Today we'll look at Seminary and Institute.
The Seminary manual on the Book of Mormon contains 160 lessons, most of which focus on one chapter from the text. They're great lessons.
Here's an example from Lesson 139, which covers Mormon 5-6.
This is good. The lesson points out that the Nephites gathered to the land of Cumorah and that Mormon hid the Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah.
What's even better, the manual encourages teachers to show students the Arnold Friberg painting of Mormon and Moroni together at the Hill Cumorah in New York.
This is the painting that was removed from the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon in 1981, to be replaced with the two-Cumorahs images of (i) Moroni alone at the New York hill and (ii) Christ ministering to Mayans in Central America.
At any rate, we're happy to see this painting in the Seminary manual. Friberg painted an oak leaf hanging from the enormous oak tree so there can be no mistake: this Cumorah is in New York.
However, the problem is not solved.
The very last item in the manual is titled "Possible Book of Mormon Sites (in Relation to Each Other)." When you turn to the page, you find this:
Like the BYU map, this Seminary manual map incorporates the M2C interpretation of the text.
You've got the north-flowing River Sidon, the "Narrow Neck of Land" that conflates all the "narrow" features into one, etc.
A qualifier at the bottom of the map tries to save the day.
*Possible relationships of sites in the Book of Mormon, based on internal evidence. No effort should be made to identify points on this map with any existing geographical location. The map spans Jaredites and Nephite/Lamanite periods during which settlements changed over time.
Now, put yourself in the place of a Seminary student (or teacher). This fantasy map is "based on internal evidence," as if there is only one way to interpret the text. (This is the same unstated premise behind BYU's fancier fantasy map.)
But the real kicker is this: "No effort should be made to identify points on this map with any geographical location."
IOW, you have to learn the Book of Mormon by thinking of it in a fantasy land. And despite the Friberg painting of Cumorah, you must not think of Cumorah as being in New York.
|The "land northward" in fantasyland
The manual goes to great pains to disavow the New York Cumorah.
To make sure no one could possibly entertain the idea that President Cowdery, Joseph Smith, David Whitmer, Brigham Young, etc. taught the truth about Cumorah, this map portrays a location for Cumorah that, just like the BYU fantasy map, resembles no place on planet Earth.
|The "Hill Cumorah" in fantasyland
People often ask me how this type of thing occurs. I think it's the inevitable result of certain intellectuals pushing the M2C narrative for so long that it has become the de factor lens through which everyone, including staff at Church headquarters, interprets the text.
They "can't unsee Mesoamerica."
But, unlike BYU Studies, they try to follow a policy of neutrality, so they end up with maps such as this.
Now, imagine you're a Seminary student (or teacher, or parent) and a friend of yours says, "Hey, did you know the early Church leaders taught that Cumorah was in New York?"
Based on this manual, you'd have to say, "No. In fact, we aren't supposed to identify any Book of Mormon sites with any existing geographical location."
So the friend (or Internet search such as this http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/cumorah.htm) shows you a quotation from, say, Orson Pratt, who explained there were two departments in the Hill Cumorah in New York: one for Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) and one for Moroni's stone box.
Or the friend reads the passage from James E. Talmage's Articles of Faith. Or from President Romney's General Conference address. Or from any of many other teachings of the prophets and apostles, including Letter VII.
Thanks to the BYU/CES curriculum, this will all be news to you.
And you will be in the position of trying to defend criticism when you have never been given the facts.
You will suddenly realize why so many people have been telling you the Church isn't open about its history. You will realize why so many people have been saying the Church changes its teachings, that the scholars don't believe the prophets, etc.
All because our LDS intellectuals have persuaded generations of Latter-day Saints that the prophets and apostles were wrong about the Hill Cumorah.
It's difficult to imagine a more senseless, yet devastating, teaching than M2C.
Rather than have students, missionaries, and ordinary members of the Church learn about the conflict between the prophets and the intellectuals from antagonistic (or sincerely puzzled) friends and associates (and web pages), we would do well to teach the people about Letter VII and the teachings of the prophets and apostles that corroborate the New York Cumorah.
Actually, I think we would do well to embrace the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah.
But apparently that's too much to ask right now.
M2C is subtle but present throughout Church media and curriculum. Look at the cover of the Seminary manual itself and notice the massive stone pyramid in the background.
Fortunately, it's relative muted, but it conveys a clear impression of Mayan culture.
Worse, the manual encourages teachers to show students the ubiquitous painting "Jesus Teaching in the Western Hemisphere," which you see in nearly every chapel around the world. (see below)
There's a long way to go before we get serious about Cumorah. Joseph and Oliver put us on a clear course. Joseph re-emphasized that course over and over while he was alive by having Letter VII reprinted in every outlet available to him. His successors kept us on the course for over 150 years.
But lately the intellectuals derailed us and now seem to have prevailed over the prophets and apostles.
But we don't have to let that continue.
In spite paintings such as this: