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.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fun with BMAF

Yesterday I attended the annual conference of BMAF (Basically Mesoamerican Archaeological Forum) and people wonder what I thought. (At the UVU conference, I had encouraged people to attend the BMAF conference to hear different points of view. There were several "Heartlanders" at the BMAF conference, but most stayed away, so here's my report.)

The presentations were good, and I really like the people in BMAF, so I'm glad the group is merging with Book of Mormon Central (although I'm not sure what that really means--I just hope it doesn't mean even more Mesoamericanism at BOMC.)

NOTE: For those new to the blog who don't know where I'm coming from, I'm serious about the people at BMAF--I really like them and think they do good work. In my opinion their premise is flawed because it's based on a mistake in Church history, but it's difficult for people to change their minds, so I'm offering my perspectives on some of their publications in this blog. I think they all realize I'm just having a little fun with the articles on their site, in a good natured way, as I seek to encourage them to take another look at the Book of Mormon text, at Oliver's Letter VII, and at the archaeology, geology, anthropology, etc. in North America.


I'm doing a more serious analysis over at http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/. Here I just want to point out that the conference was much more about Mesoamerica than the Book of Mormon, as we would expect from their mission statement (which focuses on finding Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon, not searching all the evidence for the actual setting for the Book of Mormon).

I'll miss BMAF as an organization, though. For one thing, it's fun to have a group so dedicated to a specific geographic theory that they 1) disregard contrary evidence (including what Joseph, Oliver and David said about the subject) and 2) offer their own translation of the text (tapirs, mountainous terrain, volcanoes, north doesn't mean north, etc.). To be fair, they don't all agree on these various translations, but BMAF refuses to publish anything that doesn't support the Mesoamerican setting (or that criticizes that setting). This means there are no BMAF-approved geographies that stick with Joseph's translation.

Fortunately, we still have the Interpreter and the Maxwell Institute and the old FARMS publications to have fun with. But actually, BMAF isn't really going away; I understand that BMAF is going to put all their material on the BOMC web page, where it can be enjoyed for years to come.

One other point. There were some fun criticisms of the "Heartland" model. One question asked how the Heartlanders can explain 3 Nephi when there aren't any volcanoes in the Midwestern U.S. I wanted to submit this question: "What verses in the text mention volcanoes?" I might have done it, too, except I suspect everyone other than hardcore Mesoamerican seers has the same question, and the answer is, none. Not a single verse in the text mentions volcanoes.

CES and BYU people keep reading "volcano" in the text, but you have to be specially trained in the (should I say ministry?) to see it there. Even apart from the absence of the term in the text's detailed accounts of the supposedly volcanic eruptions in 3 Nephi, does anyone seriously believe that people living in Mesoamerica for 1,000 years would never once mention volcanoes? (Some might say this is the mirror image of the "snow" argument against North America. I'll do a separate post on that.)

I posted on volcanoes recently, but to reiterate, here's why the Mesoamerican seers insist on volcanoes. The only way to explain the 3 Nephi destruction in a Mesoamerican setting is if there were volcanic eruptions. The only way to explain why Samuel the Lamanite and Mormon didn't simply write "volcanoes erupted" is... well, I have no idea. If they lived their whole lives in Mesoamerican, one would think the Book of Mormon authors would know the term for a big mountain that periodically erupts and kills people and destroys property. But it's not in the text, so the Mesoamerican seers supply the term that Samuel or Mormon (or Joseph Smith) overlooked, and then establish that as a requirement in the text, so they can say the North American setting doesn't work because there are no volcanoes there.

I realize how crazy that sounds, but that's their argument, and it came up several times during the BMAF conference.

More fun, one group had a poster and handouts about the spread of ancient maize labeled "Maize Map answer to Heart Lander Hoax (Ancient America Foundation)." To their credit, when I pointed out that "Hoax" wasn't exactly a collaborative (or even humorous) term, they whited it out (although you can still see the word under the white out). Of course, the poster had nothing to do with Book of Mormon geography, unless you want to believe Nephites lived in Buenos Aires, Lima, and El Paso, Texas. I know some of the people at AAF, and I like them, too. I chalk up this poster/handout to ignorance about the proposed North American setting for the Book of Mormon.

IOW, they need to read this blog.



  1. I don't see how "corn" (assuming the text is referring specifically to maize and not simply, consistent with the KJV Bible, as a catchall for basic cereal grains) helps or harms anyone's pet geography theory. Maize was cultivated in South America, Mesoamerica, and among the Hopewell in North America. Where it was originally cultivated doesn't strike me as particularly relevant -- The Book of Mormon doesn't claim that the Nephites invented corn; the grain isn't even mentioned until the account of Zeniff, around 400 years after Tribe Lehi's arrival in the Americas.

    Besides, I'm not sure corn was the main staple of the Nephite diet. Their entire monetary system, set forth in Alma 11, is based on measures of barley, not corn (see Alma 11:7, 15). Perhaps the better question may be, where was barley predominant in pre-Columbian America?

    1. Great point. Even the Meso guys recognize barley is found in North America, not Mesoamerica, during Book of Mormon times. Even when this evidence stares them in the face in their own publications, they keep hoping something will turn up in the Mesoamerican sites they insist are Nephite cities.

  2. I'm also not convinced by the "snow" argument. It's true that the Book of Mormon never mentions an actual snowfall. But we all recognize that rainfall is only mentioned twice in the entire Book of Mormon, right? And both times after extended periods without rain (Helaman 11; Ether 9). I'm confident it rained more than twice in the roughly 3,000 years of combined Jaredite/Lehite history, yet the only times it was mentioned is when its occurrence was unusual (due to the preceding dearths). As long as snowfall was common at regular seasons, why should we be surprised if the Book of Mormon treats snow the same way it appears to treat rain?

  3. Thank you for your report!! I am curious for more details of conversations with individuals there. :)

  4. While the word "volcano" isn't mentioned in the BofM, I thought the BMAF speaker made a pretty convincing argument from scientific facts that the conditions described in the text of 3 Nephi at the time of the Savior's death could ONLY be met by the combination of earthquake AND volcano eruptions. Since there have been no volcano eruptions in the Heartland areas since before the Jaredite time period, it raises some interesting questions.

    1. I agree the speaker did a good job. I've met him and discussed other topics with him, and I like him quite a bit. However, he misled the audience by claiming 3 Nephi events could only be caused by volcanic eruptions. That's only true for Mesoamerica. You have to be careful, whenever you hear Mesoamerican proponents speak (or read their writings). They see everything through Mesoamerican lenses and can't unsee Mesoamerica. I don't think they are trying to mislead people; they just can't help it because they are blind to alternatives.

      In this case, the speaker (and other Mesoamerican proponents) have invented the volcano explanation because it's the only way the 3 Nephi events could have happened in Central America. In North America, particularly along the Mississippi River, everything described in 3 Nephi is not only theoretically possible, it has been documented by people who wrote about it in the early 1800s. The geological record also corroborates these events further back in time.

      So on one hand, you have a theory based on volcanoes that the text never mentions, designed purely to justify a Mesoamerican setting.

      On the other hand, you have actual accounts of 3 Nephi-type events occurring along the Mississippi River, corroborated by the geological record, with no need for volcanoes.

      The Book of Mormon doesn't mention volcanoes because the Nephites didn't live among volcanoes.

      It's really as simple as that.