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.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Alarming news from BYU Education Week

I've attended a lot of great classes at Education Week in the last few days, but I need to alert readers to an alarming development.

Now BYU is promoting the fantasy map of the Book of Mormon for Seminary students!

If you go to this link http://virtualscriptures.org/, this is what you will see:

BYU Fantasy Map now to be taught in Seminary
It was bad enough that every BYU student now has to learn the Book of Mormon by following the events in the text on a fantasy land map, but now Seminary students will have to learn this thing. At this rate, it will appear in Primary classes in no time.

The map is being unofficially canonized.

This fantasy map is even worse than the Mesoamerican maps we used to have to learn when I was at BYU. At least those were grounded in the real world.

This development means that LDS youth around the world are going to learn that the Book of Mormon is fiction.

Why do I say that?

Because this map is indoctrinating LDS youth regarding a specific interpretation of the Book of Mormon that not only contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught (more on that later), but that excludes the entire planet from consideration.

Our youth will be taught to interpret the scriptures by reference to this fantasy map. This means future missionaries going to the world, teaching that the Book of Mormon took place in a fantasy world.

Imagine your son or daughter learning this thing. Then they go on a mission. The conversation goes something like this:

Investigator: You say Joseph Smith got these plates from the Hill Cumorah in New York. That's where these people lived?

Missionary: No, we know the real Cumorah can't be in New York, despite what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said, because their statement was never canonized. They were mistaken. It was their opinion, and they were wrong. Our scholars have figured this out.

Investigator: But you said Joseph was a prophet.

Missionary: Yes, we testify of that, but he was wrong about some things, like Cumorah.

Investigator: I see. You told me Lehi left the Middle East and sailed to the New World. Where did he land?

Missionaries teaching fantasy map-
adapted from Preach My Gospel
Missionary (pulling out an iPad with the BYU map on it): Right here, on the west coast.

Investigator: Where is that?

Missionary: The land of first inheritance.

Investigator: No, I mean where in the real world?

Missionary: Oh, this isn't the real world. This is a fantasy map, based on the text.

Investigator: You're saying your Book of Mormon describes a fantasy world? Like Lord of the Rings or the Narnia Chronicles?

Missionary: Yes! Exactly! See how cool it is when you go to a verse and you can see where the event took place? Let's turn to Alma 43 and I'll show you how this little dial works.

Investigator: Uh, I'm sorry Elders (or Sisters), but this doesn't work for me. You testified it was a true history, but now you're saying it took place in a fantasy world?

Missionary 2: No, see, we're saying it's a real history, but the geography it describes doesn't fit anywhere on this Earth. So our scholars made this abstract map so we could understand it and explain it to people who haven't read the Book of Mormon before. You can twist it and squeeze it, pull it and stretch it anyway you want so it works for you.

Investigator: [incredulous and speechless]

In my view, this "abstract" map takes the Book of Mormon out of the realm of actual ancient history and plants it firmly on the fiction shelf. Even the BYU professor who presented it at Education Week compared it to the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia. You can take university courses on those works of fiction that teach all kinds of moral principles, too.

To be clear, the BYU policy against teaching "any particular geography" puts the professors in a difficult position. That policy was a good way to stop professors from teaching Mesoamerica, but it has a very serious side-effect.

As it is now, the BYU policy itself prevents professors from teaching what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII; i.e., that there is one Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) and it is in New York.

Given this constraint, they've done the best they think they can.

But I question whether the BYU policy really censors Letter VII. After all, Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his own history, and anyone can read it there in the Joseph Smith papers. Go to http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/ and search for "Letter VII." The first result will take you there.

I think instead that the BYU professors don't teach students about Letter VII because, as one of them has said, they "can't unsee Mesoamerica" when they read the text. They have created this map using the Mesoamerican model and the interpretations that model has imposed on the text, as I'll show below. Now they want their students to become unable to "unsee" this Mesoamerican-inspired "abstract" map.

Think of what a difference it would make if they offered students an "abstract" map that uses an interpretation of the text that supports Joseph and Oliver instead of this one that actually contradicts them.

Mormonism Unvailed by E.D. Howe
In October 1834, the first anti-Mormon book was published in Painesville, Ohio, not far from Kirtland. Written by E.D. Howe, the book was titled Mormonism Unvailed, and it portrayed the Book of Mormon as fiction (claiming it was copied from a romance novel by Solomon Spalding). Even today, critics of the Church make this claim, now called the Spalding theory.

Imagine what Howe would have done if Joseph Smith had produced a fantasy map like this BYU map. It would have been on the frontispiece of Mormonism Unvailed instead of these two illustrations. The idea that the Book of Mormon describes a fantasy land geography is a more devastating attack than the Spalding theory ever was.

When we look at Church history, how did Joseph and Oliver, the President and Assistant President of the Church, respond to Mormonism Unvailed?

They wrote a series of eight historical letters and published them in the Messenger and Advocate. In the first issue, published in October 1834 (the same month as Mormonism Unvailed), Oliver explained that "our opponants [opponents] have cried an alarm, and used every exertion to hinder the spread of truth; but truth has continued its steady course, and the work of the Lord has rolled on."

He introduced the series of historical letters by writing, "we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints...

"That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts."

This is a rational and effective response to the allegation in Mormonism Unvailed that the Book of Mormon was fiction. What better way to confront error than with facts?

Among the facts that Oliver and Joseph presented was the detailed explanation that Cumorah was in New York. They explicitly stated it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill in New York where Joseph first obtained the plates from Moroni. They said Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill. And they specifically identified it as Cumorah.

But our BYU scholars reject what they wrote, claiming that these were not facts but opinions, and that they were wrong.

The latest objection is that these letters were never canonized. This is a stunning argument. When used as a reason to reject Letter VII, the argument creates a presumption that anything that hasn't been canonized is wrong.

(Obviously, the "uncanonized" argument is not really a reason to reject Letter VII; it's merely a superficial pretext for rejecting Letter VII when the real reason is because a New York Cumorah contradicts the Mesoamerican theory that the fantasy map is based upon.)

If this uncanonized=wrong principle applies to Letter VII, it logically applies to anything that was not canonized.

(Of course, part of Letter I was canonized in the Pearl of Great Price (see the end of Joseph Smith-History here), but our scholars carve that out as an exception. We're supposed to accept that part of Letter I, but we're supposed to disbelieve the rest of Letter I and the rest of these important letters. It's not clear how we're supposed to differentiate between the canonized portions of Letter I and the rest of the letters, but that doesn't really matter because we're not supposed to even know about these letters because they establish Cumorah in New York. Instead, we're supposed to learn the Book of Mormon by using this abstract fantasy map that puts Cumorah anywhere but New York.)

Think of the implications of the canonization argument. If we're supposed to disbelieve anything that wasn't canonized, we must throw out everything we have learned as Church history that's not in Joseph Smith-History. Nothing in the Joseph Smith Papers, for example, has been canonized except the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. For that matter, no General Conference talks have been canonized.

If we're rejecting everything that hasn't been canonized, including what Joseph and Oliver stated were facts in these historical letters, even after Joseph had these facts republished multiple times so all the Saints in his day could learn them, what is left for us to accept?

To be sure, it's not impossible that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken. In my view, short of prophetic guidance to that effect, it would require some overwhelming evidence to demonstrate Joseph and Oliver were wrong because of the implications it would have on everything else they claimed to be true.

So far, the only reason we've been given to reject Letter VII--what Joseph and Oliver claimed was a fact--is that some LDS scholars and educators say they were wrong.

To support their argument, these scholars and educators have concocted a list of "requirements" for Cumorah designed to fit only Mesoamerica. IOW, they have defined Cumorah so that it can't be in New York. It's a patently circular argument.

Today, with this fantasy map, BYU is going the opposite direction from where Joseph and Oliver went when they responded to Mormonism Unvailed and other critics. Instead of using the facts Joseph and Oliver gave us that tie the Book of Mormon to the real world of the New York Cumorah, our BYU scholars are teaching students that the text fits nowhere but on a fantasy map.

It's difficult to think of a more alarming development than this, short of outright proclaiming that the Book of Mormon is fiction.

You might wonder why our LDS scholars are so adamant about rejecting these letters, including Letter VII. The sole reason is their proprietary interest in their Mesoamerican theory, which this abstract map is really teaching. The "abstract map" is a transparent ruse to evade the mandate from BYU administration to avoid teaching any particular geography.

Why do I say it's a ruse? Because all of the interpretations of the text used to develop this map are based on the Sorenson translation of the Book of Mormon. Even at the Education Week presentation, the presenter explained the River Sidon flows north because the "headwaters" are near Manti. This is a long-held belief among Mesoamerican advocates, but readers of the Book of Mormon know the term "headwaters" never appears in the actual text. It's a Sorenson translation. Same with the hourglass shape of the "narrow neck," the claim that the "wilderness" is a mountain range, etc.

The real tragedy here is that all the computer technology could be used to corroborate and vindicate what Joseph and Oliver taught, instead of undermining their teachings, if our scholars would simply accept what Joseph and Oliver wrote about Cumorah. 

Instead of deferring to Joseph and Oliver, our scholars outright reject what they said was a fact about the New York Cumorah.

Consequently, they insist on teaching our youth a fantasy geography modeled after Central America. At the same time, they insist the youth should not be taught what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

No one attending BYU Education Week this year will learn of the existence of these historical letters, let alone the contents of Letter VII. 


  1. To me it is a mass of confusion . . . they preach of a place without a context in reality!

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