Friday, June 12, 2020

Rethinking the entry on Book of Mormon Geography

A lot of people have cited a "Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography" as doctrine, but it turns out, it's not even one of the Gospel Topics Essays. It is merely one of about 300 entries on various topics. Maybe that's because it hardly qualifies as an essay when it omits scripture references and the many quotations from General Authorities on the topic.

There's a good reason why the entry is not listed as a Gospel Topics Essay. The introduction to the Gospel Topics Essays sets forth a standard that the entry on Book of Mormon Geography doesn't come close to meeting.

the Lord invited members of the Church to seek wisdom by study and by the exercise of faith:

“And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).

This is more than a simple exhortation to learn about the gospel. It is an invitation from the Lord to recognize that not all sources of knowledge are equally reliable. Seeking “out of the best books” does not mean seeking only one set of opinions, but it does require us to distinguish between reliable sources and unreliable sources.

What is a more reliable source than the scriptures? Yet the entry on geography avoids any mention of relevant scriptures.

The introduction also says this:

The Church places great emphasis on knowledge and on the importance of being well informed about Church history, doctrine, and practices.

How does an entry on Book of Mormon geography that omits relevant scriptures and teachings of Church leaders help readers become well informed?
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The entry skirts a key question by essentially censoring Cumorah, the same way the Saints book (Vol. 1), Come Follow Me, and other references do. There's another example from the student manual on the D&C, here. This effort to "de-correlate" Cumorah is causing confusion, not resolving the issue. It is antithetical to the "importance of being well informed about Church history, doctrine, and practices."

Lately, our favorite M2C scholars are saying the location of Cumorah is unimportant. We get that they don't like to discuss the issue because they like to say they follow the prophets while they outright repudiate them on this topic, but Cumorah is the core issue about Book of Mormon historicity. 

This is simple and obvious.

- If the prophets were correct when they taught that Cumorah is in New York, their teachings should inform and drive the discussion.

- If they were not correct--if they were merely teaching as fact their own private, wrong opinions--then we should all know that.

For many Latter-day Saints, it's unbelievable that there is even a debate whether or not the prophets were correct. 

The amazing thing is that the New York Cumorah has been consistently and persistently taught by every Church leader who has addressed the topic. It has never been contradicted by Church leaders. It has been contradicted only by scholars, beginning with RLDS scholars in the late 1800s who rejected the teachings of LDS leaders on several topics. Then, in the mid-1900s, LDS scholars began claiming the prophets were wrong because of M2C. Now, thanks the academic cycle, M2C has spread its influence throughout the Church.

Now we are at the point where the entry on Book of Mormon Geography implies that the teachings of the prophets, as well as D&C 128:20, are merely false opinions. That implication needs to be clarified, one way or another.
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There are 12 Gospel Topics Essays, listed here:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/essays?lang=eng

Notice that Book of Mormon Geography is not among them.

Instead, that topic is addressed in a separate category of over 300 "Gospel Topics" here:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/book-of-mormon-geography?lang=eng

These are shorter articles on numerous topics that lack the detail and analysis found in the formal "Gospel Topics Essays."

Here's an example from the entry on Book of Mormon Geography.

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.

Are we supposed to infer from this that D&C 128:20 (which is never cited in this entry) is merely an opinion by Joseph Smith?

128:20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed.

Our M2C friends claim this was just Joseph's opinion. We've seen that they claim that in this verse, Joseph Smith merely adopted a false tradition that existed among early Church members.

Those who read D&C 128:20 in historical context know that it was first published in the Times and Seasons in October 1842. In 1841, the same newspaper republished Letter VII, which declares it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah in western New York is the same Cumorah referenced in Mormon 6:6.

The question of Cumorah is a simple question that the entry on Book of Mormon Geography completely avoids.

These entries, like the Gospel Topics Essays, are subject to change at any time, without notice. Many of us hope that this entry on Book of Mormon Geography will be revised to address the real issue of Cumorah.




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