeled after Central America. At the same time, they insist the youth should not be taught what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

No one attending BYU Education Week this year will learn of the existence of these historical letters, let alone the contents of Letter VII.