long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Tuesday, 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.

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.


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?

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.

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.

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:



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.

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).

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.


*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:


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