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, February 9, 2018

Getting real about Cumorah - Part 5d, origin of M2C

I discussed the origins of M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) in a previous post, which you can read here: https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-origin-of-mesoamerican-model.html

The book that superseded the prophets
In this post, I will briefly discuss the book that established M2C. It was this book that persuaded LDS intellectuals to reject the prophets' teachings on the New York Cumorah.

The book was originally published in 1981, about the time when Church employees began shifting their bias away from accepting the prophets and towards accepting the intellectuals instead.

The author, David A. Palmer, also wrote the article on "Cumorah" in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which you can read here.

This is the article in which Brother Palmer cites his own book as authority. It's also the article that was plagiarized for the phony fax that FairMormon likes to cite to support M2C, which I discussed here:

I purchased my copy in 1982 when the second printing came out. Like most readers, I found it very persuasive. For decades after reading this book I accepted M2C.

Looking back on it, I see how misleading the book was. I'm sure Brother Palmer had good intentions, but he established the intellectual foundation for rejecting the prophets in favor of the intellectuals. Now that foundation has grown into a large, spacious building into which our BYU/CES teachers invite their students. If that sounds harsh, look at what the book teaches.

The first chapter is titled "Why Search for Cumorah?" It opens with this sidebar quotation:

"It would not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon. Light cleaves to light and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one..."

Joseph Smith, Jr.
Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 23, p. 927

Remember when I explained how the current M2C intellectuals say their theory does not depend on the anonymous Times and Seasons articles? Here we have the most influential book about M2C quoting those articles and ascribing them directly to Joseph Smith!

As we'll see, Brother Palmer's entire theory is based on his assumption that Joseph wrote these articles. Some people still believe that because it confirms their biases, but there is really no chance that Joseph had the time or inclination to read, extract, and comment on the Stephens books, as I've discussed at length before.

(BTW, the Church History Department still promotes this false narrative about Joseph Smith and the Times and Seasons because they are colluding with the M2C scholars to keep M2C alive. You see it in the notes in the Joseph Smith Papers and in the upcoming new Church History book to be released later this year.)

At the bottom of page 17, Brother Palmer sets out his thesis:

"This book presents the theory that there are two Cumorahs. The original Cumorah, which relates to Book of Mormon history, will be called "Mormon's Cumorah" because Mormon hid there the large Nephite record library. A location for Mormon's Cumorah in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, is proposed and will be defended. The hill in New York State will be called "Moroni's Cumorah," since Moroni placed a small set of plates there for eventual delivery to Joseph Smith."

Two Cumorahs on display at Temple Square, SLC
Now you understand why Church employees developed this exhibit depicting the M2C in the North Visitors' Center on Temple Square.

In my graphic, I characterize "Mormon's Cumorah" as the "real Cumorah" because that's how M2C explains it; i.e., according to M2C, the idea that the "New York hill" is "Cumorah" is a false tradition.

The Visitors' Center makes sure people know Mormon's depository is in Mexico by covering the walls with Mayan glyphs.

The exhibit designers put Moroni off in the distance at the "New York hill" to make sure that visitors realize that the prophets are wrong and the intellectuals are correct. And, as we've seen previously, they depict Moroni burying the Liahona and the sword of Laban in the stone box, contrary to all historical evidence, lest some unsuspecting member of the Church (or investigator) happen to wonder about D&C 17.

The last thing Church employees want is for members (and investigators) to learn about Letter VII and all the prophets and apostles who have affirmed it.

And really, this is all thanks to Brother Palmer's book.

On this page, we have some more explanation of M2C.

"The text of the Book of Mormon will be examined and used to develop sets of criteria by which the validity of the two-Cumorah theory can be judged. Also, thirteen geographical and fifteen archaeological-cultural criteria will be presented. It will be shown that the proposed hill in Mexico meets these criteria. By contrast, it will be shown that the hill in New York meets only a few of the screening criteria."

This statement is another wonderful expression of confirmation bias. The circular reasoning is obvious to everyone except maybe Brother Palmer. Here's how it works.

Step 1: Decide that Cumorah is in Mexico.
Step 2: Interpret the text to create criteria that describe the Mexican Cumorah
Step 3: Apply these criteria to prove the Mexican Cumorah
Step 4: Apply these criteria to exclude the New York Cumorah 

The logical fallacy is so transparent I'm embarrassed to admit that I fell for it for decades, but that's the power of confirmation bias. I wanted to believe my BYU professors to the point that circular reasoning was persuasive to me.

We'll look at the "criteria" later because I want to examine the second paragraph I highlighted on this page. My comments in red.

"The impact of placing Mormon's Cumorah in the State of New York is to grossly distort the geography of the Book of Mormon. The distortion is the result of Brother Palmer's assumption about the Mesoamerican setting, but he takes that setting as a given. Certainly the prophets who have taught the New York Cumorah did not view it as a distortion. 

Doing this makes it impossible to reconcile the internal geography of the Book of Mormon with actual maps. There are dozens of "actual maps" that depict Cumorah in New York. 

Without a valid geography of the Book of Mormon there cannot be any serious studies of the correlation between archaeology and the Book of Mormon. The validity of a geography theory is in the eye of the creator. The "correlation" approach is pure confirmation bias anyway; it is so illusory that there are "correlations" between the text and every human society throughout time everywhere in the world. 

In fact, the traditional view that there is just one Cumorah has proved a stumbling block to development and publication of serious contributions to Book of Mormon archaeology. Actually, the inverse is true. Once the intellectuals persuaded members that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah, M2C became a stumbling block to belief in the prophets and the Book of Mormon itself. Serious contributions based on archaeology remain available with the New York setting.

It appears that there is no scriptural justification for placing Mormon's Cumorah in New York, and there is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever said it was there. Joseph's own mother said Joseph called the hill Cumorah even before he obtained the plates because that was what Moroni had called it. True, Moroni didn't name the hill again after he buried the plates; after all, they were buried so he couldn't add to them. But as we've seen, Joseph endorsed Letter VII multiple times, as have his successors. Most important, Joseph, Oliver and others actually visited Mormon's depository in the New York hill, which makes the claim that Joseph never "said it was there" moot.

The location of Mormon's Cumorah is, therefore, an open question which should be approached analytically." This is the self-serving conclusion that all the M2C intellectuals want people to reach. Experts in every profession want people to think their profession is essential. The more the M2C intellectuals persuade people to follow them instead of the prophets, the more power and influence the M2C intellectuals have. It's a natural human tendency to seek power and influence, so we can't blame the intellectuals for pursuing it here. But one reason why we have prophets is to counter this human tendency to rely on our own intellect. Jacob addressed this in 2 Nephi 9: "O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not."

Page 20 has a brief nod to Oliver Cowdery. Let's look at this.

There is no record of Moroni having told Joseph Smith that the place where the abridgement was buried was Cumorah, or that the hill was once a great battleground. I previously mentioned Joseph's mother's account, which Brother Palmer may not have known about.  

If this had been the place of those great final battles, it would be rather surprising that it was not mentioned. The logical fallacy is assuming Moroni did not mention it just because there is no contemporaneous record of Moroni calling it Cumorah before President Cowdery's 1835 letters. There was also no record of John the Baptist and Peter, James and John coming before Oliver's letters. By Brother Palmer's reasoning, those events must not have occurred, either. The reason President Cowdery and Joseph Smith wrote these letters was precisely because the history had not been recorded adequately.

We have only the scantiest of inferences that Joseph Smith ever called the hill "Cumorah." (D&C 128:20). D&C 128 was the letter Joseph wrote to the editor of the Times and Seasons for publication in October 1842. The Times and Seasons had re-published Letter VII in April 1841. Because of that re-publication, and Letter VII's appearance in the Millennial Star and the Gospel Reflector (which were available in Nauvoo), everyone who read the Times and Seasons was familiar with the teaching that Cumorah was in New York. Joseph's 1842 reference to Cumorah was in the context of this universal understanding, which every Church leader who ever spoke on the topic affirmed.

However, he does not appear to have corrected Oliver Cowdery, who may have been the one to first name the New York hill "Cumorah." (Cowdery, 1835)" Not only did Joseph "not appear to have corrected Oliver Cowdery," but Joseph had his scribes copy these letters, including Letter VII, into his own history as part of his life story. He had Letter VII republished multiple times, including by his brothers Don Carlos and William. Instead of informing his readers about these further corroborations, Brother Palmer merely cites the initial publication in the relatively obscure Messenger and Advocate. Perhaps Brother Palmer was merely unaware of how many times Letter VII has been republished and reaffirmed by the prophets, but just three years before his book was published in 1981, Elder Mark E. Petersen declared in General Conference that the Hill Cumorah was in New York. Brother Palmer gives no credence to the prophets, so we wouldn't expect him to mention what they've said, but readers should be aware that he is not providing a complete picture of the controversy. 

In the interest of time and space, I'll conclude with page 21. This is where Brother Palmer uses the anonymous Times and Seasons articles as his justification for following the intellectuals instead of the prophets.

"The prophet Joseph Smith has stated very clearly that the approach to Book of Mormon geography must be primarily of an intellectual nature. In 1842, while serving as editor of the Nauvoo newspaper, "Times and Seasons," he used the paper to educate the people and turn Nauvoo into a cultural center of the west. One of the books which the prophet publicized was a national bestseller written by John Lloyd Stephens (1841)."

Notice again how much Brother Palmer's narrative relies on the mistaken premise that Joseph wrote those anonymous articles. Now Brother Palmer has Joseph stating "very clearly" that the approach "must be primarily of an intellectual nature."

I think by now you can see how self-serving this approach is.

If you're a student at BYU or CES, you see this approach in play every time you take a Book of Mormon class and your teachers show you an abstract map of the Book of Mormon that depicts Cumorah anywhere but New York.

I'll end with Brother Palmer's criteria. These are the same criteria being applied by M2C intellectuals today.

All of them are, at best, interpretations of the text, some of which are so imaginary that they amount to pure speculation designed to qualify Mexico and disqualify New York.

Brother Palmer's #5 says, "in an area of many rivers and waters." But the text says "land of many waters, rivers, and fountains," and "a land among many waters." I discussed the significance of this description here:

Brother Palmer's #12 says, "temperate climate with no cold or snow," which the text does not require.

#13 says, "in a volcanic zone susceptible to earthquakes," but the text never mentions volcanoes.


Summary. Brother Palmer's book laid the foundation for M2C. Subsequent M2C authors have built on that foundation, adding details and variations, but on one point, all the M2C authors and proponents agree: they want members of the Church to reject the prophets and follow the intellectuals.

Each member of the Church needs to decide whether to take their invitation or to follow the prophets instead.

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