Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Writing off the next generation

Revisionist Church historians and M2C intellectuals keep erecting barriers to entry for nonmembers, youth, and less active members. Their theories make the Restoration less and less believable because they are embracing claims made by opponents to Joseph Smith in the 1830s.

We've seen how, as a result of these efforts, fewer and fewer Church members believe the Book of Mormon is an authentic history. Even some BYU professors don't believe the Book of Mormon is a real history. That trend is accelerating with younger generations, which is completely understandable given what they're being taught.

Maybe it's time to go ahead and write off the next generation completely?

The latest barrier is the book Mormonism Unvailed, which some intellectuals have embraced as a more accurate account of what happened in the early days of the Church than the statements made by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and the revelations in the D&C.

We can show this as a chiasm.

A - Mormonism Unvailed (MA) published
      B - Oliver and Joseph refute MA with facts in 8 widely published essays (letters)
            C - LDS prophets and apostles reaffirm Oliver's response
                  D - LDS intellectuals are hired to guide the Church
            C1 - LDS intellectuals teach that the prophets merely express their own opinions
      B1 - LDS intellectuals say Oliver and Joseph were ignorant speculators
A1 - LDS intellectuals embrace Mormonism Unvailed

And now, we have the teachings of Mormonism Unvailed presented as the truth right on lds.org.

The irony, of course, is that the same intellectuals who are teaching from Mormonism Unvailed don't want members of the Church to even read the eight essays produced by Joseph and Oliver.

(Thanks to the direction of Joseph Smith, his scribes copied them into his personal history. You can read them in the Joseph Smith Papers. For more context, go here: http://www.lettervii.com/).

The full title of the book explains its themes and why embracing it now is, let's say, not a positive development.


Mormonism Unvailed version of the translation
of the Book of Mormon, presented in the latest video
on lds.org
Watch this video, especially starting around 2:30.


This interpretation replaces a series of unambiguous statements from Joseph and Oliver (combined with specific revelations) with an derogatory narrative about the stone-in-a-hat, taken from the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed.

Notice, the video doesn't even quote Joseph and Oliver:

Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery (being the 7th of April) I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he began to write for me. JS-H 1:67

Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’ (Note after JS-H 1:75, excepted from Letter I, Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1 (October 1834), pp. 14-16, also in History 1834-1836.

[Moroni] gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, Elder's Journal, July 1838

With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.

Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God. Joseph Smith, Church History, 1 March 1842, Times and Seasons

Here's a key point.

When Oliver wrote Letter I, quoted above, he was responding in part to Mormonism Unvailed, which made the claim that Joseph used a stone in a hat to find treasure and to translate the Book of Mormon without using the plates. Oliver emphasized that he was relying on facts to rebut false accusations.

Here are the passages from Mormonism Unvailed:


and here:


From Mormonism Unvailed: The translation finally commenced. They were found to contain a language not now known upon the earth which they termed "reformed Egyptian characters." The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old "peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. This he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face. Through the stone he could then discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would immediately appear, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book.

Another account they give of the translation, is, that it was performed with the big spectacles before mentioned, and which were in fact, the identical Urim and Thumim mentioned in Exodus 28 - 30, and were brought away from Jerusalem by the heroes of the book, handed down from one generation to another, and finally buried up in Ontario county, some fifteen centuries since, to enable Smith to translate the plates without looking at them!

Mormonism Unvailed claimed Joseph used a peep stone in a hat, or alternatively he used the Nephite Urim and Thummim, without looking at the plates.

Oliver's first-person account, along with Joseph's first person accounts, rebutted the erroneous points in both of these claims by Mormonism Unvailed. Joseph, Oliver and the revelations in the D&C explained that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates using the Nephite interpreters, called by them the Urim and Thummim.

In addition to his own accounts and the scriptures, Joseph Smith helped write Oliver's letters and specifically approved them by having them copied into his history as part of his life story and by having them republished by two of his brothers, as well as Parley P. Pratt and Benjamin Winchester.

Yet our revisionist LDS historians embrace the Mormonism Unvailed account instead and portrayed that in the video.

Everyone can see there is a direct conflict between Mormonism Unvailed and the statements from Joseph, Oliver and the D&C. There are three ways to resolve the conflict.

1. Embrace Mormonism Unvailed. The revisionist Church historians have embraced the account in Mormonism Unvailed, which is what is depicted in this video. They have tried to reconcile the conflicts by applying an expanded definition of the term Urim and Thummim so it applies to both the peep stone and the Nephite interpreters. Then they ignore the verses that tell Joseph to translate the engravings on the plates, his own account of translating the characters he copied from the plates, his statement that the Title Page is a literal translation of the last leaf of the plates, etc.

We can stipulate that Joseph translated by the "gift and power of God." In that sense, reading words off a stone in a hat could be considered just as miraculous as translating ancient engravings with the use of specially prepared interpreters.

However, we learn from Joseph's writings and the D&C that for months before he began the dictation, he copied off the characters from the plates, studied them, and translated them with the Nephite interpreters. He had to study it out in his mind. Nowhere does Joseph, Oliver, or the revelations in the D&C suggest that all Joseph had to do was read words that appeared on a stone in a hat.

One big problem with the "stone-in-a-hat" scenario is that it renders pointless the work of the Nephite recordkeepers, the abridgment work of Mormon and Moroni, and all the efforts to keep the plates safe and secure. IOW, it undermines the credibility of Joseph's explanation of what happened, as well as the entire narrative of the Book of Mormon, which is exactly why Mormonism Unvailed pushed this narrative in the first place.

Most members of the Church today know people who lost their faith because of this narrative. More surely will. Again, Mormonism Unvailed promoted the stone-in-a-hat theory to prevent people from joining the Church and to persuade those who had joined to leave.

Now our own scholars are promoting this theory.

There are additional problems with the stone-in-the-hat theory, including the language of the text and the teachings of Church leaders over the years, that I don't have time to get into.

Of course, everyone is free to believe whatever they want. But the revisionist stone-in-a-hat framing is not the only possible explanation of the various accounts.

Any honest explanation of the translation should at least acknowledge the teachings of the prophets and explanations alternative to Mormonism Unvailed. We expect that of critics; we should also expect that from our own LDS scholars.

2. Call everyone a liar. Some LDS authors choose to disbelieve the stone-in-a-hat statements, even though there were several witnesses including David Whitmer and Martin Harris. These authors claim all the accounts are lies, motivated by opposition to Joseph Smith.

Certainly, many of these statements were motivated by antipathy toward Joseph and the Book of Mormon, but to say everyone was lying strikes me as implausible. Not because Mormonism Unvailed was trustworthy, but because these accounts were repeated before and after that book was published.

True, there are inconsistencies among the accounts, but that's true of every eyewitness account. It is a weak defense to say that everyone who described what they saw was lying just because we don't like what they said.

Requiring people to choose between these alternatives is a false dilemma.

We don't have to choose between accepting Mormonism Unvailed as the official version of the translation on one hand, and claiming that everyone who said they saw Joseph dictate words from a stone in a hat was a liar on the other hand.

There is a third option that both reconciles the historical record and makes common sense.

3. Demonstration vs translation. The obvious way to reconcile the accounts is that Joseph used the stone-in-a-hat to demonstrate how the translation worked, but that he did not allow people to observe the actual translation. He let people infer they were watching the translation, perhaps; some certainly took it that way.

Recall that Joseph had been strictly commanded not to show the Urim and Thummim, or the plates, to anyone except designated witnesses. He couldn't allow people to watch him actually translate the plates. And yet, he was under constant pressure from curious people. Providing demonstrations was a natural and relatively easy way to satisfy curiosity while leaving him and Oliver in relative peace to finish the actual translation.

Notice, none of the stone-in-a-hat witnesses related the actual words that Joseph dictated in their presence. None quoted Joseph as saying, "I am now translating the record" or any words to that effect. They simply reported what they observed.

The important point is that neither Joseph nor Oliver ever said Joseph merely read words that appeared on a peep stone (or seer stone) in a hat. They could have easily mitigated the persecution that arose from Mormonism Unvailed had they simply "admitted" the stone-in-a-hat scenario if that was the truth. But they didn't. Instead, they consistently taught that Joseph translated the plates using the Nephite Urim and Thummim.

I discussed this here:


More detail is in my upcoming book for those interested.

Monday, June 24, 2019

"Neutrality at BMC"

Here's the dilemma: I fully share the objectives of Book of Mormon Central (BMC) in terms of sharing the Book of Mormon. I love all the people associated with BMC and its affiliates. They're all wonderful people.

I support about 90% of what they do and wish I could support the rest. However, I think their focus on M2C undermines their objectives for all the reasons I've explained.

At the very least, they should represent all faithful views and interpretations of the Book of Mormon, but they refuse. They have earned the nickname Book of Mormon Central America because that's the only theory of geography they permit on their web site. They continue to censor alternative faithful views.

Like its predecessor FARMS, BMC is the antithesis of diversity and neutrality, but for obvious reasons they want everyone to think they follow the Church's policy of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography issues, as well as the policy against contention.

Let's see what the reality is.

As always, I'm eager to correct any errors in this material, so if there are any, please let me know by email.

First, let's review the history of M2C.

1917 map of M2C by L.E. Hills
M2C originated over 100 years ago with the work of RLDS scholars, including Stebbins and Hills. You can see the 1917 map by Hills to the left. Some details in the map are different from some modern M2C maps, but the Hills map clearly shows Cumorah/Ramah in Central America.

Cumorah was part of the contest between the RLDS and LDS, as I discussed in more detail here.

In the late 1800s, the President of the RLDS Church was Joseph Smith III, the son of Joseph Smith Jr. RLDS missionaries were coming to Utah and converting LDS members to their church. By one count, 3,000 LDS in Utah converted to the RLDS church.

In response, Brigham Young called Joseph F. Smith, the 27-year-old son of Hyrum Smith, to the First Presidency, where he served the remainder of his life.

Joseph Smith III and Joseph F. Smith were first cousins. Their rivalry was partly doctrinal but also familial.

RLDS scholars developed M2C about the time that LDS President Joseph F. Smith focused on the New York Cumorah. As editor of the Improvement Era in 1899, President Smith republished Letter VII, reaffirming President Cowdery's declaration that it was a fact that the hill Cumorah in New York was the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites, as well as the location of Mormon's depository of Nephite records.

After he became President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith wanted to purchase the Hill Cumorah in New York. RLDS scholars were saying, in effect, "go ahead, but the real Cumorah is in Mexico."

Over the objections of LDS Church leaders such as Joseph Fielding Smith, LDS scholars adopted the RLDS theory. Today's M2C is the result.

The clearest statement of the philosophical basis for M2C was provided by Dr. John Sorenson, author of Mormon's Codex and other M2C books and articles found in BMC's archive. Original in blue, my comments in red.

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. 

Notice: Brother Sorenson announces that the Mesoamerican setting is a fact. 

That is how M2C intellectuals define "neutrality," and that's what "neutrality" means to their followers, employees, and donors. They are "neutral" only about where in Mesoamerica the Book of Mormon took place, but they insist it could have taken place only somewhere in Mesoamerica.


Until he encountered the Stephens’s book, Joseph gave no hint that he was aware that such a limited area with a distinctive civilized culture even existed in the Americas. Even with Stephens’s material in mind, he made no more than a passing attempt to relate the Book of Mormon’s story to the newly-found ruins. And in the long run, the little blip on the Latter-day Saints’ mental screen caused by the explorer’s book faded as the mistaken folk view reasserted its dominance.

Notice what he's saying here. All the prophets and apostles who declared and affirmed that Cumorah was in New York were misleading members of the Church with a "mistaken folk view."

That's the essence of M2C. You can ask anyone associated with Book of Mormon Central what they think about the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. After trying to evade the question, they will eventually admit they agree with Brother Sorenson.

They might try to persuade you that they are "neutral" because they disagree with Brother Sorenson about which river is Sidon, or exactly where in Mesoamerica a particular city or feature is located, but they agree with everything he wrote in the quotation above. That's the essence of M2C.

(For the Sorenson reference and other commentary, go to http://mormonmesomania.blogspot.com/2018/05/what-may-startle-somenoel-reynolds.html  )

Now, let's look at the logo.

We have Hebrew (Old Testament).
We have Egyptian (Book of Abraham)
We have Greek (New Testament).
And we have Mayan (Book of Mormon).

That's as non-neutral as it gets. The logo is a carryover from the old FARMS, which was also 100% M2C, as discussed below.

This logo, heavily promoted with millions of dollars, announces to the world that there is no room for an interpretation of the Book of Mormon outside Mesoamerica.

Now, the people involved.

We love all these brothers and sisters. They are all wonderful, faithful, smart, etc. But they all have one thing in common: complete fidelity to M2C. Some of them are active in social media, pushing M2C aggressively. Maybe we'll look at some examples of their work, but anyone following this topic knows what I'm referring to.

It is difficult to find more dogmatic groupthink than what exists among the BMC staff. 

I tried really hard, though, and came across this group. 

Actually, there was more "neutrality" about President Trump among the Democrats at Jim Clyburn's recent fish fry than there is "neutrality" about Book of Mormon geography at BMC.

The BMC editorial position, demonstrated in their archive as well as their regular Kno-Why series, focuses purely on M2C. 

They oppose the New York Cumorah at every opportunity because they equate M2C with the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. It's M2C or bust. This explains why they think the stakes are so high, and why M2C promoters have such an emotional attachment to M2C. 

This also explains why so many people (including BYU professors) lose their faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon when they realize M2C is based on circular reasoning and illusory evidence (as well as the repudiation of the teachings of the prophets). 

Long ago, Joseph Fielding Smith warned that M2C would cause members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. BMC rejects his warning, along with the teachings of all the prophets and apostles who have taught that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.

BMC coordinates its M2C messages with several affiliates who also promote the same M2C message, including Fairmormon and the Interpreter.

The M2C editorial position is at the core of their approach to the Book of Mormon. BMC and the Interpreter had their origins in FARMS, an organization that was known for its dogmatism and aggressive apologetics. The BMC archive contains some of the FARMS material.

Let's look at how M2C is incorporated in BMC's official policies.

This is from the BMC web page (https://bookofmormoncentral.org/about)

The legal organization behind Book of Mormon Central is the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, Inc., a 501 (c) 3 non-profit public charity chartered in the state of Utah in 2004.

When people donate to BMC, they are really donating to BMAF. BMC donors are supporting the dissemination of M2C, as we discussed here

And that's perfectly fine, so long as they know what they're doing.

For decades, BMAF's mission statement read:

If you can't read it, it says:

The Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization dedicated as an open forum for presentation, dissemination, and discussion of research and evidences regarding Book of Mormon archaeology, anthropology, geography and culture within a Mesoamerican context.  Our goals are (1) to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex, (2) to correlate and publish works of LDS and CofC scholars, (3) to help promote unity and cooperation among scholars and students of the Book of Mormon, and (4) to provide a forum where responsible scholars can present current ideas and discoveries.

After I publicized this mission statement, they changed the statement to what it currently reads:


The Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization dedicated as an open forum for presentation, dissemination, and discussion of research and evidences regarding Book of Mormon archaeology, anthropology, geography and culture within Mesoamerican and other ancient contexts.
Even when they made this change, they could not bring themselves to endorse neutrality. The "other ancient contexts" they refer to here are in the Old World. They are not referring to anywhere in the Americas other than Mesoamerica. This is evident in all their work. Anyone can see it for themselves.

BMC continues "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." You can see it in the archive, their Kno-Whys, their social media work, their firesides, their coordinated efforts with other members of the M2C citation cartel, etc.

I've mentioned a few examples previously in this blog, which you can see by searching for "KnowWhy," "Kno-Why" or "no-wise" in the search box. For example:


Here's another official statement from BMC

Book of Mormon Central Policy on Book of Mormon Geography – June 2016

Book of Mormon Central at this time is officially geography neutral. We seek deep understanding of the Book of Mormon text. We hope diligent students work together to achieve working consensus on the geographic correlation issue. Until that happens, our selection of exegetical material is guided by these principles:
  • In our hierarchy of evidence, the text itself is primary because it is closest to the divine.
  • If profound and compelling location-specific insights shed light on the text, we highlight these regardless of their geographic provenience.
  • We favor authors with credentials in their areas of interest.
  • We favor formally published works from reputable presses.
We welcome good work from any geographic persuasion that is responsive to these principles.
This is all window-dressing for Church leaders and donors. I've discussed the implementation here:


I'll conclude this post with another official statement and its implementation by a BMC employee who demonstrates the deep emotional attachment BMC has with M2C.

Book of Mormon Central Social Media Policy

Joseph Smith emphatically taught, "Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism. [It is designed] to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316).  At Book of Mormon Central we strive to represent the very best of professional and personal characteristics in our private and public lives.  The message of the Book of Mormon is so compelling and transformative that we have no need to engage in any form of negative public discourse, including in our professional and private social media accounts.  Our tremendous work is our defense.  We let it speak for itself.  Diligently pursuing our mission is the most powerful and convincing way we can answer any contrary individuals or organizations.

To see how that policy is implemented, look at the following social media post by a BMC employee, one that Dan Peterson at the Interpreter endorses. (We aren't putting any of Dan's posts here because, technically, he's not listed under BMC's directory.)

You have abundantly proven that you are not somebody who can have a rational argument in good faith with an “M2C intellectual.” You have, repeatedly, demonized and belittled and cast aspersion on anybody who doesn’t accept your dogmatic interpretation of early Mormon historical sources relevant to Book of Mormon geography. This isn’t just a matter of having differences of opinion. As your blog posts have more than demonstrated, you have a personal vendetta against the “citation cartel” (which is, in reality, peer reviewed academic scholarship, as opposed to your own brand of trashy Internet pseudo-scholarship) and anybody who is out of step with your narrow and uncompromising Heartland apologetics.
I suspect I know why you are so personally angry and upset at “M2C intellectuals.” It must be very frustrating that your pseudo-scholarship which you’ve invested so much time and energy into is not making mainstream inroads in Mormon studies. It must be frustrating to be a laughingstock at the Church History Department and amongst BYU faculty. It must be frustrating that the best you can do is publish semi-coherent ramblings on obscure personal blogs or with no-name presses. But just know that it isn’t anything personal: it’s because both your Mormon history and your Book of Mormon geography are nonsense and you’re a deeply unpleasant person to interact with..
I don’t know why you have chosen to become such a fanatic over this one issue, but I will say that it is genuinely sad that your testimony is so fragile that even the slightest contradiction of your pet theory causes your cognitive dissonance to flair up like lights on a Christmas tree.
I am content with what I wrote in my post and in the KnoWhy, and I’ll allow readers to decide for themselves which explanation they find more persuasive. I will not, however, waste further time or attention on your shenanigans. Like I said, since you refuse to engage people who disagree with you in good faith, and since you’re a close-minded fanatic, it would be utterly pointless for me to engage you any further.
I will just say this one thing: for all of your self-righteous preening about how you accept the apostles and the prophets, and how “M2C intellectuals” are subversive apostates, it is breathtakingly hypocritical for you to lambast the Church History Department and BYU faculty and Seminaries & Institutes faculty for not kowtowing to your theories, since all of them are ultimately hired by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is astoundingly hypocritical for you to criticize the “Correlation Department” of the Church, which approves “M2C” artwork and videos and articles in Church publications, when, again, the First Presidency and the Twelve are a part of Correlation. It is monstrously hypocritical of you to accuse Saints of being “revisionist history” attempting to deceive people about Book of Mormon geography when Saints has been authorized, reviewed, and approved by the First Presidency and the Twelve.
So please, Jonathan, spare us all the self-righteous BS about how “M2C intellectuals” are trying to get people to disbelieve the prophets and apostles.
Because guess what: as long as you keep doing what you’re doing, you are, in fact, doing the exact same thing. As long as you keep screaming about “M2C intellectuals” ruining the Church, you’re actually telling people to disbelieve the modern prophets and apostles who keep hiring them to work for the Church and guide the Church’s membership in intellectual and historical matters.
“Physician, heal thyself!”

That last sentence is good advice for everyone.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Working with M2C believers

Working with M2C believers

There is a contest of opinions going around that I'd like to help resolve through greater understanding. If you know any believers in M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory), ask them one question:

I accept the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah. Can you help me understand why you disagree?

CAUTION: Usually, they will become defensive. If they work for the M2C citation cartel, they will become angry. You will see their response boils down to #3 below, but they resist this reality as long as they can.

IMPORTANT: Do not ask the question to start an argument.

Ask because you are genuinely curious. If you just want to argue, don't ask the question.

Emphasize you are not accusing them of anything. These are wonderful brothers and sisters with whom we share the most important beliefs about the gospel. We want to know why people think the things they do because we want to improve understanding and facilitate cordial relationships.

We're not criticizing them for their beliefs or saying they're wrong. (Many people feel personally attacked when their beliefs are questioned. This is especially true of M2C employees. Be sensitive and empathetic if they get emotional. Use your judgment. It may take a while to get past the emotions.)

Emphasize that we have no problem with people having different opinions.

We just want to know if they've made an informed decision. If so, fantastic. We don't expect everyone to think alike. In fact, you should have an open mind as well. Maybe they will tell you something you didn't know before. If you haven't ever changed your mind on this topic and you're convinced you're right, realize that they think the same way.

In almost every case, you'll see they have been trained by BYU/CES to think only of M2C and have not made an informed decision. They have never thought this through.

I can relate to them because I, too, trusted my M2C professors at BYU. I trusted FARMS, etc.

I wish someone had asked me that question 30 years ago. I wouldn't have spent decades believing M2C myself.

Here are the responses you'll get, depending on how well trained they are.

1. "The prophets have never said Cumorah is in New York."

Notice: no prophet or apostle has ever questioned, let alone repudiated, the teachings of his predecessors about the New York Cumorah. This is not "Mormon Chess" in which people can find contradictory quotes by prophets and apostles to support their positions.

Because the M2C citation cartel censors teachings that contradict M2C, most members of the Church today have never heard of Letter VII, President Romney's talk, etc. Refer them to the BYU packet here: http://www.lettervii.com/p/byu-packet-on-cumorah.html

In most cases, they will be surprised. In many cases, they will say, "How come I've never heard about this?" In some cases, they'll say, "I need to study this." A few will even accept these teachings and wonder why they believed the M2C intellectuals and their employees in the first place.

Those who have been well trained by the M2C citation cartel will say, "Those were merely the opinions of men. They were not speaking as prophets and apostles."

Besides being disrespectful of the prophets and apostles, this answer contradicts the statements themselves, but don't argue about that. Notice: their response was not a response to the question. Pace them and ask, "then why do you reject their opinions?"

If they start talking about evidence, skip to #3 below.

2. "The Church has no position on Book of Mormon geography." 

This is a dodge they resort to because they are uncomfortable with the real answer.

They will refer to the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay which is not an answer to the question.

The essay has been changed once and can change again at any moment without notice.

Contrast this with the specific and clear teachings by well-known prophets and apostles contained in the Joseph Smith Papers, the General Conference reports, and books published by the Church including Jesus the Christ and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. Not to mention prior statements that say the Church has always taught that Cumorah is in New York.

Here's the key point: the essay allows members to believe whatever they want. It says nothing about Cumorah and simply restates long-held positions about Book of Mormon settings other than Cumorah.

What the essay does not do is give a reason for rejecting what the prophets and apostles have taught about the New York Cumorah.

When M2C intellectuals and their employees, followers, and donors cite the essay, just respond by repeating the question, "Fine, but why do you reject the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah?"

They won't want to tell you their reason. They will do almost anything to avoid answering. But eventually they will get around to it.

3. "Because the New York Cumorah doesn't fit my interpretation of the text."

This is the real reason, and the only reason, why the M2C intellectuals, their followers, employees and donors, reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

This is not criticism.

This is just reality.

Once everyone understands this, there will be no more "contests of opinions" because we can all agree on our respective biases and leave peacefully together.

They will undoubtedly say they reject the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah because of "evidence," but that's a pretext and a delusion. The "evidence" they site is post hoc rationalization to support their interpretation of the text.

None of the typical reasons they cite (anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles, statements by prophets and apostles about Lamanites in Latin America, the location of Zion, etc.) has anything to do with the New York Cumorah--except as it relates to the M2C interpretation of the text.

In fact, there is nothing necessarily inconsistent between a Mesoamerican setting and a New York Cumorah except for the M2C interpretation of the text.

While I happen to think the North American setting makes more sense than any Mesoamerican setting, I'm open to all ideas. Until the prophets and apostles speak about these issues, I rely on what they've said in the past. And they have consistently and persistently taught that Cumorah is in New York.

One thing I'm not open to is devaluing and repudiating the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah just because some academic interprets the text to fit his/her preferred geography. That approach leads to confusion and doubt about everything the prophets have taught.

Separately, I've explained how the entire M2C interpretation of the text is based on a false premise (that Joseph couldn't have known about ancient civilizations in Central America) supported by circular reasoning and illusory evidence.

I've also explained how the scientific evidence supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

By now, we all know that people confirm their biases by interpreting "evidence" to fit their preconceptions. The facts don't matter. This should be especially obvious to every member of the Church who accepts the Book of Mormon. We know that at least a billion people have looked at the same evidence that we think supports the Book of Mormon, but they have rejected it.

(BTW, this is why Book of Mormon Central's marketing campaign is so ridiculous. If the evidence they offer was "clear and convincing" we wouldn't have 99% of the people who look at that evidence rejecting it. Somebody needs to do some A/B testing outside the M2C bubble.)

I freely admit my bias is to accept the teachings of the prophets and apostles.

If your M2C friends are self-aware and honest, they will admit that their bias is to favor the theories of intellectuals over the teachings of the prophets and apostles. 

It's a simple choice. Nothing to argue about.

So long as people are making informed choices, we're happy with whatever they decide for themselves.

Finally, you should be able to answer the inverse question. They will ask something such as this"

"I think the Book of Mormon took place in a limited geography of Mesoamerica. Can you help me understand why you disagree?"

By now, I'm sure you can answer easily and lovingly.

Hopefully, you can have a productive discussion with your friends. You're not trying to persuade them or change their minds. You're honestly curious about what they think, how they arrived at their conclusions, etc.

All you want to do is encourage them to make informed decisions.

Regardless of what they decide, move forward with faith and love together.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Dan, BMC, and deferring to scholars

Dan, BMC, and deferring to scholars

There's a new book titled Conformity: The Power of Social Influences that explains much of the behavior of the M2C citation cartel. I posted a review here:

Below I discuss Kno-Why #521 from Book of Mormon Central (BMC), a discussion of Book of Mormon witnesses that may be the most astonishing piece they've published so far. We love all the people at BMC, but seriously, they're the last ones people should listen to regarding the witnesses.

Not coincidentally, BMC employees and affiliates are also working on the upcoming movie on the Witnesses produced by the Interpreter Foundation, which you can read about here: https://witnessesfilm.com/

The Kno-Why tries to support the testimonies of the Book of Mormon witnesses, which, presumably, is also the purpose of the film. We can all agree that's a fine objective.

Here's the problem.

BMC (and the Interpreter Foundation) want people to believe some, but not all, of what the witnesses said. 

These are the least credible organizations imaginable to support the testimonies of the Book of Mormon witnesses. 

If the intellectuals at BMC and the Interpreter agree with what the witnesses said, you're supposed to believe the witnesses. But if the intellectuals at BMC and the Interpreter disagree with what the witnesses said, you're supposed to believe the intellectuals instead of the witnesses. 

None of this is surprising to those who read the material produced by the M2C citation cartel.

Trailer for Witnesses movie,
featuring Terryl Givens,
M2C promoter and author of
Foreword to Mormon's Codex
- BMC and the Interpreter Foundation promote M2C (the Meosamerican/two Cumorahs theory).

- The first principle of M2C is the claim that the Three Witnesses were unreliable whenever they spoke or wrote about the New York Cumorah.

None of the M2C intellectuals believe what the Three Witnesses said when the witnesses' statements contradict M2C; i.e., these intellectuals believe M2C more than the Three Witnesses.

Trailer for Witnesses movie,
featuring Matt Roper,
M2C promoter and employee
of Book of Mormon Central
- The arguments made by the M2C intellectuals to justify disbelieving what the Three Witnesses said about Cumorah are the identical arguments made by the critics to justify disbelieving everything the Three Witnesses said.

Just watch the trailer for the Witnesses movie and you'll how the M2C intellectuals discuss the witnesses. We can be sure they're not going to tell the public what the witnesses said about the New York Cumorah.

Reading this Kno-Why reminds me of a larger point.

I don't understand why some members of the Church give so much deference to scholars. It borders on reverence in some cases. Respect is fine--we respect everyone, ultimately--but I keep hearing people quoting scholars as authority for one thing or another.

These scholars are just people doing their jobs.

Unlike ordinary members such as you and I, these scholars are paid to study the scriptures and "interpret" them. Many are paid to teach the youth in the Church. We can assume they are all great people, devoted, faithful, committed, etc. Every one of them I have spent time with is awesome, exemplary, etc., so I vouch for their character (if not their ideas).

There are a lot of LDS scholars who work in a variety of fields, but here I'm mainly referring to the M2C intellectuals and revisionist historians, along with their followers and employees. Most are supported by tithing funds (BYU, CES, COB) or other donations and have a much higher standard of living than most members of the Church around the world who pay that tithing. Some brag about their world travels, close relationships with the Brethren, etc. As Gershwin wrote, nice work if you can get it.

To be clear, I appreciate and respect the work they do. I use their material all the time and encourage others to do the same. I consider their views and biases, but I certainly don't defer to their interpretations or ideas.

Consider their work as a tool, like your phone. I use my phone all the time, but I don't defer to the philosophies of the people who invented, designed, manufactured, shipped and marketed the phone. The phone is a useful implement, just like the materials produced by LDS (or other) scholars.

The Joseph Smith Papers, for example, are awesome. But the notes often reflect the interpretations, biases, and ideas of the revisionist and M2C scholars. Focus on the documents. You can take or leave the notes.

I think the scriptures and the gospel are for everyone. You don't need an expert to tell you what the scriptures teach. And you really don't need an expert who tries to persuade you that the prophets are wrong.

President Ballard made this point at BYU when he said:

If you have a question that requires an expert, please take the time to find a thoughtful and qualified expert to help you. There are many on this campus and elsewhere who have the degrees and expertise to respond and give some insight to most of these types of questions.

That's great advice, so long as we first ask, what questions require an expert?

Does it require an expert to read and understand the scriptures? To read and understand Letter VII? To read and understand the consistent and persistent teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah?

Of course not.


Someone sent me a link to the latest Kno-Why from BMC that I referenced above. Here's the link.


You have to read it for yourself to appreciate the irony.

This Kno-Why is astonishing because the strongest attacks on the credibility of the Three Witnesses come directly from within the Church--from the M2C citation cartel, including Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, Fairmormon, and the rest.

Everyone expects critics of the Church to disbelieve the witnesses. That's axiomatic; if they didn't disbelieve the witnesses, they'd believe them. Presumably they'd accept the Book of Mormon (whether or not they join any church).

The Kno-Why goes through the usual list of statements and arguments. Of course, none of it is persuasive. There's enough evidence to support whatever you want to think about the witnesses. That's basic psychology. People see only evidence that confirms their biases; they are blind to evidence that contradicts their biases.

Here's what makes this Kno-Why so amazing.

The entire foundation of M2C rests on the claim that the Three Witnesses were unreliable!

For example, BMC's footnote 14 refers to David Whitmer's interview with Joseph F. Smith about David's experience with the plates. BMC cites this as a reason to believe David Whitmer. But that same interview included his statement about the messenger going to Cumorah, a statement that BMC rejects!

When I was returning to Fayette with Joseph and Oliver all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon who saluted us with, “good morning, it is very warm,” at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, “No, I am going to Cumorah.’ This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked round enquiringly of Joseph the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again.

[BTW, if you go to the link provided by BMC, it goes to a resource at BYU that omits three pages, including the page containing David's statement about Cumorah that I quoted above. You can see the entire interview here: 


Here is a partial list of statements from the Three Witnesses that BMC wants people to disbelieve.

BMC expressly rejects what President Cowdery wrote about Moroni and Cumorah in Letters IV, VII, and VIII.

BMC expressly rejects Oliver Cowdery's statement to the Indians that Moroni himself called the hill in New York Cumorah anciently.

BMC expressly rejects Oliver Cowdery's statements that he and Joseph visited the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah on multiple occasions.

BMC expressly rejects David Whitmer's testimony about the messenger he met on the road to Fayette who was taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah.

BMC expressly rejects David Whitmer's testimony that Oliver told him about visiting the Nephite depository in Cumorah.

BMC expressly rejects David Whitmer's testimony that the plates are no longer in Cumorah but are not far from there.

BMC expressly rejects Martin Harris's statement that only he, David, Oliver and Joseph ever saw the plates that were kept in the wooden box.

I could go on, but you see the point.

Plus, of course, BMC expressly rejects the teachings of any prophet and apostle who has publicly supported the testimony of these witnesses about the New York Cumorah.

All of these statements have been published, but BMC censors them (except when they're justifying their disbelief in them).

Contrast that to what the Kno-Why says:

When viewed collectively, the witnesses’ published testimonies are favored by “an overwhelming preponderance of evidence.” Each of the relevant first-hand statements from members of the Three and Eight Witnesses reaffirm their original statements. In addition, the majority of second-hand or hearsay accounts of the witnesses’ statements—from friends, critics, and neutral observers alike—also support the witnesses published testimonies.

That point is just as true about the witnesses' statements about the New York Cumorah as it is about their statements about the plates.

BMC has zero credibility when it comes to supporting the testimony of the Three Witnesses. Why does anyone pay them any attention at all?

One good thing might come out of this Kno-Why.

Maybe people who actually read it will recognize that Book of Mormon Central has just completely destroyed their own arguments against the credibility of the witnesses.

Speaking of LDS intellectuals...

I'm told Dan Peterson--a wonderful, faithful, smart, and all-around great guy-- has been complaining about my criticism of the Interpreter. Maybe someday I'll read what he has to say, but it doesn't matter because he has had emotional reactions like this for decades, from the FARMS days through the present. He's taken what he perceives to be a lot of arrows for what he perceives to be his defense of the Church. If he has a problem, I'm always available for a meeting. I've never turned down an invitation to meet with any of the M2C intellectuals, but Dan has declined my invitation to meet. Now he's producing the Witnesses film through the Interpreter Foundation. We can be confident he's not going to allow viewers to know what the witnesses said about the New York Cumorah.

Then we have Book of Mormon Central, which is pretty much the same story. I'm told one of their employees is also complaining about my criticism of M2C, but that doesn't matter, either. He's just another employee doing a job. His bosses insist the witnesses and the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah because of M2C, so he's doing everything he can to support M2C. I have no problem with that.

In fact, I when I was his age, if I had been working for Book of Mormon Central, I probably would have done the same thing. Back then, I, too, had been persuaded to believe M2C. Fortunately, we all have chances to learn and grow.

Well, then we have Dan, still reacting the same way he's been doing for years...

The one thing I wouldn't have supported as an employee of Book of Mormon Central is the organization's ongoing censorship of alternatives to M2C.

Censorship is a normal practice among those who are insecure about their own positions, but it is surprising that in today's world, anyone in a free country supports censorship. Fortunately, censorship is a losing strategy in the long run.

I've noticed some very strange characteristics of M2C intellectuals. I don't mean to generalize, but in most cases, the M2C intellectuals are hyper-defensive. They view debates about facts and logic as if they were personal. They have a strong "us vs. them" mentality, sort of a siege mentality, as if it is them against the world. They get angry a lot.

From my perspective, those are all characteristics of uncertainty and insecurity.

Another attribute, the claim that they are hired by the prophets to guide the Church, may be a factor. Those who actually believe this would naturally be hyper-defensive. Those who deny the M2C scholars think this way don't know what their employees have said.

None of this matters to those of us who don't defer to these scholars. Which, hopefully, is the approach most people take.

We're confident and happy, with no animosity or anger toward anyone. We're happy to exchange views. We freely refer people to the M2C citation cartel publications and websites. We want people to know what they're teaching.

Really, the only thing we oppose is censorship.

For anyone interested in knowing more about the M2C psychology from an academic perspective, there's a nice article on motivated reasoning here:


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Kno-Why #520 Did Jesus Bleed from Every Pore?

This is a brief note to myself about a fascinating Kno-Why that illustrates two common errors:

1. BMC scholars are unaware of important sources Joseph drew upon; and

2. Some Christians are so focused on rejecting the Book of Mormon that they ignore Christian ideas the pre-dated the Book of Mormon.

The Kno-Why addresses the passages in the Book of Mormon and D&C that describe Christ bleeding from every pore:

Mosiah 3:7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.

Doctrine and Covenants 19:18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

The New Testament says nothing about pores. It says only this:

And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:43–44).

Other translations render this passage to say "his sweat became like great clots of blood" and similar variations, as discussed here

Talmage discusses the issue in Jesus the Christ, which you can see here: 

Like BMC, Christian scholars have debated over the meaning and even origins of Luke 22:43-4. Such debates can never be resolved, which is why the intellectuals love them. Full employment, etc.

Here's how BMC explains it:

In other words, based solely on the manuscript evidence and the understandings of ancient Christian writers, while the matter of whether these verses are original to Luke’s gospel cannot be fully resolved at the present time, there are, however, enough reasons for one to cautiously accept their factual authenticity while still being aware of their questionable textual status.

This is stereotypical M2C rhetoric. Next, they claim superiority over their Christian peers:

The issues surrounding the authenticity of Luke 22:43–44 and whether Jesus sweat actual blood or merely sweat as though he were bleeding will likely remain open to debate among biblical scholars for many years to come. Latter-day Saints, however, have additional scriptures that tip the scales in favor of these verses being authentic and also describing a real physiological phenomenon.

This is not an irrational point, but here's a key to understanding the passages that BMC ignores.

As near as I can determine, the first Christian writer to claim that Christ sweat actual blood from every pore was James Hervey, published in 1764 and subsequent editions.

Hervey - Whereas, the divine Redeemer expired in tedious and protracted torments. His pangs were as lingering, as they were exquisite. Even in the prelude to his last suffering, what a load of sorrows overwhelmed his sacred humanity! Till the intolerable pressure wrung blood, instead of sweat, from every pore; till the crimson flood stained all his raiment, and tinged the very stones.

Here, Hervey has Christ suffering and bleeding in Gethsemane (the prelude to his last suffering).

Why is Hervey important? Because his books were on sale in Palmyra in 1819, and Joseph donated a Hervey book to the Nauvoo Library in 1844. Hervey was a significant influence on Joseph's vocabulary, as I'm showing in an upcoming book.

Notice too that Hervey wrote about Christ's pangs as exquisite. Compare that to D&C 19:15.

Doctrine and Covenants 19:15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

Anti-Mormon Christians criticize these passages, claiming that the atonement did not occur in Gethsamane.

E.g., http://mit.irr.org/mormonism-garden-cross-and-atonement

This is the type of argument that comes across as argumentative purely for the sake of argument, but when they make such arguments, they are ignoring their own tradition, such as James Hervey's work.

M2C impact on Church history

Here are three issues in Church history that are obstacles for people because the prevailing narratives make the truth claims about events in Church history less credible. This is a serious problem for the youth, for investigators (friends) and for less-active members.

There are solid answers, based on historical evidence, that LDS scholars ignore or reject mainly because of M2C.

1. The plates. There are a lot of inconsistencies about the plates. Here are a few.

-Martin Harris said that only he, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith ever saw the original plates.
- Witnesses said the plates weighed 30 pounds others said 60 pounds.
- The Eight Witnesses said they handled the plates but none of them said any portion was sealed.
- A divine messenger took the original plates to Cumorah before meeting Joseph in Fayette and giving him the plates of Nephi to translate.

None of this can be explained by the prevalent narrative that there was only one set of plates, and that Moroni hauled this set of plates 2400+ miles north from southern Mexico.

LDS intellectuals will tell you to put these questions "on the shelf" because they reject what two of the three witnesses said about the Hill Cumorah.

There is an answer to these inconsistencies.

Joseph Smith translated the original plates in Harmony and gave them to the messenger before leaving for Fayette. The messenger took those plates to the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah, found the plates of Nephi (to replace the lost 116 pages), and brought those to Fayette so Joseph and Oliver could translate what we know today as 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon.

You can see the diagram here:


Simple. But because it contradicts M2C, you'll never hear about it from our LDS intellectuals.

2. The translation process. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (as well as the revelations in the D&C) consistently said Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by using the Urim and Thummim, or Nephite translators that had been prepared for that purpose. Moroni put them in the stone box so Joseph could use them.

However, several witnesses said Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon (after the 116 pages were lost) by reading words off a stone he put in a hat.

In terms of truth claims, the stone-in-a-hat scenario is obviously a far cry from Joseph actually translating the engravings on the plates using instruments prepared by the Lord for that purpose.

There are three ways to resolve this inconsistency.

A. We can say Joseph and Oliver used the term "Urim and Thummim" to apply to any device used for translation, including both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone Joseph found in a well years earlier. Church historians (and Church publications and web pages, including the Gospel Topics Essay) now teach that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon with the stone-in-a-hat technique. They teach that Joseph didn't even use the plates after all, but that they were always covered in a cloth or even outdoors. Because they believe Joseph didn't even use the plates, they can't explain how Joseph knew the Title Page was the last leaf of the plates, or why the Lord told Joseph he would have to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10).

B. We can say Joseph and Oliver told the truth but everyone else who spoke or wrote about the stone-in-a-hat scenario was a liar; i.e., Joseph never used the stone-in-a-hat technique. This requires one to believe a grand conspiracy over decades.

C. We can say that everyone told the truth according to what they observed, but people made inferences that they reported as facts. Joseph and Oliver translated the engravings on the plates using the Nephite interpreters, which they called Urim and Thummim. People also saw Joseph put a stone in a hat and dictate words to a scribe. But what these witnesses saw was a demonstration, not the actual translation.

I favor option C, and I provide all the detail in my upcoming book (to be released in August). The key is, Joseph was commanded never to show the Nephite interpreters or the plates to anyone. That commandment was a nullity if Joseph didn't even use the interpreters or the plates. Plus, the stone-in-a-hat scenario negates all the work Mormon and Moroni did when they abridged and protected the plates.

Why a demonstration? People were constantly asking about the translation process, but Joseph was expressly forbidden to let anyone see the interpreters or the plates. The solution: demonstrate how the translation works by putting a stone anybody can see in a hat anybody can see and then dictating words to a scribe while letting people infer they were watching the actual translation.

3. The language of the text. There are three basic explanations for the text of the Book of Mormon.

A. Composition. Critics claim Joseph and/or co-conspirators wrote the entire book, drawing from their experiences and sources available to them. The language is that of Joseph and/or his co-conspirators. Joseph read the words of such a manuscript to Oliver Cowdery when they were alone, and used the stone-in-a-hat demonstration to mislead observers.

B. Transcription. Because the stone-in-the-hat scenario has been embraced in today's Church, the concept of translation has evolved to the point where most LDS intellectuals now think Joseph merely transmitted (transcribed) words that appeared on the stone. They claim the language is not Joseph Smith's because he was unschooled and didn't know big words, the grammar of Early Modern English, etc. IOW, our LDS scholars now teach that Joseph didn't really translate the text. He simply read out loud the words that appeared on the stone in the hat.

C. Translation. After years of instruction from Moroni (and probably Nephi, one of the Three Nephites), Joseph used the Nephite interpreters to study the characters, translate them, write them down, and then give some of them to Martin Harris to take to New York. When Martin returned, Joseph dictated his translation to Martin, who then lost the 116 pages. Nearly a year later, Joseph dictated the translation of the text we have today to Oliver Cowdery (except for a few pages). The text we have today reflects Joseph's own vocabulary and speech patterns.

For reasons I explain in detail in my August book, Option B is the least plausible. Option C is better supported by the evidence than Option A. Plus, of course, it coincides with Option C from the method of translation.

What does the translation process have to do with M2C?

I'm glad you asked.

The basic premise of M2C is that Joseph didn't know about Mesoamerican culture, that he was illiterate and barely educated, and that he speculated about the New York Cumorah, the plains of the Nephites, etc.

The idea that Joseph was smart and educated enough to produce the text of the Book of Mormon contradicts the M2C narrative. The more ignorant and speculative Joseph was, the better, as far as the intellectuals are concerned. They assert more knowledge than the prophets on lots of topics, but especially on the topic of the New York Cumorah.

This all comes back to the truth claims.

Imagine you are a youth in the Church attending Seminary or Institute or BYU. In which of the following explanations would you be more likely exercise faith?

Current CES/BYU teachings. Joseph Smith was an uneducated farm boy who found a seer stone in a well and produced the entire Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared on the stone when he put it into a hat and covered his face with the hat. Yes, he found gold plates, but he didn't use them. Yes, Mormon and Moroni were real people, and they worked hard at considerable personal risk to abridge the Nephite records, but all that effort was only done so Joseph could have metal plates to show to 11 men who served as witnesses. And yes, Martin Harris said only the 3 witnesses ever saw the plates, but he was wrong. Yes, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery said the Nephite depository was in the Hill Cumorah in New York, but they were wrong, too. So were all the prophets who repeated these teachings.

Alternative teachings. Although he attended little formal school, Joseph Smith was prepared from a young age to translate the Book of Mormon. Moroni directed him the the stone box that contained the plates and the Urim and Thummim prepared by the Lord for the translation of the plates. Joseph took these plates to Harmony and translated the engravings on them. After he and Oliver translated the last leaf of the plates (the Title Page), Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger who took them to the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York. The messenger brought the plates of Nephi to Fayette, where Joseph and Oliver translated them. Martin Harris was correct that only the Three Witnesses and Joseph himself ever saw the original Harmony plates. David and Oliver were correct that the depository of Nephite records was in the Hill Cumorah in New York. All the prophets who repeated these teachings were likewise correct.

The choice between these explanations could not be any plainer.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Does the Book of Mormon matter?

Yesterday Jana Reiss published an important article about how the Church addresses people in their 20s and 30s.


She concludes: "I don’t think they will move the needle back to the way things used to be, for three reasons." Her reasons are (i) social issues, (ii) disaffiliation in society overall, and (iii) young people resist centralized authority.

I found this interesting because two words never came up in her article: truth, and Book of Mormon.

People still respond to truth.

Gospel living has always entailed some contrast with society as a whole.

It seems to me that skepticism about truth claims is a more basic problem than the reasons Reiss identified, and the 20 changes she listed have little to no bearing on the truth claims.

In fact, the Saints book (#16 on her list) created a false historical present purely to accommodate M2C.

We've seen how half of Millennials and even some BYU professors no longer believe the Book of Mormon is an authentic history.

That's an easily predictable outcome when BYU and CES teach the Book of Mormon with fantasy maps, especially when those maps are a pretext for teaching the M2C hoax.

Here's another change Reiss should have mentioned: The Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography.

Now, "the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas."

That is a big change from the past and seems to be another accommodation to younger people who have been taught M2C their entire lives, but it's not exactly a reaffirmation of what the prophets have taught. It is difficult to see how this watering down of the teachings of the prophets will build faith.

Thanks to employees at BYU, CES and COB who believe in and promote M2C, very few Millennials or GenXers are familiar with the following teachings that have long been part of the Church's truth claims:

"The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon."

"This modernistic theory (M2C) of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years." 

"This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the State of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County."

"At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.

By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the book of Mormon you will read Mormon’s account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah."

"In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation."

The point of the Restoration was bringing truth to the world and establishing Zion. The Book of Mormon was a critical element. The keystone, actually.

And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.
(Moses 7:62)

Moving away from truth claims about the Book of Mormon seems to be the opposite of sweeping the earth with truth. Replacing those truth claims with M2C and fantasy maps is even worse.

And what about establishing Zion? Everyone seeks a just, fair, and loving society, with no poor among us and everyone seeking to serve and honor others.

The world has shown itself unable to establish Zion, despite an abundance of resources, teachings, and aspirations. That's because establishing Zion requires a change of heart. It's a process, not a goal, and the gospel can make it a reality.

But hardly anyone even knows about this because no one talks about it any more.

That's a topic for another time and place.

Let's get back to the Book of Mormon.

Yesterday we saw how the underlying premise of M2C is fake. That's why I call it a hoax.

The M2C hoax reminds me of this: Whatever you think and believe will very much shape your reality." -

M2C advocates have long maintained that the Mesoamerican setting is evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon because Joseph could not have known about ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica.

The premise is fake because long before Joseph translated the plates, the ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica were well known. (Plus, the Book of Mormon doesn't describe Mesoamerica anyway, but that's a separate topic.)

The originator of M2C, an RLDS scholar named H.A. Stebbins, recognized that the premise of M2C would be invalid if, in fact, Joseph knew about ancient Mesoamerican civilizations before he translated the plates. In 1897, Stebbins wrote an article attempting to rebut the evidence that these civilizations were well known. Basically, he claimed the Europeans didn't know about the Mesoamerican ruins until after 1830, which may or may not be true but it's irrelevant because, as we saw yesterday, Humboldt's book was on sale in Palmyra in 1819. This is getting too far into the weeds, but if you're interested, email me and I'll email you the reference.

Once LDS intellectuals adopted the Stebbins M2C theory, they ran with it. Let's look at some of the LDS intellectual background for M2C.

Extract from John Lloyd Stephens,
one of the displays at the "Worlds of Joseph Smith"
symposium at the Library of Congress
The M2C hoax was on full display at the disastrous Library of Congress event in 2005. That event, titled "The Worlds of Joseph Smith," portrayed the Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican document. Speakers described Joseph Smith as ignorant, speculative and dependent on intellectuals. I discussed that conference here.

Here is an excerpt from a presentation at that conference:

Consequently,  what  Joseph  Smith  knew  and  understood about the book ought to be research questions rather than presumptions. Thanks  in  large  part  to  his  critics,  it  is  becoming  clear that Joseph Smith did not fully understand the geography, scope, historical scale, literary form, or cultural content of the book.

What is clear is that Joseph did not understand the M2C interpretation of the text. Having been tutored by Moroni, and having visited the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York, the plains of the Nephites in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the site of Zelph's burial, etc., Joseph understood the content of the book quite well. 

He explained what Moroni taught him: "I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity,  about the culture, mode of transportation, and other features."   

For  example,  early  Mormons  believed  Book  of  Mormon  lands stretched  throughout  all  of North  and  South  America,  a  presumption clearly at odds with the book itself (fig. 1a).⁸

Some early Mormons believed that, but only a handful wrote about that theory. Projecting the ideas of a few onto an entire population is a logical fallacy, of course. Here, it's even worse than usual because Joseph Smith explicitly rejected the hemispheric model. 

When he wrote the Wentworth letter, he based it on Orson Pratt's pamphlet, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions. In that pamphlet, Pratt had spent several pages outlining the hemispheric model. Joseph crossed out that section and replaced it with this: "the remnant [of the Nephites and Lamanites] are the Indians that now inhabit this country." Recall that he was writing from Nauvoo Illinois to an editors in Chicago Illinois. When he wrote "this country" he was not writing about Mesoamerica.

BTW, if you google "Wentworth letter," don't go to the first link. That one goes to the lesson manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. The curriculum committee (which is dominated by M2C believers) edited out Joseph's teaching about the Indians. Fortunately, the full Wentworth letter slipped past the censors into the Ensign in 2002, and you can still find it here.)]

The book speaks specifically only of a limited land about the size of Pennsylvania. 

Anyone can read the text and see that its descriptions of geography are anything but specific. The M2C interpretation confines it to a small area because that's the only way the M2C intellectuals can make it fit. (Ironically, Pennsylvania is a lot closer than southern Mexico.)

In 1842, after reading about ancient cities in Central America, Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located there (fig. 1b). 

Joseph as speculator, the framing every intellectuals loves because it elevates the scholars above the prophets. This sentence is a double hoax because ancient cities in Central America were known from at least 1804, when von Humboldt visited President Thomas Jefferson and told him about the ruins there, and because Joseph had nothing to do with the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles.

I derive two lessons from his speculation: First, Joseph did not know exactly where Book of Mormon lands were; second, he considered their  location  an  important  question  addressable  through scholarship.

Here is the self-serving repudiation of the prophets accompanied by the inevitable demand for full employment of scholars. 

BTW, almost every time you attend an academic conference such as this, at least one speaker will emphasize how important it is to continue more research. Scholars are understandably dependent on the financial support (and gullibility) of ordinary people, but in many cases, they are spending your money on rabbit holes that lead nowhere.

I'm all in favor of more information, but the M2C hoax has consumed millions of dollars and untold hours of wasted effort, all because the scholars decided the prophets were mere speculators, misleading the Church with their incorrect opinions. 

You can go through the work of the M2C citation cartel and find nothing but M2C all the time. The cartel includes FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, and everyone who supports and reproduces their M2C materials.

The cartel resorts to censorship, obfuscation, and similar tactics to maintain M2C. But ultimately, they can't suppress the teachings of the prophets forever.

Or, maybe they can.