long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Monday, August 7, 2017

FairMormon conference wrap-up

Everything went about as I expected at the FairMormon conference.

And those attending BYU Education Week are going to hear the same things.

As are incoming BYU students.

So it's time to get real.

By now, it is clear that FairMormon rejects the Church's policy of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography. They steadfastly refuse to let their readers know (i) what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah, (ii) that there are many members of the Church who accept what Joseph and Oliver taught, and (iii) that there is a coherent, detailed description of Book of Mormon geography based on the New York Cumorah.

Instead, our friends at FairMormon and BYU adamantly promote their two-Cumorahs/Mesoamerican theory and they just as adamantly reject what Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith taught about the New York Cumorah.

I don't think FairMormon will ever be honest about the geography issue because few if any members of the Church will knowingly accept their premise that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York.

FairMormon and BYU scholars explain away Letter VII by claiming it was merely "Oliver Cowdery's opinion."

Think about that for a moment. I'll explain it in more detail below, after this graphic that summarizes what every BYU student is now going to have to learn. Whenever you see this map, you should think of what it represents.

This "abstract" map teaches that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York.

The promoters of this abstract or fantasy map claim it accommodates any theory of Book of Mormon geography because you can pull and stretch it in any direction. That's a ruse, of course, because the entire map is based on the Mesomania interpretation of the text. Any map, abstract or otherwise, that does not put Cumorah in New York is rejecting Oliver and Joseph.

There are really only two choices. Either Cumorah is in New York where Oliver and Joseph said it was, or... does it really matter where else Cumorah could be if it's in a fantasy land as this BYU map portrays?

I reject the premise of an abstract map in principle on the grounds that it (i) rejects Joseph and Oliver and (ii) is entirely subjective. One glance at the BYU map and we see that it was created by using interpretations designed to fit Mesoamerica.

In fact, I'll freely stipulate that the Mesomania interpretations of the text don't fit with a New York Cumorah. Those interpretations are subjective and designed retroactively to fit the Mesoamerican theory. Think of what a Bible map would look like using this methodology without any reference to the real world.

If we just heed what Joseph and Oliver taught, we have at least one pin in the real world: Cumorah in western New York. What we should be doing is using technology to figure out maps that support what Joseph and Oliver taught, instead of using technology to undermine faith in them.

It is unbelievable to me that any LDS scholar or educator would reject what Joseph and Oliver unambiguously declared. Their teaching about Cumorah was reprinted more often than the scriptures in Joseph's day; no other writings were reprinted more frequently. Oliver's letters were reprinted in full five times during Joseph's lifetime, in addition to being recorded in Joseph's personal history. Portions were quoted in other works. The Book of Mormon itself was only printed four times during Joseph's lifetime (including once in England), and the Doctrine and Covenants was printed only once. The 1835 edition of the D&C, by the way, was printed just one month after Letter VII was printed for the first time. (The 1844 edition of the D&C was printed shortly after Joseph was killed, although he had proofed it in 1843.)

Our LDS scholars and educators actually want people to believe that their opinions are more reliable and credible than the explicit statement of Oliver Cowdery that it was a fact that the final battles took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. 

Why should we believe Oliver and not our FairMormon and BYU friends?

Here are three reasons to consider.

1. Oliver and Joseph had actually been inside Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. To be sure, our FairMormon and BYU friends will tell you that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, and others, were also confused (or lying) about that, or were relating a vision of a hill in Mexico that multiple people shared on multiple occasions. But right in Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery himself declared that the depository was in the Hill Cumorah in New York. He spoke from personal experience, not from academic, result-oriented interpretation of the text.

2. When he wrote Letter VII, Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church. He was the only person who accompanied Joseph Smith for the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, and a few months after writing Letter VII, Oliver and Joseph received important keys from Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Lord Himself. To say Oliver misled the Church about Cumorah feeds the anti-Mormon argument that Oliver is not reliable or credible or trustworthy.

3. Joseph Smith helped write Oliver's letters. Shortly after they were published, he had his scribes copy them into his own history. You can read them in the Joseph Smith Papers in History, 1834-1836, here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/83.

Our LDS scholars want people to believe Joseph changed his mind about Book of Mormon geography. They insist he, like Oliver, was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. Let's look at their claim.

Instead of changing his mind, Joseph endorsed the letters multiple times and did what he could to make sure every member of the Church had access to them.

Consider what Benjamin Winchester wrote in the first issue of the Gospel Reflector:

"I would here observe to the members of the church in this section of country, that I had it (as is well known) in contemplation last spring [1840] to publish O. Cowdery's letters giving a history of the coming forth of The Book of Mormon and, connected, with them, other original matter, such as I had written myself, which I asked permission or advice of J. Smith who said I was at liberty to publish any thing of the kind that would further the cause of righteousness. I also asked advice of S. Rigdon, who said he had no objection."


In Joseph Smith's view, Oliver Cowdery's letters "would further the cause of righteousness."

But in the view of our FairMormon and BYU friends, these letters should not be read, cited, or even mentioned because they contradict the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories, as well as the imaginary abstract map based on those theories.

In the fall of 1840, Don Carlos reported that Joseph gave him these letters to publish in the Times and Seasons. Letter VII appears in the April 1841 edition.

As of 1840 and 1841, Joseph held the same view he always had; i.e., that Oliver's letters, including Letter VII, were important for every member of the Church to read.  Did Joseph change his mind after 1841?

In February 1844, a special pamphlet consisting of Oliver's eight letters was published in England. The editors introduced the letters by writing, "We have frequently been solicited to publish, in pamphlet form, the following letters of Oliver Cowdery... We at last avail ourselves of the opportunity to do so, being fully assured that they will be read with great interest by the Saint generally; while from the peculiar work on which they treat, together with the spirit of truthfulness in which they are written...we have no doubt but that many of the honest-hearted may, by their perusal, be led to a further examination of those principles, the origin of which is therein set forth."


Our FairMormon and BYU friends have a different opinion; they think no members of the Church, let alone investigators, should even know about these letters, let alone read them.

Our LDS scholars and educators want us to believe that Joseph changed his mind about Cumorah once he read the Stevens and Catherwood books about Central America. I've shown elsewhere that there is no evidence Joseph ever read those books; the evidence we have is to the contrary. But even if he did read them, even if he did approve of them, did he change his mind about Cumorah in New York?

The October 1, 1842, Times and Seasons includes what is now D&C 128, in which Joseph referred to Cumorah in the context of the other sites in New York and Pennsylvania. Recall, this was not long after he had asked his brother Don Carlos to publish letter VII in the same newspaper.

Now, 18 months later, we have the pamphlet published in England in early 1844 that contains Letter VII. Maybe Joseph didn't know about it. Maybe it was published without his approval, or even over his objection because by then he had "changed his mind."

But for that argument to work, our LDS scholars and educators must also persuade us that Joseph didn't know about the newspaper titled The Prophet that was first published in New York City in May 1844. Or, if they admit he did know about it, are they going to say Joseph knew nothing about how the Church leaders appointed his brother William Smith to edit the newspaper? Or that the first issue of The Prophet published Oliver's Letter I? Or that each of the first eight issues of The Prophet published another of Oliver's letters?

If Joseph didn't know his brother William published Letter VII in the seventh issue, it was only because that issue was published in New York on June 29,  just two days after Joseph was martyred in Carthage.

From these facts we see that, from the time Oliver first published Letter VII in 1835 through his martyrdom, Joseph both explicitly endorsed Letter VII and allowed others close to him to reprint it. He never changed his mind about the New York Cumorah.

How could he, when he had visited Mormon's repository in that hill multiple times?

And, as I've mentioned, Letter VII was subsequently republished in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era.

To be clear, it wasn't until Mesomania took over our LDS scholars and educators that Letter VII was relegated to the amnesia bin of Church history.

Back to FairMormon.

We'll know that FairMormon lives up to its purported adherence to Church policy about neutrality on Book of Mormon geography when it lets its readers know three things:

1. Letter VII exists.
2. Joseph endorsed it multiple times and saw that it was reprinted more than any other single account of Church history.
3. There is a detailed map based on the text that supports what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII.

As I said at the outset, I don't think FairMormon will ever be honest about these three items because few if any members of the Church will accept their premise that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York.

This is why I think it is a big mistake for anyone who wants to study the Book of Mormon to go to FairMormon.

And, of course, Book of Mormon Central is even worse because their mission statement focuses on showing that the Book of Mormon is a Mesoamerican text. They don't even pretend to be neutral.

The rest of the firemen, including BYU Studies, the Interpreter, and Meridian Magazine, are ideological clones of FairMormon and Book of Mormon Central. As with FairMormon, we can't expect them to ever present a full and fair comparison of the different models of Book of Mormon geography because they know most Church members will reject their two-Cumorahs theory.

If you're planning to attend BYU Education Week as I am, watch how these things are portrayed.

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