Friday, August 7, 2020

M2C in Meridian Magazine--as usual

Readers have asked about the latest M2C-promotion from Meridian Magazine, a member of the M2C citation cartel. We don't mind that people believe in M2C. People can believe whatever they want, and pointing out factual and logical fallacies usually only makes the M2C'ers angry and upset.

But because this article links to an even more misleading article, I'll discuss both articles later in this post.

TRIGGER WARNING FOR M2C READERS: If you believe M2C, you shouldn't read the rest of this blog because it may cause you to become emotionally upset, angry, or otherwise disturbed.

I don't spend much time on Book of Mormon geography any longer for two reasons.

1. People will believe whatever they want to believe. Then they confirm that bias by searching for facts and reasons that rationalize their beliefs.

2. The issue is settled. I say "settled" because it's a simple choice between two beliefs.

You either believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, or you don't.* 

If you don't believe the prophets, then the entire world is your playground. Actually, not just the world; you can invent abstract maps, as BYU and CES have done. Because the text of the Book of Mormon is subject to myriad interpretations, you can "find" Book of Mormon lands anywhere on earth you want. I discussed this in a 2017 post on abstract maps, here:

M2C is the most popular of the theories because it has a lot of money behind it, but it far from the only theory that rejects the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. People have proposed settings in Baja, Panama, Peru, Malaysia, Eritrea, etc. Once you repudiate the prophets, there are no limits to the imagination.

The M2C citation cartel raises and spends millions of dollars each year to persuade people to reject the teachings of the prophets and accept, instead, the idea that the "real Cumorah" is in Mexico. They confirm this bias with voluminous compilations of "correspondences" from Mayan society.

It's easy to confirm your bias, especially when you rely on "correspondences" that are ubiquitous characteristics of human societies everywhere.

For example, ancient warfare is ubiquitous.

BYU fantasy map rejects
both NY Cumorah and
"the Americas"
The most obvious fallacy of M2C is the assumption that the events of the Book of Mormon took place in "the Americas" (a term that appears nowhere in Church history but was adopted recently to cloud the issue).

I give BYU and CES props for at least being consistent: they reject the New York Cumorah, so they are consistent in also rejecting the "Americas" assumption by teaching their fantasy maps instead.

The reason the "Americas" assumption is a fallacy, when used by M2C, is that the assumption arises from the teachings of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who related what Moroni told Joseph and what they learned themselves. But Moroni also explained that the Hill Cumorah in New York is the same as the one in Mormon 6:6, and Joseph and Oliver knew it was because they personally visited the repository of Nephite records in that hill.

The same M2C scholars who accept their teachings about "the Americas" reject their teachings about the New York Cumorah. It's transparently outcome-oriented, perhaps the worst case of bias confirmation you'll find anywhere.

The biggest problem is the "M2C or bust" attitude of the M2C scholars, their employees and followers. They keep M2C afloat by spending millions of dollars on persuasion and by censoring alternative interpretations. Contrary to what they want you to believe, you don't have to accept M2C to be a fully active, believing, faithful, participating member of the Church.

And if you think M2C is a hoax, you definitely should not reject the Book of Mormon on that basis because there are good alternatives--such as accepting the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

If you do believe the prophets, there are many possible settings, consistent with the New York Cumorah, supported by science. I don't even exclude Central America as a possibility, although I think it's less feasible than settings based on North America. (And yes, I realize that technically Central America is in North America, but it's called Central America for a reason.)

In my view, the teachings of the prophets are fully corroborated and vindicated by the descriptions in the text of the Book of Mormon and the the archaeology, anthropology, geography and geology of North America, as I described originally in Moroni's America.

You can see some of the maps at the link below. They are based on the text of the Book of Mormon (contrary to what the Meridian article says, as we'll discuss below).

Much has happened since that book came out a few years ago. In a few months, I'm publishing a companion to Moroni's America that focuses on the scientific corroboration, including peer-reviewed, non-LDS articles.

Nothing can penetrate the bias confirmation of our M2C intellectuals, their employees and followers, but more and more Church members are seeing through the M2C ruse, and these members deserve to know that there is solid corroboration of the teachings of the prophets.

Now to the Meridian article. You can see it here:

Meridian, as readers here know, is part of the M2C citation cartel. The editors of Meridian are adamant M2C advocates. They refuse to publish anything other than M2C, misleading their readers into thinking there are no alternatives. They epitomize the "M2C or bust" approach.**

Readers of this blog could easily spot the logical and factual fallacies in this article, so I won't take the time to go through them all. Let's look at two examples:

As you have read the Book of Mormon, have you ever wondered why so many people got “lost in the wilderness” as mentioned in Mosiah 7: 4; and Mosiah 8: 7-8?  

It is typical of M2C authors to rewrite the text to suit their theories. Not a lot of people "got lost," but some did. Some got lost even when they were chasing large groups of people through what, according to M2C'ers, was a jungle wilderness.

Let's look at the actual text cited by the article.

And now, they knew not the course they should travel in the wilderness to go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi; therefore they wandered many days in the wilderness, even aforty days did they wander.

This doesn't say they got lost. It says they didn't know the course they should take. In Moroni's America, I explain that one reason why people don't know the "course" they should take is because they are on rivers, trying to decide which tributary is the one they're supposed to follow to get to a destination. If you haven't been in a boat searching for the correct route up a river with multiple tributaries, you might not relate to this, but it's a common experience. 

And the king said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that aforty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.
And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of amany days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bbones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel. 

Here they were "lost in the wilderness." But they knew the land of Zarahemla was downriver from where the people of Limhi lived, didn't they? One of the major premises of M2C is that people went downriver--and northward--from Nephi to Zarahemla and therefore the Sidon river must flow northward.

In Moroni's America, I agree with the point that the Nephites went north, and downriver, from Nephi to Zarahemla. IOW, I agree there was a north-flowing river from the highlands of Nephi to the lower land of Zarahemla. [Notice, we're dealing here with the land of Zarahemla, not the city of Zarahemla, which isn't mentioned until Alma.]

What our M2C friends forgot is that in North America, there is a major north-flowing river. The Tennessee River flows north from the Chattanooga area (land of Nephi) to Illinois (land of Zarahemla). Once you understand that, it's easy to see why Limhi's explorers got lost on the river. 

To get to Zarahemla, particularly the area that became the city of Zarahemla (in Alma), the explorers had to go north on the Tennessee River to the Ohio River, then north on the Mississippi River. Instead, when they reached the Ohio River, they turned north there, which took them into the northeastern part of what is now the U.S. Thus, they didn't find Zarahemla but they found the remains of the Jaredite civilization. 

The article continues:

Could there be a massive “wilderness” area in the Americas where travelers would get lost?

Later, in this same article, the author writes "He marveled that the entire face of the earth was covered with cities from sea to sea (Mormon 1: 6-7)." Again, that's not what the text says. But we wonder, which is it? 

Was the land "covered with cities," or full of wilderness so dense people got lost in it?

It obviously cannot be both, but the article claims both.

If we look at the actual text, in the framework of North America, it makes sense. 

And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla.
The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea.
In Moroni's America, I explain that this passage describes a river journey from New York to Illinois along the Ohio River. You can read the detailed explanation there, but from the perspective of an 11-year old boy in a boat on a river, the "face of the land" would be covered with buildings (not cities), with innumerable people. Anciently, all along the Ohio river there were earthworks. You can still see some today; I've visited many of them, on both sides of the river. The common term for the people who created these mounds is "mound builders." Anything that is "built" is by definition a building.  
The article has no explanation for the inherent contradiction between a land "covered with cities," and a land full of wilderness so dense people got lost in it.

Let's look at this passage in context:

Mormon grew up in the Land Northward and traveled in his youth with his father, Mormon into the land Southward to Zarahemla. He marveled that the entire face of the earth was covered with cities from sea to sea (Mormon 1: 6-7). Central America, to my knowledge, is the only place in the Americas that ideally fits this description.

Again, if the land was "covered with cities from sea to sea," how did people get lost in the wilderness? How did armies pursue one another for days through the wilderness? How did they even grow food? 

Next, we read this:

 (See John Pratt article for extensive Book of Mormon geography requirements that are not found in the eastern USA:

The Pratt article is a compilation of logical and factual fallacies the likes of which we rarely see. It starts with an awesome series of assumptions:

Closer study revealed that the entire Book of Mormon narrative took place in an area no more than a few hundred miles across. 

This "close study" assumes no water travel, despite Mormon's explanation that he didn't bother explaining their "shipping, and their building of ships." Ancient people naturally used waterways. When you assume they didn't, as M2C does, you need to make that clear so people can assess the plausibility of your assumptions.  

Combining that with the prophet Mormon's statement that they were almost entirely surrounded by water, led to the Mesoamerican model, a name coined to refer to southern Mexico and northern Central America.

What "led to the Mesoamerican model" was a focus on Central America by early authors including Benjamin Winchester and the Pratt brothers, followed by a rejection of the New York Cumorah by RLDS intellectuals, followed by a handful of LDS intellectuals agreeing with the RLDS.

Anyone can look at a map and see that Mesoamerica is not "nearly surrounded by water," especially if you assume "water" is the same as "ocean" or "sea" and if you look at more than just the carefully cropped map Pratt uses. 

Mesoamerica has coasts, but land extends in both directions. The "Land Northward" (which is actually westward) grows into Mexico. 

Pratt then delves into the interminable debate between "The Grijalva and the Usumacinta" rivers.  

Next, he develops one of the most basic fallacies--the straw man fallacy.

I attended one of their large conferences where the lead speaker began by stating that attempting to use the map given in the Book of Mormon has only led to confusion, so this new approach is to ignore Mormon's map and just look where the archaeology is good.

Maybe there are some people who ignore "Mormon's map," but I'm not aware of them. That's assuming, of course, that the Book of Mormon is "Mormon's map," instead of adopting the M2C interpretation of the Book of Mormon as "Mormon's map."

But, predictably, Pratt insists his M2C interpretation is "Mormon's map."  

Later in his article, Pratt lists 9 ways in which North America "abandons Mormon's map almost entirely."

As well it should. 

Pratt's list is pure circular reasoning based on his assumption that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah and that the RLDS interpretation leading to Mesoamerica is correct.  

I've addressed each of his points in Moroni's America and the blogs, and I encourage everyone to compare the different approaches.

But you will find, after you read the text, interpret it however you want, and assess the relevant extrinsic evidence, that you will reach a conclusion based on this choice:

You either believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, or you don't.


*Yes, I realize the Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon Geography purports to take a neutral stance, but it doesn't, really. Just notice how that entry avoids the issue of Cumorah completely. The entry completely ignores what the prophets have taught--for obvious reasons.

In practice, "neutrality" means only there is no official position on where in Central America the events took place, because the videos, displays, artwork, etc. are uniformly Mesoamerican.

The entry was changed shortly after it was originally released and can (and should) be changed again, if only to eliminate the inaccuracies it contains.

**The foundational belief of M2C is that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah. They acknowledge that during Joseph Smith's lifetime, the Latter-day Saints all believed the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was in western New York. However, our M2C'ers claim this was a false tradition that Joseph passively accepted and that Joseph's successors continued to teach, thereby misleading Church members for 150+ years.

[For a list of the Cumorah teachings that M2C'ers claim are false, see]

Thursday, August 6, 2020

John Whitmer and SITH

By now, readers here are familiar with the way the M2C citation cartel perpetuates M2C by censoring alternative interpretations, teaching that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah, and doubling down on the logical fallacies that M2C depends on. And that's all fine. People can believe and teach whatever they want.

But those who want to make informed decisions cannot rely on the M2C citation cartel.

When we read the work of the M2C intellectuals, their employees and followers, we never learn that there is an alternative narrative that supports what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.

Similar tactics are being employed to promote SITH. For example, the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation deliberately censors every statement by Joseph Smith when he said he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. We discussed that here:

So many LDS intellectuals have embraced SITH that we now read about it in the Ensign as if it is a fact. We discussed this development here, looking at the article that quotes David Whitmer's booklet, "An Address to all Believers in Christ."

When we read the work of the SITH promoters, we never learn that there is an alternative narrative that supports what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Actually, it wasn't just Joseph and Oliver. From Brigham Young forward, the prophets and apostles consistently taught that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim--until 2007. Since then, the teachings of the SITH scholars have taken over.

Below is an account from John Whitmer that you probably haven't seen. Can anyone make an informed decision about the translation without knowing all the facts?

You might ask yourself, why is it that we read only about SITH lately? Especially when John Whitmer explained, as plainly as words can be, that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim in Fayette?

[Don't worry. I have an awesome answer we'll discuss soon.]

John Whitmer was one of the Fayette scribes. His handwriting is on the Original Manuscript in 1 Nephi. You can see an example here:

Here's how John described the translation process. This is a report of a sermon given by Zenas H. Gurley who had interviewed John Whitmer.

The speaker visited John Whitmer at Far West a few years ago. He is now dead; was then seventy years old. [John Whitmer died at Far West, Mo., on July 11, 1878.] He had seen the plates; and it was his especial pride and joy that he had written sixty [sixteen?] pages of the Book of Mormon. His neighbors all gave him a good character. He left the Church in 1837 or 1838, because of tendencies he could not approve; but had always remained true to the faith. When the work of translation was going on he sat at one table with his writing material and Joseph at another with the breast-plate and Urim and Thummim. The latter were attached to the breast-plate and were two crystals or glasses, into which he looked and saw the words of the book. The words remained in sight till correctly written, and mistakes of the scribe in spelling the names were corrected by the seer without diverting his gaze from the Urim and Thummim. Whitmer, at the time of the visit was receiving many letters from strangers, far and near. His characteristic answer to one of them was, “My testimony was true, is true, and will remain forever.”[1]

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The tragedy of Lebanon

The explosion yesterday in Beirut is such a tragedy I wanted to comment on it briefly.

Of all the countries in the Middle East, I'm partial to Lebanon. Some years ago, after working with some Lebanese people in one of my companies, we spent a couple of weeks in Lebanon with an archaeologist and some Lebanese friends.

Most Lebanese speak French, at least as a second language, so I could get around easily. The history and scenery were wonderful. The people were friendly. We were the first Americans most people had seen in many years.

We spent one night in the Beqaa Valley. Syrian troops were everywhere (this was during the Syrian occupation). The U.S. State Department had warned us not to go, but our friends assured us it was safe and it was, sort of, so long as it wasn't obvious we were Americans. (Speaking French helped with that). We visited Baalbek, Byblos, Sidon, The Cedars of God in the Kadisha Valley, etc.

Lebanon is one of the most dramatic examples in the world of lost opportunities.

It has been called the "Switzerland of the Middle East" and the "Pearl of the Middle East." Beirut has been nicknamed the "Paris of the Middle East." These names once made sense, and could yet again in the future, but sectarian strife and hate-driven groups have largely destroyed the country's potential.

For satellite photos:

For commentary by independent journalists who usually seem to get their stories right:

Monday, August 3, 2020

What matters

There are new readers here all the time, so I want to clarify my positions. 

People can believe whatever they want. That's fine with me. I hope it makes them happy and fulfilled, and I hope it's based on truth at some level, but everyone gets to make their own decisions, whether informed or not.

My main objective here is to help people avoid making decisions that are (i) uninformed or (ii) based on a false dilemma, which are similar but not exactly the same things.

Does everyone have to believe the same thing?

Of course not. We can get along in society just fine so long as we aren't obsessed with what everyone else believes about things that don't affect our public interaction.

This is also true of members of the Church. We can be fully engaged regardless of what we believe about Church history, Book of Mormon geography and historicity, etc. 

Then why this blog?

A year or two ago a well-known BYU professor, a former Mission and Temple President who is a staunch M2C believer, sent an email to his list claiming that I was lying to people. I found out because some of the people on his list were friends of mine who forwarded the email to me. I contacted this professor pointed out that, as brothers in the Gospel, if we have a problem we should discuss it between us. He apologized, sort of, but he didn't send out a retraction to his list.

At first I thought of "whited sepulchers," but then I realized that this brother was doing what he probably sincerely believed was the right thing. He was (and still is) deeply invested in M2C.

I welcome conversations with anyone who disagrees with me. I've never turned down an invitation to discuss these issues, but I've had others turn down my offers to discuss things. Which, of course, is their prerogative. The psychology of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance makes it almost impossible for people to directly confront evidence that contradicts their views, and even less possible for people to change their minds.

Especially people who are deeply invested in their beliefs/biases.

It has little to do with facts and reasoning and everything to do with bias confirmation.

I mention all of this for two reasons. One, I've been through the psychological process of change because for decades I accepted M2C.

Two, because as long as everyone has shared values about what's most important, we can have different beliefs with no problem.

This is what our M2C friends seem to not understand. I'm not trying to persuade anyone of anything. I don't care what anyone else believes. So long as they're happy and fulfilled, that's fine with me. 

The reason I write these blogs is because so many people think that the only choice is between (i) accepting M2C and (ii) concluding that the Book of Mormon is fiction. 

It's M2C or bust for many people. 

It's difficult for people not to arrive at that false dilemma because the M2C citation cartel censors alternatives to M2C. They also repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the NY Cumorah. Lately, they've adopted SITH as the only "acceptable" belief. As well as JDT and MUST.

When people realize, as I did, that M2C is based on a mistake in Church history and a cascading series of logical and factual fallacies, justified by an interpretation of the text based on circular reasoning, they face the false dilemma of M2C or bust.

[The BYU fantasy map purports to avoid the false dilemma, but it not only reinforces the M2C false dilemma by imprinting the M2C interpretation on the minds of the students, but it also frames the Book of Mormon as fiction.] 

The M2C citation cartel should make their readers aware that there are interpretations of the text and the relevant sciences that corroborate, instead of repudiate, the teachings of the prophets.

They continue to refuse to do so.

The actions of the M2C intellectuals don't matter to the rest of us who have rejected M2C in favor of the teachings of the prophets. So long as we all focus on what matters most, we can get along fine.

But we are concerned about the false dilemma presented by the M2C citation cartel. They have created, and continue to enforce, this false dilemma by censoring alternatives to M2C.

And we don't want people making uninformed decisions because of that censorship. Too many people lose their faith, or decline to investigate further, once they realize that M2C both repudiates the teachings of the prophets and is based on a hoax.

That said, we don't mind people believing M2C. We're happy with whatever decisions people make for their own lives.

Just stop framing it as the only legitimate belief in the Church. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Chiasmus and Visions in a Seer Stone

Preliminary note: I posted some comments on a debate over the Producing Ancient Scripture book here:

Readers here know that I think SITH is as much of a disaster as M2C is. Of course, others disagree.

My critics seem oblivious to the fact that I could easily make an argument in favor of SITH and M2C. One can always find information to confirm one's bias. It's easy to contour an argument to fit the evidence one chooses to accept. The proponents of SITH and M2C, as well as JDT (Joseph didn't translate) and MUST (the mysterious unknown supernatural translator) are all smart, faithful people who have their reasoning and evidence to support it.

The question is how to decide which bias is worth confirming.

In my case, I see so many downsides to SITH, M2C, JDT, and MUST that I choose not to confirm those biases.

The example we'll discuss today involves chiasmus.

There has been a burst of interest in chiasmus again.

BYU Studies has a web page dedicated to chiasmus.

This is all great. We can gain useful insights by looking at chiasmus and other parallel structures in the text.

True, there are critics of the concept. They focus on examples of chiasmus that are contrived or stretched, often by omitting parts of the text to make the rest "fit" into a chiastic structure. That debate, as do most debates, usually leaves both sides where they started; i.e., both sides confirm their bias and are convinced the other side is "wrong" in some way.

And that's fine. That's how our minds work. We can all believe whatever we want.

There is a separate problem, though. As awesome as chiasmus is, our scholars are ruining it by directly linking chiasmus to SITH. Here's an example from Book of Mormon Central (BMC):

Kno-why #334 considers some of the early literature about chiasmus in the Bible and explains that these references were not available to Joseph Smith in 1829. It's a good point, assuming Joseph translated the Nephite plates, as he and Oliver said he did. That would mean the Nephite authors (Mormon, Moroni, Nephi and Jacob, primarily) used chiasmus to some degree.

Illustration accompanying Kno-Why #334
But as long as our LDS scholars are teaching that Joseph didn't really translate anything, that he merely read words that appeared in a seer stone or vision, it opens the door to alternative theories such as that presented in the book Visions in a Seer Stone.

Look at the illustration of SITH that accompanies Kno-why #334. This is rapidly becoming the standard narrative in the Church. In this case, the plates aren't even in proximity. In other illustrations, the plates sit on the table under a cloth. 

Many LDS scholars today teach that Joseph didn't use the plates. They say Joseph didn't even use the Urim and Thummim, but instead just put his seer stone in a hat and read words that appeared.

In the SITH context, evidence of chiasmus supports the claims of those who say Joseph composed the text.

Visions in a Seer Stone claims that Joseph Smith used mnemonic devices to help him "perform" the Book of Mormon as he dictated it. Here's an excerpt:

Laying Down Heads and Skeleton Outlines 

Smith’s method of using a preliminary outline, or, as more commonly termed, a “skeleton” of “heads” (an outline formed with key summarizing phrases) to organize and arrange his 1832 historical narrative, was a standard technique of composition in the early nineteenth century. The explicit use of the skeletal sketch in the opening of the history, marking each stage in the sequence of the narrative with a summarizing phrase, provides one of several expressions of the method commonly known as “laying down heads.” 

Both speakers and writers used this popular, widespread technique to designate and arrange the main topics of such compositions as sermons, public speeches, essays, narrations, and school lessons. In terms of application, this approach was quite simple and involved two basic steps: first, the speaker or author created a skeletal outline of his or her intended composition by using a sequence of key phrases (“heads”) that concisely summarized each of the main topics, issues, or divisions of an idea contained within the overall passage that followed. Second, using this skeletal outline as a reference guide, the speaker or author would then elaborate on each key phrase, expanding it into a fully developed passage of oral address or text. Smith’s familiarity with this technique comes as no surprise, given the ubiquity of this organizational and mnemonic approach in the early nineteenth century. Visions in a Seer Stone (p. 16). 

Chiasmus is also a mnemonic device.

I was a little surprised, actually, that Davis didn't include a chapter on chiasmus. It would have strengthened his case that Joseph memorized the key parts of the Book of Mormon, used mnemonic devices to keep the story straight, and improvised the rest.

Here's how chiasmus works. To keep the reference simple, here's a wikipedia entry:

Oral literature is especially rich in chiastic structure, possibly as an aid to memorization and oral performance. In his study of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Cedric Whitman, for instance, finds chiastic patterns "of the most amazing virtuosity" that simultaneously performed both aesthetic and mnemonic functions, permitting the oral poet easily to recall the basic structure of the composition during performances.[6] Steve Reece has demonstrated several ambitious ring compositions in Homer's Odyssey and compared their aesthetic and mnemonic functions with examples of demonstrably oral Serbo-Croatian epic.

Here's an insightful explanation of how chiasmus aids the memory in story telling.

The article points out that if you rotate a chiasmus 90 degrees, you get the conventional plot structure familiar to anyone who has watched a movie.

That's what makes it such an effective aid to memory.

In my view, of course, Joseph Smith actually translated the plates, using his own language, drawn from his mental language bank. In that scenario, the structure in the text, including any chiasmus, was from the plates.

Once we insist that Joseph did not actually translate anything (or we redefine the term translate to mean anything other than the mental process of expressing one language in another language), chiasmus is more problematic.

Scholars say Joseph expressed words provided by the MUST that he saw in vision or on the stone, but that is indistinguishable from Davis' theory that he recited the text from a combination of memory clues and improvisation. The evidence would confirm both biases equally.

Not so with the bias that Joseph actually translated the characters, as he said he did.

Here's another quotation from Visions in a Seer Stone that explain the thesis. You can see how easily chiasmus as a mnemonic device bolsters Davis' theory.

Jacob’s use of only two main heads to summarize his entire sermon offers another clue about Smith’s training and exposure to contemporary sermon culture. By reducing the opening outline of Jacob’s sermon to two brief heads, which nevertheless offered enough information to trigger his memory and guide the speech, Smith provided himself with two succinct mnemonic cues that could encapsulate the entire oration. Visions in a Seer Stone (p. 96)

In my view, accepting the plain words Joseph and Oliver left us is the optimum bias.

When we accept the teachings of the scholars instead, no matter how sophisticated those teachings are, we're going to discover we are undermining faith in what Joseph and Oliver taught. The credentialed class may be more adept at confirming their biases than those of less sophistication, but the "weak and simple" are the ones the Lord said would proclaim the gospel to the ends of the world. (D&C 1:23). 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Books to Read - Vision in a Seer Stone

This probably isn't a book for everyone, but it is unusually insightful. I recommend it to those who want to understand the context of the Book of Mormon in terms of Joseph Smith's environment.

The book happens to fit in with a project I'm working on that I'll discuss more in a few weeks.

Essentially, Davis focuses on the implications of the Book of Mormon as a dictated text. The book doesn't take a position on the origins of the Book of Mormon, in terms of revelation, inspiration, translation, or composition.

I'll discuss another aspect of this book it tomorrow.

The publisher's page lets you read some of the book.

A panel of reviewers have posted comments here.

Rather than write my own review, I'll post part of the review by Michael Austin, from the above citation.

Visions in a Seer Stone and the Way Forward for Book of Mormon Studies
Reviewed by Michael Austin
William L. Davis, the author of Visions in a Seer Stone, holds a Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of California at Los Angeles. The discipline is important; it gives Davis a set of academic lenses that nobody has ever used before in studying the Book of Mormon. And by applying these lenses to the text rigorously, Davis pulls off something that I would not have considered possible before reading the book. He makes an utterly uncontroversial observation about the Book of Mormon’s origin and uses it to support a series of insightful, original claims about the way that the Book of Mormon can and should be read.
The book’s central observation is that Joseph Smith did not write the original text of the Book of Mormon; he spoke it, and other people wrote it down. LDS children learn this in Primary, and both devout believers and strident critics accept it as historical fact. We know that  Joseph dictated the text of the Book of Mormon to Oliver Cowdry and several other scribes and that Cowdery created a second manuscript for the printer, who copyedited it, divided it into paragraphs, and typeset it to produce the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Over the last 30 years, Latter-day Saint scholars led by BYU Professor Royal Skousen have painstakingly reconstructed and compared these original manuscripts to create an invaluable resource, The Book of  Mormon: The Earliest Text. Davis’s simple observation, though, reminds us that this is not quite the correct title. The earliest text of the Book of Mormon is not a manuscript at all, but an oral performance for an audience of one.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

More on Producing Ancient Scripture

There are a few more things about Producing Ancient Scripture to consider.

There is a clear trend among LDS scholars to redefine the word "translation." They don't think Joseph translated anything, at least not in the ordinary sense of the word.

This book offers several variations on that theme.

One scholar who didn't contribute to this book has described the Book of Mormon as Joseph's "greatest revelation." We will undoubtedly hear more of this in the future.

Thanks to the academic cycle in the Church (CES and BYU), we have younger generations who disbelieve in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. This was easily predictable once they started teaching the Book of Mormon with a fantasy map.

M2C was bad enough. But at least it was grounded in the real world. At least M2C promoters, their employees and followers still believe that the Book of Mormon describes real people in a real place and time. Their claims may not be credible to most people, but (so far) they have not given up on historicity.

I realize that CES and BYU teachers who use these fantasy maps also claim they believe the Book of Mormon relates actual history about actual people. But can anyone imagine teaching World War II by referencing a fantasy map that has no correlation to anyplace on the actual planet? Or teaching the Bible from such a fantasy map?

Our scholars continue to lay the groundwork for an approach to the Book of Mormon that frames it as pure revelation to Joseph Smith that is more in the nature of a parable than of an authentic history.

Producing Ancient Scripture is another nudge in that direction.

There is undoubtedly a lot of value in academic analysis and even speculation, but there seems to be no interest in exploring the traditional narratives. Everyone has jettisoned those to focus on the more exciting SITH, M2C, JDT and MUST narratives.

Sam Brown's chapter in the book, titled "Seeing the Voice of God," says "Whatever was happening to Smith subjectively, objectively he was dictating a text while looking into a hat containing a special stone."

It seems that all of the LDS scholars have embraced SITH wholesale, without critical analysis. Brown goes on to say that there is "textual evidence suggesting that Smith was not reading words in the darkness of his hat." He points out that "Skousen has clearly demonstrated that the scribes were not reading a source text. He has missed, however, evidence suggesting that no one was reading a source text for the Book of Mormon. A handful of verbal false starts and missteps, along with their associated corrections, suggest that the Book of Mormon was primarily an oral production."

This is similar to a claim made by another book we'll consider tomorrow, Visions in a Seer Stone. The gist of the argument is that Joseph gave voice to a visionary experience.

What no one seems to consider any longer is the possibility that Joseph actually translated the plates. Anyone who has translated knows that you often have different ways of expressing things. You always have false starts and missteps. If you try dictating a translation, you always say something such as "or, in other words." You might do it to clarify a meaning or to correct a mistake. That's what we would expect from a translation.

Richard Bushman's article, "Nephi's Project: The Gold Plates as Book History," starts off this way:

Joseph Smith was not particularly forthcoming about how he translated ancient scripture. In the original preface to the Book of Mormon, he said only that it was done "by the gift and power of God." The few glimpses of the translating process do not describe him looking at the plates.... He apparently did not know or even claim to know the language on the plates.... Smith copied some of the script but did not create a lexicon to explain the meaning of the characters."

Those statements fit the current narrative, but are they accurate?

In the preface, Joseph explicitly said he "took" the translation "from the Book of Lehi." He didn't say he saw a vision or read words off a stone in a hat. There are multiple accounts of Joseph looking at the plates with the Urim and Thummim. He not only copied the script but translated the characters, the first step in any translation process. If he did not know the language, how could he claim the Title Page was a literal translation?

When I read books such as Producing Ancient Scripture, I see an abundance of bias confirmation, omission of contrary evidence, and contributions to Groupthink, all with the objective of distancing the Book of Mormon to any actual translation on Joseph's part.

There is some room for the translation narrative, fortunately. Grant Hardy wrote a chapter titled "Ancient History and modern Commandments: the Book of Mormon in Comparison with Joseph Smith's Other Revelations." He makes the case that reading the Book of Mormon as a translation has implications that would not apply to alternative approaches. "It is possible to read the book as a work of myth, or as religious fiction written by Joseph Smith, or even as fiction written by God and revealed to Joseph Smith--all of which may be hypotheses worth exploring." 

That is couched in the context of considering the book as a translation, but it's a good summary for the overall theme of Producing Ancient Scripture.

He makes SITH claims such as this: "the stone that Smith most frequently used to translate the Book of Mormon is still in the possession of the leaders of the church he founded." This is theory dressed up as fact. Oliver and Joseph always said Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates--not the seer stone. At best, we can say some people saw Joseph dictate words in Fayette when he looked at a stone in a hat, but so far, I've seen no evidence of anyone saying just what those words were or where they fit into the text. (I think it was part of a demonstration, a topic for another time.)

Then he writes, "Joseph Smith never gave any details about the translation process." This is a theme, apparently. I've previously given examples of how our historians tell us Joseph said only that he translated by the gift and power of God, as they omit (censor) the references to the Urim and Thummim. As I mentioned above, Joseph said he took the translation of the 116 pages from the Book of Lehi. He provided a literal translation of the Title Page. He translated the characters before he began dictating to Martin Harris. All of these describe an actual translation.

Hardy even brings up the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles about Mesoamerica, prefacing it by the Nov. 1841 Bernhisel letter that Joseph didn't write or sign. (It was obviously drafted by Wilford Woodruff, the only person who had read the books by the time that letter was written.)