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, June 14, 2019

Gospel Topics Essay reposted

As we saw recently, "Many BYU professors, even on the religion faculty, do not believe the Book of Mormon is historical."

It's pretty easy to see why.

Many years ago, President Joseph Fielding Smith denounced M2C by stating that "Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon."

That prophetic warning has never been more important than it is now.

First, I emphasize that there is no need to contend about any of this. 

Contention is pointless anyway. Facts don't matter because most people merely confirm their biases regardless of the evidence. I'm only addressing those who are still developing their biases and those few who have an open mind about this topic. I fully realize that M2C has been imprinted on the minds of most members of the Church; I, too, believed it for decades.

I especially don't expect M2C intellectuals, their followers or their employees, to do anything but confirm their biases.

My effort in this blog is about education, not persuasion or contention. I encourage people to make informed decisions, which requires facts, but I don't care what anyone else believes. Each individual is responsible for his/her own views. I write this blog to explain why I think what I think, but anyone is free to agree or disagree, no problem. If I was contending, I'd approach this much differently.

As it says above the title of every post, "This is a friendly discussion among brothers and sisters who all love the Book of Mormon and believe it is actual history. We seek unity on how to interpret the text and Church history. This blog focuses on the North American setting as the simplest and best explanation of Book of Mormon geography, with Cumorah in New York, but we recognize other settings are meaningful for other people."

I suppose there are some people who read this, like the BYU professors mentioned above, who don't believe the Book of Mormon is actual history. But they're not really part of the discussion.

Here's what I do care about: I care when M2C intellectuals pushing their own theories:

(i) censor the teachings of the prophets,

(ii) actively teach the youth of the Church theories that contradict the teachings of the prophets,

(iii) when students discover the teachings of the prophets on their own, teach these students that the prophets are wrong; and

(iv) claim the support of the Church and the prophets by virtue of their employment at BYU/CES/COB and by virtue of their close friendship and relationships with Church leaders.


Version 2 of the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography has a new home:


It looks identical to the version 2 that appeared in February, which I previously discussed. Go to this link if you want to see the changes between Version 1 and Version 2.

I'm told the essay was written by a committee, which is why it is anonymous.

The essay says, "the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas."

This is a distinct change from the 1990 letter from the Office of the First Presidency, personally approved by President Ezra Taft Benson and his counselors, Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson, which reads:

“The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references 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.”

The anonymous essay stands for itself, of course. But it has been changed once, and it can be changed again.

Readers here know that Version 1 included a mangled 1929 quotation from President Ivins that tried to accommodate M2C. When I pointed out that in 1928 President Ivins gave a General Conference address reaffirming the New York Cumorah, the committee replaced Version 1 by deleting President Ivins completely. You can see President Ivins' 1928 address here:


Seems to me that the essay would have been more informative and would have clarified the matter by including and explaining both quotations by President Ivins instead of deleting them altogether.

The problem hasn't gone away. The Gospel Topics Essay on DNA studies retains the 1929 quotation from President Ivins, but of course does not include the 1928 address.

This is all interesting because it leads to the question, what is a "Gospel Topics Essay." Is it scripture? Does it supersede the scriptures and all prior teachings of the prophets?

Some say yes (especially the M2C intellectuals, their followers and employees).

I'm just asking, and I'm not alone in wondering about this.

For example, the Gospel Topics Essay on DNA studies teaches Darwinian evolution. Here's a quotation from one of the sources cited in footnote 16:

The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans comes from fossils located in Ethiopia that can be dated to about 150,000–190,000 years (150–190 kyr) ago,. Beyond Africa, fossil evidence of anatomically modern humans has been reported as early as about 100 kyr ago in the Middle East and about 80 kyr ago in southern China. However, other hominins, such as Neanderthals, which disappeared from the fossil record about 40 kyr ago (Fig. 2), have been found throughout Eurasia as far back as 400 kyr.


Anyone can see the conflict between that quotation and the teachings of the scriptures and the prophets.

E.g., D&C 77:6.

Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.

Are we to understand that the Gospel Topics Essay supersedes D&C 77:6?

How does the DNA essay relate to the essay titled Fall of Adam and Eve?


I'm fine with the ambiguity. I'm fine with leaving it up to each member of the Church to make his/her own informed decisions based on study and faith, as they feel guided by the Spirit. Each person can study the science and the scriptures and reconcile them however they want.

In fact, the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography seems to be saying that everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, so long as they don't claim prophetic or Church support.

That's a sound approach, consistent with Articles of Faith 9 and 11.

There's an enormous difference between claiming prophetic or Church support, and seeking to support the prophets and the Church.

Is "having an opinion" the same as "having an informed opinion?"

Obviously not.

Article of Faith 9 assures us "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."

No one can believe something God has revealed if they don't know what God has revealed. No one can believe the teachings of the prophets if they don't know what the prophets have taught.

How can members of the Church make informed decisions when the essay itself doesn't inform anyone of what the prophets have taught about the topic?

For example, the essay gives no citations to the teachings of the prophets, such as those included here:


The essay does not address Letter VII, which declares it is a fact that the final battles took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. Letter VII also declares that the depository of Nephite records was inside the same hill.

Letter VII was written by President Oliver Cowdery and specifically endorsed by all the members of the First Presidency at the time: Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams. Oliver and Joseph personally visited the depository on multiple occasions. Every member of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency who has ever addressed the issue has reaffirmed Letter VII's teaching about the New York Cumorah. None has questioned, let alone repudiated, the New York Cumorah.

But the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay does.

Well, the M2C intellectuals claim it does.

As I read it, the Gospel Topics essay specifically addresses only the opinions expressed over the years about Book of Mormon locations other than Cumorah. That's what President Ivins in 1929 was addressing. The essay does not, on its face, revoke the clear, specific teachings about the fact that Cumorah is in New York.

Besides the teachings of the prophets, there are lots of reasons to accept the New York Cumorah based on the text and relevant anthropology, archaeology, etc. Nevertheless, some people think the teachings of the prophets would be a good place to start.

The essay has already been changed once. It can be changed again. 

I encourage the committee to revise the essay a third time.

This time, help members of the Church make informed decisions by including references to the teachings of the prophets.

If the Church's position is now that prior prophets were wrong, make that clear. If the Church's position is that the consistent teachings of the prior prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah were merely their opinions, make that clear.

It's beyond time to clarify the situation President Joseph Fielding Smith identified all those years ago.

But if that's not possible, at least members of the Church should be fully informed about what the prophets have taught so they can make informed decisions.

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