This blog and all my other LDS-related work is intended to help fulfill that purpose.
So far, I've been pretty low key in discussing Church history and Book of Mormon historicity. The more I learn about these topics, the more convincing the narrative is. The New York Cumorah, the two sets of plates, confidence in the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver (Letter VII, etc.), Joseph's consistency throughout his life--all of these and more are important for people to know, both believers and non-believers.
In the last two years, my blogs have had over 200,000 page views from around the world, plus many more views on other sites that replicate the blogs, including Facebook, Amazon, MoronisAmerica.com, and others, but that is low key compared with what is coming.
In the last 2-3 years, I've had ten books on these topics published, but I've done little to promote them--so far.
I wanted every member of the Church to read and understand Letter VII in 2016. And again in 2017. Many thousands have, but there's a long way to go.
There are a lot of things underway that will make 2018 an awesome year for the Book of Mormon.
I've been low key because I've hoped to work with LDS scholars and educators privately to change the paradigms that, in my view, are counterproductive.* But I've learned in these last couple of years that there is tremendous inertia, resistance to new ideas, and other obstacles to overcome. Consequently, the old paradigms still prevail, at least among many members of the Church.
Here's the basic story from my perspective.
Even before he got the plates, Joseph knew the "hill in New York" was Cumorah because Moroni called it that. But Joseph didn't know the details until he translated the Harmony plates in Pennsylvania. Later, he and Oliver and others visited Mormon's depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York; i.e., they learned from actual experience that this was the hill spoken of in Mormon 6:6.
After the Book of Mormon was attacked as a fictional work based on an unpublished manuscript by Solomon Spalding, Joseph** and Oliver wrote Letter VII and published it in July 1835 in the official Church newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate. In that letter, they outright declared it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites occurred at the Hill Cumorah in New York. This removed the taint of fiction from the Book of Mormon. This teaching prevailed at least through the 1970s when it was taught in General Conference.
In the 1970s, the decades-old theory invented by RLDS scholars about a limited geography in Mesoamerica took hold among LDS scholars. David Palmer published In Search of Cumorah in 1981, Sorenson published An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon and a couple of Ensign articles along the same lines, and the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory reached a tipping point. The artwork in the missionary editions of the Book of Mormon was changed in 1981, replacing the Friberg painting of Mormon and Moroni together on the New York Cumorah with the painting of Moroni alone on the New York hill, and adding the painting of Christ visiting the Nephites among Mayan ruins.
The New York Cumorah was framed by certain LDS intellectuals as an incorrect folk tradition, partly because it didn't meet the "criteria" established by these same Mesoamerican-promoting intellectuals. These criteria are transparently self-serving, but they became enshrined even in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. The intellectuals said all the prophets and apostles who had affirmed Letter VII were wrong.
The Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory was taught in innumerable presentations, articles, books, blogs, etc., supported by reference to illusory "correspondences" between the text and archaeological discoveries in Central America. I consider these illusory because they are characteristic of most human societies around the world and throughout time.
The illusory nature of these "correspondences" explains why there are so many theories of Book of Mormon geography. When the intellectuals cut us free from the prophetic constraints Joseph and Oliver imposed by situating Cumorah in New York, we entered a phase of geographic relativism.
But at least we were looking for a real-world setting.
In recent years, the situation has gone from bad to worse.
BYU and CES are now teaching students an "abstract" fantasy map that frames the Book of Mormon as a fictional account akin to the Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings, with their associated "abstract" fantasy maps.
The narrative that Joseph and Oliver were wrong has been taught for decades now, so that Church employees, scholars, and many Church members accept it as a given. As a result, we see the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory incorporated into Church media and artwork, the Joseph Smith Papers and the Church History Museum, the visitors centers, and chapels worldwide.
I'm informed that officially, the Church has no position on Book of Mormon geography. We are each entitled to our own opinions, based on our own research, spiritual, intellectual, and physical.
But we're not entitled to our own facts.
One thing all members of the Church share is Church history. It's our common heritage, no matter when we joined or how old we are. Interpretations of historical events are subjective, but the more we know about the historical facts, the better informed our opinions are.
But the intellectuals have effectively suppressed any discussion of Letter VII and its context, as well as the real-world evidence that supports the New York Cumorah. I've documented plenty of examples in this and other blogs, and I could document plenty more.
I think geography relativism undermines the goal of using the Book of Mormon to convince people that Jesus is the Christ--especially when it is based on the repudiation of what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah.
I disagree with the current notion that undermining the reliability and credibility of the prophets and apostles helps build faith in those prophets and apostles.
The more people learn about Church history and the relevant archaeology, anthropology, geography and geology, the more they shift away from the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory and toward the New York Cumorah.
2018 is going to be an amazing year for education.
*What current paradigms are counterproductive?
If the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince people that Jesus is the Christ, IMO it is counterproductive to teach people things that undermine faith in the Book of Mormon and the prophets and apostles. Few people read the Book of Mormon when they think it is fiction or some kind of pious fraud.
Nevertheless, there are several prevalent paradigms taught by LDS intellectuals that, in my view, undermine faith in just this way.
Right now, LDS students at BYU/CES (not to mention missionaries and investigators) are being taught that the best way to understand the Book of Mormon narrative is by studying an "abstract" fantasy map that portrays Cumorah as anywhere other than in New York. This frames the text as fiction and repudiates 150+ years of teachings by the prophets and apostles.
It is counterproductive to tell people that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church (and the world) about the Hill Cumorah being in New York when they wrote, published, and republished Letter VII.
It is counterproductive (but self-serving for the intellectuals) to tell people that Joseph Smith changed his mind about Book of Mormon geography during his lifetime and ended up learning about it from scholars, whose views he supposedly endorsed.
It is counterproductive to tell people that all of the prophets and apostles who reaffirmed the New York Cumorah were wrong. It is also counterproductive to tell people that the intellectuals know this because they have PhDs and "expertise" that outweighs what Joseph, Oliver, and their contemporaries and successors taught.
It is counterproductive to tell people that Cumorah cannot be in New York because it doesn't fit the criteria established by the intellectuals, especially when these criteria are not set out in the text and are designed solely to fit the Mesoamerican narrative.
It is counterproductive to censor and exclude ideas about Book of Mormon geography that contradict the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory favored by these intellectuals.
**Note: some people claim Joseph didn't help write Letter VII, but Oliver said Joseph helped write the letters, Joseph had them copied into his own history, and Joseph told at least his brother Don Carlos and Benjamin Winchester to publish them in their respective newspapers. In addition, Parley P. Pratt published it in the Millennial Star in England and in a special pamphlet consisting of all 8 of these historical letters, printed in response to strong demand by the British Saints. This was all during Joseph's lifetime. Two days after the martyrdom in 1844, Joseph's brother William Smith published Letter VII in his New York newspaper. I think this evidence demonstrates Joseph's repeated endorsement of Letter VII, whether he actually co-wrote it or not. I don't think there's any serious doubt that Joseph believed Cumorah was in New York. All of his contemporaries agreed.
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