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, February 26, 2018

Cumorah - 8c, "a realistic setting for the Book of Mormon"

In this post, I'm going to agree with Brother Sorenson that the pursuit of a realistic setting for the Book of Mormon is an important and worthwhile endeavor.

I'm also going to disagree with his approach by showing how prominent, well-known LDS intellectuals have created tremendous and unnecessary confusion among LDS people and potential investigators because they have rejected the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah. 

I'm focusing on Brother Sorenson's book,
 An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, because this book has been, and continues to be, highly influential. It is the guidebook for promoters of M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). To this day, they accept the assumptions set forth in Brother Sorenson's book. These assumptions established the bias that M2C intellectuals and their followers continually seek to confirm.

I start with the Preface.

"The task of establishing a realistic setting for the Book of Mormon is a big, challenging one." Sorenson, p. xvi. [All quotations in this post are from this book unless otherwise noted.]

The challenging nature of this task is evident in the number of settings that have been proposed over the years. But the benefits of establishing a realistic setting outweigh the costs, provided we heed the prophets in the process.

"Biblical scholarship has illuminated that scriptural text by showing the interplay between human and divine influences and establishing the Bible as a record all the more profound because it is anchored in a complex reality of time, space and behavior. I have sought the same illumination for Lehi's people and their book." xvi.

Brother Sorenson next points out that we have a pretty good idea of where Lehi went when he left Jerusalem. "But the minute the party climb into Nephi's ship and launch their journey into the Indian Ocean, we lost that sense of concreteness. Landed in the New World, they are just vaguely 'somewhere.' Until recently, after 150 years since the Nephite record was first published by Joseph Smith, we had neglected to pin down the location of a single city, to identify confidently even one route the people of the volume traversed, or to sketch a believable picture of any segment of the life they lived in their American promised land. In many respects, the Book of Mormon remains a sealed book to us because we have failed to do the work necessary to place it in its setting." xvii.

The last sentence is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I agree with Brother Sorenson that we haven't done enough work on the Book of Mormon, but I disagree in the sense that the prophets have put a pin in the map: the New York Cumorah. Brother Sorenson simply disregards what the prophets and apostles have said about that.

He continues: "Two major advantages would result from doing so. First, the Latter-day Saints themselves could grasp the message of the scripture with greater power, because the events and people would become more believable." 

I completely agree with this, but paradoxically, Brother Sorenson's insistence on repudiating the prophets makes both the text--and the prophets--less believable. It surprises me that he seems to overlook this obvious point. It surprises me even more that other M2C intellectuals remain blind to the impact of their dogma. I attribute it to confirmation bias, of course, and while that's an explanation for what they're doing, it's no justification.

"Second, the significance of the volume could be communicated more forcefully to others, who at present hold the Book of Mormon at arm's length, judging that it lacks reality and substance."

Letters by Oliver Cowdery,
That is a tremendous insight that the early Apostles understood. The British missions in the 1830s and 1840s were highly successful, partly because they linked the Book of Mormon to the real world. Parley P. Pratt published President Cowdery's eight historical letters in the first eight issues of the Millennial Star. He published Letter VII in October 1840. There was no question in the minds of the early leaders of the Church that Cumorah was in New York, and they used this fact to convey the reality and substance of the Book of Mormon to their investigators in England. In fact, the demand for President Cowdery's letters was so great that they published them as a separate booklet in 1844.

At the end of his year in England, Brigham Young reported that they had baptized 5,000 converts after distributing just 3,000 copies of the Book of Mormon (plus the Millennial Star and other publications). By that standard, since there are over 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon in print today (plus electronic versions), there should be 200 million or more Latter-day Saints in the world. Instead, we baptize only around 300,000 a year, and the total membership of fewer than 17 million is less than 10% of what it should be, based on the standards of the British mission.


There are lots of answers that I've addressed elsewhere, but for purposes of this post, it seems obvious that the M2C insistence on repudiating the prophets about the New York Cumorah is a tremendous burden on missionaries and a largely insurmountable impediment for investigators who sincerely want to know if the Book of Mormon is true. That's why only around 300,000 people are baptized every year instead of 3 million, or 30 million.

Reiterating what the prophets and apostles have consistently taught would make a dramatic difference for members and investigators, for all the reasons Brother Sorenson mentions in the quotation above.

"Apathy on the part of the Saints could rob us of both benefits. 

Surely apathy is a perennial problem, but even worse is outright rejection of the prophets.

One hears from some of them that we don't really need any more explication or illumination of scripture than we already have, that the Spirit is guide enough. I am in good company--people like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young--in believing that God's purpose can be aided by our exertions to illuminated the meaning of the scriptures. How ironic it would prove if the Latter-day Saints themselves were to reject further light and knowledge about the Nephite record."

When I read these observations, I wonder whether Brother Sorenson is writing tongue-in-cheek. In the LDS community, the phrase "further light and knowledge" usually refers revelation or messages from prophets and apostles. The real irony of the last sentence in the quotation is that Brother Sorenson and all the other M2C intellectuals have specifically rejected the further light and knowledge given to us by the prophets and apostles; i.e., the knowledge that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.

Brother Sorenson apparently expects us to obtain "further light and knowledge" not from the prophets but from the scholars--the self-appointed gods of this world. I don't see that working out very well. And, certainly, the M2C dogma has caused far more confusion than illumination of the scriptures.

Brother Sorenson does a nice job describing the impact of confirmation bias. "Various readers will judge in different ways the materials and argument that will be presented below. Those who are already inclined to accept will conclude that the parallels constitute overwhelming evidence that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient record, while more skeptical minds will chalk up the same parallels to faulty data, or to a series of misinterpretations on my part, or to mere coincidence.... There can be no supreme court on this matter. Each individual has to hold his or her own trial. The scripture itself insists that it can be tested by each reader: 'Ask God... if these things are not true; and ... he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.' (Moroni 10:4).... My subjective views about the Book of Mormon and the culture area with which I shall compare it of course influenced what I have written here. Without a lively interest in both the area and the scripture, I would never have invested the substantial effort even to make the comparison."

It is impressive that Brother Sorenson so readily admits his bias. That's one of the reasons I respect him and admire his work. Many other M2C intellectuals--and especially their followers--actually believe they have some degree of objectivity. Such a belief is delusional. It is human nature--basic psychology--for people to confirm their biases.

If everyone involved with the discussion and debate about Book of Mormon geography would simply admit and declare their biases, we'd be a long ways closer to resolution than we are now. And even if people retain their views and biases, at least observers could decide which bias they have and choose accordingly.

Then we would have two "realistic settings" for the Book of Mormon that correspond to the respective biases.

1. If you accept the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, you accept the North American setting, which I refer to as Moroni's America (MA), similar to the Heartland model.

2. If you reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, you accept the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs setting (M2C). 

(Actually, if you reject the teachings of the prophets you could also accept the Baja, Peru, Chile, Panama, or any number of other settings, but M2C is by far the predominant one among LDS intellectuals and their followers at BYU/CES/Church History Department, etc. The fantasy BYU/CES maps are merely a ruse to teach M2C without placing the events in any "real-world" setting.)

As honorable as it is for Brother Sorenson to admit his confirmation bias, he unfortunately confirms his bias by hiding critical information from his readers, as I'll show in tomorrow's post.

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