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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Follow-up on post about LDS scholars

Thanks to everyone who made my post about LDS scholars so widely viewed. As a follow-up, I want to give a specific example, which I'll get to in a moment.

People ask me what I think about critics, of which there are plenty. I welcome criticism. And I really like and respect the LDS scholars who focus on these issues. I've never claimed to be "right" about any of this and I would engage much more in offline discussions if other people were willing (but they're not). On these blogs, in the books, and in upcoming venues, I'm just expressing my opinions and pointing out facts from Church history that, in my view, have been overlooked.

There is tremendous scholarly inertia to maintain the status quo regarding long-held assumptions about Church history, such as Joseph Smith's editorship of the Times and Seasons. There is also tremendous inertia to maintain the status quo regarding the depiction of Mesoamerican themes in Church media--and in the Book of Mormon itself, as I noted here..

(The other day I verified at the Distribution Center that all the foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon contain the Arnold Friberg paintings I blogged about recently. So, before they read a single verse in the text, Russian, Chinese, Thai, and Nigerian investigators are all being told that Samuel the Lamanite warned a city of Mayans, that Christ appeared among Mayan ruins, and that the waters of Mormon were located deep in a Mesoamerican jungle. And, if they get into it, the hill in New York is merely the place where Moroni buried the plates, but it's not really the Hill Cumorah. I have more posts about this topic scheduled for later in September. It's fundamentally unbelievable that this is still going on. If the investigators read the text, they soon find out there are no jungles, no huge mountains, not pyramids--not even a single stone building. It's not wonder they are confused by the two-Cumorah theory--as are most members of the Church at this point, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.)

There has also been a long-held aversion to Letter VII; the letter has been completely ignored by the scholarly community as far as I can tell.

I find that strange, particularly since it was ubiquitous when Joseph was alive and accepted by all of his associates for as long as they lived. It was implicit in everything written about the topic, including Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes. Really, there should be no confusion or even debate about the location of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

Of course, even with the pin in the map of Cumorah, there can be many different interpretations of the geography question, as Church leaders have pointed out. These can range from an area limited to the State of New York to an area as large as the western hemisphere, from Chile to northern Canada, and everything in between.

Actually, if we're proceeding on the premise, widely held by LDS scholars today, that Joseph Smith had no idea about Book of Mormon geography, then I don't know of a principled reason why we confine the possible geography to the Western Hemisphere. It might as well be in Eritrea or Sri Lanka if Joseph had no idea.

The widely quoted statement that Moroni told Joseph the plates contained a history of the "former inhabitants of this continent" comes from the 1838 history. By then, the "this continent" language had been widely used. LDS scholars who insist Joseph merely adopted Mormon folklore about Cumorah in New York must acknowledge he could have adopted that same folklore from Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps.

Besides, the earliest detailed version of what Moroni told Joseph was from Oliver's Letter IV, which has Moroni telling Joseph that the record "gave a history of the aborigines of this country," not "this continent." Plus, Moroni told Joseph that the record was "written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home. To say the least, that seems to contradict the idea that it was written 3,400 miles away somewhere in Southern Mexico and then deposited near Joseph's home.

BTW, it seems likely to me that while Moroni told Joseph "this country," Cowdery, Phelps, and Joseph himself said "this continent" because the terms were interchangeable and they realized the country was expanding. Arkansas and Michigan were added as states between the time of Moroni's visit and the 1838 history. Iowa became part of the Wisconsin Territory, etc. There has been endless debate about what a "continent" was. Some scholars even argue about what a "country" was. To me, it's improbable that Moroni was referring to Central and/or South America when he told Joseph that the record was a history of the aborigines of this country, but obviously others disagree.

As you know if you've been following this blog, I'm not writing about Letter VII here. I have a dedicated blog for that: http://www.lettervii.com/.

I think every member of the Church should read Letter VII. I hope they do, sooner or later. Certainly every missionary should read it. It's the best answer we have right now for investigators who want some sense that the Book of Mormon is an authentic history.

Now for the follow-up example. Some time ago, a charter member of the Council of Springville wrote a long, detailed critique of Moroni's America. I haven't had a chance to read it until today. He posted it on the BMAF site.* Normally I take a look at such criticisms to see if they have anything to offer. (My favorite one so far was titled "The Treason of the Geographers," a title I liked so well I borrowed it for a chapter in the Mesomania book.) Sometimes the critics make good points that I incorporate. Sometimes they give me ideas for new areas of research that generate lots of material.

But other times, they misrepresent what I've written and revisit long-held interpretations of the text that have become catechisms for some people. In those cases, I usually ignore the material in the interest of time (life is short) and in recognition of the futility of trying to open closed minds. This one was a perfect example. I figure people who seek confirmation of their biases will find it. If it wasn't for confirmation bias, the Interpreter wouldn't exist, for example. Nevertheless, I took the time to comment on the BMAF article.

Lately I've agreed not to name names, so I'm not going to do that here. Probably most of you don't care about the critics anyway. But for those who are interested, you can read my comments here.

*(BMAF is a "division" of Book of Mormon Central. BMAF nominally stands for Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, but it's really a club for Mesoamerican proponents, so I think of it as Basically Mesoamerican Archaeology Friends. It makes sense that it's a division of Book of Mormon Central; that web page is merely a front for Ancient America Foundation, another Mesoamerican club. So BMAF is equivalent to BOMC which is equivalent to AAF. It's all one big club for Mesoamerican proponents, except now they have a lot of money to promote their theory, which they do on a daily basis.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Error in Joseph Smith Papers

On my Letter VII blog, I noted that you can read Letter VII in the hard copy of Histories, Volume 1, published by the Joseph Smith Papers. Then I added this comment about that volume.

When you read this, you can see how pervasive the Mesoamerican theory has become.


Error in Joseph Smith Papers

Histories Volume 1 also contains what I consider one of the most serious errors in the Joseph Smith Papers. It's actually a disastrous error, in my opinion. I've blogged about it before.

On p. 519, the Historical Introduction to Orson Pratt's pamphlet titled A Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions includes this comment:

"In his description of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt superimposed his understanding of Book of Mormon geography onto the Western Hemisphere by placing the Nephites in South America and the Jaredites in North America. Pratt’s association of Book of Mormon peoples with the history of all of North and South America matched common understanding of early Latter-day Saints. Shortly thereafter, when John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan became available in Nauvoo in about 1842, JS greeted it enthusiastically and church members used it to map Book of Mormon sites in a Central American setting.6"

Note 6 says:

John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841); see also “Facts Are Stubborn Things,”Times and Seasons, 15 Sept. 1842, 3:921–922; “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 3:927–928; JS, Nauvoo, IL, to John Bernhisel, New York City, NY, 16 Nov. 1841, JS Collection, CHL; and Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, chaps. 4–5.  

Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
Smith, Joseph. Collection, 1827–1846. CHL. MS 155.
Givens, Terryl L. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Think about this a minute. 

Orson Pratt's pamphlet was important because, as the Joseph Smith Papers volume points out, it was a source for the Wentworth letter, including the Articles of Faith. I've done a side-by-side comparison so anyone can see how the Wentworth letter compares with Pratt's pamphlet. One of the most important comparisons involves Book of Mormon geography.

You can read the Wentworth letter in its original form here. Remember, you can't read the entire letter in the Church manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, because the curriculum committed edited out Joseph's comments about the geography question, which I'll mention below.

I'm going to repeat the comment and note and insert my comments in red.

"In his description of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt superimposed his understanding of Book of Mormon geography onto the Western Hemisphere by placing the Nephites in South America and the Jaredites in North America. [Pratt wrote several pages of comments on this topic, claiming among other things that Lehi "landed upon the western coast of South America" and that "in process of time, the Nephites began to build ships near the Isthmus of Darien, and launch them forth into the western ocean, in which great numbers sailed a great distance to the northward, and began to colonize North America." As the Joseph Smith Papers comments explain, Pratt's pamphlet was apparently a source for the Wentworth letter. But instead of copying or adapting Orson Pratt's imaginary account of Book of Mormon geography, Joseph Smith replaced it with the simple statement that "The principal nation of the second race fell in battle to wards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." These are the sentences that the Curriculum Committee edited out of the manual. People ask me why. Of course, I have no idea, but I infer that they didn't want teachers taking time to explain how that statement can be rationalized with a Mesoamerican setting. It obviously cannot be reconciled; the statement is consistent with D&C 28, 30 and 32, which also specifically identify the Lamanites as the Indians living in the United States. The significance of this is that Joseph corrected Orson Pratt, but none of the scholars seem to care about that. Actually, apathy would be an improvement over the Curriculum Committee editing it out, especially when Joseph made the point at the beginning of the Wentworth letter that "all  that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished,  and without misrepresentation." Joseph didn't need to be concerned about Mr. Wentworth; he should have been concerned about the Curriculum Committee.] 

Pratt’s association of Book of Mormon peoples with the history of all of North and South America matched common understanding of early Latter-day Saints. [That should read, "early Latter-day Saints besides Joseph Smith. There is not a single reference to a hemispheric model that can be directly linked to Joseph. In fact, everything that can be directly linked to Joseph refers exclusively to a North American setting. The only location that early Latter-day Saints--including Joseph Smith--agreed upon was that the Hill Cumorah was in New York. Compare that to the current situation, when those of us who support the New York setting are rejected and ridiculed by LDS scholars.] 

Shortly thereafter, when John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan became available in Nauvoo in about 1842, JS greeted it enthusiastically and church members used it to map Book of Mormon sites in a Central American setting.6" [This one is the most difficult to justify. Note 6 below gives the usual suspects as authority for the statement. The anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, as even Terryl Givens points out, cannot be directly tied to Joseph Smith. As I've proposed elsewhere, William Smith was the acting editor of the Times and Seasons when those articles were published, and Benjamin Winchester is by far the most likely author, with editorial input from William and/or W.W. Phelps. The note also cites the Bernhisel letter, which I've shown was almost certainly written by Wilford Woodruff, the only person we know of who actually read the Stephens books before these articles were published in the Times and Seasons. This concept that Joseph "enthusiastically" greeted the Stephens books flies in the face of the Wentworth letter, which as I just pointed out, deleted Orson Pratt's hemispheric model and reaffirmed the North American setting by specifying that Lehi's descendants were the Indians living in this country; i.e., the United States. The "enthusiastically" characterization is derived from a particular uncited paper, but I won't identify that paper here.]

Note 6 says:

John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841); see also “Facts Are Stubborn Things,”Times and Seasons, 15 Sept. 1842, 3:921–922 [an anonymous article]; “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 3:927–928 [an anonymous article]; JS, Nauvoo, IL, to John Bernhisel, New York City, NY, 16 Nov. 1841, JS Collection, CHL [Although the brief thank-you note was written on behalf of Joseph Smith, o one knows whose handwriting this letter is in. What we do know is Wilford Woodruff received the books from Dr. Bernhisel in New York, read them on his way to Nauvoo, and commented about them in his journal. He never mentions giving them to Joseph, but a few days after seeing Joseph for the first time, he mentions in his journal that he wrote a letter to Bernhisel. He had no reason to write to Bernhisel other than on behalf of Joseph Smith. Woodruff's letter is not extant--unless it's the one now attributed to Joseph. I go into much more detail about this in a chapter in one of my books]; and Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, chaps. 4–5.  [Givens is apparently a staunch supporter of the Mesoamerican theory. He wrote the Foreword to John Sorenson's book Mormon's Codex, the widely admired and most extensive book about the Mesoamerican setting to date. In By the Hand of Mormon, p. 100, Givens writes of the Stephens books, "This book [sic] was the major catalyst that moved Joseph Smith and others to consider Mesoamerica as the seat of Book of Mormon civilization." He also writes that the Book of Mormon "was not a history of the North American Indians then extant," completely contradicting what Joseph Smith told those Indians on multiple occasions (not to mention the Wentworth letter). Givens continues: "Joseph was quick to see how the Book of Mormon had arrived on the scene of this mystery [origins of Mayans as identified by Stephens] with impeccable timing. Responding immediately to the Stephens account, Joseph wrote back to Berhnisel, thanking him for the 'kind present' and ecstatically declaring that it 'corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon." To conclude from this brief thank-you note that Joseph was "ecstatic" about Meosamerica is a stretch, at best. Givens proceeds to discuss the anonymous Times and Seasons articles based on the traditional inference that Joseph was acting as editor and wrote or approved of these articles. As I've written before, these are not irrational inferences; they just aren't reasonable inferences in light of all the facts we have now. So as of the time the Joseph Smith Papers published Histories, Volume 1, this was probably the best anyone could do. It's only a question of whether the online material will be corrected, or at least more completely explained, and whether the books will eventually be corrected.]

Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
Smith, Joseph. Collection, 1827–1846. CHL. MS 155.
Givens, Terryl L. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

You can see this same comment and note in the online version here. Look under the Historical Introduction, third paragraph, including note 6.

Feel free to send in a comment to the Joseph Smith Papers. I already have, but I don't think they're listening to me.


How history is changed

For decades, people have relied on the History of the Church as the most authoritative source of Church history. Now, with the Joseph Smith Papers, we have better information.

This lets us see how history was changed to fit then-prevailing themes and ideas.

A good example is the Mesoamerican geography.

For example, people cite this one to me, from History of the Church, Volume 5, June 25, p. 44, online here.

Saturday, 25.- Transacted business with Brother Hunter, and Mr. Babbitt, and sat for a drawing of my profile to be placed on a lithograph of the map of the city of Nauvoo.

Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have succeeded in collecting in the interior of America a large amount of relics of the Nephites, or the ancient inhabitants of America treated of in the Book of Mormon, which relics have recently been landed in New York.

Here's the actual journal entry from the Joseph Smith Papers here. This was the contemporaneous writing:

Saturday 25 Transacted Business with Bro. [Edward] Hunter. Mr Babbit [Almon Babbitt]. & set for the  drawing of his profile. for Lithographing on city chart.

Yep, that's it. All the stuff about Stephens and Catherwood was added later, after Joseph's death. It was never in Joseph's Journal, but someone reading History of the Church would believe Joseph recorded this in his journal.

And then that person would send the passage to me to show that instead of a North American setting, Joseph explicitly connected the Book of Mormon with the Stephens book.

And so it continues. People really have no idea how pervasive and ingrained this Mesoamerican theory is. But we'll keep pointing these things out so you don't have to be confused by changes to Church history.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

A question about LDS scholars

For the reasons I mentioned in the last post, and because I can tell from the stats that a lot of people are still coming here, I'm going to continue posting to this blog. There are plenty more things to say and questions to answer.

For example, I get a lot of questions about what LDS scholars were thinking as they developed and promoted the Mesoamerican theory. I can't answer those questions because I don't know what they were thinking. All I have to go by is what they've published over the years. Besides, I can't speak for anyone else anyway. (I don't think any LDS scholars are reading this blog, but if they are, no offense is intended.)

Every LDS scholar I've met is a nice person, sincere, capable, wanting to do the right thing, etc. I infer from their writing that they have been trying to vindicate what they thought Joseph wrote in the Times and Seasons. But IMO they are in a difficult situation right now. Rather than be critical, we should be empathetic.

I speak from personal experience, having believed and taught the Mesoamerican theory for decades before changing my mind. It's not a simple, overnight process in most cases.

Consider this from your own experience.

If you've believed in a Central American setting for the Book of Mormon your entire life--and how could you not when Church media, LDS scholars, and most instructors tell you this over and over--you might find it difficult to change your mind and embrace the North American setting.

Many--I think most--members of the Church don't realize that the Mesoamerican setting is based on the two-Cumorah theory (Moroni's Cumorah in New York, Mormon's Cumorah somewhere in southern Mexico). Most members have never heard of the two-Cumorah theory and they find it confusing, strange, and unbelievable when they do learn that this is what most LDS scholars think. Just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

When you consider the North American setting, you might feel like you're rejecting something important, when in reality, the Church has no official position on the geography question. Soon you realize you are rejecting merely artists' concepts and academic theories that contradict early Church leaders anyway. You're rejecting the confusing two-Cumorah theory in favor of the unambiguous one-Cumorah in New York.

If it's difficult for you, imagine how difficult it is for those who have promoted these theories for so long. For a lifetime, in many cases.

It's the problem of cognitive dissonance. (A good definition is here.)

There are three situations that produce cognitive dissonance, which is the mental stress or discomfort people feel when:

1. They hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values;
2. Their actions contradict their beliefs, ideas, or values;
3. They are confronted with new information that contradicts their beliefs, ideas, or values.

It's the third one I'll focus on here.

LDS scholars who promote the Mesoamerican theory have created an identity for themselves based on that theory. (At the risk of overgeneralizing, I've listed some of the common claims we read in the publications at the end of this post.)

When information comes along that contradicts their theory, how can they respond?

They have two choices.

1. They can change their self-images and admit they were wrong about the geography.

2. They can interpret the new information to make it consistent with their theory and self-image, and reinterpret old information to make it fit.

So far, they have chosen option #2. This is completely understandable, of course. Expected, even.

To protect their self-images as experts in this field, they have been forced to create pretzel-like explanations of their reality. I've documented dozens of examples in this blog already. Consider the rationalizations for rejecting Letter VII, the imaginary interpretations of the text (seeing volcanoes and pyramids where none exist), and the efforts to preserve long-held traditions about Church history.

One of my philosophies is that eventually, the right thing happens. It will in this case, as well, even if it takes longer than we'd like.

I encourage people to read as much scholarly material as possible. Go ahead and read Book of Mormon Central, which is republishing all the old Mesoamerican material and repurposing it as KnoWhys. Or go to FairMormon, Maxwell Institute, etc. It becomes evident, very soon, how convoluted the rationalizations are.

But you have to prioritize, and if you have limited time, the single best discussion of Book of Mormon geography is the text itself, followed by Letter VII, which tells us exactly where the Hill Cumorah is. With that pin in the map, you can figure out the rest.

It's actually very simple and clear.

If you want my ideas on it, you can read my blogs and web pages, or my books on Moroni's America, either the full or the pocket edition. If you want to read more about Letter VII, you can read my little book on it. There are lots of resources on the Book of Mormon Evidence page, too.

Whatever you do, don't depend on what some scholar tells you to think.

Okay, now you're wondering why I created the blogs, web pages, and books if I'm not telling people what to think.

I don't believe in telling people what to think. Instead, my goal is to give people the information they need to think for themselves.

For example, I have a fairly detailed chart showing what people agree about and what they agree-to-disagree about, here.

The problem in the past has been that you can't find alternative perspectives in the works of LDS scholars. You can't find references to Letter VII, for example. (You can't even find it on lds.org). To their credit, Book of Mormon Central has at least published the first edition of my Letter VII book. As far as I know, it's the first and only reference to Oliver Cowdery's letter you can find on traditional LDS scholarly sites.

But you still won't find information about the North American setting, even on Book of Mormon Central. The information you do find in LDS scholarly publications is often wrong, such as the analysis of the Hill Cumorah in New York, and you never learn about the evidence that supports the North American setting.

But that is changing.

More and more people are talking about the North American setting, whether it is referred to as the Heartland, Moroni's America, This Land, or other terminology.

Someday, I think LDS scholars will come to accept the North American setting. But don't hold your breath, and in the meantime, learn as much as you can and decide for yourself.


Common claims of LDS scholars who write about Book of Mormon geography:

1. They are experts in their fields.
2. They think Joseph Smith didn't know much about Book of Mormon geography (some think he didn't know much about the Book of Mormon itself), and they think Oliver Cowdery knew even less (and was wrong about Cumorah in New York).
3. They think Joseph relied on scholars to figure out the geography.
4. They think they have figured out the geography by building on the RLDS concept of a limited geography in Central America and by developing a two-Cumorah theory that relegates the New York hill to a place where Moroni carried the plates and other artifacts 3400 miles from Mesoamerica.
5. They think their theory is supported by archaeology, geology, etc.
6. They think similarities between Mayan culture and their interpretation of Nephite culture constitute correspondences that support their theory.
7. They think the Book of Mormon is not translated correctly because it doesn't contain the Mesoamerican references it should; e.g., the named animals are substitutes for Central American species. Joseph's translation is evidence of what he translated, but not of what was actually on the plates.
8. They think the North American setting is not supported by the text, by the teachings of Joseph and Oliver, or by the archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.
9. They think evidence from Church history that supports the North American setting is unreliable, visionary, and false.

Changed circumstances

A while ago, I mentioned that I thought this blog (BookofMormonwars) had served its purpose and I'd be transitioning to other blogs. But circumstances have changed, so I'll continue posting here for a while.

[Trigger warning: I don't think any scholars are reading this blog, but if you are, I'm not trying to offend anyone here.]

What changed my mind was the council of Springville. For those who don't know what I'm referring to, this was a news item that appeared on Book of Mormon Central. I posted my observations here.

This idea that a collection of scholars--a conclave--can assemble to interpret the Book of Mormon alarms me more than I initially realized. I compared it to the council of Nicea because it seemed to have the same rationale; i.e., that scholars can determine what the scriptures mean.

Here is the opening line from the news item: "Book of Mormon Central convened a working group to consider the sense of meaning of a number of passages in the text whose interpretations have proven controversial."

That's not a bad objective, in theory. But the same can be said of the council of Nicea. It's what comes out of the conclave that matters most, but the idea of scholars interpreting the scriptures for everyone else is alarms me on its face.

The opening line also invokes the online magazine called The Interpreter. Those who follow my blogs know I don't think much of that magazine. Although they often publish some good independent material, the editorial board has a particular point of view that I find fundamentally antithetical to scholarship in the first place. But worse is the implication from the title: The Interpreter. Again, the title suggests that this group of scholars can interpret the scriptures for the rest of us. This has a very medieval sense to it, like we're supposed to read the scriptures through the eyes of these scholars.

I'm all in favor of scholarship, study, and discussion about the scriptures, Church history, and related topics. But only when it is an open exploration. When it is agenda driven, as the Council of Springville and the Interpreter are, I think it impedes the search for truth and does more harm than good.

My goal is to open the discussion, provide different perspectives, and resist the idea that any group of scholars can interpret the scriptures for others. I think each person should interpret the scriptures and not rely on what agenda-driven scholars tell them to think.

As always, feel free to disagree. I just thought my readers want do know where I'm coming from.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Illustrations in the Book of Mormon

On the consensus blog, I posted a comment about the importance of the illustrations in the official versions of the Book of Mormon. The impact of these illustrations cannot be understated.

They drive every reader's interpretation of the text.

Millions of investigators (and members) look at these illustrations. Far more people see these illustrations than ever read the Introduction, let alone the text itself.

Illustrations surely attract interest in the book, which is great, but we have to realize that first impressions are lasting impressions.

The current set of illustrations tell readers the Book of Mormon took place in a jungle with Mayan ruins. But when they read the text, it says nothing of the sort. No jungles. No massive stone pyramids. No Mayan culture.

The result: disappointment and confusion at best, disbelief at worst. 

As I suggest in the post, it would be very beneficial to re-think the illustrations and focus on what we do know about Book of Mormon geography; i.e., that Lehi left Jerusalem, that he traveled to the Arabian peninsula, and that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.

Suitable artwork already exists; indeed, it has been used in the official versions in the past, as I show in the post. It's an easy change that will make a big difference in how people receive and understand the text.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New Survey on Mesomania

I'm getting some great feedback on the poll about covers for the Mesomania book. In response, I've deleted one cover and substituted two questions about the subtitle and topics of interest. You can take the new poll here. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Mesomania2

As a reminder, Mesomania is a book that will be released next week. It looks at the phenomenon of the "Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica" industry, including its development by scholars who rejected Joseph Fielding Smith's advice and the proliferation of the theory through Church media and scholarly books and articles. We consider the psychology behind the focus on Mesoamerica, as well as the implications and ramifications of rejecting the New York Cumorah.

The tone is light-hearted, but still serious. The book is intended as an introduction to a more detailed book on the topic that will be out this fall. Mormon Mesomania will be the same size and length as Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah and Moroni's America: Pocket Edition.


On another blog, I've been discussing the important issue of how expectations are raised and interpretations of the Book of Mormon are imprinted on the minds of members of the Church. You can read that here.

There's a wonderful guest post at the Letter VII blog, too. Check it out here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mesomania book-poll on cover

My next book, Mormon Mesomania, will be released soon. We're seeking additional input on the cover via an online poll.

Mesomania looks at the phenomenon of the "Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica" industry, including its development by scholars who rejected Joseph Fielding Smith's advice and the proliferation of the theory through Church media and scholarly books and articles. We consider the psychology behind the focus on Mesoamerica, as well as the implications and ramifications of rejecting the New York Cumorah.

The tone is light-hearted, but still serious. The book is intended as an introduction to a more detailed book on the topic that will be out this fall. Mormon Mesomania will be the same size and length as Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah and Moroni's America: Pocket Edition.

Here are the covers we are testing in the poll. You can go to the poll here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

All nations, kindreds, tongues and people

The other day I read a blog post that claimed Mesoamerica had to be the setting for the Book of Mormon because "an ideal location would be in the New World for the blood of Israel and Christ's influence to spread over much of the earth in ancient times."

Of course, the text says nothing of the sort. For the Nephties, it was a big deal just to have a few missionaries go to the Lamanites. Nothing is ever mentioned about going to "much of the earth."

The rationale in the blog was that in the Old World, Israel was the crossroad of civilizations so the Gospel could spread from that point. "The formulaic phrase 'all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people' occurs 16 times in the text exclusive of the testimonies of the witnesses and Moroni's instructions to the prophet Joseph. The Book of Mormon writers cared about wide dissemination. In pre-Colombian times Mesoamerica was the crossroads of the western hemisphere."

However, it's an inapt comparison. To the extent the Book of Mormon writers "cared about wide dissemination," it was in reference to the latter days when the gospel would be restored and Israel gathered.

I've listed these references below so you can see they were primarily in relation to the last days, not the ancient days, and they are being fulfilled in our day, as prophesied, primarily from the promised land where Nephi lived and wrote these prophesies; i.e., the United States of America. The exceptions, noted below, had nothing to do with the Nephites taking the gospel to all the world.

Think about this carefully. The Book of Mormon writers did care about taking the gospel to all nations, kindreds, tongues and people--but they knew it was not going to happen in their day. Instead, they saw it happening in the future, after the gospel would be restored.

Where was the gospel restored? In the United States.

From where is the gospel being taken to all nations, kindreds, tongues and people? From the United States.

No one can seriously claim that Mesoamerica is sending the gospel to all the world. As wonderful as the missionaries from that area are, they are relatively few in number and mostly supported by the Saints in the United States anyway.

Another assertion in the blog post is the idea that the "blood of Israel" was spread out from Mesoamerica or Central America. We all know that the indigenous people in Mesoamerica, according to the DNA, are Asians. The only recognizable "blood of Israel" in the ancient Americas, according to DNA, was among the indigenous people in North America, primarily around the Great Lakes and New York area. While I agree we cannot prove or disprove the Book of Mormon by DNA, there is no evidence to support the claim that the "blood of Israel" was ever found in Mesoamerica. To claim it spread out from there is, well, you figure it out. To the extent the "blood of Israel" exists at all in ancient Mesoamerica, it would have been brought back after the Mayans returned to Mesoamerica following their migration northward after Mayan civilizations collapsed around 800 A.D. If I understand correctly, the Central American theory claims that Lehi landed in the midst of Mayan civilization (never mentioned in the text), that the Nephites were completely absorbed into the larger culture (also never mentioned in the text) so that their "blood of Israel" was diluted to the point where it is no longer detectable. That's not an irrational explanation; in fact, it's the only explanation that can be made if one believes in the Central American setting.

Back to the text. From the Book of Mormon, we have a string of prophecies about the gospel being taken to the world in the latter day:

1 Nephi 5:18
18 That these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed.

1 Nephi 11:36
36 And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

1 Nephi 14:11
11 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the whore of all the earth, and she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.

1 Nephi 19:17
17 Yea, and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord, saith the prophet; every nation, kindred, tongue and people shall be blessed.

1 Nephi 22:28
28 But, behold, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent.

2 Nephi 26:13
13 And that he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith.

2 Nephi 30:8
8 And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall commence his work among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, to bring about the restoration of his people upon the earth.

Mosiah 16:1
1 And now, it came to pass that after Abinadi had spoken these words he stretched forth his hand and said: The time shall come when all shall see the salvation of the Lord; when every nation, kindred, tongue, and people shall see eye to eye and shall confess before God that his judgments are just.

Mosiah 27:25
25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; [this refers to the universal nature of the gospel, not missionary work]

Alma 9:20
20 Yea, after having been such a highly favored people of the Lord; yea, after having been favored above every other nation, kindred, tongue, or people; after having had all things made known unto them, according to their desires, and their faith, and prayers, of that which has been, and which is, and which is to come; [this refers to how the Nephites were blessed above every other nation and has nothing to do with missionary work]

3 Nephi 26:4
4 And even unto the great and last day, when all people, and all kindreds, and all nations and tongues shall stand before God, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

3 Nephi 28:29
29 And it shall come to pass, when the Lord seeth fit in his wisdom that they shall minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, and shall bring out of them unto Jesus many souls, that their desire may be fulfilled, and also because of the convincing power of God which is in them.

The other scriptures also use the phrase in this context about the latter days:

Doctrine and Covenants 10:51
51 Yea, that it might be free unto all of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue, or people they may be.
[This one is critical. The Lord tells Joseph that the Book of Mormon was the fulfillment of the promise to the prophets and disciples who prayed that the gospel would come unto their brethren the Lamanites in the future. "Now, this is not all--their faith in their prayers was that this gospel should be made known also, if it were possible that other nations should possess this land; and thus they did leave a blessing upon this land in their prayers, that whosoever should believe in this gospel in this land might have eternal life; yeah, that it might be free unto all of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue or people they may be." This revelation was given in Harmony, Pennsylvania, not Quirigua or Tikal. Other nations have possessed the land Nephi referred to, including the Indian nations, the British, the French, the Spanish, and eventually the United States. No land in all the world is a melting pot like the United States. As the revelation describes it, "this land" was to be "free" unto "whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue or people they may be."]

Doctrine and Covenants 42:58
58 And I give unto you a commandment that then ye shall teach them unto all men; for they shall be taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.

Doctrine and Covenants 112:1
1 Verily thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Thomas: I have heard thy prayers; and thine alms have come up as a memorial before me, in behalf of those, thy brethren, who were chosen to bear testimony of my name and to send it abroad among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, and ordained through the instrumentality of my servants.

Revelation 7:9
9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;

Revelation 13:7
7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.

The testimonies of Joseph Smith and the witnesses verify the realization of the prophecies in the latter days. The gospel was restored in the United States and from there it is being taken to all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.

Joseph Smith—History 1:33
33 He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.

The Testimony of Eight Witnesses
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many ...

The Testimony of Three Witnesses
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of ...

When we read the text, we can read it through any of several filters, but ideally we would read it without a particular lens over our eyes and minds. 

Expectations and another new blog

I've started another new blog: http://bookofmormonheartland.blogspot.com/. Eventually I'll have a similar one for all the various theories.

In connection with that, I've organized the agree/agree-to-disagree chart by topic, here. It's more useful this way because we can all see where the specific issues remain. I hope this helps people make their decisions on what to believe about Book of Mormon geography and historicity. Obviously there is much more detail on each topic--this is merely an overview. But I welcome suggestions, corrections, clarifications, etc.

On a separate topic, I posted some comments on expectations, psychology and the Book of Mormon geography issues. Check it out. I've touched on it before, but I think this helps explain many of the ongoing problems.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why Central America?

If you ask a proponent of Book of Mormon Central America (Mesoamerica) why he/she is looking in Central America, you probably won't get a straight answer. In this post, I'm explaining my understanding, based on what I've read and heard. I want to be accurate and fair.

A short (and correct) answer for why people look in Central America is because of the long-held belief that Joseph Smith wrote the articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons that linked the Book of Mormon to Central America, even flat-out claiming that Zarahemla was Quigua, Guatemala. Some scholars have hedged on that, claiming instead that Joseph, as the acting editor, merely approved the articles. Others have sought to prove Joseph wrote the articles.

It's a reasonable assumption, so I can see why people have stuck with it for all these decades. However, I think most historians agree that recently uncovered historical evidence about those articles, points to Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, and W.W. Phelps as authors/editors of those articles. Joseph didn't know about them until after they were published in the newspaper.

To their credit, some Mesoamerican advocates are saying those articles have nothing to do with the Mesoamerican theory. This is a welcome change. Anyone can read the seminal books and articles citing those articles and observe the ongoing presentations by Mesoamerican scholars claiming Joseph wrote the articles, but presumably that rationale is fading into oblivion.

So let's set aside the Times and Seasons articles. Why else would any Latter-day Saint look to Central America to find the setting for the Book of Mormon?

One obvious answer is the same one that motivated Winchester, et al, to write the articles in the Times and Seasons; i.e., to answer anti-Mormon arguments. In the early days, anti-Mormons claimed Joseph copied the Book of Mormon from View of the Hebrews or the Spaulding manuscript. Moving the setting of the Book of Mormon to a limited geography in Mesoamerica refuted those allegations.

Again, this is a reasonable response to the critics. It may be a major, but largely unstated, motivation still today. But since it's unstated, I can't address it here.

What other reasons are there?

As near as I can tell, the limited geography Central American theory originated with RLDS scholars in the 1920s. Eventually LDS scholars embraced it. The rationale had to do with assumptions about distances and culture.

Tomorrow I've scheduled a post about expectations based on the text, but for now, let's look at a typical rationale for Central America. This one is from fairmormon and it is a fair summary, no pun intended. I think it makes sense if you accept the underlying rationale. It's as good an explanation as I've found, and I have no problem with people believing this. It's definitely one way to view the world.


Why Mesoamerica?
Following are some of the geographic criteria from the Book of Mormon text and how those criteria are met by Mesoamerica:

• Mapping the internal geography of the Book of Mormon requires that the land be hourglass shaped.

• Writings. Mesoamerica is the only place that appears to have had a sophisticated writing system during Book of Mormon times.

• Advanced cities and fortifications. Archaeology confirms such cities in Mesoamerica in Book of Mormon times.

• Rivers must be the right size and in the right portions of the land (we find such correlation in Mesoamerica).

• The Book of Mormon suggests a temperate climate (for growing such things as “wheat” and “barley”) and never mentions snow or cold in a New World setting.

• Both Book of Mormon cultures and Mesoamerican cultures had developed agriculture and commerce.

• Volcanic activity and earthquake zones.

At first glance there appears to be a problem with Book of Mormon directions and the layout of Mesoamerica. Whereas the Nephites generally used terms such as “northward” and “southward,” the hourglass shape of Mesoamerica runs northwest and southeast. How could an intelligent people like
the Nephites get cardinal directions wrong?

In both Mayan and Hebrew, north means on “the left hand” and south means “on the right.” Studies indicate that some people in Mesoamerica called the Pacific Ocean the “west sea” and the Gulf Coast the “east sea,” just as done in the Book of Mormon. Even some European conquerors used directions
similar to those used in the Book of Mormon when they wrote about their travels in Mesoamerica.
Systems for labeling directions in ancient times varied by thousands of different schemes and were generally arbitrary systems designed by individual groups to deal with their unique geographical and linguistic situations.

To put it simply, the directional systems of some ancient cultures were not based on the same cultural principals as ours. Thus, a Mesoamerican geography for the Book of Mormon is not problematic when considering cardinal directions.

If anyone has a better explanation for why people are looking in Mesoamerica, I'd love to know about it so I could add it here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Illusion of neutrality and polarized light

One of the most effective tools of persuasion is to start by claiming neutrality and then, by a process of research, objective analysis, and dialog, reach a conclusion that was the same conclusion you started out with before you claimed neutrality.

The major media in the United States have done a nice job with this over the years.

We're seeing this at play right now regarding Book of Mormon geography issues.

One way to tell whether neutrality is real or an illusion is to look at the participants.

A code of ethics for journalists includes the principle that journalists should "Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant." However, time and space are limited, so not every aspect of every view can be represented. Journalism involves editorial choices; complete and pure objectivity is probably impossible. But neutrality is still a goal.

What happens in reality?

Reporters, editors, and staff are influenced by their personal views. Those who disagree with those views would call it bias; those who agree with those views would call it seeking truth. And from their different perspectives, both sides are right.

In the major media, for example, the vast majority of the reporters, editors, and staff are liberal in their views. Most are Democrats, or at least contribute to Democrat candidates. They see the world through Democrat/liberal/progressive lenses. The lenses filter every news story; information enters their brains through that filter, and they report and edit accordingly.

Years ago I worked in the entertainment industry. One of our projects was 3D movies and technology, which involved polarizing light. If you go to a 3D movie and wear the glasses, each eye sees a different image because projectors are projecting images through polarized lenses. The images on the screen are polarized, so they reflect polarized light back to the audience. (Special screens are required to retain the polarization.) Only lenses with the correct polarization can see the polarized light.

One eye literally can't see what the other eye sees because of the lenses.

If you replaced the right eye lens on your pair of glasses with the lens off the left eye of another pair of glasses, both of your eyes would see the same image. It would be flat, like an ordinary movie.

If you take off the glasses, you'll see two images on the screen. Without the filters, you see clearly, but because two images are projected, it looks like you're seeing double.

What happens to reporters and polarized light also happens to scholars. Since we're discussing Central America, consider the case of the Book of Mormon Central web page. At first glance, you might think it is a page dedicated to Book of Mormon scholarship of all kinds. You might think it is dedicated to the journalistic principle of supporting the open and civil exchange of views. But if you look closer, you'll see that the web page is pre-filtered.

Everyone involved with Book of Mormon Central espouses the Mesoamerican geography. This is good news for Mesoamerican supporters; you don't have to worry about Book of Mormon Central. You can read the KnoWhys and the archive items with no problem.

Those who support an alternative geography can still benefit from Book of Mormon Central because there is a lot of good material there that doesn't involve geography. Besides, you already expect the information about geography to be filtered the same way most of the material published by LDS scholars on that topic is filtered.

True, when you're not wearing a Mesoamerican filter, the images are confusing, just like looking at a 3D movie screen without filtered glasses. Maybe it was because he was not wearing this filter that Joseph Fielding Smith said the two-Cumorah theory was causing members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith of the Book of Mormon.

The point to remember is that neutrality is in the eye of the beholder--in this case, literally--because we all see things through lenses. Fortunately, when we're aware of the lenses, we can take them off and see more clearly. We can switch lenses, maybe borrow some from someone else so we can see what they're seeing. If we switch lenses often enough, and take them off altogether sometimes, maybe we can move toward the journalistic ideal of supporting the open and civil exchange of views, even on a web page as deeply dedicated to one point of view as Book of Mormon Central is.

The principle of choice and the new blog

One of the biggest requests I get regarding Book of Mormon geography is to clarify the issues. I started that by listing areas in which people (both scholars and nonscholars) agree, and areas in which they can agree to disagree. That list is here, and I will edit it as I get feedback and comments. I want to be as accurate and specific as possible.

As part of that effort, here's the new blog I mentioned last week:

Eventually I'll have one for each of the theories: bookofmormonchile, bookofmormonbaja, bookofmormonheartland, etc.

I'm starting with Central America because it's the one that has received the most attention, by far. I plan to cut through the clutter and discuss the essence of each theory.

Every theory comes with assumptions, interpretations, implications and consequences. Often these are obscure. In some cases, I suspect they are not completely thought out.

The agree/agree-to-disagree chart is a start. The goal is a more comprehensive analysis, in which the assumptions, interpretations, implications and consequences of each theory are set out so everyone can make an informed decision.

There is no right or wrong here; people can believe whatever they want. It's a question of trade-offs and priorities. 

Some people consider this process contentious, and sometimes it can appear that way, but really, this discussion is a presentation of alternatives. The Book of Mormon teaches the importance of choice, and choice requires alternatives: "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things."

Furthermore, no one should feel compelled or obligated to defer to anyone else's view. Some people might consider this question to be one the scholars should solve, but I disagree. Certainly, one does not need to be a scholar to understand the choices if they are presented clearly. "Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other."

In fact, the more I've thought about this, the more I realize the goal of reaching a consensus may have been a mistake. That goal carries the implication that a group of interested people could reach an agreement that others should follow.

Instead, this process seems designed to enable each individual to make his/her own choice. The key is that the choice be fully informed.

Looking back, that's what I've tried to do on this blog; i.e., examine what has been written on the topic and discuss areas that have not been fully disclosed or analyzed. The discussion of the Hill Cumorah is a prime example.

With these principles in mind, we can all respect one another's choices with no contention or argument. I want to understand fully what others believe and why. If I ever misstate an aspect of a theory, I hope someone lets me know so I can correct it.

Of course, this process bears the risk of people making their choices without considering all the information; i.e., people might make choices based on tradition, emotion, personal relationships, deference to others, etc. But that's true of all the choices we make. We are each responsible for the amount of thought and effort we put into our choices.

This isn't to say everyone needs to become an expert on the topic. But understanding the geography, in my opinion, is important for understanding the purposes of the Book of Mormon and how it can be used in our day to fulfill those purposes.

Another important point: I don't care if anyone agrees with me or not. I do think that a full examination of the assumptions, interpretations, implications and consequences of each theory leads to a conclusion, which I have spelled out in Moroni's America, but certainly that's not the last word, and I'm continually adjusting my thinking as more evidence comes forth and I get more feedback.

I hope that by clarifying these issues, people who want to make informed choices can do so. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pick your logo - Book of Mormon Central

Logos can tell a lot about an organization's objectives and purpose.

One example is Book of Mormon Central, a web page that purports to be neutral regarding Book of Mormon geography. Its logos (and content) tell another story.

https://bookofmormoncentral.org/ is the web page of a nonprofit named Ancient America Foundation, which was chartered in Utah in 1983. To the right is its logo.

It's a Mayan pyramid, of course. That's because Ancient America Foundation is 100% focused on Mesoamerica.

The history of AAF is spelled out here. [In case they delete/modify it, I posted it at the end of this post.]

You can see it consists exclusively of Mesoamerican proponents (although some of the early people had a more hemispheric concept at times).

Next, let's look at a "division" of Book of Mormon Central. It's called Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum. It, too, is exclusively focused on Mesoamerica.

Check out these logos.

At least this one has one thing actually mentioned in the text of the Book of Mormon: it has a depiction of metal plates. But you can read the text as many times as you want and you won't find any mention of pyramids, or buildings made of stone.

BMAF recently updated logo to show how BMAF is a "division" of Book of Mormon Central. They are so closely linked that they share content. They certainly share ideology.

Next we have the logo for Book of Mormon Central itself. This is basically the old FARMS logo, showing Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, and Mayan glyphs or characters. No ambiguity there.

You can look at the other "affiliates" of Book of Mormon Central and see that they are all unabashedly focused on Mesoamerica.

These logos tell us that Book of Mormon Central and its affiliates have these other things they have in common:

1. the two-Cumorah theory (meaning, they insist the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico somewhere).

2. They reject Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII.

3. They think the storehouse of records that Joseph, Oliver and others visited on multiple occasions was actually in Mexico, and that Joseph and Oliver merely saw it in vision.

4. They think Joseph didn't know much about the Book of Mormon, that he speculated about where the Nephites lived, and that he relied on scholarship to solve the question.

5. They think the entire Western Hemisphere is the land of promise and the nation that Nephi prophesied would be the site of the Restoration, etc.

Just to be clear, this is all fine. People can believe whatever they want, of course, and I have no problem with that.

Let's just be clear that, far from being neutral about the geography issue, Book of Mormon Central promotes the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography.

The Council of Springville

Last week, Book of Mormon Central announced a news item:

"Book of Mormon Scholars Meet to discuss Controversial Passages." The link went to a page titled "Textual Progress." The first line: "Book of Mormon Central convened a working group to consider the sense of meaning of a number of passages in the text whose interpretations have proven controversial." This is really great news for Mesoamerican supporters.

Mesoamerican supporters will be relieved to know the Mesoamerican scholars still agree with the Mesoamerican theory. Which is perfectly fine with me.

The first thing I thought of was a council that convened in
the year 325 for a similar purpose. The emperor Constantine 1 convened the first ecumenical council of the Christian church in ancient Nicaea. One summary of the council describes it this way:

"This first ecumenical council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom, although previous councils, including the first Church council, the Council of Jerusalem, had met before to settle matters of dispute. It was presided over by Hosius, bishop of Corduba who was in communion with the Pope.

"Its main accomplishments were settlement of the Christological issue of the nature of the Son of God and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first part of the Creed of Nicaea, establishing uniform observance of the date of Easter, and promulgation of early canon law."

Another perhaps cynical source points out that "Constantine was more interested in unity than in getting the correct doctrine of the trinity."

I'm calling this latest effort the Council of Springville. The conclave (their term) represented one faction of Book of Mormon geography proponents who support the limited geography Mesoamerican theory, and convened to attain consensus about how to interpret certain Book of Mormon geography passages.

Lest anyone jump to the conclusion I'm being critical, I'm not. Each of the scholars who participated in this latest conclave is a perfectly respectable, serious scholar. There is nothing wrong with the idea of a scholarly working group convened to interpret the scriptures. A lot of people admire the Nicene Council, too. After all, it produced one of the most influential documents in Christianity. Prominent LDS scholars have produced the most influential theory of Book of Mormon geography as well.


Those who support the Mesoamerican theory will appreciate that the scholars concluded that "The notion that River Sidon flows from north to south is not supported in the text. River Sidon flows from south to north just as Book of Mormon scholars have been saying since the 1800s." This is an excellent example of how to confirm one's biases. Again, not being critical. Just observing that if you take a group of scholars who already agree with a given proposition, and ask if they still agree with that proposition, the likelihood that they will affirm their previous beliefs is probably close to 100%.

(In the interest of full disclosure, there is another view, not represented at the conclave, that the text does not support a south to north flowing Sidon. But that view relies on the text, not the opinions of scholars, so it should be discounted accordingly.)

Mesoamerican supporters will also be glad to know that the scholars set out a hierarchy of classes of evidence. "In a relative hierarchy of classes of evidence, the text itself, subject to interpretation, must be primary. There has been no authoritative revelation on Book of Mormon geography in this dispensation. Revelation to the current Prophet could trump the text, but only if it carried the same degree of certainty as the words Joseph received through the seer stone."

It's reassuring to know that the current prophets, seers and revelators are bound by the limits imposed by the Council of Springville.

The conclave did not provide notes or a transcript, so it's not known whether actual experience--e.g., Joseph and Oliver physically visiting Mormon's records repository (Mormon 6:6) in the New York hill--would qualify as evidence. That possibility does not appear to have been considered by the conclave.

The scholars managed "to reach general agreement on some key points" in addition to the hierarchy of evidence and north-flowing river Sidon. Rest assured that each of the key points reaffirms the limited-geography Mesoamerican theory.


Someone asked me, "Why the Council of Springville? What's in Springville?"

Answer: Headquarters of Book of Mormon Central.