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.

Monday, February 29, 2016

More on Cumorah and fairmormon

I keep having people ask me to write more on this blog. Believe me, I have a ton of material. But I'm also aware that people get easily offended when their work is criticized, and I don't intend any offense to any person. My comments are directed purely at the material; as I've always said, I wish the Mesoamerican articles and books were anonymous so I didn't even know who wrote them. I'm unimpressed with lists of initials after names anyway, unless their expertise is apparent from what they write, in which case the content speaks for itself anyway. Too many people think a PhD entitles them to opine on whatever they want, without even the need to cite facts and make rational arguments.

It seems many people are too attached to what they write to look at it objectively and accept critique, criticism, or even peer review (for examples, read anything published by the Interpreter). No wonder Benjamin Winchester wrote so much unattributed material in the Times and Seasons; he, like many Mesoamericanists today, had pretty thin skin. I make changes in my books and other material as soon as people make me aware of errors, and I wish everyone did. (I'm also unimpressed with "black box" faux scholarship that publishes conclusions without disclosing underlying data and assumptions.)

That said, on a personal level I like the Mesoamerican proponents. They are good people and I think they've done some useful work. Given their objectives (which are limited to research and evidence of the Book of Mormon within a Mesoamerican context and finding Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon), their work is excellent.

There's one area that I will continue to write about, though: the Hill Cumorah. On my consensus blog, I posted a proposal that everyone agree on some historical facts. By everyone, I mean LDS historians, authors, artists, and proponents of Mesoamerica, Baja, Heartland USA, New York, Pennsylvania, Eritrea, Malaysia, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and wherever else people think the Book of Mormon took place.

For that matter, how can any group of people reach a consensus if they can't agree on well-documented, unchallenged, and really unequivocal historical facts?

If you encounter, correspond with, or read or hear the work of anyone who writes or speaks about Book of Mormon geography or historicity, ask whether they agree with the Cumorah facts I listed on the blog here. If they reject these facts or equivocate, then you know they're pursing an agenda, not the truth.

That sounds extreme, but facts are facts. If the facts I listed are inaccurate in any way, I'll immediately change, modify, or delete any errors.

What I'm most concerned about is people pretending to be experts but suppressing facts. Often this happens when well-meaning experts in one field make statements outside their area of expertise, which is why you should ask what they think about these Cumorah facts. People can interpret facts any way they want, but don't let anyone suppress or hide the facts.

As I wrote there, I bring this up because of authors and speakers, articles, books and web pages that, in my opinion, deceive readers by suppressing these facts. A case in point is fairmormon here. Anyone seeking information about Cumorah who goes to fairmormon will be outright deceived by the sophistry of the rhetoric there and the suppression of the facts of Church history. Fairmormon doesn't mention Oliver Cowdery or Letter VII, Joseph's inclusion of the letter in his journal, or the multiple reprintings of the letter. They do mention Joseph Fielding Smith, but instead of quoting his extensive analysis or even providing a link, they provide only a misleading summary and conclusion.

I've written about this before but fairmormon hasn't changed the page. That tells me they don't want members of the Church--or investigators--to know the truth. This casts doubt on everything else they publish. It's fine if they want to squeeze a Mesoamerican interpretation out of the facts, but they should trust their readers enough to make up their own minds, and I don't think anyone who reads the actual history will agree with the sophistry on display at fairmormon.

I'll write about the fairmormon comments on archaeology soon.
Maybe it's naive on my part, but I think there are fair-minded people at fairmormon who do seek to pursue the truth instead of promote an agenda. If they exist, and they're listening, they need to fix that page ASAP.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

BMAF Conference

People are wondering what I think about the BMAF conference on April 16, 2016. I say, if you're interested, you should go and see what these presentations have to offer. I plan to be there.

I know some of the presenters. They're great people, sincere, diligent, etc. I'm not going to prejudge their presentations. I also know some of the Board Members at BMAF. Again, great people, sincere, diligent, etc. I have no problem with anyone I've met who is involved with BMAF.

That said, you have to realize what this conference is. BMAF is not a scientific organization. It's a club for like-minded people. It exists purely to promote a specific theory: a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. Scientific organizations seek to answer questions with an open mind; BMAF already has the answer it wants.

Here's their self-description:

"The Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum is a 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."

Their Mayan temple logo says it all.

Any Book of Mormon archaeology, anthropology, geography or culture outside the Mesoamerican context doesn't belong at BMAF. By their own definition, if you accept a Book of Mormon setting outside of Mesoamerica, you can't participate on BMAF. It's that simple.

That's why they don't invite me to speak at their conferences. j/k

There's no reason to be upset at BMAF. Like-minded people organize clubs all the time. They have conventions. They reinforce one another's beliefs and have fun doing so. All fine and dandy.

If I had a quibble, it's that their organization's name is misleading. It implies a scientific orientation. It should be BMMAF: Book of Mormon Mesoamerican Archaeological Forum.

One of my favorite attributes of BMAF is their effort to imply official Church endorsement. Look at their "Advisory Board."

Elder Ted E. Brewerton, Emeritus General Authority
Elder Robert E. Wells, Emeritus General Authority
Elder Merrill C. Oaks, Former General Authority
Elder Clate W. Mask, Former General Authority

I've always been curious about this. Why not just list their names? Why list them as "Elder" and identify them as general authorities?

The answer is obvious.

So by all means, go to the BMAF conference. There are all kinds of interest groups that hold conferences that are fun to attend, even if you don't agree with the organization's premise. Think of it as a Star Trek Convention, or maybe one of these conventions. Have an open mind. Enjoy the event for what it is.

Just don't get the mistaken impression that BMAF is scientific or represents any kind of official Church position (or even the views of a majority of LDS).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Ensign, circa 1984

I've been informed that some of the Mesoamericanists are saying I'm not "happy" about a 32-year-old article published in the Ensign. Here's the link to that article. I'm wondering, why would I not be happy about that article?

First, as anyone who has read this blog should know by now, in 1984 I was all-in on Mesoamerica. This Ensign article was based on Sorenson's book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. I participated in a peer-review of an early manuscript of that book, well before it was published. When the articles came out in the Ensign, I shared them often; in fact, I loaned my copy of the Ensign containing this article to an investigator and never got it back.

Second, I kept an open mind even after accepting the Mesoamerican theory. I think anyone who approaches the issue with an effort to be scientific and objective must keep an open mind, but I know a lot of Mesoamericanists whose minds are locked shut. I like what Brother Sorenson wrote in the article:

The purpose of this article and the one to follow is to sketch a few vivid examples of changes in how some Latter-day Saint scholars view the Book of Mormon in the light of new theories and discoveries about the past. These articles are not intended to be an expression of official Church teachings, but on the basis of my own research and study, I have thought this new information to be worth consideration.

The key word there is change. Some LDS scholars changed their views based on evidence back in 1984. I hope some of them can do the same now.

Ironically, many Mesoamericanists cite this article as if it reflects official Church teachings because it was published in the Ensign. Their assertion flatly contradicts the article itself.

Third, I've always pointed out that I respect Brother Sorenson and his work. I have learned a lot from him, in person as well as in his books. That said, there is a fundamental error in his work, reflected in this quotation from the article:

there is presently known only one location in the Western Hemisphere that seems qualify as that scene.

I have pointed out in this blog and in my presentations that Brother Sorenson reached his conclusion because of a faulty premise that he (and his followers) have refused to re-examine. Given that premise, one would inevitably reach the conclusion that Brother Sorenson did; i.e., that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America somewhere. (When it gets into the details, Mesoamericanists can't agree on much--not even which river is the Sidon--but they still insist this is the only possible location.)

I think Brother Sorenson and his followers do wonderful work on Mesoamerican archaeology, anthropology, geology, etc. I enjoy reading their publications. I enjoy reading about ancient cultures everywhere in the world, but that doesn't mean I think all the "correspondences" between African or Cambodian or Japanese culture and the Book of Mormon are proof that the city of Zarahemla was located in those places, any more than I think the illusory correspondences between Mayan culture and the Book of Mormon mean Zarahemla was located in Mesoamerica.

It was apparent in 1984--and is even more apparent now--that Mesoamerican cultures have nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. It took me a while to realize (or admit) that, so I understand it takes a while for those who have been taught the Mesoamerican theory to think it through with an open mind. And yet, I'm confident that, eventually, the remaining Mesoamericanists will realize they've made a mistake.

So whoever thinks I'm not "happy" with the 1984 Ensign, just know I'm fine with it. In fact, it kind of reminds me of some mistakes printed in another Church publication back in 1842...

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Brief overview

There are a lot of new people coming to this blog so here's a brief overview of what we're doing here.

Most readers of the Book of Mormon naturally want to know where the events took place. Where in the New World did Lehi land? Where was Zarahemla? Where was Cumorah?

In recent decades, LDS scholars have claimed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America (Mesoamerica). Their work has infiltrated Church media, lesson manuals, and literature. The origin of the theory is a series of anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons, the Church newspaper in Nauvoo. I researched the origin of those articles and wrote a book called The Lost City of Zarahemla. Basically, the focus on Mesoamerica has been a huge mistake, based on a faulty premise, and this blog seeks to correct the mistake by encouraging LDS scholars and those who have accepted their theories to take another look at the issue.

For about a hundred years, the only certain Book of Mormon location was Cumorah; i.e., the hill Cumorah near Palmyra in New York was the same Cumorah where the Nephites (and Jaredites) had the final battles that destroyed their civilizations.

Then, in the 1930s, some scholars claimed Cumorah had to be in Mesoamerica (the so-called Two Cumorah theory). in 1936, Joseph Fielding Smith, who by then had been an Apostle for 26 years and Church Historian and Recorder for 15 years (he was Assistant Church Historian for 15 years before that), addressed the Two Cumorah theory in words that, sadly, are just as true today as they were then:

"This modernistic theory 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. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."

I wrote about Cumorah in my book Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah. In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery described the last battle and said it was a fact that the final battles took place there in New York. Joseph Smith had his scribes copy Cowdery's description into his own journal. Letter VII was republished several times before Joseph died in 1844. It was accepted doctrine, as Joseph Fielding Smith explained.

Nevertheless, many LDS scholars, including those affiliated with BYU, to this day reject Cowdery's Letter VII, along with the New York Cumorah. Right now, this semester, in 2016, BYU students are still being taught the Mesoamerican theory.

I find that appalling.

At the same time, I empathize with the scholars. They've published Mesoamerican material for decades. They've traveled to Mesoamerica, taken tours, and tried every which way to find "correspondences" between Nephite and Mayan culture. It's not easy to change one's views, especially when one's career has focused on a particular theory. For decades, I, too, accepted the Mesoamerican theory.

I'm a lawyer by profession, and I have degrees in business and economics, and I've been involved with science in my work as a lawyer, educator, and venture capitalist, so I'm pretty much an empiricist. I think truth is truth; i.e., spiritual truth is also manifest in the physical world. I wanted to test a hypothesis: If Cumorah is in New York, and Zarahemla is in Iowa (see D&C 125), does the text describe a North American setting with those two pins in the map? The result is my book, Moroni's America. I think the Book of Mormon text describes North America, with Lehi landing in Florida, the city of Nephi in Tennessee, the city of Zarahemla across from Nauvoo in Iowa, the land of Zarahemla extending through Illinois, Cumorah in New York, etc. It's all spelled out in the book and in various web pages.

This blog is not going through the geography point-by-point. In fact, I don't want the scholars to simply take my word for it. I want them to clear their minds of the Mesoamerican ideology and take a fresh look at the text. I want them to test the same hypothesis I did; i.e., that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were correct about Cumorah. If they do so, I think they'll reach the same conclusions I have about Book of Mormon geography.

Meanwhile, I hope LDS people everywhere will take the time to learn about these things because it is faith affirming to realize that Joseph and Oliver were 1) consistent and 2) accurate. The Book of Mormon did take place in North America, in the area currently known as Florida, Tennessee, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, etc.

[cross-posted at http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/ and http://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/]