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, March 26, 2019

The M2C hoax - part 4 - RLDS won

RLDS (CofC) HQ in Independence
Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) living today don't know anything about the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS).

But they should, because it was RLDS scholars who developed the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). 

Maybe it is not a coincidence that the RLDS scholars published their book explaining M2C after the LDS Church began trying to purchase the Hill Cumorah in New York. But when we understand the nature of the rivalry, maybe that was intentional.

Either way, LDS scholars embraced the RLDS M2C theory over the objections of LDS leaders.

Today, thanks to the academic cycle, M2C is now being taught throughout the Church.

This means that RLDS scholars have prevailed over LDS leaders who objected to M2C.

In fact, M2C is the only Book of Mormon setting taught today in the Church, despite the official policy of "neutrality" expressed in the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography. We see it in the visitors centers, the art and media, and in the CES and BYU curriculum. The Saints book deliberately changed Church history to accommodate M2C (discussed here: https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/).

We wonder, how did this happen?

More importantly, can the M2C hoax be exposed and rejected?

That's up for each member of the Church to decide individually.

Today we're discussing Church history elements. We'll discuss non-historical elements of the M2C hoax in upcoming posts (i.e., archaeology, anthropology, etc.).

For modern LDS members, it's difficult to put ourselves in the mindset of the LDS vs. RLDS competition from the 1800s, but it was a serious rivalry. It's important to understand the history to appreciate the origins of M2C and why it remains a hoax today.

Joseph Smith III
After Joseph Smith died in 1844, there was a power struggle for leadership. While most members followed Brigham Young (the President of the Quorum of the Twelve), others followed various alternatives. Emma Smith, for example, remained in Nauvoo and believed Joseph's son should succeed him as President of the Church. There's a good summary here:

In 1860, Joseph Smith III, son of Joseph and Emma, was ordained President of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Joseph F. Smith
Although both churches accepted the Book of Mormon and most of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, they had doctrinal differences and competing historical claims.

When Joseph F. Smith (son of Hyrum Smith) became President of the LDS Church in 1901, his cousin, Joseph Smith III (son of Joseph Smith, Jr.) was President of the RLDS Church.

Each claimed to be the rightful successor to Joseph Smith, Jr.

You can see how a serious rivalry would develop.

One of the issues the two groups differed on involved the Hill Cumorah.

In the late 1800s, an RLDS scholar named Elder H. A. Stebbins began teaching that the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates was not the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. You can read his teachings in the table below.

In 1899, Joseph F. Smith was the Editor of the Improvement Era. He had been an apostle and member of the First Presidency for 33 years. (Brigham Young ordained him an apostle and made him a counselor in the First Presidency in 1866 at the age of 27. Joseph F. Smith served as a counselor in the First Presidency to Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow before becoming President of the Church in 1901.)

In the July 1899 issue of the Improvement Era, President Joseph F. Smith published President Cowdery's Letter VII, which declares it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah in New York is the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites, as well as the location of the depository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6).

Here's the link to the cover page:

Here's the link to the page where Letter VII starts.


In the context of the rivalry between the LDS (President Joseph F. Smith) and the RLDS (President Joseph Smith III), the republication of Letter VII just when the RLDS scholars were beginning to teach M2C is significant.


Joseph F. Smith was President of the Church from 1901 to 1918. In 1909, he sent Elder George Albert Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife Lucy to Palmyra with the assignment of buying the Hill Cumorah and the Joseph Smith Sr. farm. (Geroge Albert Smith was named for his grandfather, a cousin of Joseph Smith Jr.)

Before leaving Salt Lake City, George and Lucy sewed $20,000 in cash into Lucy's skirt. When they arrived in Palmyra, they were able to buy the old Smith farm, but the owner of the Hill Cumorah, Pliny Sexton, refused to sell. Later, he offered to sell at an exorbitant price, but the Church declined to pay that much. Four years after Sexton died, the Church purchased the property in 1928.

In April 1928 General Conference, President Anthony W. Ivins spoke at length about the Hill Cumorah, re-affirming the teaching of Letter VII and D&C 128:20 that this is the very hill spoken of in Mormon 6:6. I've discussed that before here: http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2017/03/conference-classics-president-anthony-w.html

What makes this all the more interesting is the book published by RLDS scholars in 1924. Titled New Light on American Archaeology, the main author, L.E. Hills, quotes extensively from H.A. Stebbins, who Hills credited as the originator of M2C. [The text is in the table below.]

Let's review the chronology. 

Late 1800s: RLDS Elder Stebbins begins teaching that the hill in New York is not the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

1899: LDS President Joseph F. Smith republishes Letter VII in the Improvement Era., reaffirming the long-accepted teaching that it is a fact that the hill in New York is in fact the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

1909: LDS President Joseph F. Smith sends Elder George Albert Smith to Palmyra to purchase the Hill Cumorah.

1924: RLDS Elder Hills publishes New Light on American Archaeology, declaring it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in Mexico.

1928: LDS Church President Heber J. Grant purchases the Hill Cumorah in New York and President Anthony W. Ivins reaffirms the fact that this is the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

1938: Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, a 20-year member of the Quorum of the Twelve and Church Historian, writes an editorial in the Deseret News about M2C, stating "LOCALE OF CUMORAH, RAMAH, AND RIPLIANCUM. This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century [i.e., in western New York], but that in very deed such is the case."

1950s-1970s: LDS intellectuals write books and articles promoting M2C. President Joseph Fielding Smith, now President of the Quorum of the Twelve, re-publishes his 1938 editorial on Cumorah.

1975: In General Conference, President Marion G. Romney delivers an address titled "America's Destiny" that reaffirms the teaching that the hill in New York is the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

1978: In General Conference, Elder Mark E. Petersen reaffirms the New York Cumorah.

1980s: LDS intellectuals, including David Palmer and John Sorenson, publish books promoting M2C. Jack Welch and others start FARMS, which strongly promotes M2C. The academic cycle begins teaching M2C to the youth of the Church.

1990: In response to questions arising about Cumorah, the entire First Presidency (Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson) personally approve a letter that declares "The Church has long maintained, as attested to by reference in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon."

1990s through 2018: LDS intellectuals create the M2C citation cartel that promotes M2C exclusively and censors alternative views. M2C is unambiguously depicted in LDS Church visitors centers, artwork, videos, and CES/BYU curriculum.

2019: Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography released. The first version quotes President Ivins 1929 General Conference talk explaining the Church has no position on Book of Mormon sites other than Cumorah. When it is pointed out that President Ivins also specifically reaffirmed the New York Cumorah in his 1928 General Conference talk, the Gospel Topics Essay is revised to omit the original quotation from President Ivins. The essay provides no references to teachings about the New York Cumorah for readers to consider.

Current Status: Church members are free to believe whatever they want. However, previous teachings by Church leaders about the New York Cumorah cannot be discussed in Church settings, especially not at Church history sites in Palmyra. Only books and organizations that promote M2C can obtain licenses from the Church to use the current official edition of the Book of Mormon. CES and BYU specifically teach M2C as part of the official curriculum.

IOW, the RLDS scholars have won. 

For now.

In the table below, you can read what RLDS scholar Hills wrote to explain M2C. Anyone who has read the material published by the M2C citation cartel will recognize the arguments.

For readers who aren't as familiar with the arguments for M2C, here is a summary:

1. Cumorah cannot be in New York because New York is too far from Mesoamerica.

2. Joseph never said Cumorah was in New York. All historical evidence to the contrary is wrong because Lucy Mack Smith, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and others are unreliable witnesses.

3. Letter VII is false because Oliver never claimed a revelation to support Letter VII. His visits with Joseph and others to the Nephite depository of records in the Hill Cumorah were actually only visions of a hill in Mexico.

4. Joseph passively accepted the New York Cumorah tradition because he was an ignorant speculator who learned Book of Mormon geography not from Moroni, but from a popular travel book published in 1841.

5. Every LDS Church leader who affirmed the New York Cumorah was wrong. Every RLDS scholar who taught M2C was correct.

Here is the text of Hills' book. Click on the links to see the actual documents.

New Light on American Archaeology by L. E. Hills

1924 Lambert Moon Printing Co. Independence, Mo.
M2C/Church history position

p. 130. I will read an extract from an article which was printed in the Saints’ Herald under date of March 25, 1911. I shall be glad to have you recognize the importance of H. A. Stebbins’ article at this juncture. Notice this statement:

The map will have to be revised, as also our students will need to correct their ideas about the hills, and lands, and waters, as many of them are already doing, according to recent advices.
BYU/CES fantasy maps
Elder H. A. Stebbins has always been considered one of the best Book of Mormon students we have ever had in the church.
M2C intellectuals agree because they’ve adopted Stebbins’ views
He goes on to state the following:

To return especially to the location of the original hill Cumorah: We find no word by angels or by the voice of the Lord that the hill where Joseph found the plates was the historic hill.
M2C intellectuals agree because they reject Lucy Mack Smith’s account and Letter VII.
No revelation in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants so designates it, and nowhere in his history did Joseph Smith write of it as Cumorah.
M2C intellectuals agree because they reject Letter VII and D&C 128:20.
In Times and Seasons volume 3, page 771, he says "stands a hill," and "this hill," and the angel told him to come to "that place" each year. At the final time he says that he went to "the place" where the plates were deposited.
I am aware that Moroni wrote that he made his synopsis of the Jaredite history “from the twenty and four plates,” but at what time he did this I do not know. It may have been done before his father’s death, to be in preparation for the Lord’s purpose that such “account” of the Jaredites should be known in our time.
M2C intellectuals agree because they reject Letter VII.
At least Oliver Cowdery’s statement of the contents of the box, namely, that it contained a “sketch” of the two peoples seems to make it plain that Moroni did not place the original Jaredite record in the New York hill.
M2C intellectuals agree because they reject Letter VII (even though they accept anything Oliver wrote that confirms their M2C bias).
I have no objection to that hill being also called Cumorah, with the understanding that the ancient hill Cumorah is still undiscovered, and that sometime its secrets will be revealed and come to the knowledge of God's people.
M2C intellectuals agree; in fact, they’re still searching for Cumorah in Mexico.
The church used to have a little song, “O stop and tell me, red man,” and in it the Indian was made to say, “I once was pleasant Ephraim.” But long ago that idea was given up, and it is now held that those who accept the book, those into whose hands it has come, that they are Ephraim.
M2C intellectuals agree because they reject D&C 28, 30 and 32.
Thus errors are imbibed and liable to be, but when realized they need be held no longer.
M2C intellectuals agree.
For thirty-five years I held the error about Cumorah, until Earle Cothell, of Independence, took the blinds off, and then study made all plain to me.
M2C intellectuals agree because they think the LDS prophets and apostles were wrong.
But there have been so many controversies that I have hesitated for years about writing on this matter for publication, although urged to do so.

But now, because many are dissatisfied with the old theory, I present this article in the interest of truth, that error be removed and the truth be made plain.
M2C intellectuals agree
Therefore I need say no more on that point. But that the main bodies of both nations (the Jaredites and Nephites), remained south until their destruction came, is evident from the book itself.
M2C intellectuals agree
Hill: That is right. I am indeed pleased that Brother Stebbins sent this to me a short time before his death, with a letter stating that he believed that I was right, but that he had not had time to examine my position thoroughly. This is the article that he sent to me that he had held and kept concerning his own opinions about the land of many waters and the hill Cumorah.
M2C intellectuals agree
I want later to take up the question of where Moroni was when he made the abridgment of the Jaredite record, and also show that he never left Mexico until he had completed that abridgment and nearly all of his writings.
M2C intellectuals agree
Finally, after making the statement that he had finished his abridgment of the Jaredite records, and the Lamanites were killing all of the Nephites that would not deny Christ, and as he would not deny Christ, he said, “I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of my life.” Then it was that Moroni started northward, about 401 A.D., carrying the two abridgments with him, the one he made, and the one made by his father, “Mormon.”
M2C intellectuals agree
p. 133. We have a question before us that I consider one of the reasons that so many of our people have been led to look upon the northern part of the United States as the land of many waters. The isthmus, or narrow neck of land, and the land of many waters, are the keys to the geography of the Book of Mormon.
M2C intellectuals agree
I want to bring out the historical evidences so strong that everyone can see where the land of many waters is and what it is. When we have that problem solved, we have made quite a long stride towards understanding the geography of the Book of Mormon.
M2C intellectuals agree
The Book of Mormon 232:61, says, “They traveled in a land among many water” (or lakes). There are five direct references to this land of many waters in the Book of Mormon. This first reference refers to the forty-three men sent by Limhi to find the people of Zarahemla, and they were lost in the wilderness and did not find the people they were seeking, but they traveled in a land among many waters and returned again to the land of Lehi-Nephi.
M2C intellectuals agree
Book of Mormon 232:61: “And they were lost in the wilderness…

So these men in looking for the Nephites in Zarahemla, found the land of many waters, called by the Jaredites the valley of Gilgal (valley of Mexico). This valley was in the land of Desolation, which extended from the valley of Mexico down to the hill Shim by the narrow neck of land, or the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. One of the last battles that was fought by the Jaredites was when they fled southward until they came to the hill Ramah or hill Shim.
M2C intellectuals agree, albeit some have different ideas about where in Mesoamerica these things happened.
Another statement I hope you will keep in mind is in the Book of Mormon 488:30: Therefore, Morianton put it into their hearts that they should flee to the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward.
M2C intellectuals agree
This statement could not refer to the whole of the United States. It is a description of a particular land that was northward from the land of Zarahemla, and which was covered with large bodies of water.
M2C intellectuals agree
Right at this stage I want to read a description of the valley of Mexico. If our people who have studied Book of Mormon geography, in the past, to find the locations described, had run across this description of the valley of Mexico, they never would have decided that the “land of many waters” was the United States. [quotation from Native Races omitted]
M2C intellectuals agree
p. 137. A colony from the northwestern part of Zarahemla, or Guatemala in Central America, went into the land northward, Mexico, and when they reached the land that was covered with large bodies of water, they spread into all parts of the land. Notice that the valley is forty-two miles long, thirty miles wide, and one hundred sixty miles in circumference….
M2C intellectuals agree
The hill Cumorah was located in the land of many waters. After I began my map, I was asked by F. M. Sheehy where I located the hill Cumorah. I told him I did not know yet where it was located; but as I developed the map, I was compelled to locate it in the valley of Mexico. The Book of Mormon locates it there. You cannot get away from that fact.
M2C intellectuals agree
We will no read another description of this valley. It is a Jaredite account of a battle fought in a valley called Gilgal. The fighting was then resumed out on the plains of Heshlon. Book of Mormon 752:29…
M2C intellectuals agree

p. 148. Then comes the question: How about the plates found in New York State? Oliver Cowdery makes this statement: That the plates found in New York were a sketch of two peoples, Nephites and Jaredites, and we know from the study of the Book of Mormon that there were two abridgments on one set of plates; the abridgment made by Mormon of the Nephite history, and the abridgment made by Moroni of the Jaredite history. It is evident that Mormon left instructions for Moroni to make that abridgment of the Jaredite record on plates he (Mormon) had made. Can we find where Moroni was when he made the Jaredite abridgment and at what time he started northward carrying the two abridgments?
M2C intellectuals agree
Book of Mormon 760:1-3 Now I, Moroni, after having made an end of abridging the account… for the safety of mine own life.

First: he had finished the Jaredite record. He was still hiding from the Lamanites. He goes on to state that some of the Nephites that would not deny the Christ, when captured by the Lamanite were put to death. After he had finished his work he buried the twenty-four plates in Mexico, and started, with the two abridgments, northward
M2C intellectuals agree

p. 151. You will notice there is a wonderful promise contained there. I wish that we as a church could get right down and be humble and manifest the faith in this wonderful record that God wants us to, that he might give us more light and greater knowledge. We are getting more light and knowledge now; we are getting a clearer understanding of the location and geography and of the corresponding data from the Indian records and traditions.
M2C intellectuals agree
But oh, if we could only have those plates that are there in Mexico and they could be deciphered, then we might have a complete knowledge! It would also give us more knowledge of the Jaredites, greater knowledge of the coming of the Christ to this country, for we are told it will help us to know God better than we ever have known him in the past, and to understand the way to the Kingdom of God that in the end we may find our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
M2C intellectuals agree

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