Kirk discusses 11 criteria or parameters that he thinks make a case for Mesoamerica. In my view, he's done as good a job as possible making his case. But when I read his analysis, I was reminded of a quotation from John Kenneth Galbraith: "Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
In this post, I show how Kirk's 11 criteria make an even stronger case for the North American setting that I call Moroni's America.
|Logo for Book of Mormon Central|
The Mayan glyph represents M2C
Like other M2C promoters, Kirk claims the prophets have erred when they have taught that Cumorah is in New York. He thinks they were merely expressing their opinions. Each was speaking as a man, and each was wrong because the M2C intellectuals know better than the prophets.
Kirk thinks President Ezra Taft Benson was also wrong when he declared that "The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them, otherwise the prophet is just giving his opinion—speaking as a man..."
For this reason, at the end of this post I add a 12th criterion that completely disqualifies Mesoamerica if you accept Kirk's 11 criteria.
I greatly respect Kirk and appreciate all he does. He's the most rational and fair of the M2C promoters I know, so I wanted to call attention to his post.
Plus, he's not teaching at BYU/CES, so he's not violating the trust of the students and parents who send their kids to be taught the gospel, and instead discover instructors who teach their students to disbelieve the teachings of the prophets as mere opinions of men.
Readers of this blog should know what the M2C intellectuals think, and Kirk makes their case better than anyone else because he generally avoids the intellectual arrogance that characterizes most of the work of the M2C citation cartel.
Don't forget, I always encourage people to read the material from the M2C citation cartel, even though they continually seek to censor and suppress my views and the facts I present.
Someday, I hope Kirk will be amenable to allowing a side-by-side comparison and discussion on Book of Mormon Central's web page, and I think if it was up to Kirk he'd do it tomorrow, but when you look at the forces he's dealing with there, you can see why this hasn't happened yet and probably never will.
The M2C intellectuals are literally afraid to let people compare their theories to the material we discuss on this blog.
Kirk starts by making a good point about the urban legends in Mormonism, such as Lehi's landing in Chile and the purported "baptismal fonts" throughout Latin America (and the rest of the world, for that matter). Kirk summarizes this point this way: "In 1975 I was in New York City on a research project and a well-educated fellow asked me at Church if I was one of those 'naive people who think every hole in the ground is a baptismal font.'"
That's an excellent summary of confirmation bias.
Unfortunately, Kirk doesn't recognize that his entire approach is based on confirmation bias. I'll explain as I make comments below. Kirk's original material is in blue, my comments in black.
A couple of days before Christmas, 1974, I visited John L. Sorenson in the American Fork, UT home he built while I was in the mission field. In about five minutes he convinced me that the New World portions of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize). More than forty years later, scientific advances have made his logic even more compelling.
This is as perfect an expression of confirmation bias as you'll find anywhere. The exact same scientific advances have led Brother Sorenson's non-LDS peers to become even more skeptical of the Mesoamerican connection to the Book of Mormon, as we saw in a recent interview that I discussed here:
Brother Sorenson convinced Kirk in 5 minutes, but realize that Kirk had returned from a mission to Peru where he had spent some extra time searching for Book of Mormon evidence. If he hadn't already done so, he was at least predisposed to accepting Brother Sorenson's rejection of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and the North American setting.
It took Brother Sorenson longer than 5 minutes to convince me of the Mesoamerican setting, but he succeeded. For decades I sought to confirm my biases in favor of M2C the way Kirk still is. But eventually a confluence of facts made M2C untenable for me.
I don't know if Kirk has ever seriously considered these facts. I wish he would, although it is well known that confirmation bias overwhelms facts for most people. I think Kirk has the most open mind of any of the M2C intellectuals because while he has a lot of costs sunk into M2C, he doesn't have as many as the BYU/CES/COB employees who continue to promote M2C, as I discussed here.
Theoretically, fewer sunk costs mean more objectivity and a more open mind. That's why "ordinary" members of the Church, once they learn about Letter VII and the teachings of the prophets, readily accept those teachings and reject M2C.
M2C survives only because the M2C intellectuals have (i) imprinted M2C on the minds of LDS students for decades and (ii) successfully suppressed Letter VII and the teachings of the prophets.
These intellectuals rationalize their approach by insisting that their academic standards are so rigorous that they must be correct, which means that the prophets must be wrong about Cumorah. They think that ordinary members are too naive to appreciate both points so they are better off not even knowing what the prophets have taught, or how the sciences validate what the prophets have taught.
With all this in mind, let's look at Kirk's 11 criteria and see if they make a case for Mesoamerica (M2C) or North America (Moroni's America, or MA).
Size. Book of Mormon travel times, expressed in days, limit how large or small the Nephite known world could possibly have been.
[While I generally agree with this statement, I also recognize that Mormon only gave us less than 1% of the history and that he expressly declined to even discuss their shipping and building of ships and the activities of the people outside of the specific areas he mentions. What we have in 1,000 years of history is a few accounts of people traveling, mostly between the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla, each of which are vague areas of indeterminate size. I don't think the limits Kirk claims are required by the text.]
Most serious students [in good M2C fashion, Kirk uses the rhetorical trick of framing anyone who disagrees with him as "not serious." You see this trick throughout the publications of the citation cartel.] of the text are comfortable with a Nephite world having a maximum extent in the 1,000 kilometer range.
[Why does Kirk specify 1,000 km? Because of the next sentence.]
Mesoamerica is right in this sweet spot.
[There it is. The basic M2C approach is to start by answering the question--the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica--and then finding ways to justify the answer. I've pointed out that the corporate mission of Book of Mormon Central (and by extension, the entire citation cartel) is "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." That's the bias they constantly seek to confirm. It's the exact opposite of a serious academic inquiry, which is why the citation cartel uses peer approval instead of actual peer review of their work.]
|1,044 Air Kilometers |
Kaminaljuyú to Teotihuacan
[My proposed geography, described in Moroni's America, generally fits within the same "size" as Kirk's approach. It turns out that the distance from Chattanooga, TN (city of Nephi) to Palmyra, NY (Cumorah) is about 1,116 air kilometers, only about 70 km farther than his estimate. But that's a coincidence because I don't agree with Kirk's approach of deciding exactly how far a Nephite could travel in a day. There are too many variables to decide these things with precision. But the point is, even using Kirk's criteria, his observations about size are as much a case for Moroni's America as they are a case for Mesoamerica. I score this criterion a tie.]
|Middle America Oriented Generally |
|BYU Studies map showing M2C|
with east/west orientation
The infamous BYU Studies maps of M2C show the same thing.
|Close-up showing east/west|
It seems to me that the northward/southward descriptions disqualify Mesoamerica more than anywhere else in the western hemisphere (apart from Panama). In fact, Brother Sorenson himself recognized that, which is why he concocted the "north means west" theory in his books.
Now, if you look at Moroni's America, you see that the land northward is always northward of the land southward. This holds true throughout the text, even when they are referring to different areas.
For example, we think that when Mormon made his treaties with the Lamanites, they were using the continental divide south of the Great Lakes. This way, everyone knew which side of the border they were on based on which direction the streams were flowing. They used the northward/southward distinction, but they referred to different boundaries than earlier chapters in the Book of Mormon.
In Moroni's America, it all makes perfect sense, without the Sorenson-like contortions, or Kirk's characterization of an east/west orientation as actually northward/southward.
Even if you don't agree that the Orientation parameter excludes Mesoamerica, the problems with Mesoamerica that Brother Sorenson points out lead me to score this criterion in favor of Moroni's America.
|Southern Mesoamerica with the Usumacinta River in Red|
You notice here that Kirk shows the Usumacinta River as the River Sidon. When you read the M2C citation cartel literature, you see on ongoing debate about whether Sidon is this river or the Grijalva. They all insist the river Sidon flows north even though the text never says it does.
I agree there is a north-flowing river from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla, but it's called the Tennessee river. That's not the river that flows past the city of Zarahemla, though; that one is the Sidon, today called the Upper Mississippi.
I agree that Kirk makes a case for Mesoamerica here, so I won't get into the details of the assumptions he makes. They don't matter because Moroni's America fits all these criteria even better than Mesoamerica. The lower Mississippi River is the west sea south, as readers here know by now.
Notice, the text says surrounded by water, but the M2C intellectuals always assume that means surrounded by seas. That's their interpretation, not what the text says.
In Moroni's America, these territories were surrounded by water. Water includes seas, lakes, rivers, and even marshes. There was a "small neck of land," not a narrow neck or a narrow neck of land, between the two regions surrounded by water.
The point of this post is not to explain all the geography; we're just evaulating Kirk's criteria. I score the geography as a case for both M2C and MA.
Topography. The Book of Mormon describes mountains, hills, and valleys with significant elevation differences between them. Mesoamerica has highly varied landforms with elevations ranging from sea level to 5,600 meters.
I agree that the Book of Mormon describes mountains, hills and valleys, but the text also refers to plains (e.g., Alma 52:20). This is a critical element of topography, so why doesn't Kirk list plains?
Because Joseph Smith said the plains of the Nephites were in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, not in Mesoamerica.
Mountains are not even mentioned in the New World until the book of Helaman. This means that all the accounts of wars in Alma took place in areas that had plains but not mountains (at least, none that are mentioned). Look at Kirk's map of the Sidon river again. Notice how mountainous the area is. Then ask yourself, if you're Mormon describing the wars in Alma, why are you talking about plains and not mountains?
|The "plains" of the Nephites in Mesoamerica|
The definition of a "plain" is "a large area of flat land with few trees." I've spent some time in Yucatan and when you climb to the tops of the temples there and look over the countryside, you see nothing but trees.
The land might be flat, but it's anything but a "plain." It's a jungle, not a plain.
Furthermore, nothing in the text quantifies the elevation of the hills and mountains, let alone supports an inference that Mormon was writing about mountains 5,600 meters high. The difference between a mountain and a hill is relative, not specific. Traditionally in English, a mountain was considered any hill taller than 1,000 feet. (BTW, the summit of the hill Cumorah in New York is 707 feet.) In southern Illinois (land of Zarahemla) there are hills higher than 1,000 feet. D&C 117:8 refers to the "mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman," an area only a few hundred feet high today.
Overall, I score this criterion as a strong case for Moroni's America and a case against Mesoamerica.
Climate. The Book of Mormon describes armies going to battle dressed in loin cloths around the new year Alma 43:4, 20. Mesoamerica's tropical climate works well with this narrative.
The text doesn't tell us when the "new year" began. Let's say they lived the law of Moses and started the new year at Passover, which was March 30-April 7 this year. Or maybe Rosh Hashanah, which is Sept. 9-11 this year. Or they might have counted from the time of a significant event, such as the ascension of a king. Or, maybe, they started after the winter solstice. We simply don't know.
But it doesn't matter because in the same chapter, the Nephites were wearing "thick clothing." Later, the Lamanites themselves wore "garments of skins, yea, very thick garments." A tropical climate does not work well with thick clothing and very thick garments. I got sunstroke in Peru in the jungle by the Amazon once just because I was wearing Levis, and that was at a higher elevation than Mesoamerica.
|Last of the Mohicans|
Anyone can decide for themselves, but none of this matters because actual native Americans fighting in the French and Indian war, right in the "land northward" of Moroni's America, also fought in loin cloths.
Plus, Alma 46:40 refers to "some seasons of the year." In Mesoamerica, there are two seasons: rainy and dry. Otherwise, the climate is always the same. Not so in Moroni's America, where fevers have long been "very frequent" at "some seasons" because the climate changes, as the people in Nauvoo knew all too well.
The climate criteria doesn't exclude Mesoamerica, but it makes a stronger case for North America than it does for Mesoamerica.
Geology. Earth scientists who study the Book of Mormon generally conclude that the natural disasters described in the text are best accounted for by a combination of seismic and volcanic activity. Mesoamerica is a land of both earthquakes and volcanoes.
Kirk doesn't explain why we should care how "earth scientists" interpret the text when Mormon lived in the area and wrote the text without ever once mentioning or even describing volcanoes. This criterion makes a case against Mesoamerica.
Besides, every event described in the text has actually happened within recorded history in the valleys of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. This criteria makes a strong case for Moroni's America. The absence of volcanoes in the text makes this a case against Mesoamerica.
Demography. The Nephite/Jaredite text describes dense populations in the millions Ether 15:2. Mesoamerica had dense populations in the millions during Book of Mormon times. For dramatic recent corroboration, see the blog article "LiDAR."
The logical fallacies here are two-fold, but in my view, the LiDAR data excludes Mesoamerica as even a possible setting for the Book of Mormon, as I explained here:
To Kirk's point, it's not the "Nephite/Jaredite" text that describes populations in the millions; it's only the Jaredite text, and it's only one verse in which Coriantumr is reflecting on the history of his people.
2. He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.
Two million men, plus their wives and their children, (let's say a total of 6 million) "had been slain," but over what period of time? Coriantumr fought for two years of unending wars before being imprisoned for a year. His sons rescued him. He returned to battle but was wounded and spent two years recovering. This is six years of bloody wars already. Then, in the wilderness of Akish, "many thousands" fell by the sword. There were more battles, then Coriantumr took his army into the wilderness for two years to acquire strength. That was followed by a series of bloody wars of indeterminate periods, until the final battles at Ramah/Cumorah. They spent 4 more years gathering the people. But if we do the math, based on the numbers Moroni gives us, the final battle took a week and involved fewer than 10,000 people.
If Coriantumr was referring only to the deaths that happened during his lifetime, and he lived say 60 years, that would be around 100,000 killed per year. That's consistent with the only description we have; i.e., "many thousands" killed in a significant battle. Maybe he was referring to those killed over 30 years, so 200,000 per year. Or maybe, as I think, he was referring to all his people killed throughout their history, going back generations. "He began to remember the words which Ether had spoken unto him." (Ether 15:1). Coriantumr's ancestors rejected previous prophets who had prophesied of the destruction of the people if they didn't repent. I think Coriantumr was reflecting on all his people who had been killed, going back generations. This means the population at any given time would have been much smaller than the millions killed over their history.
Of course, up until Ramah, people were surviving the wars. We simply cannot say from the text how many Jaredites there were.
And the number of Jaredites has essentially no relevance to the number of Nephites there were. I think the estimates of millions of Nephites/Lamanites is not even suggested by the text, let alone required by it.
The numbers actually spelled out in the text are consistent with the archaeology and anthropology of Moroni's America, so in my view, this criterion makes a strong case for Moroni's America, but I can see the logic in Kirk's case for Mesoamerica so I'll score it even.
Civilization. The Book of Mormon unambiguously describes what cultural anthropologists call "state level society" aka high civilization. See the blog article entitled "State Level Society." In the Western Hemisphere, only Mesoamerica achieved this degree of cultural sophistication during Book of Mormon times.
I addressed this point here: https://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2016/07/state-level-society-and-book-of-mormon.html
In my view, this criterion doesn't necessary exclude Mesoamerica, but it makes a stronger case for Moroni's America.
Literacy. The Book of Mormon clearly describes widespread literacy Mosiah 2:8 with multiple writing systems. In the Americas, only Mesoamerica had widespread literacy with multiple scripts in use during Book of Mormon times.
This has always seemed like a bizarre argument to me. The M2C intellectuals have changed their mind on this over the years. Originally, they recognized that most of the Book of Mormon people were illiterate; i.e., the more numerous people of Zarahemla, who were illiterate for hundreds of years before Mosiah taught them language, and the Lamanites who sought to destroy written records from at least the time of Enos through Moroni. Once, the Nephites taught the Lamanites to write, but this was so remarkable that Mormon made special mention of it.
None of that matters, though, because the language used in Mesoamerica was definitely neither Hebrew nor Egyptian, which was the language used by the Book of Mormon people. If you go to China today and you don't speak, read or write Chinese, you are effectively illiterate even if you can read and write in English. The presence of a unique Mayan writing system is zero evidence of the existence of a group of Hebrews in Mesoamerica.
The only engraved stone mentioned in the text is the one Coriantumr left with the people of Zarahemla, and they couldn't even read it. There were no engraved stone records of kings and conquests like we find in Mesoamerica.
What we should be looking for is a widespread, sophisticated society that left no writing. As Moroni said, if the Lamanites found the records they would destroy them. Presumably they were successful with all the records except the ones Moroni and Mormon hid in the hill Cumorah.
What we should be looking for is what we actually find in Moroni's America. I score this a case for MA and a case against M2C.
Architecture. The Nephites built with stone Alma 48:8 and cement Helaman 3:7, 9, 11, materials that tend to preserve well in archaeological contexts. Stone and cement as building materials are attested in Mesoamerican archaeology. See the blog article "Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon."
Here Kirk identifies the sole reference anywhere in the text to building with stone. Let's take a look:
Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.
The Nephites "erected" small forts. As a verb, the term means to "build, construct or put up." As an adjective, the term means "upright, straight, perpendicular." The context, then, indicates building with timber, as in Alma 50:
2 And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.
3 And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high.
Alma 53:4 describes it this way:
4 And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they cast up [erected] dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers; and thus they did cause the Lamanites to labor until they had encircled the city of Bountiful round about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height.
The Nephites built defenses primarily with earth and timber, but they "also" built "walls of stone" around their cities and borders. Such walls of stone are common throughout human societies, of course. When new people come in, they either use the same walls or tear them down to make new walls or houses or roads.
Nowhere in the text does anyone build anything other than a wall out of stone. Certainly no massive stone pyramids.
Kirk emphasizes that "Stone and cement as building materials are attested in Mesoamerican archaeology."
But this is a case against Mesoamerica.
The text never once mentions building with stone and cement. Instead, it mentions building with wood and cement. In fact, they only used cement once, and then only to let trees to grow so "that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings." Hel. 3:9.
Here we see that they built all their buildings out of wood, not stone.
In Moroni's America, we find that the people living in the Book of Mormon time frame built primarily with earth and timber, but also sometimes with cement. After all, the only known Nephite cement was the cement Moroni used on the hill Cumorah in New York.
This criterion makes a strong case against Mesoamerica and a strong case for Moroni's America.
Chronology. The Book of Mormon chronicles events from ca. 2,300 BC to AD 421. Plausible Mesoamerican settings are attested archaeologically in those time frames. Some of the temporal correspondences are striking as in the blog article "75 BC."
Humans were living throughout the Earth between 2,300 B.C and AD 421. This is true of Mesoamerica and Moroni's America both, as archaeologists have long known. I agree with Kirk that this makes a case for Mesoamerica--the case against Mesoamerica would be zero human habitation there during this time frame--but makes just as much a case for Moroni's America (or anywhere else in the world where people were living during those periods). I score this criterion even for both settings.
Metallurgy in Book of Mormon times is well attested in the Andes. Seeds from the Levant or Arabia would thrive in Baja California. Some statements by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries do refer to the modern United States of America. Some Book of Mormon passages can be interpreted to lend support to an "intimate" aka small-scale geographic model. Viewed comprehensively, though, the preponderance of contextual clues in the Book of Mormon text favor a Mesoamerican setting which is why most LDS scholars today look for correlations in that area.
I like the way Kirk acknowledges some evidence that contradicts M2C. But he left out criterion #12, which for me is the most important.
Criterion #12: Cumorah is in New York.
Well, if we believe the prophets, it's in New York.
Kirk and the other M2C intellectuals teach that the prophets have all been wrong about Cumorah. They teach that President Cowdery lied when he said it was a fact that the final battles took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates. They teach that all the prophets who have quoted Letter VII and testified that Cumorah is in New York were wrong. They were merely expressing their opinions, according to Kirk.
I couldn't disagree more with the M2C intellectuals on this point.
Why do these intellectuals repudiate the prophets? Why do teachers at BYU and CES, and employees in the Church Office Building, insist the prophets are wrong?
Solely to defend their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.
|BYU Studies map that teaches|
the prophets are wrong about Cumorah
It's also in the fantasy map being taught throughout CES and BYU.
By itself, the New York Cumorah doesn't exclude any other possible geography. It is consistent with the hemispheric model or any limited geography model that includes the New York Cumorah.
The M2C intellectuals insist the prophets are wrong solely because they have painted themselves into a Mesoamerican corner that requires that the prophets are wrong!
The prophets have consistently and persistently taught two things:
1. Cumorah is in New York.
2. We don't know for sure where the other events took place.
The M2C intellectuals seek to conflate those teachings and thereby deceive members of the Church into thinking the prophets have never taught that Cumorah is in New York.
This is reckless and inexcusable, in my view. I think all the M2C intellectuals who teach that the prophets are wrong are violating the trust that has been placed on them, and they should change their minds ASAP.
They can keep Mesoamerica if they want, but they can't continue to repudiate the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
Even if you reject the specific, repeated teachings of the prophets, the relevant archaeology, anthropology, and geology all point to Cumorah as the area where a significant civilization from Ohio vanished around 400 A.D.
But in my view, there is no point in having prophets if we say they are wrong when we disagree with them.
And I hope that someday, Kirk and maybe some of the other M2C intellectuals will agree with that.
Then we will all be united, supporting the prophets and declaring to the world that Cumorah is in New York, that there is abundant evidence of the Book of Mormon established by non-LDS scientists, and that therefore everyone in the world needs to take the Book of Mormon seriously.