Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Rules of Interpretation

One of the reasons why people disagree about Book of Mormon geography is that they apply different rules of interpretation to the text.



For Moroni's America (the North American setting), I used these rules of interpretation:

1. General terms (land northward, land southward) are relative terms. E.g., Salt Lake City is "northward" of Provo but "southward" of Ogden.

2. Different specific terms mean different things; i.e., the "narrow neck" is not the same as the "small neck," the "narrow neck" is not the same as the "narrow neck of land," etc.

3. The Nephites used rivers for travel. E.g., Helaman 3:14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships...

4. The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York because Joseph and Oliver said it was a fact, they had visited the repository in the hill, and all their contemporaries and successors reaffirmed the New York Cumorah.

5. The city of Zarahemla may be across from Nauvoo. (D&C 125).

When you apply these rules of interpretation, it's pretty easy to see how the Book of Mormon describes North America.


For M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory), proponents use these rules of interpretation:

1. General terms (land northward, land southward) are proper nouns; i.e., there is only one "Land Northward" and one "Land Southward," both of them being specific geographical areas.

2. Different specific terms mean the same things; i.e., the "narrow neck" is the same as the "small neck," the "narrow neck" is the same as the "narrow neck of land," etc.

3. The Nephites may have used rivers for travel, but most travel was overland through jungles and mountains.

4. The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is not in New York because the prophets were only expressing their opinions and they were wrong.

5. The city of Zarahemla cannot be across from Nauvoo.

When you apply these rules of interpretation, it's pretty easy to see how the Book of Mormon describes any location you want.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Implementing the "Gospel Topics Essays"

Here's the latest example of "neutrality" as implemented by our M2C scholars.

Some of us remember when the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography was supposed to be a declaration of neutrality, but it was obvious the day it was released that the essay would not slow down the efforts of M2C intellectuals to claim prophetic support as they continue to imprint M2C on the minds of the Latter-day Saints.

Since then, Book of Mormon Central has spent millions of dollars in the effort. Other M2C intellectuals continue to lend their support to the cause.

Here's an upcoming example. January 30 at BYU-Idaho.

Chris Allison teaches Book of Mormon classes at BYU-Idaho. This means he's already teaching his students M2C because he's using the infamous BYU/CES  maps which teach students to think of the Book of Mormon in a fictional fantasy world, with the Hill Cumorah far, far away from New York.

Now Brother Allison is making "A Case for Meso-America" right on the campus of BYU-Idaho.

It's a good title. It fits with Brother Callister's M2C-approved book A Case for the Book of Mormon.

It's not difficult to make a case for anything, of course. Any lawyer can make a case for any side of any issue. Making a case has nothing to do with truth; it's a matter of making arguments based on a particular interpretation of selected facts.

I'm curious about this "making a case" trend. It works great as a bias confirmation exercise, but what does it do for open-minded people?

Doesn't "making a case" invite readers, listeners and viewers to seek out the "other side of the story" or at least other perspectives? Thanks to the ongoing censorship by Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, and other M2C organizations, the only "other side of the story" to M2C that most members hear about is CES Letter, Mormon Stories, and others who claim the Book of Mormon is fiction.

A truly "neutral" position would allow alternative perspectives to be presented at BYU and CES. Let Brother Allison make his case for "Meso-America" and let someone else make a case for the New York Cumorah. Then let students make up their own minds.

BYU fantasy map, teaching a fictional
setting for the Book of Mormon
That would be a big step forward, but it will never happen as long as the M2C intellectuals have their way.

Aside from those who merely seek to confirm their biases, the question for undecided people is whether the case is persuasive or not. The unpersuasiveness of M2C is evident; outside of a handful of M2C intellectuals, their employees, and their followers, no one believes M2C.
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I encourage everyone attending BYU-Idaho to attend the event. You'll surely learn some great reasons why the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are wrong.

It's virtually certain you'll hear that the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles were written by Joseph Smith. Those ridiculous articles are the entire premise for M2C. Those who have read Mormon's Codex and the related M2C literature from the citation cartel recognize that everything else is bias confirmation and sophistry (not that there's anything wrong with that, because if you want to believe M2C, that's fine with me).

You probably won't hear that M2C originated with RLDS scholars, but you'll hear about the ways the Book of Mormon was mistranslated because Joseph didn't realize the Nephites lived among the Mayans.

You probably won't hear what Joseph and Oliver and their contemporaries and successors taught about the New York Cumorah in Letter VII and elsewhere, unless it is to explain why they were all wrong.

If you go, let me know what he has to say.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Cumorah and the Three Witnesses

M2C advocates claim there are "two Cumorahs" because the "hill in New York" where Joseph found the plates cannot be either (i) the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites or (ii) the location of Mormon's depository of Nephite records.

The M2C intellectuals and their followers know their theory contradicts Letter VII. They also know Brigham Young and others taught explicitly that the depository was in the New York Cumorah.

M2C organizations such as Book of Mormon Central and FairMormon readily repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah by claiming the prophets and apostles who discussed the New York Cumorah simply misled the Church by expressing their own opinions.

However, not many Church members realize that the M2C interpretation of Brigham Young's teaching supports the position of critics of the Church who disbelieve everything about the Restoration.
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M2C scholars claim Brigham Young related a vision, not an actual experience.

The FairMormon explanation omits a critical part of President Young's teaching, along with the historical context. This misleads Church members.

Here's the link:

https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Question:_Is_there_a_cave_in_the_Hill_Cumorah_containing_the_Nephite_records%3F

Here is the sentence that precedes President Young's statement: "I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things pertaining to that country."'

JOD 19:38.

President Young was not talking about an imaginary or "visionary" hill somewhere in southern Mexico as FairMormon wants us to believe.

FairMormon explains it this way: "The geologic unlikelihood of a cave existing within the hill such as the one described suggests that the experience related by the various witnesses was most likely a vision, or a divine transportation to another locale (as with Nephi's experience in 1 Nephi 11:1)."

Of course, no one said or implied that the depository was a natural cave. The M2C explanation that the experience must have been a vision repudiates Brigham Young's testimony, as well as what others said, including Wilford Woodruff.

The M2C advocates cite Heber C. Kimball's statement about a "vision" to justify their claim that the real Cumorah is in Mexico:

In response to a Brother Mills’s statement about the handcart pioneers, Heber C. Kimball said:
How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry? There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts, and keep the commandments.

Those of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets interpret this use of the term "vision" to mean a view or sight.

Consider this. If Kimball's statement was a vision, what about Joseph's statement about his experience with Martin Harris?

"We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view; at least it was again to me, and I once more beheld, and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparantly in ecstacy of joy, “Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld,” and jumping up he shouted, hosanah, blessing God, and otherwise rejoiced exceedingly."


The M2C interpretation of Heber C. Kimball's statement relegates Martin Harris' experience as one of the Three Witnesses to a purely spiritual experience.

Which is exactly what critics such as the CES Letter also claim.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The happiness of Moroni's America

The North American setting for the Book of Mormon, which I call Moroni's America (hence the book of that name) is awesome for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the happiness it brings.

Think of it: the North American setting means we can embrace the teachings of the prophets without resorting to a bunch of sophistry to justify/explain the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

After all, President Oliver Cowdery (Assistant President of the Church at the time) declared it was a fact that the hill Cumorah in western New York was the location of (i) the repository of Nephite records and (ii) the final battles of the Nephites and the Jaredites. See http://www.lettervii.com/.

To justify/explain M2C, M2C intellectuals and their followers have to frame Oliver as an ignorant speculator who misled the Church. They have to extend their framing to Joseph Smith as well. And to all the other prophets who reaffirmed the New York Cumorah.

In Moroni's America, the teachings of the prophets are corroborated by archaeology, anthropology, geology, and geography. We don't need to resort to word thinking and sophistry to try to fit the Book of Mormon into Mesoamerica, to create "two Cumorahs," and to explain why the Mayan civilization has not a trace of Hebrew or Book of Mormon influence--just as the Book of Mormon has no trace of Mayan culture.

Those of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets are happy to discuss the North American setting, with Cumorah in New York. 

Of course, our M2C friends seek to defend M2C. We can expect that to continue because of their intellectual, financial, and emotional investment in M2C. And that's all fine.

But even they know that most Church members, once they hear about Moroni's America, choose to reject the whole idea of "two Cumorahs" and the associated theories.

That's why the M2C proponents* continue to censor the teachings of the prophets and the evidence that supports and corroborates those teachings.

Censorship ultimately fails, especially in the age of the Internet. So keep spreading the word. M2C will collapse of its own weight once Church members are able to make informed decisions.
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* M2C proponent include Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, FairMormon, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, and, sadly, the Saints book, volume 1. At least Saints, volume 2, tried to make up for the errors in Saints, volume 1, but it would be much better to fix volume 1 instead of continuing to teach the obvious false information it contains.
See https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-historians-explain-censorship-in.html


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Moroni's mistaken journey

The standard dogma of M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) has Moroni hauling one set of plates, plus the breastplate and interpreters, from Mesoamerica to western New York.

This journey would "pose no difficulty whatsoever" according to FairMormon.

https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Question:_If_the_gold_plates_were_originally_in_Mesoamerica,_how_did_they_get_to_New_York%3F

You ought to read the explanation at that link to see for yourself.

Another great one is on the web page of BMAF, the corporate owner of Book of Mormon Central.

[Some people still don't realize that Book of Mormon Central is merely a front for the M2C advocating organization Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum.]

http://www.bmaf.org/articles/joseph_rocky_mountains__christensen
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The trip from Mesoamerica to western New York is about 2,600 miles, if you travel fairly straight over land.

Most people wonder, if this 42-year trip was so easy for Moroni, why was the entire civilization of the Nephites confined to a much smaller area in Mesoamerica for 1,000 years?

The answer is easy: The disparity is the only way to make M2C make sense.

M2C is pure bias confirmation based on a mistake in Church history. It doesn't have to be logical, or even rational. It doesn't require evidence. It doesn't even have to fit the text, because if you believe M2C, you can add anything you need to the text, including volcanoes, massive stone pyramids, jade, jungles, jaguars, etc.

Then, after traveling so far, Moroni stopped at an insignificant, nondescript drumlin, built a stone box, and put the plates and other objects inside.
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If you accept the M2C dogma that such a journey circa 400 AD poses "no difficulty whatsoever," we need to ask, why didn't Moroni go the extra 300 miles to Sharon, Vermont?

According to the Saints book, it took the eruption of a volcano in Indonesia to move Joseph Smith's family from Vermont to New York.

The eruption caused temperatures in India to drop, and cholera killed thousands, destroying families. In fertile Chinese valleys, summer snowstorms replaced a normally mild climate and flooding rains destroyed crops. In Europe, food supplies dwindled, leading to starvation and panic.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/saints-v1/01-ask-in-faith?lang=eng

All this destruction could have been avoided if Moroni had gone just another 300 miles. After all, 2600 miles was no problem. Another 300 miles would have been a walk in the park.

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Alternatively, of course, Moroni might have buried the plates at the Hill Cumorah; i.e., at the scene of the final battles and the repository of Nephite records.

That's what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII.

In that case, it would make sense to move Joseph's family to New York from Vermont, by whatever means necessary--including a volcano.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Cumorah: 2 or 3 schools of thought?

You might think that by now, everyone in the Church knows there are three major schools of thought about the Hill Cumorah and related geography issues.

It turns out, though, that most Church members, especially younger and newer members, know of only two.

Younger and newer members of the Church typically rely on websites such as FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, etc. All of these organizations and publications frame the Cumorah issue in terms of only two schools of thought. They censor alternatives from their publications and have their employees and anonymous trolls attack active Church members who dare to offer a third alternative.

School of Thought 1: The real Cumorah is in southern Mexico, where the events of the Book of Mormon took place. Early Church references to Cumorah in New York represented mere speculation that the scholars now know was incorrect. This discrepancy is not a problem if we accept that there are "two Cumorahs" like this: a "fake Cumorah" in New York, and a "true Cumorah" in southern Mexico. M2C is what is being taught at BYU, CES, in Saints Volume 1, and other curriculum today including Come Follow Me and the Gospel Topics Essays.

School of Thought 2: The real Cumorah is nonexistent because the Book of Mormon is fiction. This is what is being taught by critics of the Book of Mormon such as the CES Letter and Mormon Stories. Some BYU faculty also follow this school of thought, as do many active members. Of course, most people who follow this school of thought are inactive or former members.

When these are the only two options, a lot of people choose option 2. Disbelief in the Book of Mormon is a major factor for people leaving the Church and for people to reject the missionaries. That's why, IMO, it is so counterproductive for the M2C advocates to censor the third school of thought.

School of Thought 3. The real Cumorah is in western New York, as taught by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and all their contemporaries and successors (so far). The Mesoamerican "Cumorah" is a fiction created by intellectuals to make sense of their geography theories. Instead, Joseph and Oliver were correct and their teachings are supported by relevant archaeology, anthropology, geography, geology, etc.
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For many years, I accepted School of Thought 1. I had never heard about School of Thought 3. I attended Seminary and went to BYU. I read publications from FARMS, BYU Studies, etc. I attended firesides and conferences, visited sites in Central America--the whole deal. I even bought off on the idea of "two Cumorahs," which seemed strange but necessary to justify the Mesoamerican setting.

In all those years, I never did learn what the prophets had taught about the New York Cumorah; to the extent I heard a conference talk or something, I dismissed it the same way the M2C advocates dismiss it today. I certainly never learned about the extrinsic evidence that corroborates and supports those teachings.

Once I did, School of Thought 3 made sense.

It makes more and more sense all the time.

Whereas, Schools of Thought 1 and 2 make less and less sense, the more you dig into them.
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It doesn't matter to me what school of thought you believe in. You can believe whatever you want. I suppose most active members of the Church who think about this issue choose School of Thought 1 by default because that's what they have been taught by CES, BYU, and COB materials, and they don't know of any other alternative to School of Thought 2.

All I'd say is, if you think there are only 2 schools of thought, and you realize that School of Thought 1 is a contrived hoax that repudiates the teachings of the prophets, don't automatically jump to School of Thought 2.

Try School of Thought 3 first.

And if you're an M2C advocate, realize that by censoring School of Thought 3, you are pushing people out of the Church.
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I recognize that some complain because they think that my criticism of M2C undermines the faith of some people. That's not my intent. I've always encouraged people to make informed decisions and stick with what works. I don't mind in the least if people want to believe M2C.

But I also recognize that M2C is based on a mistake in Church history (the anonymous Times and Seasons articles attributed to Joseph Smith), that it was developed by RLDS scholars in opposition to Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, etc., and that it is supported today through a cascade of logical errors and contrived interpretations, combined with academic arrogance and censorship of alternative views.

More and more people recognize the same thing and when no alternatives are available--when it is M2C or bust--they go bust.

It's an unnecessary, and unjustifiable, tragedy to deprive Church members of information about School of Thought 3.

I think the teachings of the prophets are clear, consistent, and persistent, with the added benefit of being supported and corroborated by extrinsic evidence. 

I think it is foolish to repudiate those teachings by promoting M2C.

Fortunately, more and more people are learning about School of Thought 3.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Accounts of the translation

Yesterday we discussed the implications of the new "seer stone in a hat" narrative as it applies to King Mosiah. Today we'll look at the accounts of the translaion.


Here's an image from a Church website that depicts the stone-in-a-hat scenario.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/book-of-mormon-translation?lang=eng

Look at this misleading statement (which is also in the Gospel Topics Essay) found in that web page:

"Joseph and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon."

This is misleading because Joseph never wrote of "two instruments." Nor did Oliver Cowdery.

In 1870, Martin Harris related an anecdote that claimed Joseph used both the Urim and Thummim and a seer stone, but he was referring to the dictation of the 116 pages, not today's Book of Mormon.

The only "scribe" who possibly wrote about "two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon" was Emma Smith, and both accounts are problematic.

In 1870, Emma Smith wrote a letter to the wife of the RLDS pastor in Independence, Missouri, who had apparently asked about the translation. Emma wrote, "Now the first that my <husband> translated, was translated by the use of the Urim and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost, after that he used a small stone, not exactly black, but was rather a dark color, I can not tell whether that account in the Times and Seasons is correct or not because some one stole <all> my books and I have none to refer to at present, if I can find one that has that account I will tell you what is true and what is not."

This statement is significant because it demonstrates that, as of 1870, the term "Urim and Thummim" was not used to refer to both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone. Modern Church historians have invented a new definition of the term "Urim and Thummim" to include both the Nephite interpreters and the seer or "peep" stone Joseph found in a well, but that definition makes Emma's statement nonsense.

The statement is also significant because it is a direct contradiction of what Joseph and Oliver always taught, as well as Lucy Mack Smith's 1844-5 history. It also contradicts Martin's anecdote.

It is especially interesting that Emma could not remember the account published in the Times and Seasons (which published both Oliver Cowdery's Letter I and the History of Joseph Smith which is today's Joseph Smith--History in the Pearl of Great Price). We will never know whether she would have "remembered" things differently by referring to that account, but it's not a good sign when a witness forgets a more recent event (publication in the Times and Seasons) while claiming to remember an earlier event (the translation). Plus, her statement is ambiguous; she doesn't actually say Joseph translated today's Book of Mormon using the small stone.

By 1870, the issue had already become part of the controversy between the Utah Mormons (who accepted Brigham Young as prophet) and the other groups who claimed to be the rightful successors to Joseph Smith. Brigham Young and other members of the Quorum of the Twelve often reaffirmed Joseph's testimony that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim. Others claimed Joseph did not use the Urim and Thummim, but used a seer stone instead. This post is too short to get into the reasons, but the details are discussed in the new book, A Man that Can Translate.

In October 1879, a statement attributed to Emma was published the month after Orson Pratt gave two sermons in which he reaffirmed that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by using the Urim and Thummim. Emma's alleged "Last Testimony" claimed Emma wrote while Joseph dictated with his face "buried in his hat, with the stone in it" but does not specify what part, if any, of today's Book of Mormon he dictated this way. Emma did not write this statement; her son, Joseph Smith III, President of the RLDS Church, published it as an interview several months after she died.

Contrary to the statement in the web page quoted above, neither Joseph nor any of his scribes wrote of two instruments used to translate the Book of Mormon.

Joseph and Oliver repeatedly testified Joseph used the Urim and Thummim. They never wrote or said anything about a second instrument.

Martin said nothing about the translation of the Book of Mormon we have today.

Emma's letter claimed Joseph did not use the Urim and Thummim after the 116 pages were lost, but she admitted she needed a copy of the Times and Seasons to tell what was true and what was not.

Emma's "Last Testimony" claims Joseph dictated with his face buried in a hat with a stone in it, but does not specify what parts, if any, of today's Book of Mormon he dictated this way.
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The only unambiguous explanation for the translation of the Book of Mormon is the one Joseph and Oliver always gave. They said Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by using the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.

For me, the testimonies of Joseph and Oliver outweigh all the other statements by observers, but others are free to interpret the evidence however they see fit.

However, is it too much to ask to have accurate statements on the Church's website instead of misleading ones such as the one quoted above?
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Here's the official account from the Pearl of Great Price. Note that none of these passages are quoted in the above website on the translation. Note also that the messenger referred to the stones in silver bows as the Urim and Thummim.

34 He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;

35 Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

42 Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed.

52 Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger.

Maybe someday soon we'll have the statements attributed to Emma Smith and Martin Harris and David Whitmer canonized. We shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. But until then, I stick with what Joseph and Oliver said.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Mosiah and Joseph Smith

The Book of Mormon describes King Mosiah as "a man that can translate."

I believe Joseph Smith was also "a man that can translate." Hence the title of my new book about the translation.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1944200797?pf_rd_p=ab873d20-a0ca-439b-ac45-cd78f07a84d8&pf_rd_r=1E2576T8HVB76EV5QB76

Because our intellectuals are so excited about showing that Joseph didn't actually translate the Nephite records, I though we should preview comments from an upcoming post to my supplement for Come, Follow Me 2020.

https://comefollowme2020.blogspot.com/
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Let's take a moment to look at this passage:

Mosiah 8:13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God.

As we saw the other day, some faithful LDS scholars now claim the Book of Mormon is the product not of Joseph Smith translating the plates, but of a translation (if it can even be called that) that was performed by an unknown individual circa the 15th century, which appeared on the stone Joseph put in a hat. They think Joseph didn't even look at the plates, which remained under a cloth the whole time he was dictating the text.

If Joseph Smith didn't really translate the plates, what about King Mosiah? Did he, too, merely read words that appeared on a stone, put there by some unknown translator of the Jaredite record from prior centuries? Did the 24 gold plates, found by Limhi's explorers, also sit under a cloth while King Mosiah put his face in a hat (or Mayan headdress) to read words that appeared on a stone?

Here's how Mosiah 8:13 would read according to this theory:

Mosiah 8:13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can read the words of an ancient, unknown translator; for he has a stone and a hat to put it in, and he can look, and read the words that appear on the stone, and he needeth not any plates or ancient records; and it is a gift from God.

If you think that scenario sounds absurd, I agree. But why would Mosiah be any different than Joseph Smith?

Here's an image from a Church website that depicts the stone-in-a-hat scenario.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/book-of-mormon-translation?lang=eng

Look at this misleading statement (which is also in the Gospel Topics Essay) found in that web page:

"Joseph and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon."

This is misleading because Joseph never wrote of "two instruments." Nor did Oliver Cowdery.

We'll discuss the other scribes tomorrow.
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One of the most obvious problems with the "seer/peep stone in a hat" scenario is the pointlessness of having the plates at all. The scholars tell us Joseph didn't even use the plates. They sat under a cloth the entire time, as depicted above.

For centuries, the Nephites kept records. For months or years, Mormon abridged those records. He moved them from the Hill Shim to the Hill Cumorah to prevent the Lamanites from getting them. Moroni concealed them in the Hill Cumorah until Joseph could find them.

All this effort only for Joseph to keep them under a cloth the entire time?

As you read the account of Mosiah, see how well it fits this "seer/peep stone in a hat" scenario.

7 And the king said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.

8 And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.

9 And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.

10 And behold, also, they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.

11 And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no one in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates. Therefore I said unto thee: Canst thou translate?

12 And I say unto thee again: Knowest thou of any one that can translate? For I am desirous that these records should be translated into our language; for, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed, from whence these records came; or, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed; and I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction.

13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.

14 And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.

15 And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.

16 And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.

17 But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.

18 Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.

19 And now, when Ammon had made an end of speaking these words the king rejoiced exceedingly, and gave thanks to God, saying: Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.

According to the "seer/peep stone in a hat" narrative, Mosiah didn't need the plates any more than Joseph did. Some unknown translator from the past created the words that appeared on Mosiah's interpreters.

It's true that, according to verse 17, a seer can know anything. In that sense, the plates are unnecessary, theoretically. A seer could reveal the secrets of the past with or without any plates.

But the interpreters were prepared to unfold the mysteries contained in the plates. That's a special translation purpose, a subset of the power of a seer.

It's entirely possible that King Mosiah did merely read words that appeared on the interpreters, words that were put there by some unknown ancient translator. We cannot say that is impossible.

But look at how Chapter 28 describes this process.

10 Now king Mosiah had no one to confer the kingdom upon, for there was not any of his sons who would accept of the kingdom.

11 Therefore he took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, and also the plates of Nephi, and all the things which he had kept and preserved according to the commandments of God, after having translated and caused to be written the records which were on the plates of gold which had been found by the people of Limhi, which were delivered to him by the hand of Limhi;

12 And this he did because of the great anxiety of his people; for they were desirous beyond measure to know concerning those people who had been destroyed.

13 And now he translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow.

14 Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages;

15 And they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people;

16 And whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times.

17 Now after Mosiah had finished translating these records, behold, it gave an account of the people who were destroyed, from the time that they were destroyed back to the building of the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people and they were scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth, yea, and even from that time back until the creation of Adam.

To me, these verses establish as plainly as words can be that Mosiah translated the records. He did not merely read words that appeared on a seer stone that were put there by an unknown ancient translator.

I think Joseph Smith did the same thing; i.e., he studied the characters on the abridged plates with the Urim and Thummim and was able, with the gift and power of God, to translate the engravings.



Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Missionary discussions, old and new

The new missionary (Elder or Sister) arrives in the mission field. The Senior companion takes him/her to a meeting with friends.

Experienced Missionary (EM): As you remember from last week, Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from ancient metal plates, using the Urim and Thummim.

New Missionary (NM): Uh, actually, Joseph didn't really translate anything.

EM: What do you mean?

NM: He didn't even use the plates. They were under a cloth the entire time he was dictating.

EM: Elder/Sister, that's not what we...

NM: Don't you read the Ensign? Or Book of Mormon Central? Or watch the latest videos? Seriously, Joseph just read words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat.

Friends (looking at EM): Last week you told us Joseph Smith translated the plates.

EM: He did. I mean, that's what I thought.

NM: That's what people used to think. But the Church historians have figured out that Joseph never translated anything, after all.

EM: What about the Urim and Thummim?

NM: When Joseph and Oliver Cowdery said he used the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates in Moroni's stone box, they actually meant Joseph used a seer stone he found in a well years earlier.

EM: Then where did the English translation come from?

NM: Someone from the 15th or 16th century produced it. It's sort of a "cultural" translation of what was on the plates. At least, that's our best guess right now.

Friends: Why don't you come back when you get your story straight? In the meantime, we'll just consult the Internet. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Royal Skousen, translation and M2C

Brother Royal Skousen has a new book out about the translation of the Book of Mormon titled The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon. He's speaking about it at BYU on January 15th. See the announcement here:

https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/special-feature-212

I encourage anyone interested to attend and hear this for yourself.

I've been studying Brother Skousen's book. I've often expressed my respect and admiration for Brother Skousen's work on the Book of Mormon. I rely on it all the time for understanding the details of the Original Manuscript and the Printer's Manuscript. However, I think his Early Modern English theory is misguided and has unfortunate repercussions.

I'm discussing it on this blog because as near as I can tell, all the M2C intellectuals agree with Brother Skousen's views of the translation, at least in part. It fits the M2C narrative that Joseph was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church with the New York Cumorah, his claim that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim, etc.

For today, let's consider one overview passage from p. 6 of the new book:

All of this quoting from the King James Bible is problematic, but only if we assume that the Book of Mormon translation literally represents what was on the plates. Yet the evidence in The Nature of the Original Language (parts 3 and 4) argues that the Book of Mormon translation is tied to Early Modern English, and even the themes of the Book of Mormon are connected to the Protestant Reformation, dating from the same time period. What this means is that the Book of Mormon is a creative and cultural translation of what was on the plates, not a literal one. Based on the linguistic evidence, the translation must have involved serious intervention from the English-language translator, who was not Joseph Smith. Nonetheless, the text was revealed to Joseph Smith by means of his translation instrument, and he read it off word for word to his scribe. To our modern-day, skeptical minds, this is indeed "a marvelous work and a wonder." 

Let's break this down sentence by sentence, with my comments in red.
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All of this quoting from the King James Bible is problematic, but only if we assume that the Book of Mormon translation literally represents what was on the plates. 

It is standard M2C doctrine that Joseph did not provide a literal translation of what was on the plates. That's how Brother Sorenson comes up with tapirs instead of horses. M2Cers teach that "towers" in the text are actually "massive stone pyramids" because otherwise, the Mayan pyramids do not appear in the text. 

The M2Cers teach that the text actually describes volcanoes and other features of Mayan culture and geography. Brant Gardner claims that the Book of Mormon text is evidence of what Joseph dictated, but is not evidence of what was on the original plates. 

It's true that Joseph said the Title Page was a literal translation of the last leaf of the plates, but the intellectuals don't believe Joseph could have known that since (according to them) he didn't even use the plates. I learned that beauty at BYU Education Week a few years ago.

Yet the evidence in The Nature of the Original Language (parts 3 and 4) argues that the Book of Mormon translation is tied to Early Modern English, and even the themes of the Book of Mormon are connected to the Protestant Reformation, dating from the same time period. 

This is a two-part claim. Brother Skousen's Early Modern English (EME) theory is based on the assumption that the only evidence we have of how Joseph Smith actually spoke in 1829--the only verbatim recording of what he dictated--is not evidence of how he spoke in 1829. 

Let's read that again.

Brother Skousen's Early Modern English (EME) theory is based on the assumption that the only evidence we have of how Joseph Smith actually spoke in 1829--the only verbatim recording of what he dictated--is not evidence of how he spoke in 1829. 

That strikes me as exactly backwards. 

The EME theory simply assumes that Joseph could not have spoken the way he spoke when he dictated the text. Based on? Based on a detailed analysis of published material from around 1829. I won't get into the detail here, but I assume most readers can tell the difference between speech patterns of rural farmers vs. language patterns in published material. And everyone who speaks English has inherited grammar, syntax and terminology much older than themselves.

For example, have you ever heard someone say "ain't" when speaking? People don't write it, but they say it. That contraction dates back to at least the 1600s; 400 years later, people still say it, although it's considered "improper" and "nonstandard" so it is not used in print, except in fiction to portray a character's background, education, etc. 

The second claim relates to the themes of the Book of Mormon. Here, Brother Skousen dates the themes to the Protestant Reformation. He rejects even the possibility that these same themes are perennial and were issues for the Nephite prophets who wrote about them. 

What this means is that the Book of Mormon is a creative and cultural translation of what was on the plates, not a literal one. 

The phrase "creative and cultural translation" is a euphemism for a composition instead of a translation. Set aside the language issue; if the very themes in the Book of Mormon originated in the Protestant Reformation, we are left with, at most, a few ancient names from the plates, and maybe some war tactics, although if the religious themes date to the Reformation, it's difficult to imagine why the war tactics would not also date from that era. 

Based on the linguistic evidence, the translation must have involved serious intervention from the English-language translator, who was not Joseph Smith. 

Here is the bottom line: although Joseph Smith claimed he translated the plates, in reality, according to Brother Skousen and many other LDS intellectuals (including most of the Church History department) he did not actually translate the plates. 

Instead, Joseph merely transmitted someone else's translation. He wasted his time studying and translating the characters during those months after he got the plates. He misled the world by claiming he translated the plates, and by saying the Title Page was a literal translation, because he didn't really translate anything. 

Nonetheless, the text was revealed to Joseph Smith by means of his translation instrument, and he read it off word for word to his scribe. 

The "translation instrument" is a euphemism for the seer or peep stone in a hat, which functioned as a supernatural teleprompter for the unknown actual translator, if it was a translation at all. 

To our modern-day, skeptical minds, this is indeed "a marvelous work and a wonder." 

Wouldn't this new narrative strike even Joseph and Oliver as unbelievable? They explained from the beginning that Joseph translated the plates using the Urim and Thummim. Now our intellectuals are telling us Joseph and Oliver were wrong. 

In this case, our modern-day, skeptical minds ought to question Brother Skousen's theory, not the origins of the text as explained by Joseph and Oliver.

This is a brief introduction to the EME problem. We'll have more posts in upcoming days.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Only an intellectual could believe them

One quotation attributed to George Orwell goes something like this:

"There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them."

That is apparently a rewording of something he wrote in Notes on Nationalism (1945):

"One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."

In my view, we're in this territory with respect to M2C, the recent revisionist versions of the translation of the Book of Mormon (i.e., the stone-in-a-hat theory), and the language of the Book of Mormon (EME, or Early Modern English theory).

We'll be discussing those issues this week for reasons I'll explain tomorrow.
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I've been asked many times why I care about all of these issues. Why not just enjoy retirement and all the other things I'm involved with? Or why not just go on a mission somewhere?

My answer to one General Authority is that I don't want to go on a mission and have to tell people that Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared on a stone in a hat, that when he said he translated the ancient plates, he didn't really mean that because someone else translated it, or that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica among Mayans, whose DNA is all Asian and whose cultural history is anything but Christian or Hebrew in any sense.

I'm fine with people believing all those things, but I don't think anyone has to believe them to be a faithful member of the Church.

And I don't think it helps the cause of the Restoration when our intellectuals teach that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were wrong about such things as the translation of the Book of Mormon and the location of the Hill Cumorah.
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I'm writing this from Sri Lanka. Here's a photo of my "office" this week. We attended Church here Sunday. It was awesome.

Last week we attended Church in Laos. Another awesome experience.

There, one local brother asked me about things he's read on the Internet about Church history.

These are the same questions I get wherever we go. They came up last year when we lived in Africa. Church history matters--a lot. That's why it is such a problem to have narratives in Saints that contradict the original sources in favor of the revisionist Church history and M2C.

Here's a map of 415 cities I've visited. (The one in Antarctica is a Chilean military base we visited, but this software counted it as a city.) Living abroad gives one a much different perspective than
living in Utah, for sure. I've lived in Europe for 8 years and in Asia for 2 years, so far.

I've spoken with Church members and missionaries throughout the world. I think the Church's prospects are exciting and there is great hope and optimism for the future, both within and outside the Church.

The one big impediment is the uncertainty brewing about the truth claims; specifically, the origins and historicity of the Book of Mormon. Missionaries have told me their investigators ask about these things all the time, but the missionaries have no answers.

The anonymous Gospel Topics Essays are so ambiguous they create more problems and raise more questions than they answer.
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We often hear that the world is getting more wicked, which is why they reject the gospel.

Maybe that's true in some sense, but in my experience, people everywhere are becoming more kind and loving, more focused on their families, more prosperous and happy.

There are definitely "first world" problems in the U.S. and Europe, and to some degree in other countries, mostly of a psychological nature. Of course there are areas of political danger, but that's always been the case. I grew up during the Cold War when it was a big deal to visit Berlin, especially East Berlin. When I visited Lebanon for two weeks, the State Department told us it was too dangerous and we shouldn't go, but everyone was friendly and helpful.

Everywhere I go, things are much better than they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

Except in the Church today, members and investigators (friends) don't know what to believe. Do we believe what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote and testified to? Do we believe the teachings of the prophets and apostles starting with Joseph and Oliver and continuing with all their successors?

The M2C intellectuals and revisionist Church historians are telling us no. Do not believe Joseph and Oliver, they say.

They want us to believe Joseph didn't even use the plates, that he didn't even translate, and that the Hill Cumorah is somewhere in Southern Mexico.

People are confused and disturbed in their faith because of all of this, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned many years ago.

Fortunately, we can each make up our own minds on these topics. We can study, pray, and ponder. We can believe whatever we want.

Let's all hope we make informed decisions.

Friday, January 10, 2020

January 2020 Ensign-more to discuss


Because of the huge response to my post about the January 2020 Ensign, I'm going to clarify some points here.

The cover is my editorial depiction of the contents, not the actual cover of the original magazine. But don't be surprised to see such a cover eventually because that's the narrative we're getting from historians (and M2C advocates) today.

Consequently, the stone-in-a-hat narrative is being passed off as correct history, contrary to what Joseph and Oliver always taught.

If you read the contents of the Ensign, you will see in words and pictures a depiction of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon with a seer stone in a hat. Here is a passage:

The “interpreters” used by Joseph during the translation process included the “two stones in silver bows” that were deposited by Moroni with the plates (see Joseph Smith—History 1:35.) In addition to these two seer stones, Joseph used at least one other seer stone that the Lord had provided.7

The first sentence is consistent with what Joseph and Oliver taught. They always said Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim. They never once said Joseph used a seer stone in a hat.

The article should have stopped right there. 

Instead, the second sentence introduces Church members to Mormonism Unvailed and David Whitmer's "Address to All Believers in Christ."

Look at the sentence again.

In addition to these two seer stones, Joseph used at least one other seer stone that the Lord had provided.

This is what the historians want us to believe, but here is the key point: every witness who said Joseph used the seer stone to translate today's Book of Mormon* also said he did not use the Urim and Thummim. This includes the observers quoted in the Ensign, David Whitmer and Emma Smith.

This is what happens when historians accept statements uncritically. They mistake claims for truth.

This is an either/or situation, not "in addition to."

Joseph translating with the
stone in a hat and not the
Urim and Thummim
Logically, we cannot combine two directly contradictory statements with the phrase "in addition to." If we applied the logic of the Ensign article to the story of George Washington, we'd get this: 

"In addition to chopping down the cherry tree with an ax, George Washington did not chop down the cherry tree."

When there are directly contrary statements, people have to make a choice about whom to believe.** 
_____

Because the historians apparently want Church members to read Mormonism Unvailed and "An Address to All Believers in Christ," let's see if there's an accurate way to frame these statements. 

Those (and similar) materials are easily available on the Internet anyway. Critics have been citing them for years. They are old news.

What's new is reading them in the Ensign, especially presented as the "true" story of the translation.
_____

Here is an example of what would be historically and analytically accurate.

Although Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery always said Joseph used the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, some observers claimed that Joseph instead used at least one other seer stone.

With this approach, we acknowledge the observers' statements without presenting them as the truth of what happened.

We also accurately show that these observers' statements directly contradict what Joseph and Oliver said. 

And we don't make the unsubstantiated claim that the Lord provided the seer stone Joseph found in a well, which raises a host of other issues.
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Because the Ensign is teaching Church members about the seer stone scenario, readers deserve to know there are three ways to handle the observers' statements. 

1. Accept them as true and reject (or redefine, which is essentially the same thing) what Joseph and Oliver taught. (Some revisionist historians claim Joseph and Oliver used the term "Urim and Thummim" to mean both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone found in a well, but that redefinition of the term contradicts the plain and explicit history of the terms as used by Joseph and Oliver and their critics, as anyone can see by reading the original writings.) 

2. Reject them as false because they contradict what Joseph and Oliver said. (This is problematic because it frames David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Emma Smith as dishonest.)

3. Accept the factual elements as true but reject the hearsay and assumptions involved in the statements. (This is the approach that makes sense to me and is consistent with the historical evidence.)
_____

The next paragraph in the Ensign article comes close to objectivity by framing David's statement as mere "additional information." But by then it's too late because we were just told that Joseph actually did use the seer (or "peep") stones to translate and that this stone was provided by the Lord.

David Whitmer, whose family provided a place for Joseph and Oliver to complete the work of translation, provided this additional information: “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine.

The article extends this quotation from "An Address to All Believers in Christ" for several paragraphs. It is obviously hearsay; David never claimed he looked into the hat himself. He did not personally observe words appearing and disappearing. He doesn't even claim Joseph told him what he saw. David just reports what he observed (or heard) and then makes his own inferences and assumptions about the translation.

Readers of this blog know that I think Joseph conducted demonstrations to satisfy curiosity and explain the concept, but never "performed" a translation in the presence of people who were not authorized to see the plates or the Urim and Thummim. That's just my interpretation, of course; it works for me but we're all free to deal with the evidence in whatever way makes sense.
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This all brings up the question of whether Church history matters. I'll be discussing that in upcoming posts. I suppose the existence in the Ensign of articles such as this demonstrate that history matters, but then the question becomes, does it matter whether we accept or reject what Joseph and Oliver taught?

Stay tuned.
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*Today's Book of Mormon does not include the Book of Lehi that was on the 116 pages that Martin Harris lost. Martin Harris gave contradictory statements about how that translation took place, as did Emma. But none of the "stone-in-a-hat" witnesses said Joseph also used the Urim and Thummim after the 116 pages were lost.

**I think most observers accurately reported what they saw (or heard from other people), but they embellished because of mistaken assumptions. Joseph and Oliver were talking about the translation, while others were describing a demonstration that they incorrectly inferred was the translation. I wrote a book to explain all of this in detail. 

https://smile.amazon.com/Man-that-Can-Translate-Interpreters/dp/1944200797/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=a+man+that+can+translate&qid=1578644060&sr=8-1






Thursday, January 9, 2020

Which movie are you watching?


Members of the Church read the scriptures, the Ensign (including Conference reports), the manuals, the Joseph Smith Papers, and all the rest.

And they reach different conclusions about some key issues.

With the 2020 Come, Follow Me curriculum focused on the Book of Mormon, there has been renewed interest in the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Many LDS still believe what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery always taught; i.e., that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that Moroni put in the stone box.

Joseph's critics said he never had the Urim and Thummim and never translated anything. He just read words that appeared on a stone in a hat (or made it up as he went along).

Some years ago, LDS intellectuals started teaching that the critics were right and Joseph and Oliver were wrong. Their teachings now permeate lesson manuals, videos, and even the illustrations in the Ensign.

There are a lot of us Church members who don't buy the "new" Church history, which is really nothing new at all, but just a rehash of the claims that Joseph and Oliver tried so hard to refute with facts.

So how can Church members see two completely different explanations of the translation of the Book of Mormon?
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The concept of "two movies on one screen" explains how two people can see the same facts yet reach completely different conclusions.

Look at the drawing to the left.

What do you see?

If everyone reading this blog could vote, we'd end up with about half the viewers saying one thing, and the other half saying another.

[Answers below]

The point is, we bring something with us when we view art. We bring our past experiences. Maybe we have a left or right bias. Maybe we have a color bias. Maybe we want to know what others think before we give our opinion.

Maybe we think we're right and we cannot understand how someone else can see something different in the same image (the same screen).
_____

In the Church, people see different movies on one screen all the time.

The text of the Book of Mormon is an obvious example. Everyone's reading the same text, but some people think it describes Mesoamerica. Others think it describes Chile, Peru, Panama, Baja, New York, or what is now the Midwest and Eastern U.S.

Church history has lots of examples. Everyone reads the same original material regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon (the peep stones-in-a-hat vs. the Urim and Thummim), but some believe in the peep stones while others believe in the Urim and Thummim.

Some people believe there was only one set of plates; i.e., that the plates of Nephi (D&C 10) were included in the abridged records written by Mormon and Moroni. Others believe there were two sets of plates and that Joseph didn't get the plates of Nephi until he arrived in Fayette.

Some people believe Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and others (presumably two of Joseph's brothers) visited the depository of Nephite records in the New York Cumorah (Mormon 6:6). Others believe that the accounts of these visits actually related visions Oliver had of a hill in Mexico.

You can think of more examples from your own experience.



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Frog

Horse

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Some models are more equal than others

In George Orwell's book Animal Farm, the animals who took over the farm from the humans adopted seven commandments. Number Seven was "All animals are equal."

Eventually the pigs became like the humans and changed the commandment to read "ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS."

According to the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography, the Church currently has no position regarding Book of Mormon geography. "Some believe that the history depicted in the Book of Mormon—with the exception of the events in the Near East—occurred in North America, while others believe that it occurred in Central America or South America. Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas."

We read this statement and think it means what it says; i.e., that the Church doesn't take a position on the question. All models are equal.

But what is the reality?

Animal Farm.

Except now it's the M2C intellectuals, instead of the pigs, making the rules.
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A position of neutrality would mean all models are equal. None are favored or disfavored.

For most members of the Church, this is a reasonable position because it leaves the question up to each of us to answer for ourselves.

The problem is, the position is not being implemented in practice. In reality, employees and affiliates of BYU, CES, and COB have modified the statement to read this:

All models are equal, but some are more equal than others.

And M2C is more equal than all other models.

Many Church members prefer the position stated in the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay, but we live in the real world where that position is not being implemented or even respected by members and groups who claim Church support for their positions and their scholarship.

We have organizations such as Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter Foundation, BYU Studies, and FairMormon who insist the only "correct" model is M2C (the Mesoamerican/Two Cumorahs model). They censor, ban, and attack alternatives, to the point of teaching that the prophets were wrong when they taught that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York.

These organizations explicitly and aggressively reject the Church's position of neutrality, and yet the Church lends them support and encouragement.

CES and BYU use a fantasy map of the Book of Mormon that puts Cumorah in a location that is anything but New York. The maps represent an explicit rejection of the teachings of the prophets in favor of M2C.

Illustrations in the Ensign and the Come, Follow Me materials for 2020 are dominated by M2C artwork.

Here are a few examples.






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Those who follow this blog know that we're happy for people to believe whatever they want to believe. Everyone is free to reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

The teachings of the prophets about the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, include the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites, the location of the repository of Nephite records, and the place where Moroni interred the plates and where Joseph found them. Accepting the teachings of the prophets still leaves room for people to believe whatever they want about the rest of the geography.

But this artwork conveys the message that M2C is more equal than other models of Book of Mormon geography. The conflict with the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography is obvious.

One or the other ought to be changed. If we're all supposed to accept M2C because the intellectuals have, then what is the point of pretending there is a policy of neutrality, or that all models are equal?
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This post from April 2, 2019, shows the long-term nature of the problem.

As I write this, I'm a short distance from the Hill Cumorah in New York. The book The Next Mormons reports that only 50% of LDS Millennials are confident that the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical account, and the percentage is declining.

None of this is surprising.

In fact, prophets have warned that this would happen, but their warnings have gone unheeded.*

Younger generations of Church members have never heard what the prophets have taught about the Hill Cumorah. Those teachings have been censored by CES and BYU. They are censored in the Saints book. They are censored in the visitors centers.

BYU fantasy map of the
Book of Mormon -
no wonder only 50%
of Millennials think the
Book of Mormon is a
literal, historical account
Instead, the youth learn the BYU/CES fantasy map and the M2C hoax (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). Even visitors to the "Hill Cumorah" Visitors Center learn M2C.

(Actually, they don't even learn M2C. They are taught there is only one Cumorah, and it is in Mexico.)

The only place where visitors to Palmyra can see the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah is at the Oliver Cowdery Memorial about one mile north of the Hill Cumorah.

(BTW, the "Hill Cumorah" Visitors Center is scheduled for remodeling. It probably will no longer even be called the Hill Cumorah visitors center.)

All of this confusion is the inevitable result of censoring the teachings of the prophets, and for those few students who discover the teachings of the prophets on their own, teaching them that they should believe the M2C intellectuals instead of the prophets.

M2C represents a repudiation of the teachings of the prophets in favor of the teachings of the intellectuals. Today we'll look at when and how this transition occurred.
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It's a simple fact, verifiable by anyone, that the prophets and apostles have long taught two things about Book of Mormon geography:

1. The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York.
2. We don't know for sure where the rest of the Book of Mormon events took place.

Anyone who questions these facts can read the reports of General Conference, as we've discussed before, such as here

Nevertheless, a lot of people try to conflate (mix up) the two points because they don't believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.
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We've seen how the Cumorah question arose as a contest between RLDS and LDS teachings around the turn of the century. Although LDS leaders, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, repeatedly reaffirmed Letter VII's teaching about the New York Cumorah, LDS intellectuals sided with the RLDS intellectuals.

M2C became the default position of the Church because employees at CES, BYU and COB (Church Office Building) rejected what the prophets taught.

In the 1980s, M2C went mainstream with two 1984 articles in the Ensign by John L. Sorenson titled "Digging into the Book of Mormon." You can red them here:

https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/1984/09/digging-into-the-book-of-mormon-our-changing-understanding-of-ancient-america-and-its-scripture?lang=eng

https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/1984/10/digging-into-the-book-of-mormon-our-changing-understanding-of-ancient-america-and-its-scripture-part-2?lang=eng

The articles were republished in the Liahona in 1985.

The Editor of the Ensign at the time, Jay M. Todd, was fascinated with the Mesoamerican theory. The articles were illustrated with photos of Mesoamerican sites and artifacts, as well as this map:

This map, of course, represents the M2C interpretation of the Book of Mormon that has become the default "official" interpretation of the text, with one "narrow neck" in Mesoamerica.

It is this interpretation that the intellectuals used to generate the fantasy maps taught by CES and BYU.

The articles did not directly articulate the M2C theory, but they laid the groundwork. It's very interesting how Brother Sorenson framed the discussion.

First, he established that the teachings of the prophets are irrelevant.

He didn't even cite a single one of them.

Instead, he claimed this: The issue is not one of intentions, beliefs, or testimony; it is one of scholarship. To compare the Book of Mormon with the findings of archaeology and related fields is a scholarly, intellectual activity. When anyone, Latter-day Saint or not, sets out to work in that domain, he must operate according to the rules which govern there.

Recall, this was published in the Ensign. So far as I know, this was the inflection point. This is where science replaced the prophets. 

This is also when the censorship began.

In the left column below, I show some of the Ensign covers that depict M2C. It is fascinating to me because not one Ensign cover has ever depicted the New York Cumorah, not even when it was taught in General Conference. There has been zero effort to be "neutral" about Book of Mormon geography. It is all M2C, all the time.

The Ensign has never published Letter VII, either, even though all prior Church magazines did, including the Improvement Era. But now that M2C is the default position, Letter VII is censored.

(Fortunately, Joseph Smith had his scribes copy it into his journal, where anyone can read it in the Joseph Smith Papers. Otherwise, it would have been completely erased from accessible Church history. You can read about Letter VII here: http://www.lettervii.com/)











In 1975 and 1978, the New York Cumorah was reaffirmed in General Conference. Brother Sorenson didn't mention that. Today, hardly anyone even knows that.

Now, I agree with Brother Sorenson that the issue is not one of intentions, beliefs or testimony. But I don't agree it is an issue of scholarship exclusively. When the prophets have consistently and persistently taught that it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York, we don't cavalierly reject their teachings solely because we disagree with them.

But that's what Brother Sorenson and all his followers have done.

In my view, scientific analysis is useful and important, especially when, as in this case, it supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

Intellectual honesty requires that the M2C intellectuals (and CES and BYU teachers) at least acknowledge the teachings of the prophets and explain why they reject those teachings.

It's not surprising that an article in the Ensign would avoid that topic, but to discerning readers the censorship is apparent--and it is just as apparent now in the Visitors Centers, curriculum, etc.
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The second framing Brother Sorenson used to lay the groundwork for M2C appears here:

A substantive discussion of geography cannot be given in these limited pages. However, for at least the past forty years, many students of the subject who have studied it in depth have reached similar basic conclusions: (1) the events reported by Nephite and Jaredite scribes evidently covered only a limited territory in the New World “land of promise,” and (2) there is presently known only one location in the Western Hemisphere that seems qualify as that scene.6

Notice how the article ignores the origins of M2C (the RLDS scholars who developed it in the late 1800s and early 1900 as part of their intellectual battle with LDS leaders). Instead, it frames M2C as something that originated in the 1940s among LDS scholars.

Notice also how the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah are both censored and repudiated. Brother Sorenson (and all of his M2C followers) don't even acknowledge alternatives to M2C; they insist Mesoamerica is the "only" location that "seems to qualify."

Of course, this is the inevitable result of their circular reasoning. They simply interpreted the text to match Mesoamerica, and then claimed only Mesoamerica "qualifies" according to their interpretation. 

We admire the audacity of this sophistry, but we recognize it for what it is.

Footnote 6 is awesome. The article never mentions the term "Cumorah" but the footnote does. It cites books that established M2C by saying the prophets were wrong. Here are two of my favorites:

Cumorah - Where? by Thomas Stuart Ferguson (Zion's Printing and Publishing Co.: Independence, Missouri, 1947)

In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico, by David A. Palmer (Bountiful, Ut." Horizon Publishers, 1981).
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We don't have time to go through the entire Ensign articles, but I recommend that you do so. It's astonishing to see how M2C became established.

However, we do need to look one paragraph that was crucial to the foundation of M2C. (My comment in red.)

Of course, placing the Book of Mormon lands within a limited region like Mesoamerica requires that we take a fresh look at some of the long-standing questions that have been of interest to Book of Mormon readers. For example, how did the plates of Nephi get from the final battlefield near the “narrow neck of land”11 to where Joseph Smith obtained them in New York? 

[This has never been a question for those who accept what the prophets have taught. It's only a question for those who reject those teachings. Footnote 11 explains how the intellectuals turned a fact into a question.]

Here the Book of Mormon sheds no light. 

[But the prophets not only share light, they declare it as a fact that the final battles took place in the valley west of the "hill in New York." Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith visited the depository of Nephite records in the hill Cumorah in New York. That alone justifies their teaching that this is the hill of Mormon 6:6.]

One obvious possibility is that Moroni himself may have carried the records to New York during his thirty-six years of wandering between the extermination of the Nephites and when he last wrote on the plates. (See Morm. 6:6Moro. 1:1–4Moro. 10:1.) Or he may have taken them there as a resurrected being. We only know that, whatever the means, in 1827 the plates were in the “hill of considerable size” near young Joseph Smith’s home at Palmyra, New York, where Moroni delivered the sacred record to him.

Notice how the teaching of the prophets--that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in western New York--is nowhere considered even as a possibility. It is completely censored. 

Also notice the rhetorical trick of referring to the "hill in New York" as a generic hill and not as the Hill Cumorah.

This is footnote 11.

Consider the following reasoning: (1) The Cumorah of the Nephites and the Ramah of the Jaredites were the same hill (Ether 15:11). (2) This area, covered with bones (Omni 1:22; Mosiah 8:8; Mosiah 21:26–27; etc.) and also a “land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Morm. 6:4; Ether 15:8), was in the land of Desolation, which bordered on the land Bountiful at the narrow neck of land (Alma 22:29–32). 

[Here is one of the circular reasoning interpretations. The M2C interpretation conflates the "narrow neck of land" (Ether 10:20) with the "narrow neck" of Alma 63:5, as if these different terms hundreds of years apart referred to the identical geographical feature. Then they insert the "narrow neck" into Alma 22, where it doesn't actually exist in the text.] 

(3) In Mormon 3 through 6, it becomes clear that the final battles of the Nephites were localized, centering largely in the general area of the city of Desolation, which was in the land of Desolation “by the narrow pass which led into the land southward” (Morm. 3:5, 7). 

[Here they conflate "narrow pass" with "narrow neck of land" and "narrow neck." All of this also assumes that "land southward" and "land northward" are proper nouns instead of relative terms, relative to the specific location and time involved in the narrative. These assumptions are not necessarily unreasonable, but they are not mandatory and, IMO, contradict a basic rule of interpretation, that different terms refer to different things. But for M2C intellectuals, the conclusion that the prophets are wrong about Cumorah is fundamental. It's a starting point. For me, just the opposite is the case; i.e., I start with what the prophets have taught and go from there.]

(4) And therefore, according to this reasoning, Cumorah, the final battlefield of the Nephites and Lamanites, was near the narrow neck of land.

[Ironically, I don't disagree with this statement. But I don't agree with the M2C interpretation that (i) conflates the terminology and (ii) insists the narrow neck of land must be in Mesoamerica.]
The point of this post is not to debate the terminology. That's a futile endeavor. I'm not interested in a "war of words" which can never be resolved and doesn't change anyone's mind anyway.

The point of this post is to show when and how science (as explained by M2C intellectuals) replaced the teachings of the prophets. 

In my view, replacing the prophets with the intellectuals is and has been a huge mistake. 

It's fine with me if people prefer to believe the M2C intellectuals instead of the prophets, I just think such an important decision should be made with full knowledge of 

(i) what the prophets have taught and 

(ii) what science tells us that affirms and corroborates those teachings.

Currently, most members of the Church are never even exposed to, let alone taught, either category of knowledge.

I hope to see that change. I continue to call upon my friends in the M2C citation cartel to provide their readers and followers with full, complete information. 

I call on them to stop resorting to censorship and obfuscation to maintain M2C.

I call on them to trust their readers to make informed decisions.



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*About the time when President Joseph F. Smith wanted to purchase the Hill Cumorah in New York, RLDS scholars began teaching that the "real" hill Cumorah was in Mexico. Joseph F. Smith had republished Letter VII; for him, the Cumorah question was settled.

His son, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Apostle and Church Historian at the time, warned that the "two-Cumorahs" theory would cause members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. He reiterated that warning when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve.

But the intellectuals rejected his warning.

Two months before he died, Brigham Young expressed his serious concern that the teaching about the New York Cumorah would be forgotten. He had good reason to be concerned, as we discussed here:

http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2017/08/brigham-young-140th-anniversary-of-his.html