Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The M2C triumvirate

Millions of people are staying home to help prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19. Many members of the Church around the world are spending their time reading and studying, preparing for General Conference. It's a good time to focus on the keystone of our religion: the Book of Mormon.

Pursuant to President Nelson's counsel that "good inspiration is based upon good information," it is important for every member of the Church to seek "good information." Although many Church members seem to just want someone to tell them what to believe, seeking the truth is an individual responsibility that we cannot delegate to others, especially when the topic involves the Book of Mormon.

On this blog, we focus on the historicity and geography of the Book of Mormon as evidence of its divine authenticity.

No one needs any expertise to understand and believe the teachings of the prophets. This includes the clear, consistent and persistent teachings of the prophets about the New York Hill Cumorah.

Yet most Church members are ignorant of those teachings. Many of those who do know what the prophets have taught have nevertheless been persuaded to reject their teachings in favor of M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). 

After all the debates about evidence, logic, history, geography, geology, anthropology, archaeology, metallurgy, language, etc., the ongoing influence of M2C boils down to three men: the M2C triumvirate.

On a personal level, I like all three of them. Each is a faithful, smart, productive and sincere member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We can learn a lot from their work. But that has no bearing on whether we should accept their theories and teachings.

These were the founders of F.A.R.M.S. in 1979, which taught M2C from its inception. Today they are the brains behind Book of Mormon Central (BMC).

Through various channels they have taught M2C to thousands of Church members for decades.

They are the drivers of the academic cycle, whereby young Latter-day Saints are taught to understand the Book of Mormon through the lens of M2C and then go on to teach M2C to their children, students, peers, etc. The academic cycle turns theories into unquestioned assumptions that many come to believe are "true." Even when they contradict the teachings of the prophets.

Now the M2C triumvirate is raising and spending millions of dollars annually to promote M2C to the world through BMC, hiring fine young scholars and artists to spread the message that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.

All of that is fine. We're each entitled to believe whatever we want. We can donate to whatever cause we think is important. No one is an "apostate" simply because his/her beliefs contradict someone else's.

But we don't have to accept the teachings of the scholars over the teachings of the prophets. 

Much of what the M2C triumvirate does (apart from M2C) is awesome and deserves our support. I have learned a lot from them and continue to use the resources provided by BMC and the rest of the M2C citation cartel. I wish I could support their work 100%, but I cannot, at least not as long as they continue to undermine the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, without at least acknowledging those teachings and the evidence that supports the prophets.
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The approach of BMC can be summed up in the following quotation from Brother Sorenson. Recall the long list of prophets who have taught the New York Cumorah, summarized at this link.

There are many of us Latter-day Saints who still believe those teachings. We are not ignorant, uneducated, or naive. We have sought and found evidence from various sciences that corroborates the teachings of the prophets. Original Church history documents also support the prophets.

Now, read what Brother Sorenson says about us and the teachings of the prophets:

“There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history.”

John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex (Deseret Book, 2013), p. 688.

Those who heed the words of the prophets know that Joseph Fielding Smith warned against M2C over a period of decades.

"Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory to the effect that within the period covered by the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico-the isthmus of Tehauntepec probably being the "narrow neck" of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon rather than the isthmus of Panama.

"This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."


Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3:232–243.

Other members of the First Presidency have reaffirmed the New York Cumorah in General Conference. But their teachings have been rejected by the M2C scholars, particularly by the M2C triumvirate.
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In upcoming posts, we'll examine how the M2C triumvirate has adopted, refined, and promoted M2C over the years. It is a fascinating study that involves history, bias confirmation, cognitive dissonance, rhetoric, and more.

Setting aside personal prayer and revelation, most of us seek "good information" first from the scriptures, second from the prophets, third from original sources of Church history, data from the sciences, etc., and finally from teachers, experts, friends, the Internet, etc.

[Ask yourself, have you inverted this hierarchy of evidence?]

True, we can't become experts in everything. For some topics, we necessarily rely on teachers and experts in various fields to introduce and guide us to their areas of expertise. They can help us find good information.

But they can also deflect us from good information.

Sometimes, good information is mingled with bad information. Sometimes the theories of men are mingled with scripture.

We trust teachers and experts to help us filter out irrelevant or incorrect material, but in many cases their biases instead cause them to filter out material that contradicts their own theories. If we're too deferential (and lazy), we can easily be easily manipulated into accepting their theories without making informed decisions based on good information.

And some topics don't require expertise, even when experts insist you need training for their ministry.


Monday, March 30, 2020

M2C FARMS logo

Questions have arisen about my post the other day about the M2C advocacy group, Book of Mormon Central (BMC). People don't understand why BMC would raise and spend millions of dollars to promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs (M2C) theory, while rejecting the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

There is a long history behind M2C. It originated with scholars from the RLDS Church in the late 1800s. I've discussed this history before, such as here.

This week we'll look at this history in more detail.
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Today, let's look at the BMC logo.


I pointed out that this logo originated with F.A.R.M.S, which was founded in 1979. F.A.R.M.S. taught M2C from its inception. Tomorrow we'll see why BMC is essentially a rebranded F.A.R.M.S. (as the logo makes clear).

You can read about F.A.R.M.S. on wikipedia here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_for_Ancient_Research_and_Mormon_Studies


In 1984 the F.A.R.M.S. newsletter titled Insights
explained why the logo incorporates a Mayan glyph. You can see from this description how F.A.R.M.S. embraced M2C as a given from the outset.

WHAT DOES THE F.A.R.M.S. LOGO STAND FOR? Many people have asked what the F.A.R.M.S. logo means. Here is a brief explanation. The logo is composed of characters from Hebrew, Creek, Mayan and Egyptian, which are four of the main ancient languages and cultures relevant to Book of Mormon reseach [sic]

The characters are set in four stone blocks, symbolizing archaeology and ancient reseach [sic]. 

The Blocks are fit together like a puzzle. The Hebrew "aleph" in the upper left hand corner and the Greek "omega" in the lower right hand corner are the first and last letters of the Hebrew and Greek alphabets, standing for the "first and the last" (Isaiah 48:12), or the "Alpha and the Omega" (Rev. 1:17), who is Jesus Christ. 

The Mayan glyph is stylized, representing Mesoamerican studies. 

The Egyptian "Wd3t-eye" is the "whole-eye of the Sun-god Re" which was an ancient symbol of resurrection, since a myth told how the eye was torn to pieces and put back together. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Living Scriptures free for now

A lot of people are looking for content while stuck at home. Here's a possible source I received an email about:

1- Here's the URL to get full access to all of the (usually premium) church related videos and movies:
(where the cost is giving them a valid email address, only...)

2- Among other possibilities, one of the offerings is a show called "Hidden in the Heartland" which, in one episode, contains some good interviews of Jonathan Neville.  Well worth the watch IMHO.




Thursday, March 26, 2020

March 26, 1830, and NY1C vs M2C

March 26 is a great day to think about the Book of Mormon. It's an anniversary, of sorts. I posted some observations on the Letter VII blog:

http://www.lettervii.com/2020/03/march-26-1830-and-2020.html
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After my post yesterday, people have wondered about comparison tables.

It seems obvious that anyone interested in the topics of Book of Mormon geography/historicity and the translation of the text would like to see a summary of the original sources and the interpretations of those sources. 

Comparison charts and tables can help people make informed decisions. They are an effective way to organize "good information" as we discussed yesterday.

You might wonder why you have never seen such comparison charts.

I was once in a meeting with some of my M2C friends (people who advocate the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). The topic of a comparison table or chart came up. While some thought it would be a good idea, the "boss" refused to participate in any such comparison. He said that if members of the Church saw such a comparison chart, most of them would choose the New York/One Cumorah ideas over M2C.

[That will be the new acronym, btw. NY/1C vs. M2C. It's important to remember that the location of Cumorah, which as been well established by the prophets, says nothing about the location of other Book of Mormon events, as the prophets have also taught.]

It seems axiomatic that most Church members who don't already have an investment in one theory or another would choose H1C over M2C once they knew what the prophets have taught about the NY Cumorah and have compared the evidence and rationale for each alternative. That's why you will never see an accurate, complete comparison chart published by the M2C citation cartel (consisting of Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, BYU Studies, etc.). M2C thrives where people don't know anything else.

I encourage you to create your own comparison tables

I've compiled a few comparison tables in the past. Here are some that compare elements of NY1C with M2C.

1. This post includes a table comparing who has taught the New York Cumorah with who has taught the Mexican Cumorah.

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/05/memorial-day-2019.html

2. This one compares the two narratives and asks which makes the most sense to you.

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/03/which-cumorah-narrative-makes-sense-to.html

3. This post sets out the respective biases so you can see which one is closest to your own biases.

http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2017/07/check-your-biases-updated.html

4. At the end of this one is a table that shows which of Oliver Cowdery's activities and writings are "okay" and which are not, according to M2C scholars.

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/02/getting-real-about-cumorah-part-5b.html

5. This post includes a table comparing M2C to the teachings of the RLDS scholar L.E. Hills:

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/03/the-m2c-hoax-part-4-rlds-won.html







Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Good Information and unity

Tomorrow is the 190th anniversary of the first announcement that the Book of Mormon was published and available for sale (which I will discuss tomorrow). This is a good time to consider what sources of information we rely upon as we study the Book of Mormon and the teachings of the prophets.

In his second General Conference talk as President of the Church (April 2018), titled "Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives," President Nelson said, "I know that good inspiration is based upon good information."

He modeled that important principle as he explained:

Because I know that good inspiration is based upon good information, I prayerfully met one-on-one with each Apostle. I then sequestered myself in a private room in the temple and sought the Lord’s will. 

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/04/revelation-for-the-church-revelation-for-our-lives?lang=eng

President Nelson went on to explain the importance of unity.

In our meetings, the majority never rules! We listen prayerfully to one another and talk with each other until we are united. Then when we have reached complete accord, the unifying influence of the Holy Ghost is spine-tingling! We experience what the Prophet Joseph Smith knew when he taught, “By union of feeling we obtain power with God.”

This is, or should be, a model for all members of the Church. If we seek unity, we should first obtain good information and then seek good inspiration, through prayer and deliberation with others.

Readers here know that I write often about M2C and SITH. I think these are critical issues to discuss because they both directly pertain to the keystone of our religion, the Book of Mormon. IMO, Church members should be united on these issues, but we all know there are deep differences of opinion.

Many faithful Church members are deeply attached to these ideas. M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography and historicity) and SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory of translation) are prevalent among many LDS intellectuals and their followers. They are depicted in Church media, manuals, visitors centers, etc. 

Nevertheless, many faithful members of the Church reject M2C and SITH because they think both theories contradict the teachings of the scriptures and the prophets.

Both sides cite Church history sources, the teachings of the prophets, and extrinsic evidence to support their views. 

How is this possible?

One's views on M2C and SITH are not a test of faithfulness or intelligence. To a large degree, what one believes about these matters is a function of what one was taught. 

Few people make informed decisions about these theories. Because we can't be experts in everything, we defer to people we trust. I know I did. When I attended Seminary and BYU, I trusted my teachers and professors.

But that is the opposite of what President Nelson taught. 

He did not say "good inspiration comes from deferring to others." 

Instead of deferring to my professors, I should have considered their views along with the "good information" that is widely available to anyone who seeks it. It took me a long time to realize my professors had misled me. Hopefully you can learn faster than I did.

I hope we can heed President Nelson's counsel about good information and good inspiration and thereby, hopefully, we can seek and achieve the unity that we all want as members of the Church.
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How can we find and consider good information?

Here are a few steps to consider.

1. First, check your ego. If studying and discussing these issues makes you angry, defensive, or upset, ask yourself why. Do you have an investment in your preferred theories? You might have a financial, psychological, social, professional, emotional or other investment that is preventing you from thinking clearly.

2. Second, check your sources. If everything you know about Book of Mormon geography/historicity and the translation of the Book of Mormon comes from a source that has an agenda, consider additional sources. Because every source has an agenda, you should consider original sources. Focus on the scriptures (not someone's interpretation of the scriptures), original documents, and the teachings of the prophets from the beginning through today. When you  seek interpretations of those sources, be sure to get a variety of interpretations.

3. Third, check your thinking. We are all susceptible to bias confirmation, logical fallacies, etc. Here's a test: if you are unable to articulate a different perspective, you cannot understand that perspective, which means you are merely confirming your own biases. You don't have to agree with another perspective, but if you can't understand and articulate that perspective accurately then you are applying a mental filter that leads you to think those who disagree with you are stupid, blind, ignorant, evil, or have some other defect. Such filters prevent you from considering good information.

4. Fourth, check your own intentions. If you seek the truth, regardless of consequences, and you consider good information, you will be able to obtain good inspiration. This is as simple and true as "Seek and ye shall find." As President Nelson has taught, this is how we receive revelation. Another way to describe this process is making informed decisions. This is how we ultimately achieve unity. 

With respect to M2C and SITH specifically, look for sources that provide references to the teachings of the prophets and original sources. See if they offer detailed comparisons of the various alternatives.
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I would leave it there except we have a serious problem in the Church. I've described it as the Academic Cycle. It is merely the latest manifestation of the age-old conflict between prophets and scholars.

We recognize it in the scriptures. Some examples:

2 Nephi 9:28–29 When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

2 Nephi 9:42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches

Alma 10:15 Now these lawyers were learned in all the arts and cunning of the people; and this was to enable them that they might be skilful in their profession.

Alma 32:23 And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.
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There are several well-known sources of information about M2C and SITH on the Internet that many people are familiar with, including FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central (BMC), CES Letter, and Mormon Stories. Each portrays itself as unbiased and objective, but each has a strong bias that drives their content.

If you consult any of these, be cognizant of their biases. FairMormon and BMC strongly advocate M2C and SITH. CES Letter and Mormon Stories agree with FairMormon and BMC on many issues and share many of the same assumptions, but seek to undermine faith overall.

In my opinion, none of them accept the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah or the translation of the plates with the Urim and Thummim. You can read their web pages and see for yourself.

Lately, BMC may be the best known to Church members because the organization spends millions of dollars each year to promote its agenda. Many Church members go to BMC or FairMormon to find answers about M2C and SITH. Like most sources, BMC offers good and bad information. As long as you're aware of the organization's objectives, you can find a lot of useful information there.

The problem with BMC is it claims to be a repository of information about the Book of Mormon, and it claims to follow the Church's policy of neutrality, but in reality it's merely an advocacy group, dedicated to promoting M2C. It raises and spends millions of dollars to pursue enforce M2C.


BMC is not a serious academic institution; it is merely a front for its corporate owner, BMAF, which has been promoting M2C for decades. This is evident in its logo, which incorporates a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon, in conjunction with with Hebrew (Old Testament), Greek (New Testament) and Egyptian (Pearl of Great Price).

BMC is the intellectual descendant of FARMS, which has been promoting M2C since its inception in 1979. (which is why BMC retained the FARMS logo.)

Like FARMS, BMC is not only uninterested in the pursuit of truth regarding these matters, but it actively opposes and censors good information that contradicts M2C.

Lately, it has also embraced SITH.

Those of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the plates with the Urim and Thummim have been excluded from any dialog with the scholars at BMC and related organizations. 

Employees and affiliates of BMC actively oppose and seek to censor any discussion of the teachings of the prophets and other original sources that contradict M2C.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with BMC or any other group promoting its message. Advocacy groups are entitled to promote their views, and it is beneficial for everyone to hear various messages.

Just be sure that when you read information, you use discretion to distinguish between advocacy and facts. 

If you're interested in comparison tables, I've posted several that most readers here are already familiar with. You can email me for links, etc.

 A final thought from President Nelson:

We live in a world that is complex and increasingly contentious. The constant availability of social media and a 24-hour news cycle bombard us with relentless messages. If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation.

I've discussed this before:

https://presidentnelsonspeaks.blogspot.com/2018/11/good-inspiration-and-good-information.html

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Good news despite everything

Utah just experienced a significant earthquake. Because we're living on a farm near Palmyra, New York, we have only heard about the earthquake from friends and the media. We hope everyone in Utah is fine.

Here's a map: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/uu60363602/map

Here's a map of aftershocks.

I was just about to post a message about good news, too. Figures.
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Everyone is understandably obsessed with the news about COVID-19. Consequently, I haven't posted anything for a while.

On the other hand, many people have more time on their hands than usual. This could be a good time to learn more about Church history and the Book of Mormon (as Church leaders have encouraged us to do). Next week I'll resume posting with some important observations, but for now, I want to mention something about the virus.

Most readers here know that we were living in China last fall. We left January 3 for a trip to Laos, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, but then we returned to China for about 10 days for a conference and tour of southern China.

I mention this because we were about one day ahead of the virus everywhere we went, meaning authorities closed down public places the day after we left. We went to Vietnam, and then Australia, just a day or two before Australia closed to people who had been in China. We spent two weeks in Australia (hence the clean bill of health) before going to Singapore, Bali, New Zealand, and finally the U.S.

Driving in the Northern Territory
While driving through the Outback, I recorded some videos that I'll post when I get time to edit them.

We attended church regularly the whole time, but never in the same place more than once. Since December, we've attended Church in China, Macao, Laos, Sri Lanka, two wards in Australia, one in NZ, one in Utah, one in NY, and one in NJ. We would have attended last week in Oregon except church was cancelled.

All of this has left me with great optimism for the future. President Nelson has also expressed his optimism and confidence. https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/president-nelson-message-covid-19
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Regarding the virus specifically, for those interested in positive news, here's an awesome description of how things will be better on the other side of the emergency:

video:

audio:



The CDC has an important web page about the virus.


There is also a useful webpage here, provided by China Daily.


Friday, March 6, 2020

SITH and "translation instruments"

We visited the Priesthood Restoration Site in Harmony, Pennsylvania, the other day. It is a wonderful site in every respect. I've visited many times, starting with the day before the official opening. It's one of my favorite Church history sites.

Because the site is on a small road far from the main freeway and not well publicized, we assume most visitors are Church members. However, the day I was there, local non-member residents were visiting for the first time.

On this visit, I noticed some new terminology about the translation of the Book of Mormon that I thought readers would be interested in.
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Home in Harmony, PA,
where Joseph translated the abridge plates
Background. After Joseph obtained the abridged plates (see the Title Page) from Moroni's stone box in the hill Cumorah near Palmyra, NY, he and Emma moved to Harmony, PA, where Emma had grown up. There, he translated all of the abridged plates (except the sealed portion) with Martin Harris (the 116 lost pages) and Oliver Cowdery (Mosiah through Moroni) acting as scribes. Before leaving Harmony for Fayette, NY, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger.

The messenger took the abridged plates back to the hill Cumorah. He then took the original (unabridged) record of Nephi (see D&C 10) to Fayette, showed them to Mary Whitmer, and gave them to Joseph Smith, who translated the record as 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon.

Translation. Because Harmony is such an important location for the translation of the Book of Mormon, you might think that visitors would learn all about what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation.

You would be wrong.

You might also think that Joseph Smith translated the Nephite records with the Urim and Thummim that Moroni put in the stone box with the abridged plates. This would be understandable; that is what Joseph reported in Joseph Smith-History 1:35, 42, 52, 59 and 62. Oliver Cowdery was a second witness of these events, as he described in Note 1.

If you grew up in the Church before about a decade ago, this is what you learned. (It's still what you learn if you actually read the scriptures.)

You might also remember Joseph's 1842 letter titled Church History, better known as the Wentworth Letter. (Remember, if you want to read the full Wentworth Letter you need to go to this link or the Joseph Smith Papers, because the manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith actually deleted key passages from the original letter.) Here is what Joseph taught about the translation in the Wentworth letter.

With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rims of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.
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Now for the take-away lesson from the visitors center at the Priesthood Restoration Site.

Forget whatever you thought you knew about the Urim and Thummim. That idea, as they say, is now apparently the "old" history. 

In the revised history, Joseph used "translation instruments," mainly (or exclusively) a seer or "peep" stone that he put into a hat. This is SITH, for the "stone-in-the-hat" theory. 
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Here is the exhibit on the translation at the Priesthood Restoration Site.

If you look closely, this exhibit about the translation doesn't even use the words Urim and Thummim. The phrase has apparently been de-correlated.

In fact, the exhibit never quotes the teachings of Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery about the translation.

Instead of quoting Joseph or Oliver, the exhibit quotes David Whitmer!

Why? Because David described the seer or "peep" stone:

"oval-shaped, chocolate-colored stone, about the size of an egg, only more flat"

Look at the entire quotation in context.

By fervent prayer and by otherwise humbling himself, the prophet, however, again found favor, and was presented with a strange oval-shaped, chocolate-colored stone, about the size of an egg, only more flat, which, it was promised, should serve the same purpose as the missing urim and thummim (the latter was a pair of transparent stones set in a bow-shaped frame and very much resembled a pair of spectacles). With this stone all of the present Book of Mormon was translated.*

When read in context, the Whitmer quotation from the Priesthood Restoration Site Visitors Center directly contradicts the claim of the exhibit that Joseph used multiple "translation instruments" to translate the plates.

David claimed the entire Book of Mormon was translated with SITH.

Actually, all the statements cited to support SITH claim Joseph did not use the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon we have today. Yet we keep being told in exhibits such as this, as well as in the Saints book, volume 1, that Joseph used both "translation instruments," a version of events that is supported by no historical sources.

Here's how the placard in the Visitors Center, to the left of the photo of the seer stone, explains the translation.

Joseph Smith was inspired by God in his effort to translate the ancient record. At times when exercising the gift of revelation, Joseph used sacred physical objects to translate. He used the translation instruments buried with the record. And at other times, he used a seer stone, which he placed inside a hat to block out light.

At first Joseph copied characters from the plates before trying to translate them. Over time he often worked without referring to the plates, which were covered or hidden close by.

The much different alternative version is found in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History 1:62. For example, Joseph did not merely "try" to translate the characters. He did translate them.

By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.

It seems to me that a historical display about the translation would be more accurate and informative if, instead of the revisionist historians' interpretation of the claims of critics, it quoted the scriptures and other teachings by Joseph and Oliver.

But that's just me.
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We've discussed before that the historical record shows that SITH was an explicit alternative to the Urim and Thummim narrative taught by Joseph and Oliver. Until recently, there was always a clear distinction between what Joseph and Oliver taught (the Urim and Thummim) and what critics claimed (SITH).

And yet now, our own visitors centers not only don't teach what Joseph and Oliver taught, but they teach what only the critics used to claim.

To see how this issue was handled in the late 1800s, when David Whitmer's statement first surfaced, read the 1888 article below.*

In my view, that article is a far more persuasive explanation of the various accounts than the narrative provided by the revisionist Church historians.

(For those interested, I've provided much more detail in my book, A Man that Can Translate.)

One more thing to notice. To support SITH, the exhibit also includes excepts from a statement from Lucy Mack Smith involving Joseph's activities before he got the plates, as if that is relevant to the translation.

More later.

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*The references for this statement include "Mormon Relics,” The Sunday Inter-Ocean, Vol. 15, No. 207 (Chicago, Illinois, 17 Oct. 1886), and Saints’ Herald 33 (13 November 1886).

See, e.g., https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/site/note-on-seer-stone-images

Let's look at what the 1888 Saints' Herald had to say about David Whitmer's SITH claim.

INDEPENDENCE, Mo., Feb. 12th. 

Bro. Blair:-In Herald for February 11th is an article from the Richmond Democrat concerning the death and testimony of David Whitmer, is the following: “The result of this vision was a proclamation setting forth the facts enumerated. The "urim and thummim,” mentioned in the account of the vision were a pair of transparent stone spectacles, Smith would put on the spectacles, when a few words of the text of the Book of Mormon would appear on the lenses. When these were correctly transcribed by Cowdery, who acted as his amanuensis, these words would disappear and others take their place. 

When one hundred and sixteen pages were completed, Smith entrusted them to Martin Harris, to take to his home with a view to convert his family to the new faith. They were placed at night in a bureau drawer and next morning were missing, having been stolen. They were never found and never replaced, so that the Book of Mormon to-day is short that number of pages of the original matter.

As a chastisement for his carelessness [in losing the 116 pages], the urim and thummim was taken from Smith. But by humbling himself, he again found favor with the Lord, and was presented with a strange oval shaped, chocolate colored stone, about the size of an egg, but more flat, which it was promised should answer the same purpose. 

With this stone all the present book was translated. The prophet would place the stone in a hat, then put his face in the hat and read the words that appeared thereon. This stone is the only relic of the prophet's work in existence which is not in possession of Mr. Whitmer. It was confided to Oliver Cowdery and preserved by him until his death in 1852. After that event Phineas Young succeeded in getting it from Cowdery's widow and it is now among the sacred relics preserved at Salt Lake City.” 

Now there must be a mistake somewhere, for history informs us that about April or May, in 1828, Martin Harris took the manuscript home to his family and they were lost, and Joseph lost the gift of translation for a time.

We find on pages 34 and 35 Life of Joseph the Prophet, that the gift of translation was restored to Joseph, and that in April, 1829, he had a revelation to Oliver Cowerdy, through the Urim and Thummim; also history informs us that through the Urim and Thummim several revelations were given, among them the revelation concerning John the beloved, (Doc. Cov. Sec. 6), and the revelation to Hyrum Smith, May 1829, (Doc. Cov. Sec. 10). 

All this happened before any of the Whitmer's joined the church, for Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer and Peter Whitmer, were baptized the same day in June, 1829. 

This article purports to come from David Whitmer, and it states that Joseph did not have the Urim and Thummin restored to him at all, but that in its stead a strange oval shaped chocolate colored stone, about the size of an egg was given him. 

For one I would like to know which is correct.” 

I would like that some one through the columns of the Herald would give us the straight of this matter, also if there is any truth in the statement. Is that strange, oval shaped, chocolate colored stone in Salt Lake City ? R. MAY. 

Replying to the above we have to say that, David Whitmer was not a competent witness in respect to the Urim and Thummim having been taked from Joseph the Seer, for he was not personally acquainted with the facts, and could have no knowledge of them except by hearsay, as he did not meet with Joseph the Seer till in June, 1829, whereas it was in June, 1828, —one year before—that the Urim and Thummim was taken because Joseph had suffered the one hundred and sixteen pages of the manuscript to be lost through the importunities and carelessness of Martin Harris. 

Joseph the Seer, in his “History,” informs us that the Urim and Thummim was restored to him, and that he not only translated with it, but that he also obtained many revelations through it. 

And Oliver Cowdery, who became Joseph's scribe to write the Book of Mormon April 7th, 1829, about two months before David Whitmer first visited Joseph, states in his letters written to the Messenger and Advocate in 1834, as follows: 

“Near the time of the setting of the sun, Sabbath evening, April 5th, 1829, my natural eyes, for the first time beheld this brother. He then re sided in Harmony, Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania. On Monday, the 6th, I assisted him in arranging some business of a temporal nature, and on Tuesday, the 7th, commenced to write the Book of Mormon. These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom. Day after day I continued, uninterruptedly to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history, or record, called ‘The Book of Mormon.”—Letters of Oliver Cowdery, Page 2. 

Joseph the Seer states in the Times and Seasons, March 1842, vol. 3, p. 707, in reply to a letter written him by John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, as follows: “With the record [plates. Ed.], was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breast plate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.” 

Whoever will now turn to the Book of Mormon and read the following passages will learn clearly how the Lord provided “means” for the translation of the Book of Mormon: Mosiah 5: 10, 11; 12: 3; Book of Mormon 4: 2, 8. These texts show what “means” God had prepared “for the interpretation” of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. 

The testimony of these texts and that of Joseph the Seer and Oliver Cowdery harmonize, therefore we endorse it instead of that which purports to be the testimony of David Whitmer. 

David Whitmer, we repeat, was not a competent witness as to the “means” used by the Seer in translating the Book of Mormon. He did not meet Joseph the Seer until at least two months after Oliver Cowdery had been writing the Book of Mormon as the Seer translated it. 

David Whitmer never wrote a line of the Book of Mormon; and there is no evidence at hand to prove that the Seer ever showed him the “means” by which he translated. 

The purported testimony of David Whitmer as to the “means” by which the Book of Mormon was translated, is that of a man who had no direct hand in that translation, being neither translator nor scribe, but simply a “witness” after its translation, while, on the other hand, the testimony of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery is that of men who were the immediate agents in the translation, the first being the translator, and the other the one who wrote it, word by word, as dictatated [sic] by the translator. 

The testimony of Joseph and Oliver was given in the first years of the church, while these matters were fresh in the minds of these chief actors and the Saints; while that which purports to come from David Whitmer was given when he had became feeble with infirmities and multi plied years. One is the testimony of men who knew; the other is of one who did not personally know.

We can see no reason why Joseph and Oliver should say the translation was done by “means” of the Urim and Thummim— the “interpreters”—if in fact it was done by means of a “stone.” 

In either case it would be miraculous, and nothing special to be gained by alleging that it was translated by the Urim and Thummim if it was not. 

Whatever David Whitmer may or may not have said on this point, it should be remembered that he had little or nothing to do with the Church and its history since the spring of 1838—fifty long years—and it is not difficult, from this fact, to account for errors in memory and defects in judgment which have been painfully apparent of late. The fact that David Whitmer remained idle, comparatively, in ministerial matters, for about fifty years, should be accepted as clear proof that the Lord did not call him of late to set in order and correct either the history, the doctrine, the organization, or the government of the Church. 

And not having been called to that work, it is both vexatious, misleading, and dangerous to give heed to what purports to be his efforts in that direction. It is unpleasant to reply to inquiries coming to us relative to what David Whitmer has said or done; but when pertinent, proper inquiries are made, we must lay aside our personal preferences and attend on the duties of a vigilant, faithful “watchman.” Rumor has it that the “stone” in question went into the hands of Phineas Young.