Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Getting through the gauntlet

Every time I venture into Palmyra or visit the Hill Cumorah I run into people who ask me about M2C. Today a couple stopped me to ask about the Oliver Cowdery memorial. They didn't see it on route 21 (the road to Canandaigua that passes by the Hill Cumorah). I explained we've moved to a better location in downtown Palmyra. Then they asked about the Museum of the Book of Mormon, which I explained is in the Latter day Harvest bookstore next to the Grandin building.

BTW, that bookstore has been packed all week long.
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I empathize with those of you who have to deal with M2C supporters.


Some are so aggressive you might feel like you have to run the gauntlet, like in this video.

But like in the video, you'll get through it. The M2C arguments are so dated, irrational and boring that when you listen to them, you are incredulous that people actually believe what they're saying.

The main point, as I've mentioned before, is don't contend with them. Don't argue. They'll get emotional, but just remain calm and rational. Tell them what the prophets have taught about Cumorah (more on that tomorrow).

We don't care if they choose to believe M2C. If it works for them, fine. We're not trying to change anyone's mind. We just like to share what we've learned so people can make their own informed decisions.

It's only open-minded people who are receptive to new ideas, and M2C believers are, by and large, the opposite of open-minded. They're victims of censorship at the hands of the M2C citation cartel, but they think they know everything.

The M2C problem is fading, anyway. 

It's probably selection bias, but I run into very few M2C supporters any more. Everywhere I travel (Africa, Europe, throughout the U.S.), if the topic comes up, people ask what I think about Book of Mormon geography. I tell them I believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah. Most of the time, people say, "I do too. That Mesoamerican [or Mayan, or Central America] stuff never made sense to me."

Once in a while, I'll run into someone (either in person or online, such as the troll Dan Peterson likes who has an ad hominem web site) who still supports M2C. Even online, their emotions are right at the surface.

Most of them online are employees of Book of Mormon Central, doing their job. We can't expect them to do anything but support M2C while they work for that organization. Sometimes you'll meet someone else who still believes M2C, but usually they have read only material produced by the M2C citation cartel of BYU Studies, the InterpreterMeridian Magazine, and/or Book of Mormon Central, plus their followers at Fairmormon.

Again, don't feel like you need to convince them of anything. Just let them know you accept what the prophets have taught and all the evidence that supports the prophets and leave it at that.
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Today some other people asked me why the BYU scholars continue to promote M2C. I explained that it's not all BYU or CES employees who promote M2C; it's really just a handful who control the M2C citation cartel

"Okay," they said, "but why does that handful continue to promote M2C? It just doesn't make any sense."

"I agree M2C doesn't make sense," I said. "It's a psychological issue. Facts don't matter to bias confirmation; people only see what they want to see."

"But aren't they supposed to use critical thinking, even of their own theories?"

"Yes, but that is very difficult when you've been teaching thousands of students over decades. At this point, the M2C intellectuals have so many sunk costs that they refuse, or are unable, to consider the evidence that supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah."

"How did we get into this situation in the first place?"

I quickly reviewed the history.
-Alexander von Humboldt called Panama a "neck of land" in his popular book published in 1805 and sold in Palmyra in 1819
- the Pratt brothers interpreted the Book of Mormon to refer to Panama
- the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles written, edited and published by Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, and W.W. Phelps, just after Joseph rejected the Pratt notion in the Wentworth letter and just as Joseph reaffirmed the New York Cumorah in D&C 128:20
- RLDS scholars in the late 1800s invented the "limited geography" Mesoamerican and the two-Cumorahs theories (M2C) just as Joseph F. Smith republished Letter VII in the Improvement Era and sought to purchase the Hill Cumorah in New York
- LDS scholars adopted the RLDS position over the objection of LDS leaders
- Through the academic cycle, M2C intellectuals promulgated M2C throughout CES and BYU
- Revisionist historians embraced Mormonism Unvailed (the stone-in-the-hat) and rejected the response by Joseph and Oliver in Letters I-VIII

"It's unbelievable that they would stick with M2C," the people said.

All I could do is agree.
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Monday, July 15, 2019

Prejudices, like armed men

How Book of Mormon Central protects M2C.

"your prejudices, like armed men, stood with their swords ready drawn, to guard all the passes of conviction, and hew down every truth as fast as it presented itself to your mind.''


"I hope that this will stop"

The title of this post has nothing to do with the Hill Cumorah pageant, as you'll see below. I wish the pageant could continue because of all the good it has done, but I understand the rationale for ending it after 2020. Before addressing the title of this post, here's an update on pageant.

I was on security duty at the Hill Cumorah visitors center yesterday. It's wonderful to see all the visitors and meet so many of them. They come from around the world and learn a lot about Church history. Lots of enthusiasm and testimony building.

It's also cool that so many are learning, some for the first time, what the prophets have taught about the Hill Cumorah in New York. The bookstore and museum downtown next to the Grandin building have been very busy all week.

Pageant this year has been awesome. Despite some heavy rain last Thursday, and a little more on Saturday, the crowds have averaged around 5,500, which projects to about 44,000 if the attendance stays the same throughout this week. I understand that's about 50% more than the last few years.

As I showed on the video last week, there are still a few protesters, but they are friendly and doing what they think is right. It kind of adds to the atmosphere because one of the themes of the pageant is persecution of the prophets, starting in Jerusalem and continuing into America.
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Here's a fun story about Elder Christofferson and pageant.

http://media.ldscdn.org/pdf/magazines/liahona-august-2008/2008-08-04-elder-d-todd-christofferson-prepared-to-serve-the-lord-eng.pdf

The Hill Cumorah pageant continues to inspire and energize thousands of members of the Church.
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Now, let's consider the title of this post: "I hope that this will stop." That's a great title for what I hope will stop; i.e., the ongoing censorship of any facts or ideas that contradict M2C.

The title comes from a post by one of our favorite M2C intellectuals, the wonderful brother Dan Peterson, a BYU professor, former FARMS principle, current head of the Interpreter Foundation, etc. He's a great guy who has written lots of useful and important material. However...

There's always a downside of calling attention to an otherwise obscure corner of the Internet, but in this case, it's a chance for people to see how the M2C intellectuals operate. That upside outweighs the downside, so here goes.

You can see his post here:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2019/07/im-sincerely-worried-and-i-hope-that-this-will-stop.html

Apparently for a while now, brother Dan has used his blog to link to an anonymous troll who has been criticizing my ideas. I can see why Dan would refer people to this troll; the troll's arguments are so irrational that they make Dan's look good by comparison.

But still.

The whole thing is bizarre, really; brother Dan could contact me directly if he has a problem. I've tried to meet with him but he refuses.

The tactic I want to point out is this: if you disagree with M2C intellectuals, they'll quickly play the "apostate" card, just as brother Dan did here. 

That's standard totalitarian tactics. It fits with the actions of the M2C citation cartel over the last few decades.

By contrast, I've made it clear that I don't care what anyone else thinks. People are entitled to believe whatever they want, and that doesn't make them apostates.

The issue that brother Dan is worked up about is this: do we accept or reject what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah?

According to M2C dogma, members of the Church are supposed to reject what the prophets have taught about Cumorah. That's how the M2C intellectuals justify censoring those teachings. That's how they justify teaching CES and BYU students that the prophets are wrong.

Instead, you're supposed to believe Cumorah is in southern Mexico (or in BYU's fantasy world) and if you don't believe that, you're an apostate.

I think that's a mistake, for all the reasons I've explained. In my view, M2C is a false tradition that not only contradicts the teachings of the prophets, but contradicts the text and everything known about ancient Central America.

But these are merely differences of interpretation and opinion. None of this is personal, from my perspective. I have no problem with those who believe M2C. I don't think they are apostates; I readily agree that they are faithful members of the Church, wonderful in every way. I only think the M2C citation cartel should follow the Church's policy of neutrality and allow members of the Church (and investigators) to learn about alternative ideas that support the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

Basically, I oppose censorship of the teachings of the prophets and I support the Church's position of neutrality. That's why I freely recommend that people read the M2C material for comparison.

Brother Dan is one of the most prominent censors. Before he was belatedly terminated from FARMS (after FARMS merged into the Maxwell Institute), FARMS had what I consider a well-deserved reputation for thin skin and ad hominem attacks. FARMS eventually disintegrated, but brother Dan took his donors and followers and created a new vehicle for his brand of rhetoric: The Interpreter Foundation.

There are many good articles on the Interpreter, interspersed with M2C apologetics and attacks on those who dare to question M2C. You can get a flavor for it here:
http://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/
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The specific issue that prompted brother Dan's latest blog post involves the phony story that it was Moroni who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer.

The story is silly on its face. If you look up the citation in the Saints book, Mary called the messenger "Brother Nephi" but her grandson (or another editor) concluded she must have been talking about Moroni. IOW, the Moroni story is based on the assumption that Mary was wrong.

Plus, David Whitmer said the messenger who showed Mary the plates was the same one who took the Harmony plates to Cumorah. David said Joseph told him it was one of the Nephites. The Moroni story is based on the assumption that David and Joseph were wrong.

Both David and Mary described him as a heavy set older man. That's such a different description than the one we have of Moroni when he appeared to Joseph that to accept the Moroni-Mary Whitmer story, we also have to accept the idea that resurrected beings are shape-shifters; i.e., they can assume multiple physical forms, etc.

I discussed all of this here:

https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-mary-whitmer-problem.html

The question is, why would the M2C intellectuals and revisionist Church historians promote the Moroni story in the face of all this evidence?

It's simple. They don't want people to know or think about the implications of the messenger taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah.

The entire premise of M2C is that the "real" Hill Cumorah is in southern Mexico. Therefore, the messenger could not have been taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah. David Whitmer was mistaken, Oliver Cowdery lied or was mistaken when he said he and Joseph entered the repository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York, and Oliver and all the prophets misled the Church by stating that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.

I disagree with the M2C premise and its repercussions. Instead, I believe the teachings of the prophets (and the 3 witnesses). So Brother Dan wants to label me as an apostate.

That's how twisted M2C dogma has become.

It's quite a sight to behold.


Friday, July 12, 2019

M2C at Church history sites

It's awesome to see how M2C has affected Church history sites.

Their site guides require the site missionaries to tell people that it was Moroni who showed the plates of Nephi to Mary Whitmer, a patently false story concocted by Mary Whitmer's grandson and favored by M2C intellectuals (and revisionist Church historians) who don't want people to know about the New York Cumorah. [I discuss this below.]

Visitors to the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center in New York never hear what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah. To learn about that, they have to visit the Oliver Cowdery Memorial, located one mile north of the Hill Cumorah, or the memorial in downtown Palmyra.

When visitors ask about Letter VII and/or the teachings of the other prophets about the New York Cumorah, the site missionaries tell them that Willard Bean believed the New York Cumorah was the scene of the final battles of the Nephites, but he was wrong about a lot of things. They don't tell visitors about Letter VII, or what the following people said about the New York Cumorah: Lucy Mack Smith, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, James E. Talmage, President Ivins, President Romney, etc.

Anyone who visits Palmyra should ask the missionaries about this and see for yourselves. It's pretty sad. I've been told that even seminary teachers don't know that Cumorah = Ramah, and they'll never learn that by visiting the Church historical sites.

Worse than not telling people what the prophets have taught is teaching them M2C, right at the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center in New York. In the rotunda, they feature this beauty:
https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/images/bring-forth-the-record-39676?lang=eng

Christ asks for the records: 3 Nephi 23
This is a spectacular painting, to be sure, but it isn't even pretending to be "neutral" about Book of Mormon geography.

This painting is an illustration of 3 Nephi 23, when the Lord visited the Nephites and asked about their records.

It's a full-blown Mayan setting. And it's in the Hill Cumorah visitors center in New York.

As well as in the Mesa temple and other sites.

If you know anyone who doesn't believe they're teaching M2C, please review this post:

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2016/12/yes-they-do-teach-two-cumorahs-theory.html
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The following is reposted from https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2019/07/2019-cumorah-pageant-part-2.html

I've uploaded another video about the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQm_RFcPXtI

Turtle Island (North America)
In this video, we visit the Skanonh Great Law of Peace Center in Liverpool, NY (outside of Syracuse). The guide discusses the creation story, including the formation of Turtle Island which is North America. We can compare this to 2 Ne. 10:20: we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea.

Some people are confused by that, concluding that Lehi's promised land must be an island. There are several ways to interpret/understand this passage, but the Native American concept of Turtle Island fits pretty well.

Port Byron
Next we pass through Port Byron, where Brigham Young lived for a while. The town has a historical marker to that effect.

The house where some believe he lived is still standing, as we see in the video.



Peter Whitmer cabin
After that, we visit the Peter Whitmer farm where Joseph and Oliver translated the plates of Nephi that Joseph received from the messenger who brought them from the Hill Cumorah.





Finally, we end up at the first night of pageant (dress rehearsal). There were some great protesters outside. You can see them on the video. There were around 5,000 people, which is a big crowd for the rehearsal. Unfortunately, it rained pretty hard, but I didn't get that in the video.

Enjoy!
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The reconstructed cabin in the video was long thought to be built on the original foundation of the Whitmer home. This was always a little problematic because the cabin had only two small bedrooms upstairs, one of which Joseph and Oliver used to translate the plates of Nephi.

In the last year or so, Church archaeologists have found evidence of more buildings on the property. It now appears that the Whitmer home was a double cabin, twice as large as the one that was rebuilt that we walk to in the video. It's not yet clear which building(s) were the Whitmer home, but the current cabin always seemed a little small for all the events that took place there, including the organization of the Church in 1830.

This is also the home in which David Whitmer described people sitting around the table when Joseph demonstrated how he translated the plates by putting a stone in a hat and reading off words. That's much different than the actual translation, of course, for which Joseph used the Urim and Thummim and the actual plates.

Mary Whitmer and the plates
The messenger was
"Brother Nephi,"
not Moroni.
BTW, the missionaries are telling everyone the phony story of Moroni showing Mary Whitmer the plates. Mary did see the plates, but it wasn't Moroni who showed them to her. The M2C intellectuals want you to think it was Moroni because they don't want people to know about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

According to Mary, it was "Brother Nephi," one of the 3 Nephites, who showed her the plates. David said it was the same person who took the Harmony plates to Cumorah.

The phony story about Moroni was invented by Mary's grandson, but Church historians and M2C intellectuals liked it better so they incorporated it into the Saints and now we have everyone in the Church learning false history, all because the M2C intellectuals don't want people to even know about the New York Cumorah.

Sad.

I've explained all of this here

https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-mary-whitmer-problem.html

here

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/09/the-inside-mole-working-on-saints.html

and here

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2017/12/opening-heavens-but-censoring-history.html.

Have a great day! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

neutrality - Church artwork

The current version of the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography states that "The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas."

While we all recognize this is a change from the past, when Church leaders reaffirmed the New York Cumorah, this has always been the position of the Church regarding locations other than Cumorah.

That being the case, why has Church art always depicted Mesoamerica?

And why does Church art continue to depict Mesoamerica exclusively?
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Here's an example of a painting in the Gilbert temple that has been used in lots of places. It depicts Christ visiting Mayans in a scene from 3 Nephi. 

There is nothing neutral about this painting.

This painting teaches M2C far more powerfully than the words of neutrality in the Gospel Topics Essay.

I've cited lots of other examples, including the cover of the Ensign through the years, which has always depicted M2C and never the New York Cumorah.

Just search for "artwork" on this blog and you'll see more examples, such as these:

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/03/m2c-technique-4-noah-flood-imprinting.html

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/06/correlation-department-uses-two-m2c.html

Example from the Deseret News:

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865552669/Becoming-as-a-child-is-the-door-to-heaven.html


















Example from the Church News:

https://www.thechurchnews.com/archive/2012-01-07/the-book-of-mormon-is-designed-for-us-37981














Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Neutrality - Maxwell Institute

In a recent address to the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU, Elder Holland gave this an apostolic charge: "the Neal A. Maxwell Institute must see itself as among the best the university has to offer, as a faithful, rich, rewarding center of faith-promoting gospel scholarship enlivened by remarkable disciple-scholars."

Elder Holland also pointed out that Elder Maxwell "said that we are not really “learned” if we exclude the body of divine data that the eternities place at our disposal through revelation and the prophets of God."

The Maxwell Institute has done outstanding work in the past and will surely do even more in the future. On one topic, however, the Maxwell Institute has excluded the prophets of God under the guise of neutrality. The topic is M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography).
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For a while now, I've been pointing out that M2C is taken for granted throughout the Church because of the Academic Cycle. Once M2C intellectuals managed to take control of the curriculum at BYU and CES, it was inevitable that M2C would become the default position of the Church.

The Maxwell Institute has played a role in this academic cycle by promoting M2C, not only by absorbing FARMS and including its materials in the archive, but by promulgating M2C in its own publications.

We do not say that the Maxwell Institute is solely, or even largely, responsible for M2C. But it continues to promote M2C.

M2C taught on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah
This leads to such M2C depictions as the North Visitors Center at Temple Square, which specifically and deliberately teaches two separate Cumorahs:

(1) the "real" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is portrayed in a cave in Mesoamerica, gratuitously decorated with Mayan glyphs; and

(2) the "false" Cumorah off in the distance in western New York where Moroni buried the plates in a stone box.

For more on this M2C display, see http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2016/12/yes-they-do-teach-two-cumorahs-theory.html

Even purportedly "neutral" or "unbiased" Church members take M2C for granted. Today we'll look at a specific example from the Maxwell Institute at BYU.

First, some background.
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We recognize that the Maxwell Institute (MI) made important changes in 2014, described here:

https://mi.byu.edu/mi-what-changed/

But those changes were gradual.

Their podcast logo emphasized the Mayan glyph, of all things.

Old MI logo
Recently, MI finally removed their M2C logo with the Mayan glyph, which they inherited from FARMS and which is now the logo for Book of Mormon Central (which is why I call that organization Book of Mormon Central America).

Everywhere you see the old FARMS logo, you know you're looking at M2C intellectuals, which is why it makes sense for Book of Mormon Central to use it.

Another positive development is that a former MI employee who is a strong M2C proponent (a great guy whom I won't name) left MI to work for Book of Mormon Central, where he does a great job confirming the M2C bias. 

However, the M2C bias is implicit still in the Maxwell Institute. For example, Terryl Givens, the M2C promoter who wrote the Foreword for Mormon's Codex, is on the MI Executive Committee.

M2C readers edition
MI published a Study Edition of the Book of Mormon that explicitly teaches M2C under the guise of being "neutral."

For example, in the books "Chronology of the Translation" under 1824-1826, the authors write "For three consecutive years, Joseph meets the angel at the hill (later called Cumorah) on Sept. 22." But Lucy Mack Smith quoted Joseph calling the hill Cumorah even before he got the plates.

In the Index, the entry for Cumorah reads "Cumorah, land and hill: scene of the last Nephite battle and place where Mormon hid many records; Morm 6:2; see also Ramah, hill. The hill in upstate New York where Joeph Smith found the gold plates was named for this ancient site."

Of course, that is pure M2C propaganda. Not a single source in Church history claims "the hill in upstate New York" was named for some other Cumorah. That is M2C spin concocted within the last few decades. Every actual source declares that the "hill in upstate New York" is in fact the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

It's also astonishing that any study guide of the Book of Mormon omits the most detailed accounts we have of Moroni's visit to Joseph and the Hill Cumorah itself, accounts that were repeatedly republished and copied into Joseph's own history as part of his life story. But the M2C intellectuals reject those accounts so, naturally, they are omitted from this MI study guide.

A real study guide would at least inform readers about the facts of Church history. By contrast, this guide seeks to imprint M2C by censoring the facts.

We do not attribute this teaching of M2C to bad motives. Instead, we see that M2C is so deeply imprinted on the minds of these scholars that they don't even realize what they're doing.
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Here is the example we want to look at today.

After the first version of the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography was released, the Maxwell Institute published this review on its web site:

‘Until we have clearer knowledge’—On Book of Mormon geography in church history

https://mi.byu.edu/bom-geography-essay/

It's a fascinating piece because it illustrates how M2C bias is so endemic, even an "unbiased" observer is oblivious to his own M2C bias.

The title of the review is taken from a 1923 statement by Elder James E. Talmage. This was five years before the Church purchased the Hill Cumorah in New York. That acquisition was memorialized in the April 1928 General Conference when President Ivins of the First Presidency delivered an address that focused on the Hill Cumorah and reaffirmed the long-held teaching from Letter VII onward that the Hill Cumorah in western New York is, in fact, the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

The next year, President Ivins followed up with a General Conference address that distinguished between the Hill Cumorah, the location of which is known, and all the other Book of Mormon sites, whose locations have not been identified.

As you'll see, this MI review completely overlooks this key distinction. That's understandable, because the Gospel Topics Essay does the same thing.

Readers here know that the first version of the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay was recalled and rewritten after I pointed out some of the logical and factual fallacies it contained. The second and current version fixed some, but not all, of the problems.

Hopefully, someday we'll get a third revision that fixes the remaining errors of fact and logic.

Let's take a look at the MI review.
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‘Until we have clearer knowledge’—On Book of Mormon geography in church history

Earlier this week LDS.org published an essay in the “Gospel Topics” series laying out the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the geographic location of the events recorded in the Book of Mormon. The short essay is worth a read, but I’ll quickly review it here and offer a few thoughts about how it maps onto previous Church discussions. 

A worthy objective. All good so far.

It begins with a reference to the “internal consistency” in descriptions of setting and place in the Book of Mormon as one of the scripture’s “striking features.” It acknowledges the range of views taken on Book of Mormon geography by individual “members and leaders” throughout church history. Supposing that Joseph Smith would have the best information on this subject, the essay notes that he accepted evidence of Book of Mormon civilization in both North America and Central America. 

Here is one of the factual fallacies that should be corrected. It is mindreading to say Joseph "accepted evidence of Book of Mormon civilization in... Central America." This claim is based on an inference from anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons. 

The M2C intellectuals insist that Joseph wrote and/or edited these articles because he was listed as the nominal editor of the paper. But he was also listed as the nominal printer, and no one makes the claim that he actually set type or operated the printing press. There is zero historical evidence of Joseph ever writing or editing anything in the paper that he did not individually sign or explicitly acknowledge, let alone these anonymous articles. 

Besides, nothing in these articles mentions the New York Cumorah, which had been reaffirmed just the year before in the Times and Seasons by yet another republication of Letter VII. Even if Joseph had approved of the anonymous articles, there is no reason to infer he changed his mind about Cumorah. In fact, he wrote the letter that became D&C 128, which references Cumorah in the context of other New York area events, and sent it to the editor of the Times and Seasons for publication in the same issue that contained some of the anonymous articles.

By contrast, Joseph specifically linked the Book of Mormon people to the route of Zion's Camp through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois because he wrote to Emma about it.

Finally, the essay notes that the Church has no official position (or revelation) on the subject beyond the Book of Mormon having taken place in the Americas. 

The essay doesn't use the term revelation and certainly doesn't equate position with revelation. In addition, the essay simply ignores past official statements in which the Church took the position that the Hill Cumorah is in New York. This leaves readers to wonder if these past positions were considered and are being explicitly repudiated, or were not considered at all. Being anonymous, the essay is immune from follow-up questions about clarity. 

Because the essay has already been withdrawn and reissued with unannounced changes, it remains subject to additional editing and revision.   

Importantly, what this statement did not say was that any one theory of the Book of Mormon’s setting was correct or incorrect. 

This is important, but it contradicts what is being taught by CES, BYU, and the departments at COB (the Church Office Building). M2C is being explicitly taught right on Temple Square, for example.

Rather, “The Church urges local leaders and members not to advocate theories of Book of Mormon geography in official Church settings.” 

This raises the question, is the North Visitors Center on Temple Square an "official Church setting" as defined by this essay? Are CES and BYU classes "official Church settings," or does this term apply only to chapels and temples? 

Because CES, BYU, the visitors centers, and even the illustrations in the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon all teach M2C, readers are left to wonder if the employees responsible for these teachings are not considered "local leaders and members." 

IOW, is the essay saying it's okay for Church employees to advocate M2C in official Church settings? If not, why is this practice continuing at CES, BYU, and the other venues.

My days at the Maxwell Institute are spent working on a book that will examine each of the major geographic models for the Book of Mormon. 

This should be an important book.

My goal isn’t to figure out which of these communities of theorists have the most accurate understanding. Instead, I’m asking why particular different theories have been attractive to different Latter-day Saints at different times. 

Again, awesome.

What I’ve discovered early in my research is that while in the twentieth and twenty-first century, discussion about Book of Mormon geography took a highly contentious turn, this was not the case in early Latter-day Saint culture. In Utah, the Saints saw themselves in Book of Mormon lands just like they had in Missouri. They didn’t place their general acceptance of a Hill Cumorah in New York against the evidence they saw in reports of Mesoamerican archaeology. 

It will be interesting to see how the book handles M2C and the RLDS who originally developed it. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when President Joseph F. Smith republished Letter VII in the Improvement Era, visited the Hill Cumorah in New York, and made arrangements to begin purchasing the hill, RLDS scholars began teaching that the "real" Hill Cumorah was in Central America, while the "hill in New York" was not the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. 

LDS leaders opposed the RLDS ideas, but LDS scholars eventually embraced the RLDS ideas anyway.

While many members accepted the belief that Lehi had landed in modern Chile, no one questioned that the Hopi or the Utes were also descended from Israelite peoples. Today Latter-day Saints also hold many views on Book of Mormon geography, but with the advent of limited geographic models, there is an intensity behind this debate that was not present previously. I have yet to discover when Church leaders realized that mapping the Book of Mormon would require taking sides, but it was a subject of deliberations in the Church’s highest quorums in the 1920s. 

I hope we see some research about the RLDS/LDS divide on this issue, starting in the late 1800s.

On February 23, 1923, the apostle James Talmage responded to Jean R. Driggs who had written to general authorities about his efforts to decipher the modern locations of Book of Mormon lands. Talmage did not discourage the pursuit, but urged that “the more capable workers we have in this field the better.” Continuing, Talmage wrote:
Somewhat over a year ago a committee of the Council of Twelve sat for days listening to the presentation of the subject of book of Mormon geography by several of our brethren who have given particular study to the subject, and we found that their views differed as widely as the continent. It was there and then decided that until we have clearer knowledge in the matter, the Church could not authorize or approve the issuance of any map, chart, or text, purporting to set forth demonstrated facts relating to Book of Mormon lands.1
This statement from 1923 predates the Church's acquisition of the Hill Cumorah in New York in 1928. Elder Talmage himself affirmed the New York Cumorah in his books Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith. Early drafts distinguished between the certain Cumorah and the speculative other geography, but later editions of his books seemed to endorse a hemispheric model. Research into this should indicate whether Elder Talmage himself made these changes, or whether an editor made them.
Maxwell Institute book
that teaches M2C


The new Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon includes a newly commissioned hypothetical map and, in accordance with this precedent, doesn’t identify a geographic location. (See it below.) 


We assume the author here is sincere, but the statement is misleading because, according to the book itself, "This reconstruction of book of Mormon lands is taken from John L. Sorenson's Mormon's Map," a book that explicitly promotes M2C. It even depicts Cumorah in a site that cannot be New York. 

The Maxwell Institute links to Mormon's Map here:
https://mi.byu.edu/book/mormons-map/

Maxwell Institute fantasy map

Then the book references the BYU fantasy map by saying "For an alternative map that is similary based on the internal geographical references in the text," go to the BYU web page, here: http://bom.byu.edu/.

While the Maxwell Institute map does not technically "identify" a geographic location, it does "exclude" the only location that Church leaders have consistently and persistently taught; i.e., the New York Cumorah.

The map is based on the close reading by John Sorenson and other scholars of the geographical markings in the text such as place names and distances. It is intended to help readers visualize various battles, missions, and other movements described in the text, but not to identify an exact location. 

Here the author's bias comes out, but he appears oblivious of that bias. He lists John Sorenson, the most influential M2C intellectual, as the interpreter of the text for the creation of the "hypothetical" map. According to brother Sorenson, though, M2C is a fact, as he explained this way: 

What may startle some about this situation is that most of what Joseph Smith said or implied about geography indicates that he did not understand or was ambiguous about the fact, as it turns out, that Mesoamerica was the particular setting for Nephite history. 
M2C book used by
Maxwell Institute

The "other scholars" whose "close reading" also contributed to the hypothetical map all agree with brother Sorenson's claim that M2C is a fact. The hypothetical map is driven by the strongest possible bias; i.e., the conviction that M2C is a fact.

The map is explicitly intended "to help readers visualize" events in the text in the M2C-driven setting. While the map does not "identify an exact location," it narrowly limits possible locations to Mesoamerica.

The bias is evident because M2C requires a specific interpretation of terms that are not required or even implied by the text. Alternative interpretations exclude Mesoamerica as a possible setting. Rather than deal with these, M2C intellectuals pretend there are no other possible interpretations.

That's what led brother Sorenson to insist M2C is a fact.

Here's the point:

The Maxwell Institute map, like the BYU fantasy map, is a tool of indoctrination. It's not neutral in any sense. Only M2C scholars were consulted in its creation.

Six years after Talmage’s letter, Anthony W. Ivins similarly stated in general conference that the Church had no official position on geography.
There is a great deal of talk about the geography of the Book of Mormon. Where was the land of Zarahemla? Where was the City of Zarahemla? and other geographic matters. It does not make any difference to us. There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth. All kinds of theories have been advanced. I have talked with at least half a dozen men that have found the very place where the City of Zarahemla stood, and notwithstanding the fact that they profess to be Book of Mormon students, they vary a thousand miles apart in the places they have located. We do not offer any definite solution. As you study the Book of Mormon keep these things in mind and do not make definite statements concerning things that have not been proven in advance to be true.2
In other words, the Gospel Topics essay does not alter the century old policy of the Church to officially decline to take sides in the debate. 

This might be my favorite part of this essay. Like the Gospel Topics Essay, this review draws a direct line between E. Talmage's 1923 statement and Pres. Ivins 1929 General Conference address about the location of Zarahemla and other geographic matters.

The Gospel Topics Essay made the same false representation of the facts, except it misleadingly paraphrased key points in Pres. Ivins 1929 address.

Both this essay and the Gospel Topics Essay fail to inform readers about two key facts:

1. In 1928, the Church purchased the Hill Cumorah in New York.

2. In the April 1928 General Conference, Pres. Ivins devoted an entire address to reaffirming the teaching of Letter VII that the hill in New York is the very Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. 

After I pointed out the serious and misleading omission, did the authors of the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay correct the error?

Absolutely not.

Instead, they simply deleted Pres. Ivins 1929 conference address.

It's really an amazing thing to behold.


In reading the immediate online response to the new essay, I noticed a few possible places where Latter-day Saints could misunderstand. 

One of these places, of course, is the misleading treatment of Pres. Ivins addresses.

I’m taken by how difficult the Church’s official position of not having an official position on Book of Mormon geography can be for Latter-day Saints. 

When the Church's official position was that the Hill Cumorah was in New York, it was easy and clear. What is difficult for many members is seeing the official position change without explanation and even without acknowledgment of the previous official position.

The essay asks us to be willing to consider the views of Church leaders as separate from the official views of the Church. 

Wait. Let's read this again. 

The views of Church leaders [are] separate from the official views of the Church....

What is the Church? Who declares the official view if not the leaders of the Church? Are we supposed to place an anonymous Gospel Topics Essay somewhere between the views of Church leaders and the scriptures? Or maybe put them above the scriptures?

The fact that these anonymous Gospel Topics Essays have been changed, without announcement or comparison between old and new, makes them even less credible than, say, General Conference addresses by members of the First Presidency that are part of the official records of the Church.

The real question is this: why should we accept anonymous and transitory "views of the Church" as declared through Gospel Topics Essays instead of the specific, consistent, and persistent teachings of the prophets and apostles in General Conference. 

In this case, the only reason I can think of is because M2C intellectuals insist it is a fact that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and any prophet who disagrees with M2C is by definition wrong.

And that's exactly what the next section of this essay seeks to persuade us to believe. 

This should be no surprise for Church members often familiar with Joseph Smith’s warning that “‘A Prophet is not always a Prophet’ only when he is acting as such”; but in application this is a difficult principle.3 

This is undoubtedly the most abused statement attributed to Joseph Smith. Here is the entire quotation in context:

Wednesday Feb. 8. Lesson in German. visited with breth[r]en & Sisters from. 
 Conversati[o]n.



Think of this in context, and then apply it to what we know about Cumorah.

Joseph has a lesson in German and visits with members from Michigan, perhaps having dinner with them. None of those activities involves "acting as a prophet." Perhaps the visit included laughter, playing around, or even goofing off. IOW, Joseph is taking time off. Someone asked him about it, so he said a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such. But this could also have been an observation by the visitors from Michigan; the statement is not directly attributed to Joseph.

It seems reasonable to believe that a prophet is not acting as a prophet when having dinner with friends. But when is a prophet "acting as such" in this context? 

Is a member of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference acting as a prophet? If not, why is he speaking? Why do we listen? 
Currently Speaking as: a man/a prophet

A General Conference address is a far cry from Joseph visiting with members prior to or during dinner. 

The M2C proposition that we can ignore what the prophets teach in General Conference if we disagree with it generates memes such as this depiction of General Conference with a sign board telling the audience when the person at the podium is speaking as "a man" or "a prophet."

The men who bear the mantle of “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” and local leaders are, like other members, able to speculate about matters that have yet to be revealed. 

This is axiomatic, but when we apply it to the consistent, persistent teachings of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, in General Conference and official publications, there is no limiting principle.  

The statement warns that the Church does not have an official position on Book of Mormon geography and that such positions should not be presented by leaders or members in official settings. 

Why doesn't this essay address the ways M2C is presented in official settings (not to mention in the Maxwell Institute edition of the Book of Mormon)?

While not all Latter-day Saints have a strong opinion on Book of Mormon geography, all members of the Church hold views, preferences, and passions that are not “officially” held by the Church. We should be careful in how and where we present these opinions. Can something be unofficial and also true? The answer is certainly “yes.” This becomes a problem when we force our personal opinions on others by declaring them “official.” 

This is undoubtedly true for us a members, but what is the limiting principle? If General Conference addresses, and statements by members of the First Presidency about facts, can be dismissed as "speculation," why have Church leaders at all? Are they relevant only for administrative purposes?

The Gospel Topics essay does not discourage presenting one’s views on Book of Mormon geography in special symposium, on the web, or in personal conversation. 

Hmmm... Maybe this is the rationale for promoting M2C in the Maxwell Institute edition of the Book of Mormon?

In fact, it does not even discourage the monetization of Book of Mormon geography through book and video sales, tours, cruises, or conferences, however people feel about such endeavors. It only regulates official Church settings—Sunday services and so forth—and the claim that there is an official position. 

Does it regulate anything when M2C is openly taught by CES, BYU, etc?

Finally, another way some Latter-day Saints have applied this and similar statements in the past is to assume that Book of Mormon geography is an unworthy cause. We—myself included—sometimes have a tendency to view those who have a deep commitment to one geographic model or another as “zealots.” 

The first missionaries (Cowdery, Pratt, Whitmer, Peterson) made historicity a major part of their message. So did the Apostles on the British Mission. Letter VII was republished in every Church newspaper. Those who are uncomfortable with the conflict between M2C and the teachings of the prophets dismiss the issue, but historicity remains a major issue for nonmembers, youth, and less active members. .

To be sure, the recent Gospel Topics essay and President Ivins’s statement acknowledge that a testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Mormon’s testimony of Jesus Christ is vastly more important than the exact setting of the text. 

President Ivins also emphasized how important the New York Hill Cumorah is.

Yet, there has also been a consistent respect among Church leaders for those who seek to find evidence of the Book of Mormon. With history as our guide, we see that although the Church doesn’t weigh in on the accuracy of specific sites or maps, that need not be seen as a deterrent for those who have found meaning and fulfillment in their search for ancient Nephite civilization. 

This is carefully worded, but it's still misleading. Maybe the "Church" doesn't weigh in, but CES, BYU, the Maxwell Institute, the Visitors Centers, the MTC, etc. all weigh in by depicting and teaching M2C.

My forthcoming book will tell more of their stories.   

I look forward to it, especially if the author can identify and purge his M2C bias.

NOTES
1. James Talmage, Letter to Jean R. Driggs, February 23, 1923, MS 1232, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. I am indebted to Ardis Parshall for sharing this source with me. 
2. Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report (April 1929), 16. A portion of this quote appears in “Book of Mormon Geography,” Gospel Topics Essay.
3. Joseph Smith, Journal, February 8, 1843, in Andrew H. Hedges, Alex D. Smith, Richard Lloyd Anderson, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals 2:256. [Scroll to see both pages included in the PDF] [pdf-embedder url=”http://mi.byu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/MISE-BOM-MAP.pdf”]  

https://mi.byu.edu/bom-geography-essay/