long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Evening at the temple in Independence

Far West

Some photos from Far West. All that's left here of a once-thriving town is the temple lot area, where there are four cornerstones. Here's a map for orientation:

It's a beautiful site. No wonder the Saints in the 1830s were happy to be here and had big expectations.

Adam ondi Ahman

We had a fantastic tour today of several sites, including Adam ondi Ahman. Alex Baugh explained everything and included some wonderful stories. Here are a few photos from the drone.

Here's our group, gathered at Tower Hill.

Tower Hill with the valley in the background.

The valley.

The river and the site of the original community.

The river looking west.

The valley with Tower Hill on the left center.
Tower Hill.

Independence, Missouri

Last night we flew the drone around. Here's one photo at sunset. The spiral building is the Community of Christ temple. The rectangular building to the left with all the columns is the LDS Visitors Center. The dome behind that is the Community of Christ auditorium.

JWHA Report - Roper and Fields

Yesterday at the John Whitmer Historical Association meeting in Independence, Missouri, Matt Roper, Paul Fields, and I presented in a combined session.

My topic was "Ghosts of the Times and Seasons: Authorship of an Article describing Central America as Zarahemla's Location."

Roper/Fields spoke on "Joseph Smith, Benjamin Winchester and Central American Archaeology: Assessing the Authorship of the 1842 Book of Mormon Articles in the Times and Seasons."

First, it was an honor for me to have been invited. The organizers of JWHA put together a fantastic program and my only regret was having to present at the same time as several other outstanding presentations were underway with speakers such as Alex Baugh and Kyle Walker.

Second, I'm fine with a conclusion that Joseph Smith wrote the letters, if that's what actually happened. All I care about is the truth. What I don't want is perpetuation of a false historical narrative that Joseph Smith wrote or approved of everything in the Times and Seasons. In my view, that's what has been presented heretofore by the "consensus" scholars in the citation cartel, so I was looking forward to the presentations.

I had 30 minutes to present. I went through the 7 historical assumptions in the Roper/Fields article (located here) and showed how every one of them was wrong or misleading. I will go through each of them in upcoming days (I have so much material for this blog I'll never post it all.)

When I finished, Matt stood and discussed the Bernhisel letter for a few minutes. Here's a link to it.

I thought Matt did a pretty good job, given what he has to work with. He put half of the letter on the screen and read it to the audience. I had shown in my presentation that no one knows who wrote the letter because we don't know whose handwriting it was in. This is according to a note in the Joseph Smith Papers, which I have independently confirmed with the Church History Department and by my own examination of the handwriting. (I'm not a handwriting expert but I have prosecuted forgery cases and I've had to explain to juries how we distinguish one person's writing from another's, so I know more than a little about the topic.)

By contrast, here's what Roper/Fields said in their paper:  "The letter to Bernhisel, written in the hand of John Taylor, belongs to a class of historical documents that are extant only in the hand of scribes but are included in the Joseph Smith corpus (see, for example, Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 527–28, 551–52). The letter could suggest that Joseph Smith either dictated the letter or directed the apostle to write to Bernhisel on his behalf. In either case, it would be unlikely for Taylor to knowingly attribute views to the Prophet that were not his own."

Because Taylor is one whose penmanship is not in the letter, anyone who reads Roper's paper is being misled. Roper knows this, but he has never retracted his paper or corrected it until, maybe, now.

The Second Edition of the Zarahemla book has an entire chapter on the Bernhisel letter. I won't get into the detail here except to point out that 1) the Bernhisel letter compares the Stephens books to "all of the histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country;" 2) apart from this anonymous letter, there are no accounts of Joseph Smith reading any such histories, let alone all of them; 3) There are no records in Joseph's or anyone else's journal in which Joseph mentions Stephens or even Central America; 4) Wilford Woodruff was known for having read history extensively even before he joined the Church; 5) Woodruff is the only person who actually read the Stevens books; 6) A few years later when he was crossing the ocean from England he was reading a history of Russia and compared the author to Stevens; 7) the letter itself reads like a simple thank-you note, and a generic one at that. IMO, the evidence suggests that Woodruff was the source of the letter. I have some ideas on who wrote it but haven't had time to make the comparison. I can see Joseph taking one look at 2 volumes of history adding up to 900 pages and telling Woodruff, "Send him a thank you note." It's unimaginable to me that no one would have mentioned Joseph taking the time to read these books; if he had, everyone would have wanted to read and discuss them. The only book that Joseph's journal mentions him reading is the Book of Mormon, and his scribes even mention what page he was reading. Regarding the Stephens books, there is complete silence.

Still, it is possible that Joseph spent the time to read 900 pages, plus all the other histories he compared the Stephens book to, and no one thought it was unusual enough to write about. Maybe Joseph spent all his time reading. I'll let anyone familiar with his life's history, his personality, and his heavy schedule and responsibility think about that one.

That said, Roper did a good job. He took only about ten minutes.

Then Paul Fields stood.

I anticipated that they were going to revisit their stylometry study. I had a few slides on stylometry but I skipped over them in the interest of time. I did mention that stylometry has just a few weaknesses and problems. I'll do a separate post on that. But it turns out I didn't need to mention the problems with stylometry.

To no one's surprise, Fields claimed his study (Matt, apparently, had little to do with it) verified that Joseph Smith wrote the articles. But I was surprised at what happened next.

Paul Fields impeached his own methodology.

He spent around 10 minutes discussing the Federalist Papers as an example of stylomtery. It reminded me of Jeane Dixon, who had predicted the assassination of JFK and forever after rode that single success, despite a long list of failed prophecies.

(FYI, the Federalist Papers are a collection of 85 essays about the Constitution written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. They all wrote under a pseudonym of "Publius," but shortly after publication, contemporary experts recognized the writing style of the three men, who had been publicly discussing these issues. Hamilton later took credit for most of the essays, Madison took credit for some that Hamilton had claimed, and some remained unclear. Numerous authorship studies have been done, most of which attributed the disputed essays to Madison, but some claim the disputed essays were a collaborative effort, which is what I think. I've referred to the Federalist Papers in some of my books on Constitutional Law.)

Fields, of course, has had nothing to do with the examination of the Federalist Papers. Stylometrists like to cite this case because it is famous and has produced a fair overall consensus. But this is nothing like the case with the 1842 articles. First, we know there were three candidate authors. Second, the authors themselves took credit for the papers. Three, the authors had publicly discussed the issues and were well-known experts on the topic (which is why we care about their opinions). Four, the corpus (the essays themselves) discussed a clearly defined topic. Five, the essays were of approximately the same length (900-1500 words). Six, the essays were all published. Seven, they were contemporaneous. Eight, they were all addressed to the same audience.

Fields pointed out elements 4-8 as being key to an effective stylometry analysis. He didn't mention 1-3, but in my view, those were equally as important. The Federalist Papers were an easy case, actually; even people in the 1700s without computers could identify the authors.

The fallacy in Fields' presentation, which left me wondering what he was getting at, was NONE OF THESE ELEMENTS IS PRESENT IN THE 1842 ARTICLES.

Granted, the Federalist Papers is a good example of stylometry. But the reasons it is a good example do not apply to the 1842 articles. I'll go through each element and show why I question his conclusions.

1. The list of potential authors for the 1842 Times and Seasons (T&S) articles, particularly those on Sept. 15 and Oct. 1, is unlimited. A majority of the material published in the T&S came through the mail. Anyone could have sent them in. There is good evidence that the extracts in the articles was proofread against the actual books (although even then there are some strange copy mistakes), but that is not evidence of the origin of the commentary (the 900 words in dispute).

2. No one ever publicly took credit for the T&S articles.

3. Some of the potential authors of the T&S articles had publicly discussed the topic, or would in the future. I identified five of them in my presentation: Orson Pratt, Parley P. Pratt, W.W. Phelps, Benjamin Winchester, and William Smith. Arguably, Wilford Woodruff discussed the topic, although the only record is in his journal from a year previously. So far as I know, he never discussed it publicly. Besides, he and John Taylor were extremely sick in this time frame and didn't even come into the office. The one candidate for whom there is no record--zero--of ever having discussed Central America publicly (or even privately) is Joseph Smith. And, unlike the authors of the Federalist Papers, none of the T&S candidates were experts on Central America. At most, they had read the Stephens book.

4. The corpus in Fields' study is not comprised of other writings on the same topic. (Actually, no one knows what the corpus is. This was my complaint about the original Roper/Fields study. I haven't had time to read their paper; I'm only responding to their presentation here. Maybe in the paper they list every document they used in the comparison, along with their software and parameters. I hope so.) At any rate, if they confined their corpus to writings about Stephens, or even writings about Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, they have a corpus consisting of Orson Pratt, several anonymous articles, and a few writings by the men I mentioned above. But they'd have nothing from Joseph Smith. Actually, they'd have nothing on the specific question of Zarahemla in Guatemala because on that point, the T&S articles are unique.

Roper/Fields even included the Bernhisel letter in their corpus! And we know it is not holographic for Joseph Smith. We don't know who wrote it.

5. Since I don't know what corpus they used, it's possible Roper/Fields came up with a statistically meaningful collection of 300-word essays and comments. That's what we're looking at in the T&S: 3 short pieces totaling about 900 words. I'm eager to see this corpus. But in the first article, Roper/Fields cut up longer works to come up with comparable chunks. That begs the question, though; is a 300-word sample valid? Is it a valid assumption that all three articles in the T&S were written by the same person? Someone in the audience astutely asked about this. Fields said they were all the same (although in their published data, Roper/Fields only show them combined into one). I answered that I had looked at them separately with stylometry software and got different results for the three pieces. But I question the validity of those results anyway, given how short the pieces are and the evidence of editing input.

6. During the Q&A, the question of what prior works of Joseph Smith the authors used. All Matt would say was they used holographic writings of Joseph Smith. Holographic? So they are comparing hand-written material by Joseph Smith to a published article. That directly contradicted Fields' own criteria. Maybe the analysis of the Federalist papers used Madison's letters to his wife, but I doubt it and Fields himself said that would be produce poor data. Or maybe Roper/Fields used holographic samples from Phelps, Winchester and the others, but I'm aware of only a few letters written by Winchester that I doubt add up to 900 words each. We do have quite a few holographic letters that Phelps wrote to his wife; maybe that's what Fields used? Presumably, this is in the paper, but they didn't elaborate during the presentation.

7. Fields made a point that comparison samples should be contemporaneous, so I'm eager to see what writing samples they used from Joseph Smith during 1842, plus or minus a year, as well as what contemporaneous samples they used from the other candidates. Actually, I'm sure every historian at the conference would have attended had Roper/Fields produced such a corpus.

8. The 900 words were addressed to the readers of the Times and Seasons. I'm not aware of any holographic writings by Joseph Smith that were published as such in the Times and Seasons, but maybe there were some. Many of the other writings by the 5 candidates were addressed to unbelievers (as part of a larger argument).

Bottom line, all the criteria Fields identified that made the Federalist Papers example so compelling are absent here.

Fields claimed their results are replicable and have all been published in peer reviewed journals. So far as I know (relying on this site), the only two things Roper/Fields have published in this area are

1) their original study of the Times and Seasons, linked above, published by the Maxwell Institute, which I don't think was peer reviewed or even copy edited (although I noted Roper had fixed the typo from the conclusion in the original published article). Certainly this article does not contain enough data to allow anyone to replicate the work.

2) a study of Earl Wunderli's book that Wunderli himself effectively rebutted, IMO, here. The Roper/Fields article was published by BYU Studies, but the link is broken so I can't cite it now.

They also have published three articles in the Interpreter, which as I've shown is about as far from peer-reviewed as a publication can get. I'll go through Roper's third article as soon as I get a chance.

Maybe Fields has published more about stylometry. I'd very much like to see his other articles; they didn't come up in a google search, and they're not otherwise cited that I can find. Fields portrayed himself as an expert during the presentation, so I'm quite curious to see what his representation is based upon. When he finished his presentation, I was itching to conduct cross-examination.

Well, I'm out of time on this. Maybe I'll pick up more later.

At the end of the session, I suggested to Matt that we get together and discuss these things. I think we agree about more than we disagree about, and I'd like to narrow ad define the disagreements so we can evaluate them rationally. I barely had time to scratch the surface in my presentation. He claimed he was too busy here at the conference, and that we could meet back in his office in Utah, but only when Paul Fields is available.

We'll see if/when that materializes.


Roper/Fields want us to believe that Joseph Smith wrote these three short comments, accompanied by extensive excerpts from the Stephens books.

This is in the same issue of the Times and Seasons (15 September 1842) in which we find this:

"The following letter was read to the Saints in Nauvoo, last Sunday week, and a copy forwarded to us for publication:-and cordially we give it a hearty welcome, and a happy spread among those who love the truth for the truth's sake."

The letter referred to was written by Joseph Smith on 1 Sept 1842 and became D&C 127. Roper/Fields would have us believe  that Joseph sent this letter to himself to publish. During his presentation, Matt referred to Joseph as the nominal editor, so maybe he's conceded that Joseph wasn't acting as editor at this point. Hopefully everyone can agree that Joseph did not send D&C 127 to himself for publication.

However, Roper/Fields still want us to believe that the editor who gave Joseph's letter a "hearty welcome" also received these three articles from Joseph Smith that he didn't even identify as coming from Joseph. Is that plausible?

The next issue, 1 Oct. 1842, includes a letter from Joseph Smith dated Sept. 6 1842 that is titled "LETTER FROM JOSEPH SMITH." We're supposed to believe the editor used such a headline to tout this letter, but left Joseph's other supposed article, the one on Zarahemla, anonymous.

It defies credulity to propose that the same editor would emphasize Joseph's authorship of two letter but suppress his authorship of 3 supposed articles.

Then there is the problem that none of Joseph's papers mention him reading, discussing, or writing about the Stephens books. His journal includes the creation of the Book of the Law of the Lord and other material, but says nothing about Stephens. We're supposed to believe that while Joseph Smith was evading extradition, setting forth temple doctrine, overseeing the construction of the Nauvoo temple, welcoming new members, developing Nauvoo real estate and so forth, he was lugging around the 900-page Stephens books, making selections to extract anonymously in the Times and Seasons.

No doubt there will be some people who believe this. Apparently Roper and Fields do.

But I don't.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Kudos to FairMormon for helping to build a consensus.

As I've shown, FairMormon usually takes a strong stance in support of the Mesoamerican theory. However, the times, they are a-changin'.

Now FairMormon is helping to help prove Joseph Smith did not write the 1842 Times and Seasons articles that spawned the Mesoamerican industry.

Right on this page, they cite a source in the Millennial Star that says Joseph had little to do with the Times and Seasons. 

This is a huge step toward consensus.

Well done.

Here's the quotation from the source FairMormon cites:

"Sometime previous to the year 1842, Mr.Smith established a printing office in the city of Nauvoo, for the purpose of printing the various publications of the church, and executing job work for the convenience of the public. He placed a foreman over it to take charge of the printing department, and although the business was done in his name, it was frequently the case that he was not inside the office once in a month."

Here's the link to the original source in the Millennial Star.

Now that FairMormon acknowledges Joseph had nothing to do with the September/October Times and Seasons articles, we're one step closer to consensus.

Now I'm hoping someone at FairMormon will come out in support of what David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery said about Cumorah. Oliver Cowdery even said it was a fact that the Book of Mormon Cumorah was in New York. Every early Mormon leader and writer accepted Cumorah in New York.

It was so identified even in Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes in the Book of Mormon. It wasn't until the 20th century when the limited Mesoamerican geography was proposed by scholars that the so-called Two Cumorah theory was developed.

So on the one hand, we have the people who met Moroni and translated the Book of Mormon saying Cumorah was in New York. On the other hand, we have scholars a hundred years later saying Oliver, David and Joseph were merely repeating a rumor or tradition some unidentified people started.

The choice between the two is easy for me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Letter VII continued

This is the photo that we used for the cover of the book. I flew over the area with my drone. The Hill Cumorah is in the upper right of the photo. The light green triangle is where the annual pageant takes place. At the peak, just to the left, is the statue of Moroni. The white building on the left is the Visitors Center.

Yesterday I listed a few of the things covered in the book. Here are some more items of interest it contains.

1. Oliver's letters are the only source for many details about the early events of the Restoration.

2. Oliver's Letter I is excerpted in the Pearl of Great Price.

3. Joseph had his scribes copy Oliver's letters into his personal history.

4. Oliver's Letter VII was re-published several times through 1844.

5. Oliver describes Moroni by saying "the stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age."

6. Oliver says Moroni's "garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam."

7. Oliver says Moroni "said this history was written and deposited not far from that place."

Think about that last one. We know the plates were deposited not far from that place (i.e., Joseph's home where Moroni was speaking to him). But if the history was also written "not far from that place," then it was not written in Mesoamerica.

8. On April 3, 1836, just a few months after Oliver published Letter VII and Joseph's scribes copied it into Joseph's personal history, Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Lord Himself appeared to Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland temple. "Behold, your sins are forgiven you; you are clean before me; therefore, lift up your heads and rejoice." D&C 110:5.

9. Oliver remained a faithful witness of the Book of Mormon throughout his life.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah

Today is Book of Mormon day (the anniversary of Joseph obtaining the plates from Moroni). To celebrate, here's my new book, Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah.

This is the "soft release," meaning we're not doing any marketing for two weeks. It is available on Amazon Kindle now, paperback soon. In a few weeks, it will be available in stores.

The book discusses the background, content, and significance of Oliver Cowdery's letters. It includes observations by Richard L. Bushman, John W. Welch, and others. I included edited versions of all eight of Cowdery's letters, along with timelines and numerous references for those interested in additional research.

Some of the key points covered in the book:

1. Oliver wrote these letters with the assistance of Joseph Smith and "authentic documents now in our possession."

2. Oliver declared the letters are founded on facts.

3. Oliver unequivocally identified the Book of Mormon Cumorah as being in New York.

4. Oliver describes the vale between the Hill Cumorah and another ridge about one mile west. [Note: this is the vale shown on the cover. In the hard copies of the book, the photo continues on the back cover so you can see the entire vale.]

5. Oliver writes about "the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed." (emphasis mine)

There's more that I'll discuss tomorrow.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Building out of wood

There was an overview of the Moundbuilder culture in today's Deseret News here. It included this statement: "The eastern United States and the greater Mississippi River valley are a beautiful land with widespread forests. Unfortunately for archaeologists, this means that the region’s ancient Indians mainly built using wood, which inevitably decays, leaving, at best, marginal archaeological evidence."

That reminded me of Mosiah 11:9. "And he [King Noah] also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things."

This is the only palace described in the Book of Mormon, and it was made of wood. That's exactly what we would expect to find in a North American setting.

Verse 8 is also interesting. "And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper."

From what I can find in the text, the only thing the Nephites built out of stone were "walls of stone to encircle" their armies, their cities, and their borders. (Alma 48:8). 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Commemorating Book of Mormon anniversaries

This time of the year brings us three notable anniversaries:

Sept 15, 1842: The date of the first two Times and Seasons articles that have misled some LDS scholars into believing the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

Sept 22, 1827: The date Joseph Smith obtained the plates from Moroni.

Oct 1, 1842: The date of the third Times and Seasons article that claimed Zarahemla as in Quirigua, leading some LDS scholars on a wild-goose chase through Central America.


To commemorate Sept 15, I posted a comment about the RAGS translation of the Book of Mormon, the one used by Mesoamericanists instead of Joseph's translation. In the last few days, I've seen additional variations on the RAGS translation, in which Mesoamerican proponents substitute their own words and phrases to "fix" what Joseph translated so it will "fit" into a Mesoamerican setting. If you don't know what I'm referring to, take a look at John Sorenson's book, Mormon's Codex, Brant Gardner's book Traditions of the Fathers, or pretty much anything published about Book of Mormon geography by FARMS/Maxwell Institute, the Interpreter, or FairMormon (Fairlds). None of these stick to Joseph Smith's translation. If they did, they wouldn't be looking in Mesoamerica.

To commemorate Sept 22, I'm going to release a short book on Amazon/Kindle titled Letter VII: the letter every Latter-day Saint needs to read. There will be a Spanish version as well. I hope that every member of the Church will read this before beginning the Book of Mormon course of study in 2016.

To commemorate Oct 1, I'm going to release a short book on Amazon/Kindle titled The Treason of the Geographers: excerpts from LDS scholars on the Book of Mormon. That one will feature some of the "greatest hits" from FARMS/Maxwell Institute, The Interpreter, FairMormon (FairLDS), BMAF, and other works published by the Mesoamericanists.

What are you doing to commemorate these anniversaries?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New Translation of the Book of Mormon

Most members of the Church don't realize there is a new translation of the Book of Mormon available. This is not merely a translation into another new language.

It's in English.

The new translation did not originate with the discovery of more plates in Cumorah or the manuscript Martin Harris lost. It is purely the product of the imagination of scholars such as Mike Ash, Brant Gardner, John Sorenson and Matthew Roper.

I'm going to call it the RAGS translation (Roper, Ash, Gardner, Sorenson*).

The RAGS translation is the last resort of proponents of a Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. (The name RAGS also evokes the tattered state of the Mesoamerican theory.) Because the Mesoamerican theory does not align with Joseph Smith's translation, these scholars felt a better translation was needed. They don't even bother with Joseph's translation, actually. They invent an entirely new text.

RAGS is being promoted by people such as Scot Proctor at LDSMag. The latest example is an article by Michael R. Ash, here.

[BTW, Meridian is an ideal venue for the RAGS translation. Meridian is "Latter-day Saints Shaping their World." The RAGS translation is "Latter-day Scholars shaping their own Book of Mormon."]

The RAGS translation adds an entirely new section that explains how "the Lehites were a small group who migrated into a land full of already existing populations. When the Lehites intermingled with these larger populations, their DNA disappeared."

Do not look in Joseph Smith's translation for this passage. Anyone who reads Joseph's translation can see that Lehi landed in a promised land that was "kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance." (2 Ne. 1:8). A reader can also see that the Nephites were a distinct nation: "And it shall come to pass that except they repent I will utterly destroy them from off the face of the earth; yet they shall leave a record behind them, and I will preserve them for other nations which shall possess the land; yea, even this will I do that I may discover the abominations of this people to other nations." (Mosiah 12:8)

To be clear, there is room within the text for some other occupants of the promised land, such as distant descendants of the original Jaredites. Moroni explicitly stated his account was only about the "ancient inhabitants who were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country." This leaves room for ancient inhabitants outside "this north country."

Actually, Lehi said nothing about land that was outside his inheritance. Assuming as I do that Cumorah was in New York and the main setting for the text was between New York, Missouri, and Florida, Lehi's statement and the other prophecies in the text have nothing to say about lands to the west and south of this area. IOW, the "other nations" to which Lehi referred inhabited what we now call Latin America, as well as western North America. The Book of Mormon text is therefore fully consistent with the the archaeology, the DNA, etc.

But the RAGS translation doesn't like what Joseph's translation says.

And why is that?

Essentially, the RAGS translators have decided that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America (Mesoamerica). Inconveniently, that setting conflicts with Joseph's translation in the following respects, among other things:

1. Cumorah in New York.
2. Nephites practicing the law of Moses and retaining Hebrew identity
3. DNA evidence that everyone in Mesoamerica was Asian
4. "Many nations" existing there before Lehi arrived
5. Prophecies that Lehi's descendants would not utterly be destroyed.

So rather than adjust their preferred setting to match the text, the RAGS translators have adjusted the text to match their preferred setting. 

It's a clever approach, actually.

You take a slim thread of possibility--that there were remnants of Jaredites within Lehi's land of inheritance--and explode it into a complete contradiction to the text.

In the RAGS translation, instead of Lehi obtaining a land of promise and inheritance that was kept from the knowledge of other nations, Lehi landed smack-dab into a vast, well-established Asian civilization that completely absorbed his people.

IOW, Lehi's descendants didn't inherit anything but the customs and genes of the "other nations" Lehi said didn't even know about his land!

What makes this all the more perplexing is the RAGS translators purport to be helping people who have on-going faith crises. In what way does coming up with a new, flexible version of the Book of Mormon build faith?

The entire premise of the RAGS translation is that Joseph didn't do it right. Either he missed something, or Oliver didn't write it down, or maybe Nephi, Mormon and Moroni overlooked it. Or, maybe, it was Lehi who made a mistake.

So far, the RAGS translation is only cultural; they haven't taken the next obvious step of issuing their own version of the text. But believers in the RAGS translation such as Scot Proctor surely cannot be satisfied with that. Here's the kind of specificity I expect to see in the next issue of Proctor's LDSmag: a more correct text, starting with 2 Nephi 1:8:

RAGS translation:

"And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be densely occupied by other nations; for behold, many nations will absorb your people, that there would be no chance for an inheritance."

Compare to Joseph's translation:

"And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance."


The RAGS translation is not a response to critics of the Book of Mormon; it's a response to critics of the Mesoamerican theory.

Here is how Ash explains his rationale, with my comments in red.

Critics reluctantly agreed with the basic LDS scholarly position—that if the Lehites were a small group who mingled with a larger Native American population, that Lehite DNA most likely would have disappeared. 
[Here Ash claims the RAGS translation has succeeded; i.e., unnamed "critics" have conceded that the "basic LDS scholarly position" must be correct. This is appalling on several levels. First, it is circular reasoning--the RAGS translation was invented specifically to defeat the argument of these unnamed critics. Second, the "basic LDS scholarly position" is not actually a position; it's merely a hypothetical. And it's not even really a hypothetical; it's an axiom. By definition, if a small group (by small, Ash means around a dozen) mingles with a larger group (by larger, Ash means in the millions), the DNA will mathematically disappear. That's not an LDS position; it's a universal position, based on genetic science. Third, what Ash represents as a "basic LDS scholarly position" is held by only a tiny minority of LDS scholars; i.e., the few who still adhere to and promote the Mesoamerican setting.]
In order to salvage the argument, however, critics try to attach the DNA argument to the beliefs (not doctrinal beliefs, mind you) of early Latter-day Saints. 
[This is a diversion. Ash doesn't name the critics, so it's impossible to assess whether these are actual critics or merely foils for his argument, but critics I can think of, such as Earl Wunderli, focus on the text specifically, not what early LDS thought.]
Most early Mormons, for example, believed that the Book of Mormon peoples were responsible, entirely, for populating the Americas. 
[There is no way to tell what "most early Mormons" believed. All we have are the writings of a dozen or so men who described a hemispheric model. By comparison, someone reading LDS Magazine might conclude that "most Mormons in 2015" believed in the RAGS translation, but that's not the case. I doubt even most readers of LDS Magazine accept the RAGS translation. More importantly regarding "early Mormons," we have Joseph Smith expressly rejecting Orson Pratt's hemispheric model when he wrote the Wentworth letter. We have Joseph Smith embracing Oliver Cowdery's detailed discussion of the final battles taking place in New York, identifying Ohio, Indiana and Illinois as the "plains of the Nephites," etc. The one early Mormon we know who never expressed belief in a hemispheric model was Joseph Smith.]
Well, if this was true, than the DNA argument would have some teeth (not a full set of teeth, but possibly a few incisors).
[Not even Lehi claimed his people were responsible, entirely, for populating the Americas. He spoke only of the promised land he occupied. Nothing in the text excludes extensive population and civilization outside Lehi's promised land. So the DNA argument can only have teeth in a Mesoamerican setting.]
By the early twentieth century, however (long before DNA science came on the scene), some LDS leaders and scholars were already moving away from the faulty position that Book of Mormon peoples were the sole progenitors of all Native Americans—a position that is based on an erroneous reading of the text.
[This is another straw man argument. At most, Joseph claimed the Book of Mormon was the history of the ancestors of the Indians living in what was then the United States. He never said or implied that "Book of Mormon peoples were the sole progenitors of all Native Americans." To the extent there was a "faulty position" to be moved away from by LDS leaders and scholars, that faulty position did not originate with Joseph Smith. In that sense, Ash makes a good point. The problem with the RAGS translation, though, is they kept the faulty part of the position; i.e., they adhered to the faulty Mesoamerican setting and rejected the correct New York/North American setting.]


*I've previously discussed the "Sorenson translation," in which Mesoamerican proponents insert their own terminology, such as "headwaters of Sidon" instead of Joseph Smith's translation that reads "head of Sidon," volcanoes and huge mountain ranges, new "equivalent" animals and directions and so forth. The new RAGS translation is more comprehensive than the mere substitution of a few terms. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

One step closer to consensus

Someone asked me to update the status of the consensus. Here's how I see the current situation. All in all, there has been some good progress over the last few months.

1. Consensus point 1: I agree with Mesoamericanists that the geography of the Book of Mormon is more limited than the hemispheric approach assumed by many early LDS; i.e., there is a consensus that the setting did not extent from the southern tip of South America to the northernmost parts of North America.

2. Consensus point 2: I agree with Mesoamericanists that the author(s) of the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons were wrong, in these particulars:

2.a. We agree they were wrong about the hemispheric model.
2.b. We agree they were wrong about any specific connection between the Book of Mormon people and the ruins Stephens describes in his books, because those ruins post-date the Book of Mormon by hundreds of years.
2.c. We agree they were wrong about Quirigua as Zarahemla and Copan as a specific Book of Mormon site.

3. Consensus point 3: I agree with the Mesoamericanists that any proposed geography should fit all the descriptions in the text.

4. Consensus point 4: I agree with the Mesoamericanists that the Book of Mormon is a literal history of real people and that it was translated by the power of God.

5. Consensus point 5: I agree with the Mesoamericanists that Joseph Smith found the plates in the hill in New York currently named Cumorah.

6. Consensus point 6: I agree with a recent development among some Mesoamericanists that downplays the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons; i.e., some Mesoamericanists have conceded that Winchester wrote the articles and that Joseph had nothing to do with them as author or editor, but they think that has no bearing on Book of Mormon geography. That's exactly my position; i.e., that these unsigned articles are irrelevant to the question of Book of Mormon geography and do not reflect Joseph Smith's views.

Here is where we still have work to do.

1. Unresolved point 1: I think the Book of Mormon Cumorah is the New York Cumorah. The Mesoamericanists think the New York Cumorah is only the hill from which Joseph retrieved the plates, but the Book of Mormon Cumorah is actually someplace in Mesoamerica.

2. Unresolved point 2: I disagree with Mesoamericanists about the credibility of David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery. I think their statements and writings about Cumorah were accurate and correct; the Mesoamericanists think David and Oliver were speculating and wrong. I also think that Joseph Smith adopted Oliver's Letter VII by having it copied into his personal journal and having it published three times in Church newspapers during his lifetime. The Mesoamericanists think Joseph was merely speculating and didn't know any more about Book of Mormon geography than anybody else.

3. Unresolved point 3: I think Joseph Smith did know Book of Mormon geography, at least well enough to recognize it when he saw it, and this accounts for the various statements he made about the Indians being Lamanites, Zelph in Illinois, the plains of the Nephites, etc. The Mesoamericanists think Joseph didn't know anything more than anyone else, and that the statements he made were speculative or reflected a "hinterlands north" concept; i.e., that some Nephites migrated north from Mesoamerica.

4. Unresolved point 4: I think the Book of Mormon text describes a setting extending from Cumorah in New York to Zarahemla in Iowa, with every feature and verse accounted for in a literal sense. The Mesoamericans think the text describes a setting in Mesoamerica, with some features being metaphorical and not literal, and with cardinal directions being different from how we understand them today.

5. Unresolved point 5: I disagree with some Mesoamericanists about the significance of the unsigned articles in the Times and Seasons. Although we agree the articles reflect an incorrect assumption about the hemispheric model and contain factually false linkages between the text and anachronistic ruins, some Mesoamericanists still think the articles demonstrate that Joseph Smith believed the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. I think the articles constitute 1) a misguided effort to promote missionary work by linking the Book of Mormon to an exotic, popular locale, and 2) an unnecessary effort to defeat anti-Mormon claims by distancing the Book of Mormon from a North American/Moundbuilder setting, but also that they may refer to the 99% of the history not covered by the text (the hinterlands south).

6. Unresolved point 6: I disagree with Mesoamericanists about the authorship of the unsigned Times and Seasons articles, particularly during 1842. They think Joseph Smith wrote them, or at least approved of them, from 1 March through 15 Nov 1842. I think Joseph wrote none of them, that they were written and/or edited by a combination of Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, and W.W. Phelps, and that Joseph ceded editorial duties in May or June 1842 to his brother William.

Hopefully we will continue to reach consensus on more and more points. I still hope to achieve the goal set forth in my masthead:

"Obviously, if one of the models answered all the questions presented by the scriptural text, there would be consensus on where the Book of Mormon history actually occurred." Roger Terry, Senior Associate Editor, BYU Studies.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

How BYU Destroyed Ancient (Mesoamerican) Book of Mormon Studies

William Hamblin, a well-known BYU Professor who is also a Mesoamerican proponent, published an article on his blog titled:

How BYU Destroyed Ancient Book of Mormon Studies

Hamblin's article about BYU's approach is well-written and well-reasoned, but I think he's missing the point.

IMO, BYU didn't destroy Ancient Book of Mormon studies; the Mesoamerican theory did.

Here's what a correct title to his article would be:

How BYU Destroyed Mesoamerican Book of Mormon Studies

I think BYU is right to discourage this line of research and writing. Articles promoting the Mesoamerican theory, published by FARMS and now the Interpreter, are not scholarly because they are not peer reviewed (outside the bias-confirming citation cartel).

John Sorenson's book, Mormon's Codex, sets forth criteria or filters for any proposed Book of Mormon setting that, ironically, exclude Mesoamerica.

Brant Gardner's book, Traditions of the Fathers, sets up a series of illusory correspondences that also show the Book of Mormon could not have taken place in Mesoamerica.

As Earl Wunderli demonstrated in An Imperfect Book, the Mesoamerican theory doesn't line up with the text. Re-interpreting the text to discern hidden "Mayan" features doesn't help, either.

Out of concern it might disappear, I'm going to reproduce Hamblin's piece here with my interlinear comments.

How BYU Destroyed Ancient Book of Mormon Studies

I maintain that numerous policies adopted by a wide range of BYU administrators over the past thirty years have had the effect—intended or unintended—of destroying ancient Book of Mormon studies as a fledgling discipline.  
[I agree with Hamblin about BYU's discouragement of what he calls "ancient Book of Mormon studies (ABMS for short), but I think that's a misnomer. Hamblin has long conflated ancient Book of Mormon studies with Mesoamerican Book of Mormon studies. When Hamblin uses the term ancient here, he means ancient Middle-Eastern and ancient Mesoamerican studies.  I don't see BYU discouraging work in the Middle-East. What I see is discouragement of the link to Mesoamerica. Hamblin has claimed he teaches his students the Mesoamerican theory. Maybe that's the source of the problems he outlines in this article.]  
Here’s how.
College and Department Politics.  Although many people might find it incredible, every single BYU administrator on every level of the administration has explicitly discouraged me from doing ancient Book of Mormon studies in my annual performance (“stewardship”) reviews. 
[I think Hamblin means Mesoamerican studies here. I'll indicate this throughout the article.] 
They have all explicitly told me to focus my research and publications on non-Book of Mormon topics, such as the crusades.  In part this was good advice on their part; they were telling me if you want to be successful at BYU, don’t publish on the Book of Mormon or publish with FARMS or later Interpreter.
[Again, this is smart on the part of BYU. Neither FARMS nor the Interpreter are peer reviewed (outside the citation cartel that seeks to defend the Mesoamerican theory against actual facts and rational argument). I'd be interested whether BYU has discouraged work on Middle-Eastern topics related to the Book of Mormon, though.]
 More broadly, you must publish outside the “BYU Bubble”—that is, BYU or LDS sponsored publications.  Only people hired to teach Mormon history should publish on Mormonism.  Only publications in non-LDS-related venues are viewed as legitimate scholarship.  Since non-LDS publications generally do not accept ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies as a legitimate discipline, this essentially means that no publication on ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies can be acceptable as authentic scholarship at BYU.
[Again, Hamblin is referring to Mesoamerican Book of Mormon studies. If such studies were legitimate, FARMS and now the Interpreter would welcome robust peer review and would publish alternative perspectives. FARMS never did, and the Interpreter doesn't now.]
This policy is also reflected in two other phenomena moving beyond mere verbal discouragement.  Over the past twenty-five years I submitted several research proposals to my college on Book of Mormon related topics; none was ever accepted.  
[A list of these would be helpful. I'd love to see what was proposed and rejected.]
This is in clear contrast to many of my non-Book of Mormon research proposals, many of which were accepted.  
[A list of these would be helpful, too.]
Merit pay raises, based largely on academic performance did not include ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon publications as authentic scholarship.  The policy was crystal clear.  When I published non-Book of Mormon related books or articles, I received merit pay raises.  When I published [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon-related books or articles, I received no merit pay raise.  
[Presumably these were in FARMS and/or the Interpreter, which explains everything.]
My promotion to full-professor a few years ago was rejected by my college dean precisely because my [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon publications were not viewed by him as legitimate scholarship.  I was informed explicitly by the dean that I needed more non-LDS-related publications to be promoted—despite the fact that I had two books and numerous non-LDS articles in my vita.  (The dean’s decision was overturned by the university.)  
So, my experience throughout my 25 years at BYU was that ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies were not considered an authentic discipline.  Publications in that [Mesoamerican] field were not legitimate scholarly work.  Such  [Mesoamerican] research was not supported by the college.   Publications in ancient  [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies did not contribute to either merit pay raises, nor promotion. Such policies not only obviously discourage young scholars from publishing in ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies, and even  overtly punish those who do so against BYU policy and the universal advice of administrators.  
Religious Education.  One would expect that the College of Religious education would be the natural home for intensive ancient Book of Mormon studies.  It is not.  
[Not for Mesoamerican studies, thankfully.]
First, as I’ll note below, the curriculum on the Book of Mormon at BYU is both superficial and extremely limited.  Second, many people teaching the Book of Mormon have no professional interest or training in ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies—or ancient scriptural studies of any sort.  Finally, Religious Education focuses on teaching what I call the “Three Ds”—doctrine, devotion, and daily application.  Those three approaches to the Book of Mormon are certainly important and legitimate.  But they do not provide the students much opportunity for intensive text-based academic [Mesoamerican] study of the Book of Mormon.  The whole academic culture of Religious Education is directed towards teaching the basic principles of the Gospel, which is fine, and indeed most important.  The problem is that they also actively prevent any classes being taught at an advanced level, and essentially discourage the serious academic study of the Book of Mormon as an ancient  [Mesoamerican]  text.  As far as I can tell, this restriction represents an intentional policy by the BYU Religious Education administration.  They don’t want the Book of Mormon studied contextually as an ancient [Mesoamerican] historical document.  They want it studied only as a theological and ethical document.  
BYU Curriculum and the Book of Mormon.  Currently, there are only two courses that BYU students can take on the Book of Mormon: REL A 121: The Book of Mormon (first half), and REL A 122 : The Book of Mormon (second half).  Both are introductory courses, and are only two hours long, making a total of only four hours. Even if a student wants to do more in depth study of the Book of Mormon, it is impossible to do so anywhere at BYU or in the church.  BYU classes on the Book of Mormon are perpetually stuck at the introductory level.  Furthermore, the new Book of Mormon class offered by BYU—Rel A 275 “Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon”—is now a single two hour class approaching the Book of Mormon thematically.  In other words, it’s a glorified Sunday School class.  It’s getting more superficial.     
[This is a legitimate concern, but the answer is not incorporating Mesoamerican studies. Plus, many if not most of these BYU students have been raised with the Tennis Shoes series that has already indoctrinated them in a Mesoamerican mindset--which is just as fictional as the Mesoamerican theory itself. Maybe the administration realizes the students need to focus on the text for once.]
What BYU actually needs is a robust curriculum in the Book of Mormon.  Most simply, BYU could offer in depth courses on each of the major books of the Book of Mormon, combining some of the smaller books into one.  
[I like this idea.]
Note that Religious Education offers a class on Isaiah, but no class on the book of Alma or Helaman or Nephi?  Why?  Beyond in depth classes on major books of the Book of Mormon, BYU should offer classes on Book of Mormon [Mesoamerican] geography, history, archaeology, linguistics, literature, theology, culture, language (ancient Near East and Maya), textual criticism, religion, law, warfare, apocalyptic, reception history, the Bible in the Book of Mormon, etc.  
[Every one of these disciplines could be a disaster if approached through the Mesoamerican lens, as Hamblin advocates. On the other hand, teaching students about what Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Joseph Smith said would be a tremendous benefit.]
BYU could, if the administration wanted, have a program in Book of Mormon studies, and offer two dozen different advanced courses on the Book of Mormon, certainly enough for a major.  But it doesn’t.  This cannot be an oversight or random chance.  This is obviously a conscious policy that implements curriculum decision which minimizes the opportunities of students to study the Book of Mormon as a serious academic discipline at BYU.  Which, for all practical purposes, means students can’t do ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies at all, anywhere.    
[Hamblin makes a good point. Maybe BYU will reconsider once he and other Mesoamericanists reject the Mesoamerican theory and apply serious academic discipline to their study.]
Graduate Studies and the Book of Mormon.  The only way that young LDS scholars can study the Book of Mormon in graduate school is to study it as a nineteenth century text in a secular religious studies program, or US history program.  There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with this.  But what this means is that one cannot do graduate work anywhere in the world in ancient Book of Mormon Studies.  Unremarkably, young scholars are not doing ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies.  Furthermore, no one teaching has at BYU has a PhD in ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon Studies.  BYU has completely failed in its mission to prepare young LDS scholars for ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies.  
BYU and the Destruction of FARMS.  I’ve written extensively on the debacle of BYU’s destruction of FARMS.  FARMS originated outside of BYU precisely because of the policies of BYU that I’ve outlined above, which prevented ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon scholarship from thriving at BYU.  Then, not satisfied with undermining ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies on their own campus, BYU administrators decided they should undermine it outside of campus as well.  Their goal in forcing FARMS to join was not because they wanted to support ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies.  Quite the contrary.  BYU wanted to gain control of land that FARMS owned, and be able to manipulate potential donations to FARMS.  BYU administrators made a number of promises to the FARMS board at the time of the hostile takeover—almost none of them have been fulfilled.  Furthermore, in the past three years, BYU administrators have completely transformed the direction of the Maxwell Institute from ancient [Mesoamerican] scriptural studies to modern Mormon Studies in its broadest sense.  As I’ve detailed in blogs over the past few years, BYU has taken what was once the most productive center of research and publications on ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies—which came into existence precisely because of the failure of BYU in this regard—and transformed it into Sunstone South.  
[The quasi-academic approach taken by FARMS and now the Interpreter in this area justifies everything BYU did, IMO.]
Conclusion.  I don’t know what the goals or motives of the BYU administrators have been over the past thirty years in relationship to the Book of Mormon.   
[That's a good point. Transparency would be welcome here, too.]
I suspect they haven’t actually considered the implications of their policy decisions at all.  
[In my experience, it is the Mesoamericanists who have not considered the implications of their theories; i.e., claiming two of the Three Witnesses were unreliable (and wrong), that Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and was speculating about where it took place, etc.]
Their focus is on other important aspects of running a university.  However, the law of unintended (and perhaps even some intended) consequences has resulted in a series of administrative policy decisions over the past thirty years all of which have combined to result in undermining serious ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies at BYU.  
Indeed, if their actual goal was to intentionally minimize the discipline of ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormons studies, they could have achieved that goal no better than by making precisely the decisions they have made.  
[To which I say, they should have been more explicit and come right out to repudiate the Mesoamerican theory. Maybe at some point they will. And not a moment too soon.]

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why Mesoamericanists obscure facts about Cumorah

The reason Mesoamericanists insist the Book of Mormon Cumorah cannot be in New York is because such a scenario defies their limited geography theory. IOW, New York is too far from Mesoamerica to fit the narrative in the text.

If Cumorah is in New York, then the Book of Mormon events could not have taken place in Mesoamerica.

It's really as simple as that.

Consequently, Mesoamericanists claim the name stuck to the New York hill as a misguided tradition started by early members of the Church.

Oliver Cowdery's letter VII repudiates that notion, as I've explained. This is why you don't see it mentioned, let alone quoted, in Mesoamericanist materials. 

Yesterday I showed how the Mesoamericanists obscure the facts by citing the Reeve/Cowan article which was never intended as an in-depth analysis of the origins of the name. Reeve/Cowan never mention Oliver Cowdery.

Today I'm showing how Brant Gardner avoids the Cowdery material, despite making a show of quoting numerous outside sources. The first section is from Gardner's book Translating the Book of Mormon, p. 129-131. My comments in red.

A Hill Becomes Cumorah

Although the Bible served as an important model for religious vocabulary and the construction of a religious story, the early Saints also had the Book of Mormon. Denigrated by other Christians, the Book of Mormon was foundational to the Mormon religion. It is therefore hardly surprising that the early Saints [who?] also turned to that book to find ways to tie their sacred experiences to the vocabulary and story of that book, thus creating an indelible association between a small glacial drumlin not far from Joseph Smith's home and the name of a Book of Mormon hill. We call both of them Cumorah.

The hill wasn't, and isn't, an imposing natural feature.
[This is a judgment call, of course. Cumorah is the highest hill in the area. From the top you can see all the way to Rochester, which is 20 miles away on the border of Lake Ontario. You have a 360 degree view of the surrounding terrain. It is in a strategic location between the finger lakes and Lake Ontario.]
Of course it could not have been Cumorah before the translation of the Book of Mormon; someone would have pointed out the "convenience"of that particular identification.
[So far as we know, the first person to hear the name other than Joseph and Oliver was David Whitmer, who heard it from a heavenly messenger who was carrying the plates to Cumorah from Harmony, PA.] 
Even almost a hundred years later, Orson F. Whitney would indicate: "In the summer of 1914, it fell to my lot to visit some of the scenes made memorable by the early experiences of the Latter-day Saints. One object of surpassing interest was the Hill Cumorah, called "Mormon Hill" by the inhabitants of the region in which it is situated--namely, wester New York state about midway between the towns of Palmyra and Manchester." (Orson F. Whitney, "Some Historical and Prophetic Phases of the Book of Mormon," 216)

Rex C. Reeve Jr. and Richard O. Cowan discuss the way it acquired its current name.

"At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. In his account in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name. In the Doctrine and Covenants the name “Cumorah” only appears one time, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah!” (D&C 128:20 ). No other uses of “Cumorah” have been found in any other of Joseph Smith’s personal writings. When this name does appear it has been added by later editors or is being quoted from another individual." 28
[I'm surprised and disappointed that Gardner uses this citation. Gardner is usually a careful, thoughtful and detailed scholar. In this case, he cites an article that did not focus on the origin of the name Cumorah and does not claim to provide a definitive or even comprehensive examination of the issue. Reeve/Cowan merely outline a few of the facts as part of the background to the main purpose of their article, which is to discuss the acquisition of the hill and the development of the pageant. No doubt Reeve/Cowan were aware of Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII and its multiple reprintings. I have to wonder if Gardner really doesn't know that history, or if he cites Reeve/Cowan to provide an illusion of research on the topic, knowing full well they don't address the major document regarding the Hill Cumorah in New York.]

Joseph's use of the term in 1842 is similar to his use of Urim and Thummim for the interpreters and the seer stones. Although he was in a perfect position to know a different name and to correct the Saints,
[exactly--but he didn't use a different name or correct them because they were right.]
what we see is that the Saints' communal interpretation of history also fed Joseph's vocabulary and therefore influenced descriptions of that history. Joseph not only allowed the communal creation of the Church's history; he embraced it.
[Gardner's premise here is that the early Saints were wrong. He has zero evidence of that. In what other areas would Joseph have embraced a false tradition? Joseph was all about fighting false traditions, not incorporating them into his personal history and the scriptures.]

The sacralization of the New York hill by association with Cumorah tapped into the miraculous nature of the discovery and translation of the plates. Nevertheless, the connection appears to have been made upon a misreading of the text.
[This is a stunning assumption. Joseph Smith and the early Saints read and re-read the text. There is zero evidence of anyone "misreading" the text regarding Cumorah. This is purely Gardner's wishful thinking.]
Mormon specifically says: "I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni" (Mormon 6:6, emphasis mine). Although the Book of Mormon specifically tells of plates being buried in the hill Cumorah, they were explicitly not the plates delivered to Joseph Smith.
[Surely Gardner realizes that Oliver and Joseph visited the New York hill on at least two occasions when they entered a room containing the other records. They were fully aware of Mormon 6:6, and they observed it first hand. The text never says where Moroni buried the final record; it certainly never says he did not bury the final record in Cumorah.]
Nevertheless, the association was made and became so entrenched in the Saints' understanding that it is difficult to separate the historical data from the communal story.
[Why would anyone want to separate the historical data from the communal story when the historical data is the basis for the communal story?]

(Note 28: Reeve and Cowan, "The Hill Called Cumorah," 73-74. The earlier possible connection between the New York hill and the Book of Mormon Cumorah comes from a David Whitmer interview: Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, "Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith," 772-73:

"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 and 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 around inquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again."

This report would be much more conclusive had it not been recorded nearly fifty years later.
[This may be true, but how conclusive does it need to be? Would Gardner have accepted it if we had a record from, say, 1842? That's the date Joseph recorded the version of his history that has been canonized. That's nearly 20 years after the First Vision. We have records of David Whitmer repeating this story 3 times late in life, but that doesn't mean he didn't relate it early in life. At most, Gardner can complain that we don't have records of an earlier statement by Whitmer, but that has no bearing on his veracity in 1878, when this interview was conducted.]
The passage of time and the accepted designation of "Cumorah" as the name of the New York hill by the time of the recollection argues against this second-hand report from Whitmer as being a definitive statement.)
[Gardner's spin here ignores the specificity of Whitmer's statement. Whitmer recalled several details because it was the very first time he heard the name Cumorah. Encountering a heavenly messenger who was carrying the plates to Cumorah is not the kind of mundane, everyday experience that one could conflate with other events. Read what Gardner says here again. He is calling Whitmer a liar, or at least an unreliable witness. 
Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote a book titled Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses. In it, he notes that Whitmer was visited in 1884 and 1886 by other interviewers. This is six and eight years additional years beyond the time when Gardner thinks Whitmer was not credible. One 1886 visitor, the RLDS president, wrote, "[O]ne thing is certain--no man could hear him make his affirmation, as he has to us in there, and doubt for one moment the honesty and sincerity of the man himself. He fully believes he saw and heard, just as he stated he did."
Anderson concludes, "Over a hundred detailed personal statements and interviews with them [the Three Witnesses] exist, about half of which come from David Whitmer. Like the others, the modest but intense Missouri businessman admirably passes the test of examining his person and his story. Impeccable in reputation, consistent in scores of recorded interviews, obviously sincere, and personally capable of detecting delusion--no witness is more compelling than David Whitmer."
Unless, that is, if you're a Mesoamericanist trying to deny the New York Cumorah is the Book of Mormon Cumorah.]


The next section is from Gardner's book Traditions of the Fathers, p. 375-6. I addressed this before, but revisit it again because it is so crucial to the Mesoamericanist argument.

The New York Cumorah

Not long after the Book of Mormon was published, the community of believers began using the name "Cumorah" for the hill from which Joseph had retrieved the plates.
[Actually, it was in June 1829, eight months before the Book of Mormon was published, that David Whitmer first heard the name "Cumorah" in connection with the New York hill. Joseph and Oliver were with him on that occasion.]
The New York hill wasn't, and isn't, an imposing natural feature. There is nothing about the New York hill that suggests an important defensive position, particularly for the numbers of defenders mentioned.
[This is a variation of what Gardner wrote in his previous book. One would think it is obvious that the highest hill in the area would be an important defensive position. The hill overlooks a mile-wide valley to the west, where Oliver says the final battles took place. The number of defenders is unclear from the text; in my view, the most likely interpretation is that the tens of thousands were killed along the way, leading to the final battles on the hill Cumorah.]
Although there is a strong tradition linking that hill with Cumorah, the tradition is stronger than any evidence for the correlation.
[I can't make sense of this sentence. The tradition, according to Gardner, is "indelible" and "entrenched." Evidence for the correlation, whatever that might be, could hardly be stronger than either of those terms. Among the evidence, though, is the physical location and size of the hill and the thousands of artifacts found in the vicinity over the years.]
As later as almost a hundred years after the publication of the Book of Mormon, Orson F. Whitney indicated that it had different local names.
[Here Gardner repeats the Whitney and Reeve/Cowan quotations, with the same footnote denigrating David Whitmer's testimony. However, he adds an additional note.]
Sidney B. Sperry, "Were There Two Cumorahs?" 268, suggests: "Now, if it is agreed that the Book of Mormon evidence points inevitably to a Ramah-Cumorah in Middle America, the question then arises as to how the hill in New York from which the Prophet Joseph Smith received the sacred Nephite records came to be called Cumorah. No details are afforded us as to either how or when the hill was so named. But certainly no adherent of the Middle-American view of Ramah-Cumorah would object to the suggestion that Moroni himself may have called the hill Cumorah in honor of the one in Middle America. He may even have told the prophet Joseph Smith about it but of this we have no proof."
[Gardner doesn't say whether he agrees with Sperry's theory. Sperry has Moroni deceiving Joseph, Oliver and David Whitmer. Joseph and Oliver had just translated the books of Mormon, Ether and Moroni when the messenger referred to the New York hill as Cumorah; David had never heard the term before. All three believed the New York hill to be the Book of Mormon Cumorah. Why Moroni would deceive them, Sperry does not explain.]
The sacralization of the New York hill by association with Cumorah tapped into the miraculous nature of the discovery and translation of the plates. It was an association that certainly occurred very early, but the source of the connection between the New York hill and the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is unknown.
[It's only unknown if one disbelieves David Whitmer.]
One might suppose that had Moroni identified the New York hill as Cumorah, Joseph would have used the term earlier than he did.
[Gardner is referring to D&C 128, but Joseph in fact had his scribes copy Oliver's Letter VII into his personal journal in 1836.]
Joseph's use of the term in 1842 is similar to his use of Urim and Thummim for the interpreters and seer stones. Although he was in a perfect position to know a different name and to correct the Saints, he didn't. However, that should not be seen as confirmation that the tradition was correct, but rather that the Saints' communal interpretation of history influenced Joseph's descriptions of that history. Joseph not only allowed the communal creation of the Church's history; he embraced it.
[I commented on this language above; Gardner essentially copied it from his first book.]
It is plausible that just as W. W. Phelps was the one to associate the interpreters with Urim and Thummim of the Bible, one of Joseph's companions made the association between the hill from which the plates were taken with the hill in which Mormon had hid the plates. While that is a plausible connection, it is based on a misreading of the text.
[Here Gardner makes the same argument that the early Saints misunderstood the Book of Mormon. I responded to that above. But he adds a new assertion that's worth assessing.]
On the basis of the only information we have in the text of the Book of Mormon, the hill from which Joseph retrieved the plates should never have been called Cumorah.
[Of course, nothing in the text would prevent Moroni from depositing the plates in the hill Cumorah; Moroni doesn't say where he buried them because they were buried; he would have had to dig them up again to write where they were buried, or at a minimum write where he intended to bury them just before he put them in the ground, assuming he had the ability to do so at that point.]
Nevertheless, the association was made and became so entrenched in the Saints' understanding that it is difficult to separate the historical data from the communal story.
The strength of the communal story was sufficient that Sidney B. Sperry originally argued for a single hill that bore the name Cumorah. However, he changed his mind after reviewing the evidence. He records: "The friendly controversy still goes on, the one camp holding that the only Cumorah in or out of the Book of Mormon is the traditional one in New York States, the other supporting the view that the Cumorah in New York has been named after the one in Middle America, but is not the one around which the last great battles of the Nephites and Lamanites took place. Now which of these two points of view is correct? It would be desirable if possible, to come to a unity in the matter. Truth should never be on the defensive, but sometimes it is hard to decide just where it is. Perhaps most people of the Church hold to the traditional view of Cumorah, and, indeed, I have defended that view in some of my writings. But in recent years we have again gone over the Book of Mormon evidence very carefully and are prepared to present what we feel are the elements of the strongest case that can be made for a Cumorah in Middle America."
[Gardner doesn't share what Sperry's evidence is, but at least in the quoted portion, Sperry ignores Oliver Cowdery.]
Countering the force of traditional association is the archaeological data for the hill and the surrounding lands. John E. Clark discusses the reasons that the New York hill could not have been the location of the final Nephite battle: "Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrow-heads. The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here. This is not the place of Mormon's last stand. We must look elsewhere for that hill." Clark has also noted, "The cultural worlds of ancient Mesoamerica and early New York are far enough apart that it ought to be simple to discover from which one the book came. The cultures described in the Book of Mormon fit much better in Mesoamerica than in New York for any century."
[Clark relies on a single 1950 book about the archaeology of New York, as I've previously noted. His statement defies the reports of people who live in the area, including Willard Bean, the missionary sent to live in Palmyra who acquired the hill after living in the area over 20 years. Plus, Clark creates a straw man argument; the text never says the Nephites settled or built on the hill. It was the scene of the final battle, not of a Nephite city. Clark's expectations are unrealistic, anyway. Even in England, when 10,000 people died in the well-documented Battle of Hastings, archaeologists have never found the remains.]
Nevertheless, we do understand that the plates from which Joseph translated the Book of Mormon came from the New York hill. HOw did they come to be there? Sorenson comments:
[Gardner cites Sorenson's assertion that Moroni hauled the plates several thousand miles northward from Mesoamerica. He doesn't mention the sword, breastplate, and other items. Nor does he address the room full of plates that Joseph and Oliver saw at least twice. Mesoamericanists explain that one away by claiming it was only a vision, repeated twice with some variation.]
How should we see Joseph Fielding Smith's firm declaration that the New York hill must be Cumorah? His opinion is unambiguous.
"The Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitively declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon. The fact that all of his associates from the beginning down have spoken of it as the identical hill where Mormon and Moroni hid the records must carry some weight. It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah, and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of this hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite manner is an established fact of history."
Although Joseph Fielding Smith was adamant in his opinion, the data upon which the opinion was based are not nearly as strong as his statement suggests. 30
[Gardner's footnote 30 here complains that JFS cited Zelph. Gardner claims the Zelph reference to Cumorah "is not an identification, but a reference of distance." That's his opinion, of course, but JFS and most readers would see this otherwise.]
Joseph did make the association between Cumorah and the New York hill, but only late and well after it had become an accepted designation.
[This argument is one of my favorite ironies. The "association" Gardner refers to here is in D&C 128, which was first published in the 1 Oct 1842 Times and Seasons--the same issue that contains the unsigned Zarahemla article! So Gardner discounts the letter Joseph signed and canonized as D&C 128 because he prefers the unsigned Zarahemla article that was never even mentioned again. Here we have Gardner dismissing JFS because he relies on D&C 128, which Gardner also dismisses as the product of a false tradition established by unknown persons on an unknown date.]
The weight of tradition certainly sees Cumorah in New York, but that tradition hangs on assumption rather than revelation or any firm evidence.
[This is another of my favorite ironies. Gardner is making an assumption that the tradition he opposes "hangs on assumption." In his view, it is not revelation when a heavenly messenger tells you something you didn't know; i.e., David Whitmer learning about Cumorah for the first time. Nor is David Whitmer's account "firm evidence."]
There is an assumption that Joseph knew Book of Mormon geography, knew where the Book of Mormon Cumorah was, and declared the Book of Mormon Cumorah to be in New York. Those are [not] three assumptions on which to base such as strong declaration, especially when the evidence does not support the thread on which the weight of tradition hangs.
[Gardner's offering a straw man argument again. As I've shown, none of those assumptions are part of the evidence; it is Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, two of the Three Witnesses, who provided the evidence about the New York hill being the Book of Mormon Cumorah. Of course, Joseph confirmed Oliver's evidence by incorporating it into his own journal.]
Archaeology and history declare a different story.
[They certainly do not.]
The New York hill cannot be the Cumorah described in the text.
[It not only can be, but the physical evidence makes it a prime candidate.]
What history does support is that Joseph came late to using Cumorah to identify the New York hill.
[Here, Gardner is again referring to 1842, ignoring Joseph's 1836 adoption of Cowdery's account.]
Rather than being able to use Joseph as the foundation of the naming tradition, it is easier, according to the evidence of history, to see Joseph as accepting the tradition.
[If "easier" is the criteria, then why do Mesoamericanists resist all the documentary evidence in the first place? If the truth is the criteria, then resisting all the documentary evidence is even less excusable.]

He would not have corrected it for the same reason he did not correct the use of “Urim and Thummim” when applied to the interpreters or seer stone. [p. 379]

[It's true that Joseph had a record of allowing people to believe whatever they wanted and not correcting false doctrine, preferring to let people judge for themselves. So that part of Gardner's argument is legitimate. But the implication that the use of the term "Urim and Thummim" needed to be corrected is without foundation. Joseph, like everyone else, used the term to refer to the Nephite translators or Interpreters, thinking it was a better description of their function. No need to correct the use of that term.]

There is also a useful comment from http://www.bookofmormongeography.org/lands/cumorah/rex-c-reeve-jr-and-richard-o-cowan/: