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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Non-neutral "Neutrality" in Gospel Topics

Lately we've been hearing a lot about the Church's alleged position of "neutrality" about Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

For example, the editors of Saints invoked "neutrality" as a justification for the false narrative present they created in that book (i.e., supposedly accurate historical figures in Church history who never heard of Cumorah).

See my discussion here: https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-historians-explain-censorship-in.html

Likewise, Book of Mormon Central Censor invokes the "neutrality" concept to justify its strong advocacy of M2C and its censorship of anything that contradicts M2C.

As used by these intellectuals, "neutrality" is a pretext for censoring and rejecting the teachings of the prophets.

Let's see how this works.

The editors of Saints cited the "Gospel Topics Essay" on DNA. This is a favorite reference for Book of Mormon Central Censor, as well, along with the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.


Because these reference books were written by and cite only M2C advocates. There is nothing--absolutely nothing--neutral about them.

I've discussed the EoM before, so let's look at the Gospel Topics essay.

Here's the link:


Because today's topic is the supposedly "neutral" position on geography, I won't discuss the DNA issue here.

Instead, I'll focus on three paragraphs, with their accompanying footnotes.

Two things to notice.

1. The essay never quotes the scriptures. Instead, it relies on inferences and commentary by M2C scholars.

2. I searched in my browser for the term "neu" as in neutral or neutrality, and nothing came up. Maybe my browser was having a bad day, but I didn't notice the term when I read the essay, either. If it is in there, email me and show me where.

Original in blue, my comments in red. I put the footnotes right after they are cited in the text. Quotes within quotations are in purple.

The Book of Mormon provides little direct information about cultural contact between the peoples it describes and others who may have lived nearby. 
But the direct information the text does provide explains there were no nations on the promised land where Lehi landed. 2 Nephi 1:8 "And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance."
Nephi also reports that they planted seeds and hunted animals when they landed; they faced no competition for farming or hunting resources. Of course, this doesn't preclude the possibility of "others who may have lived nearby." I actually think they did encounter people when they arrived, but I think, because of what Lehi said, these were not "nations" in the sense of large, organized civilizations. 
Consequently, most early Latter-day Saints assumed that Near Easterners or West Asians like Jared, Lehi, Mulek, and their companions were the first or the largest or even the only groups to settle the Americas. 
This is carefully crafted vague language, but what is the essay really saying? Simply that "most early Latter-day Saints" were wrong because they made false assumptions.
Did they make these assumptions out of thin air?
Of course not. Notice how the essay avoids informing readers what Joseph Smith explained in the Wentworth letter:
"In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. 
"We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph. 
"The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."
Modern Church members are unfamiliar with Joseph's teaching because this material was censored from the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. Readers of this DNA essay likewise will not learn what Joseph taught. 
This DNA essay skirts the real reason why people want to know about the DNA issue. To be effective, this essay should help reconcile Joseph's teaching with the scientific evidence. Instead, this essay simply obscures Joseph's explanation and dismisses it as a false assumption. That's pure M2C ideology, not neutrality.

If the purpose of these Gospel Topics essays is to inform and educate, censoring and avoiding the teachings of the prophets is counterproductive. 
Building upon this assumption, critics insist that the Book of Mormon does not allow for the presence of other large populations in the Americas and that, therefore, Near Eastern DNA should be easily identifiable among modern native groups.
There are no citations here, so it's difficult to tell who the critics are and what they're actually insisting, but this strikes me as a bit of a straw man fallacy. Joseph never taught or endorsed a hemispheric geography; in fact, in the Wentworth letter, he deleted Orson Pratt's hemispheric ideas. If, as Joseph explained, the Book of Mormon described the history of the ancestors of the "Indians that now inhabit this country," it did not pertain to the inhabitants of Latin America--which is exactly what the DNA shows.

Critics who focus on early concepts of a hemispheric setting are focusing on what some of Joseph's contemporaries speculated, not on what Joseph actually taught. That should be made crystal clear in this DNA essay.
The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups.6
This paragraph avoids the problem of the Wentworth letter by referring to "the Book of Mormon itself." However, as previously noted, Lehi taught that other nations did not know about the land of his inheritance. Nephite kings and judges, as well as Lamanite kings, ruled entire territories, a claim that would not be credible if they were not the predominant or exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied.
What purpose does this paragraph serve? It accommodates the M2C theory.

M2C requires that the Nephites were a subset of a much larger, sophisticated culture, but neither Joseph Smith nor the Book of Mormon required or even implied such an idea.
6. John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1, no. 1 (Fall 1992): 1–34. These arguments were summarized more recently in John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013). Sorenson suggests that indicators in the book’s text makes it “inescapable that there were substantial populations in the ‘promised land’ throughout the period of the Nephite record, and probably in the Jaredite era also” (“When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 34). Though there are several plausible hypotheses regarding the geographic locations of Book of Mormon events, the Church takes no official position except that the events occurred in the Americas. See Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual (2012): 196.
Notice the contrast between the "neutral" language of the note ("Sorenson suggests") and the decidedly not "neutral" language of the actual quotation from Brother Sorenson's article (inescapable that there were substantial populations"). 
Aside from the incongruity of quoting the scholars instead of the scriptures, careful readers observe how confident--even insistent--Brother Sorenson is that Lehi was wrong.
We have to admire the inclusion of this footnote for another reason. Recall that in Mormon's Codex, Brother Sorenson wrote, among others, these gems:
A large number of convergences or correspondences between the information from Mesoamerican studies and that from the Book of Mormon are presented in the following chapters. Their number and nature show beyond question that the Book of Mormon had to come from an ancient Mesoamerican document.
There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history. 
This supposedly "neutral" Gospel Topics essay cites the least-neutral book on the topic in existence. Mormon's Codex is a polemical book that excludes any other possible book of Mormon setting and frames the teachings of the prophets as "manifestly absurd."
Next, the essay offers this qualification:

"Though there are several plausible hypotheses regarding the geographic locations of Book of Mormon events, the Church takes no official position except that the events occurred in the Americas."
The scholar the essay cited in the immediately preceding sentences categorically excludes any hypothesis other than his own as plausible

The essay never cites, acknowledges or even hints at alternative hypotheses, plausible or not. Instead, it cites a scholar who specifically repudiates and ridicules the consistent and persistent teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
True, the essay does not overtly declare that the prophets were wrong. Instead, it adopts the methodology practiced by M2C scholars and the Correlation Department, which is more subtle; i.e., they confuse readers by conflating the teachings of the prophets, the way this sentence in the essay does.
The essay conflates two clear and consistent teachings by the prophets and apostles:
1. The Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York.
2. We don't know for sure where any of the other events took place.
Technically, one can say "the Church" has no official position because it is only the prophets and apostles who have taught the New York Cumorah. I don't know how "the Church" has an official position on anything, except when there's a press release or statement about the position of "the Church" on a given topic. 

Normally, we learn from what the prophets and apostles teach, and they have consistently and persistently taught that Cumorah is in New York. No prophet or apostle has ever modified, questioned, or repudiated these teachings. 
Nor has "the Church" modified, questioned, or repudiated the teachings about the New York Cumorah. Plus, official Church publications have included teachings about the New York Cumorah, including Letter VII, several times. 
Consequently, I don't believe this footnote in a Gospel Topics essay overrules decades of teachings by the prophets and apostles. I think it merely reaffirms the second component; i.e., that we don't know for sure where the other events took place.
Neverthelsss, I have to pay close attention to what this essay is saying. It encourages readers to go to Mormon's Codex, which expressly claims that the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are "manifestly absurd." 
It is difficult for me to believe that our current prophets feel this way about the clear, consistent teachings of their predecessors, but this essay does tend to support those who make that claim. 
I encourage whoever is responsible for this essay to clarify the issue. If "the Church" is actually neutral on the question of Book of Mormon geography, it should not publish an essay that declares the teachings of the prophets to be "manifestly absurd." 
If "the Church" does think the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are manifestly absurd, the essay should state it more directly.
Either way, as the essay now stands, it is definitely not neutral.
Even if it was neutral, how can one be "neutral" about whether or not the prophets teach the truth? If we're "neutral" about whether members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference are teaching the truth, what are we doing?

This essay's approach sets a precedent for some future scholar to insert a footnote to the effect that "the Church" is "neutral" about any topic taught by the prophets that the particular scholar disagrees with.
At the April 1929 general conference, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency cautioned: “We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon … does not tell us that there was no one here before them [the peoples it describes]. It does not tell us that people did not come after.”7
7. Anthony W. Ivins, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 15. 
This quotation is useful for the specific point that, consistent with what Joseph taught in the Wentworth letter, the Book of Mormon does not address the inhabitants of the entire American continent, North and South. However, President Ivins was not teaching that we know nothing about Book of Mormon geography. He was specifically referring to the location of the City of Zarahemla. Exactly one year earlier, in the April 1928 General Conference, President Ivins gave an address commemorating the Church's acquisition of the Hill Cumorah in New York. Among other things he stated that the "following facts" were firmly established:
That the hill Cumorah, and the hill Ramah are identical. 
That it was around this hill that the armies of both the Jaredites and Nephites fought their great last battles. 
That it was in this hill that Mormon deposited all of the sacred records which had been entrusted to his care by Ammaron, except the abridgment which he had made from the plates of Nephi, which were delivered into the hands of his son, Moroni.
We know positively that it was in this hill that Moroni deposited the abridgment made by his father, and his own abridgment of the record of the Jaredites, and that it was from this hill that Joseph Smith obtained possession of them.
I discussed this discourse here:
This all means that President Ivins, in two General Conference addresses, laid out the consistent, persistent teachings of the prophets that (i) Cumorah is in New York and (ii) we don't know where the other events took place. 

This DNA essay causes confusion by not informing readers of these two distinct and clear teachings. Instead, it conflates the two teachings, just as the M2C intellectuals have been doing for decades. 
Joseph Smith appears to have been open to the idea of migrations other than those described in the Book of Mormon,8 
This is pure mind reading. By omitting what Joseph actually wrote in the Wentworth letter, the essay leaves readers to wonder what, if anything, Joseph actually taught on this topic. 
8. “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” Times and Seasons 3 (Sept. 15, 1842): 922. This article is unattributed but was published under Joseph Smith’s editorship. See also Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988): 250.
This is one of the anonymous Times and Seasons articles that laid the foundation for M2C; i.e., the M2C scholars claim Joseph was confused about Book of Mormon geography, speculated about the New York Cumorah, and misled the Church until he read about Mesoamerica in a travel book in Nauvoo, at which time he changed his mind because he was "open" to the scholars.

It's a transparent effort to exalt the scholars over the prophets.
Readers here know that I think the historical evidence demonstrates that Joseph was merely the nominal editor of the Times and Seasons, that he had nothing to do with editing or writing anything he didn't individually sign, and that he resigned as nominal editor after these anonymous Mesoamerican articles were published without his knowledge or approval. 

So far, no historian has come up with any evidence that Joseph was involved with any of these articles, apart from a "stylometry" analysis that is highly suspect at best because the authors refuse to make public their assumptions, database, or software. 
This leaves us with a contrast between Joseph's explicit statement in the Wentworth letter, quoted above, and the mind-reading assumptions of the M2C scholars. And yet this essay features the mind reading while omitting Joseph's actual statement. That's the opposite of neutrality.   
and many Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars over the past century have found the Book of Mormon account to be fully consistent with the presence of other established populations.9 
Here again, the essay cites scholars instead of prophets, although it may be alluding back to President Ivins. This is worded vaguely enough that it doesn't contradict Joseph's statement in the Wentworth letter. 
9. For a review of statements on this subject, see Matthew Roper, “Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations,” FARMS Review 15, no. 2 (2003): 91–128.
This is a fascinating citation. Brother Roper is one of the authors of the suspect "stylometry" study that confirmed his M2C bias. He's employed by Book of Mormon Central Censor to write articles that promote M2C and oppose alternatives, including the teachings of the prophets. He's one of the best-known advocate of M2C and he's anything but neutral.
For an analysis of the cited paper, see my post here:
The 2006 update to the introduction of the Book of Mormon reflects this understanding by stating that Book of Mormon peoples were “among the ancestors of the American Indians.”10
10. Introduction to the Book of Mormon, rev. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 2006). The introduction, which is not part of the text of the Book of Mormon, previously stated that the Lamanites were the “principal ancestors of the American Indians.” Even this statement, first published in 1981, implies the presence of others. (Introduction to the Book of Mormon, 1981 ed.) Early in the Book of Mormon, the name Lamanite refers to the descendants of Laman and Lemuel (see 2 Nephi 5:14 and Jacob 1:13). Hundreds of years later, it came to identify all those with a different political or religious affiliation than the keepers of the Book of Mormon plates (see Helaman 11:24 and 4 Nephi 1:20).
Notice that the original Introduction followed what Joseph wrote in the Wentworth letter in the section I quoted above in my comments. This is the same section that was censored from the lesson manual. 
In my view, there's nothing wrong with the original statement, provided it refers to the "Indians that live in this country," the way Joseph Smith described them.
They why make the change to the Introduction, and why all this explanation in this essay on DNA?
The simple reason is that M2C requires it.
If the Nephites lived in what is now the United States and never ventured south of, say, Texas, then Joseph's statement in the Wentworth letter and the original Introduction make sense. It's only when we claim the Nephites lived in Mesoamerica that we have to change the introduction and censor Joseph's teachings. 
Nothing is known about the extent of intermarriage and genetic mixing between Book of Mormon peoples or their descendants and other inhabitants of the Americas, though some mixing appears evident, even during the period covered by the book’s text.11
11. John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 5–12.
This is a fair statement. In fact, it's important to recognize the widespread intermarriage and migrations that took place after the Nephites were destroyed around 400 A.D. To the extent the blood of Lehi survives in some sense among the indigenous people of Latin America, it can be attributed to these later migrations. The presence of Lehi's descendants in Latin America or elsewhere has nothing to do with the location of the events in the Book of Mormon.
Bottom line:

If this Gospel Topics essay is intended to reflect a position of "neutrality" regarding Book of Mormon geography, it needs to be revised to eliminate or at least mitigate the uniform and strong M2C orientation it currently has.
If the Church is officially repudiating the teachings of past prophets and apostles regarding the New York Cumorah, the essay should make that explicit. As it currently reads, this essay causes great confusion among members of the Church as well as nonmembers.
At a minimum, the essay should explain and reconcile the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and Joseph's teachings in the Wentworth letter. 

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