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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


  1. Actually it turns out there is another school of thought about Book of Mormon geography that Brother Neville neglected to mention. If fact, he not only consistently fails to mention this school of thought, he goes to great lengths to discredit its primary authors: The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Writing this year on their official website (ChurchofJesusChrist.Org), which contains the Scriptures, the Church curriculum, Ensign and Liahona, manuals, handbooks, their General Conference addresses, and their public face to the Church and the world they laid our their School of Thought that Brother Neville failed to consider or disclose:

    "The Book of Mormon includes a history of an ancient people who migrated from the Near East to the Americas. This history contains information about the places they lived, including descriptions of landforms, natural features, and the distances and cardinal directions between important points. The internal consistency of these descriptions is one of the striking features of the Book of Mormon.

    "Since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have expressed numerous opinions about the specific locations of the events discussed in the book. 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.

    "The Prophet Joseph Smith himself accepted what he felt was evidence of Book of Mormon civilizations in both North America and Central America. While traveling with Zion’s Camp in 1834, Joseph wrote to his wife Emma that they were “wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls and their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity.” In 1842, the Church newspaper Times and Seasons published articles under Joseph Smith’s editorship that identified the ruins of ancient native civilizations in Mexico and Central America as further evidence of the Book of Mormon’s historicity.

    "The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reminded members that “the Book of Mormon is not a textbook on topography. Speculation on the geography of the Book of Mormon may mislead instead of enlighten; such a study can be a distraction from its divine purpose.”

    "Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken. However, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.

    "Speaking of the book’s history and geography, President Russell M. Nelson taught: “Interesting as these matters may be, study of the Book of Mormon is most rewarding when one focuses on its primary purpose—to testify of Jesus Christ. By comparison, all other issues are incidental.”

    I guess in retrospect its understandable why Brother Neville didn't address this official School of Thought: it would put his blog out of business.

  2. By the way, this is Brother Neville's explanation (from his blog post) for this quoted School of Thought approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

    "The authors of the anonymous essay [on Book of Mormon geography] squandered an opportunity to educate Church members about the issue, solely because they wanted to accommodate M2C.*

    "Most, but not all, of the members of the committee who wrote the essay believe M2C, so they think the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah. The essay was submitted to the Brethren for approval, but the committee apparently refused to even offer for consideration a version of the essay that contained the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

    "This is standard organizational behavior. When employees want a particular outcome, they guide the boss by giving the boss only what they want him/her to consider. If the boss wants alternatives, the employees provide the worst alternatives they can think of so their preferred outcome appears to the boss as the best choice."

    His explanation is that the First Presidency has the same problem all businesses face, they just can't get good help anymore, so they surrounded themselves with General Authority Seventies, Department Heads and staff who are conspiring to sell the evil plot that M2C has become. The poor First Presidency just doesn't have what Joseph and Oliver had in their day so they are buying the bill of good handed to them by conspiring men "who want a particular outcome, they guide the boss by giving the boss only what they want him/her to consider. If the boss wants alternatives, the employees provide the worst alternatives they can think of so their preferred outcome appears to the boss as the best choice."

    I think Brother Neville must be thinking about some other First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles than the one I regularly see and hear. They seem like really sharp fellows who are intelligent (President Nelson has two doctorates) and observant. It's hard fore me to buy the notion they are just too busy, or too old, or too distracted to be minding the store while conspiring men sell the Church membership on the teachings of men, mingled with scripture.

    Come on Brother Neville. Give the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve some credit for not being nitwits.

    They know all about what Joseph and Oliver said about Book of Mormon geography, and yet their statement on their website (quoted earlier) says the Church has not taken a position on the subject because "the Lord has not spoken" on that topic.

    Which is it, Brother Neville. Is your school of thought correct or is that of the First Presidency correct?

    Any thoughts?