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, November 30, 2016

"Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth."

That quotation comes from “C.S. Lewis: An examined life” (2007).* It's a wonderful metaphor. So long as we continue to inquire, we can find the truth.

As we finish up the Book of Mormon in our Gospel Doctrine classes for 2017, I wanted to comment a bit on Lesson 46: By Faith All Things Are Fulfilled.

Years ago I memorized all of Ether 12. It's still one of my favorite chapters. I'd put it up there with Mormon 7 (the single most important chapter in the scriptures, IMO), Alma 12 and 32, John 21, and D&C 88.

Here is the purpose of Lesson 46: 


To help class members understand the importance of 1) exercising faith, 2) being humble, and 3) heeding the counsel of the prophets.
I have three general comments.

First, I hope everyone who accepts the Book of Mormon and the counsel of the prophets understands the reason why Joseph and Oliver specifically identified the location of the Hill Cumorah. Certainly they didn't have to. Joseph and his successors also didn't have to republish Letter VII (Seven) so many times. But I think they had prophetic insight and they knew the historicity of the Book of Mormon would be questioned in the future. Maybe it requires a little faith and humility to accept what Joseph and Oliver wrote, but they were clear and unambiguous. There is nothing more damaging to faith than to have LDS scholars and educators undermine the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver, and I hope they stop it soon.

Second, one of the reasons why it's important to be unified about Cumorah is the portion of the lesson manual that focuses on Ether 13:1-12. "Moroni records Ether's prophecies concerning the promised land." The manual summarizes the teachings here: "Before the Second Coming, “a new Jerusalem should be built up upon this land [the Americas]” (Ether 13:6). The New Jerusalem will be a holy city built by a remnant of the house of Joseph (Ether 13:8)." It's essential to know where the promised land is because of the covenants associated with it, as Ether spelled them out.

By now, readers of this blog will detect the bit of Mesomania there. The bracketed phrase [the Americas] is a nonscriptural gloss on the passage designed to accommodate a non-New York Cumorah. I realize some will say I'm reading too much into it, but if you've read as much of the work of the Mesoamerican proponents as I have, you'd recognize it to.

In the early days of the Church, members who read the Book of Mormon wanted to know where the New Jerusalem was going to be. They knew Cumorah was in New York, but they had to flee New York for Ohio. In Kirtland in February 1831, the Lord promised he would reveal the site for the New Jerusalem "in mine own due time." (D&C 42:62). In March, the Lord told them the New Jerusalem would be in "the western countries" (D&C 45:64-66). Then, on September 22, 1832, on the anniversary of the date when Joseph received the plates both times, the Lord revealed that the New Jerusalem would be in western Missouri.

Ether, observing the final battles in New York, "saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land." He knew that "a New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph." And now Joseph Smith learned that the place would be western Missouri. 

When Ether spoke of "this land," he was referring to the area encompassed by Cumorah, where he was writing, and the New Jerusalem. We learn from Joseph and Oliver that this is the land between New York and Missouri--exactly the land inhabited by the Jaredites and the Nephites. It's all spelled out for us.

Third, I like to think of Ether and Coriantumr. They knew each other well. After teaching Coriantumr's people about the promised land and the New Jerusalem, he told Ether that he would live to see "another people receiving the land for their inheritance." Coriantumr would be buried by them. Of course, this was fulfilled when Coriantumr "was discovered by the people of Zarahemla," as recorded in Omni

I envision this happening when Coriantumr, as the last survivor, decided to travel to the New Jerusalem. Naturally he would have traveled down the rivers toward the west on his way to what we now call Missouri, but on the way, the people in the Land of Zarahema found him. I've described all of this in Mormoni's America

As we study these passages in the text and think about them, I hope we appreciate what Ether was trying to tell us, and why Moroni selected these passages to include in the record.

*There's a list of Lewis quotations at 

[NOTE: I cross-posted this at my Gospel Doctrine blog, here.]

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


I've commented about this before, but the issue keeps resurfacing.

Advocates of the Mesoamerican theory claim the text describes cities made with stone cement, but there are three references to cement in the BoM, and none of them mention cement in connection with stone. 

Helaman 3:7
7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

Helaman 3:11
11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.

Helaman 3:9
9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.

The only mention of cement with stone is in Joseph Smith's testimony:

Testimony of JS-“Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger. The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them.

Joseph uses the term "cement" to describe how the stone box was constructed--in New York. Besides Joseph's own description (and the even more detailed description by Oliver Cowdery), there is abundant evidence of the North American Indians using cement. Some of the mounds were covered with cement, to the point that they were difficult for farmers to tear down. People used jackhammers to break up the cement. Even today, at Cahokia, archaeologists have recreated a portion of the ancient wall around the city to show what it looked like anciently. It consists of tall timbers, covered with cement.

Granted, much of Cahokia was built during the Mississipian period, which is after Book of Mormon time frames, but the manner of construction matches what the text actually says. 

One thing is for sure: In North America (north of the Rio Grande), we don't see cities made of stone and cement. We see construction with wood and cement. In Mesoamerica, by contrast, we see cities made of stone and cement, not wood and cement. True, Mayans built houses out of wood, and built wooden structures on top of their stone temples, but the primary construction method was stone and cement.

We see this in the logos of the various Mesoamerican advocacy groups, including Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, and the Ancient American Foundation:

The inspiration for the Mesoamerican advocacy groups was the Arnold Friberg painting of Christ visiting the Nephites, which featured the massive stone stepped pyramid with the long staircase up the front and the big temple on top. This is some of the evidence of Mesomania. 

You know when an organization chooses a stone pyramid as their logo, they are focused on the Mesoamerican setting and not on the Book of Mormon text itself.

The scripture says they built houses of cement, and cities "both of wood and of cement." While there may have been Mesoamerican cities made of wood and cement, the ones cited in the 1842 Times and Seasons articles that started the Mesoamerican theory are all stone and cement (referring to Teotihuacan and the cities discovered by Stephens and Catherwood). Maybe the Book of Mormon says they built cities and pyramids out of stone and cement, but not in the version Joseph translated. 

Alma 38:8 says they built walls of stone around the cities, but look at the verse in context:

Alma 48:8
8 Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.

They built banks of earth and also walls of stone--which is what the Hopewell in North America did, including the mounds Joseph described as Nephite. 

It's important to remember that they only built with cement because the lacked enough timber. This was a one-time exception. In the entire text, the only time they mention building with cement and wood was in Helaman 3.

Consequently, in my opinion these cement references in the text exclude Mesoamerica as a potential location described by the text.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Overcoming false traditions about Cumorah

As we're nearing the end of 2016 and our focus on the Book of Mormon in Gospel Doctrine class, I hope most members of the Church have taken a closer look at what they've been taught. I had hoped to have at least one issue resolved by the end of the year: the New York location of Cumorah. 

Many people have embraced the New York Cumorah, but many still fight against it. There is still a month to go. Maybe it will happen, but there are a lot of holdouts among LDS scholars and educators.

Anecdotally, I know many Gospel Doctrine teachers have tried to offer alternatives to the standard teaching that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America (Mesoamerica). In many cases, they have faced opposition from people who have been taught a false tradition by LDS scholars and educators. The false tradition centers on the Hill Cumorah.

It's not easy to overcome false traditions.

It has been said that human intellect is like a speck floating on a sea of emotion, and that's what I see happening here. My only explanation for all the emotion involved with the Cumorah question is Mesomania, as I discuss on that blog here.

I'm still hopeful that LDS scholars and educators will align their teachings about Cumorah with the prophets and apostles, but so far it hasn't happened, so we need to identify which traditions are false.

If you've been following the Cumorah question, you know that LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican geography claim that the idea of Cumorah being in New York was a false tradition started by unknown persons early in the Church. They go on to claim that Joseph Smith simply adopted this false tradition and perpetuated it, along with all of his contemporaries, including his successors as Presidents of the Church.

You might find that unbelievable, but it's true. If you want specific citations, I can provide them, but you don't have to look far.

In fact, every time you read or hear something by modern LDS scholars and educators that connects the Book of Mormon events* to Mesoamerica (Central America), the author or speaker has repudiated the New York Cumorah and all the prophets and apostles who, they claim, have "perpetuated a false tradition." You will find this at Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, the Maxwell Institute, Meridian Magazine, and all the rest. You will hear it in Sunday School and seminary and institute classes. You will hear it at BYU campuses.

The bottom line: these LDS scholars and educators claim they are correcting the prophets and apostles.

They, the scholars, think they are overcoming this false tradition by promoting the idea that Cumorah is actually in Mexico. Or Baja. Or Panama. Or Peru. Or Chile. Or anywhere else that is not in New York.

In some places, they are using abstract maps to avoid the New York Cumorah.

In my view, the false tradition we should be concerned about is the idea that Cumorah is not in New York. The most common alternative is the claim that Cumorah is in Mexico. This tradition was started in the 1920s, after everyone who personally knew Joseph Smith had passed on. This tradition was adopted by LDS scholars over the objection of of Joseph Fielding Smith and other prophets and apostles.

So the question now is, how do we overcome this false tradition about Cumorah in Mexico?

I suggest three things:

1. Read Letter VII (Seven) and recognize how it was universally accepted by Joseph Smith and all of his contemporaries. I have lots of documentation on my Letter VII blog here:

2. Learn about the New York setting. Mesoamerican advocates claim the New York hill can't be Cumorah for two reasons.

a. It doesn't fit their interpretation of the text. When you go through their list of "requirements," you see the requirements were designed to fit their Mesoamerican setting. They require volcanoes, for example, but the text never mentions volcanoes. When you read the text instead of the Mesoamerican scholars' interpretation of the text, the New York site fits nicely--just as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said it did.

b. It is a "clean hill," meaning there are no artifacts there. This rationale is based on the work of John Clark, a BYU archaeologist who published some cursory analyses of the archaeology that I've analyzed previously in this blog. It is often cited by the Mesoamerican scholars, who also outright ignore the accounts of people who actually worked at the Hill Cumorah and recovered boxes full of ancient war implements, as well as other accounts of farmers in the area who plowed up artifacts every year that they sold to tourists or kept in private collections.

There is lots of material here: http://moronisamerica.com/

3. Assess the scholarship of the Mesoamerican advocates. In this blog and in other forums, I've analyzed just a few of the dozens of articles, books and blogs on the topic, all of which are thoroughly dependent upon Mesomania. What I mean by that is if you already believe the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and you want your bias confirmed (i.e., you have Mesomania), the writings of the Mesoamerican advocates are great. They will definitely confirm your biases. But if you look at them objectively, they don't make their case. Not even close. They use a series of logical fallacies and illusory correspondences that are easy to identify.

The most important thing for you to keep in mind is that you are not required to accept what Mesoamerican scholars have been promoting for decades. Think for yourself. Read the Book of Mormon carefully and in the light of what the prophets and apostles have said in General Conference and in the scriptures.

Sooner or later, we will overcome the false tradition that Cumorah is not in New York.

*There is a difference between saying people living in Latin America are Lamanites and saying Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica. Because of migration, Lamanite ancestry could have spread from North America where the Book of Mormon events took place throughout Latin America.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Welcome to Ireland

Recently there's been a burst of activity from Ireland, so I wanted to welcome my fellow Irishmen and women. (Actually, I'm only part Irish, but I do have cousins in Ireland.) There are also visitors from the UK, but the Irish are beating them in page views.


We regularly have visitors from around the world, including Singapore, India, and parts of Africa and South America. The Aussies and Kiwis have represented, as have the Russians.

Next spring we'll be doing conferences in France and the UK. I'll announce the dates in January. I wish we could get to Ireland.

Actually, if the Irish keep beating the English in page views, maybe we'll visit Dublin instead of London.


The Scholars are right

There has been a bit of discussion around the Internet about this Letter VII (7) nonsense and its connection to the Hill Cumorah.

We here at BookofMormonCentralAmerica know Cumorah is not in New York.

Letter VII (7) is the product of pure speculation by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. They were wrong, and they misled the Saints as a result. They misled many leaders of the Church. We would prefer that no member of the Church read letter VII, but if you do, realize that LDS scholars agree Cumorah cannot be in New York. It can be lots of other places, but just not in New York!

To clarify our position, we put together this table of authorities to help explain whom you should trust.

People who perpetuate a false tradition about Cumorah being in New York
People who teach the truth about Cumorah not being in New York
Joseph Smith
LDS scholars who promote a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon
Oliver Cowdery
LDS scholars who promote a Baja Californian setting for the Book of Mormon
David Whitmer
LDS scholars who promote a Panamanian setting for the Book of Mormon
Lucy Mack Smith
LDS scholars who promote a Peruvian setting for the Book of Mormon
Brigham Young
LDS scholars who promote a Chilean setting for the Book of Mormon
John Taylor 

Heber C. Kimball

Wilford Woodruff

Orson Pratt

Parley P. Pratt

Joseph F. Smith

Heber J. Grant

George Albert Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith

Marion G. Romney

Mark E. Peterson

True, there are some disagreements among LDS scholars in the right column, but they all agree on one thing: The Hill Cumorah cannot be in New York!

The best way for you to steer clear of the people in the left column is to stick with Book of Mormon Central. They run a wonderful website that frequently reinforces the non-New York Cumorah. Here's the link: https://bookofmormoncentral.org/

Be sure to read the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, BMAF.org, FairMormon, the Maxwell Institute, BYU Studies, and other web pages affiliated with Book of Mormon Central. Don't read anything that contradicts or challenges the consensus of LDS scholars and educators who have been properly trained in the Mesoamerican ministry.

Mesomania - it's everywhere

Trigger warning: If you have Mesomania, please don't go to the links I describe in this post. You might get offended, and anyway you will dismiss these as yet more examples of how early Church leaders were misleading the Saints by perpetuating the false rumor started by Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith that Cumorah really was in New York.

[For those new to this blog, Mesomania refers to the psychology behind the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, which prompts people to continue to insist that Cumorah is in southern Mexico.]

This is my last trigger warning. Anyone who has Mesomania and wants to retain it should stop reading this blog, my other blogs, my web pages, and my books. Stick with Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BMAF, FairMormon, and other sites that will safely confirm your biases.

I'm writing for people who are not obsessed with the Mesoamerican setting and want to know more about Church history and Book of Mormon topics without the filter of Mesomania.

I'm trying to keep topics organized, so I posted a comment about Mesomania on the Mesomania blog, here: http://mormonmesomania.blogspot.com/2016/11/scholars-prophets-keep-getting-it-wrong.html

LDS scholars are sticking to their guns, insisting the prophets and apostles are perpetuating a false tradition while they, the scholars, are teaching the truth. It's unbelievable, but that's the reality of it. Mesomania is powerful psychology.

Separately, I commented on another 1844 reprinting of Letter VII on my Letter VII blog at this link: http://www.lettervii.com/2016/11/letter-vii-in-prophet.html

If you don't have Mesomania, you will discover an interesting detail of Church history at the link.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Visit to the Church History Museum

On the mesomania blog, I posted a comment about our visit to the Church History Museum last week and an interesting display you can see there. Here is the link:

Squandering the uniqueness of the Book of Mormon

Any time we conceptually assign individuals to a group based on shared characteristics, we are overgeneralizing because people are more complicated than that. However, for analysis purposes, there are four major groups of people whose thinking is affected by the psychology of influence when it comes to the Book of Mormon:

1. Active, believing LDS.
2. Inactive and/or former LDS
3. Antagonists (LDS or not)
4. Indifferent nonmembers

In my view, the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is detrimental for groups 2-4, so I won't discuss those groups in this post (except in a footnote*). Instead, I'll focus solely on group 1.

While I think everyone in group 1 would like to know where the Book of Mormon events took place, I estimate that 90% of the people in the group claim they don't really care about the geography issue because: 

i) they are confused by the different theories and don't want to invest time and effort toward reaching a conclusion because they figure no conclusion is possible, given the fact that smart, faithful LDS have dramatically different ideas;

ii) they defer to LDS scholars and educators as a proxy for deferring to Church leaders who have left the questions unresolved; and/or

iii) they feel this is a controversial topic that raises questions they don't want to think about (cognitive dissonance).

Most of the 90% claim to be satisfied by their spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon. This is fine, of course, but it can lead to complacency. Worse, I think it's a major reason why the Book of Mormon has not yet swept the Earth.

In the first place, adherents to most religions feel a spiritual connection to their holy book(s). This is axiomatic, or nearly so, and therefore a claim of spiritual witness has little to no persuasive effect outside the group that is already convinced. 

People to whom the idea of a spiritual witness is new might be an exception, although experience shows that non-religious people are even less receptive to the message of the Restoration than religious people (mostly Christian) who already have a spiritual witness of their own holy books (such as the Bible). 

Let's say 250,000 converts are baptized every year. That's a lot of people, but there are over 7 billion people in the world. We're not even keeping up with population growth. Plus, we all know a significant, but undisclosed, number of people resign from the Church every year. We all know of areas where missionary work is stagnant. IMO, one reason is that we are inherently conflicted over the Book of Mormon because of the geography/historicity issues. 

This leads to my second point. Certainly members and investigators who search for answers on the Internet quickly discover how unsettled these issues are. Members, including missionaries, are defensive when questioned about geography and historicity because they know they don't have answers. They can't even tell one another, let alone investigators, where the Hill Cumorah is (meaning the Mormon 6:6 scene of the final battles). In many cases, they can't even discuss it in Church classes because it's not an "allowed" topic.

In the third place, Christians make the argument that people get a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon because so much of it consists of quotations from the Bible. It's a plausible argument for many Christians. From the days of Joseph Smith through the present, Christians have been the most open to the Restoration, but their pastors and theologians are not passively watching their membership leave to become LDS. They have developed their own programs aimed at converting LDS missionaries. The internal LDS debate about geography/historicity is a component of the Christian efforts to sow doubt and confusion about the Book of Mormon.

In my opinion, these problems can be addressed by members and missionaries who know the Book of Mormon is unique among holy books because of its historicity and unique origins; i.e., if it is an actual ancient history, then it could only have been produced by the gift and power of God. That, in turn, means Joseph and Oliver were telling the truth about everything.

We squander that uniqueness when we undermine the historicity claim with confusion about the setting. 

And we further squander our position when we undermine the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver.

For these two reasons alone, it's critical that LDS reach consensus that reverses the damage caused by years of confusion and repudiation of the prophets. Let's just agree, once and for all, that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.   

Short of that, I hope we can eventually reach the point where all interested LDS scholars and educators participate in a full and open conversation about how to present the totality of the circumstances to members of the Church so each individual can make an informed decision. 

*I think the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is detrimental for groups 2-4 because it has created barriers to belief by contradicting:

i) the plain language of the text, which never mentions jungles, volcanoes, Mayans, or pyramids; 

ii) the explicit statements of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and everyone who knew them, at least with respect to the New York Cumorah;

iii) the explicit statements of every prophet and apostle who has spoken on the topic, at least with respect to the New York Cumorah.

On top of that, the Mesoamerican theory is supported only by illusory "correspondences" between Mesoamerican archaeology/anthropology and strained interpretations of the text. This compounds the attack on the credibility and reliability of the prophets and apostles that is at the foundation of the two-Cumorahs theory. 

The confidence of Mesoamerican advocates is not in question. “It is the true believer’s ability to ‘shut his eyes and stop his ears’ to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard,” wrote Eric Hoffer in 1951, “which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy.”

What is in question is their willingness to consider all the evidence and allow others (i.e., their audience and readers) fair and reasonable access to the alternatives.

Suppressing Letter VII and adhering to self-serving "requirements" for Cumorah don't work any longer. Anti-Mormon web pages delight to show how LDS scholars are rejecting their own prophets so they can promote the Mesoamerican theory. Investigators and youth discover this with a few clicks.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Confusion about Cumorah, "Lamanites," and the prophets

For several months, people have asked how the statements of prophets and apostles regarding Lamanites in Latin America and the Pacific fit with the North American setting. I've addressed the question several times, but not as thoroughly as I suppose I should, so here are my thoughts on the topic.

A basic criticism of the North American setting (Moroni's America or the Heartland model) is that in temple dedicatory prayers and other comments, modern prophets and apostles have said Lamanites live throughout the Americas, from at least Cardston, Alberta, to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Some people think I've ignored these statements. I haven't ignored them; I just don't think they tell us anything about Book of Mormon geography.

It's difficult to understand the rationale of this criticism in the first place. It appears to rely on the premise that Lehi's descendants were isolated and never interacted with other indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere.

For example, when President Hinckley's 1983 temple dedicatory prayer said the Saints in Mexico "have in their veins the blood of Father Lehi," the premise would mean that Mexico must be where the Book of Mormon took place. But such a premise contradicts the statements themselves, which, as I noted, identify Lamanites throughout the hemisphere. (Someone could argue that the narrative took place throughout the hemisphere such that Lehi's descendants were restricted to one hemisphere, but I don't think anyone makes that argument any longer, at least not from Alberta to southern Brazil).

Whether the Book of Mormon narrative took place in New York, Tennessee, Illinois, Baja, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama or Chile, people from all those areas interacted with one another over the thousands of years they shared the continent.

In other words, generalized statements of the prophets and apostles about the Lamanites tell us nothing about Book of Mormon geography except that it took place in the Western Hemisphere (but one could dispute even that). They certainly don't contradict the North American setting or establish a justification for a non-New York Hill Cumorah.

I think the entire New World narrative of the Book of Mormon took place in North America, meaning from Florida to Canada and from the Atlantic to the Midwest (as far west as Missouri and Iowa). By the authors' own admission, the narrative is merely a brief sketch; it covers less than 1% of the history of the Nephites and even less of the history of the Lamanites. Since before Lehi arrived, people throughout the Americas traded and intermarried. Lehi's little colony grew to a large civilization in part by absorbing indigenous people (as well as the people of Zarahemla). After the Nephites were annihilated around 385 A.D., the Lamanites continued to live on the land, but their history is lost to us. We must resort to anthropology and archaeology, which indicate ongoing interaction throughout the Americas before and after 385 A.D.

With this background, how could "the blood of Father Lehi" not be found throughout the Americas?

There is no problem harmonizing the New York Cumorah with the statements of prophets and apostles regarding Lamanites or descendants of Lehi throughout the Americas (and in the Pacific).

That said, there is an ongoing controversy about DNA. Critics ask how "Lamanite blood" can be found in people whose DNA shows they are overwhelmingly Asian in origin. It's a valid question about definitions.

When prophets refer to "Lehi's blood" or "Lehi's descendants," or even the "Lamanites," are they referring to people whose DNA contains markers showing Israelite origin? If so, then the indigenous people of Latin America don't qualify (unless we want to say Asians are Israelites, which broadens the term beyond usefulness). But if the prophets are referring to links in heredity, however tenuous, then the indigenous people of Latin America cannot be disqualified. Such links cannot be disproven because you can be descended from a person even if you don't possess DNA markers that link you to that person. (The problems with the DNA criticism are discussed in the notes below.*)

To be sure, we would expect to find the highest concentration of relevant DNA markers in the areas where Lehi's descendants lived in the highest concentrations; i.e., in the northeastern U.S. (and the Midwestern areas where they were forced to move). After all, the Lord designated the tribes in New York, Ohio, and Missouri as Lamanites when he sent Oliver Cowdery and others on a mission to these tribes (D&C 28, 30, 32). Joseph Smith told these tribes the Book of Mormon was their history.

That expectation seems to be borne out when we consider the X haplogroup.** The X haplogroup is the only non-Asian haplogroup found among indigenous Native Americans.

As the map depicts, the highest concentrations of X haplogroup in the world are in the Middle East and in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada. This isn't "proof" of Lehi's DNA for the reasons I mention in the notes, but it does correspond to our expectations of a genetic link between indigenous people in these two areas--expectations raised by Joseph Smith and the Lord Himself in the Doctrine and Covenants. Based on those expectations, the X haplogroup works as a proxy for Lehi's ancestry.

In 1981, the Church added an introduction to the Book of Mormon that reads "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." That introduction was changed in 2007 to read "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians." This is how the introduction reads today.

As used in these sentences, who are the "American Indians?"

I've seen all kinds of semantic gyrations about this term, but a typical dictionary will provide an explanation similar to this one: "Usage Note: In principle, American Indian can apply to all native peoples throughout the Americas except the Eskimo, Aleut, and Inuit, but in practice it is generally restricted to the peoples of the United States and Canada. For native peoples in the rest of the hemisphere, usage generally favors Indian by itself or, less frequently, the contractions Amerindian or Amerind."

If we look at the map, it is apparent that although the X haplogroup is concentrated in the Northeast, it spreads through much, but not all, of the American Indians in the United States and Canada. Therefore the 2007 change to the Introduction makes sense; i.e., the Lamanites may not be the principal ancestors of the American Indians, but they are among those ancestors--especially for those American Indians living in the Northeast.

But the X haplogroup does not appear among the indigenous people in Latin America.

From the New York Cumorah perspective, the prophets' identification of Lamanites throughout the hemisphere works not because of DNA, but because of the assumption that over the centuries, trade and intermarriage would have distributed the "blood of Lehi" widely, albeit in concentrations too dilute to detect with DNA.

From the non-New York Cumorah perspective, however, it's a different problem. Advocates of these theories must assume that the areas where we would expect to find the most evidence of Middle-Eastern DNA (Mesoamerica, Chile, Peru, Baja, etc.) actually have so little it is undetectable. Meanwhile, indigenous people living in the Northeastern U.S.--the area they claim cannot be the setting for the Book of Mormon--have the highest concentration of X haplotype in the world outside of the Middle-East.

IOW, if we support what the prophets have said about the Lamanites, then the North American setting is the best explanation for the various statements about Lamanites throughout the hemisphere.

There is another little-known aspect of this Lamanite question. In the Wentworth letter, Joseph Smith wrote "The principal nation of the second race [the Nephites] fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."

Plenty of ink has been spilled parsing this statement. Although Joseph was writing from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Mr. Wentworth of Chicago, Illinois, Mesoamerican advocates have claimed that the term "this country" actually refers to the entire hemisphere. I leave it to the reader to decide whether that's a plausible interpretation of what Joseph intended or what Mr. Wentworth would understand.

More significant is what Joseph deleted when he wrote those sentences.

The Wentworth letter was largely based on a missionary pamphlet written by Orson Pratt. Joseph (and/or his assistants) edited the pamphlet by changing details in some areas and by deleting large sections in others.

The first sentence of the two I quoted is identical to the one in Orson Pratt's pamphlet. But Joseph's second sentence--"The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country"--replaces 2,700 words of Orson Pratt's speculation about Lehi's descendants inhabiting all of North and South America. I view this significant editing as a specific repudiation of Pratt's hemispheric model, but it is only apparent when we look at how Joseph edited Pratt's pamphlet.

There is a "Mormon Chess" element of this discussion as people position their pieces (quotations) to defend their queens (theories). In many cases, there is a perception of conflict among the authorities (e.g., a New York Cumorah is inconsistent with a Guatemalan City of Nephi). These conflicts lead people to seek a hierarchy of authority; e.g., a Rook is worth more than a Knight which is worth more than a pawn, so the scriptures are worth more than a conference talk which is worth more than a dedicatory prayer.

You can see how such an approach quickly descends into chaos and confusion.

In my view, it is more valuable to harmonize the various statements of the prophets whenever possible and to clarify issues by isolating them for analysis. The Cumorah question is independent of the Lamanite and scope of geography questions, so I'll look at it next.


Lately I've focused on the question of Cumorah because, in my view, it is the keystone of Book of Mormon geography. (In this post, I'm not indulging the dodge of the two-Cumorahs theory. When I say Cumorah, I mean the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6; i.e., the hill where Mormon hid the repository and where the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites occurred.)

I don't think there is any conflict among statements by Church authorities about Cumorah. Cumorah is the one unambiguous pin in the map we've been given, and I think it's way past time that all Latter-day Saints agree that Cumorah is in New York, for all the reasons I've given in my blogs, books, and presentations.

Others disagree. They claim Cumorah is in southern Mexico, Baja, Panama, Chile, and places in Africa and Asia.

This is why I frame the Cumorah issue as a choice between two positions:

Either Cumorah is in New York, or it is elsewhere.  

The corollary: if it's not in New York, I don't think it really matters where it is, because in that case we are talking about a non-literal text; i.e., a parable at best.

I say this because the New York Cumorah has been a constant since before the text was translated through General Conference talks by prophets and apostles at least through the 1970s. Letter VII is explicit and unambiguous, and it has been republished multiple times.

So how, people ask, can anyone think Cumorah is not in New York?

The only reason--the only reason--is because they think the New York Cumorah conflicts with their preferred theories about Book of Mormon geography.

Here is the basic argument. Let's say you believe the Book of Mormon events took place in Baja, or Chile, or Central America (including Mesoamerica). You find all kinds of correspondences that you think corroborate your interpretation of the text. You develop an abstract map and superimpose it on the actual geography, or the hypothetical ancient geography of your choice. You decide where Cumorah must be, based on your theory and interpretation of the text.

But you conclude that New York doesn't fit. What then?

You write (or think) something along the lines of the famous quotation by John Sorenson: "There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd."

[For those new to this topic, Brother Sorenson was a long-time BYU professor whose book, Mormon's Codex, was widely praised by LDS scholars and educators as his "magnum opus." The quotation is a direct repudiation of the prophets and apostles who have spoken on this issue, and yet everyone who promotes a non-New York Cumorah embraces the Sorenson position.]

To support the non-New York Cumorah theories, LDS scholars and educators have sought to obscure the issue by conflating it with the question of the "Lamanites."

The Lamanites.

As noted at the outset, several prophets and apostles have made statements about the Lamanites, including sometimes in temple dedicatory prayers. There are good lists at FairMormon. The 19th Century is here. The 20th Century is here. The 21st Century is here. (Notice, that list includes no statements about Cumorah.)

These statements have been cited to criticize the North American setting, including the New York Cumorah. I've already explained why I don't think that argument works, and why these statements actually are more consistent with a New York Cumorah than any non-New York Cumorah. But it's useful to take a closer look at the temple dedicatory prayers that are so frequently cited.

Generally, the views expressed in these statements reflect a hemispheric concept of Lamanite people; i.e., the "descendants of Lehi" are identified as residing in the land around Cardston, Alberta, (Heber J. Grant's dedication of the Cardston temple in 1923) all the way south to Sao Paulo, Brazil (President Kimball's dedication of the Sao Paulo temple in 1978).

The prototype for temple dedicatory prayers is D&C 109, the dedication of the Kirtland temple. Verses 65-6 refer to the "remnants of Jacob" this way: "65 And cause that the remnants of Jacob, who have been cursed and smitten because of their transgression, be converted from their wild and savage condition to the fulness of the everlasting gospel; 66 That they may lay down their weapons of bloodshed, and cease their rebellions." In context, this terminology refers to the American Indians in the United States, a discussion we can have if anyone doesn't see that.

In my database of temple dedicatory prayers, I note that the term Lamanites has not been used since 1978. The most specific identification of Lamanites was in the 1975 Mesa Arizona rededicatory prayer: "Thou didst acknowledge the role of the Lamanite, especially in this temple, and numerous of the sons and daughters of Lehi have found in these sacred precincts peace, knowledge and solace to their souls."

The term Lehi has been used more recently and more frequently, but an interesting trend has developed that coincides with the changes to the Introduction to the Book of Mormon.

First, look at the 1983 Mexico City temple dedication: "Bless Thy saints in this great land and those from other lands who will use this temple. Most have in their veins the blood of Father Lehi. Thou hast kept Thine ancient promise. Many thousands "that walked in darkness have seen a great light.""

The 1986 Lima Peru temple prayer includes this passage: "We are particularly mindful this day of the sons and daughters of Lehi. They have known so much of suffering and sorrow in their many generations. They have walked in darkness and in servitude. Now Thou hast touched them by the light of the everlasting gospel. The shackles of darkness are falling from their eyes as they embrace the truths of Thy great work. Surely father Lehi has wept with sorrow over his posterity. Surely he weeps today with gladness, for in this holy house there will be exercised the fullness of the priesthood to the blessing, not only of those of this and future generations, but also to the blessing of those of previous generations."

The 2000 Tuxtla Gutierrez Mexico Temple: "We invoke Thy blessings upon this nation of Mexico where so many of the sons and daughters of Father Lehi dwell."

The 2002 Snowflake Arizona temple: "We are grateful that this Thy house will be available to the sons and daughters of Lehi who live nearby. Let the scales of darkness fall from their eyes and bring a fulfillment of the ancient promises made concerning them. May this house become a hallowed sanctuary for many of these, our brothers and sisters."

After 2002, I can't find any examples of a dedicatory prayer specifically stating where Lehi's descendants live. This includes temples throughout Latin America, including the rededications of the Mexico City temple in 2008 and 2015.

Now, notice the timing of the Introduction:

It was added to the text in 1981, when it said the Lamanites "are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."

It was changed in 2007 to read the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the American Indians."

I'm not saying the change in the Introduction drove the changes in the temple dedicatory prayers. It may be an example of coincidence and not causation. But it could also be a shift in understanding that appears in both the Introduction and the temple dedicatory prayers.

That said, I note that dedications of temples in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Honduras, Brazil, and Guatemala include this sentence: "We thank Thee for the sacred record of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, Alma and Mosiah, Benjamin and Mormon, and of Moroni."

The 2011 dedication of the Quetzaltenango Guatemala temple included these sentences: "Thou kind and gracious Father, our hearts are filled with gratitude for Thy remembrance of the sons and daughters of Lehi. Thou hast heard their cries and seen their tears. Thou hast accepted their righteous sacrifices." The 2013 dedicatory prayer of the Tegucigalpa Honduras Temple included these: "Our hearts are filled with gratitude for Thy blessing of the sons and daughters of Lehi. Thou hast heard their cries and seen their tears. Thou hast accepted their righteous sacrifices."

These sentences could be interpreted to imply Lamanites live in Guatemala and Honduras, but they could also be of more general application, like the expression of gratitude for the Book of Mormon that immediately follows in both prayers.

Hinterlands. In 2013, there was a brilliant article and presentation titled "Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography." It was an attempt to explain Joseph Smith's statements about the Nephites in North America by attributing them to Nephites who had escaped to the north. In my view, the article introduced a valuable concept, but got the geography and evidence backward; i.e., the core of Book of Mormon geography is in North America, while Mesoamerica is the periphery. I have a chapter about this in the Second Edition of The Lost City of Zarahemla so I won't repeat the discussion here, but if you read the article, I'd like to point out a few key points.

First, the premise relies on the anonymous 1842 articles in the Times and Seasons. I've offered considerable evidence that Joseph Smith had nothing to do with these articles, but instead they reflected the views of Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, John E. Page, and others. In fact, the article quotes John E. Page for authority.

Second, notice that the article includes a section on Cumorah that never even mentions Letter VII. It's as if Letter VII didn't exist, which is what you'll see in all the publications by Mesoamerican proponents. Nor does it refer to the repository in the New York hill that Joseph and Oliver visited, even though it quotes Mormon 6:6.

Third, the article contains a claim that the term "plains of the Nephites," which Joseph used to describe the Midwestern states he crossed during Zion's Camp, "are never mentioned in the Book of Mormon." Yet the article acknowledges "there are multiple plains attested to in the text." The argument is summarized here: "Plains in the text of the Book of Mormon are always attached to a specific city. Those in Joseph’s letter to Emma are not." Think about that one.

I mention this article here because it is the best one I know of that seeks to justify the Mesoamerican setting in the light of Joseph's own statements about North America. Because it omits key facts such as Letter VII, it succeeds for Mesoamerican proponents who seek to confirm their biases. But it is also important because it addresses a key point in relation to the statements of the prophets about Lamanites throughout the hemisphere.

The last section of the article has this heading: "Evidence for Mesoamerican/North American Interaction." It includes this observation:

"In 2003 a study was done that compared the DNA of the Ohio Hopewell with fifty indigenous populations from both North and Central America, and they found Central American and even South American markers. This, of course, demonstrates that the interaction between the two regions involved more than just the trading of goods and ideas. For the genetic markers to be so prevalent it is likely that there was a significant amount of procreation, more than is likely than from the occasional Mesoamerican merchant passing through town."

There is increasing acceptance of the idea that Mayans migrated northward when much of their core civilization collapsed around 800-900 A.D. A month ago I was in Paducah, Kentucky, where a placard pointed out that the Mississippian culture, "around 700 years ago, exhibit a series of parallel, if not diffused cultural traits originating from Mesoamerica." Later, these groups returned to their homeland in Central America, taking with them the heredity that the prophets have mentioned.

In conclusion, I think the statements by the prophets and apostles about the Hill Cumorah being in New York, starting with 1835 Letter VII and continuing through General Conference in the 1970s, are conclusive and should be accepted by all LDS. The objections to that position--that the New York hill doesn't match the text and/or is too far from some other preferred setting--are unpersuasive because they are not supported by facts and they use circular reasoning to confirm the pre-determined conclusions about the other preferred settings.

I also think the statements by the prophets and apostles about the identity and location of the Lamanites fall into two camps. Joseph Smith was specific when he identified the Lamanites as the American Indians living in the United States. He never identified any other group as Lamanites. However, some of his contemporaries, and several later prophets and apostles, have identified groups throughout the Western Hemisphere and even in the Pacific islands as Lamanites (or descendants of Lehi).

I don't think these two camps conflict. Joseph (and the Lord, in the D&C) were specific because they were identifying people who had the highest concentration of Lehi's blood. Others were more generalized because they were identifying people who have, or may have, more attenuated heredity linked to Lehi, even though it doesn't show up in their DNA.

The generalized Lamanite statements have no bearing on the New York Cumorah issue one way or the other, because a New York Cumorah can coexist with a wide dispersal of Lehi's posterity.

However, I think Joseph Smith's specific statements about the Lamanites fully corroborate his statements on the North American setting generally and the New York Cumorah specifically.


* The first response to criticism based on DNA is that we don't know what DNA Lehi's group brought with them. To write the famous Wentworth letter, Joseph Smith edited an earlier pamphlet by Orson Pratt. Orson had written, "The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six-hundred years before Christ, being Israelites, principally the descendants of Joseph." Joseph Smith changed that to read "The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph." This is a significant change. Joseph Smith is telling us that Lehi's group were not all Israelites. And we don't even know what DNA markers the Israelite portion had.

The second response is that DNA only preserves limited markers; it's not a complete genealogy.

** There is controversy about the X2 haplotype that is beyond the scope of this post, but if anyone's interested, we can discuss it in another post. The controversy involves the split between different groups with distinctive X2 haplotype attributes. The prevailing view, based on mutation rates derived from evolutionary theory and the millions of years it has taken to evolve, holds that the X2 in the Americas split off 10,000 years or more before the present time. This would mean Lehi's group was too recent so the ancient American people must have descended from another unknown group that had the X2 haplotype. The alternative view, based on mutation rates derived from observation, concludes that the X2 haplotype split off from the Middle-Eastern group around 600 B.C.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Meridian Magazine and Book of Mormon Central do it again

For a while, I commented on the blatant Mesomania that shows up in the daily KnoWhys from Book of Mormon Central. They steadfastly refuse to offer alternatives to their obsession with Mesoamerica, even when they have to contort and retranslate the text to make it fit in Central America. My favorite example was their discussion of wine, here.

And, of course, the editors at Meridian Magazine, (which should be renamed Mesomania Magazine), reprint the KnoWhys to magnify the devastating impact Book of Mormon Central is having.

Yesterday Meridian published a KnoWhy on Cumorah. You have to see this to believe it. Here's the link.

Before you read that, though, you should know two things.

First, the underlying context for this article is the two-Cumorahs theory; i.e., the Mesoamerican advocates have long said the hill in New York cannot be the scene of the final battles because it's too small and insignificant. That's what leads them to discredit Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, who wrote and endorsed Letter VII.

Second, the text does not say that 230,000 people were killed at Cumorah. Read Mormon 6 here. Mormon says his ten thousand were hewn down, leaving 24 survivors. The next day, he and Moroni and the 22 others made it to the top of the hill Cumorah and looked out to see the ten thousand he, Mormon, had led.They also beheld the ten thousand who were led by Moroni.

But those are the only two groups of ten thousand Mormon said they saw from the top of the hill.

This is an important point. The other groups of ten thousand, starting in verse 13, "had fallen" but Mormon does not say he saw them from the top of the hill.

In Chapter 5, Mormon described the "scene of blood and carnage" that preceded the final battle at Cumorah. The Lamanites "did tread the people of the Nephites under their feet." It was only "the remainder of our people" who gathered unto the land of Cumorah (Mormon 6:5).

When we realize that Mormon, from the top of Cumorah, only claimed to see 20,000 people slaughtered before him, the context is much different from the common assumption that he was looking at 230,000 people. It's no wonder that his people awaited with "that awful fear of death" when they were merely 20,000 making a last stand against the Lamanite armies.

People reasonably infer that this final slaughter occurred on a single day because in Mormon 6:11, Mormon says they beheld the dead "on the morrow." (I think this refers to the day after the battles finished and does not mean the final slaughter took only one day, but I'm fine with either interpretation.) The idea that 230,000 people were killed in one day is often cited as another rationale for questioning the reliability and credibility of the text. By contrast, as horrific as the slaughter of 20,000 people is, it's not unrealistic to think it could happen in a single day.

I bring this up because the inference that 230,000 men (and more women and children) were killed on a single day around the hill Cumorah has led to all kinds of mischief in the analysis of the text. In my view, Mormon makes it clear he could see 20,000 dead from the top of Cumorah, while the rest were killed earlier. 20,000 is still tragic and horrible enough.

[BTW, in Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery wrote "In this vale lie commingled, in one mass of ruin, the ashes of thousands, and in this vale were destined to be consumed the fair forms and vigorous systems of tens of thousands of the human race—blood mixed with blood, flesh with flesh, bones with bones, and dust with dust!" Notice, he did not distinguish between Nephites and Lamanites; he included dead Lamanites as well as the dead Nephites. And yet, he does not write "hundreds of thousands." So as early as 1835, it was well-known that it was tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands, who died at Cumorah.]

I fully admit I might be missing something. If so, please advise and we'll correct it.

Because I have a tee time coming up, I'm not going to go through the entire Meridian article, but you'll get the flavor. My comments in red.

The Know
In the final battle at the Hill Cumorah, the Lamanites completely decimated  the Nephites. [not sure how you can "completely decimate" anything. Decimate means "to kill one in every ten" or to kill or destroy "a large percentage." The Lamanites didn't "decimate" the Nephites; they annihilated them.] Mormon stated that the Lamanites killed roughly 230,000 of his people.[1] Yet this number may, at first, seem impossibly large. [Here we go. The standard methodology of Mesoamerican proponents is to retranslate the text, or change the plain meaning to fit the Mesoamerican setting. You see it in many of the KnoWhys (which explains why people call these "no-wise"] One wonders how an army of 230,000 people could exist during a time when the entire population of the world was probably only around 206 million.[2] It is impossible to know exactly why these numbers are so high, but there are a few possibilities.
1. Mormon May Have Exaggerated [See?]
The first thing to consider is that ancient texts often exaggerate population sizes. In the Old Testament for example, 600,000 Israelite males are said to have left Egypt (Exodus 12:37).[4]When one considers the women and children that left at the same time, this would mean that 2.5 million Israelites likely left Egypt at the same time. Seeing that the entire population of Egypt at the time was likely only 2.8 million, these numbers seem to be clearly exaggerated.[5] It is therefore possible that Mormon, like other ancient historians, simply exaggerated when talking about numbers this large.[6] [So not only is the Book of Mormon unreliable, but the Bible is too. You'll see this a lot once you start paying attention to what LDS scholars and educators are teaching, as I'll be showing in the next few months.]
2. A Thousand May Not Actually Mean a Thousand [See again? To fit the text into Mesoamerica, it is standard practice to claim the text doesn't mean what it says. A "horse" is actually a "tapir," etc.]
It is also possible that “ten thousand” represents a military unit and not an exact number of soldiers. In Hebrew, the word eleph can mean the literal number 1,000, but it can also mean a military squad.[7] If this is the case, each military commander could simply have been in charge of 10 “squads” of unknown numbers, putting the number of casualties much lower than they might seem at first.[8] [If the squad is of unknown numbers, the number of casualties could be higher as well as lower.]